Spaces above 8,000 metres: quantitative and qualitative assessments of Mount Everest

by Fiona Ferbrache

Mount Everest is the world’s tallest peak, but there is some disagreement about how tall it actually is.  The first published height, measured by the Great Trigonometric Survey in 1856, recorded the peak at 8,840 metres.  In 1999, an American team used GPS instruments to record Everest’s rock height at 8,850m, and an additional ice cap that took the reading to 8,851m.  Another measurement in 2005, this time by a Chinese team, calculated the ice elevation at 8,847.98m.  As we are confronted with these different measurements, it is worthwhile noting that Everest is understood to grow by 4mm every year due to tectonic plate movements.  At the end of last month, it was reported that Nepalese surveyors had begun a two-year programme to officially measure the peak using GPS technology (Rahman, 2011).

We await the Nepalese declaration of Mount Everest’s height, but for certain it fits within the parametres of “mountain spaces above 8000 metres”, which makes it one of the main examples in Wilson’s forthcoming article in Area.  Wilson looks to high places (Everest and K2) to explore how mountaineers construct these spaces as psychological and geographical physical and mental thresholds.  His paper explores narratives of technology, summit-fever, the “death zone”, risk-taking, and the role of mountain guides.  Wilson also stresses some of the nature-society dualisms that are linked to high mountain spaces.

While we geographers might not all have the capacity to climb Mount Everest, we do hold one claim to the mountain: In 1886, Everest was christened with its official English name by the Royal Geographical Society.

Rahman, M. (2011) How high is Mount Everest? Nepal survey aims to answer huge question.  Guardian.co.uk.  20 July, 2011.

Wilson, G.A. (in press) Climbers’ narratives of mountain spaces above 8000 metres: a social constructivist perspective. Area. Forthcoming

One thought on “Spaces above 8,000 metres: quantitative and qualitative assessments of Mount Everest

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