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The Trango Towers in Pakistan. Their vertical faces are the world's tallest cliffs. Trango Tower center; Trango Monk center left; Trango II far left; Great Trango right.
Europe's highest cliff, Troll Wall in Norway, a famous BASE jumping location for jumpers from around the world.

In geography and geology, a cliff is a vertical, or near vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are formed as erosion landforms due to the processes of erosion and weathering that produce them. Cliffs are common on coasts, in mountainous areas, escarpments and along rivers. Cliffs are usually formed by rock that is resistant to erosion and weathering. Sedimentary rocks most likely to form cliffs include sandstone, limestone, chalk, and dolomite. Igneous rocks such as granite and basalt also often form cliffs.

An escarpment (or scarp) is a type of cliff, formed by the movement of a geologic fault, or a landslide.

Most cliffs have some form of scree slope at their base. In arid areas or under high cliffs, these are generally exposed jumbles of fallen rock. In areas of higher moisture, a soil slope may obscure the talus. Many cliffs also feature tributary waterfalls or rock shelters. Sometimes a cliff peters out at the end of a ridge, with tea tables or other types of rock columns remaining. Coastal erosion may lead to the formation of sea cliffs along a receding coastline.

The Ordnance Survey distinguishes between cliffs (continuous line along the top edge with projections down the face) and outcrops (continuous lines along lower edge).

The far southwestern aspect of Nanga Parbat's Rupal face, highest cliff (rock wall/mountain face) in the world. The steepest part of the face lies 2km to the northeast.


Cliff is a Romance loanword that has its origins in the Latin forms clivus / clevus ("slope" or "hillside").[1][2]

Large and famous cliffs

Cliffs near Sortavala, Russia
The Matengai in Oki Islands, Japan
Cliffs along the north shore of Isfjord, Svalbard, Norway.
Close-up view of Verona Rupes, a 20 km high fault scarp on Miranda, a moon of Uranus.[3]

Given that a cliff need not be exactly vertical, there can be ambiguity about whether a given slope is a cliff or not, and also about how much of a certain slope to count as a cliff. For example, given a truly vertical rock wall above a very steep slope, one could count just the rock wall, or the combination. This makes listings of cliffs an inherently uncertain endeavor.

Some of the largest cliffs on Earth are found underwater. For example, an 8,000-metre drop over a 4,250-metre span can be found at a ridge sitting inside the Kermadec Trench.

The highest cliff (rock wall, mountain face) in the world, is Nanga Parbat's Rupal Face, which rises approximately 4,600 metres, or 15,000 feet, above its base. According to other sources, the highest cliff in the world, about 1,340 m high, is the east face of Great Trango in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan. This uses a fairly stringent notion of cliff, as the 1,340 m figure refers to a nearly vertical headwall of two stacked pillars; adding in a very steep approach brings the total drop from the East Face precipice to the nearby Dunge Glacier to nearly 2,000 m.

The location of the world's highest sea cliffs depends also on the definition of 'cliff' that is used. Guinness World Records states it is Kalaupapa, Hawaii,[4] at 1,010 m high. Another contender is the north face of Mitre Peak, which drops 1683 metres to Milford Sound, New Zealand.[5] These are subject to a less stringent definition, as the average slope of these cliffs at Kaulapapa is about 1.7, corresponding to an angle of 60 degrees, and Mitre Peak is similar. A more vertical drop into the sea can be found at Maujit Qaqarssuasia (also known as the 'Thumbnail') which is situated in the Torssukátak fjord area at the very tip of South Greenland and drops 1,560 m near-vertically.[6]

Considering a truly vertical drop, Mount Thor on Baffin Island in Arctic Canada is often considered the highest at 1370 m (4500 ft) high in total (the top 480 m (1600 ft) is overhanging), and is said to give it the longest vertical drop on Earth at 1,250 m (4,100 ft). However, cliffs on Baffin Island, such as Polar Sun Spire, or others in remote areas of Greenland may be higher.

The highest cliff in the solar system may be Verona Rupes, an approximately 20 km (12 mi) high fault scarp on Miranda, a moon of Uranus.

The following is an incomplete list of cliffs of the world.


Above Sea

Above Land


Above sea

Above Land

North America

Mount Thor, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, commonly regarded as the highest vertical drop on Earth
Southwest face of El Capitan from Yosemite Valley
The face of Notch Peak at sunset

Several big granite faces in the Arctic regions vie for the title of 'highest vertical drop on Earth', but reliable measurements are not always available. The possible contenders include (measurements are approximate):

Other notable cliffs include:

