All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo
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“In 1999, when mankind had successfully mapped the surface of the Moon, Venus, and Mars, there were still sections of Borneo that man had nothing to say about other than ‘all elevations unknown.’”
In the spring of 1999, armed with little more than a description from a book and a map labeled “all elevations unknown,” Sam Lightner and his German rock-climbing buddy, Volker, found themselves deep in the jungles of Borneo on a mission to climb a mountain that was only rumored to exist. They had only their climbing expertise to rely on and a copy of a little-known book titled World Within, written by Major Tom Harrison, a British World War II soldier who had been one of the first white men ever to explore the interior jungles of the island and interact with its native peoples. He had also conducted one of the most daring and unusual campaigns in military history: In 1945, he had been assigned the near-impossible mission of parachuting blindly into the thick Borneo rain forests to unite the feuding native tribes–who then had a grisly habit of cutting off heads–against the Japanese in order to reclaim the island for the Allies.
A captivating, utterly original combination of travel-adventure memoir and historical re-creation, All Elevations Unknown charts Lightner’s exhilarating, often harrowing quest to ascend the mountain Batu Lawi in the face of leeches, vipers, and sweat bees, and to keep his team together in one of the earth’s most treacherous uncharted pockets. Along the way, Lightner reconstructs a fascinating historical narrative that chronicles Tom Harrison’s adventures on Borneo during the war and illuminates an astonishing piece of forgotten World War II history. Rife with suspense and vivid detail, the two intertwining tales open up the island of Borneo, its people, and its history in a powerful, unforgettable way, and take adventure writing to new heights.
A daring twist on the travel-adventure genre that places the talented Lightner in the ranks of authors such as Jon Krakauer, Sebastian Junger, and Redmond O’Hanlon, All Elevations Unknown is ultimately the remarkable story of two adventurers, separated by fifty years and united by one mountain.
cameraman.” He didn’t look at me. Volker, Scott, and Chris followed me through the long room to the fire pit. A couple of pots of rice were on the logs, one boiling over Ligh_0767907566_3p_01_r1_qxd 5/2/01 1:44 PM Page 78 78 SAM LIGHTNER, JR. with white foam, the liquid hissing as it dripped onto the orange coals. Streams of sunlight filtered through the smoke-shrouded windows, creating a blinding white light for anyone attempting to look outside. The men of Pa Ukat had stopped talking and
the high veranda across the throngs of people who’d gathered. The SRD men were spread about, some working on their equipment, a couple showing the locals how the snaps on a canvas backpack worked, and one fellow displaying the strength of parachute fabric to a few older women. Everyone seemed to be getting along, but would the harmony last? “How are we to know that you are not the same as these men?” Miri asked gravely in Malay. His direct approach reminded Tom that Ligh_0767907566_3p_01_r1_qxd
phone. I felt bad for Volker. I knew he wanted to learn every tidbit of information about the mountain, but there was no way I could go into all the details that made me realize we had found the peak. I had now made three trips to Borneo that involved climbing and general exploring, and on each of them I had asked people about the mysterious mountain. On the first trip I had wanted to explore a region where the peak Gunung Lawit, the name given to our spire in the old French atlas, was said to
on a pile of fleece clothing, my mind in the Kelabit Highlands in 1945. A gunshot rang out in the distance and the porters in the hut responded with a symphonic “oooooh.” Perhaps we’d be eating wild boar tomorrow. Or perhaps the Japanese were learning the folly of invading Borneo. Ligh_0767907566_3p_01_r1_qxd 5/2/01 1:44 PM Page 132 CHAPTER 10 May 3, 1945 O men from the Australian Twenty-sixth Brigade stormed the shores of Tarakan. The night before, the small island had been pulverized by
All Elevations Unknown 17 The island is currently divided politically into three countries. Indonesia controls the southern two-thirds in a state they refer to as Kalimantan, though in the past, when the Dutch controlled much of Indonesia, this region was known as Dutch Borneo. The northern third of the island is controlled by Malaysia and a tiny but wealthy part, all but surrounded by Malaysian territory, is the Sultan State of Brunei. The Malaysian sector is divided into two states. The