Singapore Women's Everest Team (2009)



The Singapore Women’s Everest Team (SWET) was the first all-female expedition from Singapore to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,850 m above sea level. Lee Li Hui was the first member to scale the peak at 3.45 am Nepal time on 20 May 2009, followed by Esther Tan nine minutes later and Jane Lee at 4.43 am.Another two members of the team, Joanne Soo and Lee Peh Gee, reached the summit on 22 May, while Sim Yi Hui did not make the final ascent due to chest pains.2

Team formation, training and fund-raising
In mid-2004, the team was formed by co-team leaders Jane Lee and Sim, and two others as part of the Make It Real Student Mountaineering programme at the National University of Singapore.3 One of the original members was Linda Tan, who later left the team and made an unsuccessful solo attempt to scale Mount Everest in 2008.4 A recruitment drive saw more than 30 women sign up for the team, but after strict fitness tests and interviews the number of members was reduced to 15 by August 2005.

In Singapore, the team’s training incorporated long-distance runs, gymnasium work, Bukit Timah Hill climbs and load-bearing treks from Bukit Timah to MacRitchie Reservoir. A number of days each week, the team also climbed a 30-storey Housing and Development Board flat in Tiong Bahru up to 12 times, carrying backpacks weighing between 15 kg and 20 kg and wearing ankle weights.6 In 2004, the team underwent a technical mountaineering course in New Zealand.

In the years leading up to its expedition, SWET climbed five other peaks to prepare for Everest.8 These were Mera Peak (6,476 m) in Nepal in 2005,9 Mount Siguniang (5,276 m) in Sichuan and Muztagh Ata (7,546 m) in Xinjiang in 2006, and Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth-highest peak (8,201 m), in 2007.10 The last mountain they scaled before Everest was the 5,484-metre Camel Peak in Sichuan.11 

SWET had planned its Everest climb for May 2008, but postponed it for a year after they could not raise sufficient funds.12 The expedition initially had a fund-raising target of S$1.8 million,13 but this was later revised to around S$500,000 for a six-member team.14 Team members also took no-pay leave for training and used personal funds for the expedition.15 

The title sponsor for the expedition was National Association of Travel Agents (NATAS), and thus the team was named NATAS SWET.16 

Everest expedition
On 21 March 2009, SWET left Singapore for Kathmandu in Nepal with 650 kg of luggage.17 The team members were Jane Lee, then 25 and a student development officer at Republic Polytechnic, Sim Yi Hui, then 26 and a training facilitator at Raffles Junior College, copywriter Esther Tan, then 26, Lee Li Hui, then 27 and a pharmaceutical product specialist, Joanne Soo, then 39 and owner of an outdoor adventure firm, and Singapore Armed Forces officer Lee Peh Gee, then 32.18 Three of them underwent Lasik surgery before the expedition to avoid complications with contact lenses and the risk of eye infections.19 SWET was also accompanied by Lim Kim Boon, the team’s base camp manager, training coach, adviser and liaison officer.20 

From Kathmandu, the team flew to Lukla before undertaking a five-hour trek to Chumoa.21 They then went on to camps at Namche and Dingboche to acclimatise to weather and altitude conditions.22 On 5 April, they set up at Everest’s Base Camp (5,400 m above sea level), and by the third week of the month had completed their first acclimatisation cycle, which saw them climb to Camps 1 and 2 together with Nepali sherpas.23 On 1 May, SWET completed its third and final acclimatisation cycle, a six-day ascent to Camp 4 (7,950 m above sea level). After the successful completion of the final cycle, the team climbed nearby Himalayan peaks like Pumori and Kala Pattar to maintain their physical conditions.24 

On Everest, SWET faced weather conditions of -26 to -73°C, the danger of avalanches, 118-mile-an-hour winds, and oxygen levels that were a third of that at sea level.25 A day before they were to cross the Khumbu Icefall, an accident saw three climbers from another expedition swept into a crevasse, with only two eventually rescued.26  

During their time at Base Camp, the team socialised with other Everest expedition teams and obtained weather information from other camps, but avoided extended contact to minimise the risk of picking up viruses such as the Khumbu Cough.27 The team members held nightly talks in their tents to support one another, and kept in touch with their families and friends through satellite phone calls and text messages. They also maintained contact with their supporters in Singapore through their website and emails.28 In April, SWET met a group of teachers and students from Christ Church Secondary School who had been inspired to make an expedition to Everest Base Camp after SWET conducted a motivational talk at their school.29 

On 8 May, the team split into two groups to begin their ascent to the summit, with the goal of reaching it on 12 May.30 However, adverse wind conditions forced them to postpone the ascent.31 On 15 May, the first group began its second summit attempt, with the second group following three days later.32 Lee Li Hui was the first at the summit at 3.45 am, while Tan and Jane Lee followed at 3.54 am and 4.43 am respectively.33 When they returned to Base Camp, the trio received a congratulatory call from President S. R. Nathan.34 On 22 May, the second group comprising Soo and Lee Peh Gee arrived at the summit at 5.31 am and 5.56 am respectively. Co-team leader Sim did not make the ascent as she was suffering from chest pains due to an inflammation of her sternum and ribs brought about by heavy breathing at high altitude.35 Tan said of the climb, “The stress of climbing Everest is incredible. Every day you see potential fatalities happening, actual fatalities happening, people flying out because they cannot take the stress or the real thought of death”.36 

The team returned to Singapore on 1 June 2009 and was welcomed home by their families, friends and around 150 supporters, including then Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Vivian Balakrishnan.37 

Post-expedition
In a congratulatory statement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the SWET expedition as a major milestone for Singaporean women and the local sporting community. He added that he was deeply impressed by their detailed preparation, determination, courage and perseverance, and noted the expedition took more than five years of hard work in physical training, team building and fund-raising.38 

After the Everest expedition, the women conducted motivational talks and workshops for schools, companies and the public, and promoted mountaineering among Singaporeans.39 In 2009, all six members of SWET were recipients of Her World magazine’s Young Woman Achiever award.40 



