MOUNTAINEERING IN THE PHILIPPINES
Mountaineering could mean different things to different people. One regards it as a sport, while another says it is a hobby, a pastime, or a diversion. Regardless of varying impressions, mountaineering can be defined as a physical and mental activity that requires skills, experience, common sense, and guts in ascending and descending mountains.
It is a physical activity because it demands kilometers of trekking in various terrain that may sometimes be steep, slippery and wet, eroded and flaky. It requires kilograms of backpack that must be carried from the base to the summit and vice versa. It exacts exposure to occasional inclement weather that may play between a humid afternoon to a torrential rainy night. On remote occasions, hail storm, thunderstorm, and lightning are experienced. It may require scaling a vertical wall, hanging on the side of a cliff, hopping to the other side of a crevice, treading to the other bank of the river, exploring the less-oxygen atmosphere of a cave, and breathing in thin air at high-altitudes.
In the entire stretch of the trek, the mind must be attentive of the conditions around it. It must be mindful of safety and calculating with risks. The mind is required to give sound judgements because lapses may inconvenience and, to a certain extent, endanger the individual and the group. It involves mental conditioning to plod on even when the body has exhausted its limit, to gorge on even if the food looks yucky, to hope for the campsite at the nearing bend, and to pray for the weather to turn out nice. On harsh conditions, it is only the power of the mind to create wonderment in the face of stress and danger that keeps sanity intact.
Climbing mountains safely demands that one should be equipped with the basic skills associated with the great outdoors. The mountain is a repository of surprises that may prove to be nightmarish for someone unprepared for it. You cannot afford to leave everything to fate when you could have prepared in advance to avert the occurrence of a crisis. And what better way to prevent or manage a crisis than by preparing and continuously retooling oneself before it comes.
Though Philippine mountaineering destinations are friendly to novice climbers, it is still advisable to acquire knowledge about the basics such as fitness, breathing, walking, and packing. Furthermore, it helps to be acquainted with cooking, route-finding, low-impact climbing, search and rescue, first aid, rappelling, rock-climbing, caving, swimming, camp management, trail signs, survival techniques that are found by reading books, undergoing seminar-training, or watching documentaries. Some of these skills were taught during scouting. More specialized ones are offered by mountaineering groups and government units.
You may have amassed and simulated all the skills from books, seminars, and documentaries, but if you have not experienced climbing a mountain, you must prepare to climb one now or you will just end up shortchanged. Techniques are best honed and developed by actually experiencing them. As they say, experience is the best teacher.
No amount of literature, documentaries, and stories can match the elation brought about by experiencing for oneself the joys and travails of climbing a mountain. From afar, a mountain is just a landscape. But inside it nestles a landscape of fulfillment that is succinctly unique to each individual experiencing it.
A mountain is survived not by skills and experience alone but largely by common sense. It entails that you must be practical with your decisions on your most basic movements such as stepping, sitting, attending to call of nature, breathing, standing, sleeping, jumping, bending, and carrying, to mention a few. When to rest, which leg to pull the body, which ground to step on, which way to take in face of a fork, which plant to grab for a grip, and where to refill water are just a few of the decisions that common sense should settle. Mountaineering presents you with many variables to scrutinize for a better judgement. Many of these decisions are best helped by the book, through simulation, and by experience. But, the decision is still yours to make. Your skills and five senses, and even your sixth sense will help you decide on what is the most practical thing to do in a given situation.
Finally, you must have guts to climb a mountain. Only the gutsy could tread a river whose depth and undercurrent are unknown. Only the gutsy could enter and exit a cave and not be gasping for air in panic. Only the gutsy could walk or look down at a cliff. Only the gutsy could hang from a rope to ascend or descend a wall. Only the gutsy could commit to trek for many kilometers under the scorching heat of the sun with minimum drinking water and a heavy load at the back.
A mountain is home to many wild plants and animals that can afflict harm or enchant you. It has a height that can be too deep or high to the faint-hearted but adrenaline pumping to risk-takers. It can mean death to one but death defying to others. No matter how you fear the dangers that lurk in its slopes and summit, you need to exorcise the fears out of your mind and heart.
