Mon, 08 Aug 1994

Local climbers set to conquer Mt. Everest

By Dwiatmanta

JAKARTA (JP): Mountain climbers aren't always sure what they get out of the life threatening sport.

Gunawan Achmad, a 36-year-old man has devoted more than half of his life to conquering the world's highest mountains including those in Indonesia.

Gunawan, or Ogun as his friends call him, looks set to overcome the extra challenges of Mt. Everest, the world's tallest mountain. He may become the first Indonesian to reach the top of the world during a 55-day multinational expedition beginning at the end of the month.

"Everest will be the biggest of mysteries I have dealt with," the muscular 165-cm man said as he underwent his physical training on Friday.

"I have never been able to answer the question about what mountain climbing is for," he said. And he never tries to, which leaves his father, mother and wife groping for an answer.

Ogun, born into a Jakarta civil servant's family of 10, saw his younger brother die during a rafting expedition, another risky sport, along the Mamberamo river in Irian Jaya three years ago.

He also never forgets the dark day in national mountaineering history when Norman Edwin and Didik Samsu were found dead on the 6,600m Aconcagua in Argentina in 1992.

But Ogun, who made his mountain climbing debut in 1973 in Ciremai, West Java, seems to leave no room for retreat. "Mountains have given me everything, including a wife and a daughter," he joked. Ogun makes a living as a mountain guide.

He admitted that he sometimes hears his wife, Wati Wahyutami, an insurance company employee, grumble, "Am I your second wife?"

Leaving his two and-a-half-year-old daughter Shivalaya at his rental house in Juraganan, South Jakarta is another challenge.

"I may also owe a huge amount of money after this expedition," Ogun said. He has collected Rp 25 million (US$11,537) out of the Rp 100 million needed.


The expedition up the north face of Everest, by International Mountain Climbing, involves 14 climbers from seven countries. Peter Kowalzik of Germany will lead the team.

Ogun refuses to speculate about his chance of a successful ascent of the 8,848m snowy mountain, despite having scaled six other mountains in the Himalayas since 1987.

"Everest is absolutely different. At such altitude and chilling climate, nobody is a trustworthy fortune teller," he said. For these reasons, Ogun has been preparing himself for the acclaimed ascent for four years.

Everest, named after Sir George Everest, one time surveyor general of India, has claimed numerous lives. The most tragic being two Englishmen, George Leigh-Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who mysteriously disappeared "while going strong for the top" in 1924. Nine years later their axes were found at an altitude of 8,400m.

Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand's explorer, and Tenzing Narkey, a Nepalese mountain guide, using oxygen, became the first men to reach Everest's summit in 1953.

Ogun, in fact, has failed to reach the top during many of his Himalayan expeditions. He has only managed to stand on the summit of the 7,160m Pumori and the 6,150m Island Peak out of his six attempts on mountains near Everest.

The team leader will decide whether he deserves to climb to the peak and join a score of people who have made it to the highest point in the world.

If he does not make it this time, Ogun will have another chance next year. He is expected to lead an ambitious campaign by the country's oldest mountaineering club, Wanadri, to scale Everest in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the republic. Maybe then he will figure out why he climbs.