Exercise Northern Jungle Monkey Sees North East Army Reservists Defeat Highest Peak in South East Asia
In November 2017, 14 Army Reservists serving with 101st (Northumbrian) Regiment Royal Artillery conducted Exercise Northern Jungle Monkey, a trek through the jungles of Borneo, the main aims being to climb Mount Trus Madi and Kinabalu.
After an early morning flight from Heathrow to Singapore and a transfer flight they arrived 24 hours later in Borneo to be greeted by 100% humidity.
Day one saw the team climb 2642 metres up Mount Trus Madi, a mountain only climbed by 300 people a year. The distance to the summit and back was 8km, but, due to the terrain, it took over 9 hours to complete. On return to Camp before the team rested for the next day, dinner was served under an impressive sunset.
Day two, breakfast was served watching the sunrise, whilst overhead a mountain eagle observed. After breakfast the team descended to base camp, completed a river crossing and stopped at a waterfall to wash and cool down. Arrival at the rope suspension bridge signalled camp was close and the evening meal, which consisted of wild boar; entertainment was provided by a local band and traditional dancing. Exhausted from two days trekking and taking part in the traditional dancing, the team had an early night; lights out.
Day three was all about culture and history. Firstly, an historical trekking tour of the Sandakan Death Marches following sections of the route trodden by the 2434 British and Australian POWs of which only six survived. This was a sobering trek listening to and experiencing first-hand the awful conditions the POWs endured. The team also had a particularly moving meeting with Domima Akoi known locally as the Ring Lady. As a young girl Domima discovered POWs on her family’s land and supported them by providing food for seven days. The young girl arrived one day to find they had left, but had placed eight wedding rings in a cup for her as a thank you gesture. The trek finished at Quailey's Hill Memorial where Private Allan Quailey died during the Death Marches.
The location also offered an opportunity to have a brew at the Sabah Tea Company with Mount Kinabalu on view, setting the scene nicely for next challenge of the exercise, the ascent to its summit. The team finished day three activities with a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, giving them an opportunity to view the Orangutan in its native surroundings.
The final phase of the exercise, the ascent to the 4095 metre summit of Mount Kinabalu would confirm the training and character of everyone, but would prove to be the most rewarding.
An early 2am start with breakfast providing fuel for the ascent, the group set off at 3am from the Laban Rata hut. The previous day’s acclimatisation training proved beneficial as they forged on making light work of the early climbs. At the first check point the terrain became technical with rope climbs and slippery rocks making the ascent more challenging. At times they spent several hours scrambling on all fours, up the bare rock and despite their acclimatisation training they all felt the effects of the thin air. Despite the deteriorating conditions and setting off 30 minutes after the other groups in the hut they reached the summit first, achieving their main objective in good time. Their reward was being greeted by a spectacular sunrise, which alone made the whole journey worthwhile. A tremendous sense of triumph was felt by all, both at the top of Mount Kinabalu and on re-crossing their departure line at the Park Gate.
Lieutenant Chris Fearnes said “The geography of the area was amazing smooth flowing granite, punctuated by sharp outcrops of rock, the features that give Mount Kinabalu its distinctive silhouette. On the descent we viewed Trus Madi in the distance the mountain we had climbed a week earlier, a timely reminder of the journey we had taken and a stunning end to a once in a life time experience”
Lieutenant Toby Brougham said “A valuable learning experience, we have pushed ourselves physically, absorbed the local culture and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Excuse the pun but this has been the high point of my career to date.