Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ouch Meter!

It is amazing how one can take pain... Is it true that "pain is a sensation that I can choose to ignore"? I like the way the author of "Bravo Two Zero" when he was held captive. He wrote " my enemy can break every piece of my bone, only I can break my mind down".

I know I can be very task orientated. It is amazing to imagine how can one finish a 45 hours Tahan trail, and did a marathon a week later after having a hairline crack on his right ribs. I dun know how did I continue the 100km Japan Trail after spraining my right ankle at about 30km mark. hmm... Physical pain is probably something I can take pretty well... How well can I coop with emotional hardship?

What is more painful? Where can I find a true Ouch Meter?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Greetings from Philippines

To all my dear friends…s

It’s coming to the end of 2007, is 2007 a good year for you?! May 2008 be a GREAT year for everyone!

It is Day 39 (29th Dec) at Philippines when this E-mail is transferred to be my blog post. Working at Philippines is a busy affair. I have been working 12 to 14hours everyday, and 6 days per week. I had missed 30 dinners for pass month. In fact, dinner is a luxurious affair. I only have that during my off days, Christmas, and on one of the days my project manager's boss was at Philippines.

There is little motivation to do physical training, and the body is like a drained battery on rest day. My favourite activity for rest day is “pretend to be Tare Panda”. That is to lie flat on my stomach and go into hibernation mode.

In Army, we call the similar activity free falling. The “aircraft exit altitude” is directly proportional to how tired the “jumper” is. I usually did my exit from space.

After seeing many growing nations, I would say Philippines is quite well of among ASEAN countries. The standard of living is equivalent to Thailand. The operators’ monthly salary ranges from 8000 to 10000 PHilippines Peso (1SGD to 28PHP). They had a 20% pay raise without knowing.

FYI, PHP has the highest ASEAN currency growth against USD in 2007. The paper proudly published that, without empathising to the Nation – it is tougher to sell Philippines product now.

There are heaps of islands in this country. 7107 is the official figure now. Philippines lie on the West Pacific “Ring of Fire”. Volcanic eruption under the sea may increase the island statistic.

The country is also exposed to the cooling effect of planet Earth. During my first week in Philippines, typhoon number thirteen (Mina) hit the country. FYI, all typhoons are named in alphabetical order. The meteorologists love to use ladies’ name to name them. Maybe because women can be scary, but they always hope it would be a gentle one coming. In States, the naming is continuous. That means after 26cycles, you should hear another “Katherine” (She maybe call “Karina” the next time)… It usually takes more than a two year for the repetition to occur in the big country. In Philippines, I guess the reset button can be pressed annually within 24months.

My mama believes Singapore is the only safe country on Planet Earth. When I was studying at Australia, she was very worried when she heard about the student murder case in Sydney. I tried to explain the distance from Brisbane is far from Sydney. I would never meet the murderer unless I travel the distant equivalent of Singapore to HatYai, Thailand. There was a curfew at Makati, during week one of my stay. The rebel seized Peninsula Hotel. I must say, the country is really ready for such incident. All rebels surrendered within 24hours.

There isn’t lotsa BUTTER on everyone breakfast table, but there is always enough JAM to delay everyone on the road. Filipina may not eat to their fill everyday, but there are always holes on tarmac road to create opportunities for people fill them up.

I stayed at Bellevue Hotel, Alabang, during my initial 26 days. There are two nice shopping malls near my hotel. One is for the “rich” the other is for the “richer”… A Nike Top which is sold at 50% discount at Festival Mall may have no discount at Alabang Town Centre. Anyway, for the factory operators, 50% discount or 600peso is a lot of money. Alabang (30km south of Manila) is a nice place to stay. However, the daily return travel time can be easily more an hour, depending on road condition.

General Air Photo of Luzon island
(Bellevue is the hotel I stay for 26days, Santa Rosa is the place I work)

For the last 13days I am staying at Techno Park Hotel, an Ulu hotel 3-5min drive to my work place. The hotel can be pretty noisy during weekend. The breakfast and internet connection isn’t awesome. The only plus is Mount Ma-Ki-Ling can be seen from my balcony... and there is a long road which I can see Makiling when running. I would love to trek at Makiling. I would love to trek up Makiling. Sadly, one of the local climbers told me the trail is no longer accessable after the last typhoon.

