The Mountain Man
A student, Jeremy Tong Zhi Hao (25 years old) is currently in his last year of the Sports Science and Management Bachelor program in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. However, outside of school, Jeremy has a unique passion; he climbs mountains. He is a mountaineer, global expedition leader as well as an altitude coach. The founder of Jeremytongclimbs, Jeremy has been sharing his passion for climbing through leading and organizing mountaineering expeditions to various parts of the world. Currently, he has led over 16 expeditions. Also, Jeremy has scaled and trekked 31 mountains around the globe (many of them multiple times for a total of 51 trips!). These include Lenin Peak (7,134m – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan), Stok Kranji (6,153m – India) Mount Kinabalu (4,095m – Malaysia), Mount Rinjani (3,726m – Indonesia).
It all started in 2011 when Jeremy was 14 years old. After trekking Mount Ophir (1,276m) in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, it stirred within him a passion that has been burning strongly. The desire to push himself and ascend to greater heights has now got him to set his sights on conquering Mount Everest which stands at an imposing height of 8,834m above sea level. Jeremy’s plan is to do this come 2017, with the aim of raising funds for Colon-Rectal and Breast cancer victims. Now, we take a look at what inspires this man to attempt the world’s highest peak.
ST: Most people don’t even like to climb the stairs nowadays. What drives you to do what you do?
JT: I believe the reason why I climb mountains is because it gives me a sense of challenge that humbles me to the core and when you get lucky and the mountain allows, you get to sneak up to the top. It’s also the sense of adventure and risk where you don’t know where the next step will take you and that fear of the unknown is very enticing to me.
ST: Mountaineering is not exactly the easiest sport to get into. How did you start and also manage to keep the passion burning and sustain it?
JT: I got into the sport when I was 14 and done trekking to Mount Ophir and Kinabalu. Then in polytechnic, I joined the trekking club, rock climbing club as well as the mountaineering club. In fact, I graduated from Republic Polytechnic with a Diploma in Outdoor And Adventure Learning I have also been working at an outdoor shop as a part-time retail assistant for about 3 years.
ST: What has been your toughest climb as of now?
JT: The toughest climb I have ever done would be Pisang peak in Nepal. Standing at a mere 6,081m, it is a really steep climb that takes just two days to attempt the summit from Pisang village. It was tough because I climbed it in winter and the weather was really cold and windy. I was a mere 90 meters from the summit when my guide and I decided to turn around since it was 12pm and I might be too tired to head down. So a wiser choice would be to head down.
ST: How about your most memorable climb?
JT: My most memorable climb would be Lenin Peak, 7,134m, which was very recent in July this year. The reason is because it was actually a climb of ups and downs. Within the first 7 days, I feltl ill and I thought in my mind that this berating problem would mean the end of the expedition. However, I heeded the doctors advice and headed down to base camp and successfully recovered. I became very acclimatized and then was able to push forward to the summit in a good 15 hours and down from camp 3 (6, 100m).
The Ak Sai Travel website has officially published and recorded Jeremy’s recent climbing ascent of Lenin Peak in Krygyzstan at 7134m. Jeremy and his partner, Zafrie are officially the second and third Singaporeans to summit Lenin Peak!
ST: What do you feel have been your biggest failure so far and how has it molded you to be who you are today?
JT: The biggest failure I ever had was in fact two failures. After one of the successful climbs (Mount Da Feng) in Chengdu, China, I thought I could summit other mountains as well. I went on to try Aconhuma in Bolivia during my 3 months backpacking trip and was taught a very hard lesson during that climb. I was hit by Acute Mountain Sickness (is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans, caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude) and only made it to high camp at 5,700m. It was a painful lesson.
ST: What are some of the beliefs that have helped you to continue to strive for such a lofty goal, despite some of the failures that you have encountered before?
JT: I believe that if one is passionate about something, he/she has to go and pursue it. We only live once, and more importantly, we only live young once. With passion and hardwork, success will follow through. The failures taught me not to be complacent and to be humble in the face of others and the mountains. Many other Singaporeans have done Everest, I’ll not be the first although I might be the youngest to summit from the North side if I make it.
ST: What inspired you to want to climb Mount Everest?
JT: When I first climbed Kinabalu (4095m) in Sabah, I was inspired by the sheer tiredness I had expended just to reach the summit. After admiring the beauty of the quietness and the cold air, I started making my way down. In my mind, I had the silent thought of “if I can climb Kinabalu, which is half the height of Everest, maybe I could climb Everest itself one day.”
I also read about the first Singapore Everest Team and was extremely inspired by the team who were legends in the mountaineering community. I have always had utmost repeat for these pioneers when I meet them and I still do. One phrase that one of the pioneers called Khoo Swee Chiow said was this, ” I don’t care if 7000 people have climb Everest, I want to see for myself whether I can do it.”
ST: How are you planning to help cancer patients this way?
JT: I’m planning to raise as much as I can and the proceeds will all be donated to the cancer community fund by National Cancer Centre Singapore. The patients will be given subsidies for treatments as well as medication which would help colon-rectal and breasts cancer patents seek the best treatment possible.
ST: I’m sure that other than the actual climb itself, planning and preparing for such a trip is a big task. Could you give us some insight to what are some of the things you have to do or sacrifice in order to be able to mount such an expedition?
JT: Time. For this Everest dream to be a reality, I personally placed a number of mountains that I have to summit in order to feel ready, physically and mentally. And these expeditions will take time to train and finally head for the expeditions. For example, I’m planning Cho Oyu in 2016, which is an 8000m peak, which will take about 2 months to climb. Also, I have put in my climbing training for the past 11 years and that to me is a lot of commitment to the sport.
Everest is also a big financial obstacle as it is a physical challenge. The average cost per person can go as high as USD 40,000 just for the Everest expedition itself. This is not taking into account specialized high altitude equipment such as the down suit and double mountaineering boots which can cost USD 1000 each, costs of air tickets, other equipment etc.
I also have to set aside time to source for and meet sponsors to get funding. it is trying to get a win-win relationship with the sponsors that is the most challenging part to me. In addition, I liaise with my charity (The Cancer Community Fund by National Cancer Centre Singapore) frequently to ensure that the funds are handled properly and all these will take much effort.
Aside from that, I have to do physical training. Some of these include long distance 17-21km runs, stairs climbing of 10 sets of 31 stories with a 15kg backpack, and interval training. Right now, I am juggling all this with my internship and final year project preparation. It has been difficult but I try to train at least once a week now with a 17km run or intervals if there isn’t enough time. The training for me for Everest would have to be pumped even more and I would be committing one year of my life in 2016 to fully focus on climbing mountains around the world.
ST: More than 250 people have died attempting to reach the summit. Recently, there was the Everest base camp avalanche which occurred, killing over 26 people. It has been the deadliest disaster that has occurred on the mountain. How do you get over this mental hurdle and more importantly, ensure that you stay safe during your climb?
JT: To me, climbing is a very uncontrollable activity. You train your best in your home country and place your best effort in the mountains and hopefully it allows you to stand at its top. Disasters like avalanches and earthquakes are beyond our control but the best preparation one can do is to prepare like crazy with regards to logistics, finance and physical training. With regards to the mental hurdle, mountaineering is inevitably a high risk sport and one must be prepared not to come back alive.
ST: What is the best advice you have for those who also aspire to do what you do, or perhaps for life in general as they are facing insurmountable heights?
JT: Take the first step towards your passion or mountaineering in this context, the first step is always the hardest. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step. For Life in general is, if you fall, just remember to get up and and move again. And, if you are going through hell and suffering, just keep moving and you will get out of it.