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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Longest Day

Messner's account on climbing Mount Nuang.

Feelings of regret were beginning to fill my heart as I watched Chris struggling in pain just to take a few steps. It was only the Sunday before that I persuaded her to join this climb of Selangor's highest mountain. Nuang has a reputation for being a tough mountain but I was confident that Chris could do it, as she exercises regularly. Have I made a wrong judgment call?

Boring, never ending road.

Night had fallen and the 5 of us were moving slowly along what is famously known as the "Boring, Never ending road". It certainly felt very much that way then, I mean the never ending part. There was no energy left to feel bored. We were the last of 17 climbers apart from the Boey family of 5. They came specifically to assist us at KG's last minute call the day before for help. What camaraderie! They had earlier climbed a hill in Broga and then came over to Nuang, had in fact waited at Pacat camp for close to 5 hours for the last few of us to descend.

Boey and his two sons with Messner (white T-Shirt)

Boey and his two older boys, Calvin and Daniel accompanied and supported us. It was comforting to have them. Our eyes kept looking out for familiar landmarks to indicate that we are nearing the end of the road, looking for pine but only saw bamboo trees. Fireflies were hovering around and one even managed to get itself swallowed by David earlier, which could possibly explain how he got his second wind and covered the last stretch so quickly despite a twisted ankle.... he had fire within him.

We met Jason here at Puncak Pengasih.

It has been a long day...15 hours of hiking since 6.30am. Jason was the point man, taking the lead and marking the route with pieces of plastic tapes tied at strategic locations and shredded paper along the trail. It was good to have him, efficient, reliable, dependable and strong, which earned him the nickname "Camel" on an earlier hike of G3. Boey and I wondered how this man could do all that he did, and that without training!!!. He was fast too, covering the distance to the top within a very respectable 4 hours 45 minutes, followed closely behind by SK, fondly referred to by her husband KL as 'tigress'. KL did well, though a bit unsure of himself earlier on.

KL who referred to his wife as 'tigress'.

Chris, at the start of the never ending road.

The walk in from the base right to the end of the never ending road took me 90 minutes covering a distance of 5km. Although I have walked this road a number of times, I never did remember that it was going uphill and downhill, certainly not a casual stroll in the park. For those unfit, they would be panting and huffing and some may even think of giving up. Nevertheless it was a good warming up which could possibly explain why many of us did not feel as much muscle ache after the climb, as compared to after climbing Ledang.

KG, Eunice, Chris, David and myself were covering the back most of the way up. Weather was good, much to the relief of Eunice, that dear fellow climber, and of course the rest of us. She only decided to come if and only if it didn't rain the day before. You see, the rain would bring out more leeches, something which triggers a panic reaction in her. Chris was also afraid of them until she actually saw one...her first remark was 'huh, this is a leech? I should have known earlier'. She expected the leech to look like something out of the Rambo movie, those round shaped thingy that sticks to you and sucks all the blood out. So a giant was slain that day. Eunice's prayer that no leech would get to her worked. She saw 6 but none got to her. Courtesy of Nuang, KG and I got one each. Hmmm...call it hiking fee, donate some blood. Some even insisted in taking photograph of the creature sucking blood from my calf!.

Hiking fees in the form of donating blood :)

Along this road, I went ahead and caught up briefly with Radzi and Ismail, two friendly gentlemen who joined our group for the first time. They were preparing for Mt K the following month. Well, I shall say they are ready for it. I didn't see them again until they were descending from the summit while I was on the way up. They made good time. Apart from them, the other newcomers were Ah Fatt (Chih's friend), Brandon and Chan, young men who were way in front.

That's one thing about mountain climbing which I welcome very much. We get to meet many new people and hit off at the first meeting. Climbing somehow brings people together, regardless of race, religion, social status or otherwise. Some have become close buddies.

The trek to Lolo campsite was uneventful enough. Many campers were around. The usual greetings followed. I noticed that someone had removed the arrow sign pointing to the left indicating that the trek up is across the river. We almost made a mistake during Nuang 2, if not for that sign. We did the 4 river crossings easily enough, since the water levels were low.

Uncle Loke & Jack

Pretty soon we caught up with Jack and his father Uncle Loke. Uncle Loke is a springy elderly gentleman in his 60s who would put any young man to shame. He walked up Nuang with no sweat, sup sup water as they say. I mean he WALKED... while the rest of us CLIMBED. I wondered whether some people are just naturally physically gifted for such activity. On the other hand, Jack appeared to be struggling. I touched base with him and found that his last climb was KK in March, which KG and I organised. It was good to see a father and son team doing a climb together. Nowadays how often do people do that?

