SUTD's name scales new heights as students climb virgin Himalayan mountain

(From left) Mr Te, Mr Chin and their team members climbing the mountain that will soon be named after SUTD. They are also getting permission to name the mountain pass and base camp after the university.
(From left) Mr Te, Mr Chin and their team members climbing the mountain that will soon be named after SUTD. They are also getting permission to name the mountain pass and base camp after the university.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHUA WEI ZHEN

Virgin Himalayan peak to bear name of university after students climbed it

In the last few years, Mr Samuel Chin has heard people ask the same questions about his school, the Singapore University of Technology and Design, or SUTD.

What is it? Is it a new university? Where is it located?

So the 23-year-old third-year student and seven male undergraduates decided to fly their school flag, way up high.

Last month, they reached a 6,056m virgin peak - one that no human has ever set foot on - in the Indian Himalayas.

If approval is granted, the mountain at Karcha Nala, a valley in the state of Himachal Pradesh, will be called Mount SUTD. They are also getting permission to name the mountain pass and the base camp after the university.

Climbers of virgin peaks can name them and register the names with the local authorities. They are believed to be the first students here to achieve such a feat, although Singapore has made its mark elsewhere in the world through such expeditions before.

In 2005, three mountains in Central Asia were christened Temasek, Singapura and Ong Teng Cheong after prominent climber David Lim and three Singaporean mountaineers scaled the peaks.

Mr Chin, who founded SUTD's mountaineering club with fellow student Raymond Te, said it was a challenge for the team as they had no experience climbing mountains before joining the club.

They started training hard in January to shape up for the expedition, with the help of Mr Edwin Siew, 44, one of the first two Singapore climbers to reach Mount Everest's summit in 1998.

On top of gym sessions and runs every week, they spent two to three hours every Saturday hiking up Bukit Timah Hill, each carrying a load of 18kg.

They also climbed two peaks earlier to train up. The first in January was to DaFeng, which is among the Siguniang Mountains in China's Sichuan province, and the second was in May to India's Friendship Peak in Himachal Pradesh.

For Mr Chin, the desire to scale a mountain came after a trekking trip in Nepal a few years ago. "I saw so many peaks and I thought I would want to climb one."

Mr Te, 24, said he wanted to do "something adventurous" after going through commando training during national service.

The 10-hour climb was not easy, especially when each person was wearing about 10kg of clothing and gear and carrying nearly 10kg of equipment and food.

The journey also involved crossing a ridge and two rocky slopes before ascending the mountain.

They ploughed through layers of snow with ice axes and held onto a safety rope in case they needed to arrest each other's fall.

"The bad weather came on the way down as it snowed. We were engulfed in the clouds, and all we saw was white," said Mr Chin. "So we just had to keep walking and walk fast."

Mr Siew, who heads an adventure consultancy and training firm, said other young Singaporeans have climbed well-known peaks in Nepal and the Alps in Europe. "One of the biggest challenges in climbing a virgin peak is the uncertainty, because no one has done it before," he said.

SUTD provost Chong Tow Chong said: "We commend them for their passion and risk-taking in making SUTD the first university to have a mountain named after us."

So the next time Mr Chin is asked about his school, his reply will likely be different. "It is the university which has a mountain named after it," he said.

ateng@sph.com.sg