Before Everest, What Was the Highest Mountain?

Before Mount Everest was “discovered”, there were many mountains in the past presumed to be the highest in the world. One by one, higher mountains were found and measured, until Everest topped them all.

So which mountains used to hold the title of tallest in the world?

Here’s a list of each mountain that was considered the “highest” before Mount Everest. As you can see, it changed quite a lot over the centuries.

MountainYears Considered HighestHeight in m (ft)
Mt Tiede, TenerifePre 1500s 3,718 m (12,198 ft) Presumed highest in the world by sailors passing the island of Tenerife.
Mt Chimborazo, Ecuador1500s – 1800 approx.6267m (6,267 metres (20,561 ft).
The summit of Chimborazo is the point on Earth that is furthest from the centre because of the oblate spheroid shape of the planet Earth, which is thicker around the Equator than measured around the poles
Nanda Devi, IndiaEarly 1800s7,816 metres (25,643 ft). Presumed highest in the world in an era when Nepal was still closed to the outside world. Now known to be the 23rd highest mountain in the world.
Dhaulagiri, Nepal1808 – 18478,167 metres (26,795 ft). Presumed highest from 1808 until 1847. Now known to be the 7th highest mountain in the world.
Kangchenjunga, India1847 – 18528,586 metres (28,169 ft). Presumed highest from 1847 until 1852. Now known to be the 3rd highest mountain in the world.
K21856 – 18568,611 metres (28,251 ft). Discovered in 1856 and considered the highest briefly before Mount Everest’s status was officially confirmed,
Source: Wikipedia

Medieval sailors thought Mount Teide on the island of Tenerife was the highest mountain on earth. It is 3,718 m (12,198 ft) high, but little did they know there were dozens of mountains in the Himalayas more than double that height (source: wikipedia).

For many years before Mount Everest was discovered, Mount Kangchenjunga at 8,586 m (28,169 ft) in Northern India was thought to be the highest mountain in the world. Why? Because it was clearly visible from Darjeeling, a British tea station.

K2 in Pakistan was then briefly thought to be the world’s highest mountain in 1856, just before Everest’s preeminence was established by the Great Trigonometrical Survey. (source: wikipedia).

Mount Teide on Tenerife was once thought the highest mountain on Earth
Mount Teide on Tenerife

There was huge excitement in the mountaineering world in 1986 when it was announced that satellite measurements by the University of Washington during an expedition to K2 had given a height between 29,064 feet (8,859 m) and 29,228 feet (8,909 m). That would have made K2 the world’s highest mountain! (source: New York Times).

However, this was speedily corrected and Everest reinstated. K2 is a harder mountain to climb than Everest, so numbers of ascents would have been fewer on K2.

By the way, to answer the question “Before Mount Everest, what was the highest mountain?”- it was Everest! Think about it…. it’s a popular riddle.

About Graham Hoyland

Graham was the 15th Briton to Climb Mount Everest. He has spent over two years across nine expeditions to the mountain and is the author of Last Hours on Everest, the story of Mallory and Irvine's fatal ascent.