Team Tortoise are Cheryl, Min, Opus, Elaine and Carrie

5 torts making their slow and steady ascent up Mt Kinabalu...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

About last night

We lost our mountain virginity, the five-some of us, over sweat, laughter and lots of deep breathing.

Did that really happen or did I just dream it?

A week after, I still have to pinch myself to believe that it really happened. Like a drunken encounter in a bar, the details are a blur. The shady pick up lines, brief lapse of logic and consenting adults. Hastily made travel arrangements, heart to heart conversations and getting to know each other better in dark stairwells. Before we knew it, we shed our inhibitions and became gore tex wearing, head lamping, backpacking, mountain troupers!

Climbing a mountain, was always as improbable as my dream of becoming an erotic novelist.

My first thought when Min asked me if I would climb Mt Kinabalu 2 years ago was this - too fat, too slow, too unfit. Crazy!

I couldn't run more than 2 rounds of a track without running out of breath and she wanted to climb wha?

But with each improbability being overcome - running the first 10K, swimming 1500 m in the sea, walking into a ZARA shop and being able to fit into an outfit for the very first time, something shifted in the universe of this fat girl's reality. If I dared to put my finger on an unreachable goal and flung myself recklessly in its direction, strange and wonderful things happen.

And because I had an unquenchable desire to walk on the wild side before I kicked the bucket, I was overcoming rejection and propositioning people to climb mountains with me. First, Elaine, then Lillian, then Min and Cheryl.

No way was I going to die a mountain virgin!

The first night at the hotel after climbing the mountain, everyone too tired to stay up to talk to me, I lay in bed tossing and turning. Excited about completing the climb, but suddenly bereft of staircase to climb, I felt like my heart would burst out of I don't know ... fullness or hollowness?

I climbed out of bed, made my way to the sofas at the hotel lobby and started to process the enormity of it all which felt like a gigantic lump in the chest. Guess I needed to gush to someone and so I did - thanking God for keeping us safe, for giving me this team of crazies and for letting me do this in my lifetime.

So many uncertainties in this trip, last minute illnesses and every step, a step in faith.

As I talked to God and bawled in the public area of the hotel's lobby, a security guard came by asking me if I was ok (must have looked a wreck). He offered me access to the more private internet room and so I found my way into the internet room at 3 am. Moments later just as I went online, Gary msged me on the FB chat box. He too was jet lagged and couldn't sleep. As improbable as it was, 2 persons, married to each other, separated by mountains, time and space, found each other against the expanse of loneliness. Just at the time that I needed him most.

I told him about the steps, the ferrata and my fears. I tried to describe the sunrise on the mountain top and how it was so hard to use the toilets. Everything toppled out of my garbage bin of thoughts until I had nothing left to empty.

So I climbed back into bed, the emotional tiredness giving way now to physical tiredness. Each breath that I heard Min take, a soothing and lulling reminder that I was truly alive and this wasn't just a dream.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thoughts from a slightly different perspective

I couldn't have asked for a better group of adventure companions. We started off fit, cheery and excited on the first morning of the climb. I was still fighting a runny nose and a cough but I was hoping for the best and didn't want to think about it.

The climb up was, to put it bluntly, a terrible ordeal for me. My cold plagued me the entirely way. My chest and sinuses felt congested. The steps and rocks seemed interminable. Each time I tried to push myself forward and/or upward, I would not be able to find the energy. It just wasn't there. I felt crummy and weak. I wanted to blow my nose every 5 minutes and managed to do so every 15.

The first part of the climb to the rest hut was roughly 6km. I think the group started to break up a little from 4k onwards. I lagged behind, with Cheryl and Carrie just ahead of me. I put one foot in front of the other and tried to take each step at a time.

Stopping every so often to catch my breath, the guide asked me a few times if I was ok. It got to the point where other people's guides, passing by, asked me if I was ok. Was my wheezing that loud? I mustered up a cheery thumbs up and pressed on. In my head, I swore to myself that I would never go up an incline again. Any incline.

Around the 5k mark, it started to rain. Besides the discomfort of getting wet, this was actually my favourite part of the climb up. Things started to get interesting. I could hear loud, gushing sounds of waterfalls from the mountaintop, and I could see them too - furious streaks of white foam falling from the granite walls. It was awesome.

When we finally got to the rest hut, I was grateful for the opportunity to finally be horizontal and to get some rest. I knew that I wasn't well enough for the summit climb, so I made the decision not to continue on - I would stay at the rest hut overnight and wait for the others to return from the summit.

So, thankfully, I got several hours of rest. I woke up periodically from the noise and bustle but it didn't bother me too much.

In the morning, I discovered, to my joy, that from the rest hut, I could see the via ferrata route that the others were taking down from the summit. From the vantage point of the breakfast table, I watched and took pictures of my brave travel companions as they climbed down the mountain. It looked like it would be a little scary. At one point, clouds and mist descended upon the moutain with such alarming speed that I was concerned that they would suddenly lose visibility. Thankfully the clouds dissipated shortly after.

The climb down was much better for me. My cold bothered me less after the night's rest, and going down was less strenuous in general. Plus, I had the advantage of having had 10 hours' less climbing than my companions.

The route was rather dull, with little to see, but I enjoyed the downward jaunt (ha!) all the same.

5:40pm. Caught the bus driver and told him to wait dammit.

My legs ached for a good two days afterwards and the beach resort was lovely (except for the cockroach).

The end.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Hello dolls!

Thanks for sharing your journal, Min. I read it slowly and thoroughly, savouring the images each word conjured up in my mind's eye. And i can't help but smile (a little too smugly) at the reminder that our expedition was successful! But more than that, I really enjoyed the camaraderie - couldn't ask for a better travelling companions. Guess Carrie figured that out way before anyone else (dreamiest dream team was it?).

