Burma may new have a new tallest mountain, according to a US-Burmese mountaineering team that trekked through jungles crawling with cobras, made a brief, illegal detour through Chinese-controlled Tibet, and survived a terrifying 600-foot 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, edging out Mount Hkakabo to be the highest peak in the country and all of Southeast Asia, says Andy Tyson, leader of the team that climbed the snow-capped mountain along the eastern edge of the Himalayas in September.
When the country's peaks were surveyed in 1925, back when the area was part of the British Empire, Gamlang was measured at 19,140 feet, behind Mount Hkakabo at 19,295 feet, but Tyson's team—equipped with a hand-held GPS device—measured Gamlang at 19,258 and says digital elevation data indicate the British overestimated the height of Hkakabo. But the country appears cool to the idea of rewriting a key national statistic that schoolchildren have learned uninterrupted for nearly a century, through colonial rule, bloody military coups, and self-imposed isolation. 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. (Read more Burma stories.)