People often use the terms ‘tallest mountains’ and ‘highest mountains’ interchangeably, and they terribly mix-up these two different things. It’s imperative for one to know that both terms have completely different meanings.
When we talk about the highest mountains, we take its elevation from a common reference point into consideration. That common reference point is the sea level. The tallest mountains, on the other hand, are distinguished by the total distance between their summit and the base.
To better explain this, let’s take an example of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. In case you’re wondering, it’s not the world’s tallest mountain. This is due to the fact that it has the highest elevation above the sea. But when measured from bottom-to-top, there are mountains taller than Mount Everest.
There are many other ways to describe “the tallest mountain,” for example, the summit of Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador is the farthest point from the Earth’s core (due to Earth’s equatorial bulge).
Anyway, based on their total height measured from top-to-bottom, we have compiled a detailed list of tallest mountains in the world.
Lhotse (right) and Mount Everest (upper left) in March 2018 | Image Courtesy: Guillaume Baviere/Flickr
Located In: Tibet (China)-Nepal Border
Elevation: 8,516 Meters
Lhotse, located in Nepal’s Khumbu region and Tibet, is the fourth highest and one of the tallest mountains in the world. It is a component of Everest massif and is connected to Mount Everest via the South Col.
Apart from the main peak, Lhotse has two smaller summits; Lhotse Middle (8,414 m) and Lhotse Shar (8,383 m).
The first successful ascent of Lhotse (main summit) was achieved by two Swiss nationals Ernst Reiss and Fritz Luchsinger on May 18, 1956. Lhotse Middle, despite being the smaller one, remained one of the highest unclimbed summits on Earth. It was successfully ascended for the first time by a team of Russian mountaineers in 2001.
Sunrise over Kanchenjunga | Wikimedia Commons
Located In: India-Nepal Border
Elevation: 8,586 Meters
Do you know that until 1852, Kanchenjunga, not Mount Everest, was considered the highest mountain summit on Earth? It was only rectified after the conclusion of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India in 1856. Kanchenjunga, officially spelled as Kangchenjunga, lies both in India and Nepal.
Kanchenjunga, standing at 8,586 m height above the sea level, is the third highest mountain in the world. However, its topographic prominence, a measure of summit’s independence, is at just 3,922 m and ranks 29th in the world.
The North side of K2 | Image Courtesy: Kuno Lechner
Located In: Pakistan/China
Elevation: 8,611 Meters
K2, also known as Mount Godwin-Austen, is the highest peak of the Karakoram range, an extensive mountain range spanning five different nations. It is the second highest mountain on Earth.
K2 is infamous for its deadly ascent for which it has acquired the nickname of Savage Mountain. It has the second highest mortality rate among all eight-thousanders (mountains with more than 8,000 m height). Moreover, K2 has never been successfully ascended to the top during the winters.
Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it. – Edmund Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer
5. Mount Everest
An aerial photo of Mount Everest
Located In: Nepal and/or China
Elevation: 8,848 Meters
Everest is the highest mountain and certainly one of the most well-known places on Earth. The first successful survey of the mountain concerning its height was conducted by the British in the 1850s. Before that, Kangchenjunga was effectively the world’s highest peak.
Back in 2005, an argument broke out between China and Nepal regarding its official height which was finally settled at 8,848 m (the snow height) five years later in 2010.
Mount Everest belongs to a group of mountains called Seven Summits, which includes the highest mountain in each of the seven continent. It is also an ultra-prominent peak (mountain peak with more than 1,500 m prominence).
Denali and Wonder Lake | Image Courtesy: Denali National Park and Preserve/Flickr
Located In: Alaska, United States
Elevation: 6,190 Meters
Denali, previously known as Mount McKinley, is the third most prominent (topographic prominence) summit in the world after Mount Everest and Aconcagua (in Argentina). It is also the highest point in North America.
Despite its elevation of 6,190 m from the sea, Denali is taller than Mount Everest (when measured from its exact base). This is due to the fact that Mount Everest sits on top of the Tibetan Plateau, which has an average elevation of more than 4,500 meters.
Denali is composed of two peaks; the North Summit (5,934 m elevation) and the South Summit. The North Summit is often identified as a separate peak and is rarely climbed by mountaineers.
Centered on the mountain is the gigantic Denali National Park and Preserve, which is bigger than some of the smallest U.S states. It is home to more than 450 flowering plants, endangered animals and birds. Denali’s peculiar landscape features deciduous forest in one side to glaciers and snow covered mountains on the other.
3. Mount Teide
Located In: Tenerife, Canary Island, Spain
Elevation Above Sea-Level: 3,718 Meters
Total Height: 7,500 Meters
Mount Teide, also known as Pico del Teide, is a Strato/Shield volcano located on Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. It is the third tallest mountain on Earth if measured from its base.
According to the current estimations, the formation of mount Teide took place in a total of five separate phases spanning over millions of years. It is an active volcano, which last erupted in 1909.
The Teide National Park, which surrounds the volcano, is vital for studies related to Mars due to their almost identical geological and environmental conditions. In 2010, the region became the testing bed for the Raman Laser Spectrometer, which would be a part of ESA/ROSCOSMOS’ ExoMars mission in 2020.
Located In: Hawaii, United States
Elevation Above Sea-level: 3,055 Meters
Total Height: 9,100 Meters
The volcanic mountain of Heleakala covers about 75 percent of Maui, the second largest of the Hawaiian islands. The summit of Heleakala, locally known as Puʻu ʻUlaʻula, rises 3,055 m above the sea level, while its total height from top-to-bottom is above 9,000 m.
In the last 900 years, the volcano has erupted a total of three times. The last recorded eruption took place sometime between 1480-1600 CE. According to the USGS in 2015, the Volcanic alert level for Heleakala was “normal” i.e, in the non-eruptive state.
The temperature near the summit varies between 5°C and 16°C. The walking trails can be more challenging than one might expect, due to the thin air and chances of dehydration at that height.
1. Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea in December 2007 | Image Courtesy: Vadim Kurland/Flickr
Located In: Hawaii, United States
Total Height: 10,000 Meters
Above Sea-Level: 4,207.3 m
At 10,000 m in height, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Earth, nearly 60 percent of which is below the sea level. It is dormant shield volcano, which last erupted sometime around 25th century BCE.
The volcanic mountain is so massive that, along with its much larger neighbor, it subdues the oceanic crust underneath by several miles. Mauna Kea has been steadily flattening at the rate of more than 0.2 mm annually.
The mountain’s summit is an ideal location for conducting astronomical observations due to minimum light and atmospheric pollution and remarkably stable winds. Its dry and arid conditions make the place suitable for infrared astronomy.
Since the late 1960s, a total of thirteen telescopes have been installed there.