Mountains are elevations on the Earth’s surface with a minimum height of 2,000 feet (610m). Most mountains are named, steep, and hard to climb, unlike hills.
It would be pretty obvious and easy to differentiate a mountain from a hill you may think, but that is not always the case.
Sometimes, not even the great scientists can agree on what is the exact measure to transform a hill into a mountain and vice versa is.
So after many attempts to unify opinions on this subject, it remains open to dispute.
The most common definition is that mountains are a natural pile of earth, created by faulting. They usually rise very abruptly in comparison to the surrounding area and have a well-defined peak.
Some are extremely tall and recognizable, while some are defined as mountains even when they look like hills.
Historically, What Height Classifies a Mountain?
The height of a mountain has always been the subject of many disagreements among scientists and remains so to this day.
The height needed for a formation to be classified as a mountain changed frequently over the years.
Until 1970, the British Ordnance Survey and The United States agreed that a mountain is at least 1.000 feet (300m) high.
In the Oxford Dictionary mountains are defined above 2.000 feet (610m), so it would be wise to assume that even though there is not a unified opinion, everything under 2.000 feet (610m) is not considered a mountain.
With that being said, there are mountains mentioned in this article that are way under the limit of 2.000 feet and still recorded as a mountain. Why is that? Well, it’s simply a subjective choice each nation can decide upon.
What Qualifies a Hill as a Mountain?
Some hills aspire to become mountains, and when every inch counts some become known as short mountains, and some are labeled as tall hills.
Like Cavanal Hill in Poteau, Oklahoma that is 1.999 feet tall (1 foot from being a mountain).
Mountains can erode and lose their height over time, and this is mainly how plateaus are formed.
On the other hand, some hills can become mountains in extreme conditions, like volcanoes erupting or in case of an earthquake. Then the formation of a mountain can occur in a matter of days, rather than hundreds and thousands of years.
The pressure released in volcano eruption can cause a fast formation of a mountain. But earthquakes also can alter the terrain, and one hill in Montana rose 8 feet in under a minute.
What is the Smallest and Biggest Mountain in the World?
The smallest mountain in the world is Mount Wycheproof, located in Australia and it’s only 141 feet (43m) tall (compared to the surrounding terrain). It is so small that many view it as a hill, but in official records, it is a mountain.
The tallest mountain in the world is Mount Everest, located between China and Nepal, with the highest elevation above sea level at 29.029 feet (8.848m).
This giant is well known and presents constant inspirations for dear-devils around the world.
Fun facts about these two mountains; more people climbed (or tried to climb) Mount Everest than Mount Wycheproof, no matter the dramatic height difference. People just love to be challenged, I guess.
Differences between a Mountain, a Hill, a Valley, and a Plateau
It should be pretty easy to tell the difference between a mountain, a hill, a valley, and a plateau.
But if you think about it for a second and notice that we still don’t have specific definitions for each, the task becomes harder.
To truly understand the difference between these formations, we need a brief geography lesson and learn how the terrain is formed during millions of years.
Two most important processes:
- Inner process of tectonic deformation: faults, folds, volcanoes, and others;
- Surface process of formation: erosion caused by rain, wind, and sun, etc.
We know that mountains are formed by tectonic deformations and take a long time to form. Mountains are rising high above the surrounding ground and should be higher than 2.000 feet.
Plateaus are formed by erosions of a mountain, and over years becomes a flat surface with high elevation because the peak of any mountain erodes first.
They are often referred to as tableland formation because of its unique flat look. It looks like a mountain cut in half.
Valleys are formed between mountains and they are likely caused by the rising of the mountain on one hand and water erosion on the other.
They often have a river running through and that implicates that valleys are draining systems of the mountains.
Mountains have a lot of rainfall and snow, and all that water carves its own path in the form of valleys.
Hills are forever stuck somewhere in between; not quite a mountain but also not flat enough to be a plateau.
Hills have one unique fact that makes them the best place for wildlife to flourish, and that is the abundance of trees and grass that mountains don’t have.
Whether you accept the 2.000 feet limit for a hill to be named a mountain or not, you have to admire the power nature has.
Throughout millions of years, the highest peaks are formed, then crushed into dust by that same nature.
That is if you didn’t plan on climbing Mount Everest any time soon. May I suggest Mount Wycheproof instead, I hear it’s less crowded.