Singapore Adventurers' Club

Adventure Diary 1980s

Kokoda Trail – From Kovello to Owers’ Corner (1987)


by Lee Tze Hong

Three fellow adventures Pang Kwok Peng, Clifton Tang and Lee Tze Hong flew into Popondetta one bright sunny morning in July. The low one-story terminal building offered some relief from the searing heat while we waited for our backpacks to be unloaded. There was no sign of any town nearby and we had no idea which direction was Popondetta. There was not taxi in sight so we asked the driver of the only can around if we could get a ride into town. It cost us PNG $3 each?

On the half hour journey into Popondetta town, we made friends with a little girl who told us her name was Rowena. We said we were heading for Kokoda but she said we could do that tomorrow; why not stay over at her place for the night? After waiting fruitlessly for more than two hours for transport to Kokoda, we walked to Rowena’s house and stayed the night. The guest room was a wooden platform with a thatched roof standing next to the pigsty. We bathed in the stream behind the house. For dinner, Rowena’s sister-in-law cooked us some leaves from a tree near her room. They told us they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The next morning, Rowena took us to a logging camp run by some Singaporeans. There, we piled into a 4WD for the 90 minute drive to Kokoda where we bought a one meter long bush knife. At Kovello, we reported at the police post and informed them that we were about to walk the 94km route to Owers’ Corner and thence back to Port Moresby. The sergeant requested that we let them know our estimated time of arrival because if we were overdue at the other end, they would send out a search party for us. We were warned to be careful because some escaped convicts from Port Moresby were reported to be heading his way along the same track. We told the sergeant we would be alright; we had our bush knife.

Rowena saw us off at the edge of the forest. We promised to call her from Port Moresby when we arrived. Then we set off to look for Isurava, our first night’s stop. Isurava turned out to be an abandoned village surrounded by a forest of fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers. A herd of cows and a gigantic white goat roamed freely around in the deserted village and tried to get at our food. Fortunately, we found a house on stilts to spend the night in. The cows spent the night underneath our house.

The next day, we stopped for a rest at Alola village and all the little children came out to take a look at the yellow-skinned strangers. They were the last humans we saw for the next two days. We climbed towards Mt. Bellamy along the valley of the Iora Creek, a river so big that at 1500m above sea level, it is still a raging torrent. We slept that night along the banks of Iora Creek. The night was cold and in the morning we did not bathe. A cold drenching mist hinges over the forest as we continued our climb. We crossed the Iora Creek once more and promptly got lost; the track did not continue on the other side of the river. We lost about one and a half hours searching for the track. One member, Pang got a 10cm row of thorns in his leg while crashing through the undergrowth, but he found the track.

We got into Kagi village rather late that day and bathed in freezing cold water under a pale evening moon. The village headman thought we looked rather hungry and brought us a basketful of home-gown bananas and sweet potatoes. We ate all the sweet potatoes and then we had dinner. After dinner, we ate all the bananas. Both Kagi and Manari, our next stop, have airstrips and airplanes call regularly at these two villages. Just as we arrived at Manari, a plane landed at the airstrip. Like people the world over, the whole village turned out to greet the plane, its passengers, and its cargo. After a short 10-15 minute stopover, the little Cessna lifted off and was soon beyond the next mountain ridge.

As we left Manari, some villagers gave us a large ripe papaya. As soon as we were out of sight, we ate it up to avoid having to carry it in our hands. Approaching Naoro, we caught up with a family that had gone to Manari to send a relative off at the airstrip. This proved to be a fortunate encounter for me. At the Naoro swamps, when I hesitated about crossing a river on a small tree trunk one of them picked up my 25kg backpack and strolled across. I followed, hesitant and unsteady on the shaky log. We stopped at his house for a rest and to refill our water bottles. Then we pushed on through the forest. On a ridge with chest high kunai grass and giant stands of bamboo, I stopped a while to admire the birds of paradise. Pang and Clifton went ahead to look for Ioribaiwa, another abandoned village where we hoped to spend the night. They could not find the village and I caught up with them at Ofi Creek. We decided to spend the night on the banks. It wasn’t too cold and we had a pleasant evening with our bottle of brandy.

