Two climbers reached the top of Burma’s official highest mountain on Sunday, becoming the first Burmese-only team to summit Hkakabo Razi in Kachin State.
The Universities Hiking and Mountaineering Association and the Invitation of Nature (ION) Foundation are backing the expedition that could end a dispute over whether the peak is truly the country’s highest.
Eight men all in their 30s began their ascent on July 26, and two reached the summit of the ice-capped mountain at 5pm on Sunday, said Myo Thant, the chairman of the ION Foundation.
“Team leader Aung Myint Myat and Wai Yan Min Thu reached the summit, which is very narrow at the top so only a couple of climbers can stay there,” he said, adding that the rest of the team stayed at a point about 3,000 feet below the peak.
Hkakabo Razi was officially recorded as 19,296 feet (5,881 meters) above sea level during British colonial rule in 1925. It has since been regarded as the tallest mountain in the country, and therefore all of Southeast Asia.
A Japanese-Burmese expedition first climbed Hkakabo Razi in 1996, with Japanese climber Takashi Ozaki and local guide Nyama Gyaltsen reaching the summit.
Myo Thant said the young climbers did not use the path on the mountain’s eastern face that was used in 1996. Instead they ascended from the north—a more difficult climb—and planted a Burmese flag on the summit, he said.
“It was a dream of the foundation to be able to climb to the summit as Myanmar climbers,” he said.
Prior to the climb, the team had studied the mountain since 2011, climbing to the base camp at 12,800 (3,900 meters) in December 2012 and spending a total of 55 days on the mountain during that expedition. They also climbed other mountains in Kachin, Chin and Karen states, Pegu Division and in China’s Yunnan Province.
The ION Foundation is planning to confirm the height of the peak when the team returns, in the hope of settling a dispute over whether it is higher than nearby Gamlan Razi.
Last year, a joint team of Burmese and Americans—with the backing of tycoon Tay Za—became the first to climb Gamlan Razi, and recorded its height as 19,258 feet (5,870 meters) above sea level. The team claimed that the mountain was actually the highest in the country, as the earlier estimate overstated Hkakabo Razi’s height, which their digital estimations found could be less than 5,800 meters (19,028 feet).
The current expedition—which is expected to cost more than US$60,000—is supported by Kanbawza Bank and Premier Coffee.