Thursday, September 21, 2017

Team to begin Hkakabo Razi summit attempt this week

Nine members of the Yangon Universities Hiking and Mountaineering Association have their sights set on climbing Mt Hkakabo Razi in Kachin State, hoping to settle the debate on whether or not it is Southeast Asia's tallest mountain.

Members of the Yangon Universities Hiking and Mountaineering Association climb the Haba peak in China’s Yunnan Province in April as training for an ascent of Mt Hkakabo Razi in Kachin State. Photo: SuppliedMembers of the Yangon Universities Hiking and Mountaineering Association climb the Haba peak in China’s Yunnan Province in April as training for an ascent of Mt Hkakabo Razi in Kachin State. Photo: Supplied

The all-male group, who range in age from 24 to 33, are trekking to the base of the Himalayan mountain this week from the town of Putao and expect to summit the mountain, which is officially 5881 metres, or 19,296 feet, tall, by the end of August.

The team has been training for the assault on Hkakabo Razi since the end of 2011 and climbed the 5200m-plus Haba peak in China’s Yunnan Province in April as preparation. The trek will take about 16 days and the team believes it will need another five days to climb from the base to the summit, if the weather is obliging.

When the team returns to Yangon, most likely at the end of September, there may well be a storm brewing, however – over the actual height of Hkakabo Razi.

Last year a joint US-Myanmar expedition took global positioning satellite, or GPS, measurements from the top of the nearby Gamlang Razi peak, which topped out at 5870m.

The official height of Hkakabo Razi is 5881m comes from a Survey of India map drawn up in 1925. Satellite imaging confirmed the figure in the lead up to two summit attempts in 1995 and 1996, the latter of which was the first successful summit.

But post-World War II Russian and Chinese maps put Hkakabo Razi’s elevation at a mere 5691m, Google Earth puts it at 5780m and a Harvard Map Library researcher using two data set extrapolation techniques estimated it at 5758m in 2013.

The US-Myanmar expedition’s GPS measurement used a reference point some 1000 kilometres (600 miles) away in Lhasa, China. While still an appropriate distance from the summit for a reference point, it reduced the accuracy to plus or minus two metres, expedition leader Andy Tyson said in 2013.

Despite the controversy over Hkakabo Razi’s height, the YHMA team insists it is not climbing the mountain to settle the dispute.

Team leader Ko Aung Myint Myat said the group’s main objective is to plant a Myanmar flag on the summit for the first time.

"We will climb Hkakabo Razi to put the Myanmar flag as an ethnic Myanmar person at the top of the mountain,” he said. “We believe we can do it because we trained for it systematically.”

Takashi Ozaki, a famous Japanese climber, and U Nama Johnson, an ethnic Tibetan whom Ozaki recruited from a remote village near Hkakabo Razi, were the first people to summit the mountain, in 1996.

Mr Ozaki later died trying to summit Mt Everest in 2011.