Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Beginning of Singapore Mountaineering Expeditions

I'm certain many of you would have heard of Khoo Swee Chiow and the Singapore Mount Everest team who made our nation proud with their successful scaling of the highest mountain on earth. An increasing number of adventurous Singaporeans have also jumped on the mountaineering bandwagon and gone on to conquer other
peaks, in far away lands and places. Even school groups, with better funding and resources today, have made their way to peaks such as Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kinabalu and other mountains in Nepal too. Singapore is certainly a land of plenty today! But it was not so about 40 years ago.
The 1st Singapore Mountaineering Expedition in an attempt to conquer Gunong Tahan, West Malaysia's highest peak at 7,186 ft comprised all of 10 full-blooded Singaporeans. To be precise, the party consisted of 6 students of the only Junior College then in existence...the National Junior College [ NJC ] and 4 teachers from Secondary Schools. The idea for this historic attempt was first mooted by Mr Twang Peck Ee, a key member of the TTC YLTCC [ Teachers Training College Youth Leadership Training Camp Committee ] back in 1968. He was a very fit and really tough Expedition leader. He was also very selective and careful in his choice of assistant Expedition leaders for such an unknown adventure. He approached Mr Balbir Singh and myself, who like him, were also members of the renowned TTC YLTCC. In my humble opinion and many others have concurred, the TTC YLTCC, back in those halcyon days, were in the forefront of camping, leadership training, outdoor pursuits and adventuring. There was no other group like it. Everyone who was fortunate to have served in that Committee was specially and carefully picked for his or her special strengths and qualities in the rough outdoors and other inherent qualities. Each of us was given a set of TTC INSTRUCTOR [ yltc ] T-shirt and it was something we wore with the greatest of pride when carrying out our extra voluntary duties.
In late 1968, we met many times to discuss and plan the expedition. Eventually, we decided on picking only 6 boys from NJC and to make it a party of 10, Peck Ee added another teacher Mr Tng Kim Guan. From research and enquiry made by us, we discovered that no other Singapore group has "conquered" Tahan yet, back then. Only a few British army personnel had been up there [ this was later confirmed by the Kuala Tahan National Park office when we were there ].
Thus we made serious preparations for this 1st ever attempt in early 1969. More than 100 students turned up for the series of selection physicals, hikes and climbs up Bukit Timah Hill, held over many weekends. We had novel ways of testing their endurance and 'breaking point'.
After all the gruelling tests and close observations, we agreed on the final 6 young aspirants...with 2 more as standby.
We were scheduled to go in April 1969 during the 2 week school holidays. This official, recognised MOE/ TTC expedition had the full backing of our MOE as all of us were connected to it. The Government was also encouraged as the theme at that time was ' Building A Rugged Society'. So everyone's leave was officially granted and approved.
Photos: Top left: Base Camp...Scout Den, Victoria School
Top right : Me , on the train to Jerantut
Bottom : At Jerantut bus station

News clipping: Sunday Times edition, 13th April 1969

[ to be continued in part 2 ]


Lam Chun See said...

Yes, I remember this expedition. It was big news for us 1st batch NJCians. My friend Tham Han Chew, a very sporty guy was in the contingent. Last saw him at the 2003 NJC reunion dinner.

uncle dick said...

Yes, it was REALLY BIG news back then. Besides being featured in the press, the former Radio and TV S'pore[ RTS ] did a 30 min programme featuring our exploits.
It was titled, " The RUGGED 10 ". You and the others of your time may have seen it too.
Han Chew was a tough guy...in fact
they were all really fit and tough. Will relate more in my next post.