We were not almost through to Owers’ Corner. Crossing Imita Gap, we spent our last night by the Goldie River. We left our last peg of brandy in the bottle and tied it to a pole on the river bank for the next tired trekker to revive himself with. Then we climbed up the river bank to Owers’ Corner.

Getting back to Port Moresby was a simple matter of walking several kilometres until we met up with a PMV, the PNG version of a public bus. Then it was a simple matter of squeezing our packs and ourselves in between the other passengers and their bananas and their vegetables. Fortunately, no one was bringing their pigs to market that day. We called Rowena that night from our hotel room in Port Moresby. We told her of our adventures and she said she would tell the police in Kovello that we were safe. The next day, we set off to climb Mt. Wilhelm.

Jade Mountain Adventure - First Ascent of Jade Mountain (1984)


by Tan Yee Lee

At the other side of the hall, the girls (they always woke up first) were groping about for something which is always not around when needed. With their torchlight flashing, tip-toeing and avoiding the masses of bodies (some motionless & some snoring), they left the hall to do their things in the darkness outside. A member sleeping besides me yelp as one of the early birds stepped on his foot, probably the ankle or his little toe by the sound of the cry. I looked at my watch, pressed the light button it read 4.30am! Why the hell did they wake up so early for? I never had more than five hours sleep each night since my arrival in Taiwan. I rolled myself on my stomach, pulled the sheet over my head, locked my eye-lids and continued with my dream. All of a sudden, many voices shouted ‘the sun’, ‘beautiful’, ‘is coming out!’ It was still dark in the hall, more flashlight lid up. I look for mine, bad luck; the biggest guy in our group had borrowed it last night. I put my hand into the haversack pulled out a plastic bag. It contained toothbrush, toothpaste, face towel and soap. Everything I need was there! Something must be wrong I thought, this never happened before. I went out the front door, turned to the back of the building where the only facility available was a standpipe. There wasn’t enough space. Five out of six people were taking pictures of the sun, peeping over the mountain we going to climb later. We had camped the night in this old Police Station (new one across the road) situated between Alishan and Jade Mountain.

Breakfast was disappointing, we had porridge, preserved vegetables and roasted peanuts. Filling no doubt, but not lasting. There were tempting biscuits and snacks on the shelf of the little shop house. As usual I always choose the wrong decision (we dearly regret later). I didn’t buy any, neither did the others. We all scrambled aboard a ‘sardine box type’ of truck with our fully packed haversack. When the van was filled we found 3 guys were left outside the van. We got everyone out and repacked the members. They packed two-tiers this time – bugs better leave the van to avoid being crushed. The journey to the starting point of the climb was like a one way ticket to hell. I was wondering what terrible crimes we had committed to deserve such punishment. The driver wasn’t having a good time either, he had to avoid rain-filled potholes as large as the truck, landslides, rock slides, giant boulders, blind corners, crevices and an overload truck. Edges of cliff were so steep that we dare not stick our head too far out in case we tipped the truck over. Once we even had to get out and help to push the truck up a slippery slope.

At the starting point we had to use our hands and knees to crawl out of the trucks. Once out of the truck we had to massage, stretch and even pinch our numbed legs so we can make use of them. The tourist mentality returned, out popped the cameras and the habitants of H.D.B. began to imitate Ah Meng’s pose at Mandai Zoo.

The climb starts at 8.30am. It was an easy trek. We were more troubled by the poison ivy, sharp blades and thorns of vegetation than by the steep slopes of the path. We had an early lunch at the ‘Climber’s Hurricanes Shelter’ a small metal hut held down by steel wires at the side of the path. The packed lunch re-vitalised our strength as the porridge food we had for breakfast had long vanished. We cursed, sweated, sung, bluffed, joked, laughed, prayed, etc. till we reached the base camp called ‘Pai Yin’ Cottage. Physically, it was the same as climbing Mt. Ophir, only more dangerous and the vegetation was more pleasant – some exactly like those we have seen in Chinese Paintings. About half a dozen of us suffered mild mountain sickness. After a satisfying Singapore dinner (Thai rice, curry chicken, bake bean, sardines and a bottle of wine), we prepared out things, stoked up the fire place (temp 9 degree C) and went to bed early (8.00pm) because we had to be up by 2.30am tomorrow morning to scale the summit.

