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Most of 1994 was spent organising a team, as well as beginning the fundraising drive. This was largely spearheaded by David Lim and Justin Lean, requiring significant after -hours work, lunch-time meetings with prospects and so on. As usual, there were some genuine well-wishers and some timewasters who realised that they couldn’t deliver what they promised. Stories in the press at that time focused on the large sponsorship and team challenge.

AA major boost happened in March 1995 when, after a request was sent, the the President of the Republic, Ong Teng Cheong , agreed to be the Expedition Patron. Mr Ong, unbeknownst to us at that time, had stuck his neck out, ignoring the advice of some of his advisors who warned about supporting a venture that could “fail”. Apparently, his response to these risk-averse people were ” That is exactly why I should give them my support”. These and other nuggets were only revealed much later after the expedition concluded.

In a letter of encouragement to the team members, President Ong wrote:

“Mountaineering is not a tradition in Singapore. Only people with strong determination and spirit of adventure like you will set your sights on the conquest of Mount Everest. Whether you are climbers or members of the support team, you are all pioneers with the courage to try and succeed.”

 

Meeting the President at his official residence, the Istana, in March 1996 for an update. From L to R: Lim Kim Boon. David Li, President Ong Teng Cheong and Rob Goh.

The team began training with some members undertaking smaller trips with each other to places like Mt Kinabalu and the NZ Alps, where peaks like Mt Cook were climbed.  Planning began in earnest to organise a whole-team expedition to climb  Kun, part of the 7000m Nun-Kun peaks in Ladakh, India.

  This expedition took place in August and met with bad weather. They were froced to try a new route on Nun (which was not even planned for)after deep snow made it impossible to reach Kun’s basecmp. WIth little time left, the team regrouped in Leh, the capital of Ladakh and re-launched themselves at another objective organised on the fly - Stok Kangri - a simple 6000-metre peak. Four members, David Lim Rob Goh, YJ Mok and SC Khoo summitted

The team returned to review the lessons of the climb and continued the quest to raise the nearly $1 million SG dollars needed for the climb. David’s leadership had been confused at times, and some members had behaved selfishly. All in , it was a sobering lesson that the team dynamics needed work.

 

Below: David, at Camp 1, with Nun in the background

Above: The 6125m, Stok Kangri

1996 was a more hopeful year, with the team succeeding on a number of alpine summits in the Swiss and French Alps in the summer of that year. David Lim and Justin Lean had also pulled off some difficult ascents in the NZ Alps on Mt Tasman. The team also acquired new sponsors Ricola. They would be the single largest non-government linked sponsor with $65000 invested in the expedition.  Contrary to what many Singaporeans then and now believed, the TOTAL financial support of the Singapore government and government-linked organisations only amounted to 11% of the total needed for Everest in 1998. ( inset left: David Lim high on Syme Ridge, Mt Tasman, Jan 1996)

However during this time, the naysayers and cynics also became more vocal. In 1996, an opinion piece, and an exceedingly poor piece of journalism for all its factual errors) made fun of the climb, denigrating the climbers et al was published in the major media. Written by an ‘award-winning’ journalist, you wonder if that award was for being Jerk of the Year – not to mention OpEd With The Most Factual Errors. For goodness, sake , at least if the sarcasm and critique had anything like the class of a Salon.com piece, it would have been bearable. As is… we had to put up with this twaddle. Singapore’s  largest climbing shop carried, for a long time, a news clipping of us that was parodied by an unknown cartoonist and was displayed for all to see – until we shut our critics up. Such occurrences were part and parcel of pulling off something difficult, and unwelcome in the face of tawdry, and mediocre journalism, not to mention mediocre minds. The Tall Poppy Syndrome comes to mind as well.

 

Left: David Lim on the Ice nose route on Piz Scersen in the Bernina range of the Swiss Alps, July 1996

In September, the team, now somewhat smaller with several voluntary departures, went to make an attempt at a 7000-metre peak, Putha Hiunchuli by the North Face. This was the first time any SE Asian team had attempted a peak f this scale. Located in mid-west Nepal, the peak had been climbed infrequently owing to the challenging access. After some bad weather in the initial stages, David Lim and SC Khoo stood on the summit. A few days later MB Tamang and Rob Goh did the same. YJ MOk and S. Yogenthiran had to retire for health reasons.

Putha Hiunchuli was a tremendous success at a time when there were nagging doubts if the team could pull it all together on a climb. Despite differences and some obvious dislike for each other by some team members, and some selfishness, the team was functioning above expectations. Only the money issues were unresolved, and team had to consider how they would find another few hundred thousand dollars to complete the funding for Everest in 1998.

