Climbing Hkakabo Razi


National Geographic contacted iLivExtreme earlier this month wanting to share a climbing story which they’d been following closely for 2 years. It’s quite a tale, not of the ilk we’re used to hearing – adventurers reaching a peak exclaim to the world “we made it!” and strike that feat from their bucket list – in fact, this story focuses acutely on the interpersonal relationships between each of the climbers; the arguments, the difficult choices, the gender divide as well as new perceptions granted to those who undertake such endeavours.

“Mark Jenkins, Cory Richards, and Renan Ozturk were part of a six-person team which included leader Hilaree O’Neill, climber Emily Harrington, and the team’s base camp manager, Taylor Rees. They had arrived in Myanmar at the beginning of October 2014 on an expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society and The North Face, with the goal of measuring the exact height of Hkakabo Razi, a peak rising more than 19,000 feet (5,800 meters) out of the country’s tropical rain forests.

Just getting to the foot of the remote mountain was a feat requiring more than two years of careful planning, delicate negotiations with Myanmar officials, and a 135-mile (217-kilometer), mud-sucking slog through a dense jungle filled with tigers, poisonous snakes, and bands of ethnic rebels fighting the Myanmar government.”


Ozturk (foreground), O’Neill (in green), and Harrington climb toward Camp Three, where it was decided that O’Neill and Harrington would wait while the three men attempted the summit. Photograph by Cory Richards, National Geographic

“During five arduous weeks, the team members had been pushed to their limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. Finally, high on the mountain and within striking distance of their objective, the strain nearly broke them when a disagreement over which of the five climbers would try to reach the summit, turned into angry shouting.

For each member of the group, Hkakabo Razi represented a rare chance to achieve something no one had managed before and the argument that boiled to the surface in some of the team’s most desperate hours was in part, a reflection of the team’s passion towards realising their goal.

‘It was ugly,’ Jenkins said of the argument, ‘and in many ways heartbreaking.”


Jenkins stands above the clouds at Camp One. In 1993, Jenkins had tried to climb Hkakabo via a route through Tibet but had been detained by the Chinese army. Photograph by Cory Richards, National Geographic

The team managed to reach 18,840 feet but even though they were in such close proximity, the summit remains unassailed, leaving one of mountaineering’s biggest challenges unconquered.


Harrington, Richards, and Jenkins rest in a shelter on their way out of the jungle, after the failed attempt to summit Hkakabo. It took more than a week of 12-hour days to walk back out of the jungle. Photograph by Renan Ozturk, National Geographic

The full narrative will be published on National in the next edition and you can read my interview with climber and expedition photographer Cory Richards on iLivExtreme later this month. Follow me on Twitter to learn as soon as both are released.



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