Ain’t no mountain high enough

“Twenty years may be a long time in human terms. But it is an infinitesimally tiny moment of time from a mountain’s perspective. Human beings have always been fascinated by the mountains – standing in their silent majestic glory and presenting an ultimate challenge to the human spirit.”

With that observation, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan saluted the spirit of mountaineers, and specifically the brave adventurers of NUS Mountaineering.

Dr Balakrishnan, former NUS Mountaineering Patron, was penning his thoughts down in the foreword of Conjuring Mountains, a book launched to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group.

“A tribute to the young mountaineers who created ‘Make It Real’ 20 years ago. Glad that they have now published a book showcasing the expeditions by generations of their members over the years. I wish NUS Mountaineering the very best as they continue to defy the odds and scale new heights with their indomitable spirit. It was a privilege to have been the Patron at its inception,” he added in a congratulatory note on Facebook.

The book chronicles the various journeys, adventures and challenges of NUS Mountaineering over the past two decades. It is authored by the club’s President Nathaniel Soon (Year 3, Yale-NUS College), Vice President Gawain Pek (Year 3, Yale-NUS College), and previous Presidents Joel Lim (NUS Engineering alumnus), Nicholas Goh (NUS Arts and Social Sciences alumnus) and Wang Chiew Hui (Year 4, NUS Law).  

“NUS Mountaineering exemplifies the attributes of courage, imagination, perseverance and determination that all of us need to cultivate, if we are to achieve our aspirations, and fulfil our potential,” said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye.

NUS Mountaineering, which has grown to become the longest-running student mountaineering club in Singapore, started with humble beginnings in 2001. The club was founded by four members of the Singapore Mountaineers team who were planning the alpine ascent of Xixabangma in Tibet, one of the world’s highest peaks at 8,012 metres above sea level.

The team comprised mountaineering pioneers Dr Robert Goh, Mr Edwin Siew, Ms Lulin Reutens and Dr Mok Ying Jang, who were inspired to create a training programme that imparted the physical and technical skills required of this rigorous sport; and broaden the base of high altitude mountaineers in Singapore.

The call for adventurous students was met with great enthusiasm, and NUS Mountaineering was founded to support them in their ambitions to scale high altitude mountains, while preparing for the challenges and risks involved in the sport. The group took on the alternative name Make It Real (MIR).

“The name 'Make It Real' was incidentally coined,” shared Dr Goh, an aerospace scientist involved in multiple Singapore expeditions, including the first Everest trip in 1998. “We wanted to inspire our youth with the 'dare to dream' and the 'can-do' spirit in making their dreams real,” he added.


Spirit of NUS Mountaineering

MIR has grown from strength to strength, with its climbing programme evolving into an annual endeavour with an expanding global footprint. For instance, the NUS Centennial Everest Expedition in 2005 placed the first Singaporean Mr Teo Yen Kai (an MIR member) on the world’s highest summit. The Singapore Women’s Everest Team also comprised MIR alumnae Jane Lee and Sim Yi Hui.

In recent years, NUS students have embarked on their rites of passage as new MIR members, through completing the basic Technical Mountaineering Course (TMC) in the Himalayas. TMC graduates have progressed to mountaineering in North and South America, New Zealand, the European Alps, and Tian Shan Mountains.

For current MIR President Nathaniel Soon, he experienced the spirit of the club first hand as a TMC team leader, when his team mates penned down their reasons for mountaineering. “Everyone was there in pursuit of the same thing, all for vastly different but equally significant reasons. MIR had been that barrier-free avenue for these pursuits, and to achieve what we otherwise would have conceived as unimaginable,” he shared.

As Reinhold Messner, an Italian mountaineer who made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest, had opined, "The most beautiful mountain in the world is not the highest, or the most difficult. It is personal. It is always the one I am currently dreaming about.”

He would know. Other than his Everest conquest, Mr Messner was the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres.

It is this same unwavering focus – to always look to the next mountain – that drives the past and present members of NUS Mountaineering.

Future of MIR

Undaunted by the pandemic and travel restrictions, MIR has kept its spirit high with various regular activities, including weekly community climbing sessions at the University Town rock wall, and stairs training at Bukit Timah Hill.

"Being at NUS is one of the most formulative journeys a young person can have, and being part of the Make It Real programme brings it up that notch so much higher. Never did we realise that a small band of undergraduates stair climbing in the HDB void decks and climbing Bukit Timah over weekends, would eventually climb and summit Himalayan peaks, including reaching the top of Everest. It is a dream so audacious that it is honestly hard to believe that I was part of it,” shared Mr Stefen Chow, an MIR member who was also part of the NUS Centennial Everest Expedition in 2005.

Mr Chow added, “The lesson behind it? Take the first step, even if you are not sure where that step will bring you.”

As MIR 19 Vice President Goh Jin Hao (Year 3, NUS Science) put it, “the experiences and memories made are infinitely more valuable than the journey up the mountain itself”.

Supported by Our Singapore Fund, the University Support for Pursuit of Arts, Culture and Sports Funding Grant, and the Young ChangeMakers Grant, Conjuring Mountains is available at Outdoor Life stores and Basheer Graphic Books. You can also get a copy from NUS Mountaineering.

Also see media reports.