 

Below: SC Khoo and David Lim on the 7246m summit of Putha Hiunchuli a.k.a Dhaulagiri VII

Other climbs of note that year were climbs  by Justin, Shani and Rozani on the Chulu Peaks in November.

Oct 1993 – David Lim, on behalf of the Mountaineering Society, applies and secures a permit from the Nepal Government for the climbing of Mt Everest for the spring season 1998. The application is backed by the newly formed Singapore Mountaineering Federation, the national association of climbing clubs. During this time, a search for team members is ongoing, as is the overall strategy for the 4 year project by the Mountaineering Society

April 1994 – The Nepal government issues the permit. At that time, it was unclear as to who would make up the final team, so the names inserted were those of Mountaineering SOciety members who had the right climbing resume and interest at the time

Everest expedition climbing permit

May 1994 – The Straits Times newspaper runs a couple of major news stories of the climb. A representative of another adventure association with no prior input in the project calls for the the project to be ‘surrendered’ into the care of a group of technical committees. This does not happen once the scale of the work required becomes evident, and the commitment required. The eventual committee comprises all the key team members and a few non-climbers with relevant skills and expertise. The rule by “committee types”  gets the boot.

July 1994 – David Lim applies for support from the Singapore Sports Council. For the first time, a manifesto of the expeditions begins to form. It will be a 14-page document relating to the aims and selection process of the team. However, this became the unswerving approach

AIM OF THE EXPEDITION:

1) Make a successful ascent of Mt Everest in 1998

2) Develop alpinism as a sport in Singapore

SELECTION OF CLIMBERS:

Contrary to public perception, there is already a body of climbers who have been involved in alpine–climbing for the last four years. Some of them already have the neccessary skills, and if further developed, would be adequate for climbing Everest. In fact there is, theoretically, a sufficient number of climbers already available to do the job. However, bearing in mind mutual incompatibility, lack of commitment and natural attrition, a search for more climbers is needed.

Climbers for the expedition should be Singapore citizens or permanent residents.

It is proposed that two teams be established:

1) The Everest team – which should consist of persons with the basic and advanced rock, snow and ice–climbing skills  and

IÎ2) A development squad – consisting of individuals with a commitment to alpinism though with limited climbing experience.

The creation of a development squad is to allow a body of reserves for the reasons mentioned above. In addition, the squad will also allow for alpine skills development in the longer term.

During this period, the team acquired two sponsors – Singapore Pools, with an initial support of $30,000. And SECTOR Sports watches.

Dec 2004- The preliminary team is showcased and profiled in a major press feature by The Straits Times

These pages, for the first time since all the 1996 – 1998 online dispatches and expedition information were accidentally deleted in 1999, aim to archive the story of this landmark 1998 expedition. This landmark Singapore expedition was led by David Lim. The idea of a Singapore Everest expedition was first mooted by the then President of the Mountaineering Society, Lawrence Lee, and supported by a small group of climbing enthusiasts in 1990. This was after the first successful Singapore expedition to scale a 6000m peak – Lobuche East, in November 1990.

The interest raised was so significant that a local politician was quoted in the press as follows:

When we celebrate National Day in 15 years’ time, our flag should be flying not only in every home but also on the top of Mount Everest

Mr Matthias Yao,
Political Secretary to the First Deputy Prime Minister, July 1st 1990.

However, within a couple of years, the idea died as the rules laid down by the Nepalese government dictated that any expedition to Everest had to be endorsed by a national alpine association – which Singapore did not have until 1993. Suffice to say, after David Lim’s own passage into Himalayan mountaineering in 1993, the idea was revived, and David then took reins of the project. In October 1993, he applied for, and obtained the permit for the 1st Singapore Mt Everest Expedition; with a preference for climbing the peak in Spring 1998. On 20 Aug 1994, the first official meeting of the group that hoped to be part of the project was established

This was not an easy project, least of which was a) there are no mountains in Singapore on which to train, b) the initial stages were almost a mess when various parties of well-meaning, but committee-types wanted to take charge of a project David had initiated. c) a team had to be found, financed and equipped, and 4) after the expedition, the team returned to face fresh controversies over the nationalities of our team members. The “us-and-them” friction between many Singaporeans and new immigrants may seem strange in a nation full of immigrants, but the challenges  faced by the nation at the time of writing this in May  2012, still seem to challenge and confront Singapore and Singaporeans.

These webpages will be slowly populated over the next few weeks in June 2012 with the dispatches, stories, and the journey of the team from 1994 to 1998; including the successful ascent of Mt Everest on May 25th 1998.

This is  a short video of our summit experience when we topped out, in deteriorating conditions of Peak 5152m,

just near the head of the Mushketova Glacier in the Central Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan, Aug 13, 2009

Q- What clothings do climbers wear?

