31 mountains in 12 years Mad about mountains

Looking at the photos of his family, girlfriend and favourite dishes help to motivate Mr Jeremy Tong during a climb.
Looking at the photos of his family, girlfriend and favourite dishes help to motivate Mr Jeremy Tong during a climb.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Meet possibly the youngest Singaporean to attempt to climb Mount Everest from the Tibet side

At the age of 25, Jeremy Tong has climbed 31 mountains and made it to the summits of 24. Up next, the world's highest mountain.

The sports science and management undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University plans to take on the 8,848m Mount Everest in March next year and raise funds for the Singapore Cancer Society. He will be joining an international team of climbers to attempt the ascent from the Tibet side, which is believed to be less popular than the Nepal side for summit ascents to Everest.

Mr Tong says: "On the Tibet side, you are more exposed to the wind and other elements. I believe it would be a tough climb."

He is believed to be the youngest Singaporean to attempt the feat. Another Singaporean, Mr Teo Yen Kai, was the youngest to scale Everest from the Nepal side in 2005 at the age of 24.

Mr Tong climbed his first mountain - the 1,276m Mount Ophir in Malaysia - in 2004 when he was part of the National Cadet Corps at Yishun Town Secondary.

He says: "I found that I enjoy the freedom and sense of adventure that comes with exploring a mountain and being in nature."

  • 31 mountains in 12 years

  • 1. Mount Aconcagua, Argentina, 6,961m: reached 6,400m in January this year

    2. Lenin Peak, Kyrgyzstan, 7,134m: reached summit in July last year

    3. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, 5,895m: reached summit in June last year

    4. Mera Peak, Nepal, 6,476m: reached 5,915m in December 2014

    5. Chamser Kangri, India, 6,622m: reached 5,555m in July 2014

    6. Stok Kangri, India, 6,153m: reached 5,700m in June 2013 and reached summit in June 2014

    7. Pisang Peak, Nepal, 6,091m: reached 5,970m in December 2013

    8. Yala Peak, Nepal, 5,520m: reached 5,400m in December 2013

    9. Mount Ancohuma, Bolivia, 6,427m: reached 5,700m in July 2012

    10. Da Feng Si Gu Niang Range, China, 5,035m: reached summit in December 2011

    11. Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka, 2,243m: reached summit in 2010

    12. Mount Ophir, Malaysia, 1,276m: reached summit seven times in 2004, 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2015

    13.Gunung Datuk, Malaysia, 885m: reached summit in 2007, 2013 and 2014

    14. Gunung Nuang, Malaysia, 1,493m: reached 700m in 2007

    15, 16, 17. Gunung Stong, 1,422m; Gunung Ayam, 1,309m; Gunung Baha, 1,504m; all in Malaysia: reached summits in 2008

    18, 19, 20. Gunung Korbu, 2,183m; Gunung Gayong, 2,173m; Gunung Yong Belar, 2,181m; all in Malaysia: reached summits in March 2009; reached summits of Gunung Korbu and Gayong again in 2010

    21. Gunung Tahan, Malaysia, 2,187m: reached summit in 2008

    22-24. Gunung Yong Yap, 2,168m, Gunung Bubu, 1,657m and Gunung Nenek, 1,917m; all in Malaysia: reached summits last year

    25. Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia, 4,095m: reached summit in 2006 and 2015

    26. Gunung Rinjani, Indonesia, 3,726m: reached summit in 2010 and 2014

    27-28. Gunung Agung 3,031m, Gunung Batur, 1,717m, Indonesia: reached summits in 2010

    29. Gunung Kerinci, Indonesia, 3,805m: reached summit in 2008 and 2009

    30. Gunung Tujoh, Indonesia, 1,950m : reached summit in 2008

    31. Gunung Belumut, Malaysia, 1,010m: reached summit in 2015

A school-initiated trip to scale the 4,095m Mount Kinabalu in 2006 sealed his love for mountaineering. He says: "It was the first time I witnessed the sun slowly emerge from the horizon and warm everybody up."

Even though his O-level results qualified him for entry to a junior college, he opted to join the pioneer batch of students taking a diploma in Outdoor and Adventure Learning at Republic Polytechnic.

During his three years there, he joined the trekking and rock-climbing clubs and signed up for the Alpine Leadership Programme where he learnt more about the technicalities of mountaineering, including how to use ropes and harnesses.

He also met and was inspired by Ms Jane Lee, who was part of the first Singaporean women's team to scale Mount Everest in 2009.

During his polytechnic years, he climbed about 15 mountains around the region, the highest of which was the 3,805m Gunung Kerinci in Indonesia. During his national service and university days, he ventured to higher peaks in India, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal. He learnt how to cope with altitude sickness by walking at a pace which does not make him pant.

He has had a number of close shaves. At least five times, he crashed through crevasses covered by thin ice, but, luckily, each time, he was tied to a partner who managed to quickly jam an axe into the ice to tighten the rope and allow him to pull himself up slowly.

Despite his experience, he still gets vertigo, but tries to avoid looking over mountain edges unless he has to - to check his footing, for instance.

His most challenging climb has been the 6,091m Pisang Peak in Nepal in 2013, which was inclined at almost 60 degrees, the steepest mountain he has encountered so far.

He says: "If I had made a misstep, I would have fallen and died.".

Last July, halfway through the climb on the 7,134m Lenin Peak in Kyrgyzstan, he developed a chesty cough and had to descend to base camp to recover. He went on to scale the summit despite the strong winds, ankle-deep snow and a visibility of just 15m.

That boosted his confidence and it was then that he decided he wanted to climb Mount Everest.

How does he push himself to the limit? Climbing is "70 per cent mental and 30 per cent physical", he says.

To keep himself motivated during a climbing expedition, which can last three weeks to two months, he reads books by mountaineers such as Khoo Swee Chiow, one of the first Singaporeans to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1998, and Bear Grylls, a British adventurer and television host.

He also looks at photos of his favourite dishes such as chicken rice and assam pedas (sour and spicy fish stew) stored in his smartphone.

He says: "I tell myself I want to go back alive to eat them again."

But what really keeps him going are photos of his family and 25-year-old girlfriend. Formerly a clinical trial coordinator, she is taking a break from work.

His father, 55, is a supervisor in a metal manufacturing company while his mother, also 55, is a customer service officer. His eldest brother, 29, is a gym instructor while another brother, 27, just graduated with a master's in fine arts from Lasalle College of the Arts.

On her son's passion for mountaineering, Madam Tan Soon Tay says: "I'm worried about the risks, but since it is his passion, I will support him. I am also grateful he is doing it through his own effort and means."

Mr Tong looks for his own sponsors for his expeditions and also finances himself by working part- time as a retail assistant at an outdoor sports equipment store.

Despite the risks, he says he "feels challenged by the unknown".

"You can train and plan the climb as much as you can, but when you are up on the mountain, you cannot control the kind of conditions you get. It's an experience that's both exciting and humbling."

•Catch Jeremy Tong's adventures on AXN Attitude, a one-minute vignette which appears sporadically in between shows on AXN (StarHub TV channel 511) or go to www.facebook. com/axnasia/videos/10154012136029406/?theater

•To support Mr Tong's fund-raising efforts for Mount Everest, go to http://everestclimbforcancer2017. weebly.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline '31 mountains in 12 years Mad about mountains'. Print Edition | Subscribe