1st Malaysians on Everest

23 May 2017 - Celebrating 2 decades of First Malaysians on Everest.

7th MOBYA President (1989-1991) R.C.Ramakrishna, AMN, PPN, PK(PS)
First to conquer Mt. Everest: M. Magendran and N. Mohanadas became national heroes when they reached the 8,848m summit of Mt. Everest on May 23, 1997, after braving thick snow, strong winds and freezing temperatures since March 1. The duo, members of the Malaysian Mountaineering Association, were part of a 20-member Malaysian team in this Everest expedition.
Datuk M. Magendran is the first Malaysian mountain climber to conquer the summit of Mount Everest ascended the South Col on the southeast ridge. He stepped onto Everest's summit on 23 May 1997, at 11:55 a.m. local time and then followed by Datuk Mohanadas Nagappan, who reached the summit a few minutes later at 12:10 p.m. The two mountaineers were part of the first "Malaysia-Everest Project 97" jointly organised by the Malaysia Mountaineering Association and the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Malaysia.
Datuk M. Magendran and Datuk N. Mohanadas.
Datuk N. Mohandas

From The Star Online: Nation

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Still feeling on top of the world

MALAYSIANS should not overdo things just to get fame, says Datuk M. Magendran, who is the first Malaysian to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest.

“Why do we do things like the biggest roti canai or biggest tosai in Malaysia? What is the message? What are you trying to prove? “Don’t do something just to get into the Malaysian Book of Records. That is not the right mindset.
When you do something, make it worthwhile. It must carry some kind of message. Somebody must benefit out of it,” he says.

Magendran should know. When he and Datuk N. Mohandas reached the summit on May 23, 1997, Malaysians reaped the benefits from their feat.

Their “Malaysia Boleh” message rang loud and clear. And it got Malaysians believing in themselves.

“We’ve seen many Malaysians now going to new frontiers and different parts of the world creating history for the country. We’ve sailed solo around the world, explored the North and South Pole, swam the channels,” says Magendran with pride, happy he was one of the pioneers to add an “Omph’’ to the “Malaysia Boleh” spirit.

Even after 20 years Magendran, whose passion is extreme and professional competitive sports, still remembers the monologue in his head as he climbed, the wind howling around him and that awesome burst of joy when he reached the summit.

“That feeling of achievement and of being able to finally realise a Malaysian dream – after so many years of gruelling training and overcoming so many odds – was more beautiful than the 360° view of a lifetime that I was enjoying,’’ he shares.

He didn’t think he would make it to the summit at one point as a few weeks earlier, when Magendran was climbing, a snow ridge collapsed and he fell into a crevasse. The ropes covering the crevasse broke his fall but his left knee slammed hard into the ice. Luckily, there was no fracture but his knee had become swollen. He had to put a hot water pack on it, apply ointment and have it massaged and bandaged to get the swelling down.

When Magendran made the ascend to the summit, his knee was still hurting, but he just put on a knee guard and bandage, and carried on.

There were 10 climbers (including the reserve climbers) in the Malaysian team. On May 23, four climbers set out from Camp 4 for the summit. But two had to turn back – Muhammad Fauzan Hassan had diarrhoea while Gary Chong also fell ill – leaving Magendran and Mohandas to make the final charge.

Magendran, who is a teacher, says he had always told his students to “dream big and persevere” so he could not turn back despite the pain.

“My students knew I had been training to climb Everest and I was always encouraging them to persevere. So I couldn’t go back and face my kids if I did not reach the summit. I wanted to be a good example for them,” he says.
Before Everest, Magendran had climbed Mount Kinabalu twice. Since his return, he has climbed Mount Kinabalu every year, he says.

“This is not about me. It’s my personal social obligation to give something back to the youths of Malaysia. I take students and youths up with me.

“Some are strangers who request to join and if I have the space I’ll take them. And we only meet at the airport.
“For them it is something very new. It is still a tough mountain to climb. For them it is their ‘Everest’.

“And for me, it doesn’t matter how many times I climb Mount Kinabalu. I still love the view.

“The terrain, vegetation, flora and fauna are different. You can’t see that anywhere else in Malaysia,” he says, adding that he always tries to add in a conversational element when he takes students and youths on these trips.
Magendran, who was seconded to the National Sports Council for 11 years and is now a senior assistant in a school, says while Malaysia has this dream to be a fully developed nation “things have to move simultaneously in the right direction”.

“My concern is that certain things are being blown out proportion. For one, there was no social media before.”
These days hiking and trekking has become a lifestyle and youths like to post and show off on Facebook that they are trekkers.

“It is a good thing that people are getting into these kind of activities but I can also see the negative side to it.
“Sometimes they get excited and organise big groups when going into the jungle. When a big group goes in they need a bigger camp site and may need to cut down trees.

“They leave too much garbage in the jungle and when they set fires they disrupt the natural temperature in the jungle.

“There is no awareness in keeping our jungles clean. You have to take out what you take in. There needs to be awareness and a balance.’’

