Saturday, April 19, 2014

A message to the organizers and participants of the National Mountain Clean-up Day

As May 10 draws near, I am very excited with the prospect of having a day when we can clean up the mountains and teach, by example, others about the importance of having clean mountains for our country and for our environment.

The response from groups and individuals has been overwhelming and I appreciate all the messages of support, all the suggestions, all the offers of volunteering, and of course, all those who have signified their intent to join the activity. I am also thankful to our friends in the DENR for recognising mountaineers as a partner for the environment and assisting us in this activity. 

The list of hiking clubs who have committed to conduct clean-up climbs on May 10 are listed in my original post about the initiative - you can see the list here. This list is not all-encompassing. Please do not be disheartened if you do not see your group on the list. You do not have to be included in the list to hold your clean-up climb.  The purpose of the list is to encourage others to follow, either on May 10 or throughout the year. Indeed, our experiences in doing this collective clean-up should be fed back and thought through in order to guide future clean-ups.

While I am appreciative of the desire of many groups and individuals to join the activity, we must understand that not everyone should be in the same mountains at the same time. Another reason why we have a list is to inform everyone that there are clubs that are already planning clean-ups for particular mountains. Even as we do a collective clean-up, we must keep the number of people on the mountains to a minimum. Moreover, it makes little sense for groups to do clean-ups in places where a group has already picked up all the trash. This is why groups who are organising clean-up climbs on the same mountain should coordinate with each other. And this is also why groups who want to participate should consider picking other mountains, or other dates. But I must repeat that I do appreciate your initiative and your interest. Your support is important if we are to keep the mountains clean. 

I have also received messages from individuals who want to participate in the Clean-up Day but they cannot find any groups to join. What I can say now is I do appreciate your eagerness to be part of the activity. In future clean-ups, I would recommend coming up with a mechanism that will accept individuals to join designated hikes. At this point, however, I ask you to bear with us as this is a very new activity and it is easier to coordinate with groups. Again, the spirit of the Clean-up Day is something that should be with us throughout the year and by being responsible mountaineers, you are taking part in what we aim to accomplish for the mountains. 

We have been thinking through - with the DENR - how to best conduct the clean-ups, and I urge everyone to read the Guiding Document we have drafted for this occasion (click here for the link). This is a non-binding document and there will be specificities that we cannot account for. But I think it is a good starting point to plan your clean-up. What must be emphasised here is the importance of ensuring that all the waste collected will be turned over to a waste disposal facility. It is not enough to bring down trash from the summit to the campsite, or to the village. We want to set a good example and we want to make sure that the garbage is disposed properly. Moreover, every clean-up climb is a climb, and as such, participants are expected to be prepared according, and to follow the rules and principles of outdoor recreation.

There have been some requests for shirts but as I have said from the beginning, I do not wish for this movement to have any form of transactions - such as shipments of shirts, transfer of money, registration fees - and all that stuff. That is why I have asked my friend, Dr. Ulysses Gopez, to come with a logo that is open source (see above) and can be used by anyone for their own shirts. We are united here not by the same shirt or the same ID, but by the same purpose. 

This reflects my attitude towards this whole activity - I do not want it to be a monolithic mega-activity happening nationwide. I want it to be a movement that everyone - every participant, every group- can claim ownership of. Thus I do see myself as the organiser of an event, but merely the coordinator of many events that happen to coincide on a single day and a single goal. 

Having such a decentralised setup will have its own problems. Our partners in the DENR have already spoken of the difficulty, legally speaking, of identifying the 'entity' they are formally dealing with in coming up with the event. Moreover, we do not really have a way of monitoring how the groups will conduct their clean-ups. Some may not live up to the standards we have suggested, and this may be the grounds for others to criticise the entire activity. I can already imagine accusations of 'mass climbing' and others, founded upon pictures of people congregating upon the mountains. Like I said from the beginning I too am strongly against this. But even with these built-in complications of a decentralised 'initiative', the greater good of having many mountains cleaned up, and in a way that has the gravitas to spark a message of environmental consciousness in and beyond the mountaineering community, compels me to keep believing in the rightness and timeliness of this cause. Those who focus on the negative will of course find something negative, but in an imperfect world, we should open our eyes to the good and to the positive because there lies our hope for a better future. 

Moreover, considering the fractious history of initiatives and organisations within the mountaineering community, I think we should not be distracted by groups or individuals at the helm. We should instead be united by ideas, by things we believe in. As such, I do hope that in the coming years, the groups who organised clean-up climbs this year will make it an annual tradition to do so. 

