ANNAPURNA: Tears flowed freely at the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) as 62 Malaysian trekkers made it to their goal or reaching the Himalayan mountain range at 4,130m above sea level.
Despite an unexpected heavy snowfall and freezing temperature at nearly zero degrees, they braved the elements and reached ABC around 3pm Malaysia time.
The team had trekked for more than 15km from the Deurali camp from 7am on Sunday at 3,200m above sea level.
Both the young and old hugged another in disbelief and in gratitude that the mission had been successful, with all the climbers reaching the destination safely.
Fire and Rescue Department officer Mohd Fakhrul Munir, who is marking his fifth return to the Himalayas, was thankful that all the team members arrived safely.
Fakhrul, an avid mountaineer who had made it to the Everest Base Camp in 2009, said it was no mean feat due to the size of team and varying fitness level of the participants.
"Upon the safe arrival of the last team member, I just couldn't hold back my tears. This isn't about me but everyone of us in the team.
"We had some concerns that not all would be able to make the cutoff time, and there were also worries of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
"But in the end everyone maintained their grit and determination," said Fakhrul.
The team, touted to be the largest ever contingent from Malaysia to ABC, consisted of media personnel, fire and rescue department senior officers and staff, as well as Health Ministry staff.
Nik Naizi Husin, chairman of Pahang Media Club and also the expedition adviser, was also brought to tears.
He said the club had always been promoting the benefits of hiking as part of a healthy lifestyle, especially among media practitioners.
"Hiking teaches us a about mother nature, about health, about being active," he said.
Nik Naizi, who is also a veteran newsman, noted that the club had previously organised many successful hiking expeditions in the country and also abroad including to Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Expedition leader Fazli Ahmad expressed hope that the expedition would continue to spur the interest and love for outdoor sports and activities among Malaysians.
He said the main challenge was in the logistics, as it is no mean feat to lead such a huge team up the Himalayas.
"Discipline is of utmost importance, such as sticking to a strict exercise programme to stay fit months ahead of the expedition.
"It is also not easy to ensure that all participants gel together as a team, as many did not know each other previously.
"But everyone cast aside their own interest and egos and worked towards achieving a common goal," said Fazli, a TV3 broadcast journalist.
He added that the feat will be submitted to the Malaysia Book of Records as the largest group of Malaysians ever to reach ABC.
Also present in the expedition is Pahang Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Abdul Wahab Mat Yasin.
The team had also brought along a giant Jalur Gemilang which was proudly unfurled at ABC despite sub-zero temperature and heavy snowfall.
Starting from Suwai in Gandruk, Pokhara, they trekked for more than 60km before reaching ABC on the fourth day.