Life is tough!! Why can’t there be a hotel with a mountain outside my window and cute front desk meimei. I am returning to the cute meimei at Alabang tomorrow.

MaKiLing from Techno Park Hotel Balcony

For almost four hundred years, Philippines was a Spanish colony. The American marched and took over the command in 1898, following the Spanish-American War. The Yankees left during Dec 1941 (initial World War 2) after the Japanese hit Pearl harbour. On 20 October 1944, General MacArthur executed his promise to return to the Philippines. The landings on the island of Leyte were accomplished with an amphibious force of 700 vessels and 174 000 army and navy servicemen. The fight carried on till 2nd Sep 1945 when General Yamashita surrendered.

I think the Japanese really fight with very good sprit! Should there be no atomic bomb drop, I am sure the Red Army would continue till the last drop of blood is shed on the foreign land?! That is Philippines history, the influence of Spanish (people using Spanish name) and American can still be seen on many islands.

With much foreign influence, Filipinas are very friendly. Tourism is never a major industry in the country. The people in customers’ factory generally welcome my presence. There are friendly people who taught me Tagalog. The age group of my mentors shifted to the senior auntie when I told the younger gals I am thirty and have a “girl friend” who I love dearly. As of the men, I am working with a more hardworking group now. They understand I don’t play soccer and would only chat when I can achieve good machine output with low reject rate.

Volcano Taal from Tagaytai

It is my off day again. My previous break was spent at Tagaytai looking at Volcano Taal. I heard much of the volcano and wanted to climb it. However, it’s smaller and more expensive than what I perceived. To make things worse, the agent who wanna bring up the volcano insisted I should do with a horse. There is nothing special about this volcano, and I would prefer going to Rinjani again. This volcano was “skipped” when she was in front of me...

I had done the hour run today. More importantly, I am taking my dinner (Kim Bao) when updating this blog!

Celebrate Life…

Chee Meng

Techno Park Hotel de Laguna Bay

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Already Thirty...

There is a Chinese saying Nan Ren San Shi Er Li - “Men start to establish at the age of thirty”. Should I establish my career? Set a great ambition? Unlike the ancient China people, I can NEVER “Li Guo Zhi Tian Xia” (establish my country and rule the world) in Singapore.

Sincerely, I don’t know what more should I “establish”? Are there more things that I want to accomplish in my life? Maybe I should throw myself another challenge at the age of thirty? An iron man race sounds good, desert race is cool. Doing three mountains above 6000m within a season would be equally challenging.

A friend told me she wants to marry at the age of thirty! How can one plan and execute a marriage within a year? I was blown away when she told me the things she did. She is brave to be so truthful. The focus she had for getting married was tremendous. She had gone beyond my ability to stay focus when I was doing my Ranger Course.

Maybe I should think of marrying? I think getting married is tougher than doing combined iron man race, desert race and the mountain trip. It was not as if I never thought of settling down. But there must be a good reason to marry. I must meet the lady, and the lady must be convinced I am the man for her. It is tough for me to like someone whole-heartedly. I know by allowing myself to love someone, I am allowing that person to leave behind a foot print on my heart. I must admit, deep down inside. I can be super arrogant to love and too easy to give up. I would stubbornly leave the person I like if she is convinced she can find her “happyness” elsewhere.

Marriage aside, I was shocked that there are folks who can’t wait to tell me how happy they would be when I turn thirty years old. I can’t remember how many birthday “mocking” I had before and on the 10 Sep. I laugh over many of them, they are good reminders of what I have been treating these monkeys.

Among all greetings there is a special one. It would always be a special one. A friend wrote me a poem! I was super impressed, and read it a few times. Writing a poem is something beyond me in a million years. She wrote it remembering little things I did, saved the file on 10Sep, and sent it within the first hour of my birthday. Superb effort!