To the organizers of the climbs, I invite you - or your representatives - to join me on our meeting with the DENR on April 23 that will also count as a sort of pre-climb for the activity. Please join the Facebook group for the organisers and volunteers for more details, and for more updates. I urge you anew to review the Guiding Document and to coordinate with the local government, particularly for planning the waste disposal; and with other groups (if any) organising clean-ups on the same mountain so you can designate areas for different groups to clean-up. 

To the participants, be prepared physically and mentally for the clean-up day. Make sure you bring the right gear and the right mindset, and be supportive of your team leaders. Be extra careful in your actions on the mountains; remember that as participants of the clean-up day, we have to set a good example for others. I hope you will find the activity meaningful and enjoyable! 

To everyone, I thank you for the support that you have given this Clean-Up - which is the first that I have launched an initiative. Surely the success of this effort - whatever relationships that we can form here, whatever experiences and lessons we will gain - will encourage us to pursue other endeavours for the environment and hopefully allow us to be of help to the mountains that have given us so much.

Yours sincerely,

Gideon Lasco
April 19, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hiking matters #399: Blue Mountains bushwalking, Part 2 - Wentworth Falls and National Pass

BLUE MOUNTAINS, AUSTRALIA - We are now prepared to head back to Sydney after three amazing days in the Blue Mountains. After trekking through the highlights of Katoomba yesterday (see Hiking matters #398), today we went to Wentworth Falls and found it a truly worthy trip, especially since we decided to take the National Pass which took us through another section of the cliffs that face the Jamison Valley, and countless waterfalls and cascades. Little wonder that the place is called the 'Valley of Waters'.
We took the train from Katoomba to Wentworth, which, while taking only 10 minutes, has hourly intervals. From Wentworth railway station we took the Charles Darwin Walk to the falls. Apparently, Darwin himself walked through the trail and visited the falls in 1836, making him one of the many illustrious personages to have visited the Blue Mountains.

This 2.5-km trail was very flat but scenic, passing through sclerophyll forests. Just like yesterday, I marvelled at the diversity of environments in the trail. In a matter of hours, if not minutes, one can shift from verdant rivers and cascades

We reached the mouth of Wentworth Falls then had to descend through a series of steel ladders and narrow that hugged a narrow cliff, allowing for dramatic views of Jamison Valley - we could have taken more pictures if not for the throngs of people from all over the world wanting to see the waterfalls. So we had to move along, missing out on great photo opportunities. But the falls made the slug truly worthwhile, as we were treated to one of the most spectacular sights we've seen in Australia: the Wentworth Falls.

After the falls, we continued through cliffside walks in the National Pass. To be sure, it was pretty, but with the people ahead of and behind us, there was little time to appreciate the views. At any rate it was pretty similar to the views of yesterday's hike through the Federal Pass. We marched briskly, and soon we encountered more waterfalls and steel ladders - it was time to go up again.
The possibilities are endless in the Blue Mountains and we saw some folks abseiling in Empress Falls as we hiked back to the Wentworth Falls town. The climbing opportunities are legion and that's a big reason for me to come back in the future - when I have more time and training. Meanwhile, I am very happy with this Blue Mountains retreat, which I shared with Elbrus teammates Jun Carnate and Cynthia Sy (thanks so much, both of you, for the good times!). I'm ready to go back to Manila!

Hiking matters #397: The hike up Mt. Kosciuszcko
Hiking matters #398: Blue Mountains 1 - Katoomba
Hiking matters #399: Blue Mountains 2 - Wentworth Falls

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hiking matters #398: Blue Mountains bushwalking Part 1 - Federal Pass from Katoomba Falls to Leura Cascades