A- Virtually all climbers today follow the layering system. Basically, it consists of 3 layers – the outer shell, the middle layer, and a innermost layer. Let’s start with the outer shell.

Depending on the nature of the climb and the expected weather conditions, the outer shell can be a down jacket (for warmth and windproofness) or a totally waterproof and breathable one (mainly Goretex materials). In most 8,000m peaks, virtually all climbers will choose a down jacket, as the weather is mostly cold,but not wet. For tropical areas, a Goretex shell to protect climbers from the rain will be used.

The middle layer is mostly made of “Polartec” fabric – a material designed to keep a person warm but does not absorb water. Natural materials such as wool are excellent warmth keeping layer – but once it is wet, it hardly insulates well. Artificial materials such as Polartec are made from polyester yarn, and hardly absorb water. Hence, they will keep you warm even though it may be wet. This is important because as a climber exercise, perspiration will work its way into the middle warmth layer and soak it.

The inner layer is a wicking layer – mainly designed to spread the perspiration next to the skin and sent to the middle layer in a larger area. The idea behind the wicking layer is that if you increase the area to be exposed for evaporation, the perspiration will go much faster. Hence, the wicking layer is designed to absorb perspiration and spread it over a larger area.

Other clothings are worn – depending on the nature of the climb – such as if heavy snow is expected, then gaiters are worn over the shoes to prevent snow from entering the mouth of the shoes.

Q- How big are our tents

A- In base camp, we use a “two man” tent for personal use. This ensures that we have enough space to sleep as well as to store personal things inside the tent for easy access. Most tents at base camp are two walled tents – an inner wall which allows water vapour to escape easily (but is not waterproof) and an outer wall that is totally waterproof.

At higher altitudes, where weight is a premium, we will squeeze two people and their stuff into one “two man tent”.

If weight is really an extreme consideration (as it will be for summit attempts), a single walled tent is used. This material is similar to Goretex (which is waterproof, but also allows water vapour to escape).

Ting Sern

The YAK story

Some fun facts about our favourite gear carrier.

In Nepal, especially in the Everest region, many trekkers have seen black furry beasts of burden which they think are yaks. In fact, the majority of these animals are yak hybrids. A cross between yaks and cows, these are dzopkyos; smaller and more docile than the real yaks. They produce more milk and are thus more domesticated than the thoroughbreds.

Over here in Tibet, you get to meet the real yaks – large, often capricious beasts up to a tonne at times. When some hapless trekker’s duffel bag bothers a yak, it is not uncommon to see it bucking and thrashing about until the offending baggage is thrown off. I’ve even seen a duffel being twirled around on a horn tip of an enraged yak. Yak herders are contracted by the various authorities to carry our expedition kit to basecamp or beyond at times. After a harsh winter, the yaks carry less, so post-monsoon expeditions benefit by paying less (since the costs are calculated per yak head).

There is no such thing as yak cheese. Milk comes from female yaks or ” naks” as the sherpas call them. (In Tibet, female yaks or naks are called “dri “.) So technically, the cheese should be called “nak cheese”! In Nepal, you can find factories (I have seen them in Lantang region) producing the cheese, which are up to 10kg in weight and the size of a large basin.

Yak meat is also eaten in various parts of Nepal and Tibet. It tastes like buffalo meat, except it has a stronger odour and takes quite a while to get used to. The meat and soup is very heaty and is good during the winter months or when the trekker gets cold feet.

Yak dung which litter the trails here is often dried and used as a cheap source of fuel. Sometimes, they can be seen decorated on roof tops and side walls of villages. Unfortunately, we find that it burns very inefficiently and produces copious amounts of pungent smoke which definitely takes getting used to!

Ciao,
David and TS

Here, we see the yak herders loading the expedition’s barrels onto a yak. Notice the leading herder’s hold on the horn of the yak (to keep it under control).

Water Sources and Availability

A- Virtually all mountaineering base camps are sited near easily available clean water sources. Note the words “easily available”, and “clean”. Nobody wants to melt snow for water at base camp because melting snow consumes a lot of energy (meaning fuel). So, Basecamps are normally located near mountain streams or rivers or glacial runoff. Another important attribute of that water source is it must be clean. Nobody wants to run a PUB filtration plant just for Basecamp use.

Of course, the water is first boiled and then filtered through two layers of muslim cloth by the kitchen staff before we get to drink it. Boiling water at altitudes is tricky … you can’t judge by just looking for bubbles and steam. This is because water boils at a lower temperature with increasing altitudes (due to lower air pressure). A lot of stubborn organisms require 100 deg C at 20 minutes to be killed. Just getting that 100 deg C at 5,000m might be well nigh impossible!

