The peak of Mount Everest, where 11 people have died in the last week, is 29,035 feet above sea level. That makes it, according to almost every measure, the world’s tallest mountain. However, some geologists dispute the label.
“Feet above sea level” is an inaccurate way to measure the height of a mountain, according to many experts, because it does not show how tall a mountain is from its base to its peak. Based on that standard, Mauna Kea is 32,808 feet tall when measured from its base below the Pacific Ocean to its peak 13,796 feet above the ocean’s surface. According to research published at Geology.com, “tall” should be defined as “the total vertical distance between their base and their summit”. By that measure, Mauna Kea would be, without dispute, the “world’s tallest mountain.”
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on the Island of Hawaii, the largest island of the 50th State. It was last active about 5,000 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey. It is the only Hawaiian volcano once covered by glaciers.
Mauna Kea has another distinction. It is home to the world’s largest observatory.
Known as the Mauna Kea Observatories, it is part of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. Its ability to gather light from space is about 60 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Mauna Kea Observatories is run by astronomers from eleven nations. Other than its height the observatory has another distinction. The University of Hawaii writes, “The atmosphere above the mountain is extremely dry — which is important in measuring infrared and submillimeter radiation from celestial sources – and cloud-free, so that the proportion of clear nights is among the highest in the world.”
Mount Everest, a challenge to thousands of mountaineers since Sir Edmund Percival Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay reached the summit on 29 May 1953, is not, by one measure accepted by geologists, the tallest mountain in the world at all. Mauna Kea is. While some may argue this distinction, it certainly is among the highest points in all of the United States.