For their Everest achievement, Magendran and Mohandas were conferred the title of “Datuk”, but only in 2010 by the Penang state government and in 2011 by the King.

Magendran says he did not mind that it took a long time for him to be awarded the title.

“When we climbed Everest it was because we wanted to climb the mountain in the name of the country. “Nobody promised us anything.

“We were happy that we did it. Of course with the success there came a bit of fame. But then we went back to reality and our daily lives.’’

To date, over 20 Malaysians have conquered Everest, and their triumph is splashed online for all to see.

“But our success will always be there. That’s probably the beauty of being the first. Whenever you speak about Everest in Malaysia you cannot omit our names,’’ says Magendran.

A mountain of memories

YOU would think that reaching the summit of Mount Everest is the ultimate achievement for those who make it there. Especially if you create history for a country.

Datuk M. Magendran and Datuk N. Mohandas are names etched in history for being the first two Malaysians to successfully climb Mount Everest.

For Mohandas, that feat meant so much more.

‘‘I feel it ‘woke up’ other Malaysians to do whatever they dream of and to do things out of the box.”

Everest “woke” Mohandas up too. It ignited a fire in him to climb more ‘‘mountains’’ and ‘‘summits’’ in life, says the 56-year-old.

Interestingly, he places his work achievements even higher than climbing Everest!

When he first started working with Shell 38 years ago, he explains, his job was to refuel aircraft at Subang airport.
‘‘When I came back from the summit, I was given an instant triple promotion on my first day back at work. That was unexpected.

“And after that, I got promotion after promotion.

‘‘Now I am an accounts manager. I am very comfortable in terms of lifestyle and my finances.

‘‘I never dreamed I would be an accounts manager! Even if I had worked my way up for 20 years , there is no way I could get to the position I am in today.

‘‘So the mountain pushed me and put me at a place where I was not even able to dream of!”

Mohandas feels he owes a lot to Everest and has a picture of the mountain in his office.

That way he can be reminded everyday of crossing crevasses, climbing ice blocks and - basically doing whatever it takes - to get where he wants to go, he says.

He keeps all his Everest gear, including the insulated suit, face mask, gloves, boots, and goggles he wore to the summit, in a glass cupboard in his living room – all still in pristine condition even after 20 years. He even kept the oxygen tanks, the oxygen hose, harness, crampons, alpine ice axe and walking poles that he used.

Mohandas admits it was never his dream to climb Everest as he wasn’t even athletic in school.

Climbing started out as an outdoor hobby for him. He went to the Outward Bound School for a short course in 1989 and got a merit award. Buoyed by that, he joined the Malaysian Mountaineering Association (MMA) and went on one of their mountaineering camps to climb Gunung Tahan.

And when he learnt that MMA was planning an Everest Expedition in 1997, Mohandas thought “Why not just give it a try?”

About 100 people signed up but after fitness tests and training, including alpine training in New Zealand and Nepal, they were shortlisted to 10.

In May 1996, Mohandas was one of six Malaysians on a joint Malaysia-New Zealand expedition to Mount Pumori, which is about 10km from Everest.

Their leader was renowned high altitude guide and climber Guy Cotter.

But before their climb, a blizzard hit Everest, leaving two expedition leaders struggling to get their climbers down. Cotter rushed to the Base Camp to help.

One of his close buddies, Rob Hall, was stranded on the mountain. The rescuers could not reach them in time. Eight people died in that tragedy, said to be one of the worst on the mountain, including both expedition leaders, Hall and Scott Fischer.

The Pumori Expedition that Mohandas was on got aborted. The deaths of Hall, Fischer and the other climbers hit him hard. Cotter and Hall had been communicating regularly before the expeditions and Mohandas got a chance to speak to Hall.

“I even wished him luck and success on his expedition,’’ he says.

It did not help that things turned sour after the tragedy. Cotter – who was training the Malaysian team – was not given the contract for the 1997 Malaysia-Everest climb. When the team got to base camp in March 1997, there was a lot of negative chatter about them being inexperienced and that the expedition was a waste of money.

But they did not let the negativity stop them, he recalls.

Getting to the summit and back was tough, with over 200 bodies left on the mountain, Mohandas says he just staggered on despite coming face to face with the deadly reminders of how dangerous the climb was.

He says when he saw Magendran waiting for him at the summit, his first desire was to rush towards his team mate to celebrate the moment, but because of the altitude and exhaustion he couldn’t even “run 10 feet”, says Mohandas, who regularly runs 8km three times a week to keep fit.

The two Malaysians stayed on the summit for about 45 minutes before heading back down.

‘‘When I came back, I was totally exhausted. It felt like I had finished a marathon then ran back the same distance. But I was happy. We had climbed Everest and made it back!”

He says the experience taught him a lot, especially how to be humble.

“I learnt you shouldn’t try to be a hero and show off when you go up mountains, even in Malaysia, because a lot of tragedies can happen up there.


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