World’s highest mountain is a little higher

China and Nepal announced last week that the new standard height for Mount Everest is now 8848.86 metres, 86 centimetres more than the earlier height.

The world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, is now officially a little higher. The new standard height of the rugged Himalayan peak, which straddles borders of China and Nepal, is 8848.86 metres, 86 centimetres more than the earlier height. This was announced on December 9 in a join conference by China and Nepal. Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali made the announcement in Kathamandu, and his Chinese counterpart announced the new height in Beijing.

Mount Everest can be accessed from both the Chinese and the Nepalese routes because the mountain lies on the border between Nepal and Tibet. But the Nepalese route is more popular. According to Ang Tsering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, China states the height of Everest as 8844.57 metres in certificates to climbers as against 8848 metres mentioned in certificate issued by Nepal. For this reason, climbers prefer to take the Nepal route.

The Survey of India measured the snow height of 8,848 meters in 1954. The previous calculation by China in 2005 placed the peak at 8,844 metres, while Nepal said it was closer to 8,847 metres. The three-metre difference was due to the fact that China calculated the rock height underneath the snow and Nepal used the snow height which included the snowcap.

The mountain is known as Sagarmatha in Nepal and Mount Qomolangma in China. China’s President Xi Jinping has now called it a “peak of China-Nepal friendship”.

In October 2019, Xi visited Nepal and the two countries agreed to reach a consensus. Survey teams from both countries spent more than a year on the project and reached a consensus on the snow-covered height based on the International Height Reference System. According to a Global Times report, the Chinese measurement team went to the peak on May 27 where they were aided by “end-to-end” 5G technology during the ascent.

A Nepalese team, on the other hand, set up a satellite navigation marker on the peak to gauge its exact position through GPS satellites. The Nepalese crews measured with modern, laser-equipped versions of instruments called theodolites, first used to gauge the mountain’s height in 1856 by measuring angles using trigonometry. The Nepalese team also used ground penetrating radar to measure the amount of snow and ice that sits on top of its highest rock.

Height of mountains changes with movement of tectonic plates. The movement of tectonic plates can lift them up and earthquakes can bring them down. Countervailing forces maintain a degree of stability over time. A member of the Chinese survey team, Dang Yamin, said, “Nature tends to strike a balance.”

The height of Everest is not just an academic issue but it also has ramifications for a lucrative tourism industry for Nepal and China. Due to higher height on Nepal certificates, the country has been drawing aspirants in droves, accounting for four million dollars a year from permits alone, besides others revenues generated from climbers.

Now, there will be a common height, and this could give China an advantage because climbing Everest through the northern side (Tibet) is much cheaper than climbing it from the southern side (Nepal). On the northern side, one could drive up right up to the base camp on a motorable road. Nepal offers a more scenic and life-changing trek. If more climbers now prefer the easier Chinese route, livelihoods in Nepal may be affected. The only solace is that majority of climbing guides even on the Chinese sides are Sherpas but it’s only a matter of time when China produces its own guides.

So, while in the new height announcement ceremony, both countries heralded the agreement as a sign of the growing political, economic and cultural ties between them, it seems like a big disadvantage for Nepal, which may lose out big time on revenue from Everest tourism.

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