Nepal, China announce revised height of Mount Everest as 8,848.86 metres

The new height is 86 cm more than the previous measurement.

Updated - December 14, 2020 11:46 am IST

Published - December 08, 2020 02:33 pm IST

A member of a Chinese surveying team sets up a survey equipment on the summit of Mount Everest also known locally as Mt. Qomolangma on May 27, 2020. Photo: Xinhua via AP

A member of a Chinese surveying team sets up a survey equipment on the summit of Mount Everest also known locally as Mt. Qomolangma on May 27, 2020. Photo: Xinhua via AP

8,848 metres — the answer to one of the most widely popular quiz questions, and a number drilled into the minds of school students around the world for decades, is set for a revision, with the world’s tallest mountain getting a new official height on Tuesday that adds a few centimetres to its already lofty peak.

Nepal and China jointly announced the new height of Mount Everest as 8,848.86 meters in a high-profile virtual ceremony, with their Presidents exchanging letters and their foreign ministers in attendance, all aimed at showcasing both a deepening strategic relationship and the amicable resolution of a long-running debate.


Everest - also known as Sagarmatha in Nepal and Mount Qomolangma in China - was “an important symbol of the China-Nepal friendship”, China’s President Xi Jinping said, calling it a “peak of China-Nepal friendship”.

The mountain lies on the border between Nepal and Tibet and the summit can be accessed from both sides, although the Nepal route is more popular.

Xi’s statement

Mr. Xi said survey teams from both countries had spent more than a year on the project and had “overcome all kinds of difficulties, solidly carried out their work, and finally reached a conclusion on the snow-covered height based on the International Height Reference System”.

China’s State media reported that the previous calculation by China in 2005 placed the peak at 8,844 metres, while Nepal said it was closer to 8,847 metres. Resolving the three-metre difference, attributed to China calculating the “rock height” underneath the snow and Nepal using the “snow height” which included the snowcap, was the aim of the joint project, with both sides agreeing to reach a consensus when Mr. Xi visited Nepal in October last year.

A Chinese measurement team made a journey to the peak on May 27, the Beijing-based Global Times reported, adding that they were aided by “end-to-end” 5G technology during their ascent.

Lucrative tourism industry

For Nepal and China, the height of Everest wasn’t merely an academic debate. It also had ramifications for a lucrative tourism industry.

Officials told the Kathmandu Post the slightly higher “snow height" was “one of the key reasons why Nepal had been drawing Everest aspirants in droves”.

Ang Tsering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told the newspaper that climbers from Nepal “started to swell from 2007 when China started issuing Everest climbing certificates stating the height as 8,844.57 metres against 8,848 metres in certificates issued by Nepal for the same peak”.

“Now, there will be a common height which will end all debates,” he said, but it would give China an advantage in the climbing stakes because “climbing Everest through the northern side is much cheaper than climbing from the southern side”. Nepal, he added, had other advantages, such as offering a more scenic and “life changing” trek as opposed to China, where you can drive up on a motorable road right up to the base camp.

According to the Post , Nepal generates $4 million from permits alone, besides others revenues generated from climbers. The change could also impact livelihoods in Nepal. “China is producing a lot of high-altitude climbing guides. The government trains them for at least two years,” Mr. Sherpa was quoted as saying. “Within a few years, China will not require Nepali Sherpa climbing guides although the majority of climbing guides on the Chinese side are Sherpas now.”

Close neighbours

Beyond tourism, the end of the debate is also politically symbolic of two increasingly close neighbours, as Tuesday’s high-profile ceremony underlined.

The new height of 8,848.86 meters replaced the long-associated 8,848 metre-height, which was, newspapers in Beijing and Kathmandu noted, a legacy from 1954, and a measurement carried out by the Survey of India.

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