Saturday, March 29, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 25....Departure from K Tahan

Tuesday, April 22 1969

Departure from Kuala Tahan

We had come through safe and sound after a most challenging jungle expedition. The previous evening we gave away much of our things to our beloved guide, Ahmad. There were items that we had borrowed and those had to be returned. Our self-made plastic fly-sheets we gave away. Last night, we had time to

browse around the main Park office. There was a Visitor's book there and most of us signed our names into history. I bought this particular postcard with a B /W Tahan river photo and got a couple of the guys to put their dhoby mark on it. I can roughly make out signatures of Twang, Balbir, Tng, Jesu, Yam Tee, Yeow Huat and Han Chew. Also got a stamp and addressed it to myself. That old address was my home and also of my family since before WW 2.

It has disappeared from the map forever since the 1990's.

So, with all our gears repacked and ready for the homeward journey...I suggested we have a few final photos before we left Taman Negara for good.
This colour picture was taken just outside the Park Hqrs office.
Clockwise from Balbir ....Dick[me], Jesudasen, Louis, Yeow Huat, Han Chew, Yam Tee, Francis and Twang.
Photo-taker was Tng.

We re-boarded the 2 launches for our return trip to Kuala Tembeling and from there to Jerantut Train station by the same old rickety bus. We took the night train from Jerantut to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Singapore....arriving early the next morning, Wednesday April 23rd 1969., where we were informed that the Straits Times, Chinese and Malay press reporters were awaiting our arrival at Victoria School, Tyrwhitt Road, to interview us and hear our story. Victoria School Scout Den was our Preparation and Organisational Base Camp before the trip. I was a key old boy scout leader there for many the 60's.

Friday, March 28, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 24.....Melantai to Tahan Hqrs

Day 7 of Actual Climb...Monday April 21st 1969

Melantai to Kuala Tahan

Today, we were not in any real hurry knowing full well that this last leg of our journey was merely a trek back to Taman Negara Hqrs, about 5-6 hours away. However a more important reason was Ahmad....or rather his condition. He being a man of the jungle usually was way up before any of us even stirred from our sleepiness.

But that morning something was not right as we were all up before him. Now that by itself was most unusual. So we looked into his tent. He was not feeling too good. I recalled he said something about his " kepala pusing and badan sakit "[ head spinning and body ache]. We asked him what had caused it. He sheepishly revealed that he had consumed both the iron tablets and the anti-malarial pills that I had given him and he thought that was the cause of his problems. And he was probably right. He had taken them before he slept.

Here was a native of the jungle who had never taken such chemicals before and his body was obviously reacting to the iron and quinnine. So, I suggested he drank hot tea and more water to dilute whatever effects of the drug. We took our time to get ready, taking things easy to give him enough time to recover. The guys prepared a good breakfast for all, including Ahmad. By about 8 am, he was feeling much better and was ready to lead us again. We broke camp for the last and final time and bade goodbye to Sungei Melantai. Fortunately, Ahmad was able to recover otherwise we might have to fashion a makeshift stretcher to carry him back. Then we were off again onto the trail heading south. We arrived at Tahan Hqrs around 2 pm in good weather.

The 1st thing we did on arriving back was to report to the Park office, accompanied by Ahmad, that we were all safe and sound, and had achieved our objective. Ahmad confirmed everything that we stated. The Park Superintendent then asked Twang Peck Ee, our Expedition Leader, to provide him with the full list of names of the climbers and other details.

He told Peck Ee to come back later for a cert or letter confirming our achievement.

The 1st thing I did after that was to head straight for the Park canteen. There, I ordered some cold Coke or Coca-Cola as it was properly called for myself and some of the guys too. When we were discussing what we missed most the previous night, for me , that was my answer. I would give anything to have a simple, super cold COKE drink on ice preferably! Nothing else tasted better or quenched my thirst better that day. I supposed it was pretty much the same for the others. We re-ordered Coke and sat down to enjoy one of life's great pleasure! Only "tortured"
Tahanners would understand this.
Later, after we had washed up and had our lunch, we were each given an original copy of the Certificate/Letter which had our names on it. It was done on the Taman Negara Letterhead and dated that same day......the 21st April 1969, that we ended our climb. In all, we took a grand total of 6 DAYS and 6 HOURS for our expedition to Tahan and back. Was there an attempt to set a record in terms of duration, by us? The answer was and is " NO !". We were aware that we
were "trailblazers" from Singapore. Whatever time it took us to succeed wasn't important.
What mattered was that we had to conquer the peak.
Nevertheless, we were well aware that we had planned for a 10 day expedition....not knowing what to expect. So, in the end, we were pleasantly surprised that we....the 1st Singapore Tahanners... had done it in 6 Days and 6 hours.
In doing so, we became the 1st Singaporeans to conquer Gunung Tahan.
And that was a matter of some pride and joy to all 10 of us.

In the evening of that day, we met up with dear Ahmad again. We had gone through all our group and personal items and all excess items were donated to him. They included all our unused tinned food, rice,sugar, cereals and other utensils and barang-barang[ things ]. He was grateful for our donations and the extra guide fees we handed him.
Then from his pocket he pulled out something to push into my hands...and added he did not want them any more. I stared at the pills and tablets of iron and quinnine in my hands. We all had a great laugh!!! He said in Malay to us that those pills were bad "ubat"[ medicine ]. Ha ha!!

