Shall we tell the President?

That would make Gamlang the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia,not just Myanmar.

Written by Associated Press | Published: December 15, 2013 5:24 am

Myanmar may have a new tallest mountain,though it seems quite happy with the old one.

A US-Myanmar mountaineering team trekked through jungles crawling with cobras,made a brief,illegal detour through Chinese-controlled Tibet and survived a terrifying 600-ft drop into a crevice on their way to the top of what has long been thought to be the country’s second-highest peak,Mount Gamlang. Satellite and digital data,together with recent US,Russian and Chinese topographical maps,indicate it may be No 1 after all,said Andy Tyson,the leader of the team that climbed the snow-capped mountain along the eastern edge of the Himalayas in September.

When Myanmar’s peaks were surveyed in 1925,back when the area was part of the British Indian empire,Gamlang was measured at 5,834 m (19,140 ft),behind Mount Hkakabo at 5,881 m (19,295 ft). Tyson’s team,equipped with a hand-held GPS device,measured Gamlang at 5,870 m (19,258 ft). Tyson said digital elevation data indicate that the British overestimated the height of Hkakabo,which may be less than 5,800 m (19,029 ft).

That would make Gamlang the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia,not just Myanmar. But the country appears cool to the idea of rewriting a key national statistic that schoolchildren have learned uninterrupted for nearly a century.

After Tyson and his team brought back the revised measurement of Gamlang,President Thein Sein wrote a letter congratulating them for scaling the “second-highest” peak. There were no stories in the local press. Geologists at the main university in Yangon were unaware. Students in Kachin state,home to both mountains,continue to be taught that Hkakabo is Myanmar’s tallest,said Naw San,an elementary school teacher there.

Myanmar missed many technological advances during 50 years of intellectual quarantine,and has been struggling to catch up since its military rulers stepped aside in favor of an elected government in 2011. Very few here know,for instance,that a man walked on the moon. “As it turns out,even the mountains are unknown,or perhaps poorly mapped,” said Tyson,of Victor,Idaho,a specialist in remote summit expeditions in the Himalayas,Antarctica and the Americas. “I definitely stand behind the statement that Hkakabo may not be the highest mountain in Southeast Asia,and our ascent of Gamlang is an important step to discovering the truth,” he said.

Scott Walker,a digital cartography specialist at the Harvard Map Collection,said a German radar topographic mapping mission underway will provide high-resolution,high-precision height measurements,though that data will not be available until next year.

If Gamlang does turn out to be the highest peak,it could turn into another magnet for adventure-seekers,thanks to its beauty and unique terrain,Tyson said.

Robin McDowell

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