For our Basecamp, there is a ‘frozen river’ about 400m away and that supplies us with a source of running water. Here, we use pressurised kerosene stoves as source of heat for boiling and cooking. Nobody uses firewood – because there are no trees to be seen for miles around!

When you are lazing around in Basecamp (like me), you have to drink 100% more water than you consume when you are in Singapore – because the air is very dry here (5% RH) and more important, your blood is actually thicker because of increased amount of red blood cells. You drink water to dilute this thicker blood to assist your heart.

However, physical exertion (climbing, trekking, etc) at high altitudes mean that you MUST consume at least 300% more water for obvious reasons.

Contents of a climber’s back pack

A- When doing a summit bid, the golden rule is “the lighter, the better”. Well, that being the case, what are the most essential things you pack into a back pack? It depends on the nature of the summit – whether sub-zero temperatures are expected (the Himalayan peaks) or rain is expected (tropical areas). Virtually all 8000m peaks are devoid of rainfall – the reason why they are snow covered is because the temperature is so cold any snowfall hardly goes away.

So, if you are doing a Himalayan peak, the things to bring along are as follows -

a) A full body down jacket with a water resistant layer. Down is the warmest thing we have (and also one of the lightest), and a full body down jacket is the warmest clothing you can have. However, once down is wet, it looses its insulation properties immediately. Hence, you need a water resistant layer (nowadays, it will be Gore DryLoft) to repeal the occasional snowfall and light rainfall.

b) A down sleeping bag. Again, the same reason as the jacket.

c) A bivy bag. This is a “tent” big enough to hold the sleeping bag and slighty more room for little personal things. The other membrane is waterproof (mainly GoreTex) to keep the elements out. This item is needed in case you need to spend a night out among the stars without a normal tent.

d) Head torch & spare batteries. Needed for night use.

e) Spare gloves & mittens, in case you loose the one you are using.

f) Water bottle (with water), food, sunscreen, lip-balm.

g) Climbing gears (harness, crampons, jumars, etc). Climbing helmets might be needed too for technical peaks.

h) Radio & spare batteries (for communications).

i) Snow googles or sun glasses (spares needed as well)

For a tropical peak, you don’t need a down jacket – but a waterproof rain gear (like GoreTex) is needed.

j) A short coil of rope (if neceesary)

Q-Acclimatisation and High Altitude and its related problems to human bodies … OR “Why we have to climb to higher camps and back down several times?”

A- This subject can be expanded into a BOOK (yes, I am not kidding) and medical journals have been published on this subject. I will try to explain things in laymen terms.

In this discussion, any elevation higher than 2,500m (10,000 feet) is deemed high altitude.

The human body is designed to function at its best at sea level (0 meters) when the air pressure is measured at 1 atmosphere. This is because the hemaglobin (the reddish stuff in red blood cells) is saturated with oxygen (nearly 100%) at that air pressure. Oxygen is required by the brain, body organs, etc., and is needed for energy conversion from food you eat into glucose that the body can use.

As you go higher, the air pressure drops and so does the amount of available oxygen. At 5,000m (height of Everest Basecamp), the amount of oxygen is only half that of sea level’s availability. At 8,848m (summit of Mt Everest), only one third is available. When the amount of oxygen pressure drops, the human body tries to compensate. In a process known as acclimatisation, the body compensates for the lack of oxygen. Additional red blood cells are manufactured, the heart beats faster, non essential body functions are shut down (temporarily), and you breathe harder and more frequently. BUT, acclimatisation cannot take place immediately – in fact, it take place over a period of days or even weeks. Hence, when you first arrive at high altitudes, you have to take things easy. Even normal chores like walking is tiring.

Most climbers and high altitude trekkers follow the “golden rule” – Trek / Climb High, Sleep Low. For high altitude climbers like those attempting Mt Everest, the way to acclimatise is to stay a few days at Basecamp, climb up to a higher camp (slowly), stay there for 1 night initially, then return to Basecamp. This process is then repeated a few times, each time, you extend the time spent at higher altitudes to let the body “get used” to the oxygen level there. Once you are used to that altitude, you then repeat the process with a camp placed at higher elevations. Remember – you cannot rush this process (and this explains why we need to spend weeks at times acclimatising before attempting to climb a high peak).

However, more insidious and serious medical problems might develop in individuals who attempt to go up too fast. The two most common symptoms are HAPE and HACE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and High Altitude Celebral Edema). Both are life threathening and must be treated immediately. In fact, we saw 3 cases of them in the past 1.5 months here at Basecamp.

