February 8, 2009
Mountain Climbing (Sir Gideon Laso of PinoyMontaineer)
Suppose you've never tried climbing a mountain before, but your interest has been aroused. Maybe you've heard stories from your friends, or saw pictures in Multiply, or perhaps you've chanced by this website and you find yourself being attracted by the mountains you've read about. What then? How exactly does one begin to take up mountain climbing?To address these questions, I've decided to write this "Newbie guide" for you. For teenagers, there is a special personal correspondence program that you may avail of, as part of PinoyMountaineer's advocacy of promoting mountain climbing in the Philippines. You can apply for it by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For foreigners who wish to visit the Philippines and climb mountains, you may likewise email us. Also, there are pages here that try to address your concerns such as security.What does mountain climbing entail? Obviously, you need strength and stamina. However, most mountains in the Philippines can be climbed by an ordinary person; every year dozens of elderly people climb Banahaw - a Difficulty 5/9 climb by PinoyMountaineer standards. Although physical training is very important, even more paramount at first is understanding the risks involved in climbing mountains. It sounds easy at first, and the pictures really look very nice but it isn't the case all the time.Really, the first step is to understand that there are risks involved. Several people die each year due to mountain-related accidents. By knowing basic protocols on safety and security, you are not only protecting yourself but also your climb mates. What if you go to Mt. Maculot and suddenly somebody falls over the Rockies? What will you do?Indeed, with so many itineraries being available in PinoyMountaineer and other websites, there is now the danger of doing away with standard practices and just deciding to go up mountains as if it were a picnic, or a thing to do with your barkada. Take note that the itineraries in PinoyMountaineer are meant for mountaineers. Even more difficult would be to organize a climb based on an online itinerary without knowing the abilities/skills/limitations of your participants. Let's say you decided to invite people to tag along, and suddenly somebody has an asthma attack. What will you do? As the organizer, of course you have some responsibility. So inasmuch as the website tries to gather as much information as possible, we wish for responsible use of this information.Thus I exhort everyone who has interest in mountains to do it the proper way - that is, to learn the basics, as much as possible with a mountaineering or outdoor club offering Basic Mountaineering Course or BMC. By joining such clubs, you will be guided not only by the BMC, but by veteran climbers from whose experiences you can learn a lot. You may ask, how do I join these clubs and what clubs are available? We have a list of mountaineering clubs from all over the Philippines in the sidebar of the site; there is also a page that lists clubs that offer BMC. Naturally, you should look for a club that is within your locality, or school or company.If you do decide to join a club, what will be expected of you? And what should you expect? Well, basically the application usually centers on the Basic Mountaineering Course. This includes skills and fitness training (running, jogging, wall climbing); orientation on safety (lectures, discussions); and taking part in an organization (batch project, team building, etc.). The UP Mountaineers (UPM) has an excellent BMC Wiki which could give you a better idea of what to expect. Of course, there are training climbs that culminates - together with the rest of the application - in an induction climb. Is it hard? The established mountaineering clubs usually take their BMC seriously - and so should you. If you decide to join one, make sure you have the commitment to attend their scheduled activities -- and always be on time. We may be Filipinos and thus prone to using "Filipino time" but as mountaineers, we should follow mountain time -- that is, being on time and following the itinerary as much as possible.The advantages of joining a mountaineering club are many. For one, you automatically meet a lot of people who share your hobby, and you can rely on them for advise on climbing and equipment. Speaking of equipment, most groups have their own group stuff like tents, cooking utensils, etc. Also, you get to climb as a team - and as they say, there is safety in numbers (not to mention that you'll get that rented jeep to Pulag easily). The drawback is, you cannot always dictate what destinations to visit, and you cannot always have a say on when climbs are going to be held. Still, being part of a mountaineering club is a very important part of mountaineering - not only do you get to do climbs, but projects, other outdoor activities such as rock climbing, island hopping -- so this should be your priority.An emerging trend is 'freelancing' - climbing by one's self and joining open climbs. In fact, the foundation of some mountaineering groups are freelance mountaineers who grouped together. In this setting, you will have to do more individual effort. The advantage is having to choose the climbs you join, but you don't get the BMC. In other words, it's like learning by experiences. And you can organize/join climbs by your schedule. The great freelancers I know start off as members of mountainering clubs. And even as a freelancer, you can join a BMC training. The shortest BMC courses can take just a weekend.As