Does This Photo Show the World’s Highest Altitude Lake?

Tilicho Lake, or Tilicho Tal, is nestled in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal.

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Image via Screengrab/Nepal photography

Claim

Tilicho Lake, or Tilicho Tal, is the world’s highest-altitude lake.

Rating

Origin

Tilicho Lake, or Tilicho Tal, in the Manang District of Nepal is many things. It is glacial fed, remote, and a destination goal set by many expeditionary backpackers. But despite claims on social media, Tilicho Tal is not the world’s highest-altitude lake.

A photograph shared on Facebook on Sept. 26, 2021, claimed to show Tilicho Tal described as the body of water as the “highest lake of the world.” At the time of this writing, the post had been liked more than 203,000 times.

Google reviews left by local guides stated that the lake is the “world’s highest altitude lake” at “4919 MSL.” MSL means “mean sea level” and is typically used in conjunction with the number of feet to imply altitude above sea level, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. But as several reviews also pointed out, this claim is incorrect:

Screengrab/Google Maps

Furthermore, a look at the topographic map below revealed that the lake was situated at 4,920 meters, or approximately 16,141 feet. (Each line colored in the lighter grey/tan color denotes a measurement of 20 meters.) 

Screengrab/Google Maps

The confusion in measurement could be an error in translating. The travel website Trip Advisor noted that the altitude is situated at 4,949 meters, or about 16,236 feet, from sea level. On the other hand, the hiking app AllTrails, which uses GPS to track elevation gain on hikes around the world, recorded the peak altitude at 16,807 feet with an elevation gain of 6,660 feet over the 12.3-mile hike. And as the online lake database Lakelubbers noted, the glacial-fed lake sits at an altitude of 16,139 feet.

“Reports of the lake’s elevation vary, but most estimate it is located at 16,138 feet. Actual official figures for the lake don’t appear to exist, but the lake is reported to be about 1,200 acres and nearly 280 feet deep,” Lakelubbers wrote, with the caveat that “all statistics are from unofficial sources and may not be accurate.”

Researcher and hydrologist Jagat Kumar Bhusal wrote in a 2008 study that the “pure, clean, and transparent” waters of Tilicho Tal are “situated at 5,000 meter [sic] above sea level,” which would measure about 16,404 feet.

By and large, varying reports suggest that the lake is likely located at an altitude measuring between 16,000 and 16,800 feet — and though that makes Tilicho Tal among the highest lakes in the world, it does not cap the list. As the reference site Thought Co. pointed out in a 2019 listicle, at least 10 other lakes exist that are — or were previously — located at a higher elevation than Tilicho Tal, including two of the world’s highest lakes, both in Chile: Ojos del Salada (approximately 20,965 feet) and Tres Cruces Norte in Chile (20,361 feet).

Sources

“Contributions by Suwal Raju.” Contributions by Suwal Raju, https://www.google.com/maps/contrib/114310170095914754134/reviews?hl=en-US. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

“Dr Jagat Bhusal.” World Science Forum, http://worldscienceforum.org/participants/bhusal-jagat-33646. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

“Google Maps.” Google Maps, https://www.google.com/maps/@28.692325,83.8426661,14.03z/data=!5m1!1e4. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

Highest Altitude/Elevation Lakes & Reservoirs – Lakelubbers. https://www.lakelubbers.com/worlds-lakes-highest-elevations-C4/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

M. A., Geography, and English and Geography B. A. “The 10 Highest Lakes in the World.” ThoughtCo, https://www.thoughtco.com/highest-lakes-in-the-world-4169915. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

NWCG Glossary of Wildland Fire, PMS 205 | NWCG. https://www.nwcg.gov/glossary/a-z. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

“Tilicho Lake · Khangsar 33500, Nepal.” Tilicho Lake · Khangsar 33500, Nepal, https://www.google.com/maps/place/Tilicho+Lake/@28.6833511,83.8479122,15z/data=!4m7!3m6!1s0x39be198522c80de7:0x3b66a38896292bca!8m2!3d28.683333!4d83.856667!9m1!1b1!5m1!1e4. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

“Tilicho Lake, Nepal Vacation Info.” Lakelubbers, http://http://www.lakelubbers.com/tilicho-lake-2540/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.