At extreme altitudes (above 7,500m), breathing bottled oxygen becomes almost mandatory for 99% of the climbers. This is because, at that height, available oxygen becomes so low you can hardly function without supplementary oxygen. Sleeping becomes very difficult, digesting food is non functioning (because the digestive system is non-essential to life), and you get hosts of other problems without additional oxygen.

Finally, at the “death zone”, 8,000m and higher, no human body can acclimatise at that height and staying longer than necessary will result in deterioration of body functions and ultimately, death.

Showers?

Beng Cheong in the shower tent, holding the portable shower set. The wooden plank on the ground prevent cold feet.

SHOWER AT EVEREST NORTH BASE CAMP (5,300M)

First of all, not everyone is ready for it, until…… a certain time is reached and a particular smell become unbearable to your friends. The final and the ultimate stage is reached when you’re pretty confirmed that you really require that wash up,… is when you can’t stand your own smell.

Secondly, you have to choose a particular day where the weather is definitely sunny for at least the first half of the day…. and you will have to take that shower at a particular time if you do not want to rush it. You may ask WHY? Well,.. the reason is simple! That particular time I’m talking about have to be around 10.30am to 2.00pm. Any time outside that range has NO Guarantee of warm (23 to 26 degree Celsius) atmospheric temperature that is ideal for taking shower at this harsh Tibetan plateau. Even inside the shelter of a tent fabric, the bone chilling wind from the Rongbuk glacier will be good enough reason to deter you from having your shower! We have for the past 60 days observe the good weather pattern happening at Rongbuk Basecamp. Even for the best day we ever had, those nasty clouds will soon start pulling in slowly after 2pm.

Thirdly, you have to inform the Basecamp cook early about the time you want your shower. They will need time boil your water and get ready the pump and the shower tent for you. Well, this time round I’m pretty lucky. A standing shower tent was pitched up only 2 days ago when a group of trekkers came in to visit the base camp. For the first time ever, I experienced potable hot water standing shower after more than 60 days at the Rongbuk base camp. Before the standing shower tent was installed, we have to make do with a sitting down low ceiling tent for washing up. Quite awkward !!

Finally, when everything is set,….. meaning, you got everything needed for the shower ( soap, shampoo, towel, hot water, etc). You will still require to have speedy actions, before, during and after shower. Because, your naked body haven’t been exposed to high altitude (5,300m) air for quite sometime. So,.. you will naturally feel the great different in temperature. Once your skin sense the cold. . . . your brain will automatically be informed and eventually instructions will be passed down, “Hey pal,.. better speed up your action, I’m getting cold !!”.

In conclusion, my advice is, unless you are really damn smelly, don’t do it too often!!! You need a hell lots of practice, to get it perfect!!!
Ting Sern

Facing Mt. Everest but open to winds. Brr… very very cold!

Facing Mt. Everest with a bit more shelter. Most popular!!

Facing Basecamp. Least smell. Has wide open space.

As part of the “infrastructure” support at Everest Base Camp (Rongbuk), the loos are pretty primitive but they serve a vital function.

We have 3 of them, perched on a small outcrop of rocks that overlooked the Base Camp. They are sited about 20 meters away from the campsite (where we sleep). Because of the directions of the prevailing winds, no smell has ever reached our sleeping place.

They are constructed mainly of loose rocks that form a semi-circle (to protect the user from the extremely cold winds as well as to provide for some modesty). Our human waste, “the dump”, is left exposed to the elements which does a very efficient job at reducing it to a rock-hard like mess after being exposed for more than 24 hours. There is hardly any smell from “the dump” the following morning. If they overflowed (and they did twice so far), I will bring up kerosene along with a kitchen cook to burn the residue.

One of them faces the Basecamp and is the most “open” of them all. It is a pretty large semi-circle, thus the most unprotected of them all. However, it does mean that it is also the one with the least smell.

The other two faces Mt Everest. One of them is always overflowing – because it is probably the most sheltered of the three loos – and thus, presumably, the most popular. The other one, which faces the “south-north” wind, is not so popular because it is probably the coldest of them.

By the way,.. at the end of the expedition, all waste will be burn off and clean up before we leave base camp.
Ting Sern

Laundry at high places

Everest North Base Camp (5,300m)
“Hey,.. Haven’t I seen you wearing this jacket for the whole of last week?”, someone’s yelled at you!

“Haven’t you got any other stuff to change?”, said an American friend at base camp.

Well, if your skin is particularly thick and can’t possibly be measured by a vernier calliper – then perhaps, you could get away from it ! The whole idea of having to wash your clothing is actually for your own cleanliness and hygiene. However, it seem like other people awareness of your daily or weekly attire simply take over the upper hand!! You might be quite lonely if you insist of not washing and changing your clothings.