Seemed a bit surreal returning to my desk this morning, peering out at PSA port from the 43rd floor of DBS Building. Not long ago I was staring at mountain ranges and blue sky from Low's Peak...

Strangely, this lawyer I met some months back remembered that I was going to attempt the Mt Kinabalu climb in Sep and dropped me an email today wishing me a good trip! haha, so i'll be meeting him net week for lunch to give some useful tips for planning his KK adventure.

And you know what, I don't think I have seen the last of my mountain climbing days yet... :)



Thanks Min for the vivid and detailed recap. It was almost surreal to re-live the account, only to be reminded by my sore legs that it really happened.

Serendipity indeed, as Carrie puts it, that I found myself on my first ever outdoor adventure trip with such a great bunch of travelling companions. Never in my wildest dreams (especially when cursing under my breath as I walk up the short flight of stairs of Raffles Place MRT station that my knees are creaking with age) did I think that I would ever successfully climb up or down the equivalent of 6 hours worth of stairs each way!

Like Elaine, my return to home even after such a short trip required some mental adjustment - I found myself missing the National Geographic mountainous view, that above-the-clouds feeling, even the sensation of being enveloped by sudden mist. Ha, I'd better get over this sentimentalism or I might find myself saying Yes to another mountain climb!!!


Min's Journal 7 Sept 2010

I survived, and I reached the summit!

When we landed in Kinabalu it was drizzling. We went to a coffeeshop and ate chicken rice, which was, rather strangely, shaped into pyramids, with a platter of chicken and green vegetables, and a basin of wonton soup. That was pretty much the highlight of the day. From then, it was a drive through splashy streets to Rose Cabin, a motel where we would spend the night before doing the climb the next day. My room had a view of Mount Kinabalu, which stood in black and velvet green against a brooding sky. Above it, clouds hung as heavy as a weight on the heart, dusky at the edges, ice-white in the centre. We took a quick walk around the grounds and discovered lush fields and banana trees, and a wooden house on stilts, where colourful laundry was draped on railings and washing lines strung in front of the main door. Everything was damp and dripping. The plants and grass and trees were slick and shiny, bursting lusty green sinews out of the soft moist ground.

It got dark quite soon. The water in the shower was not icy, but not warm, so I showered with all possible speed. The light in the room was dim as a candle, without the romantic flickering and honey-colour of a real flame. So I didn't read. There wasn't anything else to do except to pack and re-pack our luggage – one bag to carry on our backs up the mountain, one bag to hand over to the porter to haul up for us, and one bag to store in a locker at the park headquarters, to await our (hopefully) triumphant return.

In the bag that I would carry myself I put water and food, a rain jacket, medicines and plasters. I lifted it and found it surprisingly heavy. The bag for the porter contained winter clothes for the summit climb, headtorch, toiletries, slippers, a change of clothes and all the other essentials for a night's stay. That felt even heavier than my own bag.

Dinner was simple. For me, a bowl of sweet corn soup, a mound of white rice and a large and oily omelette. Then, it was an early night for everyone.

I slept fitfully. The pillow was too high and gave me a neck ache. So I took one of my little bags filled with clothes and stuffed it into a pillow case which I stripped off the pillow, and slept on that instead. That felt a bit better. But it was not a restful sleep as the improvised pillow was too lumpy, and I think I felt too excited about the climb to switch off my mind.

The next morning we got up early for breakfast. I ate scrambled eggs, and, to the awe of my travel companions, had 4 slices of toast, versus the 2 slices everyone else ate. (I thought I had better carbo-load for the long climb ahead.) We drove to the park headquarters to register ourselves and meet our guide, who was a short young man of few words. Our collective luggage for the porter to carry turned out to be 16 kg. Embarassingly, mine was almost 5 kg. To our shock, our porter turned out to be a makcik who looked like she was in her late forties. She was a stout looking woman, but not someone you would have thought could climb mountains. She had slippers on her feet, a scarf around her head, and an umbrella packed into a canvas bag into which she bundled all our little pieces of luggage. The whole thing was tied up with a string. She hoisted the sack onto her back, and the strap ran across her forehead. She had no walking stick. On the short drive to the checkpoint where the climb began she took out a knife and started to whittle away at what looked like a betel nut.

I had on my t-shirt of dry-fit material, my gore-tex rainjacket, my two alpine retractable walking sticks with rubber tips and wood handles, my water-proof hiking boots with ankle protection, my rucksack with rain cover and special padding to wick away sweat from the back, and straps for lumbar support. I had a tumbler of plain mineral water and a tumbler of mineral water mixed with hydration salts. I had a bagful of energy gels and energy chews and muesli bars. Each prepared in our own way, according to our own level of fitness and ability, we started the climb.

The climb itself was not very eventful. The terrain was similar to a lot of other mountains I have walked up. Lots of pebbles, moss-covered rocks and mud, with trees lining the sides. Big steps consisting of large cracked stones. On occasion, slippery wooden steps, with slightly rickety railings. Step after step. Sometimes a big step, sometimes a little one, sometimes a long step, sometimes a short one. Sometimes a shallower bit where you could almost walk normally. Usually just long uphill stretches to labour up. I was an ant, with a sugar crystal on my back. Every step seemed to bring me no closer to the top of the rock. My walking sticks were like crutches, and I hauled myself along, one step at a time.

There were rest stops along the way where we drank and ate our tongue-curlingly sweet energy food. But I couldn't stop for long because the air was cold, and if I was still, I would soon start to shiver.