South America


Above Sea

  • Table Mountain, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 1,086 m (3,563 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Fountain Peak, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 1,060 m (3,480 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Risco de Faneque, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, 1,027 m (3,369 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Blinkwater Peak, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 989 m (3,245 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Grootkop Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 857 m (2,812 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Valken Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 856 m (2,808 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Barrier Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 856 m (2,808 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Grotto Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 800 m (2,600 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Jubilee Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 800 m (2,600 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Kloof Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 800 m (2,600 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Porcupine Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 800 m (2,600 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Slangolie Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 788 m (2,585 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Postern Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 783 m (2,569 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Corridor Buttress / St Paul, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 768 m (2,520 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Judas Peak, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 758 m (2,487 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Separation Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 757 m (2,484 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Spring Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 746 m (2,448 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Wood Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 734 m (2,408 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Guguy's Cliffs, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, 725 m (2,379 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Grove Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 713 m (2,339 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • La Mérica, La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain, 711 m (2,333 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Victoria Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 707 m (2,320 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Cairn Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 700 m (2,300 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Kleinkop Buttress, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 694 m (2,277 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Andén Verde, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, 690 m (2,260 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Karbonkelberg, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 653 m (2,142 ft) above Hout Bay, Atlantic Ocean
  • La Peña's Cliffs, El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain, 652 m (2,139 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Los Gigantes, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, 637 m (2,090 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Chapman's Peak, Western Cape, South Africa, 596 m (1,955 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Anaga's Cliffs, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, 592 m (1,942 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Risco de Famara, Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain, 580 m (1,900 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Buenavista's Cliffs, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, 546 m (1,791 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • High Bluff, Prince Edward Island, South Africa, 490 m (1,610 ft) above McNish Bay, Atlantic Ocean
  • Cape Hangklip, Western Cape, South Africa, 453.1 m (1,487 ft) above False Bay, Atlantic Ocean
  • Punta Gaviota's Cliff, La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain, 435 m (1,427 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • Watertunnel cliffs, Marion Island, Prince Edward Islands, South Africa, ca. 350 m (1,150 ft) above Atlantic Ocean
  • The Sentinell, Western Cape, South Africa, 331 m (1,086 ft) above Hout Bay, Atlantic Ocean
  • Cape Point, Western Cape, South Africa, 249 m (817 ft) above Atlantic Ocean

Above Land

  • Drakensberg Amphitheatre, South Africa 1,200 m (3,900 ft) above base, 5 km (3.1 mi) long. The Tugela Falls, the world's second tallest waterfall, falls 948 m (3,110 ft) over the edge of the cliff face.
  • Mount Meru, Tanzania Caldera Cliffs, 1,500 m (4,900 ft)
  • Klein Winterhoek, Western Cape, South Africa, 1,220 m (4,000 ft) above base.
  • Wall of Fire, Swartberg, Western Cape, South Africa 700 m (2,300 ft) cliff composed of vertically displaced quartzite
  • Tsaranoro, Madagascar, 700 m (2,300 ft) above base
  • Karambony, Madagascar, 380 m (1,250 ft) above base.
  • Innumerable peaks in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa are considered cliff formations. The Drakensberg Range is regarded, together with Ethiopia's Simien Mountains, as one of the two finest erosional mountain ranges on Earth. Because of their near-unique geological formation, the range has an extraordinarily high percentage of cliff faces making up its length, particularly along the highest portion of the range.[citation needed] This portion of the range is virtually uninterrupted cliff faces, ranging from 600 m (2,000 ft) to 1,200 m (3,900 ft) in height for almost 250 km (160 mi). Of all, the "Drakensberg Amphitheatre" (mentioned above) is most well known.[citation needed] Other notable cliffs include the Trojan Wall, Cleft Peak, Injisuthi Triplets, Cathedral Peak, Monk's Cowl, Mnweni Buttress, etc. The cliff faces of the Blyde River Canyon, technically still part of the Drakensberg, may be over 800 m (2,600 ft), with the main face of the Swadini Buttress approximately 1,000 m (3,300 ft) tall.


Cliffsides near Beachlands, New Zealand in the Hauraki Gulf.

Above Sea

Above Land

As habitat determinants

Cliff landforms provide unique habitat niches to a variety of plants and animals, whose preferences and needs are suited by the vertical geometry of this landform type. For example, a number of birds have decided affinities for choosing cliff locations for nesting,[13] often driven by the defensibility of these locations as well as absence of certain predators.

See also


  1. Monika Buchmüller-Pfaff: Namen im Grenzland - Methoden, Aspekte und Zielsetzung in der Erforschung der lothringisch-saarländischen Toponomastik, Francia 18/1 (1991), Francia-Online: Institut historique allemand de Paris - Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris: Onlineressource
  2. Max Pfister: Altromanische Relikte in der östlichen und südlichen Galloromania, in den rheinischen Mundarten, im Alpenraum und in Oberitalien. In : Sieglinde Heinz, Ulrich Wandruszka [ed.]: Fakten und Theorien : Beitr. zur roman. u. allg. Sprachwiss.; Festschr. für Helmut Stimm zum 65. Geburtstag, Tübingen 1982, pp. 219 – 230, ISBN 3-87808-936-8
  3. "Natural world: the solar system: highest cliffs". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 2006-05-21. Retrieved 2014-11-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Highest Cliffs". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 2005-11-27. Retrieved 2006-05-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments By Michael Lück. Retrieved 2009-08-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Planet Fear". Retrieved 2009-08-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Home - South West Coast Path".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Polar Sun Spire". SummitPost.Org. Retrieved 2008-07-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Climbing in Tasermiut". Retrieved 2008-09-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The American Alpine Journal" (PDF). 1986. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 28, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-02. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Geology Fieldnotes". National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-11-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Mount Wilson 1:25000 Map. NSW Govt. May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. C.Michael Hogan. 2010. Abiotic factor. Encyclopedia of Earth. eds Emily Monosson and C. Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC

External links

In geography, a cliff is a significant vertical, or near vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs go by several names, including 'bluff'.

  • Wikisource-logo.svg [ "Cliff" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>