Antarctica 2000 expedition



At 4 am on 31 December 1999, four members of the Antarctica 2000 expedition team arrived at the South Pole after an arduous 1,125-kilometre trek, becoming the first Singapore team to do so. Upon reaching the South Pole, they unfurled the Singapore national flag.1 A second four-member group from the Antarctica 2000 team reached the summit of the 4,897-metre Mount Vinson Massif at about 6.20 am on 7 January 2000, completing the Singapore Antarctica expedition.2

Planning 

The Antarctica 2000 expedition team comprised eight members (seven men and one woman) led by Khoo Swee Chiow.3 Khoo was one of two men from the Singapore team that had successfully scaled Mount Everest in 1998.4

The idea behind the Antarctica expedition arose in July 1998, one month after the Mount Everest team had returned to Singapore. It was initiated by three members (Khoo Swee Chiow, Robert Goh and Mok Ying Jang) of the Everest team.5 They planned to form two teams: the first would attempt to trek to the South Pole on foot, while the other would ascend Mount Vinson Massif, the highest peak on the continent. Their goal was to plant the Singapore flag at both locations on 1 January 2000 as part of the nation’s millennium celebrations.

Then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who was the patron of the expedition, suggested the inclusion of women in the Antarctica 2000 team. This saw the addition of two women in the preliminary team for the Vinson expedition; eventually, two six-member preliminary teams were formed for the Antarctica expedition.7

Launch and sponsorship
On 12 March 1999, the expedition was officially launched with then Prime Minister Goh as the guest-of-honour. During the launch, Goh likened the expedition to a “manifestation of the indomitable spirit of the people in Singapore”.8


As at March 1999, various organisations pledged S$820,000 in cash, equipment and publicity for the expedition. These included the National Youth CouncilSingapore Sports Council, National Geographic Channel, Asia Pacific Brewery and NTUC Income. The Chilean government also backed the expedition by providing free accommodation and transportation, technical and medical assistance, special high-calorie meals and storage facilities for the 1.5-tonne equipment during the members’ stay in the Chilean city of Punta Arenas.9

Training and preparation
With anticipated temperatures of minus 60 °C and wind speeds of up to 300 km/h at the South Pole, the Antarctica 2000 team trained for the cold by staying in cold rooms at minus 20 °C in their polar gear.10 To prepare for the massive weight loss due to the high rate of calorie-burning, the team had to put on as much weight as possible, thus they often ate huge meals. In particular, members of the South Pole team had to gain more weight than those on the Vinson team as they had to haul heavy sleds.11


Each member of the South Pole team was expected to haul a 100-kilogramme sled containing food, clothing and equipment during the trek to the South Pole. In order to be physically ready for this gruelling task, the South Pole team trained three times a week at East Coast Park, pulling rubber tyres filled with sand, bottles and bricks. The Vinson team’s training consisted of trekking in Bukit Timah Hill and climbing stairs in tall buildings while carrying fully loaded backpacks.12 Besides physical preparation, the Antarctic 2000 team also attended a programme run by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to prepare them for the mental and emotional stress they would face.13

The South Pole team went on a training trip to Greenland in May 1999 to practise hauling their loaded sleds and travelling in polar terrains. They also learnt rescue techniques from a British consultant, Roger Mear.14 Meanwhile, the Vinson team travelled to Charmonix, France, in May 1999 to practise scaling the Swiss Alps.15

At the end of the training trips, out of the 12 candidates, eight were chosen for the expedition, while a ninth member took on the role of logistics manager.16

The expedition
The South Pole team departed for Punta Arenas, Chile, on 14 October 1999.17 The team was only able to fly to Patriot Hill in Antarctica on 4 November 1999 after facing several delays due to the poor weather conditions in Antarctica. From their staging point at Patriot Hill, the team began their trek on 5 November.18 Throughout the 57-day journey, they braved cold, biting winds which blew at 36 km/h and brought the temperature down to minus 60 °C. Due to cutting winds and the team’s continuous movement, they suffered from abrasions and painful blisters. At one period, they faced a shortage of food and fuel as the resupply flight had been delayed due to bad weather.19 The team eventually reached their destination on 31 December 1999, at 4 am (Singapore time), thus achieving its objective one day earlier than the target date.20

