Woman soldier takes on Mt. Ayanganna and conquers By Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
June 27, 2004

Related Links: Articles on people
Letters Menu Archival Menu

IT’S not likely she’d do it a second time, but should the occasion ever arise, she most certainly will says Woman Second Lt. Samantha Chung, who created a bit of history on Independence eve when she became the first female to crest Mount Ayanganna.

Speaking to the media earlier this month about her epic feat and what drove her into doing it, Chung, who was part of a 12-man Guyana Defence Force (GDF) team to make the customary climb this year, as part of our annual Independence celebrations, to plant the national standard, the Golden Arrowhead, atop the 6700-foot massif, said:

“From the moment I became an officer…even while I was training, you’ll talk about things you can do in the Army. And Ayanganna was one of the things a woman, or female officer, had never done. It’s also one of those patrols that you don’t want to send a woman on, because it’s difficult. And there is the traditional view on the post a woman should hold in the Army. So, very early, even while I was training, the idea to challenge what existed….started to emerge.”

Having second thoughts when the moment finally did arrive and she realised the enormity of the task ahead of her never entered the equation, she said.

“Then it wasn’t the time to second-guess myself. I was trying to go on this patrol even before I got commissioned. So, I had time to think about it; about all the things that could possibly go wrong. And I had put systems in place, in terms of training and conditioning the mind….and come to a sort of acceptance. So there wasn’t time to second-guess myself; I just had to do it and that was my focus.”

The actual climb itself wasn’t too difficult because, as she had said earlier, she had been bracing herself to deal with it now going on two years. But as often happens, no amount of planning could prepare you for what the situation would be like on the ground when the time does arrive.

“…. when we started out first, I got winded, very winded; quite early, because I was not used to the altitude. Secondly, I got cramps within the first hour…one leg and then the other, because the muscle is not used to that sort of movement.”

Some of the men, also, she rather suspected, were faring no better than she.

“There were other people who were pulling up like I was, and I guess they were just as winded as I was because nobody was talking. But then again, they’re much stronger; their legs are much stronger than mine, of course, so they can go much faster. But I won’t necessarily say that I was under tremendous pressure.”

It took them the better part of two days to make the climb, she said. They did it in bounds, “like you’ll walk for like one hour and something or two hours depending on how you feel. And then you keep going.”

According to a release from base command, Camp Ayanganna, which took its name from the very mountain they were about to ascend, the team arrived at the foot of the mountain where they would start the climb, on Saturday, May 22. They were inserted there by helicopter, it said. The actual climb commenced the following day, Sunday, May 23.

Weather conditions that first day were excellent, Chung recalled.“

We didn’t have much rain, but you got wet because the trees were wet… and you walk through water.” Were it not for the lush vegetation underfoot, she said, they might never have made it to the top, as they provided much-needed leverage in rather tricky situations, such as particularly steep areas of the mountain.

Asked whether at any point she ever felt like giving up and turning around, she replied in the negative.

“To give up at no time entered my mind,” the plucky woman soldier said. “I didn’t think of it. Giving up wasn’t an option, Because before I left, this was something that I had thought about; I knew what I was doing; I had set myself little aims and objectives; these are the things I am going to abide by to get me up there. Like I am not going to complain; I am always going to carry my own weight; I am not going to be a burden to anyone; and that as long as my legs are under me, I can keep going.”

She recalls, however, chancing upon a secretive smile on the face of one of the ranks at a particularly tricky moment during the climb; a look she couldn’t quite put her finger on at the time.

It was not until she reached the top and saw the collective look of admiration on their faces that she realised that the rest of the team had been secretly wagering among themselves as to whether she would indeed make it. They even applauded her, she said.

“The only person, other than me, who was convinced that I would make it to the top,” she said, “was the person who carried the patrol, Second Lt. Bennons. I trained with him, so he, more than anyone else, knew how I would manage under pressure.”

Strange enough, her initial reaction at finally attaining her goal was not one of triumph but curiosity.

“It was no big thing,” she said. “I didn’t realise what I had done until I was coming down. But when I was up there it was no big thing. I was like…this is the top… this is the flagpole.”

She was more concerned, she said, with how the pioneering team was able to lug all that stuff up the mountainside, which is treacherous in places, to erect the flagpole.

“Because, if you see it, it’s as if somebody paved in concrete the actual spot where the plaques are. You don’t even want to have to carry ten pounds up that mountain,” she said.

Having to overnight at the top was another experience in itself. Contrary to popular opinion, that the view from the top of a mountain can take one’s breath away, Chung, who says she is at that stage in her life where age is irrelevant, said:

“There is no view; when it’s dark, it’s dark. And even during the day, visibility can sometimes be very poor. You’re actually in clouds; you look around and the clouds are just over there. It’s also wet all the time….. and cold, even during the day.”

As for what other goal or challenges she has set herself, whether within or outside of the Army, Chung, who is a member of the Second Infantry Battalion Reserve, said that’s a bit too early to predict at this juncture.

“There are a number of things I would certainly love to do,” she said. “But even if I can’t, I would certainly love to see other women venture out into new areas like I think. I may be wrong….like there was much debate before I left for that trip….but I think women can serve and do just about anything as their male counterparts in the Army. If you look at other Armies in the world, women are doing just about anything. I think we still have a very old-fashioned view of the role of women in the Guyana Defence Force and I certainly hope that over time, that will change. And that can only change if women not only challenge it, but successfully prove that they are capable.”

And taking on Ayanganna gain?

“No! I would certainly want to do something different, but I know I can do it if I have to. The thing is, I can do it if I have to; and so can anyone.”