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Mountain out of a Mole Hill?

PotomacBob

I was looking the other day for definitions of a mountain - how high does a "hill" have to be before it becomes a mountain. I recall an old movie in which the premise was that a mountain is 1,000 feet tall - and people in the story had a hill of 997 feet - so tried to make it a mountain by adding 3 more feet to the top.
I can't find anything that says it takes 1,000 feet to make a mountain. Or any other specific number of feet.
Anybody have a source that defines it?

Ross at Play

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain#Definition

At one time the U.S. Board on Geographic Names defined a mountain as being 1,000 feet (300 m) or taller,[10] but has abandoned the definition since the 1970s.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@PotomacBob


Anybody have a source that defines it?


The short answer is no.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain

There is no universally accepted definition of a mountain. Elevation, volume, relief, steepness, spacing and continuity have been used as criteria for defining a mountain.[1] In the Oxford English Dictionary a mountain is defined as "a natural elevation of the earth surface rising more or less abruptly from the surrounding level and attaining an altitude which, relatively to the adjacent elevation, is impressive or notable."[1]

Whether a landform is called a mountain may depend on local usage. Mount Scott outside Lawton, Oklahoma is only 251 m (823 ft) from its base to its highest point. Whittow's Dictionary of Physical Geography[2] states "Some authorities regard eminences above 600 metres (2,000 ft) as mountains, those below being referred to as hills."


At one time the U.S. Board on Geographic Names defined a mountain as being 1,000 feet (300 m) or taller,[10] but has abandoned the definition since the 1970s. Any similar landform lower than this height was considered a hill. However, today, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) concludes that these terms do not have technical definitions in the US.[11]


You may however find this bit helpful:

The UN Environmental Programme's definition of "mountainous environment" includes any of the following:[12]

Elevation of at least 2,500 m (8,200 ft);

Elevation of at least 1,500 m (4,900 ft), with a slope greater than 2 degrees;

Elevation of at least 1,000 m (3,300 ft), with a slope greater than 5 degrees;

Elevation of at least 300 m (980 ft), with a 300 m (980 ft) elevation range within 7 km (4.3 mi).

Using these definitions, mountains cover 33% of Eurasia, 19% of South America, 24% of North America, and 14% of Africa.[13] As a whole, 24% of the Earth's land mass is mountainous.[14]


For me, hard rock is integral to what makes a mountain. A pile of clay, dirt, and/or sand, no matter how high is not a mountain.

BlacKnight

There isn't any universal technical definition. The USGS used to use a 1000' definition, but abandoned it decades ago, and just goes with customary names. The UK's current definition is 600m (1968.5'), though I'm not sure the legal classification has any bearing on what terrain features are actually called. The UN has several different definitions involving altitude and slope that it uses to define mountainous terrain, none of which are particularly relevant to common usage.

There's a "hill" near my house that's taller, steeper, and stands out more from the surrounding terrain, than a nearby "mountain". Both of them are a couple hundred feet taller than so-called "Mount Royal" in Montreal.

Keet

The highest point in the Netherlands is 322.4 m (1,058 ft) and it is said we don't have any mountains.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Keet

This issue was addressed in Ron Dudderie's latest chapter:

(very selective quoting)

Our highest mountain used to be the Vaalserberg, which reaches a pathetic 322 metres. And that's not 322 when you're at the foot of it, but 322 from sea level. It's just a slightly taller hill in the landscape. But recently we have acquired a new mountain, which is a very respectable 877 metres!

You see, in 2010 the Caribbean Island of Saba became a special municipality of The Netherlands. In 2010, after realising a tiny island filled with rather relaxed people who couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery without financial aid from The Netherlands, they gave up their autonomy and that's how we got ourselves 877 metres of prime mountain!

AJ

Replies:   Keet
awnlee jawking

@PotomacBob

Thanks for raising the question. I'm finding the answers very enlightening. It's an issue I fudged in my not-so-ongoing serial.

AJ

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Not_a_ID

@awnlee jawking

As discussed already, the answer is highly subjective and largely decided by either the speaker or local conventions.

I have seen "mountains" that I have laughed at being called as such, and I've seen "hills" that probably have a reasonable right to be called a mountain.

I would generally tend to agree with the approach applied by the United Nations.

Keet

@awnlee jawking

Ah yes, one of our bottomless money pits. I gave up on Ron Dudderie because his books are way too expensive but that remark you quoted is totally correct.