As we plodded along our guide would be busy talking on the phone or messaging, as if he was just walking down the street. His feet in their thin canvas shoes seemed to find their way up without any thought, without scuffing any rocks or kicking any pebbles. The porter moved up methodically and silently in small steps. Lots of other climbers passed us. Climbers on the way down gave us encouraging smiles. I saw one lady climber who seemed to have sprained her ankle. She was holding her guide's hand for support, and uttered a low cry of pain with every step she took. Then there were the porters who were carrying things up and down to the Laban Rata hut (the main hut in the rest-house area). Awesomely heavy things like sacks of rice and gas tanks. They had wooden frames tied to their backs, with straps around their foreheads. I knew they were coming from behind from the swift sure footfalls I heard. And then we would all stand aside and be overtaken by men (and sometimes women!) carrying what looked like small boulders on their backs. The porters coming down were even faster, since they did not have full loads. Most of them descended in a series of little hops and leaps. It was rather depressing.

As we ascended, the vegetation changed, from tall leafy trees to stunted and sparse bushes. I was disappointed that the guide did not tell us about the flora and fauna around us, which I think would have been very interesting, and broken up the monotony of the climb. His role really seemed to be that of a babysitter – making sure that we ascended and descended in one piece.

Anyway, after about 5 hours of climbing, it started to rain. I had gone ahead with one of the group, Elaine, and we were about 5 minutes away from Laban Rata. Mist curled up around the rocks in front of us like ghost snakes. Then big fat raindrops started to fall. By the time I pulled the rain cover over my bag and took my rainjacket out I was wet all over. We scurried to the main hut – it's actually quite a large building with a big dining area, a tiny shop selling essentials at exorbitant prices, and an industrial sized kitchen. Damp and shivering, I ordered a hot milo and watched the rain through the steamed up windows. The world outside looked white and foggy, with shadows where the mountain ridges were.

When the rain stopped, we joined the rest of the group, who had gone straight to the Pendant Hut, where we would spend the night. The hut was tiny, with a few dormitories, and a very steep flight of steps leading to a bath/toilet area. The water was ice-cold, and I was a blob of trembling jelly by the time I finished my shower. Everything felt damp and clammy and vaguely unclean. There were musty-smelling sleeping bags on the double-decker beds, lined with what I hoped were fresh linen. But I tried not to breathe too hard.

We had a briefing on the via ferrata, which we were going to do the next day, and on the summit route. Then it was a trek to the Laban Rata hut for an early dinner – pasty rice, chewy vegetables, tough chicken. I didn't have much appetite, as it was spoiled with the vast amounts of energy food I had popped throughout the day.

Then it was back to Pendant Hut to pack our summit bags. There was nothing else to do, and in any case, no one had the energy to do anything. I did a bit of sketching, and then turned in at about 7 pm. Everyone else had already climbed into bed. No one could sleep, though. The light was on, and stragglers from the day climb kept coming in, unpacking their bags, talking, taking photographs, and making the beds and floorboards tremble when they walked. One cretin took a photograph of his travel companion using a flash. I opened my eyes and uttered an involuntary expletive and he disappeared. The late-comer beside me was ill and coughing constantly. I stuffed ear-plugs into my ears, and managed about 2 hours' doze once the lights were out, which I think was at about 11 pm. But it was a pretty horrible night. At half past one I got up, had a wash, and went outside to eat many slices of toast, in the hope that more food might make up for less sleep.

It was cold. I had a beanie on my head, water-proof winter gloves on my hands, a sweater, a long-sleeved shirt, a t-shirt, a rainjacket, track pants, trousers, and I was still shivering. I strapped a headlamp on my head, and laced up my boots with numb fingers. In my small backpack was only water and energy chews. It still felt heavy.

At 2:30 am, we all set off. I was tired even before we got to the start of the summit route. But, glory be, it was not raining, and the sky was a field of stars. Our guide took us at an unreasonably fast pace for the first 20 minutes until we told him we couldn't keep up. The air was thin, and that, and the rigours of the previous day, and the lack of sleep, all sapped us. The steps seemed made for giants, and I had to push off with one leg and often both arms just to get up. I grabbed onto rocks with my hands as I had no walking sticks for the night climb – we would have to be on all fours quite a bit, and use ropes, and the sticks would just get in the way.

This tortured scrambling went on and on and on, and then we reached a place which the guide briefing us yesterday called “The Danger Zone”. It was where we had to use ropes to get up. There was hardly any vegetation on the mountain by this altitude. The terrain was mostly granite slabs. Actually it wasn't as hard as Mount Gower in Lord Howe, where there were many moments that I thought I might fall and break a leg. There was only one moment where I felt I didn't know where to place my foot and might slip. But otherwise everything else was quite manageable. It was just tiring and seemingly interminable.

I trudged up large granite plains, set at steep inclines, with pools of icy water in their cracks. The world seemed reduced to the circle of light from my headlamp. Time was broken up – the seconds needed for each step made up a day. The days strung together made up an eternity. Now and then I would look up and feel my heart sink when I saw a string of bright pearls bobbing far ahead – the headlights of climbers in the impossibly far distance. Sometimes I looked down, but it was too dark to see how far down it was. Perhaps that was just as well, or I might have gotten vertigo. There was a sickle moon in the sky, blurred at the edges, as if it was glowing through a pane of frost.

We passed the checkpoint near the summit, and the made the final push to the top. Lots of scrambling among the rocks, sometimes with ropes. I panted with exhaustion, like a dog on a hot day. The summit was crawling with brightly dressed climbers, little animated pac-men against the grey rock. The sky lightened, and we saw a streak of orange and pink fire rise up from behind a black ridge. In minutes, all the midnight blue leaked away from the roof of the world. The stars faded like dreams. The sky became a shell of light blue ice.