Apart from all the greetings, there were happy celebration moments with the three ladies, plus Michael and Alan at Vivo City. Linda Tan was nice to get a green tea cake. Well… I seldom have cake on my birthday.

My S.W.E.E.T (She Would Enjoy Entertaining “Teman*”) colleague, Ivy Ngiam, also organised a little gathering after SAFRA Adventure Race for me. Sadly, Joanne was not around. Nonetheless, I am glad to have Catherine, Kee Leng, Jack, Thiam Huat, Karen, Nicholas and Linda Tay. I had a cake again! I don’t know how Ivy did it… she got Kee Leng to get a very very big Tiramisu cake after their shape run. To empathise how big the cake was, we could not even finish half of it.

I had dinner with Dr Tan on my actual birthday. I was pretty looking forward to it. Sadly, she wasn’t in the best of her mood. I believe everyone does not like to be confronted. She had a bad day. It was the night that she “rain deep inside”. She said she is sorry. I thought that is fine… During Army days, I hate it when my sergeant wanted to inspect my weapon. To me, weapon is a sacred item. I would keep it operational ready. The sergeant doubted my pride for my weapon when he attempted to inspect it. Everyone has a personal “thin red line” when come to pride. Dr Tan probably felt the pride for work was challenged, when her boss asked her for a closed-door session.

After dinner, I was with Eric working night shift at a production plant near Redhill. The operators working on my line are largely from Southern Province of China. These people work diligently everyday. The only thing they look forward to is the monthly paycheck. After collecting the paycheck for 24times, they would see the passport which the company took away from them on Day 1. They can choose to reset the counter or go back to home after 24months. It can be a little sad looking at them. We speak similar Chinese; the only difference is… my grandpa arrived on Singapore 60years earlier.

518400 seconds is deposited into everyone account everyday. It is up to individual how they want to spend their precious time. I got to really THINK. It has been thirty good years. I had accomplished most of the things I aimed for. By doing that, I gained quite a lot and lose some.

I need to access…

  1. Will my little ego hinder the objectives I am fighting for?
  2. Am I on the correct time and space?
  3. What more can I accomplish, what are the price to pay?

It is important not to climb all mountains. I planned to expose myself to more uncomfortable conditions and more responsibilities selectively. After looking back at some incidents, I won’t allow FATE to control what I want to do. Like climbing mountain, I’d strategise and test how much “faster, further and harder” I can push.

*Teman aka Kawan means friends in Malay

Saturday, November 03, 2007

XinJiang Part 3 - To the Summit

Video of the Mountain out "there" by one of the China Team Member, Xiao Hei

Joanne shared with me her experience boiling hot water during her recent climb at Cho Oyu. I would believe most people know how to boil water. Everyone knows atmospheric pressure drop as altitude increase. I believe my Sunnto watch register altitude base on barometer and temperature reading. I realised the change of pressure is quite proportional. Do U guys know the effect of the effect of pressure on water boiling point?

Boiling point is defined as the temperature liquid change to gaseous state. OR to put in more “chim”, it is the state when the pressure of liquid changing to gaseous state is equal to surrounding pressure. Pure water boils at 100degree C at 1 atmospheric pressure, approximately 1bar.

A rough guide - water boiling temperature decrease by 5.5degree C for every thousand metre ascend. If this is true, water would boil at 56degree C at Everest C4 (8000m asl)? Other interesting facts to take note, the time needed to boil the same volume of water increases. One good method to conserve fuel is to create high pressure in a low ambient pressure environment. Putting a firm lid on the pot helps to reduce the amount of kerosene/butane a climber needs to bring up the mountain.

My friend Kee Leng bakes cookies. She told baking powder is an alkaline which causes cookie to grow by releasing gas at high temperature. She also shared her experience of baking with more butter using white and brown sugar at vary temperature. My mum bakes too. While she doesn’t involve herself with writing paper for process, I am pretty sure she bakes better than Kee Leng. Hopefully, Kee Leng would not throw in so much theory and continue baking better cookie for me.

