Mountains and other Tall Things

Almost everyone knows that Mt. Everest is the world's highest, at 29,108 feet, but few know that it is still growing, the result of plate tectonics as the former continent of India continues its slide into that of Asia. Its name in Tibet is Chomolungma which means "sacred mother of the waters".

Nearly all of the world's 50 highest mountains, and most of the world's 100 highest mountains (most of which are numbered, not named), exist in the 1,500 mile path of collision line between India and Asia.

Outside this area, the rest are smallfry, and we are reduced to saying "which is the highest mountain in a given country." Thus we have:

Highest in Europe: Mt. Blanc, in the French Alps (15,771 feet).
Highest in the Western hemisphere: Cerro Aconcagua, in the Andes between Argentina and Chile (23,034 feet).
Highest in North America: Mt. McKinley, in Alaska (20,320 feet).
Highest in 48 states: Mt. Whitney, in California (14,494 feet).

The United States lacks a mountain in the top 100, and 16 of the highest in the US are in Alaska.

Europe's highest mountains are in the Alps, the result again of plate tectonics and the collision of Africa with Europe.

Editor's Note: An 11 year old future scientist writes to say that a mountain may be tall and not high, or high but not tall.
This is true, and relates to our measurement point of reference. We compare mountain heights according to how far they lift above the surface of the planet. We could select the center of the earth as the reference point, but by convention, we select "sea level". Height, therefore, is the number of feet above sea level.

But another way to measure a mountain is from its base to its top. Thus, a mountain which begins in a deep trench in the Pacific may be the tallest but not the highest, and not "high" at all if it fails to poke above the level of the sea. In point of fact, the tallest mountains in the world are in the Pacific, but they are not very high.