bravery courage jungle teamwork travel

I was stuck in the jungle for 12 hours

Looking back, it wasn’t as horrible as it seemed

Photo by my friend Emma

Yes. You read that right. At 15 years old, my friends and I were stuck on a jungle trail in Fraser’s Hill Malaysia, for 12 hours whilst on our Silver International Award Expedition. The Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award is designed for young adults and requires the participant to complete 26 weeks of 1-hour allotments for a sport, skill, and service. Additionally, participants need to go on a Practice Adventurous Journey and a Qualifying Adventurous Journey, both trips of which are 3 days and 2 nights of trekking and surviving in the outdoors. This is my account of my expedition which has got to be the most cinematic and at the same time most terrifying moment of my life thus far.

I should probably have mentioned that a guide was with us most of the time, at the beginning of this story- sorry, you can calm down now. We were hiking in the jungle along the Pine Tree Trail which would lead up to the peak of a mountain for a gorgeous view. Having left our campsite around 8.30 am (this was our 2nd day of hiking) we aimed to reach the peak around lunchtime so that we could enjoy a relaxing break in the fresh, cold air. That didn’t work out, as you’ve probably guessed. It was almost 5 pm and we hadn’t made it to the peak yet, which meant that though we’d been walking for about 8 hours, we hadn’t even made it halfway. We were all getting nervous and rather panicked since we were usually meant to be back at the campsite by 5 pm. Because of how long we’d taken to get this far, I told the guide that we should turn back now because if we didn’t, we’d get back very, very late. She didn’t relent. We all took turns attempting to persuade her, especially when the rain began to fall and thunder began to boom across the forest. We saw flashes of lightning up in the sky, but looking around, we realised there was no shelter- we’d have to keep walking.

Photo by my friend Emma

We eventually reached what looked like a vertical wall of rocks (it was much worse than the picture!). The guide told us that the peak was at the top and that she’d fail us if we didn’t get up there! By this time, we were a mess. Two of the girls were crying, we were all chattering from the cold of being thoroughly soaked, and we had no idea how to climb up the wall with our heavy rucksacks using two thin ropes. Then one of the boys volunteered to go first, and he was soon out of sight, climbing high along the wall. After what seemed like ages, we heard the faint shouts that he had arrived, and after another of us reached, I went next. I wish I’d had the courage to go first, for now, the thunder was bellowing and the rain was pouring down on me making it very difficult to see, especially since I was wearing glasses! I rock-climbed about a meter of the wall, then stopped. I was shaking so terribly with cold and the gnawing in my stomach reminded me that we had never eaten lunch. Terrified, I pushed myself to keep going and to date, it’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I pulled myself up from the tree roots and occasionally held on to the rope, which was so slippery that I was afraid of falling right down from it. I don’t know exactly how long it took for me to get to the top but it seemed like forever, and when I finally reached, my hands and legs were scratched and bleeding from the sharp rocks and rough roots.

At the top, I found the other two shivering with cold and we nervously paced around trying to get warm. After a while, two more group members came up and we all stood in a circle, clenching hands and moving our arms. After a while, our final member of the group reached and we were able to go down. I went second, and this time I didn’t doubt myself at all. Trusting myself to land on correct footing I slid down the rope until I reached what I judged a steady tree root. Then I would lower my body down and use my hands to get hold of the root so my feet could swing down. It was no way as bad as the ascent, particularly because the ferocity of the rain had significantly decreased to a normal shower. While we waited for the others to get down, we snacked on Nature Valley bars and that made me realise that that was all we had eaten that day! Incredible.

After everyone was down, we followed the trail back and if my memory serves me right, it was almost 6 pm. The sky was pitch black and our headlights shined paths for us, and after a good half hour, we saw an indistinguishable shape moving toward us quickly. It was the best sight ever- our teacher had run in to find us! He quickly helped us take off our bags and store them in a sort of cave nearby before telling us to get out as fast as we could. Three of us immediately began running soon leaving the other 3 behind who were walking with the guide. We ran as fast as we could while staying together, in the darkness of the night, stumbling over flailing branches and winding roots. Hearing a pounding behind us, I turned around to find our teacher had come back to us. We stopped for a moment to take Himalayan salts and finish the last of our water before running again. The running was making us warm again and my teacher had given me a jumper which made me feel much much better. Fatigue was taking over us after running for an hour and we were tripping and stumbling over the branches but we kept pushing through.

Now that I’m home, sitting safely in my comfy couch, I can say that the moment was so cool when my teacher was talking into his walkie-talkie repeating “Get the kids out” or “The kids are the priority”. To our delight, we soon reached a station that was filled with guides from the company carrying big water containers which we immediately seized and began swallowing from. We then continued out of the path with another teacher, whilst the first ran back in to help the others. As we exited the jungle, a truck was waiting for us which drove us back to the camp where we reached at 9 pm. Because we had no food, sleeping bags or tents (our bags had been left in the jungle), our teacher cooked us big bacon, cheese and egg sandwiches which we hungrily devoured while drinking large cups of tea and coffee. It was my first time having meat since… Christmas! (I’m mostly a pescetarian!) We were wrapped in blankets and sat around telling stories while we waited for the others. They arrived two hours later and after they had eaten, our teachers salvaged enough roll mats and blankets for the 6 of us.

Our sleep was terrible. We slept at around 12.30 am but woke up around 6.30, laughing about our awful sleep on the hard floor. Our teachers came in with oatmeal soon after and after eating that we went on to have large egg sandwiches and drinks. It’s a lot of food, but I mean, we’d just walked about 22km in the jungle!

So that’s the end of the tale. We were driven back to our school and our rucksacks were collected by the guides and returned to us later in the week. Why I wanted to share this is because of how much this experience has taught me, and how it truly has helped me develop into a more resilient individual. You never know what you can do until put into a situation that you are entirely unfamiliar with. I was so proud of how I managed to stay mostly calm as I climbed and support my friends. Relating this to the COVID-19 situation that we now find ourselves in, the same mindset is crucial. Use the difficulty of the situation to empower yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone and reap the rewards. Trust me- it’s an amazing feeling.

I was stuck in the jungle for 12 hours was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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