In its splendor, a mountain promises great wonders of the wild, awesome landscapes of heaven and earth, unique triumphs of the human spirit, and untold tales of personal discovery. But all these will just remain a promise unless you have conquered it and protected it for others to reap its promises in their own time and even in many decades hence. After all, no one can afford to bequeath a world where mountains are read from shelves, seen in videos, and framed in walls. Our children deserve no less than the moving postcards that we enjoy now and that we fear to be fading soon unless we clamor for its preservation against quarrying, burning, and logging.
Although people have been climbing mountains since pre-historic times, these men have other reasons for reaching the summit, may it be economical or simply survival. Mountaineering as a sport started out on the late 1700s in Europe after a new breed of explorers started climbing the high peaks of the Alps. Along this new found sport is the development of equipment and techniques that popularized mountaineering all the more due to the increasing safety margins these developments have brought. The most celebrated milestone in mountaineering history is the conquest of the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest by Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay in 1954.
WHY, WHY, AND WHY?
Many people outside of mountaineering cannot fathom why there are people who indulge in mountaineering. They cannot understand what can be derived from this activity which seemed to be "a waste of time, money, and energy." Moreover, they cannot think of a worthy reason why should people bring themselves to imminent danger when they can very well choose to stay away from it.
When asked, mountaineers usually reply, "Because it is fun and I love scaling it" or the more classical "Because it’s there." But scratch the surface and you will find one or all of the following reasons.
God, Nature, and Meditation
Mountaineering takes man away from the concrete jungle and back to his natural sanctuary. The mountain affords communing with nature. It is a place where man can walk in the clouds while smell the scent of wild plants and dew. The mountain orchestrates a symphony of streams and rampaging rivers, chorus of birds and crickets, and whistles of wind rustling through the trees. It blows a gentle breeze that touches the face, combs the hair, and enlivens the body. It empties the mind of worries and pours in peace that quiets the psyche and calms the restless nerves. Its ambience helps elevate consciousness to a higher plane to enable man to touch base with himself and his Creator. As he descends the mountain, he brings with him a renewed spirit, a clear mind, and a revitalized body.
Many presume that mountains keep a plethora of dangers. It boasts of venomous snakes and wild boars, steep cliffs, paranormal elements, and eerie, deafening silence. To some, they trigger fear. Only a few dare to face and conquer these phobias. And only a handful of these daredevils confront and resolve them through mountaineering. But no matter how long, little by little, mountaineering helps them conquer their fears.
There are some people who cannot stand continuous exposure to noise, congestion, technology, work, boredom, and problems in their urban lives. The mountain becomes an attractive destination to get away from their mundane situations, even temporarily. Sometimes, these mountain respites become their sole means of getting by without snapping off in their problematic and weary lives.
Mountaineering affords people to see new places and learn new culture at a very reasonable budget because accommodation cost is almost defrayed. Because mountains are interspersed throughout the archipelago, mountaineers travel from their home base to the location of the mountain that they want to climb.
Mountaineers cannot help but forge sound relationships while in expedition. Friendship is built on solid grounds because they are founded in trust and care that are molded by unique situations and conditions in the mountain. A mountaineer learns to entrust his welfare and safety with his companion, to share his food, equipment, and other provisions, and to strip himself of pretenses and open his humble self to others. Sometimes, mountaineering brokers marriage out of these friendships.
Growth and Skills
Mountaineering requires people to at least know some basic skills. These skills are not only read but continually applied and honed each expedition. People become confident with their first aid skills, cooking, backpacking, leadership, and time management, to mention a few.
In addition, due to exposure to people, places, and culture, mountaineers build their character and become well-rounded individuals. They learn to be patient and enduring, disciplined and time-conscious, and courteous and considerate, among many other values.
