Who Knew?

April 30, 2002

Wisconsin Week’s Josh Orton finds answers to questions of campus interest posed by faculty and staff. We can’t promise to answer all questions submitted, but we’ll try to pick those most likely to be of interest to the largest number of readers. Send queries to wisweek@news.wisc.edu.

Q: It has been rumored that if a student walks up Bascom Hill once a day during a four-year stay, it is the equivalent of climbing Everest. True? And what is the calorie expenditure of one trip up the hill, walking at a normal pace?

A: To get to the root of both questions, the first thing we have to know is the length of the walk up the hill.

According to Gary Brown from Facilities Planning and Management, the distance between Park Street and Bascom Hall on the north (lake) side of the hill is approximately 850 feet.

Mount Everest, in comparison, is about 29,000 feet high.

So, if a student climbed Bascom Hill once a day, five times a week, 30 weeks a year, for four years, he or she would make the trip 600 times. Multiplied by 850 feet, the total hike equals 510,000 feet, or the equivalent of 17.59 times the height of Mount Everest, almost 97 miles.

On the other hand, if a student only went up the hill three times a week, the total trip would be 306,000 feet.

Of course, climbing Mount Everest only one time would be much harder than any amount of walking up Bascom Hill, but the statistic might impress friends in Illinois, where they don’t have hills.

The second part of the question raises a larger, more pressing question: Will a daily climb up Bascom cancel out the calorie content of a morning doughnut? Well, Ronnie Carda, the coordinator of the PE Activity Program, and a Ph.D in exercise physiology, tells us that to calculate calories burned, we need to know the height and slope of the hill. We already know the distance is 850 feet, and Gary Brown tells us that the slope averages 9.4 percent.

Rounding the slope to 10 percent, Carda calculates that a hypothetical 150-pound person, carrying no books, walking at an average pace up Bascom Hill, would burn only a measly 28 calories with one trip up.

The USDA’s food data database lists the average 100-gram, unenriched glazed doughnut at 403 calories. That’s a little more than 14 trips up the hill. Ouch.