Of Mountains and Dreams

Being hopeful means no matter the outcome, something good will come out of it.

Mountaineering Leadership Programme (MIR 20)

When Covid-19 struck, every aspiring Singaporean mountaineer’s worst fears were realised – access to the mountains were denied, with no definite end date in sight. As aptly written in “Conjuring Mountains”, a book written to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the club, the grounding of flights worldwide “put a hold on our forays to the mountains, making these distant lands feel even further from reach”. This was especially disappointing to the group of us that just joined the MIR family, who were hoping to have an adventure of our own amidst the mountain ranges of Nepal in summer. 

In January 2021, amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, MIR pitched its pilot Mountaineering Leadership Programme (MLP) to a group of approximately 40 mountaineering hopefuls in a small seminar room. This was while everyone was still terribly uncertain about what the Singaporean mountaineering scene was going to be like in the months to come. Unlike the previous semesters, there was no promise of a glamorous trip up the peaks of Nepal, nor any tangible benefit afterwards that we would get out of joining the programme at the point where the club was calling for sign-ups. Nevertheless, those who signed up for the programme was bound by a burning passion for the mountains, and a sense of admiration for what the MIR club stood for. After prospective participants underwent individual interviews by the current members of the club, a team of 10 was finally chosen. The 10 of us came from different backgrounds and faculties, but we were all bound by the same thirst for adventure amidst the high peaks.

And so, whilst we still had no clue about what the access to the mountains would be like in the upcoming months to us in Singapore, our MLP training began. 

Over the next few weeks, the 10 of us were put through gruelling training, which included cardio-intensive long runs, Bukit Timah Hill climbs, and technical training at the rock wall. The training was tough, not just in a physical sense, but also because all of us were relatively new to all of the specialised mountaineering skills that were taught to us by the current MIR executive committee. All of these components were previously part of the physical acclimatisation programme for a typical semester-long Technical Mountaineering Course (TMC), which would have taken place if not for the current travel situation. 

On 1 April, whilst the MLP training was well underway, the team was given the opportunity to attend a sharing by Dr Kumaran, one of MIR’s notable alumni back in 2012. He shared his motivations for pursuing the sport of mountaineering, as well as the struggles that he had to undergo in order to keep his mountaineering dream alive. His story not only inspired many of us to go on mountaineering trips of our own but also taught us the importance of resilience and fortitude. He was a man who yearned for adventure, but at the same time, was a realist in the manner in which he set about achieving his goals. It was this attitude towards life that I felt that I could learn from him. By keeping it real, and by making calculated decisions, one would have better chances of making one’s dreams a reality. From a mountaineering perspective, such an attitude is especially important, given the risks and dangers that one could face during a summit pursuit. 

Over the course of the 10-week long MLP, the MIR spirit became something that was deeply ingrained into all of us, through our interaction with all the club’s alumni, all of which had a strong sense of belonging and attachment to the club. The MIR spirit was always seemingly present, no matter what we did, or which group of alumni we interacted with. We learnt that the MIR spirit is more than just a shared passion for mountaineering – it is the bond between the MIR family that was formed through the relentless pursuit of what was previously deemed impossible, and the never-say-die attitude of those who paved the way for the club to be able to be what it is today. It was strongly felt over the whole duration of the MLP, such as during the initial MIR bonding session held in February, the Vivo City run, and most notably, during the “Conjuring Mountains” book launch, which coincided with the day of our MIR challenge. 

The MIR challenge, originally a flagship experience for every TMC team prior to the departure for their trip, was a true test of the team’s teamwork and all of the skills which were taught to us during the MLP. It was the perfect finale event of the MLP, and everyone was immensely proud of each other for making it through the many weeks of arduous training which had resulted in a tightly-knit team. Following the MIR challenge, the “Conjuring Mountains” book launch meant that we had the honour of being able to interact with the pioneers of the club – those who first planted the ‘Make it Real’ idea over 20 years ago – and learn from their experiences which they shared with us through conversation with them. 

The title “Conjuring Mountains” could not have been more apt to describe the mountaineering scene in Singapore at present, given the current travel restrictions which meant that access to the mountains was denied indefinitely. Having to design a programme that would be able to inspire a group to pursue the mountaineering sport, in a country that is devoid of mountains was certainly no easy feat. While the borders are closed, aspiring mountaineers in Singapore will have to continue to “conjure” up what their own adventures and expeditions will be like in the future, to keep the mountaineering fire ablaze amongst those of us who are in a land without mountains.

Whilst the MLP team might not have been able to enjoy the picturesque views up on the mountains, nor have the experience of feeling the cold air nipping at our noses as we made the ascent up the mountains in Nepal, we were able to make our own memories to remember right here in Singapore. In the end, not only did we manage to learn skills and technical knowledge that would be crucial for a mountaineering expedition, but we also had the opportunity to pick up many life lessons along the way, through the interactions we have had with others over the duration of the MLP. Flights may be grounded for now, but our spirit of adventure and passion to scale new heights remains as steadfast as ever. By interacting with those who are devoted to the ardour of the mountaineering sport, and through the sharing of experiences, the MIR spirit had been deeply ingrained into all of us.

Every training, we would talk about mountaineering, learn about mountaineering, and dream about mountaineering. We can only hope that the global travel situation will improve in the time to come, and keep training to make sure that we are ready for when that time comes. The mountains will always be out there, waiting for us to climb. As aptly illustrated in the “Conjuring Mountains”:

“Like the patches of manicured green around our small island nation, the story of mountaineering as an endeavour in Singapore is at best contrived, and certainly, anything but natural. It takes a lot of effort before one even gets to the mountains themselves… Most people here stumble onto the passion. What follows is that these people come back, curious, unsatisfied and hungry for more.”

Hungry for our adventure amidst the ridges, we are. The mountains, we’re coming for you. 

Written By: Natalia Tan

MIR 20 MLP Team comprising:

Shailesh Avinesh

Chia Jue Xuan

Er Qi Yang

Tan Xin Li

Natalia Tan

Adil Muhammad

Teoh Jing Yang

Lam Yik Yi

Kang Tanya

Bryan Lim

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