When I started to write this post I thought it would be easy peasy. Ha Ha! I certainly learned a lot during the process.
It seems quite simple. You need to obtain the height of the mountain and to clearly define the area. Actually not all that straightforward. If, for example, you wish to determine the highest mountain on Earth – then the area is pretty clear, i.e., don’t include our Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Betelgeuse etc. The measuring is not necessarily so clear cut.
Whilst mountains are generally measured from sea level there are other ways:
- From sea level to summit
- From base to summit
- From the earth’s centre to summit
Of course the conventional measurement is from sea level. The highest mountain by this measure is Mount Everest at 29,035 feet.
No prize for knowing that! However you earn some kudos if you know how to pronounce it correctly. Pedants, such as myself, will be aware that it should be spoken aloud as EEV-uh-rest, not EV-uh-rest.
Moving on if you were to measure mountains from their base and include those whose base is below sea level then Mauna Kea on Hawaii is the tallest mountain on Earth. At 33,000 feet it is 4,000 feet higher than Everest. A gold star if you knew that.
On the other hand Chimborazo‘s summit in Equador at 20, 565 feet is generally regarded as the spot on the surface farthest from the Earth’s centre . The oddity being however that, by the criterion of elevation above sea level, it is not even the highest peak of the Andes.
A Royal Geographical Society Gold Medal if you knew all of that.
Whilst I appear to digress geographically from the post’s title I’m trying to make a point – nothing is straightforward. When determining the highest mountain in South East Asia it is defining the actual area that causes the most difficulty. I had long assumed, until I actually climbed it, that Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, West Malaysia was the highest mountain in SE Asia. In fact a quite passionate debate revolves around the issue usually driven by nationalistic sentiments. One argument is that geographic SE Asia comprises the land and islands between the Himalayas and Oceania and that therefore by this criteria Mount Kinabalu is the highest in SE Asia. Well possibly though it is notable that the Kinabalu Park authorities themselves no longer make any such claim.
In any event I think that is would be a little disingenuous because that would mean excluding both Kachin State from Burma (yes I prefer to use the old name until Ang San Suu Kyi tells us otherwise) and West Papua from Indonesia (and further assuming that New Guinea is part of Oceana). However as much those respective areas’ populace might desire self determination – this has yet to happen. Furthermore I don’t think many would exclude Burma from any definition of SE Asia.
Therefore I will take SE Asia to be those countries that are geographically south of China, east of India and north of Australia (and I’ll be cute here myself and exclude Papua New Guinea). Essentially the area more all less shown below.
So when I did my first cast I came up with the following ranking (in the best traditions of a beauty contest – in reverse order) :
Incidentally Hkakabo Razi is notoriously hard to climb not least due to the physical and political difficulties in even making it to the base. Takashi Ozaki, a celebrated Japanese mountaineer, and Nyima Gyaltsen (aka “Aung Tse”) from Burma made the first ascent in 1996. Ozaki had attempted the mountain in 1995 but turned back due to bad weather. The route to base camp is long (four weeks) and arduous through thick rain forest and many unbridged stream crossings to negotiate. The recent first ascent is attributable to the policy that foreigners were not allowed into the area until 1993. If you would like to read an interesting account of the Ozaki/Aung Tse ascent I would refer you to the following article by the Washington D.C. based journalist Stephen Brookes:
End of story? I’m afraid not. Having done all of this research I double checked the information on Wikipedia. To my considerable surprise, and no little dismay as I thought I had finished the job, I found five further Burmese mountains listed that would make it into the “top ten”. My above list is therefore, prima facie, not correct and Mount Kinabalu, no doubt to the further chagrin of many patriotic Malaysians, is reduced to 10th in the order of SE Asia’s highest mountains.
I do have to caveat all of this. Whilst Wikipedia is a good source of information you cannot treat all its content as gospel. Ideally you should try to corroborate the information. I did try my best to find further detail and ascertain the exact location of all the Burmese mountains but apart for Hkakabo Razi and Ganlan Razi there was little to no information to be had. Some of the mountains could very well be “sub peaks” of Hkakabo and/or Ganlan in which case they might arguably be discounted. Did you know that Everest’s South Summit is in fact higher (by 460 feet) than K2 the earth’s second highest (by sea level measurement) separate mountain.
Burma is covered with a blanket of obscurity. Clearly the Burmese generals have decided this information is much too sensitive to release in the public domain and/or the environment is such that people are afraid to write and publish – anything. This is really an instance where an old fashioned public library would come in handy in order to unearth dusty old books of past Victorian and Edwardian explorers and British colonial era officials. These books are often beautifully illustrated and replete with detailed topographical maps.
So to recapitulate the top ten now goes like this (in proper order this time):
No 1 Hkakabo Razi, Kachin, Burma (19,295 ft)
No 2 Ganlan Razi, Kachin, Burma (19,140 ft)
No 3 Dindaw Razi, Kachin, Burma (17,927 ft)
No 4 Sheankala Razi, Kachin, Burma (16,404 ft)
No 5 Jaya, West Papua, Indonesia (16,024 ft)
No 6 Tricora, West Papua, Indonesia (15,584 ft)
No 7 Mandala, West Papua, Indonesia (15,423 ft)
No 8 Pangram Razi, Kachin, Burma (15,272 ft)
No 9 Phonnyin Razi, Kachin, Burma (14,961 ft)
No 10 Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia (13,435 ft)
And if I were to redraw the map accordingly it would appear, rather less interestingly – oh those inconvenient facts, as below. Mount Kinabalu is shown in glorious isolation and certainly the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. If any reader has a map which accurately marks the location of the Burmese mountains I would really appreciate seeing this as my attempt at locating them is largely down to guesswork with the exception of Hkakabo Razi and Ganlan Razi. I’ve taken an educated guess that the others are similarly in Kachin as this is the state of Burma into which the extreme edges of the Eastern Himalayas infringe.