He wasn't wrong at all in his conclusion.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 23....K Teku to Melantai

Gunong Tahan Descent -Day 6 of Actual Climb, Sunday April 2oth 1969
Kuala Teku - Melantai

We awoke very early to the beautiful and melodious calls of jungle birds and hungry monkeys announcing a new day. It was a peaceful morning as we set about digging up our cache of buried food and preparing for a good breakfast. We would need all the energy for the tough journey still ahead of us. This was one stretch that most Tahan climbers, even today, would find daunting. Breaking camp
very early, our intention was to set off before the heat and humidity got to us. We put our haversacks on, clambered over to the giant boulders that sat right smack on the banks of the Sungei Teku....for a "last look" at the awe-inspiring, fast- flowing river [ Top photo]. It seemed that we each wanted to etch or burn the images we were fortunate to be witnessing into our our mental hard disk [ No computers then! Never even heard of such.].

Then we turned southwards and headed for the river crossings. The problem with leeches resurfaced. In one of the river crossings, Jesudason had a slip and that was how some of our films got wet and were damaged.
The river bed were mostly of slippery pebbles, rocks and uneven stones upto waist deep in some places. He wasn't the only one who had a slip.
We were fortunate that no one was injured in the river crossings. In many later expeditions over the last 4 decades, some serious and even fatal incidents had occured...either at river crossings which can be flooded or along the trail.
Having endured the Malang hills, we knew what to expect and so rationed our water very carefully. We had adapted well to our surroundings and our movement as a group was VERY DISIPLINED. There were no stragglers within our 10 member group. We wisely followed the instructions and guidance as given by Ahmad. Following his speed and tempo on the return trek, with no slacking off by anyone, proved one thing.....that all the tough physical training we had carried out paid off. This will always remain the golden rule for Tahan expeditions....henceforth.
We reached Melantai, our 1st campsite before nightfall. All exhausted, we went to bathe and
swim in the gentle waters by our camp. This was one night we could really afford to relax as Tahan Hqrs was only 4-5 hours away reserved for the next day. We were in early celebration mood as we brought out all the foodstuff we had from our packs and from the buried spot. We had planned for a 10 day expedition but that was only our 6th day on the trail. So with much extra food, we had reconfigured the amount for our meals. That night would be the last dinner we would be taking on the trek.
Later, as we all sat snugly around the campfire recounting the incidents and events of the previous days, and discussing about what was tough, what we each learnt, what we miss the most during these 6 days, etc..... Ahmad, who by then, was accepted as like one of us, joined in.
By the campfire light our conversations eventually centred on him. How we could help him as he had helped us splendidly.... alone. We took stock of the things we had and still needed and decided that we would donate all extra things to him when we were back at base camp.
I was checking out my medical kit when Ahmad came to sit beside me. For the 1st time during the entire trip, he was curious and asked me about the various pills and tablets I had dished out to all every morning. He wanted to know what each was for and why were we taking them. I tried my level best to explain in simple Malay what each pill was for. For example, the iron tablet...I said simply, " Makan ini boleh jadi-sehat dan kuat!"[ eating this result in health and strength]. For anti-Malarial tablets I said," Makan ini...kalau nyamok gigit awak, badan tak sakit-lah!"[ eating this....when mosquitoes bite, your body will not be sick!]. After going over my medications with him, he asked whether I could give him some....iron and anti-malarial tablets.
No I had more than enough. I explained the dosage to him.
Later that night, we drifted into a restful sleep....all of us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 22...Kuala Teku campsite

These 2 pictures originally in beautiful Kodak colours have faded with the passage of father Time. Nevertheless, it captured us so clearly at the end of an eventful day....the same day we had made history.
We were all very exhausted having descended from the Padang plateau. Earlier that morning, we had set off to conquer Tahan peak and then returned to our base camp at Padang...repacked all our gears and things for the descent to where we now were.

Top, from L to R
Standing: Ahmad, Tng, Yam Tee
Seated : Jesudasen, Louis, Dick Yip, Yeow Huat, Twang, Francis and Balbir. If you enlarge this picture you can see my BOWIE knife which I had placed on my pouch ,gripped by my feet.

Bottom, from L to R
With Ahmad was Francis, Tng, Louis and me[Dick]
Lower-Jesudasen, Yeow Huat, Twang, Balbir and Yam Tee. In the foreground a pair of boots can be seen....likely was Yam Tee's. The NJC cloth emblem which I had sewn on to my left shirt pocket on the initial train journey, can be clearly seen if you enlarge the photo.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 21....The DESCENT from Tahan

Day 5 of Actual Climb....Sat April 19th 1969

After breaking camp at our desolate Padang campsite, we gathered for one final group photo. Yes, all 10 of us were in it and who else but our dependable guide, Ahmad snapped the picture.

Everyone was smiling! We had much to be smiling about. Our objective had been achieved and we're homeward bound. But there was still a long distance to go on this return leg of the journey.

Taking a final "last" look at the beauty surrounding us at our campsite and especially at G Tahan, we bade farewell to that place and turned towards the south...taking up the trail towards Gedong. It was still before noon when we departed. We felt very much lighter as we resumed our climb up G Gedong and all the other peaks along Skeat's ridge. We had about 6-7 hours of daylight left to reach Kuala Teku. Having been the 1st group of Singaporeans to conquer this very tough mountain, collectively and individually, we felt very strong for this return leg. Our progress was very fast. We managed to reach Kuala Teku, with its fantastic roaring river of white water by late evening. We pitched our 2 tents and prepared dinner. It was an evening and night of total recuperation, of good rest and sleep, as the next day we would tackle the 7 river crossings and face the demons of the 27 Malang hills once again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 20....OBJECTIVE ACHIEVED!

