When I first wrote this article, I began by searching on Google, "How many people have succeeded in climbing Mt. Hkakabo Razi?"
The result only magnified my amazement at this mountain located in Myanmar. Only one team and two people made it to the top, Takashi Ozaki (Japan) and Nyima Gyaltsen (Myanmar). They succeeded in their third attempts in 1996 and needed 25 days of expedition. However, they did not bring any GPS to the top of Hkakabo Razi, so the actual height of Hkakabo Razi’s peak is still unknown.
"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. I wanted to always run away from this mountain."
In his 1996 interview with Asia Times, Takashi Ozaki once said "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. I wanted to always run away from this mountain."
In 2014, a joint expedition team from The North Face and National Geographic which consisted of international elite climbers did not reach its peak. Even in the same year, a team from Myanmar never returned from this mountain while trying to climb it.
When I first heard that there was an Indonesian team that wanted to do an expedition to Hkakabo Razi, I was very excited. They planned to do the expedition this year, but it's still questionable due to COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the climbers who became the members is Fransiska Dimitri a.k.a Dee-Dee. She has inspired many people in Indonesia, especially women, after successfully completing 7 summit expeditions with her partner Hilda on the WISSEMU (Women Indonesian Seven Summit Mahitala Unpar) team.
Luckily, the Redpoint team had successfully interviewed Dee-Dee. We talked a lot about the preparation for the Hkakabo Razi expedition in the midst of COVID-19, her life purposes, and how to overcome fear and become a better version of herself day by day. Let's look at our interview with Fransiska Dimitri!
Is climbing the highest mountains and doing expeditions have become your goal in life?
Dee-dee: Actually I just wanted to do outdoor activities so I decided to join Mahitala Unpar. It never crossed my mind to become a 7 summiters. However, after the expedition with WISSEMU and becoming 7 summiters, I realized that life was vast and offered many choices that we could take. I love what I do.
What were your changes before and after becoming 7 summiters?
Dee-dee: People always ask this question and honestly I feel there is no significant change in me. If you ask this question before I become 7 summiters, maybe I will prepare the answer and can give a better answer today.
However, I realized that I used to be a timid and overthinking person when faced with problems. During the 7 Summits expedition, the situation forced me to overcome my fear, do things I did not want, and never give up. Until finally I got used to such obstacles. I am still afraid now, but I am sure that I can overcome every challenge.
You say you are an overthinking person? So, what crazy thoughts crossed your mind when you decided to join the 7 summit expedition and Hkakabori Razi?
Dee-dee: When I was in Mahitala I actually had no expedition background at all. I am not very active in the expedition world. When a friend told me about the 7 summit expedition for the women's team, I was afraid at first but going around the world and paid by others, who doesn't want to?
I discussed it with my family and finally tried it. Thank God, I was chosen to be one of the WISSEMU teams. After being elected, then I think that "there is no turning back". I must complete this expedition.
Many people know you as Dee-dee the woman 7 summiter. Is this a burden for you?
Dee-dee: Holding the title of 7 summiters, especially as a woman, is quite a burden for me. Many people make me and Hilda as a benchmark for women in the world of mountaineering in Indonesia.
In fact, as I said before, actually my skills and background in the mountaineering world are still not good enough. Maybe many people can not see it, but the experts certainly realized it. But I am still growing day by day.
"I want to know and see for myself, what is the condition of the mountain and what makes the best climbers have not been successful."
And the next expedition is Hkakabo Razi in Myanmar? Please explain to me what made this expedition interesting and what was the biggest challenge?
Dee-dee: There are two main reasons that made me interested in joining the Hkakabo Razi expedition. First because the members of the expedition are the best people in the world of expeditions in Indonesia today. Some were from Wanadri, Mahitala, Mapala UI, and Kappa FTUI. So I can learn a lot from them.
Secondly because Mount Hkakabo Razi itself is very interesting to visit. Hkakabo Razi is the antithesis of Mount Everest which is practically commercial now. To climb Hkakabo Razi, we have to explore by ourself and it will be weeks in the forest. The characteristics of this mountain itself are interesting because it is a mixed of tropical rain forests and snowy mountains. In Asia, mountains with characteristics like this are very rarely found.
I'm honestly afraid, but at the same time feel challenged. Because many elite expedition teams, such as The North Face and NatGeo have not succeeded in climbing Hkakabo Razi. I want to know and see for myself, what is the condition of the mountain and what makes the best climbers have not been successful.
Also, my guide when climbing Mount Everest, Mr. Hiro from Japan, once tried to climb this mountain in 2014. He talked a lot about Hkakabo Razi when we climbed Mount Everest.
Does Hiro have a role to inspire your expedition team to Hkakabo Razi?
