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What’s the tallest mountain in the world? Hint: it’s not Mt. Everest

It can take weeks of hard work to climb the dangerous summit of Mt. Everest, but at least you can feel like royalty knowing you were among the few to ever reach its peak if you manage it. 

And now, I’m going to burst your bubble. Not to nitpick, but the summit of Mt. Everest is the highest point above sea level; it’s not, however, the tallest mountain on the planet.

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

World’s tallest mountain

Mt. Everest, at 8,850 meters (29,035 feet) above sea level, undeniably claims the point of highest altitude in the world. The title of “tallest mountain in the word”, however, as measured from the base to its peak, belongs to Mauna Kea which has an altitude of only 4,205 meters (13,796 feet) above sea level.

The catch: it’s a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii with the base about 19,700 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. In other words, more than half of it is submerged. When you add everything up, Mauna Kea is over 10,000 meters tall, way taller than the 8,850 meters of Mount Everest — making it the world’s tallest mountain. It’s also the tallest volcano on Earth.

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Credit: Pixabay.

Mauna Kea is only a million years old, and formed after the Pacific tectonic plate moved over the Hawaiian hotspot. A huge plume of liquid magma welled up from deep inside Earth forming Mauna Kea as it cooled. Despite this, the volcano has stayed dormant for a long time now, having last erupted 46,000 years ago.

The skyline view during the night from Mauna Kea. No wonder there's a huge astronomical observatory here. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The skyline view during the night from Mauna Kea. No wonder there’s a huge astronomical observatory here. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mauna Kea is famous for another distinction, as well: it is home to the world’s largest astronomical observatory, the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope. At this elevation, the summit is above 40% of Earth’s atmosphere, which helps improve the view. The extremely dry and almost cloud-free conditions also help, making it an ideal spot from which to make astronomical observations.

World’s highest point

Earth is not a perfect sphere. Credit: Giphy.
Earth is not a perfect sphere. Credit: Giphy.

Our planet is not a perfect sphere. It is an oblate spheroid — it looks kind of like a beach ball that someone sat on. The Earth bulges outward at the equator and flattens near the poles, so people in countries like Ecuador, Kenya, Tanzania, and Indonesia can up to 13 miles closer to the moon than people living on the North or South poles.

An alpaca with Chimborazo in the background. Even though the mountain is very close to the equator, it is high enough to support a year-round snow cap. Credit: International Alpine Guides.
An alpaca with Chimborazo in the background. Even though the mountain is very close to the equator, it is high enough to support a year-round snow cap. Credit: International Alpine Guides.

Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador — an inactive volcano in the Andes — has an altitude of only 6,310 meters (20,703 feet), which is way less than Mt. Everest. It’s not even the highest peak above sea level in the Andes mountain range.

But because Chimborazo sits just one degree south of the equator, its apex is the “world’s highest point from the center of the Earth” at about 21 million feet (3,967 miles) away from the core. It is the closest point to the Sun on Earth. Everest on the other hand, located at a latitude of 28 degrees north (nearly one-third of the way to the pole) doesn’t even make it in the top 20 highest points as measured from the center of the planet.

It’s no clear how Chimborazo got its name, but according to some accounts, it could come from a combination of the words schingbu, which means “women” in the Cayapa language, and razo, which is Quichua for “snow”. Essentially, that would translate as “Women of Snow”, but natives know the mountain as Urcorazo or “Mountain of Ice,” so those accounts might not be very reliable.

Still, what we do know for sure, according to local anthropologists, is that Chimborazo “has been venerated since pre-Columbian times” and is “still a sacred mountain thought to be close to God.”

Despite not being as difficult to climb as Mt. Everest, it has its challenges. Climbing Mt. Chimborazo takes about two weeks after getting acclimatized. You should be aware that Chimborazo is heavily glaciated and subject to severe weather and avalanches, so be very careful if you want to climb to the highest spot on this planet.

Editor’s note: Article edited on the 26th of May 2020 for style and spelling errors.

23 thoughts on “What’s the tallest mountain in the world? Hint: it’s not Mt. Everest

  1. RealAmer

    Well, considering a mountain is defined as a large land mass, that doesn't include sub-sea formations. So yes, Mt Everest is the tallest mountain in the world.

  2. Dixie Burge

    The highest, not the tallest. What does Everest have to do with sub-sea formations?

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