Facing the “Anti-Everest” on Explorer: Point of No Return

A team of elite climbers must confront their personal demons of grief, doubt, and fear on a 150-mile journey from the sweltering jungle of Myanmar to a remote peak at the edge of the world.

At the tail end of the Himalaya, Hkakabo Razi is reported to be the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, but never confirmed with modern GPS. Only two people have ever reached the summit and survived. Now, a National Geographic expedition team must navigate a dangerous landscape of snake-infested jungles and powerful warlords in this ancient country only just reawakening to the outside world. On the snowy peak, each climber must come face-to-face with the demons that haunt them for a chance to reach the top and make it back alive.

From the Magazine: How a Remote Peak in Myanmar Nearly Broke an Elite Team of Climbers

On one of mountaineering’s most dangerous journeys, group was pushed to the limit by physical and mental challenges.

Even before they reach basecamp, the team runs into roadblocks. A billionaire tycoon and alleged arms dealer threatens to derail the expedition altogether. The climbers then face a weeks-long, mud-caked slog through dense, sweltering jungle – first by motorbikes driven by a rag-tag crew of teenagers on broken-down bikes, and then by foot on a grueling two-week hike filled with leeches and venomous snakes lurking in the shadows. And that’s just to get to the base of the mountain.

In fact, it was this extreme isolation that first attracted Hilaree O’Neill and Mark Jenkins to this location. The climbing veterans craved the challenge of a mountain so remote that it’s still relatively unknown.

But finding someplace truly remote is tricky. A plane will take you to the North or South Pole, you can hop a helicopter to the base camp of Everest or Makalu, tourist boats cruise the Nile and the Amazon. Real remoteness—somewhere that requires days or even weeks of walking just to reach—has almost vanished from Earth. – Mark Jenkins

And the extreme remoteness the team sought is exactly what Hkakabo Razi delivered. But getting there was only the beginning of the battle. Clinging to Hkakabo Razi’s jagged western face and on the edge of survival, the climbers are exhausted, stripped down to their own fears and insecurities.

Team leader Hilaree O’Neill has spent her life proving she is just as strong as her male counterparts and believes the success or failure of this expedition falls squarely on her shoulders. When supplies run low and the team struggles to maintain their footing just shy of the summit (within 3/4 mile), Mark suggests making a quick dash to the summit with the three strongest team members, and Hilaree must make a difficult decision.

Watch: The Team Leader Steps Down
As a team of elite climbers struggle to climb Hkakabo Razi, Mark Jenkins asks team leader Hilaree O’Neill to stay behind and let the three strongest members of the team attempt a dash to the summit.

Nat Geo photographer Cory Richards wrestles with flashbacks of an avalanche that nearly killed him on a mountaintop in Pakistan years earlier. In subsequent expeditions, Cory has battled panic attacks. (Watch: For the Love of the Climb)

Nat Geo writer Mark Jenkins is also haunted by the past. Decades earlier, he and two friends tried to climb the Hkakabo Razi, but were turned back by authorities. The three vowed to return one day to summit, but that would never happen. Both friends died in haunting fashion, one during an icefall climb with Mark roped to him. To Mark, reaching the summit is the ultimate way to honor them and find closure. (Watch: Unfinished Business)

Captured in stunning footage and intimate interviews, Explorer: Point of No Return recounts the story of a real adventure–of suffering, failure, and one last chance at redemption.

Watch: 5 Things to Know Before Going on an Adventure

Don’t miss Explorer: Point of No Return Sunday at 8/7c on the National Geographic Channel.