China and Nepal Agree to Disagree on Height of Mount Everest

Everest NASA

Mt. Everest from Space. Photo Credit: NASA

China and Nepal Agree to Disagree on Height of Mount Everest

I came across an interesting article at the end of last week about how China and Nepal agreed to disagree on the exact height of Mount Everest. The Nepalese and Chinese governments negotiated last week to solve the 150 year old question, but in the end could not come to a unified conclusion regarding the height of the world's highest peak.  The crux of the disagreement, apparently, is an age old problem to professional land surveyors, cartographers and governments alike - Where is here? Or more seriously, what defines the top of a mountain?

Our Amps "Go to Eleven!"

Nepal considers Mount Everest to be 8,848m as measured to the top of the mountains cap. China, on the other hand, says that Mount Everest is actually 8,844.43m as measured to to the highest actual rock which lies below the mountain capped ice and snow. Nepal bases its calculations from a 1955 Indian survey and China's calculations are derived from a 2005 survey performed by its own State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping.

I Can Agree to Disagree With Your Wrong Number, But Not With Their Wrong Number, Which is Closer to My Wrong Number!

Everest Sunset

Sunset view of towering, snow-capped Mt. Everest, from the village of Lobuche (Solu-khumbu), Nepal. (Photograph by Gimmy Park Li.). Source: USGS

In a sign of good will amongst men and neighbors, or maybe just futility, Nepal and China agreed to disagree with each others heights of Mount Everest, whose measured values where within 3.57 m, more or less, of each others. Stalemate, so refreshing and time-honored, is a much more elegant non-solution than agreeing upon a standard definition of the top of this mountain. Then everyone could measure their little hearts out to one common point, gasping for breath and fighting acrophobia (OK, maybe that's just me), and possibly, just possibly, settle this question once and for all.

Of course, this doesn't account for the continual resurveys which might be necessary (got to love resurveys) due to the possible 4mm per year (GASP!) scientist say Mount Everest gets higher due to the Indian sub-continent rudely pushing into the Asian continent. Maybe if China agreed with the 1955 Indian survey Nepal is using, then maybe, just maybe, the Indian sub-continent would reconsider its aggressive upward lifting Asian continent pushing.

If worrying about another 4mm with a nearly 4m dispute in the first place doesn't knock your socks off, get this: While Nepal agrees to disagree with China's calculations, which are within 3.57m of their own survey, they refuse to accept a 1999 American expedition's 8,850m satellite positioning derived height, which is what the US National Geographic Society now uses, even though this measured value is closer to Nepal's own calculations (2m) than is China's!

Have You Tried To Level Up a Yak?

I'm sure this has nothing to do with the matter at hand, but I found the following picture of a Yak GPS system on Mount Everest from the early 1990's. Yes, you heard it right, a Yak GPS system! My evaluation of this setup (besides wanting to swap Yuck for Yak) brings to mind at least three thoughts:

  1. Yaks look very tricky to get level and setup over a point.
  2. If Yaks are like cattle, do they lay down when it rains or when rain is coming - there's a meter or two right there!
  3. If Yaks kick, gore, and/or bite, did someone skip measuring the height of instrument?
Yak-mounted Trimble 4000ST GPS Receiver on Mount Everest expedition in early 1990s

Yak-mounted Trimble 4000ST GPS Receiver on Mount Everest expedition in early 1990s. Source: LSU


  • The more things change the more they stay the same.
  • Mount Everest is tall, no matter what.
  • Measuring to a common point will solve many problems. Beginning on a common datum helps too.
  • A third survey, no matter how accurate and precise, only matters if both parties agree with it - or are forced to agree with it.
  • Local surveyors can have the upper hand, at least with perception and client acceptance, to an outsider coming in to survey.
  • Yaks are not the survey tool of the future and look difficult to perform accurate and precise surveying with.

Professional Land Surveyor Source


Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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