How should we measure our mountains...meters or feet? I have grown up in Colorado and I’m partial to my American units, but even though I live in America, I’ve been using SI units ever since entering public school. Not long ago I was reading Gerry Roach’s Colorado’s Fourteeners
guide book and found, in the appendix, a few paragraphs titled In Defense of Feet
. As I read the article, I found myself laughing in agreement.
The metre, or meter, came about in the late 1700’s (in and around the time of the French Revolution). At this time, the units of measurement in France were an absolute mess, with standard lengths of measurement varying from city to city. The French realized their dilemma and decided to try to fix the problem, leaving the issue in the hands of the Academy of Science in Paris.
They came up with several proposals, but none of them were very popular and the Academy left the decision to a bunch of scientists. That group decided to set the distance they called a metre as one ten-millionth of the distance from the pole to the equator at sea-level, or as Roach says “ 1,553,164.13 times the wavelength of the red cadmium line in air under 760 millimeters of pressure at 15 degrees Centigrade.” What!?!?!
The measurement of feet, on the other hand, has been used by almost every culture at some time. First came the ‘natural foot’ which was about the size of an average person's foot. This was changed by the Romans and the Greeks, who slightly changed the unit to fit other standard units of measure; 1 foot = 3 hands = 12 inches (thumb widths) = 16 digits (finger widths). The modern foot didn’t come to be until after the Norman conquest in 1066 and is now officially defined as 1200/3937 METERS (arrgghhh!!).
However, I like using feet because I HAVE ONE (or two as the case may be)!!! When someone says that something is a foot long I know what they are talking about and, even if I don’t, I have a crude measuring device attached to my body. Most of all though, this is how I grew up. I know how fast I run a mile (5,280 feet), I know how hard it is to jump and grab something 10 feet high (the height of a basketball hoop), and when I hike I know a good workout is climbing 6,000+ vertical feet. In addition, when you’re dealing with ballpark numbers, feet give a more accurate impression of how high a mountain is. If you take away feet, it looses some of that meaning. I hate hearing Colorado’s Fourteeners referred to as mid-level 4000 meter peaks; it just doesn’t sound right!
Meters are easy to multiply and divide because everyone is used to the base 10 system. We have ten fingers and ten toes; so it makes sense, but it’s your parents fault that you think 111 is one hundred and eleven, or 101 is one hundred and one. They could just as easily be seven or five in binary or two hundred seventy-three and two hundred fifty-seven in hex. My point is, it is a matter of perspective concerning what is easy and what is not. To me understanding a foot is a heck of a lot easier than understanding a meter, something for which I have no frame of reference. I’m a little over 6 feet tall, not a little over 1.829 meters; that makes no sense (besides feet make me feel taller).
Now,they are starting to make some quadrangle maps in meters! I don’t care if we use meters AND feet, but please don’t replace my feet, it’s what I (and most Americans) know. I use meters all the time as an engineering student (taught by a Ukrainian professor), but I still lack an understanding of just how fast 50m/s is. Why can’t we just use both types of measurement? If I were to travel to some places in Europe I wouldn’t try and drive on the right side of the road, because I know it’s their custom to drive on the left. Just as it’s my custom to speak English, drink Starbucks, and compute my distances in FEET!!!
I hope that feet don’t become ‘obsolete’ as Roach thinks they probably will. Feet are a great tangible measurement that you (no mater who you
are) always take with you. They are no extra weight and the measurement is easy to estimate. Meters just don’t make as much sense!!!
No matter what happens though, mountains are mountains and how far and how high I go won’t change…only the ways they’re measured. I would like to say thanks to SummitPost for listing mountain elevations in both feet and meters, it kind of helps me visualize what the difference is between 6000m and 6500m, even though it still doesn’t seem like 1,640.42 feet. I don’t want to sound like a stuck-up American and I don’t have a problem with meters, I just understand feet better!
PLEASE READ!!!Wow…I went to bed last night with an article and two votes. I woke up this morning with a SP controversy!!!
Please don’t misunderstand; I DON’T want to get rid of meters and I understand that we all like and comprehend best the units we grew up with. If that’s the way you feel (regardless of whether you like meters or feet), then you agree with this article. If you like meters, by all means use them. If you like feet, then use those. But please don’t try and replace one with the other.
This is my opinion and I appreciate other people’s opinions as well.
For information on the history of feet: www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/dictF.html#foot
For information on the history of meters: http://www.sizes.com/units/meter.htm