Singapore Adventurers' Club

Adventure Diary 1990s

Trek Around Annapurna (1997)

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by Jean Teoh

“Namaste!” greeted us as we got off the plane. Stepping out of the airport in Kathmandu was a culture shock – the heat, the noise and the chaos caused by porters trying to grab our packs for some meager tips. It didn’t help matters when pitiful-looking women with tots on their hips started crowding around our vans, begging for money. The beautiful image of the snow-capped mountains we had glimpsed earlier as our plane eased into Kathmandu Valley evaporated altogether in the sizzling October sun.

As we settled down and took in the sights, our enthusiasm and excitement returned. Kathmandu bustles with activities – the colourful marketplace, the vibrant tourist district of Thamel with its many shops, neon signs and quaint little restaurants. Then there are the religious monuments and stupas to fill time while waiting for the paperwork to be processed.

The bus ride to the trailhead town of Besisahar was and adventure in itself. The driver skillfully negotiated the steep uphill and winding downs as the tyres clung perilously to the edge of the trail. At one point we had to wait for the trail to be patched up before proceeding. By the end of the 8-hr ride, we were all dazed from the “heart-in-the-mouth experience”.

With clear blue skies above and snow-capped mountains beyond the great expanse of hills and valleys spread out before us, our group of 11 with 2 guides and 5 porters embarked on out trek around Annapurna in high spirits. The trail followed the awesome Marsyandi River and wound among the emerald green paddy fields and small hamlets. There were swinging suspension bridges across the raging river and rickety bamboo ones over bubbling streams. Herds of buffaloes, sheep, goats and mules shared the trail and we had to watch our steps to avoid the “landmines”. Along the way, shelters and teahouses provided a breather to enjoy the views. For the porters, it was a much-needed respite from their backbreaking task. We were on a teahouse trek, so it was a simple affair of finding our meals and lodgings along the way. We were able to recite the menu after a while. The hardest part was to order the next day’s breakfast immediately after dinner, just so we could have our breakfast on time.

Our guide was Aspur, a quiet good-looking man in his late twenties. Although his command of English is not good, he nonetheless made the effort to communicate with us and joined in our daily debriefing. We discovered he had a great affinity for mirrors – whenever there was one, he will be there. His assistant, Kanchha, is an affable chap in his early twenties. He is really easy-going and friendly, and taught us our Nepali phrases. But he was always trying to cheat in the card games we were forever playing to while away the time. And a nimble dancer too. Whenever time and space permitted, the guides and porters would break into song and dance after dinner. Great entertainment.

The challenge was to cross the Thorong La pass at 5416m. At such high altitude, the air is thinner than at sea level. It takes a while for the body to adjust to the new environment. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) strikes when the rate of ascent is too rapid for the body to cope. Symptoms vary from headache; loss of appetite to nausea and disorientation. It can even lead to death if symptoms are ignored and ascent continued. Most of us had not trekked at such high altitude before, so we set a leisurely pace and allowed sufficient time for acclimatization.

As we went higher, the paddy and corn fields were replaced by conifers parading the different hues of autumn, and more snowy peaks were visible. We were approaching the Annapurna range. Temperatures dropped and it was a constant fashion parade of putting on and taking off our warm clothing according to our activity level. At Pisang (3185m), a few of us came down with headache and fever. The decision to stay was made for us when it snowed heavily the next day. After 5 days of trekking, it was time for some R&R! We build a huge snowman and had snow fights with the porters and guides. It was a great workout and the exertion cured the ailments.

The following day dawned bright and sunny. Our spirits were rejuvenated both by the rest and the splendid sight before us. Everything was covered with 2 feet of snow, and it looked like a winter wonderland. We also found out that it was no fun trudging up and down the snow-covered slopes. At certain portions, it was slushy, slippery and shitty. We were also concerned about whether the pass would be accessible in 4 days’ time. It would be depressing to get to the pass, find it closed due to high snow and forced to backtrack down the same way. So we tried to get hold of news about the condition of the pass. That was the main conversation topic with every trekker and guide we met, especially those who had just come over the pass.