Praying for Jack.

We did not know it then but today we would get to know Jack a little better. It was obvious that the lack of training was taking its toll on him as he plodded along. Just after Pacat campsite, Jack suffered a back ache and decided to turn around. It must have been a difficult decision having come so far. But an injury to the back is not something that anyone should risk. We said a prayer for him before he descended with his father.

KG in his usual element..

My buddy KG was in his usual element, surpassing himself again. Having completed a 21km half marathon the Sunday before within a respectable time, following an Angsi climb on Saturday, he certainly was in tip top condition. I daresay the best I have known him to be in since many moons ago when we started our climbing adventures. I still remember that defining conversation we had about climbing Mt K in Jan 2007 which precipitated all our climbing activities till today... We still enjoy the planning and strategising and the preparations, and the satisfaction of seeing others summit peaks, pushing their limits and beyond and discovering for themselves the joy of mountain climbing.

He assisted Eunice by carrying her backpack all the way up and down and assisted any others who may need help along the way. He will say it's his training for G1. Along the way before Pacat, Chan had fallen back because of a cramp. He could not proceed further even after KG has applied medicated spray on his thigh. Chris and I met Chan that way, seated on the ground, resting, the others having left for the summit. Initially I could not recognise him since it was still dark when we met at the base. By that time Chris was having a struggle of her own. She kept wanting to stop and not proceed further. Somehow she found that her leg muscles had no strength.

KG massaging Chan's leg after applying medicated spray

I told her I cannot just leave her on her own. When she saw Chan, she quickly and happily seized the opportunity to say that she could stay with Chan until we came down. I told her no, that it would be better that she rested at Pacat campsite. She reluctantly plodded on. I found out that she had only 2 hours of sleep the night before (or more accurately that morning itself) and only 1 piece of bread. Perhaps it is the lack of energy due to insufficient food that was causing her trouble, I suggested. Along the way she took 2 energy bars.

After seemingly an endless climb up, we finally reached Pacat at around 10.30am, 4 hours later. Not bad time considering the pace we were moving and more importantly we were still within target of the summit. However, in view of Chris' performance so far, I was prepared to let her stop at Pacat and stay with her. KG on the other hand, felt she should go on at least until the next stop at Puncak Pengasih or otherwise known as the False Peak. Chris herself I was sure may have remained at Pacat if not for the fact that she felt it was unfair for me, if I were to miss out on the chance to summit because of her.

Jason, helping Chris when she almost reached Puncak Pengasih

It turned out to be the right decision for her to continue climbing and as they say, the rest is history or rather 'her story'. Chris began to climb better and better from Pacat onwards although she was sorely tempted to follow Jack and his dad down. The stretch from Pacat to Pengasih is one of the most difficult parts of Nuang or of any mountain I have climbed, more difficult than KFC of Ledang. I would call it root climbing. And yet Chris was doing very well. From then on I had no doubt she would reach the summit. At the False Peak about 12.30pm we met KG and Jason, and they were contemplating that Jason should go down to assist us. Jason, by the way, had summited at 11.23am and descended back to False Peak (about 1 hour from the summit) to provide assistance without being asked to do so. Wow...I can say very few climbers would do that, even if asked. I am sure a word of appreciation to Jason is in order here. He certainly lived up to his reputation. From then on Jason assisted Chris to the summit and carried her backpack.

David, resting at the peak after a long climb.

We finally reached the summit at about 1.30pm, approximately 7 hours later and well within the turnaround time of 2pm. Kudos to all who summited and those who didn't, don't give up. Many congratulations were passed around together with the shaking of hands. I found David sitting there snugly and having his lunch, wearing on his face the most satisfied look and savouring the moment. We shared his joy. I congratulated KL Chan, who was probably pleasantly surprised he made it despite his earlier doubts.

KG, Chris, Eunice and myself

And of course to Eunice and Chris, who have overcome personal fears and physical challenges, I am proud of you both. Scaling a peak means more than just physical achievement. For to some it is pushing beyond one's perceived limits and fears, breaking forth and finding new grounds in oneself, a sort of self discovery.

Uncle Loke and Jake made it!!

While we were all relishing the time at the summit, just before 2pm, someone brought us the news that Jack and his father were on the way up!! He sent his heralds before him! Lo and behold... what a great comeback and grand entrance (did he plan all this??? Haha) (psst KG jokingly has this theory that his father must have given Jack a piece of his mind on the descent that got Jack to turn around...). I believe Jack had the steely determination to summit. He has demonstrated that mark of a 'no quitter' so essential to any climbing adventure and the making of a true mountain climber. We were all so glad and happy for him and his father.

