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2012 Note: This letter was written in the Jan 1999 issue of CLIMB-ON magazine, the publication of the Mountaineering Society of Singapore. I think the issues and points are still valid, even after all this time

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AN OPEN LETTER TO ADVENTURE CLUBS WITH AN INTEREST IN ALPINISM

by David Lim

I think many adventure clubs here have a fine tradition of moderate adventures here and abroad and have the critical mass to enable year-round activities. This is something that the Mountaineering Society has had a problem achieving. This weakness is also possibly explained by the fact that we have a very narrow focus and small membership base!

However, this narrow focus has helped us concentrate information and experience in doing what most of the active MOSS members enjoy: technical or classical style mountaineering on rock, ice and snow.

In it’s 10th year now, I can look back at MOSS’s( the Mountaineering Society of Singapore) achievements with satisfaction – that we focused on pushing our limits and helped shape Singapore mountaineering.

I have received feedback on not only some of the recent alpine trips made by other Singapore organizations. As tropical-based climbers in a broad-based adventure club, I think alpine mountaineering will always remain somewhat committing in terms of training, skill, experience and cost. For most of working people, it is a luxury of sorts.

Some organizations had a vision to do the ‘Seven Summits’, to climb all the highest seven continental summits. However, it is a goal only attainable after substantial investment and time climbing other mountains before attempting some of these objectives. All of the 7 summits are extremely costly to organize and some are downright extreme in their location and commitment.

Some of those climbing these peaks are also climbing for the wrong reasons: inexperienced wealthy, ill-informed (or sponsored) Walter Mittys who are often a danger to themselves.

The current level of experience and skill in most adventure clubs is  such that I believe some of these goals can only be attained by participating in highly expensive, professionally guided expeditions. These guided expeditions advertise regularly and people here and abroad are often taken by their promises and glossy brochures

In many cases like Carstenz Pyramid, there will only be 2-3 days of actual climbing, making it, as one person put it, the ‘world¹s most expensive one-day climb’.

Sadly, I feel that some may feel pressurized into putting all their resources in these interesting objectives without focusing on the key issue that a good mountaineering foundation will pay its dividends in the future through self-organized expeditions. Such trips will be eminently more satisfying in not only achievement and learning, they will be significantly cheaper to organize.

Such confidence can only come about through training on successively harder, smaller peaks such as those in the Alps. Failure will be commonplace. But eventually, the experience gained will be invaluable in the higher ranges. I see a two-week summer alpine climbing trip to a region like the Cascades, Alps etc. to be more beneficial to many budding alpinists than a trip to say Island Peak in Nepal. The latter will eat up 4-weeks of leave and involve only 2 days of actual climbing. A 2-week alpine trip may see one bagging experience through climbing up to 5 peaks over 10 solid days of climbing. Much better value. Sadly, in Singapore the former option seems to carry more attraction and glamour than the latter. We seem to be in a society which is in a hurry to succeed at anything.

A few years ago, a group from Singapore did make a failed attempt on Island Peak, a popular, straightforward Nepal peak. A member of that group made an unsolicited request for advice. It appeared they ‘had’ to climb a 6000-metre peak to win the necessary sponsorship for their trip. Of the ten, only one had had a short 3-day climbing course. And they were oblivious that their intended February ascent would be in the winter! I advised them that the money would be better spent on a technical climbing course for the group. After all, peaks would also be climbed in the course of this trip. I also offered them a weekend alpine skills course which would have given them some life-saving skills. The refused all of this, preferring to be hauled up Island Peak by fit, if technically inept sherpas.

The cheek of it was that their leader was publicly quoted as saying “safety is of the paramount importance!”

This, sadly is not an isolated case.

Ultimately, those in adventure clubs who intend to participate in alpine-climbing activities must ask themselves what their goals are and whether they are financially and socially committed in going for them. Success on the mountains is hard to come by and I feel too many  aspiring climbers here are enamored by the thought of success on the big peaks rather than the necessary and hard apprenticeship that has to precede such success. I think many people can enjoy this form of climbing at a far less committing level, and enjoyment, after all, is what makes us stay in this sport.

In the past, some of my strong views have not gone down well with members of the climbing community but I hope that recent events and expeditions illustrate that the gaining of experience should take precedence over ambition. Generally, myself included, we are resistant to taking advice from people if this advice is in conflict with our desires! However, commonsense ( all too lacking ) must prevail.

Members of MOSS( Ed Note: Mountaineering Society of Singapore) with the right experience have been sharing it with interested parties. Some have started out on the right foot, gaining experience through alpine-training courses and then striking out on their own to apply these skills in the mountains. Unfortunately, some of those from other organizations who have approached us for advice on certain  over-ambitious climbing objectives have refused to accept the advice given and have met with failure.

CLIMB 2000, an exciting mountaineering project, will be launched next year. It will comprise a grassroots educational component which will benefit many budding alpinists, a Foundation program to fund and train climbers with little alpine experience and an Excellence program for the top papayas of Singapore’s climbing community.

This ultimately, is the legacy of the Singapore Mt. Everest Expedition.

To this end, I would like to extend an offer to the adventure clubs to assist in helping members who have an alpine quest in mind so long as we feel that the objective is a realistic one, given the size, make-up of the team and the resources available.

Please feel free to discuss this further by contacting me by email: emt@everestmotivation.com

 

“There are only two infinite things, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former” – Albert Einstein

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2 Responses to AN OPEN LETTER TO ADVENTURE CLUBS WITH AN INTEREST IN ALPINISM

  • Very well said! I noticed a very similar situation in the Philippines. I also noticed that the mountaineering groups are very protective about themselves. It will be a difficult task to bring the necessary change of mind. I do share you thoughts that you need first a solid base before you can venture out to the Himalayan peaks. The Alps are the perfect playground to achieve those techniques and experiences. This is a conception that is very hard to understand for most climbers in the Philippines too. I found myself lucky to find a few open minded climbers who are now training seriously and do climb abroad on more interesting, technical peaks.
    Again, very well said, and thanks for posting!

    • David says:

      I dont check the comments often at all due to most being spam – but thank you for your comment!

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