Even though we took walks on our rest days and trekked up to monasteries sitting on the hillsides to aid acclimatization. AMS continued to plague some members. And a few had developed a persistent cough due to the cold dry air. Morale was getting a little low, so we tried to lift our spirits with little indulgence here and there – more interesting card games with forfeits, hot showers, telling more jokes and ghost stories, and having delicious chocolate cakes and apple crumbles, Chatting with fellow trekkers eased our mind a little as we took comfort in the knowledge that we were not alone in our worries.

However, things got more depressing in Manang (3550m) with news of the death of 2 porters who had been attempting the pass. It was AMS. That was the turning point for one member of our group – he had been fighting a persistent headache and cough. As much as he wanted to push on to the pass, he had things in perspective and decided to turn back. So it was with a heavy heart that we parted ways with him and another member who had decided to turn back as well. We would meet in Pokhara.

As we ascended up to 4000m, we came across the body of a dead porter. The police were collecting donations to have the body carried down. No one wanted the job. It is taboo to carry a dead man.

By now, deaths from AMS had become very real. Most of our group was feeling the altitude, some with headaches more severe than others, but we tried to remain optimistic. Unfortunately, I was the next casualty. I came down with stomach flu. Unable to eat or drink, I subsequently developed a headache and became nauseous. The image of the dead porter kept flashing through my mind, and I finally made the decision to turn back, joined by another girl who had been having a splitting headache. What a waste; we were only 2 days from the pass.

The remaining 7 recovered somewhat from their headaches, and continued their ascent in clear weather. It was a little worrying as the weather for the last few days had been unstable, snowing on and off. They made it to Thorong Phedi (4430m) in good time to settle down for an early night. At 2.30am they would make the assault on Thorong La pass (5416m). Thorong Phedi was packed with trekkers by dinner time.

Sleep was difficult, due in part to the cold and excitement, and the fact that it was the group’s first time sleeping in a dormitory to the accompaniment of multiple snoring tunes. The good weather held, and at 3am they set off into the freezing darkness in ankle-deep snow. Bundled in their down jackets, breathing became laboured as they trudged up steep slopes. Despite the exertion, it was freezing (-10 degree C) and even short water breaks made them shiver uncontrollably. Just before dawn, they came upon a little hut on a ridge. Hot tea was served and they gulped down the best cup of tea they ever had in their life. Dawn broke and they were treated to a fantastic panorama – warm rays peeped through the clouds on one side and threw their orange glow on the snow-capped peaks on the other side, splashing the sky with different hues of orange and blue.

Chortens marked the pass and colourful prayer flags flapped in the wind. There was a carnival-like atmosphere as people walked around with incredible smiles on their faces, taking in the spectacular view of the summits of the Annapurna and Thorong Peak. The group reached the pass at 9am. Some made it despite a bad cough, while for others it was a case of mind over body – just grit your teeth and put one foot mechanically in front of the other. Another was thankful that Aspur was with her all the way, pushing her from behind when her legs wouldn’t move anymore. Of course there was also our leader who seems totally unaffected by the altitude. It was a great feeling of relief for all and the cold probably number any exhilaration they might have felt. They stayed only long enough to shoot some photos and take in the contrasting views – the magnificent Himalayan scenes on Thorong Phedi side and the arid, Tibet-like landscape on the Muktinath side.

It was no easy task descending the slippery trail. Even those who looked sure-footed took a few tumbles, and muddy or torn wind pants were the order of the day. One even spilled some blood when he slipped and scrapped his shin on a rock. And to think the porters made it across the pass with their loads. Incredible.

When the group finally checked in for the night, they treated themselves to a much needed hot showers and good food, and celebrated with a bottle of Hennessy. The next day was spent doing laundry and paying a visit to the holy village of Muktinath. It houses a Buddhist monastery and a pagoda-like Hindu temple, and it is here that the Buddhists and Hindus make their pilgrimage. The rest of the day was spent shopping and roaming the streets. It was the Deepavali celebrations, and groups of students led by their teachers went from door to door performing songs and dance for donations for expanding their school.