Mountaineering is a very physical activity to engage in. Mountaineers oblige themselves with exercises for days before they climb. They build their endurance to prepare for the lengthy trek with a heavy pack at their back. They discipline their water intake, breathing patterns, and resting postures. They watch what they eat and take vitamin supplements for nutrition and energy needs.
A substantial portion of mountaineers had scouting experience when they were still in school. They are avid campers who loved campfires, hiking, swimming, and the many interesting gadgets that go with backpacking. Their outdoor bug stirs their interest even after school to continue camping. Their thirst for camping is quenched by mountaineering.
Cost Effective Hobby
Mountaineering may appear to be a costly hobby due to specialized gadgets and equipment that necessitate convenience and comfort in the outdoors. At the onset, it may seem to be expensive. And it is so because you accumulate mountaineering gears and equipment. However, if you take extra care of these specialty goods, they will be useful for many years. And if you calculate the purchase price of these goods and divide it by the number of years you were able to use them, you would be amazed to discover how negligible the amortized monthly expense is. The benefits you derive from mountaineering are exponentially higher than the aggregate amount of transportation and food expenses you would have to shell out every expedition.
Research and Education
There are people who indulge in mountaineering because their work or profession requires them to do so. Foresters, geologists, mountain rangers, journalists, and researchers study and explore the mountains because their work requires them to.
MOUNTAINEERING IN THE PHILIPPINES
Mountaineering in the Philippines is exciting and challenging because of the diverse physical features of the mountains. The climate in the mountain and the various ways to get there add up to an experience that is all Filipino. Plus the rich legends and mysticism of the local mountains adds up to the total excitement that is unique to other mountaineering destinations on other parts of the globe.
The proliferation of outdoor groups has been ignited by the massive media campaign on the adventure that the beautiful Philippine mountains, tropical rainforest, caves, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, cold and hot springs, and beaches promise. The Philippine is a haven for mountaineers because its mountains offer a lot. It has rainforest that cradles a wide variety of animals, boasts of towering trees, and pours rain all year round. Some species of flora and fauna are endemic to area. It has streams and rivers to cross, tread and wade. It has multiple waterfalls and basins of therapeutic cold and hot springs. It has a lot of caves and some of which have underground rivers that are left unexplored. Some mountains sit on white sandy beaches or mangroves that are rich in marine life. It has summits overlooking magnificent landscapes and seascapes. However, being a tropical country, it does not have alpine summits.
Popular mountaineering destinations include volcanic mountains such as Taal volcano in Batangas, Mt. Apo in Davao, Mt. Canlaon in Negros, Mt. Mayon and Mt. Isarog in Bicol, Mt. Makiling in Laguna, and Mt. Banahaw in Quezon and Laguna. Because the Philippines is home to approximately 200 volcanoes, of which 22 are active and closely monitored, mountaineers are advised to consult with the Philippines Institute of Volcanology or Philvocs about the status and conditions of these volcanic mountains.
Other popular mountains include Mt. Pulog in Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya, Mt. Halcon in Mindoro, Mt. Cristobal in Quezon, Mt. Maculot in Batangas, and Mt. Guiting Guiting in Sibuyan Island.
There are mountains that have abundant water source coming from rain, springs and lakes. But some mountains do not have any water source or a potable one. It is advised that water provisions be included in the "must bring" list. Some popular lakes include Lake Buhi in Bicol, Paoay Lake in Ilocos Sur, and Lake Danao or Imelda Lake in Leyte. The popular caves in the Philippines include the Callao Cave in Cagayan, Biak na Bato in Bulacan, and St. Paul Subterranean National Park in Palawan.
Because it is an archipelago, the Philippines is toured in many ways. By air, almost all major cities can be reached by domestic flights that are serviced by local airlines company. There are shipping lines that offer inter-island transport. Water transport includes ships, ferries, catarman, motorized outriggers and paddles. By land, the road network is plied by buses, passenger jeeps, private cars, tricycles, motorcycles, bicycles and pedicabs. Although trains ply specific areas of the country, they are not widely used.