Photos: a) Another angle of the Batu Tahan or Tahan Quartz.
b) The 4 from TTC ....Tng, Dick, Ahmad our Guide, Balbir and Twang posing
at the summit.

We had taken all the pictures we wanted at the summit. The rolling mists of clouds moved over the plateau casting surreal sillhouttes in the shadows of the gentle mountain slopes. Weather at the top can change very fast in an instant from scorchingly hot, to cool and cloudy, then to misty rain. It was fortunate that our final ascent came with perfect weather....a beautiful, clear blue sky. That day, the 5th day of our actual climb, was going to be a very long day. From the summit we headed down the same way we came, taking less than an hour to reach our campsite at Padang. We topped up our water, broke camp and carefully cleared the site of debris [ A golden rule of camping is always to leave the campsite a better place than before you arrived ] .

Taking a final look at our campsite and at the Tahan peak, we turned southwards back towards the trail leading to Gedong. As we moved off silently, personally I did wonder whether I would ever come this way again in my lifetime. [ I do not know about the others whether any of them ever stepped onto Tahan again, after 1969.....unlikely would be just my guess. As for myself...I led a Hwa Chong JC group of students in an expedition to this same place and "re-conquered " G Tahan in June 1985!! That was a gap of 16 years ! Perhaps I may cover that climb in just a post or two, to point out any differences or changes since then ].

1st Tahan Expedition, part 19, " DIAMONDS" from Tahan

After we congratulated each other with pats, hugs and firm handshakes on reaching the peak, we got down to enjoy the scenic beauty from the very top of West Malaysia....looking as far as the eye can see. Then we spotted beautiful translucent stones that looked like big diamonds in the ground around us. These were actually quartzites which Ahmad told us were locally called "Batu Tahan". The whole Tahan ridge is composed of very ancient sedimentary rock....and many of such

quartz were clearly exposed in dried-up streams, river beds or cracks in rocks. We each collected a few bits and pieces for a closer study later.

Today, this is not allowed by the Park Hqrs.

This surviving colour photo showed the 3 of us ;

me[ Dick], Balbir and Twang as the 1st 3 TTC Camp

Instructors from Singapore to set foot on Tahan.

Quite a few others, leading their own students, would follow in our footsteps.....henceforth.

In later years, other organisations, having by then learnt about the great challenges that all Tahan expedition members must face up to and the immeasurable positive values acquired when overcoming the odds, came on board in greater numbers each organise their own "Tahan" expeditions.

[ more to come in next post ]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 18...N J C and 4 teachers made history.

Gunung Tahan at 7186 ft, the highest mountain in West Malaysia was first conquered by a group of ten Singaporeans on Saturday, April 19th 1969 at about
10 am. The expedition was led by Mr Twang Peck Ee.
The group comprised of 4 teachers and 6 students of National Junior College.
Colour photo:
L to R: Tng Kim Guan, Dick Yip[me], Ahmad our guide, Balbir Singh, Twang Peck Ee.
B/W photo:
I captured this memorable and historic moment as the 6 NJC boys unfurled their college flag
at the peak of Tahan.
Standing: L to R- Yeow Huat, Louis, Jesudason, Francis, Han Chew
Squatting: Yam Tee and our guide Ahmad

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 17...WE MADE HISTORY!


For the final ascent of Gunung Tahan peak we left all our gears and haversacks in our 2 tents. We only brought along our water bottles and the 2 cameras. No need for parangs and ropes as the vegetation at this high altitude consisted mainly of shrubs and small trees. Before we moved off from our campsite, I suggested that we capture the whole group with our camera. There was a problem....who will snap the picture? I took out my camera, configured everything, and gently asked Ahmad, our guide, to have a "look" at the camera. He had never held one before let alone operate it. I got the guys together and again asked Ahmad to look into the camera. I was by his side coaching him. Then I said, " Boleh nampak semua?"[ Can you see everyone?]. He said yes. I showed him how to depress the button without shaking the camera and quickly ran to join our party. The result of Ahmad's 1st effort at photography is this unique colour photograph [ centre photo] of the 10 of us just before setting off for the peak. I think he deserved a 10/10 score wouldn't you agree? Almost perfect pic!
Even the mist of clouds drifting in the background were nicely captured. A dramatic pic.
From L to R: Standing - Tng Kim Guan, Tham Han Chew, Francis Lee, Twang Peck Ee, Louis Hwang, Tan Yam Tee, T Jesudason and Dick Yip.
Squatting- Balbir Singh and Tan Yeow Huat
In high spirits, we set off in a northerly direction crossing streams and spurs which rose steeply along the flanks of Gunung Gedong. The trail then continues to the ridge linking Gedong with Gunung Tahan. We traversed along the ridge and cut into a deep saddle and then before us was a fantasy-land of dense, low forest with all kinds of mosses, ferns, orchids and twisted trees. The ground was damp. The leaves on the trees and plants were wet with tiny glistening droplets of moisture. This place was truly magical. A perfect setting for gnomes and fairies, I remember thinking.
The final ascent was now before us.... a gentle, steady climb of about 350 metres to the summit. As we trudged along, without our heavy packs on our back, progress was fast. We climbed the last steady incline leading towards the structure at the top. That was the trig station set up to pin-point the highest point on the Malayan mainland.....G Tahan [ Top picture]
We reached the very peak of Tahan in the later morning of that day round about 10 am. It was a historic moment for all of us and for Singapore mountaineering and adventuring.
Bottom photo:
L to R: Top row - Twang, Francis, Dick
Bottom row - Yam Tee, Louis, Tng, Ahmad,Yeow Huat, Han Chew and Jesudason.
All the 6 NJC guys had their college emblem proudly displayed either on their shirts or jeans.
And me....I was the 1st Scout and warranted Scout Leader from Singapore to set foot on the peak. I carried and wore our Singapore Scout scarf proudly at the summit.
We felt a great sense of relief that we had together achieved what we had set out to do. It was a momentous
day in our life, that day.
With some time on our hand, we studied the landscape and simply enjoyed the geography around us. Then we spotted
what looked like diamonds among the rocks and in cracks on the rocky slopes. We had never before seen such "gems". This got us all excited.
[ More pics and story in next post]