The trek down crossed the harshest, wildest and most spectacular part of the Kali Gandaki valley. Nestled between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, two 8000-metre peaks, it is one of the deepest river canyons in the world. There was a perpetual headwind up the arid and desert-like valley surrounded by brown mountains and snowy peaks. Everyone spotted a frozen mop-like hairstyle by the end of each day’s walk. The trail led them along the river, pass vertical rock walls and through many towns – bustling Jomsom with its hotels and restaurants and airport, Marpha with its apple and apricot produce (including brandy).

After Ghasa (2000m), the terrain reverted back to the pine and conifer forests, and the wind stopped. On this side of the pass, the lodgings are plentiful with food amenities – dining rooms with glass panels for walls and roofs to look up into the starry night, alfresco dining amidst the autumn blooms. Some hotels even boast of flush toilets (this is a luxury considering it lucky to get a clean wooden hut with 2 planks over a hole dug in the ground).

With abundant supplies of provisions, a proper celebration was in order to coincide with Deepavali (it can last for as many as 4 days in Nepal), and a sheep was slaughtered for the occasion. It was the first time on the trek that so much meat was available. The group was joined by 3 trekkers from France, and as usual, the guides and we got acquainted with the villagers and their children and experienced their warm hospitality. These hardy people are poor and uneducated, but they possessed an extraordinary strength and serenity grounded in religion, community, family and self-sufficiency. We were then off for a rafting trip down the Trisuli River, shooting rapids with names like Monsoon, Lady’s Delight and Double Tackle. Camping on the riverbank and dining under the stars was a long way from the freezing nights in the mountains. In the meanwhile, Azme and Teck Wah had gone on the short trek up Ghorepani and Poon Hill, and they had experienced the same kind of warm hospitality of the endearing mountain folks. Teck Wah managed to terrorise the Tibetan craft peddlers with his hard bargaining. One was so exasperated that he told Teck Wah to try again at 5am the next morning.

I am glad the group bonded so well in those 21-days. This is one trip I think everyone will remember for a long time to come, and each will have their personal stories of self-discovery and insights gained to relate.


Titiwangsa Traverse – Gunung Yong Belar, Gunung Gayong, Gunung Korbu (1994)

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by Marie Eng

23 Sep ’94

After clearing the Johor Customs, we headed toward out destination – Cameron Highland – the starting point of the seven-day trek, with a total of 11 small and big mountains to climb.

24 Sep 94

From Cameron Highland, we got into two jeeps that sent us to our first campsite – a very neat campsite, with well-trimmed grass, and a properly-built dam with a small waterfall just beside it.

25 Sep ’94

A very steep 200-plus steps welcomed us the next morning. After seven hours, the rain started and never stopped for a whole day and soon, we were all soaking to our skin. We felt very old as most of us were unprepared for this weather (no raincoat). By nightfall, we reached a Gurka campsite.

26 Sep ’94

From the Gurka campsite, we proceeded on to G. Yong Belar, It was like walking into Fairyland – green overhang, trees with branches covered with damp weed that looked like curtain in the morning mist, giving it a mysterious yet magical feel, and branches twitching their ways around each other. The feeling was magical: it was like stepping into someone’s fairy home, private yet inviting and heartwarming. I called it “the Snow-White-Land”.

We reached the first summit and camped there, where we had a glimpse of Yong Yap.

27 Sep ’94

We started out and reached the river by late noon, where some of us took a quick bath (though it was very cold) and refilled out three-litre water containers.

The weather was getting colder and the rain started coming again. For a while we were almost lost, nearly missing the trek markings.

It was pouring heavily as we struggled up the slippery muddy route. We had to cling onto roots of trees or whatever that could help pull us up.

We managed through the nine-hour trek up to our next campsite in freezing cold and hunger, shivering from inside-out. We were soaking wet in out T-shirts, in the heavy rain, with the nasty cold breeze blowing in our direction – at 15 degree C.

We managed to set up the tent in the dusk, which was fast turning to nightfall. It was really late when we had dinner. Dinner was always good. Hot soup, burned rice!”