The Vinson Massif team left for Punta Arenas, Chile, on 10 December 1999.21 Due to inclement weather, however, the team only managed to fly to Patriot Hill on 26 December. Their climb commenced on 3 January 2000.22 The team eventually reached the summit on the morning of 7 January 2000,23 missing its target date of arrival by a week. During the climb, the team faced challenges such as the freezing temperature, dehydration, altitude sickness, steep slopes and sharp, perpendicular drops.24

On the morning of 15 January 2000, the eight members of the Antarctica 2000 team returned home to Singapore. They were received at Singapore Changi Airport by about 250 people, including their families and supporters.25

Team members
The Antarctica 2000 expedition team comprised:26


South Pole team
Khoo Swee Chiow, Team Leader and Expedition Leader

Robert Goh Ee Kiat, Team Co-leader and Expedition Secretary
David Lim Chee Wai
Ang Yau Choon

Vinson Massif team
Dr Mok Ying Jang, Team Leader and Expedition Doctor
Edwin Siew Cheok Wai, Team Co-leader
Kuak Nam Jin
Lee Ling Yen

Logistics manager
Mohamad Salleh Haji Ali



Authors
Goh Lee Kim & Eugene Tan



References
1. Chua, C. H. (2000, January 1). Elated trekkers kiss Pole marker. The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Communications, Informations and the Arts. (1999, January 8). Speech by Mr David Lim, minister of state for defence & chairman of the National Youth Council for the concept launch of 1st Antarctic expedition, Friday, 8 Jan 99. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2. Chua, C. H. (2000, January 8). Climbers reach top of Antarctica. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Chua, C. H. (1999, July 13). The team: Who goes where. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. New mission. (1999, June 7). The New Paper, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd and NorthEast Community Development Council, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU)
6. Antarctica plan came weeks after Everest. (1999, January 9). The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chua, C. H. (1999, July 13). The team: Who goes where. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, pp. 21–24. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU)
8. Ministry of Informations, Communications and the Arts. (1999, March 12). Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the launch of Antarctica 2000 expedition on Friday, 12 March 1999, at the Istana at 7.00 pm. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
9. Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU); Chua, C. H. (1999, March 12). Team gets Chilean support. The Straits Times, p. 3; Chua, C. H. (1999, January 9). First Everest, now the Antarctic. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU); Tan, J. (1999, April 19). Brrrr… It’s C-O-L-D. The New Paper, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, pp. 32–33. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU); Chua, C. H. (1999, October 15). Fattening up before big trip. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, pp. 33, 70. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU)
13. Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU).
14. Chua, C. H. (1999, April 30). Chilean help for Antarctica team. The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Weather hampers climbers’ training. (1999, June 5). The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chua, C. H. (1999, July 13). The team: Who goes where. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Buried alive- almost. (1999, June 5). The Straits Times, p. 54. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Goodbye S’pore, hello Antarctica. (1999 October 16). The Straits Times, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. The trek. (1999, November 18). The New Paper, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Elated trekkers kiss Pole marker. (2000, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, pp. 128–139. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU)
20. Elated trekkers kiss Pole marker. (2000, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Mountaineers leave for Mt Vinson. (1999, December 11). The Straits Times, p. 72. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Vinson ascent begins today. (1999, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 28; Bad weather delays Mount Vinson team. (1999, December 21). The Straits Times, p. 28; Antarctica team start climbing pole’s peak. (2000, January 4). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Climbers reach top of Antarctica. (2000, January 8). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Southbound: the Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd and NorthEast Community Development Council, pp. 171–189. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU).
25. Koh, B. P., & Kaur, K. (2000, January 16). It’s a sweet homecoming. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Eight make it to Antarctica team. (1999, July 13). The Straits Times, p. 28; Chua, C. H. (1999, March 5). Everest men to lead quest. The Straits Times, p. 50; Handling the ‘nitty-gritty’. (1999, October 15). The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Reutens, L. (2001). Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica expedition. Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd; NorthEast Community Development Council, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 796.522 REU)



The information in this article is valid as at June 2019 and correct as far as we can 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
1965-1970 Nation building
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Mountaineers--Singapore
Sports and games
Events>>Historical Periods>>Independence and Nation-Building (1965-)