News / Asia

US-Burmese Team Scales What Climbers Claim is Southeast Asia's Highest Peak

FILE - The Himalayan range of mountains, including Mount Everest (center), the world highest peak.
FILE - The Himalayan range of mountains, including Mount Everest (center), the world highest peak.
VOA News
A joint American-Burmese expedition has become the first to summit a mountain peak that the climbers believe is the highest point in southeast Asia: Gamlang Razi in Burma's Kachin State.

But not everyone is ready to revise the record books because Hkakabo Razi has long been believed to be the highest mountain in southeast Asia. Located in Burma’s north, near the Chinese and Indian border, the remote mountain is part of an eastern range of the Himalayas.
However, this week a group of American and Burmese climbers became the first to climb the peak of nearby Gamlang Razi, and they say measurements show it is in fact higher.  
At a Sept. 23 news conference in Rangoon, the team leader of the joint American-Burmese expedition presented satellite and GPS data showing that Gamlang Razi’s peak is 5,870 meters above sea level.
"And we welcome any sort of independent review. I hope this is a discussion topic," said Andy Tyson. "I think the hardest part of understanding the question of height is people have accepted for a long time the height of Hkakabo as the highest peak in Myanmar, and the height at 5,881. And because we came back with a number that says the height is 5,870, then it must be the second highest peak, because it's a lower number."
The problem lies with Hkakabo Razi’s stated elevation of 5,881 meters, which some doubt even though it has long been recognized by the Burmese government as the country’s highest peak.  
Hkakabo Razi was measured by Japanese climber Takashi Ozaki when he summited in 1996 without using GPS equipment. His measurement confirmed a number that was initially published in a 1925 survey conducted by colonial Britain.

In recent years, however, surveyors have determined that figure may be overstating the peak’s elevation by as much as 100 meters.
The Burmese-American expedition summited nearby Gamlang Razi on Sept. 7 and used a handheld GPS device to measure the peak’s elevation. It confirmed satellite data that estimated the height at 5,870 meters, as well as Russian and Chinese maps that show Gamlang Razi as a taller mountain than Hkakabo Razi.
But there are still holdouts in Burma. Some say the debate may not be over until someone summits Hkakabo Razi again and makes a measurement in person.
President Thein Sein indicated he is yet to be convinced. In an official letter of appreciation given to the expedition, he congratulated the team on having summited the country's second highest peak.  
Even Burmese members of the expedition are hesitant to say they climbed the country’s tallest peak. Pyae Phyo, the only Burmese climber in the party that reached the summit, sidesteps questions about which peak is taller. He says he is proud to have summited a virgin peak, and also to have survived an arduous journey and a 600-meter fall without injury.
The expedition passed through remote areas that included some of Burma's last pygmy villages, as well as the habitats of endangered wildlife. Summit team member Eric Daft recorded footage for a documentary about the expedition, scheduled for release later this year.
The expedition was funded by the Htoo Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Htoo conglomerate owned by Burmese businessman Tay Za. He is said to be one of the richest people in Burma, through his ties to the former military government, which also earned him a mention in the U.S. sanctions against the country's former military rulers.

Htoo owns large properties in Burma's Kachin State, including a luxury mountain lodge in Putao, near the four tallest peaks in southeast Asia. Htoo Foundation says its aim is to develop sustainable tourism in the area.
Tay Za is planning to send a Burmese team to Mt. Everest next year, to try to reach the summit of the world's highest peak in 2014.

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This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Steve Davis from: Seattle, WA
September 28, 2013 10:07 PM
The American summit team did not take any economic or political positions. It did not attack or defend Htoo Foundation or U Tay Za, other than to thank them for their sponsorship and hospitality. The ethics of sponsorship is of course an important topic. I believe that when the full story of this expedition emerges, the issues will not appear to be as black-and-white as the respected mountaineer Jim Wickwire represents here.
In Response

by: kyawthulatt from: yangon
October 01, 2013 7:09 AM
Giving comments have two types only,either positive or negative.Should you wish to give comments,you should first check with your American Fellows who had just come back from Mount Gamlang Razi Expedition.You should read thoroughly on how U TAY ZA Htoo Foundation Group are doing Humanitarian jobs throughout the country,Before you give any comments.Steve Davis-by your blind comments your are showing off your background.
In Response

by: kyawthulatt from: yangon
September 30, 2013 4:47 AM
Giving comments have two types only,either positive or negative.Should you wish to give comments,you should first check with your American mountaineer Fellows who had just come back from Mount Gamlang Razi Expedition.You should read thoroughly on how U TAY ZA HTOO FOUNDATION Group are doing humanitarian jobs throughout the country,before you give any comments.Steve Davis -by your blind comments your are showing off your background.

by: Jim Wickwire from: Seattle, Washington
September 27, 2013 7:46 PM
This expedition was funded by a notorious crony who has bought up huge tracks of virgin hardwood forests for logging and other precious indigenous lands for gold mining. Tay Za and his Htoo Foundation are doing all they can to hide atrocities committed in Putao District by the Burmese Army. Hundreds of civilians have been displaced in Putao's Machyangbaw township and are living in dire conditions.

I will not support mountaineering sponsored by shady characters with dishonorable practices towards his own people.
In Response

by: Nam Era Vet from: USA
September 29, 2013 10:06 AM
One of the problems with Internet comments is that they almost never seem to be documented. Anyone can say anything, as opposed to what you would see in a respectable journal like "Science" where footnotes document everything.
In addition to a lack of documentation, Wickwire's comments are full of loaded terms like "notorious crony," "precious," "atrocities," "dire," "shady," and "dishonorable." That's a lot for just six lines. Of course, he is an attorney.
By the way, there are many accounts of his climbs, and his reputation among the little people who carry loads on his lavish expeditions, or wind up stuck on mountains with him, isn't exactly sterling. Specifically, see some of the many accounts of his climbs on K2 in the Karakoram range.
In Response

by: Ye` Htet Aung from: Myanmar
September 28, 2013 8:19 AM
U Tay Za and Htoo Foundation were donated many things , for their school , Monetary and Church , all along the village. Take care medicine for the villagers too. If you want to say your opinion please first listen to American team members Andy Tyson Molly Tyson Eric Daft Mark Fisher , what are they talking about U Tay Za and Htoo Foundation.
In Response

by: Aung Zeya from: Yagon
September 28, 2013 7:45 AM
Mr Wickwire, you are entitled to your own opinion and do as you may and not support in causes that you are not satisfied and pleased. But don't abuse your right to your own opinion by pouring dirt and libelous remarks on fellow human beings especially notable public figures before you have evidence and facts to justify your tarnishing insults. As regard to your claim of dishonorable practices and atrocities, why don't you consult your fellow Americans who were part of the friendship team on Expedition to Gamlang Razi to get second opinion in addition to your current sources. I believe it shouldn't be too hard for you to get in touch with fellow American and fellow climbers who reached the summit of Mount Gamlang Razi.
In Response

by: Nyo Tun from: USA
September 27, 2013 11:06 PM
Totally agree. With the help of generals, especially Chit Swe, he wiped out the most of the rain forest including the ones carefully cultivated by our forefathers.

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