Monday, March 17, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition,part 16....Seeing is Believing!

Thought I'd add one more photo before I do the post on the actual ascent to the peak of Tahan which will be featured with historic photos of the triumph. Would you believe it? Here we were higher than the drifting clouds around us, at an altitude of nearly 6000 ft and yet we looked like preparing for a beach swim! How come?
This photo showed us on the morning of Sat 19th April 1969, before the ascent of the peak. The temperature was soaring to the point where we could get sun-burnt. The other reason was we had endured a night of bitter cold sleeping in our tents on the exposed Padang plateau. But it was nevertheless a most memorable experience, never to be forgotten. So in a way, we welcomed the sun to warm us up a little after the previous night's cold while we got ready for the last leg of our ascent. That portion will take about 2 hours.
L to R: Francis, Dick Yip[me], Yam Tee, Balbir and Yeow Huat.
In my right hand I was holding a plastic Tupperware box. That box was very important as it contained all the medication, pills and tablets that I had described in my earlier posts. It was my duty as Chief medic to dispense the various kinds of tablets and pills to all ten of us in the morning, after breakfast. Looking back at all the happy and smiling faces, all in good health and peak condition, I guess I must have discharged my duties well.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition,part 15....More Padang Memories!

This was after breakfast on the early morning of Day 5, Saturday 19th April 1969. Want to know why we were all topless? Nothing sleazy going on. We all got up very early before sunrise. It was really cold up there in the exposed plateau of Padang. But as soon as the sun shone its face at us, without much cloud cover, with no canopy over our heads, the heat rose super fast...causing us to perspire a lot. We did not want to get overheated before we set off for the peak, a little while later. That was the tent the 5 of us slept in....and in that order too.

L to R:
Dick [me], Francis, Yeow Huat, Yam Tee and Twang.
Bottom Pic:
The other tent members from L to R:
Jesudasen, Louis, Balbir, Ahmad [our guide] and Tng. Squatting: Han Chew
Ahmad had his own tent.

Here is another interesting piece of nostalgia. Look closely at the top photo. Can you see me holding something in my right hand? Know what that is? It is a knife. Yes, a knife but no ordinary knife, mind you. That is a BOWIE knife. For readers who do not know anything about the history of this particular type of knife. Perhaps you may recall the story of Davy Crockett and the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, Texas. All 185 men, led by famous mountain men and freedom fighters such as Davy Crockett, William Travis, Capt Dickenson and Jim Bowie defended the fort to the last men, against a vastly superior force of 5000 Mexicans led by Gen Santa Anna. They all died....including Jim Bowie, who was famous for both his knife fights and the highly regarded knife that he wielded....the Bowie knife, named after him.
It is a very solid, firm, sharp knife with a blade that is almost half a cm thick. Unlike, the flimsy scout knife usually made of cast iron[ my scout pals and I have broken many in our time], this Bowie is of solid steel.
This treasured knife is still with me today.

Friday, March 14, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition,part 14....the 3 wise men of Padang

This 4 decade old colour photo showed the 3 of us, from L to R, Balbir Singh, Dick Yip[ me] and Twang Peck Ee looking like 3 wise men in the remote Padang plateau. Behind us, in the background, is the Tahan ridge. We were looking at the beautiful setting sun far to the horizon in the west. This picture was taken on the 4th Day of actual climb...April 18th 1969. We had made remarkable progress since we started off from Kuala Tahan trailblazers. It was a tremendous blessing that we managed to arrive at this Padang plateau, set up camp, recover from our most exhausting efforts, and be able to sit down in relative peace and tranquility to enjoy the sheer, raw beauty and splendour of nature in the mountains.
More importantly, having arrived at this place Padang, in good time and with all our equipment in order and with no serious injuries or illness to worry about, we were supremely confident that our ultimate objective....conquest of Tahan peak, will be accomplished the next morning.
We had time on our hand to enjoy and study the landscape of the Padang campsite that evening.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 13...Sweet Memories of Padang camp

Some photographs that will forever rekindle the sweet and nostalgic memories of our unique
experience camping at Padang, under the shadow of Gunung the background.

