by Gideon Lasco
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 on Facebook, or perhaps you've chanced upon this website and you find yourself being attracted by the mountains you read about. What then? How exactly does one begin to take up mountain climbing?
To address these questions, I've decided to write this introduction to mountain climbing. For those who are deeply interested in hiking and wishes to correspond with me personally, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like any other person, I would like to choose my hiking companions well, and if you feel that you and I can go along well in the trails, then I can even invite you to join some of my climbs. 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? Do you have to be strong and athletic? Being physically fit and agile; having strength and endurance -these are important things but they are not required of someone who wants to go into hiking. Don't let your physical condition stop you! The truth is, most mountains in the Philippines can be climbed by an ordinary person; every year dozens of elderly people climb Mt. Banahaw - a Difficulty 5/9 climb by PinoyMountaineer standards. As you climb more often, your body will adapt to hiking, and soon you will have an easier time. Check out the Preparing for a climb guide to help you in this regard.
Really, the first step is to acknowledge and understand that there are risks involved. Deaths do happen in mountain-related accidents - you can visit our Registry of climb-related deaths. 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 hikers. 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. There are two ways to learn hiking properly. The first one is to undergo a Basic Mountaineering Course or BMC. The second is by being mentored by an experienced hiker -- i.e. apprenticeship. The most common (and recommended) way is by attending a BMC, which is usually built-in as part of the application process of hiking clubs.
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.
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. Remember 127 Hours? The lesson in this movie is to tell your loved ones where you're going, and 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? I answered this as the first-ever Question of the Week. 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. Moreover, we have prepared 10 tips for a budget-friendly climb to help you financially prepare for a climb.
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
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 stench when the wind blows (note that 50 meters is the ideal distance between the campsite and the "site of impact"). I understand that this can be quite uncomfortable for some, but hikers 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 website or a Faceboook page 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. There are many forums online, and PinoyMountaineer has the largest online community of Filipino hikers on Facebook - you are welcome to join the PM Facebook page!
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. But while being friendly and sociable are good attributes, 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!"
An introduction to hiking is never complete without 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 on its beauty. 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. I have to say this forcefully: Shame on you, if you leave your trash along the trails. Shame on you if you will dare vandalize the rocks or the tree trunks. Yet, you bring honor to the hiking community if you uphold the principles of responsible outdoor recreation.
When I was all alone in Mt. Apo -- pursuing my goal of reaching the country's highest mountain before I turned 20 - I began to doubt God on my first night, encamped at Mainit Hot Spring at the Kidapawan Trail after crossing Marbel River more than a dozen times. It had rained the whole afternoon, ruining my itinerary and plan to reach Lake Venado, and when I woke up that night I felt I was in a middle of a thunderstorm. I was frustrated, angry, and began to blame God for bringing me to such a desperate and hopeless situation.
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. In 2009, I organized with my brods the First Annual Amputee Climb that was featured in GMA-7 and ABS-CBN. In this climb, we accompanied four amputees on a climb up Mt. Batulao. When they finally reached the summit, there were tears in their eyes: they have lived their lives being told that they are "disabled", unable to do things normal people can, yet there they were, standing proud atop a mountain. We all have our weaknesses and disabilities, physical, emotional, spiritual - but if we take things one step at a time, we can do it! This is the power that the mountains confer to us: in conquering our fears, we become more empowered to walk in the trails of life itself.
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. "Tell them how we suffer," I've heard tribesmen tell me in South Cotabato. If all of us will develop compassion for each other, our nation will be a much more peaceful place! Yet I have also been to dangerous places: I've experienced rushing down a trail in Bukidnon lest some escaped bandits fire us (bullets already gave us a warning the previous day), and on the same night, the locals had to hide me behind a door!
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 ceilings; having interacted with its people. If ever I will have grandchildren, I will tell them that I have seen wild deer run free in the mountain ranges of Ilocos Norte; I have seen the luminescence of fireflies turn the slopes of Bakun into an everlasting enchanment in my mind. Sometimes, though, the fauna aren't at all friendly: while climbing Alto Peak in Leyte, I was chased by hundreds of bees which formed a black cloud behind me as I ran for my dear life!
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 beautiful mountains and everlasting trails. 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!