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
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.6
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 Council, Singapore 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 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
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
Mohamad Salleh Haji Ali
Goh Lee Kim & Eugene Tan
1. Chua Chin Hon, “Elated Trekkers Kiss Pole Marker,” Straits Times, 1 January 2000, 60 (From NewspaperSG); David Lim Tik En, “The Concept Launch of 1st Antarctic Expedition,” speech, Raffles Ballroom, Raffles Hotel, 8 January 1999, transcript, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 1999010802)
2. Chua Chin Hon, “Climbers Reach Top of Antarctica,” Straits Times, 8 January 2000, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Chua Chin Hon, “The Team: Who Goes Where,” Straits Times, 13 July 1999, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “New Mission,”New Paper, 7 June 1999, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Lulin Reutens, Southbound: The Singapore Antarctica Expedition (Singapore: Epigram Pte Ltd and NorthEast Community Development Council, 2001), 20. (Call no. RSING 796.522 REU)
6. Chua Chin Hon, “Antarctica Plan Came Weeks after Everest,” Straits Times, 9 January 1999, 44. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Chua, “The Team”; Reutens, Southbound, 21–24.
8. Goh Chok Tong, “The Launch of Antarctica 2000 Expedition,” speech, Istana, 12 March 1999, transcript, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 1999031203)
9. Reutens, Southbound, 209; Chua Chin Hon, “Team Gets Chilean Support,” Straits Times, 12 March 1999, 3; Chua Chin Hon, “First Everest, Now the Antarctic,” Straits Times, 9 January 1999, 1. (FromNewspaperSG)
10. Reutens, Southbound, 33; Jason Tan, “Brrrr… It’s C-O-L-D,” New Paper, 19 April 1999, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Reutens, Southbound, 32–33; Choo Bee Yian, “Fattening Up before Big Trip,” Straits Times, 15 October 1999, 62. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Reutens, Southbound, 33, 70.
13. Reutens, Southbound, 36.
14. Chua Chin Hon, “Chilean Help for Antarctica Team,” Straits Times, 30 April 1999, 60. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Weather Hampers Climbers’ Training,” Straits Times, 5 June 1999, 60. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Chua, “The Team”; Chua Chin Hon, “Buried Alive- Almost,” Straits Times, 5 June 1999, 54. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Goodbye S’pore, Hello Antarctica,” Straits Times, 16 October 1999, 50. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “The Trek,” New Paper, 18 November 1999, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Chua, “Elated Trekkers Kiss Pole Marker”; Reutens, Southbound, 128–29.
20. Chua, “Elated Trekkers Kiss Pole Marker.”
21. Chua Chin Hon, “Mountaineers Leave for Mt Vinson,” Straits Times, 11 December 1999, 72. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Chua Chin Hon, “Vinson Ascent Begins Today,” Straits Times, 27 December 1999, 28; Chua Chin Hon, “Bad Weather Delays Mount Vinson Team,” Straits Times, 21 December 1999, 28; Chua Chin Hon, “Antarctica Team Start Climbing Pole’s Peak,” Straits Times, 4 January 2000, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Chua, “Climbers Reach Top of Antarctica.”
24. Reutens, Southbound, 171–89.
25. Koh Boon Pin and Karamjit Kaur, “It’s a Sweet Homecoming,” Straits Times, 16 January 2000, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Chua Chin Hon, “Eight Make It to Antarctica Team,” Straits Times, 13 July 1999, 28; Chua Chin Hon, “Everest Men to Lead Quest,” Straits Times, 5 March 1999, 50; “Handling the ‘Nitty-Gritty’,” Straits Times, 15 October 1999, 62 (From NewspaperSG); Reutens, Southbound, 22.
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.