“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
When was the last time that sentence accurately described your life?
It was over 2 decades ago when a group of 12 of us ventured to climb the highest peak in peninsular Malaysia. It was known as Gunung Tahan (Mount Tahan in english), at 2187m. It is located within the Taman Negara national forest, in the state of Pahang. The mountain is part of the Tahan Range and is popular with climbers around the region. At that time, there was not much development and the terrain was referred to as off the beaten track which would require between 5 and 7 days to reach the summit and back.
Since the group was large and we were assigned only one young guide to lead us, we had to form two groups with the 1st leading ahead with the guide and the 2nd was with me leading the slower paced members. I have shared the ordeal we faced near the summit in an earlier post so bear with me for those who found this rather familiar.
When we neared the summit camp, somehow the 1st group went too far ahead for the 2nd group to be able to visibly follow them. Soon, it was getting darker and one of the chaps, lets call him Ben, was more adventurous than he should be and said he wanted to check out a track that may be shorter. Before I or anyone else who heard him could say anything, he was gone!
Our torchlights were becoming dim as our batteries were worn out and no more spares left. The rest of us stuck together trying to search for Ben and it was perhaps another hour or longer when he suddenly popped up out of nowhere. We all stared at him and he said, “What are your all doing here?” looking puzzled. We were all exhausted and too angry to respond and all walked together in a route where we were not sure where we were heading. Hungry and tired with one kerosene lamp left to show us the path ahead which was not much, we were quietly worried about making it through the night. The terrain was uneven with rocks and roots as it was near the summit so not much growth on rocky grounds. There were lots of bushes and short trees scattered around us and it was cold. I think we, the 2nd group members were at the lowest point of our lives then and it could be considered the worst times as we felt that our friends (1st group) and guide had deserted us and there were no sign of help in sight.
As the night wore on and our kerosene lamp went off, we were almost groping in the dark and wondering how to move on from where we were. Somehow, we looked up and saw the moon and then saw the light shone on one path not far from where we were. It was a very strange feeling I felt inside and I wondered whether the rest felt the same way. As I looked at the moonlit path and the way ahead, I could see some kind of lights at a far distance which looked like those you would see on a boat passing some island village in the night. We all knew it was the summit base camp and felt God had helped us and answered our silent prayers and cries. Even though we were extremely exhausted, our spirits were lifted to quicken our pace to go on that moonlit path that led us finally to the camp to join the 1st group.
Why would this be the best of times? The experiences we shared for that trip which involved 12 novices who were clueless about such treks and with an inexperienced guide to boot, made us realise God’s hand over each one of us and how we were guided and protected through the 8 whole days we took to complete the impossible journey. We learned not to take things for granted and to do more homework before going for such adventures, such as the fitness level required and learning from other experienced climbers. Of course in today’s digital world, the access to such information is no longer an issue.
Both these best and worst of times have made a permanent mark in our lives that the members till today still refer to the group as GT (Gunung Tahan) gang when talking about each other whenever we get to meet up.