Everest is not Everything

Having journeyed to 14 mountains and back, Sim Yi Hui sits down with Ruth Chan and reflects on the difficulties, disappointments and discoveries that arose from these expeditions – especially with Mount Everest.

Photo courtesy of Sim Yi Hui.

BY
RUTH CHAN

Published on
November 24, 2020

As a Senior Manager in the SMU Office of Student Life, Sim Yi Hui, 38, is passionate about inspiring the next generation. Her multitude of experiences in extreme expeditions and the insights gleaned from them has aided her to do so.

Yi Hui’s appreciation for nature and extreme environments was first fostered when completing a Technical Mountaineering Course in New Zealand in 2003.

“It can be quite intimidating, because you feel so small and vulnerable when all around you are mountains that are so high. You feel very small but it’s also a very humbling feeling because you know you are just one part of God’s creation.”

Six months after completing the mountaineering course, she scaled Nepal’s Island Peak, where she could see Mount Everest from afar.

Fast forward five years of training and scaling six other mountains, she finally set foot on Mount Everest in 2009. Mid-climb, things began to take a turn for the worse as she developed costochondritis, an inflammation of the joints of the rib cage. It was critical enough to foil her chance of reaching the summit.

Grappling with intense chest pains, her mind in turmoil and her heart in emotional agony, Yi Hui made the gut-wrenching decision to abort the final summit to Mount Everest and head back to the base camp.

Ascending an ice wall on fixed ropes in the Khumbu Icefall section on Mount Everest. Photo courtesy of Sim Yi Hui.

She knew that if she were to continue, she might not live to tell the tale. With each step she took back to the base camp, her chest pains progressively worsened and her breathing became increasingly laboured. The tears that streamed down her face, however, was not a result of the physical distress but her resolution to turn back.

“My focus was fixated on Everest up till the point it consumed me. Every decision I made – the job I took, how I spent my time and money, even the friends I chose to hang out with – it was all about Everest.

It was a personal disappointment not being able to achieve something that she had put her heart and soul into for five years. But she never saw it as a failure as she was still part of the team that made it. It was agreed from the start that even if one person made it to the summit and back safely, it would be considered a success because they were climbing as a team.

internship during a pandemic

Sim Yi Hui (third from left) posing with the Singapore Women’s Everest Team. Photo courtesy of Her World.

“Yi Hui, this is for you.” These were the first words Yi Hui heard from her team after she reached base camp. Not “I reached the top” or “I made it”, but a verbal representation of the team effort that made the Mount Everest expedition possible in the first place.

“I was touched. I felt like this was a reinforcement of team effort and even though I couldn’t be at the summit, they still dedicated the success to me. That I was on their minds when they reached the summit and it was really heart-warming for me,” Yi Hui recounted fondly.

Citing the importance of learning how to work as a team, Yi Hui said that while training to climb the mountain was gruelling, doing so with her team made the whole experience richer. It was drawing strength from her teammates that kept her going.

“When we want to go fast, go alone. When we want to go far, go together.”

Nevertheless, embarking on such extreme expeditions is never smooth sailing, to say the least.

Imagine trekking through miles and miles of snow in a state of fatigue, bearing with the immense, biting cold and wondering when you’ll finally reach your destination. Seems bleak, doesn’t it? Now imagine the same scenario, with unforeseen weather conditions to further dampen the mood. Years of experience have taught her to find joy and have a sense of humour even in mundane and miserable environments.

 

When we want to go fast, go alone. When we want to go far, go together.

- Sim Yi Hui, 38

Senior Manager

 

One memorable incident was a snowstorm that enveloped their tents in snow.

“It was hard work digging ourselves out but, in the end, we played with the snow and started throwing it at each other for fun. Instead of complaining that we needed to put in more time and energy to clear the snow, I decided to see things from a different perspective and turned the hard work into something more light-hearted and have fun in the process.”

Another practice she has adopted over the years of embarking on extreme expeditions is to have a flexible mindset. Mountain conditions do change. Diligent training and meticulous planning may not provide the solution. Yi Hui has learnt to be open to unforeseen circumstances and learn to adapt.

The biggest mindset shift was when Yi Hui had to cope with her personal disappointment at failing to reach the summit of Mount Everest. She came to realise that she lives for a greater purpose than climbing a mountain, and the setback she went through was for a reason. 

Attributing her journey of healing and self-discovery to her relationship with God, she acknowledged that it hadn’t been easy coming to terms with not achieving what she set out to do. 

But she emphasised: “With God, I know there is an anchor I base my identity on. I don’t live just to stand on the summit. I realised that at the end of the day, my disappointments do not define me, and I don’t have to take [the failure] harshly because it has been used for good.” 

Drawing parallels to her personal life, she now can confidently say that her main aim is not to reach the summit at all costs; instead it’s the process and the journey that matters, and it is something she never fails to inculcate in her students. 

Just as Miley Cyrus so beautifully worded it in her hit song ‘The Climb’, “Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side;it’s the climb.”

“If I had known that I wouldn’t be able to reach the summit, would I still climb it? Definitely,” she said. “It’s okay to fail. Everest is not the end. There are other goals in life, and this is just one small bump in light of my future.”  

Yi Hui went on to climb six mountains after Mount Everest.

A visual representation of the expeditions Yi Hui has been on.

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