Education and Communications

Climbing Asia’s Forgotten Mountain, Part 1 | Nat Geo Live

It was harder than
we anticipated and it was much,
much colder. We’re a team of six people. Our goal is to determine what the highest peak in Burma
is and then climb it. Like to solve this fantastic
geographical mystery. It never let up, just taken
down to, like, nothing and how… how did that happen? ( applause ) I first learned of
Hkakabo Razi in 2001. That’s the name of the peak and so for, you know, 15
years I’ve dreamt of going to this place
in Northern Myanmar the eastern edge
of the Himalayas and exploring this mountain. And finally in the Fall of 2014 this sort of imagined
expedition came to pass. This is us, down to nothing
at the end of our trip. One of the most incredible,
incredible adventures I’ve ever been on in my life,
and that’s saying a lot. I’ve been on probably 40
different expeditions all over the world. In 2011, I led an expedition
of about 12 athletes with North Face. Conrad Anker was one of those. And it was a really
amazing success we all summited,
skied from the top and… That led to an invite to go on a National Geographic-North Face
supported expedition to Everest. Mark Jenkins just happened
to be on the trip as well. I’d never met him before.
He was coming in late. We spent ten, ten days hiking
into base camp together. And that where we
started talking about all these adventures and
exploration that we’d done and and Mark is incredibly
well traveled. And the story of Burma
came up and… I didn’t know the
Himalayas ended in Burma. So, we started talking
about Hkakabo Razi and Mark had actually
tried to go and climb it when the
area was closed and been, like, arrested
and all these crazy things that Mark does. As we got further into the climb
of Everest, and you can see here this is heading
towards the summit and the people and
the crowding. It was just a stretch
from where I had started as this adventurer in new places and here was this
amazing mountain but a lot of people and just a different way of
climbing that I wasn’t used to. Mark and I summited Everest
together and when we came down as we were walking out,
we’re like, this is happening. We’re gonna make
Hkakabo Razi happen and that’s going to
be our next trip. And it’s going to
be anti-Everest and it’s gonna be an adventure.
( scoffs ) Little did we know. ( laughing ) So, the idea behind
it was to really explore and travel over land and
find this mountain and… take GPS’s with us and
tag the summit and see if it was really the highest
mountain in South East Asia. So, planning the trip,
this is pretty much what I had to work with. And you can that the whole
mountain is blurred out like it doesn’t really exist. Then the next thing is, you
know, you have to pick a team. So, this had to
be a really unique team because we were
going for two months and there’s probably only, like, ten days of actual climbing. So, first of all getting a bunch of athletes
together is like herding cats. They’re all over the world,
all the time and then we show up, you know,
in Tokyo with a zillion bags. They all weighed
about 70 pounds and we’re used to Nepal standards
of ‘you carry everything’. You have jeans at base camp
and you have extra shoes and flip flops and
a sun hat and… We showed up with
all of that stuff. It didn’t last very long. Um, quick video about us
getting into the country. ( instrumental music ) Usually on these trips you definitely don’t take
time to see a place so much which is definitely a drawback
to a lot of expeditions. Is you land in this
foreign place but you just beeline
straight for the mountains. ( instrumental music ) -( bells ringing )
-( indistinct chatter ) All aboard! ( instrumental music ) Mark: Hilaree and I
conceived of this as kind of the
anti-Everest trip. We were coming off
of Everest together. Been successful and
kind of wondered “Okay, what’s an old
fashioned expedition?” Start in the capital
of the country go over land all the
way to your mountain. With this team, I think we have
as good a chance as anyone of resolving
the mystery of what’s the highest
peaks in Burma. ( instrumental music ) Normally, as a climber, you just you fly through
these countries and you go straight
to the mountains and it’s actually a risk
to travel over land because that’s the
time when you get sick you wear yourself
down unnecessarily. But, none of us had
been to this country and all of us
individually had spent so much time in
Asia in general that we wanted to really
experience the country and that involved
going over land which was about 1000
miles and we took about every possible mode
of transportation, you could imagine. So, I had this like, romantic
notion of trains that is… I think it doesn’t
apply to this country. This was a gentleman that we
thought was actually dead when they were putting him
in there but he wasn’t. He was alive and he was, kind of
being passed through this window to his family inside. This is as the train started. And I think from that expression
on my face this was early on. And I was still thinking like “Oh my Gosh, this is so great like, wow, this is
gonna be amazing.” And then– There’s another video here that will give you a better idea
of what the train was like. Emily:
I would say this is definitely another step
above the Everest trip. More remote, more challenging and the worst travel
experience I’ve ever had. -( train car buckles )
-( screaming ) Literally you’d
be airborne and then just slammed back
into your seat. And then you’d be launched again
and slammed back into your seat. Doing that for 18 hours just
sort of makes you insane. Hilaree: We’re on an adventure
and I think that was what got me started in
expeditions in the first place. Just this excitement for
the unknown. I mean, the funny thing about
an adventure is that you never know when the unknown
part is going to strike you. And we learned later– Taylor, who was the base
camp manager, she was like “So, before we left, I was kind
of looking on the internet and I found this thing that the train in Burma is
called the Death train.” I was like,
