Singaporean blown off mountain in Wales survives

Mr Mak on Crib Goch in Wales at 10am on Jan 1. Two hours later, he and his hiking buddy, Mr Ng, were caught in a storm. Strong winds knocked Mr Mak off his feet and sent him tumbling 50m down a slope.
Mr Mak on Crib Goch in Wales at 10am on Jan 1. Two hours later, he and his hiking buddy, Mr Ng, were caught in a storm. Strong winds knocked Mr Mak off his feet and sent him tumbling 50m down a slope.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ELIJAH MAK

PhD student's plan to reach New Year 'high' in Wales crashes when weather turns foul

He had wanted to start the new year "feeling invincible" by reaching the summit of a mountain that he had failed to conquer last year.

What Singaporean Elijah Mak, 28, did not expect was to nearly die on New Year's Day when strong winds knocked him off his feet on the mountain in Wales, Britain. He plummeted 50m down a rocky slope and almost fell off a cliff, but was saved by his quick reflexes.

Mr Mak, who is doing a PhD in psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, was scaling the 923m-high Crib Goch with his Malaysian schoolmate Kean Ng, 29.

It was Mr Ng's first and Mr Mak's second attempt at hiking along the knife-edged mountain ridge, described as "challenging" and "thrilling" on mountaineering websites.

A misstep on the narrow, rocky ridge could send them tumbling 300m over the edge to death.

Both men are experienced hikers. In 2014, Mr Mak had scaled Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, alone, while Mr Ng has hiked in the Swiss Alps several times.

The British national weather service had forecasted a clear day on Crib Goch on Jan 1, with visibility from "very good" to "excellent".

Having checked the forecast the night before, the pair did not check it again with park rangers before setting off for their climb at 9am.

At noon, they were three-quarters up the mountain when a storm hit. The cool breeze suddenly "morphed into deafening gusts" and the ground was covered in snow and ice, said Mr Mak.

Pinned down by the winds, they remained in the same spot for 10 minutes. By then, Mr Ng's physical condition had worsened - his thigh was cramped, his two layers of gloves were drenched and he started to develop hypothermia.

Sensing his fatigue, Mr Mak led the way down. Likening it to scaling down an HDB block from the 25th floor with nothing to hold on to except for snow-covered rocks and shrubs, he said: "It was the most nervous 20 minutes of my life."

Then a gust of wind, reaching an estimated 112kmh, knocked him off balance. Mr Ng could only watch as his friend fell. "Hearing Elijah's anguished cry, while hopelessly watching him fall, was the most agonising moment of my life. I thought that was the end of him."

Unknown to him, Mr Mak, struck by the same thought, was desperately latching onto whatever he could as he hurtled down the rocky slope.

"Every contact was like a knife cutting my hand," he said. "And even though I was falling too quickly, I could sense that I was braking my fall with each contact. Hand or life? Go figure." Then abruptly, he came to a stop before the cliff edge.

It was another half hour of scrambling down the ridge before he reached the ground level. A park ranger who was taking a walk with his family called for help.

Meanwhile, a mountain rescue team found a weak Mr Ng sitting on a slope near where his friend fell. He was suffering from moderate hypothermia and soon passed out. At 4pm, more than two hours after Mr Mak's fall, the pair were reunited at the park rangers' office.

Mr Mak, who had minor hand and leg injuries, was given several stitches and injections at a hospital. Not checking the weather forecast with the park rangers that morning "was our biggest mistake", he said.

Despite the close shave, the duo are determined to return to Crib Goch. Said Mr Ng: "It would be a massive shame to let this experience put one off from giving it another crack." Added Mr Mak: "Although it will probably require a lot of tender reassurances (to my family) on my part."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'S'porean blown off mountain survives'. Print Edition | Subscribe