Meet the Lady Who Scaled Everest
Mountains are amongst some of the most magical and challenging playgrounds in the world, and they do not discriminate between genders. Since all mountaineers have to traverse the same route while carrying similar basic gear, Phei Sunn knew that she was disadvantaged in terms of absolute strength. However, instead of treating that as a deterrent, she saw other merits. Her smaller build meant that she was less susceptible to heat-related stresses and could move with greater agility. What she lacked in physique, she made up for with sheer grit! Challenging stereotypes, she made sure to condition herself as much as she could prior to climbs, building up the necessary endurance and strength.
Aside from the physical demands of being a mountaineer, she also had to overcome challenges that many athletes faced: balancing multiple demands and commitments. Between her training, full-time work, part-time graduate studies, and more — Phei Sunn persevered and managed her obligations as best to meet her respective targets. Successful balance meant learning to accept that sometimes she might not be running or climbing at her desired levels, and that it was alright to occasionally ease up on herself to meet what was important at that point in time.
When asked what she does to keep herself in top physical condition along with preparing to scale the highest peaks the world has to offer, she had this to say:
“My training is aimed at (a) building a solid aerobic base, and (b) specific strength conditioning. I am an ultra-distance runner and have built my endurance foundation over many years. On average, I participate in a 100km road/trail event every 1 – 2 months, and the longest that I have covered was 200 miles around Singapore. When I am nearing my climbing expeditions, I will supplement my runs with specific activities such as climbing stairs at HDB flats or Bukit Timah Hill with my >20kg pack and 7kg ankle weights. I will also do more weights and upper body conditioning. I eat as per usual and do not have any special diets.”
Ms Sim Phei Sunn during her journey on the Mount Everest in 2019.
On Top of the World, Literally!
“It was a very unbelievable and surreal moment just being there, fulfilling a 15-year dream!”
It was at 3 am, 22nd May 2019, that Phei Sunn fulfilled her dream of summiting Mt. Everest. In fact, she only realised that she was at the peak when she saw the fluttering prayer flags and other climbers taking photographs. She took in the moment as much as one at the top of the world could.
At the same time, she was focused and alert, staying energised for a safe descent. The journey down would not be easy. Climbers had to move in two directions in single-files attached to just one safety rope. Phei Sunn had to manoeuvre past an endless line of climbers making their way up the mountain. That snaking line became the subject of the infamous human traffic jam photo that went viral that year.
“The reality of my summit only hit me when I returned to Basecamp. An immense sense of mixed emotions – relief, disbelief, elation, and sadness – washed over me all at once. It was a chapter that I then took a few months to slowly savour and process."
It is safe to say that summiting Everest will be a memory etched in Phei Sunn's mind for a long time.
Her mountaineering journey did not stop at Everest! Despite the Covid-19 disruptions worldwide, Phei Sunn eventually summited Mt. Vinson in Antarctica in December 2021, completing her Seven Summits Challenge and carving herself a place in history as one of only a handful of Singaporeans to do so.
All-in, it took her 20 years to scale eight peaks across the seven continents. With “life” happening in-between and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, her goals took a little more time to achieve — but fulfil them she did.
Tips From the Top
“Be that chilli padi! A chilli padi is small but packs a punch; the more it is pounded upon, the spicier it gets.”
To Phei Sunn, being a chilli padi symbolises a mindset to challenge stereotypes and assumptions, continuously pushing boundaries and carving our own paths. She advises others to set meaningful goals and commit to them.
For her, it might have been easy to succumb to the stereotype of an “inept tropical girl” ill-equipped for the high mountains, but she resisted that narrative and wrote her own story. She also shares that one should go at a pace that works for them, stay humble, and focus on growth and learning.
Feeling inspired by our mountain-scaling adventurer? Discover more heartening, and moving stories of individuals in our community, at www.sg/our-sg-stories.
All responses by the artists mentioned above were edited and condensed for clarity
Sim Phei Sunn in training for hiking expedition
Sim Phei Sunn
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