MIR, TMC Winter ’22 [Day 1]
There was something almost comical about how our entourage of mountaineers armed with trolleys, backpacks and duffle bags crowded in front of the giant flight details screen amidst the business as usual Changi crowds. Apart from a few of us who had taken a different flight into Kathmandu, we were all dressed in our newly minted red MIR shirts, and had gathered together for one last photoshoot with the banner before parting ways with our families and loved ones and setting off for Nepal.
I went around asking people how they were feeling about the trip hoping to find some inspiration. Apart from Yan Ang who was feeling confident, being the only one dressed in Khaki shorts reporting that he was ‘ready to acclimatise’ (to the 15 degree cold) in Nepal, many responded with a mix of nervousness and anxiousness. Rightfully so, this trip was the final hurdle in our MIR journey starting some four months back at the Welcome Tea Session in August, followed by intensive training sessions some three times a week. To sum it up succinctly, many of us knew what we wanted from this trip, but not many of us knew what we were getting ourselves into. For we soon came to realise that the world of
mountaineering is as vast as the Himalayas itself, and TMC Winter ’22 was merely a gateway for us 20 freshly minted MIR Mountaineers to enter this new and exciting world.
Kathmandu, The Gateway to the Himalayas [Day 2-4]
After a day’s worth of quick equipment checks coupled by a lively welcome dinner with singing and dancing in Kathmandu with our guides, we set off north for a seven hour bus journey towards Syabrubesi (2380m), our gateway to Langtang Valley, located southwest of the Langtang mountain range. Describing the bus journey as “bumpy” wouldn’t be doing justice to the number of potholes, windy roads and loose rocks that our 25 seater van had to endure. I remember very vividly prior to boarding that our guides were desperately trying to shove our backpacks into the back of the bus (our duffle bags had already occupied the sunroof), and how the whole pile of bags had eventually amassed to tower over Wen Wu and Chi Ying when we were all finally seated down. Just a few minutes in of violent swaying left and right combined with dust being kicked up by the bus, my buddy Ben turned to me with a widest grin on his face and remarked, “it’s gonna be an adventure”.
Following a quiet night’s rest at Syabrubesi, our team set off at 7.30am proper with our backpacks and hiking shoes for Lama Hotel. The lower parts of the trail were lush and densely populated with vegetation and wild animals here and there (monkeys, crows, bees, and mules carrying equipment up and down the trail), for the most part we were walking on a mixture of soil and loose rock, at one point crossing the river that ran through the valley. Temperatures were comfortable during the day (around 25 degrees) – albeit barely tolerable once the sun had set (about 15 degrees). With clear skies and nearly perfect weather, my group was high spirited and eager to catch sight of snow peaks as we lead the expedition at a steady pace up the trail, and arrived at Lama Hotel first out of the four groups. At Lama Hotel, for the first time my sleeping bag was out of the duffle as I layered up in base layers and fleece jacket and crept into my sleeping bag – preparing for expected single digit temperatures come night fall.
Langtang Valley, The Valley of Tragic Beauty [Day 5 – 7]
“6.30 breakfast” had become the standard routine orders for our team as we had to venture higher into the Himalayas with little day light hours to burn. Onwards we trekked and ascended another 1000m towards our guest house for the night, aptly…or rather more literally named the “Traveller’s Guest House” located in Langtang Padmaarga. I remember just admiring the breathtaking view of Langtang Valley during one of our short breaks. A vast and grand gateway to the Himalayas, towered by numerous snow peaks of the 6000s/7000s along with a roaring river of glacial runoff that snaked through the valley – it was a sight to behold, and one that would be burnt into my core memories.
Along the way, our guide, Thupteen, was explaining the tensions between Traditional Religious Buddhist practices and the local tourism economy. Certain peaks are worshiped as Deities by modern Nepalese Buddhists, offering the inhabitants who live within the shadow of the mountain prosperity and protection. However, the influx of tourists flocking to Langtang each year wanting to summit these peaks continues to drive more and more commercial expeditions in the area.
Thupteen had commented briefly on the tragic earthquake which occured in 2015 – perhaps as a nod to the conflicts between Religious Beliefs and Langtang’s tourist driven economy – wiping out an entire village of 400 residents within a matter seconds. En route, my group had passed the fateful avalanche site; looking up towards the top of the valley, you could pin point exactly where the valley gave way to the glacier and imagine how the rocks fell during the earthquake. It was a solemn experience for us all, and a stark reminder of how lucky we were to be alive, and the tragic beauty of Langtang Valley.
Kyanjin Gompa became our R&R for the next couple of days – a place many of us would remember the nights of Avalon, a board game similar to werewolf, contract bridge, the 2022 World Cup and freshly brewed tea. It was a well needed break for us all after the past few days of intense hiking. Aside from the R&R, our team clocked in an acclimatisation hike to the peak of Lower Kyanjin Ri (3800m), as well as a day’s worth of outdoor climbing by a boulder near our hotel. Soon after, it was time to say goodbye to our comfy wooden beds, proper toilets, showers, tables
and chairs to sit on as we ascended further into the Himalayas towards Tserko Peak.
Welcome to Base Camp! [Day 8 – 12]
Singing army route march songs on the way up to Lower Base Camp was a spontaneous yet truly memorable decision made by a few of our army enthusiasts on our team. That sense of camaraderie – that togetherness as a team was perhaps something everyone longed for after being split up into different hiking groups. For the first time on the trip the team was united and hiked as one big group. The cheering, singing and casual jokes in between was just what we needed to overcome the tiredness and the altitude, and made looking at the ground while carrying our heavy backpacks just a little more bearable. Not long after we found ourselves at Lower Base Camp. Tents were erected, sleeping mats were unfolded, and hot water was poured as we huddled in for the night, embracing the unbearable negative ten degree nights. A few of us brave souls, despite the wind and cold, were determined to catch a glimpse of the night sky. With little to no light pollution, we stood in awe at the vastness and beauty of the milky way and the billions of stars that illuminated the night sky.