After a meal (I don’t know what to call it at 3.00am) armed with torchlights, thickly dressed from head to toe we the ascent. As we move upwards we could see thousands of starts in the sky, almost telling us that it’s going to be a fine day. At 5.00am we were almost reaching the top when suddenly a ray of sunlight shone straight into our eyes. The Eastern side of the mountain was lighted up and we were like movie stars under the spot-light. We smiled, laughed, shook hands and took pictures of each other. A group photograph was taken with the flags of Taiwan, Singapore and our own SAC banner. In a joyous mood we went down the mountain to Pai Yin Cottage in 45 minutes.

A quick breakfast and after many goodbyes to our hosts at Pai Yin Cottage, we were on our way back to the starting point of our climb. There, we rested for 30 minutes, changed to track pants and long trousers. We were told by our Taiwanese Guide that this route was snake-infested and the distance about 20km (which turned out to be 40km). Happily we descended to the valley. It was wet, slippery, over grown with weeds and creepers. Certain areas the track disappears. Fortunately or unfortunately in our group there was a big silent joker who caused us to have stomach cramps through laughing at the way he slipped and fell – style we probably seen in cartoon movies. We had to stop and let him changes his jeans which was torn 30cm wide. After going down for more than 4 hours through the thick undergrowth, flooded, slippery and non-existing path, we came to a dead end – the bridge across a fast flowing stream was washed away. We had no choice, so we cooked lunch, washed ourselves and had a well deserve rest.

At the beginning of the trek we were laughing, half way through we were crying, I just could not imagined the ending – that’s adventure! You go through the whole spectrum of ecstasies. At 4.30pm we cross the stream which was knee deep and it cool our tired feet. We were still in the jungle, the footpath became wider. We heard a gunshot; we whistled and shouted afraid that they might mistaken us for a wild animals. There were silence again and it could be an illegal hunter. After many stream crossing we came to a beautiful waterfall, no pictures were taken – the scenery does not thrilled anyone anymore and besides it was too dark. We were weak and hungry. We had used up all our rations. Our Moses immediately took out two packets of dry longan. We continued our journey with longan power this time. We had to use our torchlight. It was complete darkness at 8.30pm. At one stretch of trek we found a dozen large fire flies lighting the bushes. It takes our mind of the drudgery of walking. We make a turn to the right, in front was an old suspension bridge which we had to cross one at a time. We could not see the bottom but we can hear the sound of rushing waters. From the bridge we could see the light of our destination the Huang Poo Hot Spring but it is up a hill 200m high. Oh No! Some more climbing to do! Using an adventurer’s motto, “if there’s a mountain we will climb it” – this time we had no choice. While we were stripping ourselves of sweat smelling clothes it was announced that dinner will be ready 10pm. ‘HURRAH!’

To think of it now I believe that every one of us enjoyed the unique experience of an 18½ hours trek.

Leader: Allan Tan

The Philippines Experience (1983)


by Pang Kwok Peng

That was the first expedition of the SAC to this region on which we, under the leadership of Alan Tan made our appearance in the Philippines.

Mt. Apo, a dormant volcano is the highest in the Philippines. Its height is about 10,300ft (3,100m). It is situated on the island of Mindanao and about 80 miles from Davao City.

On the 29th March 1983 eight men and seven ladies set out on the expedition to scale Mt. Apo and Mt. Mayon, the world most perfect cone volcano. The date was chosen to coincide with the Annual Climb of Mt. Apo organised by the Ministry of Tourism, Philippines. Our participation created some ripples on the otherwise calm proceedings of the annual climb. On our arrival to Davao City we were met and garlanded by pretty Filipinas, officials of the Ministry of Tourism. Later we were shown clippings from local newspapers featuring our participation of the climb.

The trek took 4 days. On the first day we only trekked for 2 hours to reach the campsite at Lake Agko, the Blue Lake. It is a hot water lake and true to its name, its water is of a murky turquoise colour. At this height the drop in temperature could be felt especially when the sun began to set. So out came our woolies, all except our George who walked about the campsite dressed in his swimming trunk and a very sexy one at that.

The following day we walked for 7 hours, ascending to an altitude of about 8,000ft (2,400m), to Lake Venadu. Part of the time was spent trekking along the bed of the Marbel River. The river bed was rocky with hugh boulders and rocks scattered all over. We had to jump and hop from rock to rock, did balancing acts on narrow tree trunks and clambered over boulders. Because of the dry spell the flow of the river was pretty slow and the level of the water was low. Even so all of us got wet to some degree. Correction, all except our dear “Lau Chek” Jimmy who stayed dry. He was so proud of it that he kept telling us about it. This happy situation was reversed when we visited the Pagsanjan Waterfall by boat. This was on the 5th day tour of the Philippines. We stopped at a rest point and all got out of the boat safe and dry, all except “Lau Chek” who slipped and wet himself. So now it’s we who kept telling him about it.

Lake Venadu turned out to be disappointment. The dry spell had reduced the size of the lake to about one tenth its original sizes. Consequently clean water supply because a problem. Boiling of the water was necessary and washing oneself was definitely out of the question. The latter restriction did not bother us too much as the desire to wash was easily blown out of our mind by the cold wind.

The next day we started for the summit at about 6am, reaching it at about 10am. The summit is not a peak; in fact we were not very sure where the highest point was. The top is ridge-like with a few humps and flat sections and the volcano crater is on the other side of the ridge. We spent an hour exploring and returned to Lake Venadu at about 12.30pm, packed our bags and departed. We abandoned the idea of staying another night for the following reasons:
(a) There was little for us to do, which was the main reason,
(b) We could not endure another night of cold, (5 degrees C).
Some of us were poorly clothed and they spent a good part of the previous night rattling their teeth and curled up like little cooked prawns. I must say that even dear George was relieved to hear that we were leaving.

We descended to the Marbel River and camped for the night. It was a pleasant site. The river provided us with the luxury of bathing and plenty of drinking water. The temperature was cool and refreshing. I would like to mention here that all the way down from Lake Venadu we were escorted by three Filipino soldiers. Their duty was to ensure that we were not harassed in any way.

After Apo we spent 5 luxurious days touring the usual tourist spots in the Philippines, e.g. Baguio, Pagsanjan Waterfall, Manila, etc.

The last five days found us in Legaspi, trekking up Mt. Mayon. Mayon is a dormant volcano which erupted in 1978. The climb took 2 days, 1½ day to reach the peak and ½ day to descend. It was very exhausting. The main causes were the nerve-wrecking terrain of the last 2,000ft to the top and the shortage of drinking water. There is no water at the campsite; it has to be carried up from the resting point at about 1,500ft. The campsite is about 6,000ft, and is made up of sandy and rocky ground. The patches of flat ground at the campsite were barely big enough for an 8-men tent. Pegging the tents down was out of the question, all anchoring had to be done by tying to rocks.

The final 1,000ft of the “cone” turned out to be the most challenging and offered an unique experience to those who dared to proceed. Out of the 15 members only 3 men dared to tread the precarious slope to the top. The slope is steep, about 65 degree, and consists of loose round stones and gravel. It is also completely bare. An accidental lost of footing could send one tumbling down a 1,000ft. The rocks are also very sharp, they bite into gloves and track shoes. One of the girls who descended the slope on all five – 2 hands, 2 legs and one bottom, got 2 big holes on the seat of her track pants. Exhausted and drained all of us returned safely to the camp site, but the looks on their faces were most comical, we looked oike the black and white minstrels, in reverse ie white face and black teeth. White face was from the fear while coming down and black teeth was from the black berries we ate to quench our thirst. The berry shrubs grow in abundance on the lower slope.

The $1,500 we spent on the expedition was worth every cent. The trip offered a variety of experiences and sights. And for the men one more expression is added to the white face and black teeth, and that is big bright eyes from watching the a-go-go dancers in manila.

Lake Toba Experience - First Ascent of Mount Sinabung (1980)


by Frances Wee

“S$500/- for a 9-days holiday in Lake Toba, inclusive of airfare, food, lodgings and even shopping.” Really cheap, isn’t it? That’s what we thought – so 19 SAC members lost no time in securing this wonderful offer! But wait till you hear what we have to put up with.

1. The air-hostesses on the Garuda flight to Medan forgot to serve some of us. Those left out then invaded the kitchen and helped themselves to the drinks.
2. Three days and nights in the bug-infested Batak house on Samosir Island (this island is in the middle of Lake Toba), most of the nights were spent scratching and bug-hunting rather than sleeping. And to make matters worse, there were no toilet or bathing facilities.
3. The dogs in Tomok Village on the island gave us a “howling reception” when we checked in. They kept at it for 2 solid nights. Peace was declared only on our last night on Samosir Island.
4. Cooking in an ill-ventilated kitchen reduced the cooks to tears which were due to smoke from the charcoal fire.
5. We met a swarm of ‘too-friendly” bees who decided to leave their imprint on us.
6. We had to battle against the strong, chilly wind and thick mist and had to cling precariously to the rock surface for dear life during the last 500m of the ascent.
7. At the peak, we had a most unappetising dinner comprising sticky, sweetened rice with almost raw carrots and potatoes. Someone had accidently cooked the rice with glucose water.
8. At night in the freezing tent, we had to hold onto the edges of the tent for fear that the howling wind might blow it off.
9. Somewhere during the descent, we were hopelessly lost, thanks to incompetent guides. (There were 4 guides) We had to go through thick forest and tall, thorny lalangs and trepass on leeches’ territory. The starved leeches welcomed us with open arms. We had to walk round the whole mountain trying to find the village from which we first started off. Our track shoes were beyond redemption after this marathon walk.
10. Back in Kaban Jahe, we have to dry clean ourselves. Imagine after the climb, everyone feeling so disgustingly dirty and yet we could not bathe. The water rationing had started that evening and would only end at 6.00am the next day.

You may think that we had a nightmarish time. But no, despite of all the discomfort, everyone had a whale of a time!

Lake Toba is very beautiful and scenic. Bathing in the fresh-water lake was simply divine. We all took a long time soaking ourselves and frolicking in the water.

Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba has a long and colourful history of Batak Kings and traditional customs. Our host, Mr. Oonan took us on a conducted tour round the Batak burial grounds and enlightened us on the history of the Bataks. It seemed that the Bataks made either a good friend or a deadly enemy. They had a cruel and sadistic way of torturing their enemy. The enemy is laid on a slab of stone, then flayed. Next they would squeeze lime or run salt all over the raw flesh of the victim. (Talk about rubbing salt in the wound!) Then they would chop the body into little pieces, mix them with buffalo meat and have a celebration dinner with the recipe they have just created. While at Samosir Island we had the opportunity of witnessing a modern Batak funeral. Only the pastor was in black, the rest in gay, colourful clothes.

We really learned a lot about the natives by just being their neighbour. The hospitality showered on us was overwhelming. The villagers are a simple bunch of people who take pleasure in the simple things in life. They mistook us for Japanese and every time they met us, they would flash a smile and say, “aji-no-moto?”

The ascent to Mt. Sinabung was full of surprises. We were the first SAC group to attempt this live volcano and none of us knew what to except. We encountered thick and dense vegetation, bees, wasps, hornets, snakes and lots of other creepy, crawly creatures. There were no clear tracks – we literally had to pave our own way through. We reached the peaks 6.35pm. It was dark and freezing. We could feel the chill right to the very marrow of our bones. It was far too dark and misty to see anything at that time. All we could see were the clouds below us. However the lack of scenery did not dampen our spirits. A sense of pride and achievement was written on all our faces – yeah, we Struggled And Conquered – all 2,451m of Mt. Sinabung! After an unforgettable dinner, it was slumber land all the way… zzzzzzzzz

Early next morning, we started to descend. It took longer than expected. We met with continuous heavy rains that slowed us down even more. We reached the town of Kaban Jahe all wet, muddied and bedraggled.

After the memorable ascent, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to Brastagi, Brastagi is a small picturesque hill resort, north of Lake Toba. Local fruits like the margqeesa and ‘snake-skin’ fruit were on display in the markets. There were plenty of souvenirs, batiks, paintings, etc. for the tourists.

Our departure day coincided with Indonesia’s National Day – August 17th. Their celebration was like ours in Singapore – street parades and all. We almost could not catch the flight back due to road blocks. But all’s well that ends well.

I think we all came away enriched from this trip. We learned to appreciate better what luxuries we have at home as compared to the villagers at Samosir Island. We were certainly put to the test – we had to cooperate with each other, practice patience, endurance and determination and be one big, happy family for 9 days. We marched off with flying colours. Everything went on smoothly without a hitch. This holiday was worth every cent spent. It was certainly an experience to remember for life.