A little input on high altitude baking… water evaporates faster at low pressure condition. This can cause cookie to be too sweet. Also at high altitude, the cookie may “rise” excessively. In short, one should decrease baking powder and sugar while increase water and probably temperature when baking at high altitude.

If “Acclimatisation” is like doing homework, the trek for summit is like doing examination. My team has done the homework diligently. We climbed repeatedly to higher altitude and adjust our body to the pressure up “there”. Our bodies were busy growing red blood cells when we were “doing nothing”. There is a two days break before summit bid. I proposed going Tashkorgan prior to taking the examination. It is a much needed break for me. Through the experience of climbing Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. I believe a break before doing a higher mountain would only be beneficial.

The trip to Tashkorgan was tiring but worth the effort

Minus Linda, my team and all three guides went down. We had the food prepared at lower altitude, and our stomachs seem to appreciate the food better. After ten days above 4400m asl, my body adjust comfortably at Tashkorgan. Rest heart rate was at 60bpm compare to 80bpm when I first hit 3200m asl. Apart from food, we have the ability to communicate to the outside world as and when we like. (The mobile phone reception at base camp is bad, one has to walk ten min to a solar power reception antenna)

After one night at Tashkorgan, my team returned to Mustagh Ata BC. Phei Sunn then initiated packing some food for friendly Linda Tan. I decided to pack more than her normal diet as she deserved the more needed nourishment. We also pack 2 chickens for our Chinese friends. The journey from 204 to BC was experiencial. I lose count the number of times the bike I took broke down. Our driver “Jiang Bie He” tried to repair his 6000yuan 4WD at his village (somewhere between 204 and BC). I seized the opportunity to take some photo of the local.

Photo taken at Jiang Bie He's village

Before the summit bid, Linda, Joyce and me chatted with the Koreans. Apparently, I received a Korea written letter from another European climber during my last acclaimisation climb at Camp 2. The climber told me, “Four Koreans are at C3. They look fine, and they have enough food and fuel. This is a letter for the BC manager.”

The weather during my final acclimatisation climb wasn’t fantastic. I wasn’t thinking much when I walked from C2 to BC. The content of the letter was reviewed by the BC manager. Apparently, the Koreans are doing the mountain Alpine style.
i.e. they do not have any guide, and the climbers have to be self sufficient in term of logistics for each camp. It is a very independent climbing method, but the risk can be high… In fact, Korea team went a little over the dangerous edge.

Mustagh Ata from 204

Mustagh Ata doesn’t look difficult at all. Like what my head guide, San Ji Mu, narrated, “It seem possible to climb the peak within a day from BC”. The tough part for the mountain is probably… “Father of Ice Mountain” looked too simple. When we were back from Tashkorgan, we realised three of the four Koreans rescued were in good shape now. The fourth climber, leader of the team, was yet to be found.

My team planned to stand on 7546m asl on 20 Jul 07. The weather was great when we set off for C1 on 17 Jul 07. While I planned for an alternate summit date on 23/24 Jul 07, I knew Phei Sunn could not extend her stay. Quietly, I hoped for the weather to last til our summit day.

The walk from C1 to C2

Moving from BC to C2 was easy. One can easily tell the difference between an acclimatised climber and first timer. As the weather was great, I took photograph as I approach C1 and C2. Sadly, my lips was burn as I move toward the sun. My pace was good, and I managed to reach these camp sites within 6hours. I felt better sleeping at 6200m asl then.

The walk from C2 to C3

The true challenge came in when we attempt C3 at 6900m asl. Linda was apprehensive as she did not even reach C2 during the last acclimatisation climb. Nonetheless, I thought she would be fine. She has a cutting edge over me. Her appetite was always better than me at high altitude. True enough, I lose appetite at C3, like the first time I was at C2. I only consume dried preserve mango and GU gel.

The weather for summit bid was much better, but it can be dangerous when clouds start to come it.
Above, Kim Boon's crevasse (death trap between C2 and C3)

Ambient temperature decreases by 6 degree C for every thousand metre ascend. The temperature drop can be harsher as region not exposing to land and sea breeze. At C3, the sleeping bag rated at minus 25c is not warm enough at night. I have to sleep with my fleece jacket.