By the time we got right to the very tippy top, where everyone posed for group photographs with the little green sign announcing that they were at Low's Peak, the world was diamond bright. Vast planes of silver-grey rock stood on all sides, before us and below us, terminating in curls and points and rectangle shapes. The wind whistled cleanly and harshly, and the sun began to anoint everything in its path with gold. We whooped and took grinning photographs.

I think it was about 6 am.

We had mere minutes to enjoy all this, before the cold, the continual surge of other climbers into the tiny summit space, and the press of time, drove us downwards. We had to make it to the summit checkpoint by 8 am in order to go down by the via ferrata. Shuffling, hobbling, hopping, grimacing, sighing, we made a slow progression down to the summit checkpoint. White clouds mushroomed in the sky – huge heavy masses, stained with an ominous prussian blue at their soft round bases.

At the checkpoint we were togged out in helmets and harnesses, and had carabiners clipped to our sides. Then, with our gear, we scrambled down with gritted teeth, past the Danger Zone, and down to the place where the via ferrata was supposed to start. There, I saw folds of granite pockmarked with a few steel rings. There was a metal cable running alongside the rings. Our ferrata guide, Fazli, roped us together with green rope. It looped through our harnesses in large complicated knots. The idea is that the leader is supposed to inch along the path marked out by the metal cable, holding the cable for support. When she reaches a ring, she loops the green rope through it, and then hooks her carabiners (essentially, just large hooks attached by straps to your waist) along the cable. She then inches along, reaches another ring, unhooks her carabiners, re-hooks them further along the same cable, and so on and so on. Everyone else does the same, except the ones behind the leader have to undo the rope the leader has slipped through the ring and then loop their own section of the rope through the ring. The idea is that if someone falls, he will be held aloft, dangling but safe, by the collective strength of the group, by virtue of the collective rope running through all the rings. Personally, I had my doubts about the efficacy of this safety system, because we did it so inexpertly that our ropes were often slack and popped out of their loops. So I clung onto the metal cable for dear life and slid on my bum from ring to ring in the most inelegant fashion. I am quite positive that real mountaineers would not slide around in a sitting position, but be like spiders or monkeys, moving from rock to rock with their agile feet and hands.

But, oh well, at least I got down safely, though the seat of my trousers was torn to shreds.

The route we took was steep enough to make it impossible to stand upright or lie flat. One could only sit or crouch leaning into the mountain with one's feet squashed into the nearest available toe-holds in the rock. Anyway, this went on and on and on – there were about 200 rings. Crawl-shuffle-climb forward, move slack rope into position, unloop rope, loop rope, unclip carabiners, pass under the rope, clip carabiners, crawl-shuffle-climb forward again. I often got the carabiners tangled up in the rope or with the cable and had to unclip and re-clip them. Exhausted, and wilting under the glare of the increasingly white sky, I felt a rising swell of irritation with the whole exercise. Sometimes I tried to stand up and walk using the carabiner straps for support, or hold the metal cable, as I thought a real mountaineer might do. But that was either scary or tiring, and so I didn't do that for long. Mist began to lap around us, like an incoming tide. I had a vision of us climbing in the fog, having to blow the air around us, in order to clear it like smoke, and find the next steel ring. I had a vision of the rain pelting down, making the granite we crawled on as smooth and slippery as glass. But I felt too tired to go any faster than I was.

The highlight of the journey was supposed to be the crossing of a two cable bridge. One cable underneath the feet, and one cable overhead for the hands to grab on. The carabiners were clipped to the cable above. I was second behind the leader, Elaine. Elaine bravely ventured forward and managed to find her balance quite easily, it seemed to me. She inched across at a good pace, and the rope holding her to me grew taut. This meant I had to start to move, or else she would not be able to progress. I put a foot on the cable, which felt as thin as a wire under my chunky boot. But try how I might, I could not seem to find my balance on the thing. I wobbled dangerously, and Elaine gave a yelp as I jerked the cable that she was balancing on. The guide thought I was scared of going onto the bridge because I thought the cable could not take my weight, and so he shouted unhelpfully to me not to worry, because the cable could take more than two tonnes of weight. I had a few choice remarks to make in response to that, but no energy to make them. I think I said “I can't seem to balance!” Then the guide said to lean back. I leaned back, forming an isoceles triangle with my arms and legs and that seemed to work. I inched half-way across the bridge. And then, to my horror, my legs started doing a St. Vitus dance. They trembled as if I had a severe case of Parkinson's disease. The cable jerked about like an ECG line of a heart attack patient. I arched my back so far that I must have looked like the letter S from a distance. The trembling stopped. Gasping, I hurriedly inched my way along. I think I had another trembling fit along the way, but eventually reached the end, and stepped with relief onto solid rock. After that it was more of the same clipping unclipping thing until we got to the end.

We then had a long and tedious walk back to the Pendant hut – more stones, more steps. At the hut there were sausages on a hot plate, boiled eggs and toast. I wolfed down 3 sausages, two eggs and 3 pieces of toast in 15 minutes. We had to quickly re-pack our stuff – empty the summit bag, pack the day-pack, pack the stuff for the porter to carry. And then we started the climb down, just before one. Most people leave by 11 am, so we were pretty slow.

I kept thinking that the journey downhill might be faster. But it wasn't. Apparently downhill is where everyone gets injuries, so I kept reminding myself to be careful, which was mentally very tiring. My knees were hurting. I used the walking sticks to lever myself down the steps. So my shoulders and upper back got sore as well. It started to rain. Luckily, not in a torrent, but only in English drizzles. Dampness, cold, slippery pebbles. That's all it was for hours. After 5, the light started to fade. It was as if someone had lowered a large shadow-sheet over the whole landscape, muting all the colours. Fed up, I hurried ahead, leaving the rest of the group behind, trying to catch up with Lilian who had gone ahead fastest of all – to make sure that our driver would not leave without us (as he threatened to do if we were not there by 6 pm).

