Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections of 2012

It is that time of the year, when one takes stock of all the things that have been done (or not), events that happened, people who come into our lives, count our blessings and look forward to the next year.

2012, on hindsight (which is always 100% perfect), was an absolutely crazy year on all account. Every year I try to top the previous year, but this would be hard to match.

2012 was a pure running year for me. It was the first year that I did not have an ironman race, happy to hang up my goggles and bicycle and lace up my shoes instead. Trail running is my first love, the sense of being alive in nature is hard to beat. This was also the year that I started a new routine in my new home, having moved in auspiciously on 31-Dec-2010. I love love love being able to tumble out of bed, get dressed and hit the trail within 2min of my gate. I love my little 小山洞!

It was a year that I foolishly signed up for and completed my first 100k trail ultra at the HK Vibram 100. I missed the trophy cutoff by 50min, but still finished within the overall race time limit. It was a strong reminder to self about mental perseverance, I was that close to giving up at 60km, but thankfully did not. Then it was back to HK again within two weeks for our annual marathon and shopping pilgrimage. A few months later, I found myself at the Jeju 80km trail event. That was a tough race, and we were stopped at 50km. It was worth the experience, I had never expected to be running up Mt Halla, amongst colour-coordinated obasan-trekkers, nor to be skidding in snow and slush for a good part of the race. The next trail race was our local TNF100, where I managed to clock my PB for the 50km, kudos to the good weather.

The penultimate to end the year was my climb at Mt Chulu East (6,584m) in Nepal. We were extremely lucky to have missed the bad weather and snowfall by a day, and managed to summit and descend to Base Camp before the snow carpeted everything. I love being in the mountains.

Studies-wise, 2012 was also the year where my classmates and I decided to bite the bullet and take on a full load during the special semester. That meant attending classes 4 evenings per week, getting through the assignments and projects. Translated: absolutely no life, no dinners and huge stresses. We cramped the schedule and took our 8h-long Capstone exam. I was extremely surprised to be graded the Best Capstone Paper, that was a nice bonus. Four more months to graduation...!

Work was equally demanding, if not more, in 2012. Lots of traveling in the first half of the year, and many new projects which had no precedence to follow (= much brain-juicing for ideas). I also did my first 360-degree evaluation, and it was a sobering and humbling moment to read the report. But it was also a good opportunity to reflect on how to and areas of improvement. It was not an easy transition or learning curve, but I was glad to have the support of good colleagues and boss. It was also a year of thinking through what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and so forth. A lot of self-discovery, and learning to work with different people. The bright spark in work was the OD Certification Programme that I managed to get myself onto, after months of mulling. There was so much positive energy from the trainers, classmates, and knowledge to learn from everyone. No regrets being on the Programme.

On the personal and family front, many many events happened as well, which I would not openly pen here. Suffice to say, there were many sobering moments and reflections.

As the clock counts down to 2013 in another 5h, what would the new year bring?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Festive Running

Thank goodness for the long xmas and new year holidays. Happy to be out running the trails after our Nepal trip.

Pre-Xmas Sat: did my usual loop 22-23km

Pre-Xmas Sun: recee-d the BT trails for routes for a corporate climb that I'm organising. Ah-ha! Now I know where all the trails lead to and how they inter-connect! Including where the "Summit" trail from Wallace education centre goes. I've always ran past the opening but never knew where it went.

Xmas eve: again, my usual route

Xmas day: one more time, bliss

The weather has been gorgeous in the past week, cool and not too humid. Parts of the trail were splish-splosh muddy though, after intermittent downpours. I had a hard time washing and getting my shoes dry in time for the next run.

Pre-New Year Sat: long run, 36-37km, woohoo!
It was a perfect day. In the zone, totally. Great weather, legs were finally back in rhythm after Nepal, breathing in sync, and no low-sugar bonking. Ran to MR, did two complete loops, back to Belukar and Zhenghua, and the BT MTB trail. It was one of those I could have gone on forever days. Loved it.

