Archive for September, 2007

Summit push tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

We will be leaving ABC for our summit push tommorow morning. If all goes well (weather, body, mind and spirit) we will stay at Camp 1 on 20th night, Camp 2 on 21th night, Camp 3 on 22nd night and summit eventually on 23rd !

Sounds like a really long way from now but we only know better to take it one step at a time (literally). As it turns out, we will probably be the very first team to attempt for the summit this season (since we have been here the longest!).

As we were packing our high camp food just now, I suddenly thought about all the food I could have been eating back in S’pore again. Stuff like KFC, Five Star chicken rice, Lorong 9 Beef Kway Teow, all of mummy’s home-cooked food and even Kopitiam foodcourt food and food at Plaza Sing Food court (where I always eat for lunch during work). Oh man. Ok enough of food already, i know i’ll get to eat loads and loads back home!

Feeling pretty excited about the summit push ahead! Although lots of unknown linger in my head, i’m generally feeling psyched up! It’s our very first 8,000m mountain and also the first time we will be using supplementary oxygen. I really cannot imagine how I will be climbing in the cumbersome oxygen mask, googles and all, together with all my mucus flowing…. I just pray AMS won’t hit again and I don’t have to shit halfway or something. Thanks again for all your well wishes and encouragement – i’ll be thinking of all you guys back home!

God bless and till the next update about 5 days later!

19 Sept, 5.20pm
Cho Oyu ABC

Greetings from Nyalam (once again)!

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Yes you’ve all read this correctly – our team is now currently in Nyalam (where I sent my very first email update) and we’re here because we’ve had enough of climbing – everything’s over!

Yeah right.

We actually came back here yesterday from Advanced Base Camp (ABC) and will be here for the next 2 days before heading back to ABC again. The purpose for this 8-hour trek and overland drive back all the way to Nyalam from ABC is so that we can let our bodies rest and recover fully at a much lower altitude (3,600m) as compared to ABC’s (5,660m).

Also, we will trying to gorge ourselves with more food (Chinese food definitely tastes better than the Nepali food they cook at ABC!) so that we can hopefully return slightly fatter, well rested and more energised. When we return to ABC on 17 Sept, we will be fully ready to launch our summit bid. I think we’re the only team that has taken this decision to go all the way down to Nyalam to rest, and come back up all the way again.

In a way, I think it’s a little like life – sometimes you have to retreat or backtrack a little before pushing ahead for the big one. So, we will be simply relaxing, eating and sleeping all we want here. Obviously we will also try to avoid spending too much time out in the streets in case we fall sick due to inhaling all the smoke and dust.

Hmmm I feel like visiting the hair salon though, even though I do not think any sane S’porean would ever dare step into one here. My poor hair hasn’t felt the nice and gentle touch of a comb / brush in nearly one month and I think I ought to treat my hair better – afterall, I have been trying to keep it long and it has served me well in keeping my head warm in the mountains. Sorry hair, I’ll promise I’ll treat you to a nice proper treatment back in S’pore. I’ll gladly welcome any recommendations on any hair salons back in S’pore willing to treat hair that has been buried under a beanie and hasn’t seen light for more than one month.

Anyway, back to the climb. We made new progress and spent one night in Camp 2 on 11 Sept. The climb from Camp 1 to Climb 2 on that day was simply exhausting. Seriously, I haven’t felt so exhausted in ages. Even as I recall, the summit bid on Mustagh in 2006 did not feel so bad. We left Camp 1 at about 7am and I only stumbled into Camp 2 at around 5pm – yet another 10 hour journey. The temperature that day was so freaking hot and we were also travelling in a huge basin most of the time, so most of the sun’s rays were reflected back at us.

After getting past the first ice cliff, I told myself the worst must be over as the first ice cliff is reputed to be the most difficult section enroute to Camp 2. However, as I was travelling towards the second ice cliff, I nearly fainted at the sight (on top of the heat) – it was a super duper long slope of about 70 – 80 degrees and I couldn’t even see the end of it.