I finally emerged at the entrance checkpoint at about quarter to six, very damp, very grubby, and very tired. I got into the bus, wincing at the steps up. A chocolate-covered nut bar provided some cheer as I watched the darkness grow in strength like a bad mood. The porter was the next to come, looking unperturbed and in the same physical condition as when she started the climb. Then everyone else arrived in the twilight. We went to the park to collect our luggage and certificates, and made a detour to pick up the bag that I had absentmindedly left inside my improvised pillow at Rose Cabin. Then we had a long dark drive to Shangri-la Rasa Ria.

What a relief it was to see the hotel at last! The long driveway was lit with lamps that glistened like flaming torches in the rain. Sitting in the lobby on soft chairs, drinking fruity welcome drinks, listening to music floating over from the bar, I felt so grubby that I wondered if it would be more considerate for the other guests not to sit down and dirty the cushions with my mud and sweat.

Anyway, the rest of the story of this trip is both pleasant and predictable. Hot showers, soft beds, big meals, buffet breakfasts, drinking ice-water while lying on beach chairs, soft beach towels, swimming in the warm sea, splashing in the blue waters of the pool, foot massages, reading while listening to the wind whispering through the trees...Bliss...

At the moment, my legs are still aching, particularly my quad muscles. But I feel quite inspired. I never thought it would be possible to do so much exercise for such a long period with so little sleep. And it was a wonderful thing to reach the summit. How many times in life do we achieve what we set out to achieve? In climbing a mountain, everything becomes so simple. You put one foot in front of the other. You struggle. You reach the top. For those few minutes when you look down, there's a burst of euphoria, like a sugar rush into your bloodstream, an explosion of sunlight in your head. This well of happiness in your heart that just overflows and bubbles for a while, like uncorked champagne.

I told myself that this would be the first and last “real” mountain climb I would ever do.

But...well...perhaps not....


Friday, July 9, 2010

Bad grrls

Cheryl sent me a text. She was bringing her colleague, Kim Lian for stair climb on Thursday, 8 July.

“She is 52 and super fit. She has climbed many mountains and is preparing to climb another in Aug. She’ll provide good motivation not to be malu-ed by her!”.

Kim Lian came with a large backpack and well worn hiking boots. In her bag, she had several large bottles of water and I don’t know what else (rocks?) but it weighed about 12 kgs. On her ankles, more weights. She was training for her climb coming climb to a mountain in Sze Chuan. She started trekking 7 years ago. Her first ascent to Kinabalu was unsuccessful due to altitude sickness but she went back again a month later with renewed determination - walking slowly and made it to the summit.

I always thought that altitude sickness was an all or nothing. Either you could take the high altitude and continue climbing mountains or you couldn’t take it and never again try to climb a mountain. But here was living example, that altitude sickness could be overcome by trying and trying again.

Couldn’t help asking about her training regime. Every week she climbs a rock wall, lifts weights at the gym and staircase trains on her own. Her Bukit Timah hill training on the weekend comprises doing one loop up with weights on her back and ankles, 3 times up and down the killer staircases near the summit. One round isn’t enough. They would stop for lunch and then return for the same thing all over again. As part of their training, they learn rappelling, rope tying skills and snow walking.



On our way to the train station, I told her that my dream was to go to Nepal. To one day walk the Annapurna circuit and see the breathtaking views. A trek there would take at least 2 weeks but I couldn’t do it right now with 2 young kids.

Leave the kids with the husband, maid, get your mom to come in. If you don’t do it, you never will.

Do you have kids?

Yes, two. 19 and 20 years old.

Then she paused and laughed, don’t let me teach you all the bad things.

She didn’t have to teach me. I was already hatching in my head, grand plans. But to have a 52 year old, mother of 2 who had gone to bad bad places tell me that it was okay; okay to be bad?

That felt really good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

3 July trek from Bukit Timah to Macritchie

We heard about the secret trail from Bukit Timah to Macritchie but wasn't sure the way to go. With some direction from our very knowledgeable guide, Cheryl, we were on our way.

The route we went by was the Kampong Trail but there is no kampong. Basically, you bash through a clearing in some jungle and then you follow the trail until you hit Macritchie. The route is about 11 km and takes about 3 hours to complete but within the first 15 minutes of walking, it started to rain.

The sneakers started to squelch and the umbrellas came out. If it rains on the mountain, it would be 10x worse with strong winds, the cold and the unrelenting steps.

Lillian gave me a talk on genetically modified food and steroid chickens which was more terrifying than the storm.

After more than an hour, a few turned back to Bukit Timah. Min and I continued. It was quite fun going down the rocky path on slippery teva sandals, the rainwater gushing between the toes. There was no one else on the path because the rain chased everyone away. With some active imagination, you're in the rain soaked Amazon rain forest. Adventure!

By the time we reached Macritchie, the rain had stopped. We walked along the wooden boardwalk and peered at our tortoise peers who were swimming happily in the reservoir. We took a turn out and found ourselves abruptly on the Thomson Road expressway. It was pretty alienating. The buses, more in the Amazon rain forest.

Too bad the adventure had to end.

* Thank you very much Cheryl for guiding us!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Training sessions: Bukit Timah Hill

Eh, where are the other training session blogs?

Monday morning bright and early was Bukit Timah Hill training for me and non-KK trip pal Cheryl (another Cheryl). We took the Green trail up (rated moderate to difficult) and did part of the Yellow trail loop and then came down the Yellow trail (rated difficult). The whole trip took roughly an hour.

The best part about training at Bukit Timah Hill is that I reckon it's going to be closer to the experience of climbing MK than training on staircases. The steps built into the hill are quite high (like those on MK, apparently) and you have to practise navigating rocks and mud and, well, nature. It was fun.

Overall, not to talk big, but Bukit Timah hill really isn't that tough. It's humbling to be reminded just how small and short our nation's highest point is! A bit sad. Nevertheless, some of the climbs up the steps were great workouts. I was wheezing the whole way (Cheryl bounded up).

The next time we go (yes, all of us!), I recommend a combination of the Green and Yellow trails too - think I've figured out what might be the most challenging route.


Photo may be blurry due to wheezing photographer.

28 June Team training #2

“This has to be the most preparation that I’ve ever done for a trip!” – Elaine

Training heated up with Lillian heading out to Bukit Timah Hill in the morning and the rest of us meeting at the Pinnacle in the evening to do staircases. On a Monday! Yes, that's dedication.

This was Cheryl’s first time at a staircase training session. Min told her that it would feel like hot yoga except that this was hotter and we were losing our fashion inhibitions - hiking boots, trekking poles and back packs.

After 20 storeys, the enemy isn't your aching legs, it's your own mind telling you to stop this insane activity.

At the 30 something storey, the peak of hardship and sweating, just where I feel like this is really really awful, Cheryl was keeping strangely quiet so I looked down and asked her if she was ok?

She looked up, cracking out a smile and her zen monk like reply both startling and delightful was:

Nothing, just thinking happy thoughts.

I don't know what those happy thoughts were. Maybe they were the chocolate tim tams in her bag, oyster omelette or ice kachang, but she had revealed her secret weapon, the mark of a true trouper. And this is why I am learning so much just climbing staircase from my other kick ass team mates who can, in the hardest of places, keep it going by thinking those happy thoughts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Official Team Training #1: Pinnacle@Duxton

Team Training Woo!

Moving beyond the strange "lobby" of the building and the $5 charge to get to the Skybridge...

We hit the stairs (despite security uncle's best efforts to discourage us) and ascended 47 flights (we started on the 3rd floor for unknown reasons). Twice! Take that, security uncle!

It wasn't that bad but I suffered a really awful bad ache in my quads that night. Thankfully it was gone the next day!

Onward to the next challenge, tortoises.

Friday, May 28, 2010


We said goodbye at the last slope. He had to walk it because of his back.

I met Pear during the last 3km of the Passion 25 k run on 22 May at East Coast Park. We had been running for more than 3 hours and all I could think about was going home. My leg muscles were protesting in pain and my knees were achy. The running route was windy and they made us U turn back just as the end of the race looked quite close - wanted to cry.

I asked a guy beside me going at the same slow pace, "Are we going the right way?"

"Yes, not long more. One more turn and we're home free".

We continued running side by side and started to chat. I asked him if he does long races regularly and he said he did. Several marathons. I told him that this was my first 25 k run. He shared with me some training tips, sounded like a running veteran so it seemed strange to me that he was running so slowly.

I didn't want to tell him that I was just about ready to hang up the running shoes. This race provided confirmation. I signed up for the run a few months ago thinking that it would provide motivation to keep running but I completely fell back on the training. My running fervour, the one which had taken me from 0 to the first 10 k in 2008 and then 21 k in 2009 died, just like that.

I just didn't feel like running anymore.

With that thought at the back of my mind and the frailty of my failing legs, Pear started to share that he had a back injury, a spine fracture due to a car accident. He was knocked off his bicycle, landed on a car bonnet, underwent spinal surgery and spent a few weeks in hospital. Nearly paralyzed. He started swimming after 3 months and even though the doctor told him that he couldn't run anymore, he started to jog after 9 months.

I wanted to cry again, but this time it was his story and I forgot all about the pain in my legs.

You must be very happy doing this race?

Yes, I am very happy every race I enter. I am a very happy man.

We continued running, waiting for each other along several water stops but at the last slope he told me to run ahead. And so I did without looking back. He will never know that he had given the gift of healing in sharing his story of healing and the best way I can honour his story, is to keep running.

Friday, April 23, 2010

3 sets at sunset

Same old staircase at block 3 but it was the only time I had to myself all day and it was perversely pleasurable.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

the guilt the mindless

No stair climbing all week so in guilt so went up stairs at Block 3 on Sat 16 April on the way to supermarket. It was just before sundown at 7 in the evening so it was cool and the sky got more orange and dark with each set. 3 sets up and down.

After the 5th storey, the thigh muscles start to protest. What I found helpful was engaging the glutes a bit more so that it takes the load off the quads. Keeping posture upright, eyes looking straight ahead, legs limber, ignoring the inner voice which says this is stupid and should be banned!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Life is beautiful

While some of us were sweating it out in the stairwells of Singapore, Min brought her training to a beautiful island in the Pacific - Lord Howe Island.

It's not enough her running stride length is twice of mine. Or that she has the superior stamina to hold a conversation running 10k while I can only grunt in reply.

If you get a chance walking or travelling with Min, she does something that totally freaks me out.

She draws from nature on the spot.

No photo. No eraser. No sweating over the composition or the lines. You know that you are in the presence of a real artist when she gets into 'the zone'. She doesn't take very long. 15 minutes or so. Little bunches of people might gather to watch. She whips out a tumbler of water and a paint palette and brings to life a bird, tree, something interesting in the landscape - a perspective that you may not have observed yourself.

Birds fly away. Like everything in nature, they will come and go. But these sketches capture a temporal truth and the overwhelming sense that life is beautiful.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday training update

Stair climbing with 5 year old on my back! Stair climbing in mid afternoon heat! Resumed running and ran 22 minutes! That pretty much sums up this week's training.

Sunday 4 April - 1 set of the 18 storey stair climb with 13-15 kg daughter on my back. She wouldn't let me out of the house so I piggybacked her like a weighted bag pack. She got a whiff of the smelly stair well, enjoyed the views and complained of her arms being tired. Tired? I carried her all the way! She got tired just hanging on my shoulders. I asked her if she wanted to go another set, but she said NO.

Wed 7 and Thurs 8 April - Stair climbing 18 storeys, 3 sets. Managed this in the mid afternoon heat between 1400-1430 pm. It was so sweaty but I reminded myself of the plus points - stairs are free, non weather dependent, how else would I burn off the custard puff I just consumed?

Friday 9 April - No running for the last month because of tooth issues. Did 2.87 kms in 22 minutes on the treadmill. No sore tooth sockets. No throbbing gums. Yay.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Core strength / Mid-life crisis

I don't know if this has anything to do with mountain climbing but I've decided to increase my core strength, whatever that is.

So I've begun two foolhardy programmes: 100 push ups and 200 sit ups .

It's a six week programme. Erm... so far I've only done one day and my arms are already sore from push ups. Sit-ups (or rather, curl ups) are easier for me, so no soreness yet, but I am probably speaking too soon.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

stair climbing

Opus asked:
So how long do you think we'll take to climb 40 flights of stairs? 30-40mins?

Only one way to find the answer - climb the 18 storey flats opposite my place.

Stairwells are the boring-est places in the earth. Plugged in my earphones and took slow and easy steps observing proper stair climbing form - entire foot placed on each step, not letting the heels hang off the edge.

Proper climbing posture means leaning forward slightly from the hips with the back straight. At no time, should you be rounded in the lower back area. Look forward, keeping your eye on the stairs from time to time without looking down with a bent head the whole time. Avoid over-straightening your knees as you climb up.

I didn't need to stop and rest but it was a huff and puff. The views started to expand as I got higher.

At the 18th floor, I looked at my watch. 4 mins 5 seconds. If we climb 40 floors, it would take 20 mins or so with breaks?

The view was terrific. Saw a lovely bunch of honeysuckles. It took about 3 minutes to go down to the first floor. I repeated this 3 times. It got harder each set and by the third set, I was the crazy mad sweaty woman giving longing looks at the lift. (Entire duration of workout about 30 minutes)

While I was climbing, I thought about grocery lists. I zipped in to the NTUC supermarket when I was done to cool off in the AC.

Mental note to self: bring a bottle of water the next time.

* If only stair climbing could be this fun.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Not Exercise

I've been prodded to contribute to this blog.

So I shall tell you about how I just ate Twisties (tomato flavour) and drank a can of Coke and thought really hard about running but I'm not going to cos I'm sitting here blogging and then I have to go for dinner.

Perhaps I'll run tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time to buy those headlamps!

With the handing over of deposits on 26 March 10 at the travel agent, there was no turning back.

And we have our first training report!

Opus's training report: 29 March

Walked up another 14 flights of stairs yesterday. All the HDB blocks around my estate are short!

14 flights of stairs?!? Don't be such an over-achiever lah! :P


You know, I was reading about the 14 flights of stairs and contrasting it with my own weekend stairs experience i.e. climbed up the stairs (30 steps?) at church on Sun and felt the lactic acid build up… and thought to myself, nah, won’t share that with the rest!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Extreme teeth plucking adventure

I shared my pain with Opus and Elaine about the wisdom teeth.

Anyone got your wisdom tooth extracted? I have a wisdom tooth issue now. Gums infected. Pain. And I am soo scared to remove it. They will cut open my gum, mash my tooth. Blood! Scared!!!

Dont' be scared. I had mine all taken out years ago. Are you doing yours under local anesthesia or GA? I've had both! i didn't have pain though cos mine weren't bad yet. The tooth was impacted - growing sideways - but wasn't causing issues yet. you'll be fine! - Opus

I had mine taken out years ago too under local anesthesia and it was fine. It was growing sideways and hurt me like hell so was most relieved to have it removed. In fact, had all 4 taken out even though only the bottom ones were causing me trouble. Do it asap, don't wait! Don't scared! - Elaine

Previously, when I had issues with the wisdom teeth, I would just tahan and gargle with mouthwash since I was too chicken to extract. But I had added resolve this time - it crossed my mind that my tooth could act up while I was doing the climb and it would really spoil the experience.

I'd treat this as an adventure. A teeth plucking one! Since I wouldn't be able to eat properly, I carbo-loaded the night before. Curry noodles. Ice cream. In the morning, I had bee hoon for breakfast.

My dentist, Dr Thong was my childhood dentist.

I've seen him since I was 5 for dental work and he is responsible for every tooth extraction and filling in my mouth. I gave him a mini scare when I whipped out a camera to take a picture of him. He is so hip and happening, he asked me if it was for my Facebook.

They kitted me out in the surgical robes and made me lie down. I knew what was going to happen next by the instruments which were in Dr Thong's hands.

Injection - anesthesia
Blade - cutting of gum
Suction tube - for the blood and gore
Drill - to cut away parts of the bone
Pliers - for the pulling

It lasted for 60 minutes while my eyes were wide open and my knuckles were white, gripping on the sides of the dentist's chair. Even though they used modern instruments, it was quite a cave woman experience. Blood. Loud drilling. Violent pulling. Dr Thong really went for it and yanked out the monsters from the gums with the roots intact.