Author
Chan Meng Choo




References
 

1. Chua, G. (2009, May 21). Top of the world: Singapore women reach Mt EverestThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
2. Lim, J. (2009, June 14). They conquered their fears at the top of the worldThe New Paper, pp. 40–41; Chua, G. (2009, May 23). Two more women make it to the topThe Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
3. Lim, J. (2009, March 8). All set to take on EverestThe New Paper, pp. 46–47; Wong, K. H. (2005, August 28). Upwardly mobileThe Straits Times, p. 4; Ee, J. W. W. (2009, May 24). Snub fails to snuff out Everest dreamThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Eng, S. (2008, March 16). No go yet tor team, but one to make solo bidThe Straits Times, p. 5; Onggo, C. (2008, June 8). After futile bid, she’s not planning Everest return soonThe Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Wong, K. H. (2005, August 28). Upwardly mobileThe Straits Times, p. 4; Lim, J. (2009, March 8). All set to take on EverestThe New Paper, pp. 46–47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Lim, J. (2009, March 8). All set to take on EverestThe New Paper, pp. 46–47; Wong, K. H. (2005, August 28). Upwardly mobileThe Straits Times, p. 4; Ee, J. (2009, May 24). Snub fails to snuff out Everest dreamThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Lee, J., et al. (2013). More than a mountain: The journey of Singapore’s first women’s team to the summit of Mount Everest. Singapore: Singapore Women’s Everest team, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 796.522092 LEE)
8. Lim, J. (2009, March 8). All set to take on EverestThe New Paper, pp. 46–47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Wong, K. H. (2005, August 28). Upwardly mobileThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lim, J. (2009, March 8). All set to take on EverestThe New Paper, pp. 46–47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, J., et al. (2013). More than a mountain: The journey of Singapore’s first women’s team to the summit of Mount Everest. Singapore: Singapore Women’s Everest team, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 796.522092 LEE)
11. Lee, J., et al. (2013). More than a mountain: The journey of Singapore’s first women’s team to the summit of Mount Everest. Singapore: Singapore Women’s Everest team, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 796.522092 LEE)
12. Ee, J. (2009, May 24). Snub fails to snuff out Everest dreamThe Straits Times, p. 9; Teo, A. (2009, October 10). Ain’t no mountain highThe Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. G., & Kauer, K. (2011, Winter). (SWET)ing for the summit: A feminist cultural-studies analysis of Singapore’s first women’s Mount Everest team. Women in sport and physical activity journal20(1), 53–65. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
13. Wong, K. H. (2005, August 28). Upwardly mobileThe StraitsTimes, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Teo, W. G. (2009, March 22). Sights set on the roof of the worldThe Straits Times, p. 12; Ee, J. (2009, May 24). Snub fails to snuff out Everest dreamThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Ee, J. (2009, May 24). Snub fails to snuff out Everest dreamThe Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, L. G., & Kauer, K. (2011, Winter). (SWET)ing for the summit: A feminist cultural-studies analysis of Singapore’s first women’s Mount Everest team. Women in sport and physical activity journal20(1), 53–65. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
16. Tan, Y. (2009, May 8). Now to get high. Today, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, May 25). Historic success for NATAS Singapore Women’s Everest Team. Retrieved 2017, October 3 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/historic-success-natas-singapore-womens-everest-team/
17. Teo, W. G. (2009, March 22). Sights set on the roof of the world. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, March 20). We’re one day away! Retrieved 2017, October 3 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/one-day-away/
18. Singapore’s Women on Everest. (n.d.). Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/team; Lim, J. (2009, March 8). All set to take on EverestThe New Paper, p. 46; Teo, W. G. (2009, March 22). Sights set on the roof of the worldThe Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
19. Teo, W. G. (2009, March 22). Sights set on the roof of the worldThe Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Lee, J., et al. (2013). More than a mountain: The journey of Singapore’s first women’s team to the summit of Mount Everest. Singapore: Singapore Women’s Everest team, pp. 180–186. (Call no.: RSING 796.522092 LEE); Low, L. F. (2009, May 21). Singapore’s first ladies of EverestToday, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, May 3). Kim Boon, our 7th team member. Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/kim-boon-7th-team-member/
21. Teo, W. G. (2009, March 22). Sights set on the roof of the worldThe Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tan, Y.-H. (2009, May 8). Now to get high. Today, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Lee, J., et al. (2013). More than a mountain: The journey of Singapore’s first women’s team to the summit of Mount Everest. Singapore: Singapore Women’s Everest team, pp. 15–16. (Call no.: RSING 796.522092 LEE); Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, April 24).  To Camp 2 and back. Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/camp-2-back/
24. Tan, Y.-H. (2009, May 8). Now to get high. Today, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, May 3). Final acclimatization rotation complete. Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/final-acclimatization-rotation-complete/
25. Tan, Y.-H. (2009, May 8). Now to get high. Today, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
26. Lim, J. (2009, June 14). They conquered their fears at the top of the worldThe New Paper, pp. 40–41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Teo, A. (2009, October 10). Ain’t no mountain highThe Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, April 14). Communications on Everest. Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/communications-on-everest/; Tham, Y.-C. (2009, May 27). Calling from the top of the worldThe Straits Times, p. 96. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Lee, J., et al. (2013). More than a mountain: The journey of Singapore’s first women’s team to the summit of Mount Everest. Singapore: Singapore Women’s Everest team, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 796.522092 LEE); A pleasant surprise for Everest team. (2009, April 10). Today, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Tan, Y. H. (2009, May 8). Now to get high. Today, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, May 11). Jet stream complicates first summit attempt. Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/jet-stream-complicates-first-summit-attempt/
32. Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, May 15). Weather lets up – Everest summit, here we come! Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/weather-lets-everest-summit-come/
33. Chua, G. (2009, May 21). Top of the world: Singapore women reach Mt EverestThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, May 20). NATAS-SWET reached Everest summit! Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/natas-swet-reached-everest-summit/ 
34. Tan, Y.-H. (2009, May 23). Another two make it to the roof of the worldToday, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Chua, G. (2009, May 23). Two more women make it to the topThe Straits Times, p. 3; Tan, Y.-H. (2009, May 22). On top of the world, thinking of a friendToday, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Women’s Everest Team. (2009, May 22). NATAS-SWET placed two more members on Everest summit. Retrieved 2017, September 25 from Singapore Women’s Everest Team website: http://www.womenoneverest.com/natas-swet-placed-two-members-everest-summit/
36. Teo, A. (2009, October 10). Ain’t no mountain highThe Business Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Tan, Y.-H. (2009, June 2). Heroines return, having earned place in historyToday, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. PM Lee congratulates Singapore women’s Everest team. (2009, May 23). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ 
39. Tan, Y.-H. (2009, June 2). Heroines return, having earned place in historyToday, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Her World Woman of the Year. (2016). 2009 Singapore Women’s Everest Team: Her World Young Woman Achiever. Retrieved 2016, October 10 from Her World Woman of the Year website: http://womanoftheyear.herworldplus.com/2009-everest-womens-team



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

 

Subject
Recreation>>Sports
Sports, recreation and travel>>Outdoor life>>Mountaineering
Mountaineering expeditions--Everest, Mount (China and Nepal)
Mountaineers--Singapore
Sports and games
Mountaineering expeditions--Singapore