Vertical Rise and the real "tallest" mountain on earth

Ok, so this is a status message from a guy - kind of a tool - that I know:

"I own zero winter gear... yet three days before a 19,000 foot climb in Peru I end up with $500 worth. I love my friends (special props to Macasek for letting me borrow... everything).

Well now, if you climbed 19,000 feet from any point on earth, you would end up... in the sky. (not counting many week treks here - I am talking about from the base of the mountain up).

You see the thing is we talk about mountains in terms of total elevation. Climbing a 14er in Colorado is much more impressive than climbing anything the old, worn down, Appalachians. But Katahdin has a vertical rise of 4,292 feet - more than many of those 14ers. Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England, rises to only 3,200ft, but 3,000 of that is vertical rise. Its one of the best hikes I have done, and the Lake District of England (where you would find it) is one of the most beautiful and rugged mountain regions on earth.

You see - how "big" a mountain is really counts from ground-level. Its the rise from that ground level to the top of the mountain.

In this way, Everest is really about 12,000ft "tall" - which is still a hell of a lot... but nowhere near the largest vertical rise of any mountain. To the best of my knowledge (and I am pretty sure on this one), that honor actually goes to Mount McKinley in Alaska, which has a vertical rise of 18,000ft (which is why climbing 19k feet from anywhere would be tricky).

Interestingly enough, McKinley is really the "largest"mountain in the world, it is both taller than Everest in terms of vertical rise (by about 50%, no small margin of victory) and it is much more massive by weight - though I could find no definitive numbers on that.

However, there is a reason we still revere Everest for its height - it makes it incredibly difficult to climb. McKinley rises 18,000 feet, but you only end up at 20,300 feet. Which is high.. but not that bad for the human body. We can actually adapt to going that high. What we cant do, regardless of anything (even being a Sherpa) is adapt to anything over 24,000 feet - or 8,000m - which is why mountains that tall are so special. Every time you are above 24,000ft (not counting pressurized airplane rides) you are slowly, or not so slowly, dying. You can't stay up there for long, the weather can verge on satanic, and rescue or aid is very limited.

So, I love Everest and hope to go there one day (though I would much rather climb a number of other peaks), but McKinley deserves a little honor - and stop bashing short mountains or claiming you are going to climb 19,000ft.

1 comment:

  1. There is an article, I can't remember where, that disputes the commonly held error that Denali is the tallest in the world by vertical rise, and says Rakaposhi is actually taller. The problem with this very commonly held idea is it assumes Everest has the largest vertical rise in the Himalayas, when it does not. There are in fact dozens of taller peaks in the Himalayas/Hindu Kush/Karokoram which match or exceed Denali's 18000 ft rise.

    Here's a thread about it: