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EverestNews.com interview with Swee Chiow


EverestNews.com interview with Swee Chiow, a member of the Singapore 98 Everest Expedition, who climbed Everest from the South Side in Spring 1998. Swee Chiow on 5/19/98 reached the South Summit before turning around along with the 50 plus other climbers that were the first group to attempt the summit from the South Side in 1998. Six days later he made a second successful attempt and reached the Summit on 5/25/98 with 11 other climbers including five others from his team. This year 42 climbers reached the summit from the South Side of Everest. Two climbers reached the summit two times each for a total of 44 summits from the South Side so far in 1998. 

(The News Update is after the Interview)

EverestNews.com Interview with Everest Swee Chiow

Q. [EverestNews.com] First can you give us some background on yourself...

A. [Swee Chiow] I am a systems (software) analyst in Singapore Airlines. I was never a climber during school days. It was only when I started working in 1988, I started to trek and then slowly progressed to mountaineering. By the way, my hometown is Port Dickson - the place where Joe Simpson spent some of his childhood. Perhaps he'll contact me if he reads this. I would be so honored to hear from a legend.

Other climbs I did - Stok Kangri (Ladakh), Putha Hiunchuli, Cho Oyu, Grand Combin & Mont Blanc. Other treks I did - Kilimanjaro, Longs Peak, Mt Elbert, Mt Massif, Kerinci (Sumatra), Rinjani (Lombok), YuSan (Taiwan), ShiehSan (Taiwan) & Kinabalu (Sabah).

Q. [EverestNews.com] Why did you go to Everest?

A. [Swee Chiow] My first "encounter" with Everest was during my first trip to Nepal in 1989. Since then, its become my dream to climb it. It was just a dream until 1994, when our team leader David made a nation wide call for climbers to join the team, I knew my dream could be coming true.

Q. [EverestNews.com] Describe summit day for us?

A. [Swee Chiow]  It was the hardest endurance test I ever put myself through. The summit ridge from South Summit onwards was the most dangerous. The wind was howling, my hands were painful and going numb. Thanks to my Sherpa Nawang who gave me a hand warmer. That helped a lot. But I was very dehydrated and my movement was becoming very slow. The Hillary Step took a lot of energy out of me. Beyond that, the false summits seemed to go on forever - one
cornice after another. When I finally saw my partner Edwin & the Sherpas on the summit, it didn't register to me that I was nearing the highest summit in the world. But when I stepped on the summit, tears rolled down my face. It was 6.30am. I have never expected to be there so fast.

Q. [EverestNews.com] Describe the descent from the summit ?

A. [Swee Chiow] It was a nightmare. My vision was blurred due to the cold wind and the sun. I didn't wear my goggles on the way up after sunrise on South Summit. I was even slower descending to the South Summit. My crampons got entangled in the old ropes on Hillary Step. On the 1st summit attempt, we went down the steep face from Balcony down to C4 without any rope. But this time, we were just too tired and again, thanks to our 4 Sherpas, they used their ice axes as temporary anchors to pay out the rope and we used it to guide our descent on some tricky sections. On reaching C4, the Sherpas were eager to go further down. So, they broke camp. By the time we got into C2, it was past 6pm and I have never been so exhausted in my life. We had been on the move for more than 20 hours. I felt as if I was going to drop dead anytime.

Q. [EverestNews.com] Other climbers are telling us that Bernardo Guarachi was one of the strongest climbers on Everest. Who do you think were the strongest climbers (including Sherpa) this year on the South side?

A. [Swee Chiow] Bernardo is a superman. He moves like the Sherpas. He's the most courteous guy I've ever met. I saw him sitting outside his tent alone everyday, looking at the mountains. That's how he sat out the bad weather. His inner strength and patience shows. His Makalu experience and this time, his camera failed him on the summit, made me feel very sympathetic towards him.

Q. [EverestNews.com] Will you be back next year?

A. [Swee Chiow] Wow, I like the way you put it - so simple ! None of us in Singapore (at least not me) can afford the money. The team fund-raised, trained and planned for 4 years for this project. That's how hard it is for us. But then, if someone is willing to sponsor, why not ?

Q. [EverestNews.com] Will you consider the North side of Everest in the future?

A. [Swee Chiow] I think the North side holds more magic and mystery for me - being the original route for the pioneers. Their struggle and drama high up never fail to strike a cord in me every time I read it again and again. I saw Everest from afar at Old Tingri last year on the Cho Oyu trip. It was simply awesome. My only regret on that trip is that we didn't go to Rongbuk.

Q. [EverestNews.com] The question every armchair climber wants to know. Why risk it all?

A. [Swee Chiow] I don't consider myself a very technical or skilful climber. My motivation comes from my curiosity that always asks: "Can I do it ? Can I do it faster ? Can I go higher ?" I am kind of a fanatic. Once I am hooked on an idea, it's hard to put it down. In addition, mountains are beautiful, they've got so many moods and faces.

Q. [EverestNews.com] What's Next ?

A. [Swee Chiow] The next step after Everest - I slept at C3 (7300m) on Everest without oxygen & I felt ok. It would be exciting to find out if I can do a "low & easy" 8000er without oxygen. That would be the next logical test of my climbing limit. Perhaps Xixabangma or G2. Pushing my limit a little further each time and self-discovery is very exciting for me. It keeps me going I guess.

Q. [EverestNews.com] David ...

A. [Swee Chiow] On David - He's the mastermind behind this 4-year project. Without him, this whole Everest business would not have been possible. So, we all owe our success to him.

Thanks much.

Swee Chiow

EverestNews.com has a feeling you will hear about Swee Chiow back on a 8000 meter peak in the future.

Update: I just came back from Vinson. I am so glad to have completed it. Here are my Seven Summits details:
Kili - 20 Jun 1994
Everest - 25 May 1998
Aconcagua - 29 Feb 2000
Denali - 1 Jul 2000
Elbrus - 19 Sep 2000
Carstenz - 19 Oct 2000
Kosciuszko - 28 Oct 2000
Vinson - 22 Nov 2000

Date of birth 16/11/64. Singaporean.

For a list of those who have completed the Seven Summits see here.

Khoo Swee Chiow, veteran expedition leader, Everest Summiter, author and motivational speaker.
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