BLUE MOUNTAINS, AUSTRALIA - Here we are in the famed Blue Mountains of Australia - a World Heritage Site that features vast landscapes of blue mountains and valleys; dramatic cliffs and rock formations, countless waterfalls, and endless possibilities for adventure. After the successful Mt. Kosciusczko hike, we had a rest day which we spent sampling the Shirazes and Semillon Blancs of Hunter Valley. Then the following day we took the two-hour train ride to Katoomba, where we planned on staying for three days. Then we immediately headed to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters - the most famous attraction of the Blue Mountains.
The next day, we walked down Katoomba Road again, this time heading to the trailhead to Katoomba Falls, where we started our bushwalking trip. The visual rewards were immediate; we were once again in front of the vast panorama of the Blue Mountains - which reminded me of the Grand Canyon (see Hiking matters #311).
The trails were well marked, and also well established, with steel ladders and footpaths safeguarding the precarious parts. Still I liked the cliff-side walks, especially those with overhangs. The amazing thing with the hike was the variety of sceneries we went through. It wasn't purely just cliffs and rocks, though that would have been exciting in itself. We also passed through some nice forests, seeing kangaroos, colourful parrots, and many other birds - not to mention interesting trees like redwoods called turpentines.
 With no summit to train our minds on, we relished every bit of the trail. After a descent from the town, the Federal Pass itself is a more gradual walk on the base of the cliffs which include the Three Sisters. Past a beautiful woodland called the Leura Forest, the trail ascends again, this time through more waterfalls and rock formations.
From the Leura Cascades we headed back to Katoomba, this time via the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, which again offers a unique kind of scenery: the trees are different from the ones below. Back in town we headed to some of the outdoor shops, and wrapped up the day with a nice dinner. Thank you Dr. Jun Carnate and Cynthia Sy for being with me in this memorable adventure Down Under! I'm looking forward to one last day of bushwalking tomorrow!
Hiking matters #397: The hike up Mt. Kosciuszcko
Hiking matters #398: Blue Mountains 1 - Katoomba
Hiking matters #399: Blue Mountains 2 - Wentworth Falls

Hiking matters #397: The hike up Mt. Kosciuszcko, the highest mountain in Australia

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - Yesterday, I did the hike up Mt. Kosciusczko, at 2228 MASL the highest mountain in Australia and as such, arguably (and per the Bass List) one of the Seven Summits of the world. Although it was a very easy hike (my grandmother can do it), every mountain is special, and having come all the way from the Philippines to do it and having faced some unexpected challenges to get there, it turned out to be an exciting adventure.

Getting there proved to be an obstacle much more difficult than the hike itself. This is partly because we were doing the hike off-season and since it was also the school holidays, there was no way to get to Thredbo, the jump-off point. To the rescue was my Nepalese friend Surendra, and his buddy Pravash, who decided to join us and do the long drive to the Snowy Mountains. Joining me in Australia was my brother Jonathan - he’s not really into hiking but has done Kinabalu and some PH mountains - as well as my Mt. Elbrus teammates Jun Carnate, Koko Roura, and Cynthia Sy.

We stopped over at Canberra- a three-hour drive from downtown Sydney- spending the night there before proceeding to the Snowy Mountains the following day. We took a wrong turn and ended up taking all of five hours to reach Thredbo! Originally, we had planned to do a longer hike passing by Charlotte’s Pass, but since we were running late, we had no choice but to take the chairlift up the shortest route, which is already 1900 MASL and just 6.5 kilometres long.

By the time we started hiking, it was past 1400H. The hike was truly easy; the slopes were gentle and there was even a steel footpath for most of the way. But the scenery was beautiful! There is a feeling of vastness when you are in the Snowy Mountains, with endless mountains in all directions; but it is a subdued majesty, not like the dramatic heights of the Alps or the Himalayas. We are
After two hours the summit was already upon us, and I was raising the Philippine flag by 1607H. A stone altar marks the summit, with a tiny metal plate that inscribes it as Australia’s highest point. We all made it, and Surendra and Pravash unfurled the Nepalese flag, celebrating the Nepalese New Year, which coincided with our hike.
On the way back, with the chairlft closed, we descended all the way to Thredbo via Merrits Nature Trail, adding 4-5 kilometres to our day’s walk. So in total we did 17 kilometres. Even though we were trekking in the dark, at least we were able to somehow maximise the trip by having an extra two two hours of hiking.

Back in Thredbo, we drove to back to Sydney, this time taking the correct road. It was another epic drive, but several hours (and several kangaroo sightings later) we were back in the familiar environs of George St. in Sydney, where we are staying now. To put things in perspective, the distance between Sydney and Kosciuszcko is like Manila to Camarines Sur, so we were really thankful to Suren and Pravash for doing the drive. Of course, we could have driven ourselves but as in the UK, they drive here on the opposite side of the road so it’s complicated.
I am really happy that I was able to do Mt. Kosciusczko. It will surely give me inspiration to pursue the Seven Summits, well aware that there there is a very long road that lies ahead. But like the journey from Sydney to Kozzie, the journey is bound to be fascinating. There will certainly be kangaroos along the way.
Hiking matters #397: The hike up Mt. Kosciuszcko
Hiking matters #398: Blue Mountains 1 - Katoomba
Hiking matters #399: Blue Mountains 2 - Wentworth Falls

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