Hey,.. the air at this altitude is so fresh that any amount of smell could be easily detected by the human nose if there is no strong wind blowing. Well, on many occasions, trekkers and climbers have to congregate at the well enclosed dinning tent for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The distance that you are sitting beside each other is close enough to sense any strong smell that will deter conversation anyway!!!

After a whole lots of explanation above about the importance of “Laundry at Base Camp” , I suppose the task now is to do it !

Look for a sunny day to do this if you don’t want the prospect of having all your clothings turn into “Steel Rod” or ” Sheet metal”, meaning, frozen hard. Sometimes if the wind is strong enough and persistently blasting for the whole day… Well, he he he? The nasty wind will rob the sun energy away and your stuff will harden. So,.. be very careful to keep a watch out for the wind!!!!

Next, you gather all your smelly clothings (socks, underwear, fleeces, hats, etc) in a bag and enclosed please!! Ask the kitchen cook about an hour before to prepare for warm water,… and I really mean “WARM” water. If you can get the water hotter, so much the better.

Go to the shower tent or somewhere that has good shelter from the wind to do your laundry. Once you get started,… remember, the same thing like taking a shower. Be quick or else the water get freezing cold in such a fast time that will surprise you!! Fast action certainly helps you get away from having numb fingers!!

Lastly, remember to hang and tie off every single piece of clothing. You don’t want to go against the “Wind Of Everest”, having to chase after your stuff. Next, don’t forget to retrieve your stuff in time. Bending and hammering your stuff is no fun, especially if you don’t get sunny days for the next entire week. Well, WHO KNOWS,….. after all this is Everest Basecamp!!!
Beng Cheong

PS: Hey Mom, I’m finally doing my own washing!!!.

Without them, no expedition would survive that long in a desolate environment such as this Everest Base Camp (Tibet). They are responsible for dishing out the most mouth watering receipies in the harshest place on Earth.

Cooks that serve most mountaineering expeditions to the Himalaya (both Nepal and Tibet) are mostly Nepali. Very few expeditions use Chinese cooks (the reader is asked to figure out why). Most Western expeditions (this one is no exception) prefer to pay the CMA (Chinese Mountaineering Association) leevies to bring Nepali cooks across the border from Nepal into Tibet.

While most cooks are identical to those that work in Nepali restaurants and hotels, the “expedition cooks” must have the ability to work at high altitudes (4,000m and higher – this base camp is 5200m).

Expedition cooks work in conditions that might look appalling to most people – their tent (the kitchen tent) is dim, and the atmosphere is kerosene filled. They are all very hard working people too – a typical day schedule of an expedition cook looks something like this -

Wake up at 5:30 am
Boil water and clean up the pots and pans for the day
Start preparing breakfast at 7:30 am
Breakfast is served at 8:00 am
Clean up after breakfast
Start preparing lunch at 10:30 am
Lunch is served at 12:00 pm
Clean up after lunch
Prepare pop-corns and tea at 3 pm
Serve tea and pop-corn at 3:30 pm to 4 pm
Start preparing dinner at 4:30 pm
Dinner is served at 6:30 pm
Clean up after Dinner
The kitchen is closed at 9 pm
The cooks goes to Zzzzz ! after that.

Our cooks, Tara Bir Yakha and Pemba Tshiri Sherpa
However, the final results are often comparable to Kathmandu restaurant standards!! Excellent hygenic conditions are maintained in base camp kitchens – this author has yet to get a tummy upset after eating food prepared here for the past month or so.

Sometimes, their skills are simply unbelievable – they prepare and bake cakes without the use of an oven, they create receipies that are simply out of this world (for this environment). Perfectly roasted chicken drumsticks and excellent quality fried noddles are standard stuff here.

Yummmmie ….. my mouth is watering now :-) !!!

Ting Sern

Who says being a technical officer of an expedition is a “paid holiday” to somewhere exotic? Before you judge, think again ….

Baked Apples anyone???

My daily routine schedule is as follows -

a) Wake up at 7:45am (typically, earlier – but the temperature is too brrrrrrrrrr to even warm up my brain – so I maintain a very intimate relationship with my down jacket and sleeping bag until the sun warms up the interior of my tent to a nice and cosy 18 deg C).

b) Breakfast at 8:15am (the chief cook – a Sherpa himself, will bang on his frying pan with a frying handle long enough for the dead to be woken up. Incidentally, I wonder how long will his frying pan / handle last – but I think it should be long enough to serve us through the expedition or he must have lots of spares around)>

c) Work starts at 9am in the Comms tent.