Crumbly Writer

You run into this all the time with the famous "Blue Ridge" mountains, as visitors can hardly differentiate between the steep hills approaching them and the mountains near the crest (i.e. before the ground falls back to more regular elevation).

I suspect, these confusions eventually led geologists to abandon the purely 'elevation' guidelines for what determines a mountain, instead going with the geological foundations (i.e. the Earth's mantle pushing the crust into unexpected peaks). Thus the entire Blue Ridge Mountain range would, by and large, be 'big' hills while the Rocky Mountains would be true mountains (the Blue Ridge mountains were supposedly once 'true mountains', but the tectonic plates shifted and their prominence was eventually worn down by gradual erosion).

Replies:   PotomacBob  anim8ed
PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

Thus the entire Blue Ridge Mountain range would, by and large, be 'big' hills while the Rocky Mountains would be true mountains


Using what criteria would that be true?

anim8ed

@Crumbly Writer

With over 125 peaks at over 5,000 ft elevation I would call the Blue Ridge mountains a mountain range.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
samuelmichaels

I can't help thinking of Dolly Parton's quote:

Plastic surgeons are always making mountains out of molehills.

Crumbly Writer

@anim8ed

With over 125 peaks at over 5,000 ft elevation I would call the Blue Ridge mountains a mountain range.

Again, using the 'old' criteria, it's clearly a mountain range. However, using the newer criteria, only few of those peaks would qualify, as what once were significant geological features fitting the description, have since eroded away over millions of years.

Replies:   PotomacBob
PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

Again, using the 'old' criteria, it's clearly a mountain range. However, using the newer criteria,


What "old" criteria; whose "newer" criteria. I understand that, geologically, the Blue Ridge mountains are not as high as they once may have been (believe it or not, I did NOT watch this process); what I don't understand is what "newer" criteria means they no longer meet the definition of mountains.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@PotomacBob

what I don't understand is what "newer" criteria means they no longer meet the definition of mountains.

The old-criteria was principally ONLY the elevation of a mountain. The new criteria deals with the slope and the composition (pure rock vs. dirt and accumulated debris).

My supposition was the long-running debate between the Blue Ridge and Rocky Mountain ranges, and between the European vs Early American definitions of what constituted 'mountains' (ex: "You call that a mountain, back home, we have real mountains. These merely cost you a little more travel time."). That part was pure hyperbole.

Replies:   PotomacBob  Ross at Play
PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

The new criteria deals with the slope and the composition


Who established the new criteria?

Replies:   Dominions Son
docholladay

I think the label used sometimes should be the commonly used label. Using some new label will just tend to create more confusion than anything else.

It might be different if the writer is writing a scientific paper or something of that nature. But sometimes the common term works best.

seanski1969

How about something totally unheard of today. You call it what you want to and I'll do the same. If it is a hill or mountain makes no difference unless you're describing a valley. :)

Replies:   PotomacBob
PotomacBob

@seanski1969

Why don't we just do the same thing with all words?

Dominions Son
Updated:

@PotomacBob


Who established the new criteria?


I'd like to know that too.

Here is the current stance of the US Geological Survey, the US Federal Government agency that would have authority in this area. Note the last sentence which I have highlighted.

https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-difference-between-mountain-hill-and-peak-lake-and-pond-or-river-and-creek

The British Ordnance Survey once defined a mountain as having 1,000 feet of elevation and less was a hill, but the distinction was abandoned sometime in the 1920's. There was even a movie with this as its theme in the late 1990's - The Englishman That Went Up a Hill and Down a Mountain. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names once stated that the difference between a hill and a mountain in the U.S. was 1,000 feet of local relief, but even this was abandoned in the early 1970's. Broad agreement on such questions is essentially impossible, which is why there are no official feature classification standards.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Without having seen either, I can see some merit in you opinion that the Rockies should be called "mountains" but the Blue Ridge Mountains only called "hills". However, I can see no reason anyone here should give your opinion credence over the dozens of other contradictory ones already out there.

You have overthought this one. LET IT GO!

robberhands

@PotomacBob

I recall an old movie in which the premise was that a mountain is 1,000 feet tall - and people in the story had a hill of 997 feet - so tried to make it a mountain by adding 3 more feet to the top.

That's 'The Englishman who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain'. The movie is from 1995 and is quite funny but you made me feel old.

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