Mountains of the Mind

2022 Summer Technical Mountaineering Course, Baden-Powell Scout Peak, Langtang Valley

“So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go.” ~ George Leigh Mallory

Everyone loves their bed. Couple that with a warm shower, the familiar taste of a home-cooked meal, the gentle whir of the air-con and you have the perfect stay in night at home. Many would thus find it hard to understand why anyone would willingly pay to leave these creature comforts behind and trade them for sore feet and blisters from hours of trudging through mud, snow, and the occasional donkey poo. Well, for the 12 members of MIR’s 2022 TMC team, it wasn’t very difficult to convince them to do just that. 

Convincing us was the easy part, but to Make it real we had to put in countless hours of training. We had 4 trainings a week consisting of cardio-intensive running, technical sessions, and the dreaded Bukit Timah hill training where we loaded our backpacks and scaled Bukit Timah enough times to know exactly how many steps there are (Bern actually counted). Our training concluded with the MIR Challenge, a final test of our skills and a rite of passage for all TMC members. What remained now was tackling the mountain itself. 

On 23rd May 2022, our team set off for the Himalayas. This was an especially monumental moment as it marked the revival of the clubs overseas activities. This was because, for the past 2 years, the club’s adventures into the mountains were put on hold due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. After a long hiatus, MIR was back in the mountains. 

Our foray into the Himalayas started in the bustling city of Kathmandu, in the tourist district of Thamel. Thamel is a hotspot for mountaineering-related activities, where both rookie and veteran mountaineers alike make a pit stop to stock up on supplies for the journey ahead. 

After a day’s rest and having been formally introduced to our guides, we quickly left the city for the quaint village of Syabrubesi (1550M) which was the furthest the roads could take us. From here on out, we could rely only on our legs, perseverance, and grit.

The next day we woke up early, eagerly strapped on our backpacks and took our first steps into Langtang Valley. The minute we stepped foot into the valley proper we were completely enthralled and mesmerised by the sights. We left behind congested dirt roads complete with car horns and potholes and were greeted by the peace and tranquillity of the forest and undulating hills. The excitement in the air was almost palpable as we were finally on our way towards our eventual goal of Baden-Powell Scouts Peak.

The team posing for a picture on a bridge

Now no adventure is complete without its setbacks, and our first would come that very night, putting a lid on the exuberance of the team. At our rest stop for the night, Lama Hotel (2500m), almost the entire team was hit by a particularly bad bout of food poisoning, with only a handful of lucky souls spared from the ordeal. The quiet of the night was punctuated with the cacophonous sound of our teammates’ vomiting; barely anyone could catch a wink of sleep. The following morning, with about ¾ of the team down, we had no choice but to stop and rest for the day.

The team taking the day to recuperate at Lama Hotel

After just 1 day of rest and through a great show of perseverance and determination, the team was back on their feet and we were back on the trail. Even Santhya, who was hit the hardest, was determined to press on. In this show of strength, she truly cemented her moniker of “The Beast.” A name we gave her as she would outpace just about anyone during our dreaded Bukit Timah hill trainings. These were the most physically demanding part of our training program; when people were gasping for air she would be saying “no time to rest” and egg us on. Not intending to let poorly washed vegetables stop us, we pressed on and over the next 2 days would make it to the last point of civilisation at Kyanjin Gompa (3800m). A rustic village nestled beneath behemoths like Langtang Lirung and Gangchenpo, complete with its own café, dairy, local bakery and guest house, it was the perfect place to gather our strength before we made the push onto Baden-Powell peak. We had formally entered high-altitude territory where the risk of AMS was very real. Therefore, we spent a few days here acclimatising and brushing up on our jumar and rope skills.

The team practising Jumaring at Windy corner, an aptly named rocky outcrop

Confident we had the basic skills to tackle the mountain, we left civilisation behind and set off for lower base camp and then onto upper base camp (4900m). En route to the upper base camp, although extremely battered by fatigue, we still found the time for a snowball fight with our guide Tulsi. Larger numbers always win in a battle right? Wrong—Tulsi, having honed his craft with years in the mountains, mowed us down [1] one by one even though we outnumbered him 10 to 1. Even a desperate charge across the snow field did little to stop the one-man army.