On 20.07.2007, we attempted for summit. The sky was clear but the wind was strong. I believe the speed is at close to 10knots when we first began walking. The day break almost immediately after we start walking. Linda and me took the lead while Joyce is following close behind. She was using Linda and me as wind shield. We were told, such condition is considered good weather at 7000m. We tried to call for Phei Sunn to fell back a little. But the howling wind has upperhand in term of volume. It was pretty scary to see all the foot steps erased by wind almost instantaneously. I was unable to shout. To talk and walk is difficult at 7000m asl. I was happy with every efforted step, every step mean a new altitude record to me.

The final approach to summit

As we were approaching the summit, we saw two Tibetan guides coming down. Together with them was “something” wrapped in a sleeping bag. They found the Korean team leader at just above 7000m! I thougth of taking a shot to document this incident… Eventually, something stopped me. I thought there should be more respect for the dead alpine climber. He could had make it back to the C3 should there be a guide with him. He had choosen to take the risk. This is the third dead incident on the mountain during 2007 climb season. My nearest encounter of dead angel dancing around me.

San Ji Mu warned us about the turn around time at 1330. When it was 1330, we were searching for the true summit. It is not easy to find the pinnacle while walking on the plateau. Eventually, Joyce reached the summit, follow by me and Linda. All of us hit the summit after the designated turn around time. Descending was tougher than I though. I has not been eating proper food for more than a day, the summit push literally drain most of my energy. With the help of Ren Qing, I made it to close to 7200m. He started to feel a little snow blind and I walk the rest of the way to C3. I am thankful that sun set at close to 10pm at Mustagh Ata during summer.

Another night at C3 was pretty torturous. It was another night my body rejected food. On 21 Jul 07, Joyce, Linda and me make our way to BC at 9am. We heard about a Swiss lady who was evacuated the day before at C3. How I wish someone would come to evacuate me. I was able to walk but was really tired. My guide offered to carry my pack for me. I was quick to agree.

When we reach C1, I saw another Chinese group. They had finished their last acclimatisation cycle and were on their way down from C2. One of the couple look super tired. I felt better after changing to my trekking boots at C1. One of my guides, Hong Bo, who sent Phei Sunn to BC the day before was making his way to C1. He volunteered to to carry Linda’s pack for her. Linda rejected the offer stubbornly. Phei Sunn who had decided to turn back a day early was at BC, she left for Khasgar when we reached BC. We were congratulated by the local climbers. I was relieved I had ended my mission for 2007.

At BC, I started taking food… and remember about home.

Faces of Khasgar

Sunday, October 07, 2007

XinJiang Part 2 - Acclimatising

I have been very busy with work lately… There is less time for training, and I kinda losing focus on “Mission Impossible” for year 2008. Before going into 2008, I shall continue with what I have to do for 2007 – Pen my thought for “Mission Impossible 2007”. I am lazy and shall edit works of one of my team mates, Phei Sunn, for this blog.

Camels waiting to haul the load to Base Camp

The Trek from 204 to Base Camp

My team was at "Mustagh 204" on 5th July, it took the team almost one week to be "THERE". Travelling with three very different ladies is experiential. I wondered how Master Kim Boon managed 7 women during last year climbing season. I meet the rest of the support crew and some of the climbers around 3pm. The long waited to ascent for Base Camp began.
The climb consists of 5 sections - Base Camp BC (4,400m), Camp1 C1 (5,500m), Camp2 C2 (6,200m), Camp3 C3 (6,900m) and Summit (7,564m).

Building Base Camp

What we need to do next is as Phei Sunn described – “Paint a Picture”. There is a series of drill that we have to do before going for summit. These drills are important as part we need to grow more red blood cells within days. “Acclimatisation” is the name of the drill.

