Is all this recent talk about Mount Everest not being the highest mountain in the world – with Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador taking the top spot – really true? Well, it is, but it all depends on how you define ‘the highest’.
Regarding the peak’s altitude – how high it is above sea level – Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres high is still king, there is no doubt about that.
However, as far as the distance from the centre of the Earth is concerned, the closest to space, or the furthest up – then the Chimborazo is the winner.
As Mount Chimborazo is much nearer the equator than Mt. Everest, and the equator is where the Earth’s bulge is, it is further from the centre of the Earth than Everest.
Earth is not a perfect sphere
It is all to do with the shape of our planet. The Earth is not a perfect sphere. Like all rotating planets, it has a slightly distorted shape. The rotational momentum forces matter to bunch up in the middle – which on our planet is the equator.
The Earth is an Oblate Spheroid – a sphere with a slightly oblong appearance. ‘Spheroid’ means it is nearly a sphere, but not completely.
The diameter from the South Pole to the North Pole – Earth’s shortest diameter – is about 12,714 kilometres, while the equatorial diameter – Earth’s longest diameter – is about 12,756 kilometres. Although the difference is not huge, it does make the Earth not a perfect sphere.
Mount Chimborazo is just one degree south of the equator, while Mount Everest is 28 degrees. In other words, Mount Chimborazo is just about at the fattest part of Earth’s bulge, while Everest is not.
(Left) Mount Everest is considerably higher than (Right) Chimborazo when the measurement is altitude above sea level.
Chimborazo’s peak is 2.1 kilometres further from the Earth’s centre than Everest’s.
If you measure a mountain from top to bottom, including the part of it that is below the sea, then Hawaii’s Mauna Kea wins.
If we stick to just altitude from sea level, as you can see below, Everest definitely wins:
– Mount Everest: 8,848 metres.
– K2: 8,611 metres.
– Kangchenjunga: 8,586 metres.
– Lhotse: 8,516 metres.
– Makalu: 8,481 metres.
– Cho Oyu: 8,201 metres.
Chimborazo comes way down at 6,263 metres, while Mauna Kea is just 4,207.3 metres.
— Andando Tours (@AndandoTours) 18 May 2016
Regarding Mount Chimborazo, the New York Times quoted Josefina Vásquez, an archaeologist at the Universidad San Francisco in Quito, who said that Chimborazo “has been venerated since pre-Columbian times [and is] still a sacred mountain where it’s thought to be close to God.”
Video – Chimborazo closer to the Moon than Everest