The usual transportation cycle starts from taking a plane, ship, or bus to the city or town nearest to the mountain. From the city or town to the jump-off point, mountaineers either rent a passenger jeep or tricycle or just walk. However, if you choose to rent, prepare to haggle for a reasonable price or you might just end-up over-charged.
The Philippines has two main seasons. They are the dry season that spans from January to June and the wet season that spans from July to December. The coolest month is January while the warmest month is April. All year round, the climate is warm and humid even during the wet season when there is no rain. Approximately, 27 degrees centigrade is the average yearly temperature.
The weather in the mountain is complicated. Mountains with rainforest almost always have daily rain even during dry season. But lately, due to deforestation, rain on some mountains has become scarce. Some mountains that are thoroughly deforested are very hot and humid even during the wet season.
Many student mountaineers flock to the mountains during the summer vacation in April and May. Some avoid mountaineering during the wet season because monsoon rains and typhoons expose them to too much danger from flash floods, rough waters, and landslides. Some prefer to hike the mountains during the pleasant and cool months of November to February.
EVOLUTION OF PHILIPPINE MOUNTAINEERS
Just like mountaineering in general, the Philippine mountaineering has no defined history. People have already been climbing since pre-historic times. Climbing as a sport has already been in existence in our country even before the 1900. This was due to the fact that fragmented records of prominent people of the society scaling some of the mountains here has already been in existence. For instance the first conquest of Mt. Apo by Don Joaquin Rajal in 1880 is well known. But a comprehensive study is not available to determine who’s who and who’s first. One thing for sure is that mountaineering groups has started sprouting in the late 60s. But still no one can claim who is the first. It may also be safe to say that the 90s will be the golden year for mountaineering here in the Philippines.
The natural features and history of the Philippines have molded Filipinos to become survivors and natural climbers. Its diverse flora and fauna, climate, mountainous landscape, and water network have yielded Filipino mountaineers from prehistoric times to the present.
The Tabon Caveman charted not only the cave network of Palawan but also its seas and mountains for food. He created sharpened objects for hunting and scripting figures in cave walls. He learned to predict the coming of a storm. He used plants for medication. He traversed mountains and crossed rivers. He constructed makeshift homes on treetops to gear away from wild animals that may attack him unaware anytime.
The Aetas, who are the aborigines of the Philippine Islands, migrated from one island to another and traversed one mountain range after another. In Pre-Spanish time, they have lived in the plains and by the shore and only hunted for food and gold in the boondocks. When Spain occupied the Philippines, many were driven to the mountains by force or by trade. For instance, Sultan Marikudo and Queen Maniwangtiwang sold the plains of Panay Island to Spaniards in exchange for crown, scepter, and jewelry and settled their tribe in the mountains.
Throughout the occupation of the Philippines by Spain, Japan, and the United States of America, Filipino revolutionists had setup caverns and homes in the mountains and caves of the Sierra Madre and other mountain ranges in the country. In the mountains and rivers, they hunted wild boars, wild ducks and fresh water fish for food, managed to build huts for shelter and conferences, and discovered medicines from plants.
The Philippine military trained themselves with jungle survival techniques and guerilla warfare to be able to manage their way in the mountains. These training have been expanded to cover not only people in the military but also volunteers who enlist for them. For example, the Rescue 505 Unit of the Philippine Air Force conducts Search and Rescue course to volunteers yearly.
The Filipino youth has been exposed and oriented to camping, ropemanship, route-finding, backpacking, hiking, swimming, trail signs, campfire building, and first aid as early as seven years old when they joined the Philippine Scouts as Cab or Star Scouts. As they become Boy or Girl Scouts, these skills are continuously reinforced in classrooms, camping, and jamborees.
After school, some graduates, who used to be scouts, form groups to engage in camping. Many groups have specialized not only in camping but particularly in climbing mountains. Thus, formal mountaineering organizations came to fore.
Apart from expedition, these mountaineering organizations develop short courses to train and upgrade the skills of its membership, to participate in environmental protection undertakings by cause-oriented groups, and to conduct outreach programs in needy communities.