Our First Acclimatisation Walk

Our roles for the next ten days were to go up BC -> C1, back down, BC -> C1 stay overnight, down. BC -> C1 -> C2 stay overnight, down. “Imagine the mountain as a canvas and you're painting. Every swoosh of the paintbrush paints a longer stroke than before. You get the picture. Except that each upward swoosh took an average of 5-8hours, and each downward ~3-6h, depending on physical condition.” All climbers have to go through this drill. My team was relatively lucky, while the weather wasn’t fantastic, we had the schedule on track.

Short Video on Acclimatisation Walk from C1 to C2

That was how we spent our first ten days - "acclimatising". In between every swoosh, we get a 1-day rest at BC. This is the day, we eat and relax. There is another Chinese team led by an experienced climb, Song Yu Jiang. While I dun have much opportunity to talk to him. I enjoyed going to his tent talking to his base camp manager, Xiao Mu. There is another guy who always spend his time at Song’s base camp. He, Zhou Jiang, is from XinJiang Climbing Federation. Zhou Jiang’s job is to stop the foreign teams from climbing without permit. He stand between Mustagh and my team during the initial climb phase. Nonetheless, he also helped my team to proceed with the climb at a lower “Communication Officer” fee.

XiaoMu, the BC manager for Song's team

Zhou Jiang and me at BC

While “painting the picture” sounds easy, but it's totally taxing. Base camp is at 4400m asl, 300m higher than the highest Mt. Kinabalu in SE Asia. During the first ten days, the team went to C1 at 5,500m three times. That is almost like scaling Europe highest mountain (Elbrus, 5642m) three times within a week. And C2 at 6,200m is like Denali (North America Highest Mountain). When we next reach C3 eventually at 6,900m before summit day, the team would have covered Mt Aconcagua in Argentina. And we aren't even at the summit yet!

Acclimatisation Walk from C1 to C2

I like to look at climbing as a very strategical mission. I prefer to plan them into phases, and claim my new altitude record bit by bit. BC was a rather luxurious affair, the best I had witnessed. At least the logistics and tents look impressive. The guy, Mr Shi Kai Feng, who set it up was a recent BC manager at Everest, hence the semblance of orderliness. We each had a tent to ourselves at BC -- the need for personal space & privacy during rest time was vital. There was just a simple problem - the food was horrible.

I never thought cooking is difficult when I was studying at Australia. Indeed, it is not that tough as sea level. One should take note how altitude can make a difference on cooking. If 1 litre of water takes 3min to boils at 100 degree C. The same amount of water would take around 20min to boil at about 80 degree C at BC. Do take note, the calculation does not take ambient temperature into consideration. My cook never done any high altitude cooking prior to my Mustagh trip. Phei Sunn tried to make half boil “YaKun style eggs”, but alas, boiled water was not hot enough at Basecamp to cook it even after 15min of soaking.

The food at BC (left), and food at Tashkurgan (right)

Food is an art to any true-blooded Singaporean. In the mountains, we need it to replenish and repair. My resting heart rates at Basecamp averaged 90-100. That was almost double our sea-level of my 50-60.Just sitting around doing nothing, the basal metabolic rates have increased. On each swooshing of 5-8hr, we typically consumed one packet of Gu-gel, some Oreos, vacuum-packed sausage &/ or chocs. In relative comparison, we take about 3-4 gels per marathon. That was how much abuse our bodies were getting.

Preparing food at BC for C1 and C2

At BC, food-oh-glorious was reduced to beneath functionality. There were tonnes of carbohydrate, but nothing nutritious that allowed for recovery of loss muscles, strength etc. Vegetables were always cooked with mutton, and after a week my team and me were sick of the meat. Sadly, I can’t also have problem eating (especially food with strong smell) at high altitude. So far, I know I don’t reject preserve mango and my favourite Triberry GU gel. High altitude does funny tweaking to one's taste buds.

We started fantasizing of everything salty. Like chicken-in-a-biscuit, potato chips, french fries... Then we tried asking our Cook to fry eggs sunny-side up -- they turned up drenched in oil with cooked yolks.

To me, mountaineering is about playing with science and logic. Every action would cause a reaction. One has to be dynamic to survive the terrain with uncountable possibilities of screwing up a climb.

Sunset from Mustagh Ata Base Camp