This was early dawn on the 5th Day, April 19th 1969. Breakfast was cooked in our curry pot sitting atop the Bluet gas cooker. A clear picture of our makeshift tent set-up on right. Vegetation was sparse. All in high spirits enjoying a joke or two. The peak of Tahan is above a standing Francis, nearest to our tent.
L to R:
Balbir(standing), me[Dick], Tng, Han Chew all seated, Yeow Huat( standing), Twang(seated), Yam Tee(standing), Louis(seated and eating from mess tin)
and Francis (standing). Jesudasen was the picture-taker.
The grounds at Padang were soft and soggy in parts. There were small streams that contain brownish water around our campsite. Though the water was brownish due to the peaty soil conditions, it was pure and clean. The air was the freshest we've experienced thus far. In the early morning, the descending mists came upon us with the peculiar fragrance of the trees and plants that were all around us on the mountain slopes and the valleys. It was a most welcoming kind of fragrance to be enveloped by while we ate our breakfast.
The previous night was cold. I remember the howling winds blowing across the flat plateau, making our tents flapped. This campsite, so high up in the Tahan mountain range, made us feel very secure. No humans around. No wild animals did we see . There were birds. Definitely no signs of human civilisation. We were in such a remote area and at that time higher than anyone else, that night, in West Malaysia.
That night we truly enjoyed cooking and having our dinner under the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen. There were literally "millions of stars" up there. Being a trained scout and then still a scouter of the 6th Arrow Scout Group, Victoria School, I was familiar with star-gazing and could clearly point out the Southern Cross and the Orion cluster, amongst others , to our party.

The night sky above us was truly like a magical fairyland of lights. I remember singing this campfire song up there...without my ukelele though............

" There's a million stars a gleaming

And a crescent's over there

There's a billy can a steaming

Smell of supper in the air

There's a log fire burning brightly

Though the night air may be damp

And our hearts are singing lightly

For we Tahanners are in camp "

ps: Now whenever you read about or hear about the term"Tahanners", you need not
have to guess about its origin....for it was 1st sung right up there at Camp Padang on
the starry,starry night of Friday, April 18th 1969.... the eve of our historic ascent of
G Tahan.

Monday, March 10, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 12....Our 1st Sighting of G Tahan

DAY 4 of ACTUAL CLIMB - Friday, April 18th 1969.

Wray's Camp to Padang
Photo Top: This was me next to our tent with G Tahan in the background.
Everyone had removed his haversack, after overcoming 2 very tough, steep peaks....Gunung Pankin [1463m ] and Gunung Tangga Lima Belas [1539m] and this one we were having a major rest on, Gunung Reskit. These 3 peaks are on a ridge-crest known as Skeat's Ridge...named after William Skeat ,who in 1899 reached this point but failed to progress further in an early Tahan attempt.
The tree[next to Tng] with twisted deep-furrowed
trunks and tiny elliptical the easily recognisable gelam bukit or Leptospermum flavescens.
Photo : Left to right:
Ahmad ( our guide), Francis, Twang lying down, Me( Dick Yip), TngKG (standing), Balbir, Han Chew, Yeow Huat(hidden),Louis and Yam Tee. Picture -taker ....Jesudasen.
The climb from Wray's camp to our eventual objective Padang required much of our expertise, energy and teamwork. There is no water again up the ridge. We will not have any resupply of water until we reach our base camp at Padang. The challenge we faced was really tough. Climbing this ridge, going up and down, was very difficult made more so by certain sections having sheer verticals rock -face. Today, 4 decades later, ropes and in some sections, ladders are in place to aid climbers. We, as trail blazers, used our own ropes to traverse these difficult sections.
On this 4th Day of our expedition, after surviving our 1st cold night on a plateau, we were ready and looking forward to whatever was before us. Again Ahmad had reminded us to fill our water bottles to the brim. We lightened our load a little by burying another cache of food for the return leg. Then with Ahmad in the lead we started off early...heading for the next steep incline, northwards.
We were on top of Gunung Pankin after about an hour's hard climbing. The view from the top was most rewarding. After a short rest, we headed for our next peak ....Gunung Tangga Lima Belas. It took about an hour and a half to overcome this section which included a steep 30 ft high vertical drop, using only the roots of trees, shrubs and rock edges as foot and hand holds. It was precarious. One tiny slip and it may be Sayonara forever! On reaching the top of this peak we had another major rest, consumed water and looked at the vegetation around us. Everything seemed shorter...the trees,plants and shrubs.
Our spirits remained high as we trudged on towards Gunung Reskit, going down first before making the steep up slope climb towards the peak on the ridge. It took us more than an hour before we finally made it to the flat top of G Reskit [ See photo above]. It had taken us more than 4 hours since we started off from our campsite to arrive at this point. It was worth it though we were all very exhausted with aching bodies and constant thirst. The early morning cold had evaporated replaced by scorching heat on the exposed ridge. There was no more jungle canopy over our heads. The cool air provided some relief. In the photo, you can see that Tng had removed his shirt and was standing bare body. So too had I. Our shirts were all drenched in sweat. I removed mine as I wanted to feel the natural goodness of cool mountain air on my body.
" Berapa jauh lagi boleh-lah kita nampak G tahan?" [ how far more to go before we can sight Tahan?], we asked Ahmad. " Sudah dekat-lah! Lepas Gunung Gedong boleh nampak."[ Very near lah! After we reach G Gedong you can see Tahan]. We were obviously cheered and rejuvenated by his reply. We had no reasons not to believe him, his inimitable ways notwithstanding.
So we pushed on in perfect weather conditions, rather dry and hot, due more to our exertions, towards the next objective .....G Gedong at 1830 metres in altitude. But we had to again descend first to a steep gully and from there make an uphill climb towards a small summit called Gunung Tangga Dua Belas. The gully we traversed was sheltered and moist, with taller trees growing. On the ridge, it was more exposed and trees were shorter and stunted.
After about 2 solid hours of tough climbing we were on top of Gunung Gedong. And the view from there was simply spectacular and breathtaking! We took some snapshots but these, as well as many others from the expedition, did not survive the conditions[ the films were damaged on the return leg of the river crossing]. The vegetation here was quite similar to G Reskit, except perhaps, more rocky. We looked around at all the surrounding peaks and excitedly asked Ahmad which one is G Tahan. Much to our chagrin and temporary disappointment we couldn't see G Tahan even from that high point. We would need to descend first and come around to another angle or side of the mountain slope before G Tahan appears.
We wasted no time in moving off. It only took about half an hour to descend Gedong and while descending, Ahmad stopped all of us midway and pointed to a peak in the distance, " Itu-lah Gunung TAHAN !"[ That is G TAHAN! ]. We stared long and hard at it. It was actually along a ridge...the peak to the right. That 1st sighting of G TAHAN has remained indelible in my memory. Ahmad also pointed out our final destination....the Padang campsite, about 300 m below. There was actually no campsite back then in all the places we camped at. We were trailblazers, remember? We picked a spot to make our camp is a more apt description. For us, it was all virgin territory.
Down in the valley we went, feeling heady,relieved and exhilarated. Padang [ field] as the name implies, is situated in an undulating, open plateau that is quite huge in size. Ahmad led us to a spot where we set up camp. I looked around and saw rolling hills and valleys and other surrounding mountain peaks....reminding me of the story of Shangrila. We had made a most unexpected and remarkable progress in our mountain expedition. Originally, we had scheduled for a 6 day ascent and 4 day descent. Yet here we were, on the 4th Day, at the base of G Tahan.
Incredible! Unbelievable! And it was still early in the afternoon as we took our time to relax, set up camp and enjoy the sheer magic of that place. We had much time to joke and laugh after all that we had endured. We had arrived in one piece too...a Blessing.
Top Photo:
This was yours truly 40 years ago. The peak of G Tahan is at the top right of
the photo. I was standing beside our makeshift tent shelter at our final base
camp at Padang. This snapshot was taken in the early the cold winds started to blow and mists were gathering around our campsite. The altitude here is about 17oo metres. Evening temperatures can drop to about 10 degrees C while night time the temp can go as low as 4 degrees C. A good jacket is essential in these parts and I was wearing one.
[ story will continue in next post ]

