Discover How and When Mount Everest Was Formed

Mount Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse at sunset, from Gokyo Ri, Nepal Himalaya
Martin Gillespie/Shutterstock.com

Written by Eliana Riley

Published: April 19, 2023

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Located in the Himalayas on the border between Nepal and China, Mount Everest has been the fascination of people around the globe for centuries. Being the tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest stands an impressive 29,032 feet high. While many visit the mountain and try to reach the summit, few know the fascinating story of its formation. When was Mount Everest formed?

Mt. Everest’s story begins hundreds of millions of years ago! While some experts still speculate over exactly when and how Mt. Everest came to be, one thing is for sure: Mt. Everest is a remarkable sight, and its incredible wildlife only adds to its beauty. Discover how and when Mt. Everest was formed, and if it grow taller.

How and When Was Mount Everest Formed?

When was Mount Everest formed? To understand, we need to think back to 250 million years ago.

To understand how the world’s tallest mountain formed, we must take a trip back approximately 250 million years back. During this time, scientists theorize that the separate continents we recognize today did not exist. Rather, the continents were all stuck together as one giant landmass called Pangea.

Over time, Pangea began to fracture or break apart into separate land masses. A three-pronged fissure, which created separation between present-day Africa, South America, and North America, was responsible for the breaking up of Pangea. As a result, rifting occurred. Rifting occurs when land masses break apart due to faulting caused by plate tectonics. Faulting describes a series of movements between land masses or rocks that breaks them apart. Plate tectonics is a theory describing the movement of plates within the Earth’s outer layer, called the lithosphere. When plates shift, they cause faulting or rifting, and this movement creates different geological formations, including mountains or volcanoes.

As plates below the Earth’s surface began to move, the present-day country of India began to shift upwards into the Eurasian plate. The movement of India ultimately closed one of the ancient oceans formed by the fracturing of Pangea. India is estimated to move at a maximum rate of 15 centimeters per year. Over time, India’s movement helped to create the Himalayas, the mountain range containing Mount Everest. Approximately 60 million years ago, plates below India moved upward to form Mt. Everest.

While India’s movement into the Eurasian plate is the widely accepted narrative for how Mt. Everest was formed, some speculate that Mt. Everest’s formation may be more complex. Scientists can track how a continent moves due to an understanding of how ancient magnetic arrangements in plates affect a plate’s position. When researchers use this understanding to track India’s movement, they find that India would have been positioned further south some 60 million years ago than the original formation theory claims.

This would mean that there would be a gap between the Eurasian plate and India unaccounted for in the traditional theory of Mt. Everest’s formation. With a gap so large, Mt. Everest may not have been formed 60 million years ago but, rather, been created at another time. Thus, experts are still determining when exactly Mt. Everest was formed and India’s interaction with the Eurasian plate.

What’s fascinating about India’s movement upward is that it continues to this day. In fact, India moves toward Eurasia a couple of inches per year. This movement means that the Himalayas are constantly growing by a maximum of 10 millimeters annually. Mt. Everest is likely growing by one millimeter annually. However, the shift of plates below India does not always signify an increase in elevation. Plate tectonics can also cause earthquakes, which may shrink mountains by a few millimeters at a time.

Furthermore, erosion can cause the Himalayas to shrink in size. Erosion occurs when wind, rain, or other natural elements gradually chip away at rock or sediment. Although Mt. Everest may be growing in height due to plate tectonics, erosion of the mountain can take away what few millimeters it gains. Therefore, experts are unsure of what Mt. Everest will look like in the coming centuries.

Wildlife at Mount Everest

A frontal portrait of a Red Panda

Red pandas call Mount Everest home.

Animal life at Mount Everest is diverse and unique to the region. You may encounter mammals like the red panda or the snow leopard on the mountain. Perhaps surprisingly, red pandas are nowhere near as large as the animal we picture when we hear “panda.” Rather, these animals average around two feet in length.

Red pandas have reddish-brown fur with white accents around their face and ears. The habitat of red pandas includes forests, and they spend most of their time in the treetops. The Himalayas are home to around half of the world’s red panda population. Unfortunately, this species is endangered. Their population levels are on the decline due to poaching, as many illegally trade their desirable fur.

The snow leopard is also native to the Himalayan Mountain chain. Snow leopards are a big cat species but do not always share the same characteristics as other big cats, such as lions or tigers. In fact, snow leopards have shorter skulls and rounder eyes than most big cats, causing some experts to claim that the snow leopard belongs in other categories.

Snow leopards typically have a light gray­–almost white-looking–coloration with dark spots. They average a length of around seven feet, including their three-foot tail, and they weigh between 50 and 90 pounds. Snow leopards in the Himalayas usually reside between 9,840 and 14,760 feet in elevation. Experts project a 10% loss in the snow leopard population by 2040 from poaching and habitat loss. The projected decline causes this species to fall into the “vulnerable” category on the IUCN Red List.

Another animal near Mt. Everest is the Himalayan black bear. Himalayan black bears are a subspecies of the Asian black bear. This species prefers a warmer climate, so they typically reside between 9,840 and 12,140 feet in elevation. Black bears are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat. The diet of black bears includes fruit, nuts, honey, beetles, and termites. If there is a lack of food, black bears may even attack and consume livestock like goats or sheep. Forest fires and human interference with the habitat of black bears are two of the species’ greatest threats. Black bears are a “vulnerable” species.

Some birds in and near Mt. Everest include the Tibetan snowcock, the Himalayan monal, and the blood pheasant. Tibetan snowcocks are common in southern Asian areas like India, Nepal, and Bhutan. These birds are not endangered and include six subspecies. The Tibetan snowcock averages 22 inches in length and weighs between 2.65 and 3.86 pounds.

Male Tibetan snowcocks are typically larger than their female counterparts. They have a gray, brown, and red coloration accented by black and white stripes across the body. This bird species can be found at high elevations but are likely to move to lower elevations during winter. The diet of Tibetan snowcocks includes grass, seeds, and herbs.

Blood pheasants are another type of bird most common in the eastern Himalayas. While blood pheasant populations may decline, they are still considered to be of the “least concern.” Some threats to blood pheasant populations include habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, and human disruption. Blood pheasants are beautiful small birds with dark gray plumage. Some feathers on this bird species appear green with white accents. The belly of the blood pheasant features light green and red feathers.  

Where Can Visitors Encounter Animals at Mount Everest?

Mount Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse at sunset, from Gokyo Ri, Nepal Himalaya

Mount Everest is 8,848 meters high.

Many animals at Mount Everest are rarely seen, but you may discover them during spring or fall. However, most animals don’t live at elevations higher than 18,800 feet. Some animals above 18,800 feet include the Tibetan gazelle, Himalayan pika, and wild yak.

Furthermore, Mt. Everest is home to many endangered species. For instance, some estimate only 500 snow leopards still roam Nepal’s Himalayas. Therefore, spotting one of these creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At the same time, humans should be careful to leave these animals alone and respect their habitats if they encounter them.


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About the Author

Eliana Riley is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on geography, travel, and landmarks. Eliana is a second-year student at Miami University majoring in English Education and Spanish. A resident of Tennessee and Ohio, Eliana enjoys traveling to national and state parks, hiking, kayaking, and camping.

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