National Geographic : 2015 Sep
78 national geographic • september 2015 and had to descend to a Tibetan village. There we were promptly arrested by the Chinese military, interrogated, and jailed. We signed a four-page confession of “misconduct” and were deported. Two years later, to my chagrin, the Myanmar government granted Japanese mountaineer Takashi Ozaki permission to climb Hkakabo Razi. Ozaki was an unstoppable Himalayan veteran, having made the first full ascent of the north face of Everest in 1980. (He would die climbing there in 2011.) He made two failed attempts on Hkakabo in 1995, but in Septem- ber 1996, after two months of climbing, Oza- ki summited with Tibetan-born mountaineer Nyima Gyaltsen. He told the Asia Times, “I can say absolutely that Hkakabo Razi is one of the most difficult and dangerous mountains in the world. I was never scared before, like this time.” Ozaki published a detailed account of his expedition, but he did not measure the summit elevation with a GPS, which left the mountain’s exact height undetermined. Young and convinced of our invincibility, Mike, Keith, and I talked about returning to Hkakabo. (Steve had moved on to different ad- ventures.) But it was not to be. Mike died on an Seconds later tons of ice crashed down. Keith was killed, his neck broken by the impact. There was no reason why I lived and Keith died. We’d taken the safety precautions. He didn’t do anything wrong, and I didn’t do any- thing to save myself. There was no moral, aside from the inescapable truth that mountains are dangerous, and occasionally inflict horror and sorrow on those who dare to climb them. Lounging on our lunch ledge in the sun on Hkakabo Razi, slurping down hot noodles Near base camp, Renan, Emily, and Hilaree found Buddhist prayer flags. Following a Himalayan mountaineer- ing tradition, they burned juniper boughs for good luck. Weeks before, two Burmese climbers had disappeared on Hkakabo Razi. The past weeks spent with Cory and Renan have been like looking back in time at myself and my two dead friends. In these two younger men I see the same passion for climbing, the same sense of being bulletproof we had 22 years ago. expedition in 1995, along with his brother and two others. A bowhead whale tipped over their boat in the Arctic Ocean, and they all perished from hypothermia. Mike left behind a wife and three kids. None of us ever quite recovered. Still, Keith and I continued doing expeditions and often ice climbed together. On January 2, 2009, we were on the fifth pitch of an icefall in north Wyoming. I was belaying him from a small alcove in the ice. He was cheerfully climb- ing 15 feet below me when we heard a deafen- ing roar. A section of ice above us had cut loose.