The Predecessors of Mount Everest: Unveiling the Highest Mountains in History

Video what was the tallest mountain before mount everest


For centuries, the quest to determine the highest mountain on Earth has intrigued explorers and adventurers. Before Mount Everest claimed the title, other mountains held this prestigious position. Let’s dive into the fascinating history of these towering peaks.

Chimborazo: A Contender for the Crown

One prime candidate for the title of the world’s highest mountain is Chimborazo, located in Ecuador. This majestic peak has a unique claim to fame—the height is measured from the center of the Earth. Due to the Earth’s bulge at the equator, mountains nearer to this region are farther from the Earth’s center compared to those at higher latitudes. Therefore, when measured this way, Chimborazo surpasses all others in elevation.

Alexander von Humboldt’s famous infographic of Chimborazo

A Mountain of Historical Significance

Chimborazo’s history dates back to the time of the Incas and the Spanish conquest of Peru. It witnessed significant battles during this period. In 1525, two Incan brothers, Atahualpa and Huáscar, engaged in a fierce struggle for their inheritance on the slopes of Chimborazo. Atahualpa emerged victorious, becoming the supreme ruler of the Incas. However, his reign was short-lived, as he was captured and executed by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1532. Another Inca warrior, Rumiñahui, attempted to transport Atahualpa’s legendary ransom to safety but met his defeat at Riobamba, situated on Chimborazo’s southeastern slopes.

Chimborazo’s fame spread among Western explorers who encountered it during the Spanish conquest of South America. In 1744, Pierre Bouguer and Charles-Maria de La Condamine estimated its height to be 3,220 toises (a unit of length in pre-revolutionary France). Today, this measurement corresponds closely to the accepted height of 6,276m—truly impressive for its time.

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The crew of the HMS Beagle, including Charles Darwin, saw many big mountains while surveying the coast of South America

Discovering Higher Peaks

South America continued to capture the attention of explorers. In 1826, Joseph Barclay Pentland, an Irish naturalist, surveyed the Bolivian Andes for the British government. Pentland documented six peaks taller than Chimborazo, with Sajama claiming the highest spot at 6,542m. In 1835, during Captain Robert Fitzroy’s voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin, an avid naturalist, collected flora and fauna while the ship explored the coast of Chile. It was on this expedition that Fitzroy’s surveyors discovered even taller mountains, including the prominent Aconcagua at 6,959m—the highest peak in South America.

The Himalayan Revelation

As exciting as these discoveries were, it turned out that South America was not the home of the world’s tallest mountain. Detailed information about mountain heights remained limited until the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India began systematically measuring the peaks of the Himalayas in the 1820s.

The eminent scientist Alexander von Humboldt, known for his attempt to scale Chimborazo in 1802, initially believed it might be the highest mountain worldwide. However, by 1853, his explanations of mountain heights became convoluted, and the true height of Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest mountain at 8,167m, was still unknown. Humboldt also mentioned Colonel Baugh’s precise measurement of Kinchinjunga at 8,588m, which we now recognize as the world’s third-highest peak.

An image of Dhaulagiri

Finally, in 1856, Mount Everest, towering at 8,848m, was measured for the first time, solidifying its place as the undisputed highest mountain on Earth.


In conclusion, before the fame of Mount Everest, several mountains claimed the title of the world’s highest. Chimborazo, with its unique measurement from the Earth’s center, held this prestigious position for some time. However, the grandeur of the Himalayas ultimately unveiled Mount Everest as the unparalleled pinnacle of Earth’s majestic peaks.

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If you’re fascinated by this topic, why not check out my book Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo? It’s the perfect companion for your adventurous spirit.

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