As we rested at the base of the cliff before proceeding up, I saw climbers up there who seemed to be stuck for ages at the same spot. I quickly gobbled down my power gel, re-applied sun block, clipped on my ascending device and began to trudge up the cliff. Once on the slope, it was simply 2-3 steps then breathe like 10 times. Then yet another 2-3 steps, then breathe another 10 times. Occasionally you plunge your ice axe into the snow for balance, if you manage to spare the extra energy.

When you are up on the slope, there is simply nothing to think about except (1) your breathing pattern – it can be such a therapeutic experience by simply counting the amount of breaths you take (try doing it in S’pore!) and (2) how much higher do you have to climb.

There are hardly any landmarks to aim towards (unlike a huge rock, tree or a lamp post) so it boils down to simply counting the number of steps – which seldom went beyond 5 counts anyway. Lihui and Jane are both the strongest climbers in the team and they reached Camp 2 first, and I was simply glad and relieved to see their faces popping out of the tents upon reaching Camp 2.

So we spent a night at Camp 2 and was supposed to set off and try and hit Camp 3 and return back the next day. At 7,000m, it wasn’t a good sleep for both myself and Jane – we woke up almost every other hour, thinking it was already morning and time to boil water. At Camp 2, we slept in our down suits in our down sleeping bags as it was really very cold, and I mean really very cold.

We were blessed with good weather the next morning so we proceeded to set off. We were all dressed in our heavy down suits and we all look like we were walking in our down sleeping bags, so round and puffy. There was only one way to go – and that’s UP.

As I made my few initial steps in the snow, I felt very breathless and as I trudged on in the increasingly soft snow, I seem to feel more breathless than usual. It was like 2 steps, then breathe 300 times. I was literally gasping for breath. Already the last person in the line and quite a distance from the person in front of me, I sounded out my condition to Jamling, the climbing sherpa walking behind me. He told me I might have developed AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and advised me to turn back towards camp.

I decided to take a rest and continue on for awhile more before deciding if I should turn back. As I resumed the climb, I suddenly smelled something really really bad, like that of rotten eggs that have decomposed for 2000 years. Alas, it was my dear team mate, Jane who just shitted – in the middle of nowhere on the slope. It was soooo smelly that I really thought I would have died on the spot (remember I was already gasping for dear breath). And as if that was not enough, the piece of toilet paper that she used to wipe herself flew down slope and it was literally heading towards my direction. I was so tired that I remember thinking to myself I won’t give a damn even if it hit my face!

After trying to climb on for another 15 mins, I only felt increasingly breathless and I knew it wasn’t wise for me to proceed any more. Upon Dr Mok’s advice, who also diagnosed that I displayed the classic symptoms of AMS, I turned back towards Camp 2 and also decided to descend all the way back to Camp 1 in order to have a better rest. In the end, the rest of the team also turned back about 45 mins after I did as snow conditions got too bad. We then all descended back down to Camp 1 the same day for a good rest…………

Was feeling quite disappointed that I did not manage to perform during our climb up towards Camp 3 but well, AMS can hit anyone and I can only pray that my condition will be better the next time we’re up there – which is during our summit bid!

Alright I think that’s all for now….. I’m sorry if I’m boring you guys with all these climbing details….Oops…need to escape from this internet cafe – before all the cigeratte smoke suffocates me to death!

Miss and love you all and I will probably update again just before our summit bid !

Nyalam, Tibet (in a smoky internet cafe)
15 Sept, 12.50pm (Beijing Time)


Sunday, September 9th, 2007

Today is our second rest day at Advanced Base Camp and it’s truly a great day cuz it’s one of the rare days where the skies are clear and blue, it is NOT snowing and the sun is out! =) We just completed our first acclimatization cycle, spending 2 nights at Camp 1 (6,400m) and we will be resting here at ABC for the next 2 days before moving up to Camp 1 on Mon, then Camp 2 on Tues, weather permitting.

