POWELL, Wyoming — National Geographic writer Mark Jenkins returns to Powell to share his experience climbing Hkakabo Razi, suspected to be the highest peak in Burma. His program begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 3, in the Yellowstone Building Conference Center at Northwest College.
Jenkins uses plenty of photography in his very personal and detailed account of the experience. His story was featured in the Sept. 2015 issue of National Geographic and in the Renan Ozturk documentary “Down to Nothing.”
More so than most of Jenkins’ previous climbing places, including Mount Everest, Hkakabo is remotely located, spiking from the jungle in the far north of Burma at the tail end of the Himalayas, near the Tibet border. According to Jenkins’ National Geographic story, the journey to the peak required traveling by trains, motorcycles, buses, a boat up the Irrawaddy River, and then hiking for two weeks through almost impenetrable jungle.
Even before they stepped foot on the mountain, Jenkins and his team battled leeches that dropped down onto their necks, saw poisonous spiders baring fangs large enough to be seen from several feet away and escaped snakes so venomous their bites could cause bleeding from the nose, eyes, gums and rectum, and could be fatal.
From the basecamp on the mountain, the terrain turned to the serrated, heavily glaciated West Ridge of Hkakabo Razi where wind, snow and freezing temperatures were inescapable. Their mission: to take a GPS reading from the highest summit to determine if this mountain is actually the highest peak in Asia.
Some of the ledges they traversed were so narrow, Jenkins said, “If one of us were to slip off the ridge, the only way to save his life would be for the next climber on the rope to quickly jump off the opposite side, both men praying in the millisecond that the rope wouldn’t sever.”
Faced with the reality of no food, no fuel and no luck left in their packs, the team nearly broke apart. Jenkins explained the drive that pushed them to the point of no return and back: “All serious mountaineers possess big egos. You cannot take on the risks and constant suffering of big mountains without one. We may talk like Buddhists, but don’t be fooled, we’re actually narcissists—driven, single-minded, masochistic narcissists.”
Jenkins’ account of his unrivaled expedition in Myanmar is spiced with stories of hardship and hilarity, bear hunters and Buddhist monks, fear, failure and freedom.
Jenkins’ writing has won numerous awards, including the Overseas Press Club Ross Award for “The Healing Fields” in 2013, a National Magazine Award with colleague Brint Stirton for “Who Murdered The Mountain Gorillas” in 2009, four Lowell Thomas Awards, the American Alpine Club Literary Award, the Banff Mountain Adventure Book Award and many others.
He’s the author of four books, “A Man’s Life,” “The Hard Way,” “To Timbuktu” and “Off The Map.” His work has appeared in dozens of national and international magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, Backpacker, GQ, Outside, Playboy, The Washington Post and Virginia Quarterly Review. He’s been interviewed by Anderson Cooper 360, Good Morning America, CNN, the Public Broadcasting Service, BBC and NPR, as well as spoken on countless radio programs.
He comes to Northwest College as part of the University of Wyoming’s World to Wyoming Lecture Series. The statewide series is sponsored by the UW Center for Global Studies, the UW Global and Area Studies Program, and the Wyoming Humanities Council.
Jenkins’ presentation in Powell is sponsored by the Northwest College International Studies Program and Social Science and Education Division, and by the UW Outreach School.
Admission is free.