Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Journeys to the Ends of the Earth, by Khoo Swee Chiow

Khoo Swee Chiow takes an unusual path to the seven summits and the two geographic poles in his Journeys to the Ends of the Earth. Chiow is a Malaysian national who lives in Singapore who has made an abrupt life change from a self-described computer geek to a professional adventurer. While training for and working as a computer engineer for Singapore Airlines he made occasional trips to Nepal, the American Rockies, New Zealand, and Kilimanjaro with intermittent success at altitude. After his selection as a potential candidate for the 1st Singapore Mount Everest Expedition, he throws himself into training and planning, helping to organize the team's first trip to the Himalaya and climbing Cho Oyu on a later trip under Eric Simonson. He is then chosen as part of the Everest expedition.

The 1st Singapore Mount Everest Expedition climbs the mountain from Nepal via the South Col during the 1998 pre-monsoon season. The climbers follow a fairly typical ascent schedule and get pretty good weather. Their climb faces a setback, however, when they (along with about 40 other climbers) reach the South Summit, and no one has brought any rope to fix the upper ridgeline or the Hillary Step. Everyone turns around. A small contingent from a couple expeditions, including Chiow and Edwind Siew from the Singapore team, return to climb to the top of the mountain. Though the climb takes up a good part of the book, Chiow is spare on details outside his own expedition. He does mention later, though, that he became friends with Nasuh Mahruki, the Turkish mountaineer and author of Everest'te Ilk Turk Chomolungma.

From Mount Everest, Chiow sets off on a life of adventure. He heads to the South Pole next, in 1999, with a training trip to Greenland (his first experience with skis!), leading a group from Singapore from the Horseshoe Valley to the barber pole at the bottom of the world. Soon after his return to Singapore, he makes a goal of finishing his seven summits (climbing both Carstenz Pyramid and Kosciuzko) by the end of the year. He is the second seven summits author I've read who was turned back by the tiny, but grumpy Kosciuzko. (Robert Mads Anderson, in Summits: Climbing the Seven Summits Solo, was also turned back by a blizzard.) After completing his summits, he heads to the North Pole and climbs Shishapangma by the Southwest Face without supplemental oxygen. While on Shishapangma, he witnesses Korean Um Hong Gil's final summit climb to complete the fourteen 8000-meter peaks, becoming the ninth person to do so.

After the publication of this book, Chiow continues his life of adventure. He returns to Everest twice, reaching within 400 meters of the summit without supplemental oxygen in 2004, and ascending the mountain for the second time in 2006. Additionally, he has since made long-distance bicycle and in-line skating trips, swan the Straits of Malacca, and set a scuba-diving endurance record.

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