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Mt. Everest is even taller than you thought: China, Nepal announce new height

Members of a Chinese surveying team head for the summit of Mt. Everest in May.
(Tashi Tsering / Xinhua News Agency)

Climbing to the top of Mt. Everest just got a little bit harder.

China and Nepal jointly announced a new official height for the mountain Tuesday, ending a disagreement between the two nations, although both had put the figure higher than past measurements.

The top of the world’s tallest peak is now officially at 29,031.7 feet. That is slightly higher than Nepal’s previous measurement and about 13 feet higher than China’s.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Nepalese counterpart, Pradeep Gyawali, simultaneously pressed buttons during a virtual conference, and the new measurement flashed on the screen.

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The height of Everest, which is on the border between China and Nepal, was agreed on after surveyors from Nepal scaled the peak in 2019 and a Chinese team did the same in 2020.

There had been debate over the height of Everest and concern that it might have shrunk after a major earthquake in 2015. The quake killed 9,000 people, damaged about 1 million structures in Nepal and triggered an avalanche on the mountain that killed 19 people at the base camp.

There was no doubt that Everest would remain the highest peak because the second-highest, Mt. K2, is “only” 28,244 feet.

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Everest’s height was first determined by a British team around 1856 as 29,002 feet. But the most accepted figure has been 29,028 feet, which was determined by the Survey of India in 1954.

In 1999, a National Geographic Society team using GPS technology came up with a height of 29,035 feet. A Chinese team in 2005 said it was 29,009 feet because it did not include the snow cap.

A Nepalese government team of climbers and surveyors scaled Everest in May 2019 and installed GPS and satellite equipment to measure the peak and snow depth on the summit. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal later that year, and the leaders of the two countries decided that they should agree on a height.

A survey team from China then conducted measurements in the spring of 2020 while all other expeditions were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Nepal’s climbing circles welcomed the end of confusion over the mountain’s height.

“This is a milestone in mountaineering history which will finally end the debate over the height, and now the world will have one number,” said Santa Bir Lama, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Assn.

China’s official Xinhua New Agency quoted Xi as saying that the two sides were committed to jointly protecting the environment around Everest and cooperating in scientific research.

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For China, the announcement appeared to be as much about politics as geography. China has drawn Nepal ever closer into its orbit with investments in its economy and the building of highways, dams, airports and other infrastructure in the impoverished nation.

That appears to serve China’s interests in reducing the influence of rival India, with which it shares a disputed border, and Nepal’s role as a destination for refugee Tibetans.


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