28 Sep ’94

This was the last day, where we had to make it to our last summit: G. Korbu. It was another nine-hour trek. There was a lot of ascending and descending though it was not as steep as the day before.

It was like a never-ending route towards G. Korbu. We finally reached the summit at around 7.30pm. Forgetting pain and exhaustion, the excitement of standing on our final summit after much, much effort and sweat was hard to contain. Everybody could smile easier now, feeling much more relaxed than before. The view was breathtaking; words couldn’t describe the beauty of it.

29 Sep ’94

We took in one last view from Korbu before setting off, down the mountain. Getting down was as usual, a lot more easier, But it still took us quite a while to come to the end of the whole mountain trek and that was where the logging trail started. It was a very long, yellow, winding trail that would take more than a four-hour walk.

Fortunately, halfway through, we got a lift from a worker in his jeep. We were dropped at a sawmill factory where we had never been happier to see a washroom. We had a record of having no proper bath for around three days.

31 Sep ’94

We reached Singapore in the early morning – safe and sound, in one piece. We never felt more relaxed and satisfied with ourselves......


The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1994)

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by Tan Muei Hoon

“Ooh, my head!”

I groaned. My head was pounding, a sure sign of altitude sickness.

The date was 27th July, 1994. We were at Kibo Huts, the highest tourist huts on Mount Kilimanjaro. Originally, we were a party of eleven. Here, at 4,700 metres above sea level, nine of us remained. The other two, badly affected by the altitude at a lower hut, had descended. I looked around at my companions. Most of them were a little pale. Their movements were slow and erratic. One of my team-mates had a queasy stomach, and hadn’t been eating properly for three days. Yong Cheng, our leader, was lucky. He was happily reading the guide book, still unaffected by altitudes sickness.

Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano. Standing at 5,895 metres (19,340 feet), it is one of the highest mountains in the world whose summit can be reached by walking. There are two distinct cones, Kibo and Mawenzi. The highest point, Uhuru Peak, is on the crater rim that sits on the cone of Kibo. It was first reached in 1889 by Hans Meyer, a German geologist. The huts on the mountain are approximately 1,000 metres apart in elevation – Mandara Hut at 2,727 metres (9,000 feet). Horombo Hut at 3,780 metres (12,340 feet), and Kibo Hut at 4,750 metres (15,520 feet). In a mere four days, we had gained 3,000 metres, including one day spent at Horombo Hut to help acclimatization.

The landscape changed dramatically through the days as we hiked. On the first day we walked through forested areas. The next day we burst upon a clearing, and suddenly the peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi were visible. Even in summer, patches of snow covered Kino. It was a breathtaking sight. Here, the moorlands began, and plant life consisted mainly of low shrubs and grass. The fertile volcanic soil enabled some plants to grow to a gigantic size, such as the senecios, towering to three times a man’s height. They looked like giant cactuses. When we reached Mawenzi Ridge at 4,091 metres (13,500 feet), halfway between Horombo and Kibo huts, the alpine desert began. All around, the soil was a muddy reddish brown. We stood on this ridgeline and saw a thin ribbon of road that wound its way into the distant slopes. We could not see the end of it. We walked through the saddle between the cones of Kibo and Mawenzi. Here, the wind picked up, forcing us to put on more warm clothes. Nearing Kibo Hut, we saw a group of guides running down from it. They were wheeling a one-wheeled stretcher, the standard rescue apparatus which resembled a wheelbarrow. Firmly strapped in it was a man, apparently suffering from acute mountain sickness. Sights like that did nothing to boost our confidence.

The gentle rolling slopes that we walked through to get to Kibo Hut gave us no clue of the difficult hike that lay before us. Looking out of the window, we could see the crater rim and the bare, steep slopes that led up to it. At 11pm, we would begin our slog to the summit. It would be a very long walk – firstly ascending 1,200 metres from Kibo Hut to Uhuru Peak; then back down to Horombo Hut, a descent of 2,200 metres.

