Mount Everest, right?
However, this is not as simple as it looks. It turns out, upon closer examination of this question, that there are at least six other mountain peaks with claims to that title:
- Mount Logan, Canada. This mountain has the largest volume, and is hence the most massive mountain in the world – if measured from global mean sea level.
- Mount McKinley (or Denali), Alaska, USA. This mountain has the highest rise in the world – if measured from global mean sea level. It is 5500m from its base (i.e. closest relatively flat ground surrounding the mountain) to the summit. In many ways this is the most relevant measure of a mountain, because if you wanted to scale its summit, you’d have 5500m of climbing ascent to get there. There are some claims also that the air pressure on Mount McKinley is significantly lower than Mount Everest at equivalent elevations above mean sea level, due to its higher latitude.
- Chimborazo, Ecuador. The summit of this mountain is the furthest point from the centre of the Earth (due to its close proximity to the equator, and the Earth not being a perfect sphere).
- Mauna Loa, Hawaii, USA. This mountain has the largest volume, and is hence the most massive mountain in the world – if measured from its base and you ignore global mean sea level.
- Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA. This mountain has the highest rise in the world – if measured from its base and you ignore global mean sea level.
- Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. This mountain is often described as the largest ‘freestanding’ mountain in the world, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear definition of what ‘freestanding’ means in this context. It rises 4600m from its base, significantly less than Mount McKinley, but it may cover the largest surface area of any mountain on Earth though (although how you measure the boundaries of a mountain is a problem – where does the mountain start? Mount Logan is another contender for this title).
Who decided that global mean sea level was the yardstick by which mountains should be measured? Sea levels vary across the earth with tides, atmospheric pressure etc, so it’s hardly a useful measurement point.
This is not a meaningless technical argument about definitions and numbers – people are so uniquely obsessed with Mount Everest that they are prepared to scale it at all costs, including getting themselves killed, losing their humanity, and polluting a pristine environment.
Everest has become a metaphor and a symbol for the ‘largest’ obstacle in the world, the ultimate challenge to be overcome, and something that will provide you with the biggest boast and feelgood factor, should you get to the top of it. Look at it closely though, and this obsession seems pretty pointless, and some claims of achievement in getting to the top of Everest ring hollow on closer examination.