“Why didn’t you tell us that before we got on the train?” But, yeah, so that’s, don’t
ride the train in Burma. So, the train
took us to Mytchina. We’re now in
the Kachin state. And there is a little bit of
tribal fighting and everything between Mytchina and Putao. So, we were required to take
a domestic flight to Putao which was kind of our
final destination before we set out
for the mountain. So, Putao, 205
miles to the mountain. We just had our own feet
to get us there and motorcycles. At this point, we were put
under town arrest in Putao. And we arrived on a Friday we were supposed to
leave on Saturday we had our motorcycles ready we had porters waiting
for us in the jungle and we couldn’t leave town. And Mark and I were frantic,
we were running around trying to talk to every
government official anyone we could. But, of course it was the
weekend and it was like some random, weird holiday
and nobody would talk to us. And finally, Monday afternoon after we went through
government in Yangon we finally got clearance. But, we didn’t actually– we weren’t actually able
to leave until Tuesday. In the end, this four-day delay caused a lot of strife
as the trip went on. So, the day that we were cleared
to go, it started raining. Of course! And a lot of the motorcycle
drivers had left. So, we ended up having to
confine a lot of our gear on a on a smaller amount of bikes. This was Taylor. She was on
the back of this guy’s bike. And um… I just
like this picture. She was kind of miserable. Um, and you’ll see why here,
from this next video. ( sound of rain ) Hilaree: We finally got our
permissions yesterday. We are packing up motorcycles,
that looks totally sketchy. This is my driver… he just cracked a beer at 7:30 in the morning. I’m gonna ride with him. ( motorcycle starts ) Got a 50-pound backpack and a
30-pound Movi in my right hand. Not really sure how that’s gonna
work, but, see how it goes. ( water splashing ) I mean, I don’t know, it’s
probably really hard driving but I just feel like I have
the shittiest driver. ( instrumental music ) We’re in
“Expedition 101” mode. And it’s definitely,
partly, you know… my mistake. I should’ve been
keeping better track of where the bikes
were and everything. But, right now, we’re
getting pretty spread out. On the way in we get 80 miles
on motorcycles in four days. And then, we started
the jungle walk. ( insects buzzing ) When we were first getting
on the motorcycles one of this driver– one of the drivers looked at
me and I was wearing shorts. And he was like, “Shorts?” ( audience laughter ) He’s like, “Pants, you
should put on pants.” I was like, “Oh,
no, no, I’m fine. It’s super hot. I
don’t like heat.” Um, so I went out the
first day in shorts. I thought he meant, because
like you could get scratched by bamboo or you know,
whatever. But, instead I just
got completely mauled by these no-see-ums. So, there weren’t mosquitos but
there were these gnats and bees. All these bee stings. I had hundreds of bites
just from that one day. And I put shorts on, even that,
or pants, like I had, you know those
trekker-zip on things and I, I mean I put pants
on by the end of the day because I kind of
finally figured it out but it was already too late. And, so this was my first
real test with suffering. I mean, I live at 9,000
feet for a reason because I don’t
really like bugs. I think, does anybody
ever feel like this? Like if you have an intense
dislike of something and then it seems to recur
over and over in your life. Mine’s like bugs and
snakes and spiders and– I must have come across five
different snakes on the trek. And this was the first one
that I almost stepped on within like, two hours of
getting off the motorcycles and walking on the trail. There’s a lot of
snakes in Burma. Some leeches. Lots of
leeches in the area. These actually were so
common and frequent that they kind of became
inconsequential by the end. But, the first time we were hiking at night
through the jungle and just coming down and Emily got there before
me and she sat down. I had this white shirt on and
she had her headlamp on and I took my pack off and
I undid the buckle And she looks up with
her headlamp and the entire middle section of my
white shirt was soaked in blood. And she screamed and
started freaking out and it was from a leech. Like, I had no idea,
I never even saw it. And just, when they fall off they put this sort of
anti-coagulant in you and so you continue to bleed. So, it didn’t
hurt me or anything but it looked so gruesome. I thought Emily was going
to faint. ( laughs ) But, the one thing that
stood out was the water. And I think this the reason
that none of use got sick was because it was the clearest,
bluest best tasting water I have ever seen
in my entire life. And I think it’s just because
this area is so untrammelled. You had springs coming out of
the side of the hills that we– you know, we had all these
water pumps and everything that we just stopped using and
just drank the water straight and it was incredible,
and none of us got sick. So, going back to
that town arrest the porters didn’t wait for us,
for those four days, they left. We didn’t realize we were
coming right at harvest season. So, they all went
back to the fields. And so, this was a major issue and we had enough
gear for 80 porters. But, there’s not
this porter history like there is in Nepal
or India or Pakistan. And so,
none of them really cared. They thought we were
just crazy people trying to get into a mountain
with way too much stuff. So, at any given point, the most
we had was maybe 30 porters. And what happened was we had to make some really
tough decisions at this point. And that was hang on to those
base camp booties and go home or cut a lot of our gear. We basically cut about
two-thirds of our gear. At one point Renan who’s like this big man’s
man was like, in tears. Because he had to get rid
of all of his camera stuff. I mean, the most incredible…
takeaway from this is what Cory and Renan were able
to pull out as far as video and photography
with literally sharing lenses and two camera bodies
and nothing else.
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