a newbie, thus, the steps you can do are (1) try to find a mountaineering club or at least (2) get yourself a BMC training.While you're at it, I'm sure you would want to know where the best mountain is to start with. Where is the best first climb? Any daytrip would actually do: but most climbers start off with Maculot, Batulao, Pico de Loro, Manabu Peak - the nearest ones. Yet, I encourage you to diversify especially since these mountains are becoming "congested" with so many people climbing them. Mountains in PinoyMountaineer are classified by difficulty (check out the classification system in this link); you can opt for the Difficulty 2-3 mountains first, and then go higher up the ladder as you accrue more experience.Of course, for many, especially young people, the real first step is having to ask permission from their parents. If you are having difficulty in convincing your parents or girlfriend to allow you to climb, you have to convince them that mountain climbing is generally safe, and you have done your part in learning mountain safety. Give them itineraries, update them on your status whenever there's signal. In our mountain entries, the presence of cellphone signal is usually mentioned. Finally, give them contact numbers of your hiking pals so they know who to contact in an emergency. Some hikers I know had difficulty in convincing their parents, but through experience, they are able to prove that it is safe after all.How much do you have to ask from them, or get from your own pocket? And exactly what equipment do you need? For daytrips you actually don't need anything but as time goes by, you may want to get decent bags (a 30 L dayhike bag and a 45-60 L overnighter); a really reliable pair of Merrells (or equivalent). The flaslights, whistles, and hat are easy but then you can also invest on a 1-2 person tent, and finally, you can start to be "self-contained" when you acquire your own cookset and portable stove. All these can fit within P20,000, and you can do it piece by piece. If you need more information on gadgets and gears, check out Gadgets and Gears.If you're worried about the cost, bear in mind that if you take good care of your equipment, they can last for a long time and if you're really into climbing, they'll be worth it. Where to buy these things? Manila has outdoor shops like ROX in the Fort; we have a comprehensive list of outdoor shops in the Philippines.You should also know how to use the itineraries in PinoyMountaineer. Be intelligent enough to read and understand the articles and other people's notes before asking questions. The PinoyMtnr ITs have a pattern: know the mountain's background, read the itinerary to have an idea how long it will take; and then go to the "Special Concerns" to find out exactly how to do it. Read all the comments of other climbers for the latest updates and their suggestions. Try to do research on your own, and as a special favor, I'd like to ask you to contribute updates as well whenever you climb.What else can you be thinking, as a beginner? If you are hypochondriac and fear being bitten a snake, I assure you that the chance of you even seeing a snake is very minimal, especially if at first you'll be hitting minor, popular climbs like Maculot and Batulao. As the saying goes, "Mas takot ang ahas sa tao, kaysa takot ang tao sa ahas". Then there is also the small but feared limatik - we have a whole page addressing this concern. The major health concern are injuries (wounds, fractures) so try to concentrate on the trail as much as possible. This will also help you avoid getting lost. As a beginner, don't just follow the leader. Trail vigilance and trail familiarity is expected of you. Another equally important health concern is overdrinking on the campsite. Personally I do not approve of getting drunk in the mountains, and I can cite medical reasons for my disapproval: alcohol impairs judgment, among other things. Drinking per se, however, has some good affects. Aside from creating a more sociable, friendly atmosphere at night, alcohol brings warmth to the body and enables a more restful sleep. But don't get drunk. As a medical student, I have devoted an entire section of PinoyMountaineer called "Climb health" for medical concerns.Oh, and before I forget. Another thing that pops out is, "So, how do you do it on the mountains?" Brace for the inevitable: there are no toilets in the mountains and there is no other way but do it the old-fashioned way. The reason why groups have a trowel is because you have to dig. Be decent enough to do so, lest your campsite be permeated with foul stentch when the wind blows. I understand that this can be quite uncomfortable for some, but people just get used to it. Anyway, first climbs are usually daytrips and even overnight trips that do not actually require you to mind this concern. At least not yet. But still, this is a must-know.Lest you become jealous of others, make sure you bring a camera especially if you're after the views. Having your own camera would enable you to document your own perspective of a mountain: an individual may focus on the background; some may focus on the climbers - your shots will capture your own experience as no else could - and you won't have to hassle everyone with "Ako rin, pa-picture!". Cold weather depletes batteries faster than in normal circumstances - so extra batteries for your cellphones / cameras will come in handy.Have a Multiply site where other people can form networks with you. And in the mountains, inclusiveness, not exclusivity, is the right attitude. Be warm and friendly with everyone, and soon you'll have a network of like-minded friends with whom you can climb or discuss climbing. In PinoyMountaineer, we have a chat service called MountainTalk at the bottom of the page where you can have online conversations with other mountaineers; you can also join the PinoyMountaineer egroup in Multiply.Mountaineers usually make it a point to greet each other with the honorific "Ma'am/Sir" when meeting on the trails: even in other countries hikers greet each other so make sure you practice this. Some words used may sound jargon to you; check out Climbspeak - a glossary of Philippine mountaineering terms. Please, do not be noisy when in the mountains - be respectful of nature, and be respecful of other climbers. As the LNT principles aptly state, "Let nature's sounds prevail!".Personally, I tell you: it is all worth it. Whatever expenses you incur, or difficult training you undergo; it is worth it: it is not just the beauty of the views, but the challenge of the trails; the camaraderie of like-minded individuals; and the sheer tranquility of nature that you will count. And of course, mountaineering is a sport, a social activity - relaxation and exertion - at the same time.Before I conclude this piece, let me have a word on the environment: Please, start it right: have concern for nature. The reason why there are beautiiful mountains right now is because climbers in the past have preserved it; they did not trample. Mountaineers past have left no trace of their treks: and you should do the same. I hope that as you develop your passion for mountain climbing, you will also develop a passion for the mountains: we need you to make our voice stronger, as we fight, in our individual or collective ways, the threats our mountains face -- be it against mining, illegal logging - or even irresponsible mountain climbing. The mark of a true mountaineer is not having the passion to climb mountains, but the passion to protect them. Sir Art Valdez told me that for him, mountaineering is a way of life. And I agree. For me, mountain climbing started off as a dream, then a passion; inasmuch as I enjoyed all my climbs, I also I learned a lot of lessons. As a team leader I got my team lost in Mt. Cristobal (via the obscure San Pablo trail): what was supposed to be a dayhike turned out to be a overnight climb with no food, water, or shelter! From then on my motto became: Never underestimate a mountain!When I was all alone in Mt. Apo -- pursuing my goal of reaching the mountain before I turned 20 - I began to doubt God on my first night, encamped at Mainit Hot Spring at the Kidapawan Trail. It had rained the whole afternoon, ruining my plan to reach Venado, and when I woke up that night I felt I was in a middle of a thunderstorm. To my great astonishment, what I thought was heavy rain was actually the river which we crossed; and what I thought were flashes of lightning were actually shooting stars darting across the heavens -- indeed it was a clear sky with the most numbers of stars I saw in my life! I was ashamed because I didn't trust in God, and when the next day I reached the summit, I knew I should always trust Him; and acknowledge His guidance always.And making it to the summit of Apo, however minor that feat may be, has given me confidence; it has given me strength because I know there are things that I can do. All the rest of the mountains have enriched me as well. Mountain climbing is not just about making new conquests, but making new friends: and I am happy to say that I have met good friends along the trail - and I look forward to meeting many more people the next time I climb.Mountain climbing has also opened my eyes to the plight of our rural countrymen; it enabled me to see our country in another perspective. In the mountains I have met rebels and soliders alike; I have seen beauty but I have also seen poverty: and I have seen determination in kids walking for two hours just to go to school.Mountaineering has taken me from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi and it has made me love my country more, having seen the best of its natural wonders; having gazed on its peaceful towns from its roofs and ceiling; having interacted with its people.I have been privileged to climb in other countries as well, and I feel proud to represent the Philippines in the international community of mountaineers. As author of PinoyMountaineer, I'd like foreign climbers to see the beauty of our mountains through this blog, and put our country in a better light. As for their own mountains, we can always follow the footsteps of Leo Oracion, Romi Garduce, and the rest of the Everest team who have shown the world that yes, we Filipinos can. We can reach the top of the world and we can achieve our dreams if we put our hearts to it.All said, I am proud to call myself a Pinoy mountaineer.The stereotype of a mountaineer is one who carries a big bag mounted on his back, faced with a steep slope; with pines and clouds on the background. The bag is really heavy -- and a five-minute rest could mean a lot - but really, it is not the bag that you carry, but yourself. There is so much weight to overcome; so many obstacles before you can climb: oftentimes you have to file a leave, save up your allowance, make way for that long weekend. But when we are able to do the things that we want; when we are able to pursue our passions and live our dreams, then we are truly on the right track.With these words, I welcome you to the world of mountaineering. You have taken the first steps in a journey of a lifetime. Our paths may cross someday. I hope to see you at the summit!