On 5 Sept, we moved out from Camp 1 and our goal was to reach the base of the second ice cliff that was enroute to Camp 2. If you guys have read our dispatches on the website, it was well, tiring.

I remember waiting at the base of the vertical ice cliff, simply waiting for the others to clear it. By then, the weather had started to deteriorate, it started to snow and visibility was getting very poor. I was feeling very cold and I remembered I kept clapping my hands to keep the blood circulating. It was a very horrible feeling waiting, and not knowing what to expect.

I began to pray and Isaiah 40:31 came into my mind “…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” The ice cliff was much tougher than I had expected, it was composed of completely blue ice and it required us to front point with our crampons all the way up the 25m length of fixed rope. Although it was ‘only’ 25m long, it certainly felt like it was forever and i had to take at least 5 super hard and deep breaths after every 2-3 kicking in. It was also quite scary knowing that our lives depended solely on the ‘teeth’ of our jumars (ascending devices to aid in our ascend) biting onto the rope.

At long last, we all made it through the ice cliff and by the time we all reached the top, it became a complete whiteout and it was nearly impossible to see beyond 50m. We then decided to turn around and descend back to Camp 1….the whole journey took us about 10 hours. Phew.

Advanced Base Camp is alot more crowded now with teams from USA, France, China, Australia, Japan, Korea, Spain etc…. it’s almost like some United Nations Conference! There are also apparently another 3 more all-women teams from Croatia, Norway and Korea. Cool.

Over here, meal time conversations usually center around food we miss and toilet habits. We can go on at length about how much we pee and shit, how often we do it, the colour and texture etc. I think it can definitely make a great thesis research topic. Talking about food, we had delicious BAK KUT TEH last night for dinner, courtersy of Dr Mok, our expedition doctor, who brought them all the way from S’pore. Although it was cooked with mutton instead of pork, it was the greatest dish i’ve tasted in a long long time. =)

Up in high camp, what we will eat are boring stuff like instant noodles and freeze dried food like spagetti with meat sauce (which definitely sounds nicer than it tastes, trust me). Life here is very simple, it all boils down to sleeping, piling on layers (when it turns cold), shredding off layers (when the sun is out), eating, talking and simply slumping around. The only mini traffic jam would be the toilet wait outside the toilet tent especially after meal times. Last night, we tried to watch our DVDs but alas they failed to play on our laptop due to some software incompatability =( .

Aye it has just started to snow heavily (again) and we’re all in the relative comfort of our mass dining tent, reading, listening to music, pretending to dance (some of my team mates have expressed a desire to go clubbing back in Kathmandu. imagine clubbing in our ungainly climbing outfits! horror of horrors!).

I’m about to finish reading the book “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami and it’s a little sad. It’s supposed to be a story about a missing cat, but well turns out it’s not really about the cat. Just like in climbing, it’s NEVER only about climbing. It’s about so many other things – the relationships forged with your team mates and your climbing sherpas, developing patience, understanding the weather and environment, knowing yourself and taking pleasure in simply sitting around doing nothing. Ah, such life.

Thanks for all the emails, they all bring a great amount of encouragement and delight into my seemingly small little world (though when you’re climbing, everything seems huge and infinite)…. reading them made me realise how much I miss home! Sometimes it’s strange how I yearn to ‘escape’ from home, only to come here and realise how much I actually miss home and all things familiar.

I also particularly miss running, especially coming to office early, then running to East Coast Park and back to office, just in time to start work…..i miss being able to simply put on a dri fit t-shirt and running shorts, instead of piling on layers and layers feeling like a overbloated duck now 😛

But it’s been really great to be back in the mountains, a place that I’ve always held so close to my heart, a place where i feel that my heart and spirits can truly soar and finally, a place where even when it’s cold, it can feel warm and fuzzy (at times!) =)