The age of ad­ven­ture

a taip­ing doc­tor takes to the out­doors with vigour. and he only started when he was 50!

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By AN­DREW SIA

WHAT can a man who is in his 60s do when it comes to out­door ad­ven­tures? How about wildlife photography, bird­watch­ing and float­ing down river on a rub­ber tube in Ta­man Ne­gara, Pahang?

Well, these are not very stre­nous ac­tiv­i­ties, you say.

Okay, how about wak­ing up in pitch dark­ness at 4am to climb the 3,805m-high smoul­der­ing Gu­nung Ker­inci in West Su­ma­tra, and then walk­ing round the edge of the crater rim, know­ing that one false step means tum­bling into the vol­cano’s gi­ant bar­beque pit?

Isn’t that suf­fi­cient test that an old body can still make it? And, more im­por­tantly, that one’s mind is still young?

These are some of the ad­ven­tures that Dr Chan Ah Lak, 66, has un­der­taken in the sixth decade of his life. Read­ers of The Star’s travel pages on Satur­day will be fa­mil­iar with his by­line, as he has writ­ten nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles on his trips over the past 12 years.

Yet, sur­pris­ingly, he only be­gan his hard­core out­door “ca­reer” at 50.

“Be­fore that I did some hunt­ing, fish­ing and scuba div­ing, but noth­ing as ar­du­ous as what I do now,” says Dr Chan, who still runs a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner’s clinic in Taip­ing, Perak.

“At 50 I had a ma­jor op­er­a­tion and that was when I was ad­vised to ex­er­cise reg­u­larly. I started by walk­ing around my hous­ing es­tate but af­ter one month, I got tired of that and started climb­ing Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill).

“I met one Cana­dian cou­ple in their 70s, who were walk­ing around with heavy back­packs. They said they had just fin­ished climb­ing Mount Kinabalu and that back home in Vancouver, they were ac­tive in moun­tain climb­ing.

“That was when I told my wife: ‘ Look, we are only 50, we can do it!’ Af­ter three months of train­ing, both of us had Mount Kinabalu un­der our belt. Af­ter that, we joined the Malaysian Na­ture So­ci­ety and started par­tic­i­pat­ing in many more out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, like moun­taineer­ing, hik­ing, na­ture photography and cave ex­plo­ration.”

Four years ago, Dr Chan kayaked around Pe­nang is­land. A few months af­ter that, he was in Sabah and took a shot at white water kayak­ing in River Ki­ulu and white water raft­ing in River Padas.

Two years ago, he ab­seiled down the slip- pery rock­face of a wa­ter­fall in Gopeng, Perak (which this writer did years ago and found to be nerve-rack­ing). Imag­ine lean­ing back­wards over a rocky precipice and hav­ing to keep your legs and body at 90° to the rock wall. If your legs are too high, you slip and dan­gle up­side down from the safety rope. If your legs are too low, you slip too and may dash your face against the wall!

Dr Chan wrote of his ex­pe­ri­ence in Hav­ing a splash­ing time ( Star week en­der, Aug 8, 2009):

“Some­how the force­ful, stream­ing wall of cold water erased all my fears, as if wash­ing it away ... When I slowly plied the ab­seil rope through the de­scen­der to lower my­self, I felt like a small kid run­ning in the rain. Mum, how­ever, was not around any­more to show her dis­plea­sure at my an­tics.”

Four years ago, he com­pleted the iconic G10 of Penin­su­lar Malaysia, the 10 moun­tains which are higher than 7,000 feet, namely Gu­nung Batu Pu­tih (Perak-Pahang bor­der), Gu­nung Ulu Sepat (Perak-Ke­lan­tan bor­der), Gu­nung Chamah (Ke­lan­tan), Gu­nung Korbu, Gu­nung Yong Be­lar, Gu­nung Gay­ong and Gu­nung Yong Yap (all in Perak), and Gu­nung Ta­han, Gu­nung Irau and Gu­nung Benom (Pahang).

While these moun­tains may not seem very im­pres­sive in terms of al­ti­tude, the treks up their peaks of­ten re­quire a tena­cious at­ti­tude due to their wild, over­grown trails, com­pared to the clear, well-worn tourist trails of Gu­nung Kinabalu.

(In fact, in Malay folk­lore, the word benom is trans­lated as “a far­away, dark for­est of tall trees where no one lives”, a place of for­est spir­its and voices.)

“Af­ter climb­ing ev­ery moun­tain, I would write a story for The Star,” Dr Chan adds. Last year, he and two other 60-some­things con­quered Gu­nung Ker­inchi in Su­ma­tra.

His ad­vice for peo­ple, es­pe­cially se­niors who want to em­bark on se­ri­ous out­door ad­ven­tures, is to do a med­i­cal checkup first to en­sure they have no ad­verse med­i­cal con­di­tions.

“Once you know that you are med­i­cally fit, you can slowly in­crease your ex­er­tion and pace.”

Progress should be grad­ual. “Start by walk­ing on flat ground, then move on to gen­tle slopes be­fore try­ing steep climbs. Lis­ten to your body, don’t over-ex­ert. One good way to gauge that is to walk with a friend up­hill and keep talk­ing with him. If your ef­fort is at the right level, you can still carry on a con­ver­sa­tion. If not, then you are over-ex­ert­ing.”

Hav­ing con­quered the G10, Dr Chan has cut down on hard­core moun­tain climb­ing.

“That is re­ally tough. Be­fore climbs I have to re­ally con­di­tion my­self to trek for hours while car­ry­ing 15kg of weight,” he says.

Nowa­days, he still does bird watch­ing and keeps fit by walk­ing up to the sec­ond hut of Bukit Larut ev­ery morn­ing, an as­cent of 300m over a walk­ing dis­tance of 2km.

“At 7am I will be there, and I usu­ally see about 20 or 30 peo­ple, mainly se­nior cit­i­zens and housewives who are ready to walk up. I will carry my water and a small cangkul as I am one of few who help main­tain the jun­gle track by dig­ging some small drains at the side to pre­vent it from get­ting flooded.

“I can still trek as my knees are fine. I come down by 9am, and I nor­mally do this alone, although once a week I have a body­guard – my wife.”

All is not lost for those who have knee prob­lems as they can take sup­ple­ments, such as glu­cosamine sul­phate. How­ever, the most im­por­tant fac­tor is to have proper walk­ing tech­nique, he adds.

“Take small steps, es­pe­cially when climb­ing. You can use a walk­ing stick or grab tree roots at the side to help sup­port you, to re­duce force on the knees.

“De­scent should be ex­tra care­ful. Trans­fer your weight with both feet on the ground as far as pos­si­ble. In other words, don’t just jump and land on one knee. Those who run down moun­tain slopes will find that their knees will koyak very fast.

“In any case, our lo­cal se­nior cit­i­zens whose knees are not in great shape can still do line danc­ing or tai chi or walk around Taip­ing’s su­perb Lake Gar­dens.

“I think peo­ple in smaller towns tend to lead a health­ier life­style,” Dr Chan quips.

Avid trekker: dr chan ah Lak with the raf­fle­si­ak­erii at cameron High­lands.

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