First, previous night’s snow must be cleared (if any) unless you prefer to work with an aqualung. The “king a la king” – our two solar panels are then taken out gently to be laid on the ground outside the comms tent. Actually, these solar panels are supposed to be military standards issue, but I think Pentagon didn’t think that mil-specs include being exposed to -30 deg C at night and 30 deg C during the day. We actually found two broken wires inside one solar panel and I had to “operate” on it to solder the broken wires together. Luckily, Humpty Dumpty has some capable “king men” to glue him back!

Baked Apples anyone???
Next, the computers and all the electronic hardware are taken out to be baked in the sun. This is necessary because the night here is very cold and condensation does form on printed boards. If one should attempt to power on the hardware in such a condition, that poor guy might receive a most disagreeable shock followed by a last grasp from the dying machine. Since we have only a limited supply of such machines, we have to avoid inflicting such final treatment to them.

We then verify that the solar panels and the power supply is okay before we start connecting the electronic hardware into them for charging their built-in batteries. Hold it …. we aren’t running a PUB power station here – we have only generating capability for 6 amps of 12 volts supply only – hardly enough to power a typical kitchen water kettle. That means we can’t just plug everything we want to charge into an “infinite” power socket that virtually everyone in Singapore has taken for granted. Here, we have to prioritise things and charge those that are vital for its immediate use.

A typical work schedule might be “email download and upload”. Everyone in Singapore is familiar with a telephone and its usage. In this wilderness, there is no phone line and to communicate with the rest of the world, we have to rely on a very exotic (and expensive) technology – satellites. So, the connections to the Internet means we have to connect to a communications satellite, many of them are really established for ships at sea. Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite) is the most famous of them and we use them here too. We have to know where the satellite is located otherwise, we get NO connections.

After pointing the antenna to the relevant satellite, we power up the modem unit and plug its connector into the computer. Only then we can start sending and receiving emails. Because satellite connections are slow, we can only do emails at 2400 bps (most homes in Singapore can send emails at 56,000 bps and faster). Patience is a virtue here. Sending pictures (a 40Kbyte JPEG file) takes 5 to 10 minutes here. Sometimes, we experience line drops (nothing extraordinary with satellite communications). These can be caused by heavy clouds or snowfalls in the direction of the antenna. Sometimes, the reasons are unknown. Whatever the reasons, a line drop means we have to re-establish connections all over again – a waste of money as far as we are concerned. Cost of satellite time varies from US$0.80 to US$13.00 per minute depending on which device we use.

Personal emails, official reports and photographs (the ones that you see in the website) are the main items we transmit and receive daily. The really biggie ones (large JPEGS bound for newspapers and movies) are sent using another technique – utilising the Nera M4 World Communicator, which is capable of sending data at 64,000 bps (ISDN speeds). Digital photos have to processed by Adobe Photoshop before transmission – to keep its size down. Movies have to edited by Final Cut Pro and compressed using QuickTime before we can even talk of sending it back to Singapore by M4.

If you think this is fun, think again. The comms tent is unheated and we are at the mercy of the outside weather. Sometimes, it gets so hot during the day, I have to work in short sleeves and rolled up trousers. Then it can get so cold you reach for the down jacket – all within 5 minutes.

d) We normally break for lunch at about 12 noon which takes about 1 hour.

e) Work starts again at about 1pm and typically, continues until about 5pm (when the cold starts to make itself felt). It might end earlier if the weather decides otherwise. So, we are literally at the mercy of the elements …. something you don’t experience in Singapore (sheltered in your home).

f) We then packed up everything and locked them inside the aluminium trunk for the night. This is the only security we have – but then, we hardly have thiefs which can make use of all those electronic equipment we have.

g) Dinner time is normally 6:30pm.. After dinner, we head for our tents and “sweet dreams” after that – rest enough to start again the next day.

Anyone for a restful holiday here? You are welcomed to try ……..

Ting Sern

Ting Sern’s Life at Basecamp

Basecamp can be both boring and exciting, depending on events that happen here.

Firstly, what are my routine jobs (the boring ones)?

a) Set up the power supply unit for all the electronic equipment. Since all computers (Apple Powerbooks) and satellite communications equipment (Nera Worldphone & Ericsson R190 ACeS) depend on electrical power, this will the most important job for me. We generate electricity from solar energy (the cleanest, non polluting source) by using solar panels. The solar panels we use are a pair of UNISOLAR 30 watts foldable panels, capable of giving a minimum output of 30 watts at 12 volts. I have measured power output as high as 2.9 amps at 25.6 volts (thereby exceeding the manufacturer’s specifications). We can’t feed the power output from the solar panels directly into electronic equipment since the power will not be constant, but fluctuate – depending on the quality of the sunlight at any given instance. A solar “charge controller” (ProStar 30) is used to control the power of the solar panels, to charge a reserve bank of sealed lead acid batteries (SLAB), and to regulate the quality of the electrical output from the system. We use two 7AH (amp hour) SLABs and one 2.6 AH SLAB. The number of SLABs that we can carry depends on the total weight we are prepared to carry, since SLAB are not light. The ProStar 30 is capable of delivering 30 amps at 12Volts sustained – and this has been confirmed in tests conducted by me in Singapore.

