WHAT is your once-in-a-lifetime experience? For a family of three, with ages ranging from 13 to 65, it’s trekking up the Himalayas. To the Annapurna Base Camp to be precise, commonly referred to as “ABC”.
But trekking up was no walk in the park, and certainly not as easy as ABC, as Johan, Julian and Stephanie found out last week. But, they came back cheerful, relaxed, grateful and with more self confidence than ever before. ABC is located 4,130m above sea level, about 100m more than Mount Kinabalu.
The three of them were part of the NEX Adventure and Columbia Expedition 100, an attempt to bring 100 Malaysians to ABC and get a mention in the Malaysian Book of Records.
The expedition was divided into several groups, each with a leader. The expedition leader is Shariman Said, whom everyone referred to as “Man Nepal”. Man Nepal and Adrian Lim formed NEX Adventure not too long ago, with the purpose of helping adventure seekers to live their dreams.
Of the three in the family, Stephanie had an extra lesson — battling acute mountain sickness, or AMS. But the 13-year old battled bravely and reached ABC with some help.
Stephanie was the youngest in the group and probably the thinnest, too! She’s into ballet, which explained why she kept her weight down. For mountain climbing, one has to have sufficient fat to sustain trekking up the freezing mountain.
This is her short version of the climb when I met her on Friday night: “We took a bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara for seven hours. It was freezing for me. The ride was very bumpy, like riding a horse as my brother called it. When we arrived, I was nervous for the hike the next day.
“When we started the hike the next day, I was still alright. We were singing and having fun. The AMS hit me in Deurali, which was on the fifth day of the expedition. The AMS hit me mildly at first, but Shariman kept encouraging me, which I’m grateful for.
“The next day, the sixth, I was nauseous during breakfast. I vomited six times on the day that we were supposed to make the final trek to ABC. I couldn’t make it that day.
“I had to be carried from Deurali to the next camp, Machhapuchhre. My legs were weak and I felt like I was dead. I decided to stay back with my dad, especially after listening to a couple who told me not to compromise my health.
“I’m also thankful to Ashok and Shoosan, who helped to carry me to Machhapuchre, where we stayed for one night.
“I continued trekking at 5am the next day. I wasn’t fully recovered from AMS, but I decided to continue trekking. The stars were beautiful! Simply stunning. We got to see the sunrise on the mountains. It was simply breathtaking.”
This was her first climb in the Himalayas. Credit goes to her determination and resolute character. Her earlier training as a triathlon athlete and the weekend climbs up back home had certainly been very useful.
Her brother, Julian, two years older, was stronger and made it to ABC with little trouble. Julian’s impression of the expedition: “It was a lot colder than I had expected. I had a hint of the cold from the breeze before we started trekking.
“After the terrifying bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, we started our actual trek from Siwai on day three of the expedition. There were lots of beautiful views of the mountains and valleys, like a long corridor.
“We pushed on until we reached ABC, the ultimate destination of the expedition. The views we saw would forever remain in my memory, with full clarity. It was such an enriching reward.
“I saw a great rouge sunset that we all feasted our eyes on. It was an experience of a lifetime that will be cherished forever in my mind.”
While the young teenagers have stories of their own, Johan the father had his, too: “My children’s bonding with one another gave me a lot of satisfaction. When Stephanie was down, Julian wanted to be together with her.
“But she insisted that Julian should go on. I later found out that the siblings had discussed this among themselves. At least one of them should go up and reach ABC.
“Julian joined a smaller group and was among the first to reach ABC. Tears were in my eyes, too, when I made it to ABC with Stephanie, trekking in the cold at 5am the next day! Her resolve and determination was unbelievable.
“This was indeed very reassuring to me — to know that she could stand on her own later in life when I’m long gone from this world. I like to think that this trip has helped make my children closer and appreciate what is before them even more. It’s all by Allah’s grace and blessing.
“There were four other ‘otais’ (elderly individuals) in the expedition. The oldest was 66, I’m 65 and the other two were 58 and 55. To me, they prove that trekking up to ABC is doable. Age is certainly not a barrier.
“Good preparation is the key. A lot of physical training is needed before the climb. My children and I had their mother to thank for, too. My wife, Stella, prepared the children mentally and she also packed our daily trek food and provisions in zip-lock plastic bags. We really needed the energy-giving food.”
Man Nepal gave a short assessment of the expedition: “The trip gave us the organisers plenty of lessons, too. Credit to all participants for their understanding and willingness to adapt to a totally different environment. Mind you, there were times when the temperature dropped to below zero!
“Their determination and teamwork contributed to the expedition’s success.”
The writer is chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia