Sunday, September 9th, 2007
“It is to conquer fear that one becomes a climber. The climber experiences life to its extreme limits. A climber is not a crazy man. He is not trying to get himself killed. He knows what life is worth. He is in love with living.”
— Walter Bonatti
That’s it. No more trekking for the rest of the year.
Going up Gunung Datuk on 8 September, 2007, sort of confirmed it. I suspect I have a cracked metatarsal bone in my foot (I’ve yet to visit a doctor, and I don’t think I’m going to see one; just to show how much I love them). A day after the trek, when I rub my thumb over the area, and put on a little pressure. I can make music of slight cracking sounds. In case anyone is wondering, I didn’t get the injury from a trek. I got it about three weeks ago doing something important (I am sure of it, but I can’t remember what it is).
I trekked up Gunung Datuk earlier this year, and having spent time on Gunung Tahan, I didn’t feel extremely excited about the mountain. Also, I already knew about my sore foot. But Leon Varga and I had talked about this trek for a month now. He had recruited Aaron Smadja and Marc-Andre Plouffe (two new great trekking guys! Yeah, I’m hoping they read this and will continue trekking with me in the future), and there were 22 other students. Despite knowing that a number of them were my students (thus a good opportunity to know some of them), I really wanted to stay home because of my sore foot. Then again, no one else knew the way to get to the foothill. I came along to help navigate the bus driver.
I didn’t have to trek, I could have stayed at the bottom. Initially, that was the plan. I had brought Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air to keep me company. Instead of my 2kg camera I use for treks, I stuffed my bag with 4 liters of water (I had Milo and I had Ribena). Leon thought I was always on extremes: When I don’t carry enough water, I really don’t carry enough water (sometimes only a mere half-liter). When I carry water, it was too much. I didn’t pack lunch knowing that there are a few food stalls at the foothill.
But I had also tied my trekking boots to my bag.
Believe me, I was prepared to laze around at the foot of the hill. Then again, the thought of 25 people trekking and I had to wait hours for them to go up and down didn’t seem right. Mountains have this inexplicable mystical lure that I cannot resist. It seduces me in a way people who do not climb mountains cannot understand. Because I had my boots with me, I don’t think I was at any moment being crazy; if I thought that I couldn’t trek, I wouldn’t have brought my boots. It was Gunung Datuk, after all, and I was sure I wouldn’t kill my foot walking slowly. I took the risk and trekked with everyone.
The Latest “Gang of Four.” TMC, Aaron, Marc-Ardre, Leon. ©2007 Leon Varga
It was fairly easy going. I was the sweeper going up. Being near the slowest of the pack, it took me about two and a half hours on the way to the top. Early on in the trek, I was talking to Marc and another student from Mauritius, Shiekh, quite a bit. It was the first time I was walking with Marc, so I was going through the motion of, “Yeah, this is how a tropical jungle looks like,” “It’s so humid. Look at how much I sweat,” “Watch out for the thorns on those ferns!” Nalgene bottles and the likes. Then our conversation went into drinking hot chocolate. I can’t remember how we got there, but we did. I love chocolates, so for talking about it, I like him already. It was our first time out, and we haven’t got too comfortable or crazy just yet. But I think he’ll be good to have around.
Not long after, I was by myself with the last few persons on the trek. On my slow walk, I had all the time of my life looking at how much the place has changed since I started trekking up the mountain in 2002. The laterite trail is so much wider now with less undergrowth or roots, I saw badly eroded paths. At some sections, there were puddles of water—probably remnants of rainwater from days ago. Around those, the laterite path was slippery; my thoughts went out to Gunung Nuang and why I had so much trouble on that mountain. Rocks and pebbles that were once embedded within the trail were now loose. On a steep section, it was so much more difficult to navigate and not lose balance. But as I walked on, I began to lose myself in the jungle. In the freshness of the air, and calm and natural surrounding, I felt at peace. I didn’t realise that it has been nearly three months since I walked in the jungle. The Gunung Tahan trek is still so fresh in my mind; It still feels like it just happened yesterday. I like that trek very much, and I believe it will stay fresh for a long long time, or at least I hope so. So it was that I was “lost” while I walked on the trail up Gunung Datuk; despite the fact that the surroundings and environment were quite different from so many other mountains, I was, in a manner of speaking, remembering childhood in a very good way.
Before long, I was at the campsite just before the peak. Some didn’t want to get up to the rocks, the peak. Mandy and Carmen said they were scared of heights. But after walking for the last few hours, I wasn’t about to let anyone not climb up the metal ladders to get to the top. I sort of forced them up. At the top, it was like how I’ve always remembered it. And perhaps how I’ll always remember it. Some mountain peaks and treks remain so vivid in my mind; I treasure them tremendously and in a way only I know how. I’ve been to Gunung Datuk numerous times, but one trek stands out among others. Just as the jungle had triggered memories, standing on the peak brought back memories of the best moments from that trek. And that is probably why I will always come back to this mountain. The memories will never go away; I won’t let it. So from time to time, a simple and gentle reminder makes me happy.
Don’t Fall! One Group Picture for the Album. ©2007 Leon Varga
I traded places with Leon on the way down. If he was leading on the way up, he was the sweeper now. I ran down, as usual. Except that the long non-trekking period took it’s toll. Midway, I had this blood rush going into my head and I had a terrible headache. I slowed down and Aaron overtook me. I tried to keep up with someone eight years my junior, but couldn’t. Then I came to the steep and rocky section that required a little maneuvering. The headache didn’t help; I felt like an overheated machine just wanting to shut down. I slowed down considerably, and laboured with each step towards the end. Aaron must have slowed down because we got out of the jungle at about the same time. I didn’t beat my own speed record of running down this mountain. Even so, I was one hour ahead of the last person walking out of the mountain.
Anyhow, I will always remember this trek for two reasons. It is the one that made me miss the graduation ceremonies of Quin Jean (at UCSI), Nee On and Amos (both at Monash University Malaysia). And it is the one that hurt my left foot. I’m not sure if running out caused the injury to my left foot; and I guess I’ll never know. While I normally trek Gunung Datuk in my pair of sandals, I was wearing proper trekking boots this time around. I suppose that’s why I can still walk today.
The injury is my own; there’s no one to share it with. I estimate I will have to go two or three months without a mountain. I’ll have to trade all trekking plans for a less strenuous hobby to give my foot a proper rest. It’s only three months; it can’t be as bad as when I laid off for a year when I had a bad knee. Right now, I’m thinking of exercising my jaws with extra heavy meals at midnight daily.
Then again, it’s me. You just might find me on a mountain this weekend.
Updated September 11, 2007
For the records, I walked to a nearby hospital with the intention of visiting a doctor about my foot yesterday. When I got there, there was this long queue of people waiting to be treated. I figured if I could walk 500m to see a doctor, I wasn’t in that bad a condition. I turned around and walked home. The intention was there, but…