Dee-dee: Oh no, the expedition to Hkakabo Razi was initiated by the Eiger Adventure Service Team (EAST) team years ago, before they even know Hiro had attempted on Hkakabo Razi.
The expedition to Hkakabo Razi is arguably quite crazy, even the elite team NatGeo has not succeeded in completing it. What makes you sure your team will succeed this time?
Dee-dee: First, because the reputation of the team members is very good. So we have a chance to complete this expedition.
In addition, this expedition was not only eyeing the summit of Hkakabo Razi. We also want to introduce to people that there are still many interesting places that can be explored. Previously, we only knew Everest as the pinnacle of mountaineering. However, we now know that there is Hkakabo Razi in Myanmar that requires a mix of all mountaineering disciplines. Because, the essence of exploration itself is to find out what we have never known before.
We want to gather data about Mount Hkakabo Razi and bring GPS to its peak. Even if we do not succeed, the data we collect can be a very important source to the mountaineering world in Indonesia. This is the reason that makes me comfortable joining this team.
"We also want to introduce to people that there are still many interesting places that can be explored. "
In the 7 summits expedition, you become a representative of Mahitala Unpar, women and Indonesia. What about the Hkakabo Razi expedition this time, what does this mean for you?
Dee-dee: First, as a woman. Because a woman on an expedition like this will become the spotlight. Hopefully this will become a positive example for women out there.
Unlike the 7 Summit expedition, the Hkakabo Razi expedition team came from various organizations. So we carry the name of Indonesia as a single entity. As far as I know, a joint expedition like this was last conducted in 1997 between Kopassus and civil society (Wanadri & Mapala UI) to Mount Everest.
Expeditions like this definitely require super mature preparation. Then the COVID-19 pandemic has hit us all today. What impact will this situation have on your team's preparation?
Dee-dee: This COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected our team. This expedition is planned to take place in September 2020. Last March, our plan was to trained in Myanmar and in July on one of the mountains in Kyrgyzstan, but it was cancelled. However, now we are still waiting for the latest updates from the COVID-19 situation.
For now, what is your team doing?
Dee-dee: We have done physical tests, psychological tests, and various other tests in February. Now, we are carrying out a private training portion provided by the team.
Does COVID-19 have an impact on your team's mentality?
Dee-dee: I don’t know for sure because I also didn’t meet them during social distancing. However, I'm sure they have their own way to deal with this situation. Maybe, this COVID-19 is also training for us when we have to face isolation for weeks in the middle of an unknown jungle. The waiting game is also a skill for mountaineering.
How about your physical condition? How do you stay in shape during COVID-19?
Dee-dee: As for me, physical exercise has become a necessity. If I don't exercise for a week, my body and also my mood will drop badly.
Compared to the 7 summit preparation, what is the difference in physical exercise that you do?
Dee-dee: The preparation is somehow different. During the 7 summit expedition, I was pressured to prepare physically from zero. Meanwhile, the Hkakabo Razi expedition team is not like that.
EAST was looking for climbers who already had experience in high altitude mountain climbing. We know that even becoming the strongest person is not a guarantee that your expedition will succeed. In addition to physical strength, there are several other factors such as experience at high altitude, climbing skills on snowy mountains, and so on.
So, what is the biggest challenge in your preparation?
Dee-dee: The biggest challenge in our team is to equalize the skills we have. For example, how to glacier travel, emergency rescue, and so on.
What are your biggest fears of this expedition and why?
Dee-dee: I'm afraid of being a liability for the team. This has been communicated with the team. Compared to other members, my experience in the world of mountaineering is still very few.
"The worst case is that something bad happened to me, but after that I might not feel anything anymore."
Then, how do you overcome this fear and overcome uncertainty in every expedition that you do?
Dee-dee: As an overthinking person, this is quite disturbing. However, in the end I was always able to overcome my fear.
During the 7 summit expedition, I was actually scared too. But I kept going and never thought of giving up. Whatever happens, I have to finish the expedition. The worst case is that something bad happened to me, but after that I might not feel anything anymore.
Many people want to be like you, have dreams of exploring many places and doing it. But most do not really achieve it. How can you do that?
Dee-dee: Well, once the opportunity comes and that's what you want, immediately take the opportunity. Don't think twice, don't even expect the next chance.
Because you will not know where this opportunity will take you to. After taking this opportunity, you have to finish what you started. Do not give up.
After the Hkakbo Razi expedition, what are your plans?
Dee-dee: We'll see later. One of my dreams is to become a professional mountaineering.
"Don't think twice, don't even expect the next chance."
What a super fun and insightful interview with Fransiska Dimitri. We wish you good luck on your expedition! Can't wait to have further talks after the Hkakabo Razi expedition.
Words : Arya Dharmaputra (@dharmaputra_arya)
Editor : Jerry Marvin (@jerrymavr)