The guides brought biscuits and milk at 10pm. “To give you energy”, they said. We layered on our clothing: thermal underwear, T-shirts, fleece jackets and pants, perhaps a down jacket, and windproof outer layers. Under the light of an almost full moon, we staggered drunkenly up the slopes, aided by our ski poles. We could see points of lights from the other groups below us. The wind began to whip across the slopes, chilling us to the bone. The rest of the group shot ahead, as I took frequent stops trying to stop the feeling of nausea. I felt increasingly sick and decided to turn back.

The next morning, I discovered that another of my team-mates had also turned back. Together, we descended to Horombo Hut to wait for the others. They were not due back till late afternoon. I tried to deal with my disappointment of not reaching the summit, and toyed with the idea of returning the next year.

Meanwhile, the others had reached Gilman’s Point (5,685 metres) at 6:45am. It was a daunting sight to stand there and look along the crater rim to Uhuru Peak, as it would take another four hours to walk there and back. But the thought of turning back when they were so close never occurred to them. One by one, pulled along by an unseen force, they plodded on, knowing that with each step they took they were ever closer to the summit. They finally stood on the top of Africa at 10am on 28th July. There were tears of relief. They got down to the business of recording their success on film, and signing their names in the book which lay in a weather-beaten box. The summit was pretty crowded, with people jostling with one another for a good place to take their photos.

Late in the afternoon, I was surprised to see one member of my group alone and hobbling towards me. He had taken a tumble while descending the steep scree slopes and cracked a bone near his ankle, which was now swollen and purple. The guides had run down the mountain with him securely strapped in the one-wheeled stretcher. The rest of the group only got to the hut at 7:45pm. They had been walking for 21 hours, and could barely stay awake when dinner was served.

As I lay awake in my sleeping bag that night, I was struck by a thought: after spending days at a high altitude, I was now much better acclimatized. If I were to head up to Kibo Hut again, my chances of reaching the summit would be better. I put the idea to my group the next morning. “Yeah! Great idea! Go for it!” they enthusiastically cheered me on. And so my group and I parted company.

ON MY OWN

My guide, having been to Uhuru Peak with the others just the day before, must have looked forward to returning home to creature comforts. He did not look happy at being summoned to head upwards again. Fortunately, I chose to stay an extra day at Kibo Hut, and both of us had the chance to rest.

The moon had waned somewhat the night I started up towards the summit. We plodded on in semidarkness, pausing for a longer rest at Hans Meyer Cave. This was quite large, accommodating up to eight people comfortably. The steep slope that we were on resembled a vertical beach, like someone had taken a vast quantity of sand and poured it all over the slope. Looking back after we passed the cave, it was almost perfectly camouflaged. There was no sign of it. A few hours later, dawn broke, with hues of gold and pink streaking across the sky. It was so beautiful, but I was too tired to retrieve my camera from my pack to capture the sight. Every few metres, I sat down and immediately dozed off. My body craved for oxygen, of which there was scarce supply up here.

In the morning light, I looked up towards Gilman’s Point. It seemed incredibly near. Then I saw tiny spots of colour moving there and I realized that they were people. It was a long way away. Furthermore, we could not head upwards in a straight line because the slope was too steep. We had to travel in a zigzag manner. After much staggering, I reached Gilman’s Point at almost 8am. My guide felt that it was too late to go on to Uhuru. I was stunned. “But that is the whole purpose of coming up again!” I argued. “Are you sure you’re strong enough?” he asked. “Yes! Yes!” “Okay, let’s go!”

SUCCESS AT LAST

I did not know where I found the energy to run along the crater rim behind my guide; for I was sure I had no energy left. Luckily for me, he was tired too, and wasn’t moving at his usual speed. My legs felt like lead, and I was gasping for air like a fish out of water. I was stumbling along the narrow path, but at that moment I was not thinking about what would happen if I miss-stepped. I didn’t care. There was only one objective in my mind. Hardly any other trekkers remained; they were already heading back down. As I approached Uhuru Peak, my footsteps slowed, as if I were approaching a sanctuary. The feeling when I finally stood on the summit was indescribable. The scenery alone would take one’s breath away: one side of the path was flanked by ice walls several feet high, resembling a frozen waterfall; on the other side, patches of snow lay here and there, melting under the relentless heat of the sun. Fumaroles vented their steam into the cold air, vaporizing upwards into the sky. At a moment like this, everything seemed perfect. But it was the sheer feeling of joy at having made it that overwhelmed me.