Bern seeking cover from Tulsi’s snowballs
Kok Hai firing back at Tulsi

Despite our embarrassing defeat, the team’s spirits were high and we pressed on to eventually reach a moraine which would serve as our advanced base camp. A barren field of ice and rock adjoined by an endless snow field, a babbling stream and indomitable peaks guarding over us—this would be our home for the next few days.

Our arrival to Advanced Base Camp was shrouded in fog

Under the watchful eyes of the stone sentinels that towered over us and seemed to almost bear down upon us, we ventured out onto the snow field where we trained and honed our snow and ice skills. However, the air here was noticeably thinner and many of us felt the effects of an oxygen-deprived environment. Altitude sickness would manifest itself in the form of headaches and nausea that forced some of us to sit out on trainings. Giovanni recounts his brush with altitude sickness as being “Violently attacked by AMS in the night.” However, in true Giovanni style, he was back to blasting music and dancing on the snow field the next day.

The team practising walking in our mountain boots over rocky terrain

After just 3 days of training, we found ourselves gathered in the mess tent and attending our summit briefing. A weather window had presented itself, and this was our chance to push for the summit. We had already used 1 spare day for rest after our battle with food poisoning, this meant that we only had 1 shot to make the summit. That night, we had an early dinner and went to bed feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

We split into 2 teams, setting off at staggered timings. In the quiet of the early morning, we anxiously put on our boots and readied the rest of our gear. After a simple breakfast of plain porridge, we set off into the twilight. The entire mountain was shrouded in darkness and with the path illuminated only by our headlights, we slowly but steadily made our way towards the summit. After marching in relative silence for a few hours, the sun slowly rose above the peaks behind our backs. It was as if a giant hand was slowly lifting the curtain of night from the face of the earth and for the first time, we could clearly see our path and how much further we had to go.

The sun rising above the clouds
The team looking on en route to the summit

One jumar section, a few (extremely) steep hills, several crevasses and many hours later, the first members of our team reached the summit at around 9.45 am. Within the next hour, the rest of us would join them on the top. We had finally summited. We had Made It Real.

The team on at the summit of Baden-Powell Scouts peak

The night before our summit push I distinctly remember our team leader, Ryan, giving us a speech. He reminded us to think about why we chose to be here, why we had decided to spend our summer holidays on a mountain top instead of in our comfortable beds. I—and I’m sure many of my teammates—had thought about this for a long time. We never shared our personal reasons for being on the mountain but whatever they were, I’m sure we all went home discovering a part of ourselves we never knew. Ultimately, in what may seem like a pointless escapade to many, to us on the mountains, it taught us something about ourselves.

As Gaston Rébuffat puts it, with every journey into the mountains

“There is also the process, coming every time as a surprise, of self-discovery, deepening a little further with every climb” ~ Gaston Rébuffat

The expedition had tested our mental and physical resolve and even though we were willing to endure all this struggle, it’s not to say that we didn’t miss our creature comforts. Harpreet would often mention how his bed back home was probably thinking of him while he was away, and Arthur would always be Signal Man, being the first to seek out telecom signal (if any) even when we were high up in the mountains.

To my team, I thank you for sharing this special experience with me and thank all of you for bringing your own brand of craziness to the mountains. I will forever remember the conversations we had in the mountains, the quiet silence of our hikes, the booming laughter that kept us gasping for air at 5000m, and the time spent gazing at the night sky. Though our Technical Mountaineering Course together may be over, our adventures in the mountains are just beginning and I’ll see you on the next mountain!

Paul Chow

MIR 22 Team member

Edited by Shai-Ann

MIR 22 Team member

The Summer 2022 TMC Team

Anthea Yip

Arthur Evans

Bernadette Fong

Chan Kai Jun

Danial Haqim

Giovanni Low

Harpreet Singh

Lian Kok Hai

Paul Chow

Ryan Jansen

Santhya Vasanthan

Shai-Ann Koh

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