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The difference between a hill and a mountain

When we gaze upon the diverse landscapes that Earth offers, we often encounter varying elevations, from gentle slopes to towering peaks. Two common landforms that share this vertical dimension are hills and mountains. While the terms are frequently used interchangeably, there are distinct characteristics that differentiate them.

Back in the 1920s, the British Ordnance Survey had a straightforward method of categorizing mountains - anything rising above 1,000 feet (304 meters) was considered a mountain. Following suit, the United States also adopted a similar approach, defining a mountain based on local relief exceeding 1,000 feet. However, in the late 1970s, both countries abandoned this distinction, departing from the old classification norms. So, what's the difference?

A hill and a mountain are both natural land formations that rise out of the landscape, but they differ in several ways:

What is a Hill?

In general, hills are considered to have a lower elevation than mountains and a more rounded or mound-like shape than a distinct peak. Some commonly accepted characteristics of a hill include:

A natural mound of earth formed either by faulting or erosion.

A gentle "bump" in the landscape, gradually rising from its surroundings.

Typically under 2,000 feet in height (although this is a general guideline, not a strict rule).

A rounded top with no clearly defined summit.

Often lacks a specific name.

Easily accessible for climbing.

Hills might have once stood as mountains that succumbed to erosion over numerous millennia. Conversely, many mountains, like the Himalayas in Asia, owe their existence to tectonic faults and might have, at some point, been classified as hills.


What is a Mountain?

While mountains are typically taller than hills, there is no official height designation. An abrupt difference in local topography is often described as a mountain, and such features will often have "mount" or "mountain" in their name. Examples include Mount Aragats, Mount Azhdahak and Mount Khustup. Some commonly accepted characteristics of a mountain are:

A natural mound of earth formed by faulting.

A steep rise in the landscape, often abrupt in comparison to its surroundings.

Typically exceeding a minimum height of about 2,000 feet (610 meters) (though this is a general guideline, not a strict rule).

A steep slope and a well-defined summit or peak.

Often bestowed with a name.

Depending on the slopes and elevation, mountains can present a challenge to climbers.

Remember, these are general characteristics and there can be exceptions. 



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