From Mongkok to Mount Everest and back

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2003, 12:00am

Conquering Mount Everest is every climber's dream. Many attempt it but not all come back.

Not only do climbers have to combat treacherous storms, sub-zero temperatures, sheer ice ledges and hidden crevasses, they also have to deal with altitude sickness where the body cannot function properly due to lack of oxygen.

Chung Kin-man, 49, is one of the climbers who made the two-month journey to the top and returned. By doing so he also became the first Hong Kong mountaineer to scale the highest peaks on all seven continents.

Although he suffered from altitude sickness, he fared better than many. 'I've seen much worse cases, of people losing their memories and some going crazy,' he said.

Mr Chung's team scaled the mountain's north face - a route littered with corpses that serve as a reminder of Everest's dangers.

'I lost a friend to Everest in 2000. He just disappeared one day. I never saw him again,' he said.

Climbing the 8,848 metres of Everest is not just a feat of physical endurance, it demands great psychological preparation as well. Mr Chung was continually nervous - worried about his body, the weather and their safety.

And although he was ecstatic on reaching the summit, he stayed there for only about 10 minutes.

'I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, back to safety, back to my family,' he said.

'Climbing Everest can be real hell. At 8,400 metres, I saw a dead body. It had just been left there, frozen in the ice. It looked alive. It was horrible. I felt sick when I saw it.'

But the risk of losing his life was not the worst of it. According to Mr Chung, the biggest hardship of the whole expedition was the waiting.

'It's a waiting game. You have to wait for good weather. It is not enough to just wait for one day of good weather, you need continuous good weather for four or five days to reach the summit,' he said.

The journey is not over once you reach the summit because you still have to get back down.

'Many people forget to save energy for their descent,' Mr Chung said. 'They are so concerned with getting there they don't keep any energy for the trip down. Staying alive is more important than reaching the summit'.

Having conquered the world's highest mountain, Mr Chung has no plans as yet for another expedition.

'I am so tired now, I need to rest for several months first. But after that, perhaps Patagonia, perhaps the African mountains. There are many places I want to see'.

Asked about his views on Sir Edmund Hillary's suggestion to 'give Everest a rest' by limiting expeditions, Mr. Chung says: 'I don't think that's necessary.

'What's needed are regulations to protect Everest rather than a ban for a month. For example, people should leave a refundable deposit at base camp which they get back when they bring their rubbish and oxygen cylinders back. After all, there are car accidents all the time but you don't ban driving completely do you?'

For those interested in taking up mountain climbing, Chung Kin-man offers training courses at his HK Mountaineering Training Centre at G/F IK Fa Yuen Street, Mongkok. Phone: 2770 6746.