The First Step in a Lifelong Expedition

The biannual Technical Mountaineering Course (TMC) for the Winter 2019 team concluded in December last year, with the team achieving a full summit rate of Baden-Powell Scout Peak (5825m), located in Langtang, Nepal. We thought it’d be interesting to hear the perspectives of an exchange student this time – so we got Riley from the team to share his experience. It’s interesting because we know that Riley specifically chose NUS as his exchange destination because of MIR! 

“Everybody wants to reach the peak, but there is no growth on the top of a mountain. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.” – Andy Andrews

What is worth your weekends and multiple nights of the week, every week? Oh, and let’s throw in three straight weeks of your life? What would I have to offer you in order to get you to give those up? A house? A car? A trip to a sunny, beach paradise? How about the chance to stand a small patch of land thousands of meters in the air with sheer drops on all sides, biting winds chilling you to the bone, and exhaustion so deep you might just try to cuddle up right there and go to sleep?

Now I don’t know if that sounded good to you, but it seems to have been the thing that brought me to Winter TMC 2019. In fact, it sounded appealing enough that 12 other individuals chose to join the team as well. People from all courses of study and backgrounds. Some had trekking experience. Others had no experience at all. Only one member of our team had previous outdoor climbing experience. So, could this ragtag band of individuals learn to trust each other enough and become strong enough to summit a mountain in the Himalayas together? Well thankfully we had help. Members from previous TMCs and expeditions, sometimes even years in the past, came forward to help make this dream a reality for us. To them I have to say thank you because we wouldn’t have made it without them.

But all good adventures are not without hardship or plot twists. So, let me expand. On December 7th, all 13 of our members arrived in Kathmandu safely and on time by airplane. Two days of preparation followed by a small amount of sightseeing along the way. Then, we were off to the mountains in our bus. We arrived at Syrabrubesi (1550m), the starting point for our long trek through the Langtang Valley. Three days of travel brought us to our final destination with an actual town, Kyanjin Gomba (3850m). The team had some trouble adjusting to the altitude throughout the first few days, but slowly acclimatized to the thinning air. Thankfully, we had a rest day planned before we set off for Base Camp.

However, our first plot twist came through the night while we slept. A two day snowstorm rolled in and blanketed the whole valley in 20cm of fresh snow. This severely changed our plans because we had to wait at least 24 hours for all the snow to settle and compact to lessen avalanche risks. So, plans changed and we adapted. We trained in the new snowfield created all around Kyanjin Gomba. We learned how to use our crampons, how to travel as a roped team, how to jumar on rock and snow, how to ice climb up fresh water ice, and the basics of avalanche rescue. All things that we were supposed to have learned about up at Base Camp were able to be taught in this new winter wonderland. We learnt after that Kyanjin Gomba, in all of past TMCs’ histories, has never seen snow before. This was a rarity in itself. 

And with our preparation completed and a great weather window with not a cloud in the sky after almost a week of living in Kyanjin Gomba, we set off for Baden-Powell Scout Peak (5825m) and the thing that had brought us all to the wintery tundra. Two days of hard ascension brought us to higher Base Camp and the base of that great mammoth of rock and ice we intended to conquer the next morning. So off to bed we went.

In the blink of an eye, we were awake again at 3am setting up for our departure at 3:30am for our final push. Five hours of frigid ascent in the pitch black night brought us to a steep section which we had to ascend fixed lines to safely continue. During this dark ascent I found myself asking the question “Why am I here? I’m cold. Is that tiny patch of rock and ice up there worth all this suffering worth it?” But as I waited at the bottom of this section for others to ascend I witnessed the sun slowly rise and hit the slope above me slowly creeping down towards us. It gave me hope. I ascended the ropes and there it was the blindly beautiful sun there to embrace me, warm me, and invigorate. And then I turned, and saw our objective up close for the first time, the summit only a few hundred meters higher, and that gave me an even bigger kick to keep moving. 

So, we set off towards it in rope teams of 6 and 7. And after another 3 hours, at 12pm, we arrived on that small patch of ice and rock we had heard so much about. And on that patch, I answered my question from earlier, “I am here to prove to myself that I can overcome.” And we did, all 13 of us made it to the summit that day and were greeted with a view that few others will ever see of mountains of snow, rock, and ice so stoic and so powerful. 

Winter TMC 2019 team on the summit of Baden-Powell Scout Peak (5,825m), Langtang, Nepal.

But as I said, earlier adventures are made by their plot twists. And immediately after we began our descent our second plot twist came. The weather was once again not on our side and we were blasted with wind storms so strong that the guides later said they had never seen winds that powerful on a peak of that height. These winds would come in so strong that every person on the mountain would have to brace themselves and halt movement when the winds came in. Yet we forged on, all 13 of us descended the mountain and made it to higher Base Camp in one piece. It was strenuous and exhausting, but our training kept us safe and alive. We all learned a lot about ourselves on that mountain in one form or another, but one shared experience was that each of us answered the question “Why?” and here are those answers:

Charmaine:                Because why not

Nachi:                         Mental challenge and thrill

Quang:                        First and last

Ophelia:                      For the animals

Wei Jian:                     To appreciate God’s creation first-hand

Aloysius:                     I want to accomplish what others think I could not do

Walter:                        To grow

Riley:                           As the first step of a life long expedition

Ameer:                        To push myself

Kai Sing:                     Fun

Li Ching:                     To learn to use ropes, knots, etc to ascend a feature. It means knowing how to survive on the mountain (e.g dealing with the cold, food, illness)

James:                         All pain & all gain

Zhi Jia:                        To challenge my limits and prove that I can do anything I set my mind to and to end my last semester with a bomb!

Written By: Riley Head

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