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ist Tahan Expedition, part 11... K Teku - Wray's Camp

Day 3 - Thursday, April 17th 1969
[ story continues from part 10 ]

Kuala Teku - Wray's Camp
Left : Crossing our last river towards Sungei Teku. That's me on the extreme left gingerly walking over the rocks and boulders.

Right : In some parts the water was waist deep. This river is the Sungei Tahan.

The river crossings got us all wet but it was a welcome change of scenario from the exertions on the ridge. The water was cool, clear and inviting and together with the boulders washed down from the upper reaches presented a truly magnificent sight. A natural history photographer's paradise. It was really beautiful. But alas, I was neither an expert photographer nor had I the camera equipment or the luxury of time on my hand, to do justice to all the wonderful sights and scenes that came our way. However, these 1969 original photos of ours are the earliest that I've come across, so far.

When we finally reached Kuala was a sight too beautiful to describe in words. The scenery before and around us was simply majestic! This was a fast-flowing river....the water, coming from the surrounding mountains, rushing down in swirls of frothy bubbles and eddies, over giant boulders in the midst of the river. We were in awe of that place truly. The beauty and splendour of the natural settings here is a testimony of God's gift to us....mother nature at its very best!

We had a major rest stop here and cooked up some lunch. We buried more of our food supply and carefully marked the spot for our return journey from the peak. We had half a day more of tough climbing after lunch. We did not know it back then but all modern climbers will know today....the real ascent to Gunung Tahan begins from this point, after K Teku.

Kuala Teku - Wray's Camp [Gunung Pondok Dua ]
The elevation at K Teku is 168 metres. From this elevation, we will climb to an altitude of 1,100 metres in one continuous, steady climb.....taking about 4-5 hours. It was gruelling as the inclination here ranges between 45 - 75 degrees, very steep indeed. But despite all these, we were well-trained and well prepared for exactly these sort of challenges. We brought along our own climbing ropes all rolled up nicely in neat coils attached to our packs. We had to use some of these aids to clamber over steep, rocky trails.
As we progressed higher and higher, I noticed a change in the vegetation. We passed by large trees such as the Seraya [ Shorea curtisii ] with their reddish-brown trunks and big buttresses. Then came the Conifers and Oak trees further ahead. Yes, there were Oak trees then with their acorns on the ground nearby. Then even more dramatic changes we saw and experienced. The air became cooler. The atmosphere was quieter. Only birds and monkeys calls were heard.

Closer to our objective and nearer the peak, I noticed there were more ferns, moss and stunted trees. The ground felt soggy, soft and slippery. We were above the 1000 m [3000 + ft ] altitude level. Soon after, our guide Ahmad called a halt for the day. It was already very late in the evening with little sunlight left. We were actually on top of a flat spur....Wray's Camp. There was not a single signboard anywhere in the jungle since we left the Park Hqrs and there wasn't one here too. Whatever location we were in, we simply did not know until we asked Ahmad. This spot....Wray's Camp was named after an early Tahan explorer named Leonard Wray. He was the co-leader of the 1st botanical survey expedition of G Tahan in 1905.