Pre-New Year Sun: usual route, but with Durian Loop
Strangely, Durian loop smelt of jackfruits instead of durians. There was the annual MR-Ultra event at MR today. Happy to spot many familiar Ultra faces, as well as new faces taking on their first ultra. The weather was still cool, though there were bouts of light drizzle and sunshine. Spotted a bruise on my foot arch, the result of overly tight shoelaces from yesterday.

Looking forward to another two days of lazy trail runs. :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Nepal - Mt Chulu East Climb (Dec 2012)

My much awaited Nepal climb, happiness is going into the mountains and not being connected (no phone, no internet, back to basics)! This year we attempted Mt Chulu East (6,584m), which was located along the Annapurna side of the country. Ou
My much awaited Nepal climb, happiness is going into the mountains and not being connected (no phone, no internet, back to basics)! This year we attempted Mt Chulu East (6,584m), which was located along the Annapurna side of the country. Our trip was 18 days - 2 days to fly in/ out of Kathmandu, 2 days to take a 7-8h mini-bus ride in/ out of Bhulbhule, and 14 days of trekking and climbing (comprising 9-10 days of ascent and 4-5 days of descent).

It was my first time to that region, my past 4 trips to Nepal have always been to the Everest region. The ethnic composition and scenery was different this time. There was a lot more Indian influence, in terms of the food, dressing and looks. It was only about Day 3 into our trek that the landscape became more Tibetan (prayer flags, prayer wheels, Buddhism etc).


As it was a climbing expedition with a couple of days of camping outdoors, we had our own kitchen crew for this trip. No more ordering the same food items from identical menus from teahouses for 14 days. We had fun guessing what our creative cook had planned for us - 3 meals a day. They were amazing. Breakfast usually comprised a pot of oat porridege or museli + hot milk, and a plate of toasts or Tibetan bread + eggs. Lunch was sometimes an outdoor picnic, where we laid out groundsheet and ate in the company of river streams and mountainous backdrops. We would start off with a hot lemonade or orange juice, followed by a plate of pasta + veg + ham, or Tibetan bread and various condiments. Dinner would be more luxurious. By late afternoons, we would have reached and settled into a teahouse for the night. Our kitchen crew would set up a cooking tent nearby and prepare huge amounts of food for us. Tea comprises a hot juice and some biscuits. Then it was time for pre-dinner snacks, like pop-corn, crackers or papaduams. Followed by soup, and the mains - which could be rice, pasta or pizza, with an assortment of vegetables (stir-fried, boiled, curried etc) and perhaps some meats if available. We would then end off with canned fruits for dessert, or an occasional apple pie, and a chocolate cake for our last night. I loved having our kitchen crew, it made the trip so much more bearable!


For a client group of 5 pax, we had a support crew of 17 pax (3 climbing guides, 5 kitchen crew, and 9 porters). In between the porters, they lugged our giant duffel bags, and all the camping and climbing equipment up to high camp at amazing speed. Each porter could easily manage 50 - 60 kg, with finesse and speed. They must have wondered what on earth we brought, to warrant such huge duffel bags, when each of them only had an extra jacket and a small pack of necessities.


Our itinerary was a mix of staying in teahouses and camping (see table). From Bhulbhule to Humde, we stayed in teahouses. From Yak Khara onwards, we pitched tents and camped outdoors. In addition to the sleeping tents, we had a toilet tent and a dining tent. The nights got colder as we went higher, especially those camping nights where my fingers were absolutely in pain from touching water in the cold. Brrrr.....

