Is the Official Height of Mt. Everest About to Change?

For the past two months or so, we’ve been following the two expedition teams on Mt. Everest this spring as closely as we could considering the circumstances. Not much information made its way off the mountain, but thanks to some solid contacts and references, were able to keep tabs of what was happening there.

Along the way, we did learn that one of the teams was actually a group of surveyors sent by the Chinese government to remeasure the height of the mountain. Now that the group has managed to complete its mission, it’s difficult not to wonder if the official height of Everest is about to change.

For decades, the altitude for the summit of Everest has been listed as 8848 meters (29,029 ft), which stems from a survey that took place back in 1955. At the time, it was almost unquestionably the most accurate measurement of the mountain ever taken.

But, in 2005 a Chinese scientific team remeasured the peak, coming up with a height of 8844.43 m (29,017.16 ft), which researchers said was based on the rock at the top of Everest and not the snow and ice that rose an additional 3-4 meters. Despite that measurement however, both China and Nepal continued to use the historical number as the official height.

Last year, Nepal sent a survey team of its own to Everest with the goal of getting an extremely accurate measurement of the mountain as well. It was though that due to shifting plate tectonics and the massive 2015 earthquake, that the altitude of the summit may have been altered. The Nepali’s wrapped up their work last May and promised to release their findings by the end of the year, or early 2020 at the latest. As of right now, we’re still waiting on the final tabulation.

When the Chinese survey team reach the summit a few days back, they carried some very sophisticated technology with them. And since they had the summit all to themselves, they were able to take their time in making their measurements. spending three hours on the highest point on the planet. 

Using China’s BeiDou satellite GPS system, the surveyors were able to not just register their altitude, but also information about snow and ice depth, current weather patterns and trends, windspeeds, and other ecological factors. Their goal is to analyze all of that data over the next three months, and announce their findings sometime later this year.

But the real question is, will the height of Everest actually change? My gut feeling is that we’ll get a new measurement that will come right down to a few inches or centimeters. It will probably be somewhere close to the height that was measured back i 2005, without taking into account the snow and ice pack on the summit.

That will be added in as part of any climb—mountaineers still have to ascend those four extra meters—and so the official height is probably likely to remain the same.

My question is, why haven’t we heard from the Nepali’s yet on their measurement? Will they and the Chinese make a joint announcement of their findings? Both have a vested interested in promoting the world’s highest mountain, although Nepal’s fortunes are more wrapped up in it than China/Tibet for sure. For now, we’ll all just have to wait to see what the outcome is.

But if you’ve climbed the mountain before, I would worry too much about adjusting the official height on your summit certificate.

Kraig Becker