We set up camp right there on the flat piece of spur, surrounded by the stunted trees. Since we began the ascent about 5 hours ago, our water level was very low. There was no water source on the way up. We had to find a water source somehow as dinner must be prepared. In no time at all we had our 2 tents up but we had secure them carefully as the night winds might be very strong. We also needed a bath or at least a washdown after all our exertions. We asked Ahmad where we could locate a water source. He pointed out the direction...slightly to the west from where we go down the slope for about 10 minutes and we should find a small stream. Meanwhile it slowly got dark, the sun had sunk below the far horizon. And it was getting cold. Ahmad was either setting up his own tent or cooking when all 10 of us decided to go look for the stream down the side of the valley. This was the 1st time we were travelling in the darkness of the jungle. I took out the few packets of Chinese firecrackers....similar to those we set off at Chinese New Year period, passed them around, lighted them and threw them in front of us as we descended. The noise from the explosions were deafening in the stillness of the night. Any dangerous animals in the vicinity would have run helter-skelter. That was actually our intention. We were warned that many tigers still roamed the Tahan area.
We found the stream and the water was very cold. We spent some time cleaning up and refilling our water stock. In all it took us about 40 minutes or so before we came back up. Then everyone went about their tasks....preparing a hot dinner, warm drinks, a campfire to warm us up. While we were all busy, I realised that no sound came from Ahmad's tent. Curious...I went to check. My Goodness! He was inside his tent covered with a sarong [ cloth] and was literally trembling! I asked him what happened? He replied he was very afraid and frightened as he was unwittingly left alone at the top while we went to locate the stream. He did not realise that we had all gone off....rather quietly and suddenly. Ahmad said it was not good to be alone in the jungle at night as spirits abound.
He made us promise not to leave him alone again. He was also greatly frightened by all the noise from the firecrackers. He had never experienced that before! We really felt very sorry for him. It was entirely unintentional on our part to push his emotional safety past breaking point. So we apologised and gave him warm drinks and food around our firecircle. It was my duty as Chief medic to also ensure the good health of our only guide besides the group members.
We sat around the fire circle having our dinner and enjoyed looking up into the clear night sky. It was so pure and clear we could see millions of twinkling stars above us in every direction!

But the best view was still the peak of Gunung Tahan.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 10....DAY 3 of ACTUAL CLIMB

Thursday, April 17th 1969...... Day 3 of Climb

Kuala Puteh to Kuala Teku
At our campsite, by the river we took out more canned foodstuff to be buried for the return leg of the expedition. On this 3rd morning, spirits were high for 2 good reasons. One was the weather was quite kind to us mostly dry, with no heavy downpour making movements less slippery and treacherous in the jungle. The 2nd was everyone seemed in good shape and condition, that morning, including Tng KG and our guide [ most important!]. Tng's recovery in particular, restored full confidence to our optimism, hopes and dreams...that we will succeed in our historic quest.


Top: I captured this snapshot with Tng in front followed behind by the others wading into the Tahan river. Immediately behind Tng, in dark outfit was Francis Lee, whose NJC emblem can still be clearly seen on his shirt. Right at the rear, scratching his ear was Twang PE.

Bottom: Another river crossing of the Sungei Tahan. We had to cross 7 such river points over 6 km before reaching our 1st destination Kuala Teku.

Our trek from K Puteh to K Teku was relatively less torturous than the previous day's climb. There was more variety to the terrain in this portion of the journey. The trail headed inland over sharp spurs and rocky gullies, going up and then down, crossing and re-crossing the Sungei Tahan a few times, before finally reaching the Sungei Teku.

The points where we crossed over the rivers were up to waist deep in parts. After each crossing and as soon as we waded to the opposite bank we would all removed our packs, roll down our socks to check for leeches.....for this is "leech" country.

Leeches are skinny,little tiny thing about 1 cm in length when they are crawling around in the wet, damp places. After they attached themselves onto you and suck on your blood their size can be quite large. Everyone checked and no one was immuned. All of us had leeches on our bodies...on our legs, armpits, groin area, etc... . They are very clever. Their "bites" cause no pain nor feeling at all since they are suckers. How did we deal with them? Never pull them off by force. That will cause the wound to bleed for some time. Simply burn them off by applying a fire to it. That way, the wound will close up fast by itself.

I remember we were all individually trying to count the number of leech bites we each we progressed along the trek. If my memory serves me well... the highest total was around 28 !But I cannot now recall who held that record. Ha Ha. It wasn't me or Ahmad....that much I'm certain.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Mas Selamat Great Escape...How did he elude capture?

