Mount Everest may not be as high as we have always thought.
Officially, the world’s highest peak tops out at 8848.13 metres. But a 2005 Chinese survey measured the peak at 8844.43 metres.
Why the difference? The permanent snowpack at the summit.
There also has been speculation over whether recent seismic events, particularly a powerful 2015 earthquake in Nepal, had affected the mountain’s height.
So, in a bid to sort out the discrepancy once and for all, this week, a group of Chinese surveyors became the first – and probably only – team this year to summit Everest.
The Chinese Government-backed expedition was allowed to climb despite China and Nepal in March suspending the usually busy spring climbing season due to coronavirus fears.
It remains suspended.
That could make the Chinese survey team the only people this year to reach the peak of Everest, which has seen growing crowds of climbers and mounds of accumulated garbage in recent years as commercial operations make it easier to scale the mountain.
On Wednesday, under clear blue skies, the team set up surveying equipment at the peak and expedition leaders later popped bottles of champagne at their assault camp below the summit, according to a video livestream provided by Chinese state media.
The exact height of the massive mountain, which straddles the China-Nepal border, remains a point of debate.
The most recent official Chinese survey in 2005 measured the peak at 8,844.43 metres, not including the snow and icepack on the summit, while Nepal’s official figure includes the Everest’s frosty crown and is four metres higher.
State-run Xinhua news agency have touted the expedition as a chance to achieve a highly accurate measurement, saying survey equipment will ping signals off a Chinese satellite and that other “advanced domestic surveying and mapping instruments” will be employed.
It was not clear when the survey results would be released, but China and Nepal agreed last year to reveal the findings in a joint announcement.
The expedition set out on April 30, but was delayed twice due to bad weather. Climbers only have a short window of opportunity to make the risky ascent during the main spring climbing season before the approaching summer monsoon brings dangerous climatic conditions.
The 2019 climbing season saw record overcrowding on Mount Everest, which led to 11 deaths as climbers waited hours in lines to reach the summit with dwindling oxygen.