Monday, February 18, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 5...The Route, Our Guide and Maps?

To write as complete a story for something as major as this expedition that took place nearly
4 decades ago, is not easy at all. One cannot depend entirely on memory alone. Fortunately, the photos, records, documents and some original artifacts are still with me. Some of my loose notes have been misplaced in the interim years. Among my most treasured resources is my personal diary of 1969...which contains important data and info pertaining to various aspects of the expedition. As a matter of fact, I started the habit of keeping a diary back in 1960 when I was a Primary six kid. And every year, after that, continued doing so. It was to be a huge blessing in disguise, in my later and present years, as a most valuable resource for info and data of the past.

The Route to Gunung Tahan in 1969
We had very little physical knowledge of the route back then. We had no printed nor well laid out maps and plans as found in abundance today. We did not have the advantage of even seeing a single picture of what we were about to it the hills, peaks, valleys, streams,rivers or the"impenetrable" jungle. The main reason for this lack of information was that very little was known about Tahan or the route to the peak. There were no marked trails anywhere at all. It was pure virgin jungle that confronted us at every step, turn, nook or corner. We did not have a single topo map of our intended route. I remember carrying my prismatic compass in my pack as an emergency piece [ just in case something befalls our only guide Ahmad ]. But that would not have been of much use without an effective map. Much of our hope and success depended solely on Ahmad. I remember chatting with him on the eve of the climb and asking him in Malay,

" Berapa kali Ahmad sudah naik atas Gunung Tahan ?"[ How many times have you ascended Tahan ?] . His reply," dua kali " [ twice ]. He told me the 1st time was in his youth. The 2nd time was a few years before our attempt....all accomplished without the benefit of maps. All those critical and important topographical info of the route, stored in a deep recess of his brain memory storage compartment. It got me thinking even back then ! If, during the trip, in deep jungle, should Ahmad somehow fail to retrieve vital info from his memory at a critical juncture or he falls ill etc..,the situation could turn out to be very precarious and serious for all of us. [ On 2 occasions during our actual climb, Ahmad did cause us a minor scare. I will relate details of the incidents in coming posts . It is not to be missed.] However, on hindsight, all this lack of info about the route and all it represented, might have worked to our benefit and advantage as we were truly heading into unknown territory....increasing our sense of real adventure and heightening our shared feelings that we must and should succeed as the pioneering mountaineers from Singapore.....come what may!

Climbing Tahan, even today, is not to be taken lightly. Back then it was pure, virgin jungle. There were no clear trails leading from point A to B or C. We had to literally hack away with the 6 parangs we carried....the deep undergrowth we encountered in the lower regions. It was a most ardous and hazadous journey that demanded physical fitness and mental strength and determination, as well as thorough preparations, good equipment, sound leadership and excellent camaradie and teamwork.
The entire journey up and down will cover more than 60 miles or 130 km over some of the toughest terrain imaginable in the Malayan jungle.
Monday 14th April 1969
This day was the eve of our actual climb. We spent the day in making and finalising all our important preparations...permit for the climb was settled, guide confirmed, check for further information at the Park office for weather updates, wildlife updates and such stuff.
We each left a small package of travelling clothes kept in an office...for our return journey.
There was a small canteen/cafe at the park where we had our meals...of typical nasi lemak
type food. Nothing fancy as you can expect back then.

Photos: [ left click on pic to see enlarged version ]

Top :- This is one of the few coloured photos that survived. Notice my torn right sleeve. The original caption was," Clothes torn already? The climb in thick, virgin jungle.". Others in that picture are Yeow Huat, Yam Tee, Louis and Tng KG.

Centre:- The caption read " resting with packs on". The 2 clearly identified ...Louis and Tng K G.

Bottom:- This photo was taken by me on the morning of the 2nd Day. We were breaking up camp. In foreground, Jesudason and and 2 other guys bending over to roll up our tent sheets.... Twang P E putting on his shoes, Francis and Balbir can be seen too.

[ The next episode....Day 1 of actual Climb ]

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