b) Set up the computers for Satcoms (satellite communications) operations. This is rather technical – but I shall explain the basics here. We use 2 forms of SATCOMS here – one in fallback operations to the other. The system of choice (the cheaper system in terms of airtime) is the ACeS (Asian Cellular Satellite) system and the mode of delivery is the Ericsson R190 ACeS handphone. The ACeS system can only be used in ASIA but it can access worldwide phone numbers. Cost of airtime is about US$0.80 per minute. The backup system is the Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite) system and the mode of delivery is the Nera Worldphone. The Inmarsat system is worldwide in reach. Cost of airtime (commercial rate) is US$3.00 per minute, although the expedition has secured substantial discount of airtime from SINGTEL (Singapore Telecoms) – it is still very expensive, compared with the rates charged by ACeS. Both systems are essentially for voice mode, although both of them also offers data mode (only 2400 bits per second) which is what the expedition is using for the bulk of data transmission to / from Base Camp. Even though the Inmarsat system is expensive compared to ACeS, it makes up for it for its reliability under adverse conditions which the ACeS system will fail. Also, at this present moment, we have encountered operational problems with ACeS system that makes fallback to Inmarsat system mandatory at times.

Both the systems are attached to the Apple Powerbook in its own distinct ways. The ACeS system is hooked up to the Powerbook via its own extension cable (from the handphone) and plugs into a PSION Gold Card modem (ISDN & Cellular capable), which goes into the Apple’s PCMCIA’s slot. On the other hand, the Nera Worldphone is hooked into the Apple Powerbook’s USB port via a XIRCOM serial to USB convertor. The Nera Worldphone has its own 9 pins serial port.

To maintain two separate systems and keep both of them functional demand skills not commonly found in most people!

Because the satellite links are so slow (2400 bps – compared with 56,000 bps found in most homes in Singapore, and for the lucky few – 512,000 bps or even faster with CABLE or ADSL links), we have to restrict the kind of output we can receive and send. Anything that takes longer than 10 minutes to send per item is a definite NO NO.

The Nera Worldphone is hooked into the Apple Powerbook’s USB port via a XIRCOM serial to USB convertor. The Nera Worldphone has its own 9 pins serial port.

c) Maintain the hardware and software in good running order. We are operating at 5,200m, an altitude that is way above any manufacturer’s limits. 99% of all commercially obtained hardware limits the operating altitude to 10,000 feet or 2,500m. All the hardware we use at Base Camp is at least twice the height of the limits imposed by manufacturers. Also, the environment here is very dry and dusty. It is a tribute to the various manufacturers that the equipment we use here can work at all!

Even then, hardware will eventually fail if used in prolonged conditions that are prevalent in Base Camp. To prepare for that eventuality, we bring hardware diagnostic equipment (Fluke Digital Multimeters and Scopemeter) plus a complete set of electrical and electronic repair tools up here. Apple Singapore has also kindly supplied the expedition with 2 complete sets of spare parts for the Apple Powerbooks that we use here. I have also been trained to strip the Powerbook and replace every component that it uses. In fact, a hard-disk used by the Powerbook has been replaced in the field when it failed about 2 weeks ago.

For those non user replaceable items, we bring two units if the item is essential to the operations.

This of course implies the person doing this has to understand basic electrical and electronical parts, be able to diagnose and repair hardware faults in the field.

d) Write field reports (the ones that get sent to our folks back home) and send them back to Singapore via Satcoms links. Sometimes, the climbers are very far away (20km) from Base Camp and the only way to contact them is via walkie talkies. Unfortunately, our Motorola walkie talkies are out of range when attempting to bridge a gap 20km long. Under such circumstances, I have to wait till available information from 3rd parties become available or wait for the climbers to return before I can file the reports.

Those tasks represent the bulk of my daily routines.

Then there are the exciting ones, which happens once in a blue moon ….

Our solar charge controller refused to work about 1 week ago. Without a functional solar charge controller, I will be out of electrical power (an equivalent of a black out). I was in panic mode – it took me 20 minutes to diagnose the fault and 10 minutes to fix. Whew, what a relief when I got it working again.

Twice, I have been consulted by another expedition on their PC hardware faults – and had to replace one of their PC notebook’s harddisk (A DELL) using spares that was carried up by their trekking parties.