Mt. Denali (the formerly named Mt. McKinley) was recently remeasured using GPS stakes, and is actually 10 feet shorter than the official 1953 measurement of 20,320 feet. In a Livescience article published on September 3rd, editor Jeanna Bryner remarks that the new information is “practical… for earth scientists and even mountaineers, pilots and geographers” and is “important information for the public”. The USGS acting director, Suzette Kimball, says, “‘It is inspiring to think we can measure this magnificent peak with such accuracy.'”
I agree with Bryner that knowing the exact height of Mt. Denali is useful for geoscientists and those who need to physically interact with the summit (i.e. those pilots and mountaineers), but I disagree with Kimball’s sentiment that placing a numerical value on a geologic masterpiece is “inspiring”. I don’t think of it as inspiring; I think of it as constraining. We place numbers on items and wrangle abstract concepts into concrete definitions in order to bring them to a human level of understanding; it almost feels as though, by knowing the exact height of the tallest peak in North America we strip it of some of its magnificence, reducing it to no more than a statistic. I think it is excellent to know with certainty the height of a mountain, but it is also more romantic to dream and wonder about it.
Original article here.