Everest (8,850m) without oxygen, 2005

Robert and his team at base camp, 2005.

Teamwork on the ice fall, 2005.

In the Spring of 2005, Robert led the first Singapore team to climb Everest without O2 via the South Col route. It was an audacious expedition, blazing trail in high altitude mountaineering among South East Asian climbers. The team comprised of experienced climbers Edwin Siew and Lim Kim Boon with Lulin Reutens as base camp manager. When making preparations and calculating risks, the team left nothing to chance.

Unfortunately, the season saw some of the worst weather in recent memory, with unrelenting high winds and heavy snow fall. There were life-threatening incidents which Robert and his team were lucky to escape unscathed. Kim Boon was stricken by altitude sickness below South Col. Robert was caught in an avalanche at the foot of the Lhotse Face which nearly buried him.

Edwin and Robert made it to South Col at 8,000m but the summit attempt was thwarted by the bad weather. They stayed till the end of the season, waiting in vain for another window.

The expedition demanded extreme tenacity, brought near-death encounters, fostered lasting friendship and strengthened the men's will to plan another attempt in 2008.

On the Lhotse face, 2005.

Cho Oyu (8,201m) without oxygen, 2004

Ernest (left) and Robert on the summit of Cho Oyu, 2004.

Cho Oyu is the world's 6th highest mountain. In the autumn of 2004, Kim Boon, Ernest Quah and Robert became the first Singaporeans and in South East Asia to summit Cho Oyu without supplementary oxygen.

During the expedition at 7,500m and in deteriorating weather, Robert suffered chest pain of an unknown cause. With the summit in sight, he made the difficult decision to return to base camp. The next morning, he descended to Nyalam, a Tibetan village two days away, where he stayed for five days to recover.

On returning to base camp, he made another summit bid and succeeded in reaching the top. This was a fine example of thinking through seemingly-insurmountable problems and pushing for solutions to achieve success when it could have been so easy to throw in the towel.

Ascending the ice fall, 2004.

View from above camp 2, 2004.

Xixabangma (8,012m) in alpine style, 2002

Edwin on Central Summit, 2002.

Mount Xixabangma in Tibet, from
advanced base camp, 2002.

Xixabangma (also known as Shishapangma), located entirely in Tibet, is the last of the world's 14 great mountains above 8,000m. Robert led his team to make the first alpine ascent of an 8,000m mountain by a Singapore team. Going by available literature, it was probably the world's first alpine ascent of the Central Summit of Xixabangma via the north ridge.

It was a great adventure with three climbers from equatorial Singapore taking one of the 8,000ers without oxygen, sherpas, fixed ropes and pre-prepared camps. The expedition had its share of dangerous incidents. Mok and Robert fell into crevasses and nearly paid with their lives. Mok eventually cracked a rib and had to give up his summit bid. Carrying all their gear, Edwin and Robert set off for the summit and returned triumphant. The new record and personal bests set the stage for Everest and K2 without oxygen.

Robert's book, Xixabangma - An Alpine Ascent of the North Ridge, gives a detailed account of this extraordinary expedition.

Robert and Edwin (right) on the central summit of Xixabangma, 2002.

Antarctica 2000

Training in Greenland, 1999.

"The human spirit is indomitable. It will always look for a new mountain to climb. As a small country with limited natural resources, we have to punch above our weight in many areas in order to survive and to succeed." --

Mr Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister (1990-2004), Singapore.
Patron of the First Singapore Antarctica Expedition 2000.

Antarctica, with katabatic winds raging up to 300km per hour and temperatures dipping to -90 degrees Celsius, is arguably the world's most hostile and uninhabitable continent. Yet it is the place where explorers test their mettle and display incredible strength of the human spirit, leadership and friendship.

Robert was co-leader of the First Singapore Antarctica Expedition in 2000 with an eight-member team -- four to climb Mount Vinson and four to ski and man-hauled a 100kg each, 1,100km to the South Pole.

Preparation for such a grueling adventure required daily physical training and meticulous research and planning. Being inexperienced skiers, they went to Greenland to train. There, Robert and his team mates were caught in a fierce snow storm and were trapped in a snow cave which almost buried them alive.

The ski towards the South Pole was also fraught with dangers as they battled against biting winds and deep crevasses, and came to within a day of running out of food. From his experience during this journey and his eventual arrival at the South Pole on 1 Jan 2000, Robert draws parallels with our daily endeavours at work and in life.

The book, Southbound - The First Singapore Antartica Expedition 2000 by Lulin Reutens, traces the expedition, and how the experience revealed personal traits.

Robert in full gear in Antarctica, 2000.

Negotiating sastrugi in Antarctica, 2000.

Everest (8,850m) with oxygen, 1998

On the Western cwm of Everest, 1998.

Robert first climbed Everest, using supplementary oxygen, in 1998 as part of the successful First Singapore Mount Everest Expedition that put two climbers (including Edwin Siew who was the first climber from a Singapore team to summit) on top of the mountain.

Robert's attempt was foiled by a lack of ropes when he reached the South Summit ,100m below the top. Standing there, he knew that the summit was within his reach as he felt strong and motivated. He promised himself then that if he were to return, he would climb Everest without supplementary oxygen. He always says that if you are certain that something can be done, why bother to discover the obvious? The challenge is if you are not sure, then the journey would be a great adventure and a rewarding experience.

The experience of being robbed of the summit has taught Robert that setbacks are part of any endeavour and we must be prepared for them. Even in the most unfortunate situations, there are lessons to be learnt which will make us stronger and better prepared for the next challenge.

Crossing the Khumbu icefall, 1998.

Edwin and Robert on Everest, 1998.

Dhalagiri 7 (7,246m) in alpine style, 1996

Robert on the summit of Dhalagiri 7, 1996.

Up till 1996, no climber from Singapore had reached above 7,000m.

During an expedition to Dhaiagiri 7 (also known as Putha Hiunchul) in preparation for the 1998 Everest climb, Robert and Mok were on their summit push when they had to retreat because of high winds. Later, when all the camps were stripped and most climbers were preparing to leave, Robert made one last attempt with climbing partner MB Tamang.

Carrying all their gear, they reached the summit and returned to the base camp 36 hours later. It was an astonishing feat which surprised his teammates. Only a few days later did Robert realise that it was his first Himalayan alpine style ascent.

Mok Ying Jang arriving at camp 3, 1996.

Base camp of Dhalagiri 7, 1996.

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