Through the years, mountaineering has evolved from a lifestyle of survival, where mountains became the source of its subsistence, to a vehicle for the preservation of the mountains and the communities living around it.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
The success of every endeavor lies at how well you have planned and prepared for it. For a mountaineering expedition, you or your group must have prepared well ahead of it to make it safe, fun-filled, and successful.
Physically, mountaineers, or people who indulge in mountaineering, religiously exercise to maintain fitness and build stamina. They climb flights of stairs, jog and walk, hit the gym, and do aerobics. Also, they eat more carbohydrates (or carbo-loading) just a few days before the climb. On occasions, they take anti-malarial drugs three days before they climb malaria-stricken area. Others who have not climbed a mountain for a long time undergo medical examination to determine their body’s worthiness to face the demands of mountaineering. Others get vaccinations for hepatitis B and typhoid fever for precautionary measures. Also, they sleep adequately well and take vitamin supplements a week before expeditions.
When you have prospected a mountain to climb, you must begin researching it. You can source information in many ways. For popular mountains such as Mt. Banahaw in the boundary of Laguna and Quezon provinces, Mt. Makiling in Laguna, and Mt. Apo in Davao, there are published books tackling almost all you need to know to climb them. For other sources, you can scan the Internet and connect to sites that provide literature and itineraries about other popular mountains in the Philippines. You can also gather information from the Department of Environment of Natural Resources for mountains that are declared as National Parks and Protected Areas by the government. The staple source of information by mountaineers come from colleagues in mountaineering because they have the most recent information based from their latest visit.
It is important that you research all available materials and interview resource persons about prospective mountains. In particular, it sometimes helps to acquaint oneself about its flora and fauna, height and level of difficulty, people, culture, dialects, tribes, and even paramilitary elements settling in its slopes. You should know the transportation choices and accessibility issues from your point of origin to its jump-off point and vice versa. A bus, a jeep, or tricycle are the usual mode of transportation used to go to the foot of the mountain.
Very important is your itinerary. Your itinerary should contain the basic information you must know about the mountain. It must include the number of days to climb it, the scheduled activities, the number of meals needed, the water source (or the lack of it), the related expenses for transportation and pocket money, the contact person or guide if any, and the climb officers of your expedition.
After researching the mountain and deciding on the itinerary, you must gather all participants for a pre-climb meeting where all the information you have researched and everything in the itinerary are discussed in detail. The pre-climb meeting is the best time to group participants into units with manageable numbers of four to five persons if yours is a big group. This time, you can plan your meal and designate persons to share and carry the load of group equipment. Also, climb officers are designated in this meeting.
Days before a climb or after storing equipment for the next expedition, you must check the worthiness of your tent, stove, boots, rope, clothing, backpack, cook set, medicine kit, and others. Also, you must ensure that the things in your pack are there and organized in such a manner because of a worthy reason and not just because you like to have them in there for the whim of it. When packing, you should remember that any unnecessary item in the backpack increases the weight you will carry in the rest of the climb.
You must bring money more than the recommended amount advised to you but not so much to attract any theft or robbery. It is important that you have cash with you because checks and credit cards are not used in remote areas where usually the base of the mountain or the jump-off point of the trek starts. It is also advisable to allocate smaller-denominated bills and coins for easy financial transactions with the locals.
Before scaling the mountain, your group should register at the barangay center or ranger station. The registry should contain the name of the participants and the date and time when you started the climb. It is also advisable to inform the person-in-charge at the barangay center or ranger station about your expected date and time of arrival at the base of the mountain.
Mountaineering is definitely a physically taxing and risky venture to take. This is why it is only for people who think they can, prepare for it, and just do it. For those who indulge in it, nothing compares to the indescribable universal feeling, felt and understood by all mountaineers, of having reached the summit with the mix of risks taken, hardships hurdled, and choices made. Like in life, man must persevere in the midst of hopelessness and momentary failure, to be able to make that extra pull, that extra stride, and that extra effort towards the peak God has prepared for all of us.
See you at the summit!