Mount Everest grows

The world’s tallest mountain gets even taller as China and Nepal agree on new official height

Everest is now officially 8,848.86m in height. Photo by Unknown on Adobe Stock.

— 3 minute read — By Will Jones

Long-term debates over whether the summit’s snow cap should be included in the measurement culminated last month when China and Nepal decided to alter the official height of the mountain. The updated measurement is 8,848.86m, or 29,032 ft – almost a metre taller than previously recorded.

The two nations decided to formulate a new measurement rather than continue disagreeing over the 4-metre-high snow cap. Nepal included this snow cap in their original calculation, whereas China measured the summit as the rock formation below the snowy layer. The previous Chinese measurement stood at 8,844.43m.

China and Nepal, whose shared border stretches directly over the summit of Mount Everest, joined forces in order to calculate the new universal height, officials at Nepal’s foreign ministry announced.

In order to formulate the updated height, two teams of surveyors (one measuring from the Nepalese side and the other measuring from the Chinese side) carried out extensive surveying missions that spanned multiple years. The team of four Nepalese land surveyors spent two years training for the mission – ensuring that their bodies were in optimal condition to tackle the hugely unforgiving peak. It is testament to the merciless nature of the mountain that even after extensive training and research, Nepal’s lead surveyor, Khimlal Gautam, lost his toe as a result of frostbite when installing the height measuring equipment on the summit.

China's Everest survey team reaches the summit - Asia Times
Chinese surveyors reached the summit in May 2020. Photo by Xinhua for Asia Times.

Whilst the Nepalese surveyors reached the top of Mount Everest in 2019, the Chinese team climbed the peak in May 2020, becoming the only people on the planet to successfully summit Everest last year. All other 2020 expeditions were abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many will have to wait until the 2021 window in order to achieve their dream of standing atop the world.

Both the Nepalese team and the Chinese team of surveyors used trigonometry calculations to formulate the new height. Working up from the sea level height in the Bay of Bengal and the Yellow Sea respectively, the teams placed beacons at stations between their start points and the Everest summit. By creating line-of-sight triangles between each waypoint, the teams could calculate the height of each segment by multiplying the base with its angles.

The same measurement was achieved from both faces of Everest, cementing the new universal height as accurate.

This was a task that was worth completing, not least to quell the longstanding disagreement between the two nations. Some geologists professed that the tectonic shifts that caused the 2015 Nepal earthquake will have altered the height of the peak. 9,000 people were killed when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Himalayan mountains to the north of Kathmandu, 18 of which were casualties from an avalanche that decimated Everest Base Camp.

A Scene of Destruction After Ice Thunders Into Everest Base Camp - The New  York Times
Everest Base Camp after the 2015 avalanche. Photo by 6SummitsChallenge.com for Reuters.

The many tragic fatalities that occur in the pursuit of summiting Everest serve as a reminder of the deadly risks that come with attempting a colossal expedition in one of the world’s most extreme environments. Whilst the new measurement of 8,848.86m has altered the perceived height of the mountain, it hasn’t changed the scale of the challenge that lies before Everest’s intrepid climbers.