We were at it again. This year, the expedition group was bigger. We had 20 pupils, 5 teachers and two families joining us for the expedition. More people meant more preparation. But it did not deter our spirit of perseverance.
Just like last year, training started in Term 2. For this year, we even had to do selection for the pupils. Naturally, one of the characters that we looked out for in the pupils was their ability to persevere through their intensive training. Finally, 20 pupils were chosen! Getting chosen was the easy part. They had to endure as their training was turned up a notch!
On 6th June, we assembled in school in the early morning. Anxious parents sent off their child for the expedition. Last minute details were given to the teachers about their children. I could only thank the parents for supporting the school and for trusting us with their children. We reached Changi Airport for the flight. Mr Chia gave each member of the expedition a 'TOP' chocolate bar, only to be eaten at the summit of Mt Kinabalu. But some of the pupils ate the chocolate bar at the top - top of their hunger during the flight.
We reached Kota Kinabalu in the afternoon. We had lunch in a restaurant. The teachers noticed that the pupils were thoroughly enjoying themselves.Could it be that their parents are not around? After lunch, we headed straight for Strawberry Garden Hotel. The boys were assigned a bungalow, much to their delight. But good things do not come easily for they had to climb a series of steps to reach their bungalow! The girls had a chalet for themselves. They had the afternoon to rest. After dinner, the pupils were briefed on the things they need to do for the climb the next day. Some were excited, some were apprehensive and some were speechless.
On 7th June, we had an early breakfast and collected our packed lunch. The pupils were buzzing around and that was a very good sign! They were told to sleep early the night before but some of them could not sleep due to excitement. We got on our transport to the park headquarter. Our tour leader, Ms Amanda, settled the necessary documentation needed while we waited. We took pictures after pictures of the mountain as the background. Finally, it was time to start our trek. We got together in our assigned groups and started to make our way up to Pendant Hut. Weather wise - it was fine when we started but little did we know that it would change as we trekked up!
We stopped for lunch at Layang- Layang hut. By then, mist had descended in that area. It brought down the temperature. Pupils were told to put on their jackets. Some even put on their gloves. After about 45 minutes of rest, we pushed up for Pendant Hut again. This time, the pace was slower as fatigue started to seep in. The cold temperature posed as a new challenge for us. The teachers and the park guides stepped in to make it bearable for the pupils.
Finally, at around 1615hrs, the first group of pupils reached Pendant Hut. The other groups came within half an hour later. We had our dinner at Laban Rata. Some were just too tired for that. We packed dinner for them while they rested their tired bodies at Pendant Hut. After dinner, we had a briefing on Walk The Torq, conducted by their trainers. Some of the pupils sat in for the briefing while some continued with their rest. After the briefing, the pupils were told to sleep. The teachers got together to discuss on the selected pupils for the summit climb. At the end of the discussion, eight pupils were selected. As for the rest, they had the choice to just attempt the Walk The Torq or rest at Pendant Hut.
At 0100hrs on 8th June, the selected pupils were woken up from their sleep. We ate a light breakfast and a safety briefing was done before we headed out. At around 0145hrs, we headed out of the warm and comfortable Pendant Hut into the cold temperature. The pupils were in high spirit though feeling sleepy. We trekked slowly in the darkness, guided only by our headtorches. Mr Bhim, Mr Yap, Ms Amanda and myself positioned ourselves in between the pupils for their safety. As we got higher, the wind got stronger and the temperature dropped. The pupils were clearly battling their fatigue and at the same time, fighting through the low temperature. The teachers and the guides encouraged the pupils on. When we were about 40 minutes away from the summit, the pupils were unable to continue on. However, we were exposed to the strong wind without any shelter. So, I urged them to move on. We kept going until I saw a 'make - shift' shelter. It was not good enough to shelter us from the wind but it was good enough for a rest. We rested there for about 20 minutes before we made our final push to the summit.
We slowly made our way up and finally, at around 0600hrs, we reached the summit. Fortunately, we did not miss the view of the sunrise. This time round, we managed to rest for about 10 minutes at the summit. We exchanged stories with other climbers. Some were surprised to see us as they thought that we would not be able to make it up there. We took pictures after pictures before it was time to go down to give way for other climbers. And the descent, that was another story altogether.