The Grandest Slam

24 July 2017

Eleven years since first summiting Mount Everest, T. Ravichandran is on his way to being Southeast Asia’s first to achieve a mountaineering Grand Slam.

Despite having bragging rights as the only Malaysian to summit Mount Everest from the north face and complete a south face expedition reaching the South Col, T. Ravichandran rarely brings it up, maintaining that mountaineering is about conquering one’s ego.

“It started as a sport for me. After that, I realised that there is no real competition involved. You are only competing with nature,” says Ravi, 52, who’s affectionately nicknamed Iceman among his friends.

“Nature will test you in so many ways. Some days are good, some days are bad, and some days you have to lose.”

And Ravi has lost to nature several times. In 2007 after his second Everest expedition reaching the South Col (the notch that connects Everest and the world’s fourth highest mountain, Lhotse), he lost the top half of eight fingers to frost bite; in 2012 he was rescued from being buried alive by a 4am avalanche on Mount Manaslu, northern Nepal that killed 11 climbers. This incident put him off mountaineering for a whole year.

In 2007, Ravi lost the top half of eight fingers to frostbite on his descent from Mount Everest.

But his brush with death wasn’t enough to put him off the sport for good. Today, Ravi remains steady in the game. In fact, he’s on a long, hard, self-laid road to the biggest win in his life – his self-styled Grand Slam in mountaineering.

The Grand Slam has multiple definitions, with even its components meaning different things to different people. Whichever definition you settle on, Ravi’s might just be the grandest.

The Explorers Grand Slam (also known as The Adventurers Grand Slam) is achieved by climbing the Seven Summits (the highest peaks of each continent) and reaching the north and south poles. There also exists a True Adventurers Grand Slam – a longer list that also includes summiting all 14 peaks above 8,000m.

Ravi first summited Mount Everest in 2006 via the north ridge route.

What Ravi has been on the road to achieve since 2010 is all of the above, with the addition of the Seven Second Summits (the second highest peaks of each continent), the Volcanic Seven Summits (the highest volcanic peaks in each continent) and the Volcanic Seven Second Summits (the second highest volcanic peaks in each continent). He plans to complete his Grand Slam by 2022 (he has yet to reach the north and south poles, as well as summit Ojos del Salado in the Andes and the peaks in Pakistan).

“I did not change the term for a Grand Slam. I just added on a few peaks because when I go to one destination, I want to finish as many as possible in that destination,” Ravi says, humbly adding that the Grand Slam is a product of individuals’ personal goals anyway – he sees his list as just another list from an individual looking to challenge himself. The fact that he’s on his way to becoming the first Southeast Asian to achieve any form of a Grand Slam isn’t something he thinks about.

Everest was meant to be Ravi’s biggest and final climb, but it turned out to be the beginning of his Grand Slam adventure.

Attempting a Grand Slam wasn’t always part of the plan. In 2005, a year before his first Everest climb, The Star published an article about Ravi, in which he was quoted saying: “It will be my final climb. It is not a heroic attempt as I want to do it before I get too old.”

He was 40 at the time, and little did he know that the “final climb” was only the beginning.

A former football player and coach, Ravi had his taste of local mountaineering by scaling Mount Ledang, Mount Tahan and Mount Kinabalu, but in 2000 he trekked the Himalayas and visited the Everest basecamp, where he was awestruck by the heights alpine mountaineering could take a person.

Ravi on Mount Cho Oyu, Tibet in 2010.

“I made my journey to the Everest basecamp, and I looked at Mount Everest from close, from 5,500m, looking at the summit of Everest, which is 8,800m. So, it’s not too far. It’s just 3,000m more, right?” he says, laughing.

Ravi then spent the next five years training for his one big climb, which eventually became the start of a lifelong commitment to mountaineering.

When he summited Everest for the second time and suffered frostbite, Ravi took a few years off from mountaineering to recover. It was during this break that he decided to go for the Grand Slam, spurred on by the achievements of South Korean mountaineer Park Young-Seok – the first person in the world to achieve the True Explorers Grand Slam. In 2011, Park went missing while trekking a new route on Annapurna.

Mountaineering isn’t an established industry in Southeast Asia, and Ravi concedes that making his mountaineering lifestyle a self-sustaining endeavour is a difficult task he still hasn’t completely accomplished yet. In 2014, he started the Global Expedition Club Malaysia, a consultancy through which he provides expert training to budding mountaineers.

Ravi’s Global Expedition Club Malaysia team training on Mount Fuji.

The business allowed Ravi a multi-pronged approach to achieving his goals: he gets the pre-exercise he needs while training his students, and when he guides them on their journeys, it puts him in close range of other mountains in the region which he can explore and tick off his list once he’s completed his duties. While this approach may be more time consuming, Ravi believes that patience will be a worthwhile investment.

Meanwhile, Ravi has also been working with the Sabah state government to help the best he can to position Mount Kinabalu as the central training grounds for budding mountaineers in the region.

Ravi saves the gear he uses in hopes he can display the evolution of mountaineering tech and inspire others. Here is one of his earliest crampon, which he says is now outdated.

“Even though in Myanmar there is a 5,600m peak, it takes one month to explore. But for Mount Kinabalu, 4,000m, you get it done in 24 hours,” says Ravi, who already does training sessions at Mount Kinabalu twice a year. He hopes this type of accredited training will blossom in the state, and wants Mount Kinabalu to become a place where beginners can perfect their technique before heading out for more challenging climbs. This would hopefully build a stronger mountaineering community here, he says.

As it is, the demand might already be growing. While sponsorship from major brands might be slowing down for him, Ravi is in the middle of testing his own line of trekking poles he plans on naming Manaslu, after the mountain that almost took his life.

On top of that, to further cultivate local interest, Ravi is collecting as many mountaineering gear as he can to make a museum exhibit, or at least a showcase of how far mountaineering has come in the country and how others can get involved. So far, he’s only collected a small percentage of what could make an exhibition, but he is determined to provide enough history and knowledge so the next generation of climbers will be more exposed to the international stage compared to when he was starting out.

And maybe that’s just what we need to make mountaineering an accessible dream for the average Malaysian; one man with the determination to make his own dreams come true, leaving behind the infrastructure he built with his own hands for others to follow suit and take it to new heights.

By Aizyl Azlee
Mountaineer images courtesy of Ravichandran.



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