Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Indonesians @ Sagarmatha...

It was our neighbor, Indonesia that made it as first ASEAN country to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1997. Read on share their pride and experiences.
Everest conquerors come down to earth
Edith Hartanto The Jakarta Post

What is it like to be at 8,848 meters on the summit of the world's highest mountain?

Adisena/1997 Everest Team
VIVA INDONESIA: Civilian and military members of the 1997 Indonesian National Team to Everest pose at the Everest Base Camp in the South Col at an altitute of 5,300 meters, with Indonesian red-and-white flags and Buddhist flags for mountain blessings above them. 

Battling to breathe in the thin air, dealing with the possibility of snow blindness and temperatures that can suddenly drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius, plus the foretelling numbness of frostbite that pushes the possibilities of amputation from remote to probable.
And that is in addition to the prospect that death could be just one step away. All these dangers were experienced by 16 civilian and military climbers of the Indonesian National Expedition Team to Everest, who attempted to scale the world's highest mountain from the northern and southern sides in 1997.
The team accomplished their task. Two young soldiers, Asmujiono and Misirin, who approached the summit from the southern side, heroically pulled it together to raise the red-and-white flag and made tropical Indonesia the first Southeast Asian country to reach the peak of Mt. Everest late in the afternoon of April 26, 1997.

The team attempting the ascent from the northern side, however, was forced to begin its descent just 200 meters from the summit due to rough weather, team member Gunawan "Ogun" Achmad, a civilian climber from Bandung-based sports club Wanadri, said.

Had both teams made it, Indonesia would have set a world record by scaling Mt. Everest from two sides in one expedition.

The team was trained and assisted by three world acclaimed high-altitude mountaineers, the late Anatoli Boukreev, known as the "Tiger Woods of the Himalayas", who had scaled 11 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks without the use of supplementary oxygen and had climbed Everest four times; the late Vladimir Bashkirov, a notable adventure cameramen and filmmaker in Russia who on six occasions scaled peaks exceeding 8,000 meters; and Dr. Evgeny Vinogradski, seven-time champion climber in the Soviet Union who is also known as a high-altitude climbing instructor and sports physician.

"I had never seen snow before in my life until the Everest expedition. None of the soldiers in the team had," First Sgt. Asmujiono, then a private, recalled recently.

Anatoli Boukreev
Succesful members of the 1997 Indonesian National Everest Expedition with Russian advisors and consultants (left to right): Vladimir Bashkirov, Asmujiono, Misirin, Evgeny Vinogradski and Anatoli Boukreev. The pictures were taken shortly after they scaled 8,848-meter Mt. Everest on April 26, 1997, around 3:30 p.m. the Indonesian team was the first team that climbed Everest in the 1997 mountaineering season.

"Anatoli was patient enough to teach us how to use an ice ax. It was incredible. I had the spirit, but no experience ... I was ready to die for it. It's because of the guidance and the help of our Russian coaches that the team made it and returned safely," said Asmujiono, who ran to embrace the tripod of flags that marks Everest's peak and single-handedly raised the Indonesian flag on the summit after his colleague, then First Sgt. Misirin, collapsed in the snow 30 meters away.

"I only remember calling Asmujiono's name, hearing my voice echoing on the white mountain and Bashkirov slapping my face and shaking me ... after that, everything went black. I suddenly had a terrible headache," said Misirin, a member of the Special Forces, adding that he was told later he had suffered sudden high-altitude mountain sickness.

Desperate to prove that Indonesians had scaled Sagarmatha, the Nepali term for Everest, Asmujiono pulled off his oxygen mask, balaclava and glacier sunglasses. He replaced them with his red Army beret and unfurled the red-and-white flag.

"Some say what I did was dangerous and stupid, but it was necessary. I had to prove that it was us, the Indonesians, who made it to the top. Who would have been able to recognize us in the summit photos if our faces had been completely covered? We only had 10 minutes on the summit before Anatoli told us we had to go before it got dark."

Although the team was feted after the ascension, it seems the prolonged economic crisis and the nation's turbulent politics led to the achievement being forgotten by the public.

"It is such a pity. Our nation was internationally acclaimed for this great achievement, but because of political changes, it seems that history has been forgotten," said Monty Sorongan, liaison officer of the 1997 Everest expedition.

Monty, who has run an adventure business for many years, termed the expedition a "crazy project".

The US$1.5 million expedition, made up of civilian and military climbers from University of Indonesia's Mapala UI nature sports club, Wanadri and members of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) only had five months to prepare back in 1996, by running a summit exercise and selection program at 5,928-meter Paldor Peak and 6,189-meter Island Peak in the Himalayas.
"We were under pressure because neighboring countries Malaysia and Thailand had been preparing their teams for the previous two years," he said.

Asmujiono, now 31, has lost the hearing in his right ear and said he suffered chronic health problems after climbing Everest.

"The only thing I regret is that, in my duties as a soldier, I haven't been able to take care of my health. I don't want to be a burden to anyone, I have to strive to put food on the table. With the small salary I earn as a low-ranking soldier, I haven't been able to do much about my health, even though I know my injuries may obstruct my military career, but I thank God that I have survived.

"One of my doctors said that some of my illnesses are due to the rough conditions that I encountered on Everest, and that it may have been because I took off my mask on the summit. I can't do anything about it now, except hope that I will recuperate somehow.

"I am deaf in my right ear and I have been told by my doctors that my brain has been affected. I was also operated on and placed in the intensive care unit of Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital because of blocked arteries in 1997. You name it, I've been through it. I've had various health checks -- MRI, CAD Scan, etc.," said Asmujiono, who is also the father of a two-year-old boy.
A light machine gun carrier at the Kopassus base in Serang, Asmujiono said that his dream is only to get in touch again with Vinogradski, who treated him during the whole Everest expedition.

"He saved my life," the soldier said, with tears in his eyes. 

Anatoli Boukreev
Asmujiono holds an Indonesian flag in front of the tripod of poles marking the summit of Everest. He opened his protective balaclava, glacier sunglasses and oxygen mask to put on his red Army beret, an act that may have contributed to his subsequent health problems.

"It was a crazy expedition," recalled Gunawan "Ogun" Achmad, now a consultant for outdoor sports and nature activities.

Ogun remembered how worried the team was when the three Russian coaches, Asmujiono and Misirin, along with team leader, then Second Lt. (now Capt.) Iwan Setiawan, who failed to reach the summit because they ran out of time, had to stay the night at emergency Camp V at an altitude of 8,000 meters on the way down the mountain.

"No members of the Everest team had ever done that. It was crazy but our emergency overnight stay at Camp V turned out to save our lives," Ogun said, adding that the team members cried and vomited and had to endure the acute pain of altitude sickness all night.
Other team members, Mapala UI's Ripto Mulyono and Rudi "Becak" Nurcahyo, said that Everest was a great life experience.

Ripto, who makes his living as an adventure guide, said that he felt he was strong enough to reach the peak.

"But then the coaches decided only three members could go. I got over it because that was their call and the right decision at the time," Ripto said.

The fate of other members of the expedition clearly shows the danger of mountain climbing.
Bashkirov died due to acute mountain sickness at Everest's 8,050-meter high camp on May 26, 1997, only one month after he climbed Everest with the Indonesian team. He died in the arms of his best friend, Anatoli Boukreev. Anatoli died in an avalanche on Christmas Day in 1997, when trying to open a new route up Mt. Annapurna.
As the Philippine team prepares for this risky expedition, may we all pray and wish them the best of luck. After all, their glory is ours, too.
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