Laramie journalist Mark Jenkins has a new story to tell, this one about a remote mountain in northern Myanmar.
The story includes classic expedition challenges — dangerous high-altitude maneuvers, leech-filled jungles, dwindling food supplies, conflict, redemption and failure. In modern fashion, the details were filmed, photographed and blogged, which makes the re-telling all the richer.
Jenkins is set to present his story and slideshow, “Burma’s Resurrection: An Expedition Deep Into a Forbidden Land,” at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Wyoming College of Education Auditorium. Admission is free.
Jenkins is a UW writer-in-residence and field staff writer for National Geographic magazine. He was part of a 2014 expedition, sponsored by the magazine and The North Face, attempting to summit Hkakabo Razi, a peak in remote northern Myanmar.
Jenkins chronicled the expedition in “Point of No Return,” an article printed in National Geographic in September.
The mountain, which had been climbed just once before, is thought to be the highest in the country, but its true elevation had never been measured.
It took Jenkins and the rest of the team more than a month to arrive at the base of Hkakabo Razi, (pronounced KA-kuh-bo RAH-zee), including 10 days across Myanmar and two weeks of hiking.
They traveled by boat, plane, train, bus and motorcycle.
The jungle trek challenged them with deep river gorges, poisonous snakes, giant spiders and leeches.
“That was probably the hardest hike that any of us had ever done,” Jenkins said.
The team was exhausted from the hike before it even started climbing the 19,000-foot peak along its serrated western flank, and the long approach left hikers pressed for time.
“We definitely made some serious mistakes, which is interesting because we’re veteran expeditioners,” Jenkins said. “We didn’t plan enough time to climb the peak because it takes so long to get there.”
The group also underestimated the difficulty of the climb itself, which sparked serious disagreement among team members about the best way to proceed.
“We had some pretty heated, intense discussions at 18,000 feet,” he said.
In many ways, the team got what it wanted. Jenkins dreamed up the hike together with mountaineer Hilaree O’Neill after the two summited Mt. Everest in 2012. That trip left them worn down by the commercialism and crowded conditions on the world’s highest peak.
“This isn’t what we started climbing for,” Jenkins said. “We (wanted) to come up with a truly old-school expedition, some place remote and unknown.”
Jenkins was already familiar with the remote peak, having attempted to climb it in 1993 with three friends. Before they could start climbing, however, they were arrested after sneaking across the border from neighboring Tibet. Burma, as the country was called at the time, was completely closed.
“We signed a confession that was all in Chinese, and we were released and essentially deported,” Jenkins said. “It was a great adventure, but we didn’t get much climbing done.”
Those four friends called themselves the Wyoming Alpine Club. Jenkins knew Mike Moe from his high school days in Laramie, and he met Steve Babitz and Keith Spencer while attending UW. Moe died during a trip to the Arctic in 1995, and Spencer died while ice climbing with Jenkins in 2009. Babitz lives in Lander.
Jenkins writes in his article his summit push with climbers Cory Richards and Renan Ozturk felt like looking back in time at his friends and his younger self. He carried a picture of them on the climb he hoped to leave at the summit.
Jenkins said his presentation would include more than 150 images of the trek from sea level to the tail end of the Himalayas, from jungles to ice.
“I hope the audience will see things they’ve never seen before,” he said.
After he gives the Laramie presentation, he’s scheduled to take it to Gillette, Sheridan, Powell, Cody and Jackson Hole in coming weeks as part of the World to Wyoming outreach series.