A great climber once said, 'Going up is optional but coming down is mandatory'. So began our descent. KG, Eunice, Chris and I were the last to go down, at about 2.30pm, 30 minutes beyond our turnaround time. We felt that it was ok to do so having that sense of control. And as any experienced mountain climber would tell you, the descent is more dangerous and many an incident has taken place on the way down.

An hour and half down, after Pengasih, I slipped as I was turning around to take a step down. It was a smooth piece of root that was positioned like a step. It happened so fast that I did not have time to react. My ribs took the full impact as they came in contact with that piece of root. Uugh! I went backwards and landed on my backpack. For a couple of minutes it took the wind out of me. KG was behind and quickly came over. I couldn't reply him initially. I found out later that I had a small crack on one of the ribs. Thank God it was only a crack. Doc Wong, a fellow climber whom I consulted, said it was not serious and I would recover fully in a month. Well, I try not to dwell on what could have happened.

David slipped and fell..

The descent otherwise was uneventful until David's left foot took a twist at the Lolo dam river crossing. Boey skilfully dressed up that foot and David found himself able to walk comfortably again, though perhaps now with much more caution.

Boey helped David with his twisted ankle and said a word of prayer.

On the way out, I reflected on that incident. Could I have avoided it? Even the question of why I am climbing mountains came across my mind. Not surprising after such an incident while walking on the never ending road in the night.

Yes, perhaps I could have avoided it. But I believe I was not reckless. I reasoned that with Nuang at certain sections of it, we have to treat it like crossing a highway, rather than a trunk road. Raised the level of care. Would I climb again? Probably yes. Apart from the sense of personal achievement and also the satisfaction of seeing others succeed, there is a bonding that forms between climbers who truly stick out for each other, as amply demonstrated by the Boey family, Jason, David and my buddy KG and the rest of the team which I was not there to witness, that would draw me back...

Chris started out with KG, Eunice and Daniel, but later fell back because her knees were hurting.

Back to Chris... it was now about 9.45pm and she was not making much progress. Her legs were in pain. According to Daniel's GPS calculation, we were still about 1.7km from the base. A long long distance.. Chris confessed later that she would not be able to walk anymore and did not know how she was going to get out. KG later told me that all the bikers he approached at the base had one excuse or another. Finally, and probably by divine intervention, a biker coming along the road agreed to stop and gave Chris a lift out at a price.

We managed to exit the never ending road about 10.15pm. Finally, the end to a very long day. Chris slept fitfully in the car. KG took over the driving cos I was almost knocked out. And can you believe it.....3 days later Chris is thinking of climbing Nuang again!!! By the way, she is already in her 60s but on that mountain peak that day, I would not be surprised if she felt 18 again. Well, that's what she answered when people kept calling her auntie and asking her age during the climb.

Finally, I must say that if not for my buddy KG's foresight of getting Jason & the Boey family in, this climb could have turned out much differently. Kudos to him... the consummate planner, who analyses all angles to a climb and who firmly believes that a major disaster is usually the result of many small (by themselves, inconsequential) mistakes coming together at the wrong time.


Unknown said...

Peter, you said it all for me...my summit of Nuang is testament of your giving a part of yourself to fellow aspiring climbers like me..thanks for being beside me, in front of me, behind me...all the way. Yup, I've experienced the close bond among climbers...regardless.

Christina said...

Good job Aunty Chris, wery inspiring. I salute you.

Will alwiz support you (in spirit only) lol!!!

Anonymous said...

This is Radzi! Remember me? I enjoyed your posting on Gunung Nuang. Different peole have different experience in climbing Gunung Nuang. I enjoyed it a lot. At first, it looks more like the rest of other trails in Angsi and Datok, been there done that. However, from Kem Pacat it became interesting and this stretch really defines what Naung is! I really enjoyed the hiking from Kem Pacat. However, my hiking buddy, he had a different experience, he sprained his ankle on the way down. That accident slowed us down a lot! Anyway, we completed it in slightly less than 11 hours! Never Ending Road is a story by itself, and you thought you had reached the foothill and that's it... the 1.5hours of walking along the never ending road requires mental strength. I kept telling myslef, don't look at the watch and enjoy the walk back!! Gruelling and Enjoyable climbing trip! It requires endurance and mental strength too! And I'll definitely do Nuang again!

Unknown said...

Radzil, I was telling others that if pay me, I 'd never do Nuang again...lol but now...emmm...can consider, can consider

Ms DD said...

helo fren.. this saturday i will go gunung nuang.. training for KK hiking.. it is ok?

euniceta said...

Hi Monavie,

I think Nuang is a lot tougher than KK. :)