Like a gladiator who had just won a bloody battle, he held up each tooth like a dismembered head from the enemy. I was relieved that the monsters were out for good.

As if he could read my mind, he said:

Take it easy, no exercise today. No exercise for a week.

But this is me at the Ion mrt station just after the teeth plucking. Would I take the escalator or stairs? The answer was clear.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Interview with Elaine's Amazing Not Stinky Trekking Shoe

When did you start becoming Elaine's shoe? How long have you been in this relationship with her feet?

Elaine adopted me from Snow + Rock, London one cold dreary lunch time in Feb 2005. Our maiden outing together was to Tignes, France for a ski trip. Since then, encounters with Elaine's feet are on average once a year when she goes traipsing off to some obscure corner of the earth. So basically, she takes me to high altitude places, in snow and in earth.

Where have you been?

Tignes, France - ski slopes
Niseko, Japan - ski slopes (twice!)
Bhutan - trekking
Inca Trail, Peru - trekking. We saw Machu Picchu!
Whistler / Vancouver, Canada - ski slopes

What is your favourite travel location. Why?

Of the above, fav spot must be Machu Picchu! Can't get more awesome than following in the footsteps of the ancient Incas (literally!). 4 whole days trekking across the Andes Mountains to the spectacular ancient city of Machu Picchu. But oh boy, being up close and personal with Elaine's feet for >8 hours a day was hard work...

What do you think makes a good trekking shoe? Do you think you are a good trekking shoe?

Modesty is not my greatest virtue, but honesty is. And honestly, I am a superb trekking shoe. Light, comfortable and I provide excellent ankle support and grip for slippery and treacherous situations. And surely you'd admit I look pretty darn good too?

High tops or low tops - which one is better?

High cut or low cut - I can't quite say (though I'm biased towards low cuts). But Elaine has tried both types and prefers low cuts for comfort.

What is your favourite movie?

Fav movie?? Dude, I can't see beyond 5 inches above ground!

Does Elaine have stinky feet?

No, Elaine's feet don't smell. But I note evidences of past leech bites and calluses from insufficient pedicure outings.

Have you ever climbed a mountain?

As mentioned above, have been up several mountains but can't say I've climbed any, in the true sense of the word.

Thank you, it has been a pleasure talking to you!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Party of 5

After a few rejections, I knew better than to keep my hopes up.

In December 09, Elaine texted about having lunch. She had a little window in her super busy social calender to have lunch before the new year clicked over.

We hadn't seen each other for ages. The exact details of our lunch conversation, I forget. But the pieces started to fit. Elaine runs 10ks. She's hiked to Bhutan, Peru and all sorts of exotic locations. I wondered if she had gone to KK? Would she want to do this?

So I popped the question.

Want to climb Mountain Kinabalu in 2010?

She said yes!

Then I emailed Opus who also runs 10ks. Who also said yes!

I wasn't sure they were sure. I told them that there was no better time. Better now than when the big 40 hits us.

For Min, I asked her during a morning walk in Botanics. She had just drawn swans, catfish and terrapin. She is most happy with her sketchbook in hand and surrounded by nature.

Whatever it was, after popping the question 4 times, they agreed. First Elaine. Then Opus. Then Min and Cheryl.

I met Cheryl at a Chinese New Year gathering this year which I almost didn't go to, feeling anti social. I met my husband 19 years ago also at a party I didn't want to go to. Like most social events I don't want to go to, I tend to meet the most significant people.

The travel agent couldn't believe that everyone agreed.

They'll change their mind after seeing the photos of the staircases.

When you suggest, sure they'll say they're on...then after that all sorts of excuses.

Usually I confirm groups of 2 or 4. Pairs because the girlfriend signs up, then the boyfriend no choice has to sign up also.

So I highlighted the ugly bits.

The ugly
  • First part of the climb will be views of mountain huts and 6 hours of staircases.
  • Then we stay in unheated lodging with many people in one room and it will be very cold, 7-9 degrees with winds. Communal toilet for your enjoyment. Low water pressure in the shower.
  • Second part of climb to the summit will be in total darkness for 3 hours. More staircases and scrambling up a steep rock face where you will be holding onto a rope for your dear life and finding it hard to breathe due to the thin air.
  • And if you thought going up was bad, going down is #$!% on the knees.

And the answer was still - Yes!

I've been told that the hill top lodging is very basic (read: spartan and just bearable), but c'mon, it'll only be for a couple of hours. We should really just worry about the climb. But who ever said scaling a mountain was easy? Isn't that part of the reason why we nutters signed up for this? Haha, think of the feeling of triumph when we get to the summit! So shall we go buy some head torches? - Elaine

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Saw Cheryl at this morning's Biathlon. I took a pic with her. Of course, I had to. We talked about oxygen canisters. That woman is serious about taking them up the mountain.

This is my second time at the Biathlon and Cheryl's third. (Hope to keep doing this until I'm old enough for the veteran category.) She was very cool and blase about it. 1.5 k sea swim is like nothing for her when she can out swim the shark and conquer 10 k sea swims.

My thoughts were on getting out of the sea alive while her main concern was avoiding sunburn.

She asked me whether I wanted to apply sun block. SPF 50.

Pic of the ugly swim start. I got kicked several times on my goggles and was stung by sea urchins. Why do I do this?

After the swim, we had to run 10k. This year, I hardly trained for the run so my race strategy was to locate a cute guy I could pace behind and chase him down the East Coast Park for 10k. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any.

What is a blog without a food photo? The hokkien mee I had at the lagoon hawker centre. Firm fresh prawns, squid, carbs with sambal belachan and lime. It was soo good.