Fly in to KTM
Take bus to Bhulbhule (840m)
Trek to Jagat (1314m)
Trek to Dharapani (1920m)
Trek to Chame (2713m)
Trek to Humde (3300m)
Rest day at Humde (equipment training)
Trek to Yak Khara (3870m)
Trek to base camp (4500m)
Base camp rest day & acclimatisation (ice-climbing training)
Trek to Chulu East high camp (5300m)
Chulu East summit attempt (6584m) and back to base camp
Trek Base camp to Humde (3300m)
Trek to Chame (2713m)
Trek to Chyamche (1700m)
Trek to Bhulbhule (840m)
Take a bus back to Kathmandu
Fly out of KTM

The bus rides took about 7-8h each way. Each trekking day required anywhere from 3 - 8h of walking. The initial days were spent walking along a winding mountain road, and it was depressing to see jeeps going by while we were on foot. After Chame we were back in the trail and it was a much more enjoyable walk.

I enjoyed the Base Camp. It was a nice open area (ie. exposed to the warmth of the sun), next to a running river (water source), and non-windy. Perfect for setting up base. The first day we arrived at Base Camp, I managed to scoop out water from the river for a hair wash - cold but so refreshing! We spent an extra day at Base Camp for acclimatisation and some basic ice-climbing training. Not the ice-axe kind of climbing, but the basics of using crampons and going up a frozen ice-wall with a jumar. We would need that for the summit day.

From Base Camp to High Camp, it was a relatively steep ascent, taking us about 3h to complete. High Camp was not as hospitable, there was no running water except for a frozen 'pool' near our tents. Our kitchen crew had to hack the ice and snow and melt them for water. We also did not have a toilet tent and every call of nature required a fair bit of walking away from the campsite.

Summit Attempt

Summit Day saw us waking at 3am to prepare for the summit attempt. The plan was to trek up a rocky morraine path to the snow line, put on our mountaineering boots and crampons, and continue the rest of the ascent with fixed ropes and jumars. Our climbing guides were amazing. They had just spent the day before going up the summit and fixing the ropes (while we rested at High Camp). And they now had to repeat the process with us. It was a gloomy, cloudy day, with not much sunshine but lots of wind.

At the start of the summit attempt, it was still dark and I could not really see where I was going because my headlamp was not bright enough. My guide noticed my unsure steps and swapped my headlamp with his stronger piece. As usual, I was not very awake nor functional before the sun was out. I actually contemplated turning around if the guys ahead of me decided to give up. But I could not do it. I ran a mental checklist of 'discomforts' or reasons why I should turn around - cold? (no), hungry? (no), tired? (no).... Oops, ok, I had no excuses and I would not be able to forgive my decision if I stopped. So I plodded on, and I was fine once the sun rose! Especially after we got into our boots and crampons and hit the snow. The summit was nowhere to be seen, we were simply going up the ropes, one undulating slope after another, it seemed endless.

There were 5 of us on the slopes. One guide, Tenzing, was ahead, bringing up the fixed ropes. Alber and WH were the two dots in the middle, and I was with another guide, Dawa, at the back. My guide was very encouraging. He kept reminding me to go at my own pace and not try to catch up with the guys. Half the time he was helping me up the slope, making sure that I did not slip, or holding my arm and setting the pace for me. All of us finally reached the summit at 11am on 11-Dec-2012! It was extremely windy up there. Even though I was dressed warmly enough (including a ninja balaclava), whatever that was left exposed of my face was getting lashed by the wind.

Our summit took us 7-8h, and we spent another 3h descending to High Camp. Of that 10h, I sipped a grand total of 2 mouthfuls of water and ate 1 museli bar! There was hot noodle soup awaiting us once we got to back High Camp. After some rest, we packed up, broke camp, and descended to Base Camp.


I recall getting out of my tent at 430am for the toilet. It was chilly compared to a couple of days ago. Imagine our surprise when we woke up to a white campsite dumped with overnight snow. Everything was covered and awashed with fresh snow. The entire landscape changed overnight, from grey-brown morraine, to a winter wonderland feel. What a huge difference the snow made.

For the descent, we walked an average of 8h each day, in a bid to cover as much distance as possible to reach the next teahouse.

[to be continued...]