Living life to the hilt

Wednesday June 5, 2013



           Scaling new heights: Retiree A.S. Toh (second from left) and his climbing buddies on top of

           a peak which offers a paranomic view of the Great White Lake in Mongolia.

Living life to the hilt



Hooked on adventure: A.S. Toh (far left) and fellow divers frolicking in the waters of a narrow channel in Raja Ampat, Papua New Guinea, during a trip in 2008. Raja Ampat is widely hailed as the centre of marine biodiversity. — A.S. TOH

A.S. Toh may be a late starter in outdoor pursuits but once he gets going, there’s no stopping him.

SUMMITS inspire awe. When a mountain climber stands triumphantly at the top of a mountain, humbled by the breathtaking view below him, it is a moment of euphoria that will forever be etched in his psyche.

But when A.S. Toh reached Gilman’s Point at 5,681m, he was in for a shock. Toh was looking forward to capturing the sunrise atop the second highest peak on Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. But at that point, he was horrified to find that he had temporarily lost his vision.

“It was my most traumatic trek,” says Toh, 74, of his first attempt at mountain trekking back in April 2000. It was also his most memorable trek.

“I suddenly noticed that Gilman’s Point (in Tanzania) was enveloped by thick mists and clouds, and the radiant hues of the morning sun were nowhere to be seen!”

Toh (far right) was temporarily blinded when he reached Gilman’s Point, the second highest peak on Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa.

He remarked how unfortunate it was to have climbed all the way up and seen nothing. But the trekker next to him remarked: “Something is wrong with you! It is a beautiful, sunny morning!”

Then it dawned on Toh that he had temporary lost his sight! It was the fifth day of his mountain trekking.

Toh sat on his backpack and closed his eyes, hoping that his vision would return. He took a sip of brandy and asked a hiker to snap some pictures of him standing behind Gilman’s Point signboard.

Toh was unable to proceed to Uhuru Peak (5,895m), the highest point on Mt Kilimanjaro, and decided to make his descent.

“With one guide holding my arm, we made our way down the slope. We had a few falls but fortunately no one was hurt,” recalls Toh. Two hours later, he returned to Kibo Hut (4,700m) where he rested and had lunch before making his descent to Horombu Hut.

Three hours later, they reached Horombu Hut at 3,700m.

Totally exhausted after more than 10 hours of trekking, Toh closed his eyes to try and get some sleep.

But sleep did not come and when he opened his eyes again, he was relieved and overjoyed that he had regained his sight.

Toh’s temporary blindness was a symptom of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or altitude sickness which is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen level at high altitudes.

Despite this harrowing experience, Toh was undaunted. In early 2003, at age 64, Toh climbed Mt Everest’s North Face, a feat which earned him an entry in the Malaysia Book Of Records for being the oldest to trek Mt Everest’s North Face.

The highest summit Toh conquered was Island Peak in Nepal. At 6,160m, Toh described it as his most difficult trek.

To keep himself fighting fit, Toh trains before each mountain trekking trip. He climbs up the 272 steps to Batu Caves, goes for walks in Bukit Kiara and works out in his gym at home.

Born in Muar, Johor, Toh graduated with a civil engineering degree from Universiti Malaya. He worked for a year with a private firm before joining the Public Works Department. Five years later, he left to start his own business and set up a consulting engineering company and a specialist construction company.

When he was in his mid-fifties, Toh sold off his stake in the two companies, and managed a small rubber and oil palm plantation in Pagoh, Muar.

“It was my dream to spend my retirement away from the hustle and bustle of city life,” says Toh, a co-owner of the land. He was looking forward to a quiet, peaceful life in the estate where he could relive his happy childhood days.

But life in the plantation had its share of challenges, too. When the oil palm plantation was attacked by rhinoceros beetles, Toh had to look for answers. He brushed aside suggestions to use banned insecticides, and opted instead for biological control of the pests.

Toh used a chemical attractant to lure the beetles into traps. He had so much success in his battle against rhinoceros beetles that a farmer told him: “You’ve caught so many beetles that there are none left in the whole of Pagoh!”

“I get enormous pleasure from spending my spare time in the plantation. However, good things don’t last forever. I was worried about my safety when I visited my plantation, so I sold it off in 2010,” says Toh. His fears were not unfounded as there were two cases of robbery-cum-murder near his plantation. In one incident, a man in a nearby plantation was burnt to death in his cabin when robbers struck.

Toh firmly believes in the adage “work hard, play hard.” He swam, played squash and snooker with friends, and took up tai chi.

In his mid-40s, he took up jogging and in his early 50s, marathons. When retirement came, Toh travelled extensively to places off the beaten track, climbed mountains and went scuba diving.

“I’m lucky to have different groups of friends who are interested in mountain trekking and scuba diving. Both activities require a certain level of fitness,” says Toh.

He also loves to write and shares his travel pieces on his website

In early March this year, Toh fulfilled yet another dream. He launched a set of three books, My Memoirs, Jottings To The Media and Adventure Travel & Recreation, Vol 1: Off The Beaten Track and Vol 2: Mountain Trekking And Scuba Diving.

Toh donated RM9,000 from the sale of his books at the launch to the Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation. His big heart can only be matched by his huge appetite for adventure.


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