1st Question - How did he escape from such a "secure"
detention centre under the noses of his guards ?
The authorities have yet to release any details so far. Only DPM Wong K S has said his escape took place in the space of only a few minutes. Incredible! This chap M S must rank with the Best of those who made real, fantastic escapes from prison camps. Many such great escapes are now stuff of legends...written into books and epitomised in movies.
Since none of us on the outside are any wiser...let's be patient and leave the explanation to some red-faced fella to tell us.
2nd Question - How has he eluded Capture so far? Thousands of policeman, elite forces, tracker dogs, and other auxilliary forces have thrown cordons around the immediate vicinity of escape and Bt Batok nature reserve to name a few places. They have conducted searches everywhere. EVERYWHERE???
No....sorry, not everywhere. They were searching only in places they thought he might be hiding out.
This is where M S outwitted far.
MS is an incorrigible, trained terrorist who spent much time [ 2 terms ] in Afghanistan. He received training from the Taliban and the Al Qaeda cells operating openly over there. You can be sure that the training included how to escape from prison centres and after that, how to elude capture.
Those of you familiar with the true story of "The Great Escape"movie starring Steve McQueen, James Coburn and other top stars will recall that it took place in a German POW camp. They were in enemy territory without the advantage of knowing the local language, geography, culture, no helpful local network etc... to aid their escape. Thus it wasn't surprising that most were recaptured and executed. Still, a handful made it and much can be learnt from these and other successes....both ways, how to escape and elude capture and how to prevent the same from happening.
MS had been incarcerated for a few years in Indonesia and then here in S'pore.
He has had too much time on his hands to plan his escape...possibly with the help of the existing J I network here or some "fringe" players and likely with secret communications filtered through his family meetings at the centre or worse, some other means. could he remain undetected in the face of such massive searches ?
To answer that....we need to go into his mind, to "think like he would and act as he could have".
The SOP of our forces in such an eventuality is no guessing game to him.
The JI members, many from our own S'pore, know everything there is to know about SAF and Police procedures, even Immigration procedures etc... How they would likely respond.
If he knew all that, with his cunning, he would have in place a pre-arranged post- escape RENDEZVOUS pick up point/place....which was already relayed to his network through...[?], way before the actual escape took place.
All it required was for him to remain in hiding, in a secluded place where tracker dogs cannot find his smell or trail.....until the predetermined time..., quietly emerge under cover of darkness at the pre-agreed location, be immediately whisked away preferably in a closed van....and to a temporary safe haven within S'pore still. If his operatives missed him on the 1st attempt..due perhaps to the presence of police, they would have arranged for a 2nd attempt, perhaps the next night and so on. All it takes is a few minutes or even seconds for that to happen...the whisking away! And he's gone...disappeared into thin air !
The only place near Whitley Detention Centre where tracker dogs may lose the scent of an escapee is.........THE BUKIT TIMAH CANAL !!!
adjoining "tributary" sunken drains large enough to hide anyone for sometime in their deep recesses within.
From the hidden spot, one can easily move out for a late night pick -up as the main road is beside the canal ! Too convenient ! Both Bt Timah and Dunearn Road have very convenient pick -up points for vehicles.
A week has passed by and I have not seen any searches in the canals yet. It already may be too late....or is it???
Wise Owl

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Huge Manhunt for an escaped Terrorist...and what I think.

On the same day J I leader Mas Selamat escaped from the Whitley Road Detention Centre at 4.10 pm, something peculiar also took place 4 hours before.
A Singapore postoffice van, with its engine left running at the Woodlands Civic Centre was stolen or driven away. Until as I'm posting this, the van has not been seen and many days have passed. A van or vehicle being stolen on any other day sounds ordinary. But on a day when the top local JI terrorist made an incomprehensible escape right under the noses of our ISD operated detention centre.... now that seems uncanny and strange, especially it is a govt postal van. Just ask yourself when was the last time you heard of a postal van being stolen? I've never come across such a happening so in S'pore.It is also rather unusual for such a van that is clearly indentifiable and well-marked to remain unseen and not recovered in our teeny-weeny island....especially with our more than 16,000 police force and thousands more SAF personnel. The police have not said if the 2 incidents are linked. They can't as they have no other concrete info possibly.
What the police could still do is to provide a complete photo of the Singpost van since there are many models of vans to keep the public on the lookout...for this vehicle. No doubts, the van would have been repainted in only a few hours and fitted with false number plates.
But it is unlikely that its shape can be altered that drastically. There is a possibility that the 2 incidents might be linked. And if that be the case we need to ask ourselves what are they planning...making a rendezvous with M S and squirrel him out of our island, with all exit points tightly guarded? Not very clever right?
But....the JI has yet to set off an explosion here in Singapore.
That is a fact and is common knowledge to them, to their operatives, their leaders and also to us.
They just might want to change all that. If they can create some terrible mayhem or disaster soon....that might just be enough distraction to allow M S the chance to really escape in the chaos and confusion.
When the large fleet of Japanese planes approached Pearl Harbour to attack and bomb the US fleet stationed there on Dec 7 was no surprise ! It could have been prevented. The US coastguard and radar operators had spotted the planes on their screen way before they descended on Hawaii to rain death and destruction upon all.
So, what happened?
They....the radio/radar operators ASSUMED TOO MUCH !
They presumed that these were their "own" planes returning from some air exercise. They assumed wrongly, with fatal consequences, that enemy planes could not have reach so far in such large numbers!
Even those above them responsible for assessing this info added to the fiasco.
History has shown us time and time again....not to assume too much.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Better to err on the side of more caution, consider all leads and angles,
than to be led into" impossible for the JI" to do this or that nonsense.
Remember 9/11 fiasco by the US intelligence ? Remember the Bali bombings? No need to restate again.
If I were any of you.....
I'd be very cautious and careful about this missing postvan.
The Bali bombers used such vans too.....packed with deadly explosives.
Areas frequented by expatriates have been marked as good targets by JI.
In S'pore....a few such places like Holland V, SG Gardens, and Lau Pa Sat
can be potential targets, just to name a few. The crowded MRT stations too.
Be Alert, Be Watchful and Be on your guard!
[ Watch out for More pertinent questions and points in my next post.]
Wise Owl