Everest: Higher Climb To Top

Burdened with oxygen tanks, climbing gear and cameras, Bill Crouse and his fellow climbers arrived at the top of the world.

With the brown, arid plateau of Tibet stretching to the north and the mountains and green valleys of Nepal to the south, the climbers spread out their special gear on the snow-covered summit of Mount Everest.

The equipment they assembled would communicate with a fleet of satellites to help answer a deceptively simple question: How high is the highest point on Earth?

Now, six months later, the answer has been revealed: Mount Everest rises to 29,035 feet, 7 feet higher than the altitude officially recognized for 45 years.

Bradford Washburn, 89, director of the Millennium Expedition to Mount Everest, presented the new measurements Thursday at the National Geographic Society.

"We now know much more about the configuration of our Earth ... than we did 40 years ago," Washburn said.

Three other teams have climbed Everest since 1995 as part of the project. The climbers have placed measuring devices and other scientific sensors at key points on the mountain.


Climbers head for Everest's summit

Crouse, 35, of Carbondale, Colo., along with expedition leader Pete Athans of Boulder, Colo., and five Sherpa climbers spent nearly two hours on the summit on May 5, half of that time collecting data from Global Positioning System satellites.

"We felt like monkeys in space," Crouse said after the presentation, noting that their job was to push buttons to transmit data to stations below.

It took months of number crunching before the final results were known.

National Geographic said it will revise all its new maps and globes with the new elevation.

"It is clearly the most authoritative and thoroughly executed measurement of the highest point on the Earth's surface," Allen Carroll, the society's chief cartographer, said.

The previous height - 29,028 feet - was determined in 1954 by averaging altitude measurements taken from a dozen different observation points around the mountain.


Fog shrouds mountain's peak

The study also found that Mount Everest is moving steadily northeast at a rate of 2.4 inches a year because of the geological fault system that slowly pushes India under Nepal and China, creating the Himalayas, Washburn said.

"At this moment, six months later, Mount Everest may already be a trifle higher, as well as slightly northeast of the position that it occupied early in May," he said.

The expedition is part of Washburn's ongoing work to accurately measure Everest. The Lexingto, Mass., cartographer and his wife, Barbara, produced in 1988 the most detailed map of Everest ever made.

The expedition would have been impossible without recent technical advances that shrank GPS units that once weighed 50 pounds to a handheld size.

Everest has recently gained increasing infamy following a rash of deaths that sent a chill through the climbing community. Eight mountaineers died on the peak on May 10, 1996, alone, a tragedy described in the best-selling book "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer.

But people keep climbing, and now the magic altitude is seven feet higher.

"It's a big deal when you change the height of the highest peak in the world," said Crouse.

On May 5, after collecting the altitude data, Crouse had one more mission before leaving the summit.

His oxygen mask removed, exposing his face to the Everest air, a balmy 12 degrees below zero, Crouse took out a satellite telephone and dialed a number in Colorado. After trying to connect for 20 minutes, a sleepy voice answered.

Crouse said hello to his mother, telling her he was fine and how high up he was - higher than anyone knew.

Written By DAVID HO