Descending the slope that took me nine hours to ascend was incredibly easy. My guide took my hand and together we ran down the slope, swerving left and right to avoid the bigger rocks in our path, pausing only to let me catch my breath. We were back at Kibo Hut in less than an hour! I treated myself to an expensive bottle of Coca-Cola (800 Tanzanian schillings, about US$1.50), and bought my guide a beer.

The journey home was just as eventful. Due to my delay on the mountain, I missed my original flight home. I managed to catch the next flight from Nairobi to The Mauritius, but once there, I was stranded. The next few Air Mauritius flight to Singapore were full; even queuing at the airport hoping for no-shows didn’t get me a seat. I finally bought another ticket from the Singapore Airlines office in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. The best part was paying economy fare and getting a Business Class seat!


Endau Rompin Escapade (1994)

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by Chan Yee Lin

Weary after two weeks of intense mugging and examinations, a trip to the wilderness in the second largest national park in West Malaysia seemed a good idea, a break from the monotonous routine of school life. And what an experience it was!

After meeting with the rest of the group at Cheng San Community Club, we set off for Johor Bahru, where we met up with our guide, Mohammed. After a comfortable 4-hour coach ride, we arrived at Batu 26, where a village formed by settled Orang Asli stands. Even though our arrival caused some commotion in the village, one of the villagers was kind enough to invite some of the female members to rest in her home.

After a short rest and a brief breakfast, we continued our journey to yet another Orang Asli settlement. Kampung Peta, in two separate vehicles: a 4-wheel-drive jeep and a truck. The trip proved to be as uncomfortable and bumpy as it was treacherous, as we crossed bridges just wide enough for the vehicle to pass while Mohammed recounted his near fatal fall into one of the rivers where three of his companions lost their lives in the accident. However, Mohammed and the other driver proved to be apt drivers as they brought us safely to the village. We were then ferried by motorised sampans along the Endau river to Pacua, where we were dropped off and trekked 10 minutes to the Kuala Jasin base camp. The rest of the day was spent setting up tents, preparing for the next two days’ activities and relaxing in the cool waters of Sg Endau.

The trek to Buaya Sangkut Waterfalls was interesting as we had to cross three rivers while faced with the prospect of being bitten by leeches. The second river proved to be a real challenge to all present, with its swiftness and depth. So cooperation was the order of the day as we helped each other across the river. As for the leeches, despite generous application of insect repellant, only one of us was spared the worm! After passing through two other waterfalls at Kuala Marong and Upeh Guling, we finally arrived at our destination, in pouring rain. Having lunch in the rain while enjoying the awesome view of the impressive waterfalls, was indeed a whole new experience. My only regret was that we did not have the chance to go under the falls to savour the sensation of the falling water. However, we were able to take a brief dip in the cool water at the top of the falls before another 4-hour trek back to the base camp.

The second day’s trek was much easier as the 1-hour trek took us to the open Kula Marong waterfall. Before we could proceed to view the natural bathtub at the Upeh Guling waterfall, the weather changed suddenly and rain came pouring down, making us turn back to the base camp. However, the day was not lost as the night turned out to be enjoyable. The group sat together with our guide, Mohammed and his Orang Asli friend, Harun, and discussed various aspects of Malaysian life, from the Orang Asli status in Malaysia to Mohammed’s experience in his various adventures. Very enlightening indeed!

On the way back, we received news that the truck was stuck 2 miles away from Kampung Peta, probably due to the rain the day before. So off we went, trekking the final 2 miles of our trip, while Mohammed went before us to help move the truck. However, before we could reach the truck, Mohammed returned with the 4-wheel-drive and took all 25 of us on his 9 –seater jeep. Guess where some of us were on the Jeep? Rest of the trip went on smoothly. After a quick lunch at Mohammed’s home, we headed back for Singapore with new experience and new found friends.