Confessions of a mountaineer: 'The more dangerous the climb, the more rewarding it can be'
Local mountaineer, who lost his friend in a fatal fall, says risks do not stop him from pursuing his passion
Before every climb, mountaineer Jeremy Tong would send a Facebook message to his friend, Mr Ong Eng Wu.
"Allez (French for let's go) bro! Miss ya," writes Mr Tong, 26, knowing that it would remain unread in his friend's inbox just like the other messages before it.
Six years ago, Mr Ong died in a tragic incident at Mount Aspiring in New Zealand. He slipped and fell 800m.
The usually jovial Mr Tong turned sombre when he spoke about his fellow mountaineer, explaining: "I write to him each time, hoping he will watch over me as I climb."
Having scaled more than 30 peaks in the last 12 years, the 26-year-old is hoping to add Mount Everest to his list of achievements next year.
His interest in climbing was piqued when he conquered Malaysia's Mount Ophir during his secondary school days with the National Cadet Corps, when he was 14.
To fund his expeditions, he worked part-time selling adventuring equipment while still studying.
Each trip can cost from $700 to $4,000, depending on the location and remoteness of the peaks.
The Nanyang Technological University graduate with a degree in sport science and management returned from Tajikistan in August, having climbed Peak Korzhenevskaya.
This and last year's conquest of Tajikistan's Lenin Peak makes Mr Tong the first Singaporean to summit two 7,000m peaks in Central Asia.
It is no small feat as the two mountains are fraught with dangers, in a country that does not have a great safety record.
Mr Tong recalls: "Before the climb, I heard a rumour that the whole country has only two helicopters and one is reserved for the president. There is pretty much no chance of any helicopter rescue if things go awry."
But climbing is never without danger. On the recent expedition to Tajikistan with a French climber, Mr Tong fell into crevasses twice - once while looking for a spot to relieve himself.
"Crevasses are basically cracks in the earth that are covered by a sheet of snow, so you don't see it coming. It happened so quickly and I could have died, but thankfully I had someone to rescue me," he recalls.
Another time, he slipped while abseiling down a cliff face and had to quickly arrest his fall with an ice axe.
But in doing so, he pierced himself through the right thigh with the sharp end of the axe.
DIDN'T FEEL PAIN
Mr Tong says: "I was so full of adrenaline that I didn't feel any pain until I reached the base camp.
"Only then did I realise that I was bleeding everywhere."
When he used his satellite phone to call home during the descent, he said nothing of the close encounters with death.
"It was my brother's birthday, and I was just telling my mother that everything was fine, I had reached the summit already and the conditions were good."
It was a white lie as it was bitterly cold and a fierce wind was raging right outside his tent.
While he has lost a friend to the dangers of mountain climbing, Mr Tong says it does not discourage him from his passion.
To him, the risks involved are a challenge, not a deterrence.
Mr Tong says: "I am addicted to it, to the fact that not many people do this. I want to be able to discover myself and push my mental and physical limits."
But he adds that he is not there to court death.
"Yes, it's true that the more dangerous the climb, the more rewarding it can be. But I will die for no mountain. I have a lot to live for," he says.
SECRETS OF THE TRADE
1 For beginners, finding a good mountaineering mentor is a good way to get into the hobby. There are also courses overseas that teach the basics of mountain climbing.
2 Eat your fill of your favourite Singaporean food before you embark on an expedition, which can last for a month. This is because homesickness can be a factor in whether you complete the climb or not.
3 Pick your mountaineering guide properly, as they can be a good source of motivation and support. Make sure that you can communicate even with the language differences.