“Achieving the summit of a mountain was tangible, immutable, concrete. The incumbent hazards lent the activity a seriousness of purpose that was sorely missing from the rest of my life. I thrilled in the fresh perspective that came from tipping the ordinary plane of existence on end. And climbing provided a sense of community as well. To become a climber was to join a self-contained, rabidly idealistic society, largely unnoticed and surprisingly uncorrupted by the world at large.”
Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
That was the question I posed to my team – we were all nestled up in our dining tent after having finally reached the foots of upper Base Camp. The altitude was about 4900m and the sun had long set. As the winds continued to pick up outside and we inevitably reconciled that it would likely be another tough -10°C night ahead, the moment seemingly begged for some sort of introspection. I thought it would have been meaningful for the team to pen down their whys.
Personally, it was a question I myself was intrigued by. “Why?” – Why would 14 strangers seemingly trade a comfortable winter break for twenty days here in the Langtang region of the Himalayas, only to have to brave the elements in hopes of summitting our intended Tserko Peak, 5740m weeks later? In fact, the uncertainty of the journey quickly manifested itself in news of a summit change earlier on – our team had come with the intention of attempting the summit of the adjacent Baden-Powell Scout Peak. But, we soon heard from our guides’ reconnaissance team that the water supply at that base camp had frozen up, obligating a detour.
“Why?” – on a more personal level, the 14 of us had been training together the entire semester already – the weeks of cardio-intensive long-runs, Bukit Timah Hill climbs and technical training at the rock wall had earlier culminated in our MIR Challenge. We had soon learnt about each other’s quirks and habits and we were indeed ready to face the challenge ahead. But we also knew that this journey was each an individual one as well – we were a team of eclectic, driven individuals all with our own motivations. We knew we had to well internalise these motivations especially in preparation for the summit assault that was in a day or two’s time.
After a day of travel from Kathmandu city to the entrance of Langtang National Park, we quickly commenced our trek from Sybrubensi (1550m) up the terraced fields and rustic terrain, over gushing azure-blue rivers and along long mani walls to Langtang Village (3430m) and finally arrived at the final point of civilisation in the valley – Kyanjin Gomba (3850m). A quick day of acclimatisation, technical revisions at a natural rock and trek up Lower Kyanjin Ri (4380m) later, we soon set off for lower and then upper Base Camp and soon our eventual goal of Tserko Peak was in clear sight.
Over the next two days, we would spend time heading up to our final Base Camp at the frozen lake (~5100m) for technical training at the glacier to familiarise ourselves with our crampons, ice-axes, ropes and other arrest and traversing procedures. We made our final journey back up to the lake the night before the summit to set up camp. As the sun fell beyond the horizon, it soon dawned on all of us that we would commence our summit push in a couple of hours time, at 2am.
As the hour finally came, our team geared up and with tinges of anticipation, anxiety and enthusiasm, we switched on our headlamps and set off on what would be a 10-hour push to the summit. Along the way, it became apparent to me that my own obsession with scaling peaks stemmed from how the process up encapsulated the idea of there being no glory along the way – that no one looked at the journey but only that meagre few seconds after you’ve made it. Yet the journey – the unseen bulk of the way up is what really counted. Be it the entire past semester of painful, hard work and dedication of my team, witnessing distant avalanches and the summit swap, the sleepless tent nights waking up gasping for air, the seemingly endless days at high altitude, the endless traversing across the extensive glacier ice and numerous crevasses, the jumaring and abseiling, front-pointing and ice-axing and finally the harrowingly narrow 200m trudge up to the summit – these moments that day were what truly counted.
And so, eventually, we made it. Each one of us. Not just the summit itself. But we all accomplished what we had set out to do. “WHY” was not just why we wanted to reach the top, but why we had chosen to challenge ourselves, why we had chosen the adventure, why we wanted to achieve this milestone. I soon realised that we weren’t all that different after all. So, here’s why:
“Because I want to push beyond my limits, physically and mentally.”
“Because I want to learn to be strong, in one of the most beautiful and baffling places on Earth.”
“Because I want to.”
“Because I want to conquer greater pain in life.”
“Because I want to challenge myself while I still can.”
“Because I want to see where all this pain and strain can take me.”
“Because sometimes it takes more than one attempt to summit.”
“Because this is a step towards becoming an astronaut.”
“Because I don’t want to stay comfortable.”
“Because I want to see God’s creation and to challenge myself.”
Thank you, team. It has been an undeniably exhilarating and invigorating few weeks in the Himalayas with each of you guys. You have inspired me and I’m sure, many others along the way too!
The Winter TMC 2018 Team
Amber te Winkel
Goh Jin Hao
Leow Wei Sheng
Tan Wan Lin
Tan Yu Peng