The next day our team pushed on further to Higher Base Camp One, located next to a giant glacier where our chief guide, Tulsi, taught us the basics of Glacier Travel. We grabbed our crampons, gaiters, double boots and ice axes as we dug into the ice and snow while being roped up as we ascended up and down the glacier. The previous MIR exco couldn’t have been more accurate to say that double boots felt like “walking with two bricks attached to the bottom of your feet”. It took us some getting used to, but eventually most got settled in and became more confident in trekking with them.
With our clunky double boots and heavy backpacks, we set off for Higher Base Camp Two the next morning bright and early. At this altitude of close to 5000m, it became more and more difficult to gain elevation, as such the difference between consecutive base camps were no higher than 300 – 500m. Although, this doesn’t discount the fact that the journey up was still equally difficult and if anything more demanding as we struggled to traverse the uphill terrain made up of mostly loose rock. About an hour and a half from Higher Base Camp Two stood another massive glacier with a beautiful frozen lake situated at its base – I recall Bajaram, another one of our guides, explaining to us that the lake was sacred while Yang Jie stopped to snap a pic. We continued our training at the higher glaciers and spent the afternoon ice climbing before finally heading back down to Higher Base Camp Two for the night.
It was about time that the trainings and activities winded down as everyone started to mentally prepare for the summit push the day after. We ended up having to split the summit attempt into two different days with two different teams because we faced logistical issues trying to get everyone up the summit in one day. After a day’s worth of R&R – we jokingly called it “mental health day” – the teams were finalised and day one’s summit team turned in and called it a night.
Summit Push [Day 13 – 14]
With less than five hours of rest following the final pre-summit briefing, the first team of eleven mountaineers set off in the wee hours of the night fully donned in double boots, triple layers and harnesses ready to fight the freezing cold temperatures and push towards Tserko Peak. The gruelling push for the summit culminated in an eleven hour long hike crossing glaciers and ascending rocky terrain with the last couple of hours demanding a technical ascend on fixed lines towards Tserko’s rocky summit using jumars. I remember pointing the pair of binoculars towards the area directly below Tserko Peak at around noon and saw seven black spots against the whiteness of the glacier all roped up in one single line. It was them, just a couple more hours away from the summit. At approximately two o’clock in the afternoon, the first team had reached the summit of Tserko Peak. Although all mountaineers know that reaching the summit is merely half the journey…and what followed was another six hours of descent back down the mountain. Many were exhausted as they had to navigate the pitch black darkness on unstable rock; fighting the tiredness and pushing on – determined to reach back to base camp safely as a team.
Meanwhile at base camp, the second team of nine were preparing their gear and were about to begin their summit attempt as the first team had only begun their descent down the mountain. At around three in the afternoon the same day, we set off from base camp, and began ascend to Higher Base Camp Three – an advantage that the second team had over the first team. For the rest of us, we were to spend the night there, essentially splitting up our summit push into two parts so that it would be less taxing on our bodies, making it effectively a safer attempt for all of us. After reaching Higher Base Camp Three at sunset, we turned in for the night and prepared for a three o’clock wake up call to continue our summit attempt. I remember the four of us huddling in the tent packed like sardines trying to share body warmth. The night was freezing cold to say the least as our tent kept rustling violently with barely any cover against the winds on the open face of the mountain. Like the first team in the wee hours of the morning, we donned our double boots, layers and layers of insulation and prepared our harness, ready to continue our long and arduous hike up the mountain. At around two o’clock in the afternoon, the last member of the team completed the final jumar ascend up to Tserko Peak.
The Long Road Home [15 – 20]
From here it was all smooth sailing, and everyone knew that the most challenging and physically demanding part of the trip was over. The two teams left Higher Base Camp 2 on their respective days, and linked up as one big team at Kyanjin Gompa. Here we were greeted with cake, fried chicken and rounds and rounds of alcohol mixes to celebrate our victory. I remember there was one night right after the celebrations, the team came together to have a heart to heart talk sharing session with each other. We shared our happiest moments, who and what we were most thankful for on this trip. It was a time of honesty and openness, and all of us couldn’t have felt closer as a team. After another day of leisure waterfall ice climbing nearby, we left our comfort zone and retraced our steps, first to Lama Hotel, and finally back to Syabrubesi.
With one last bumpy ride back to Kathmandu, I couldn’t help but reflect on the journey thus far – the rollercoaster of emotions, the absolutely stunning views, and the surrealness of the whole experience, but I knew I had to accept reality that the trip was soon coming to an end. The escapism from regular school life and just being in the mountains was simply addictive and made me at ease, something about the mystery of the Himalayas that draws more and more people each year. Although I knew that one thing was for certain, that this was only the beginning. Not just in terms of my climbing experience, but the long journey ahead with my new found friends from MIR; the many hikes, mountains and climbs that I can look forward to in the future. Thank you MIR for making this whole experience possible, and I hope to see all of my fellow mountaineers soon!
-Lim Jia Wei
The Winter 2022 TMC Team
Ang Wen Hui, Joyce
Ang Yan Ang
Ben Lasse Hupka
Chew Chi Ying
Chong Kai Jie Bryan
Emerald Rose Gaydon
Fung Wen Wu
Huzefa Aliasgar Maimoon
Irsyad Hamdi bin Ismail
Liew Yan Chi
Lim Jia Wei
Ng Kai Wen
Sew Shu Wen
Tan Tze Loong
Tan Yang Jie
Wang Ri Zhao