by Gideon Lasco
In the past mountaineering in the Philippines seemed to be confined mostly to mountaineering clubs. In those days where Multiply and Facebook are things of the future, they would rely mostly on open climbs to attract new members. By “open climb”, I mean a climb organized by the club as their own climb, with a certain number of guests as participants. Just like any organizational climb there were climb officers (team leader, scribe, medic, rescue officer, etc.) and participants were briefed during a preclimb. Expenses were divided among the climb participants, although sometimes the guest had to pay a little extra since they’re still non-members. Organizers sometimes received subsidies as incentives for organizing the climb.
Today, with mountaineering getting more and more popular, open climbs are held in greater frequency. Most major mountaineering clubs plan out an open climb schedule for their fiscal year; outdoor shops hold open climbs, and even individual climbers now have the ability, thanks to the Internet, to hold their own climbs. PinoyMountaineer.com organized its First Annual Charity Climb in Mt. Pulag last February – that, too, was an open climb (we will hold the Second Climb early next year).
Open climbs then began to evolve into a wider terminology, with varying degrees of organization. There are open climbs that are free-for-all: someone would just invite climbers to join him; kani-kanya sila nang diskarte afterwards. The organizer would act as nominal team leader but he has little authority over the climbers with whom he/she is climbing as equals. Some climbs are more organized, with preclimbs held to discuss food and itinerary matters. Still others carried on the concept of open climbs in the traditional sense, with the Team Leader wielding captain of the ship powers.
Then I am sure many would object to “commercial climbs” or climbs for profit which are often organized nowadays. When I contemplated the idea of holding a Climb for the Environment last June, a commenter even said that “THis is a modus operandi…pera lang ang habol nyo.” which annoyed me a lot — indeed open climbs have been generalized as commercial ventures, even though there are legitimate reasons for the expenses (i.e. a charitable cause, organizational expenses).
Joining an open climb is a matter of choice. If you think a climb is expensive then you can organize your own climb. Commercial climbs, in the first place, will not attract much participants because the actual cost of the climb, and how to do it, are posted in this website. Indeed, I don’t think the convenience of not having to organize a climb is the main reason why people join open climbs. There is the opportunity of meeting other climbers, getting a climb shirt, and so on. People climb for many reasons after all.
I am convinced that these developments are healthy for the mountaineering community. Let individual climbers exercise their choice of whatever climb to join. However, here’s my “Ten centavos’ worth” about this issue:
(1) The issue of responsibility – If something goes wrong, who is responsible for whom? There WILL ALWAYS BE a certain amount of responsibility on the part of the organizers no matter what waiver is signed or no matter, so organizers should always keep this in mind. But this responsibility has limits. Ultimately, there is also individual responsibility and if the organizers can demonstrate that they provided for sufficient measures of safety and security (i.e. screening of participants whether they are fit for a particular difficulty; making sure a doctor or a medic is on board), then the burden will now fall on the individual to explain his actions. If the Team Leader told you not to leave campsite without a buddy and you still did so — it is no longer his fault that you got lost. Hence, responsibility is shared. Mountaineering is a risky recreational activity to begin with and everyone must be aware of this.
Waivers, by the way, according to a lawyer-friend of mine, have little legal weight. Even if your participants sign a waiver but it is proven that you did not exercise due diligence as the “captain of the ship” or negligence was found on your part, you can still be held liable. Conversely, the individual can still be legally held accountable for his actions even if there is no waiver.
(2) The issue of profit – I have nothing against groups or individuals who want to get some profit from open climbs but the safety of the climbers and the success of the climb should still be your top priority. Never mind the nice shirts and the certificates although they are nice bonuses, remember that people care most about reaching the summit, remaining safe, and having fun. If you can achieve this then I’m sure people will not mind allowing you to get your fair reward from the climb.
(3) What goes on in a climb stays within the climbers – I believe this is still practiced by some groups to date and it is a very good practice. Climbing is a form of fellowship and it is not only in socials where you will get to know more about people, but also in the climb itself there may be embarrassing moments. With open climbs, we get to meet total strangers but it is good to still observe this so people will be more at ease with your company. Getting gossiped about after a climb is not a very encouraging. Organizers, I think, should not badmouth their participants afterwards especially since they themselves were the ones who invited them. Also, if a conflict or dispute arises within the climbers, they should try to resolve it amongst themselves during the climb, or the postclimb.
(4) Choose your mountains well. A Free-for-all Batulao climb is good; an open climb with just one preclimb up Pulag via Ambangeg is alright, but personally I will have reservations in organizing an open climb for difficult mountains, especially if I don’t know the participants well. Beyond Difficulty 6/9, I don’t recommend “walk-in” open climbs. Of course, there is a way to go about this: hold training climbs to be able to assess the participants more and prepare them for the challenging climb ahead.
To conclude this piece, I appeal to everyone to have an open mind on open climbs. They are nice venues to get to know fellow climbers and they’re an easy way for start-up climbers to gain experience quickly. Regardless of your reason for organizing or joining an open climb, do not lose sight of your own responsibility as a climber to help ensure the safety of the team, the meaningfulness of the fellowship, and the success of the climb.