Becoming a Responsible Mountaineer, the CLIMBER’s Way

After several batches of BMC’s, CLIMBER Philippines is still going strong. The passion from the lecturer’s eyes seems to burn anew, feeding on every new face looking up at them eager to be fed with knowledge.

“Nothing and no one can stop us” declared Bong Magana, the President of CLIMBER Philippines, as he stood in front of more than a hundred participants of the organization’s Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC) Batch 12 for his opening remarks. He stressed that even with the present challenges, the administrators of CLIMBER will strive more to educate the younger generation become responsible outdoors men and women.

The venue – located in Rizal with its static cell phone signal, houses a few structures which includes a shed, an amphitheater-like lecture area under the shade of bamboos and trees, an octagonal elevated shelter and a wide open space which for now was dotted with colorful tents, tarps and hammocks. The amenities were lacking but the place serves the purpose.

“Never stop learning because life never stop teaching” – Ramon Jay Z Jorge

Inside the shed which was converted as a lecture hall, fans whirred as they try their best to beat the heat of March but failing miserably. The heat matched the atmosphere reeking with upbeat enthusiasm, expectation and curious anticipation coming from the faces of those who were labelled by seasoned mountaineers as newbie’s.

The crowd was divergent, dominated mostly by young professionals and some who were not even out of their 20′. On one side, a few participants all the way from Palawan sat silently just as silently as the guides from Benguet who were invited in conjunction with CLIMBER’s project for Mt. Ulap, a new hiking destination.

There is a guy with a full beard, a pair or two of lovey-dovey who can’t seem to untangle from each other despite the heat, a fifty-ish looking woman, a big man in a fit shirt proudly showing his dad bod, a pretty young woman in red lipstick, one or two gays (or maybe three or maybe I was wrong?), two brothers who seem to just have left university – they were just among the few who participated in the BMC. Most of them proudly confessed to have already had minor or major climbs.

“I was encouraged by my daughter to climb so when I saw this event I signed up hoping to learn the basics” said Mau, a proud stage mom to her 25 year old daughter. She walked the trails of Mt. Pulag via Ambangeg in celebration of her daughter’s birthday.

Finding people in their prime in the midst of that young crowd contributing to that upbeat aura is an inspiration. The willingness to venture into something new, get out of their comfort zone and risk being stereotyped by their young counterparts is indeed commendable.

The first day felt like a first day high.

An irony – having walked the mountains of my forebears at an early age and after climbing several mountains in the country, there I was getting excited. The thrill of learning something new can be euphoric. Knowledge – however archaic or basic they seem to be, is power.

THE MISSION OF CLIMBER PHILIPPINES IN A NUTSHELL is to work with people and organizations, educate and prepare, inspire, practice and promote, and provide value and support.

Ramon Jorge, the organization’s vice-president cleared any misunderstanding that CLIMBER Philippines is a Facebook page – although the page is immensely popular having more than 22k members, neither a mountaineering group or a club but rather it is a non-profit organization with an aim to provide basic or more advance training and facilitate other activities geared towards educating people and protecting mountains and the environment.

With that mission in mind, I ask: will they be able to deliver what they promised?

“It is time that another Filipino mountaineer raise the Philippine flag on top of Everest” – Regie Pablo

The lecturers are mountaineers honed by experience like Regie Pablo who handled the Introduction to High Altitude Mountaineering. He ascended Mt. Everest in the spring of 2007 via the North face and is the last Filipino to have raised the Philippine flag on top of it.

IMG_1778
Inspiring a dream, Regie Pablo stands on the sideline as the video during his ascent of Mt. Everest is being played on the screen / VenAp

Squashing all illusions, he declared that mountains below 1000 masl are but hills or burol yet Filipino mountaineers are still lucky to have Mt. Apo. He encouraged the participants of batch 12 to try alpine hiking since the cost of international travel is now cheaper, “Who knows, maybe the next person who will ascend Mt. Everest would come from this batch”.

The hall was enveloped by silence as the video documenting his ascent of Mt. Everest played, showing the all too familiar peaks of the Himalayas, glistening ice under the rays of the sun, mountaineers from different nations slowly hacking their way towards one of the peaks and the struggling yaks carrying supplies. Images that we have only seen on television or photos of friends who had already trekked some of the trails in the Himalayas.

Regie Pablo addressed the never ending stereotyping of newbies “We were once newbies too like you. We all have to start somewhere and you are very lucky because you have the benefit of social media and the web, so learning is easier” he smiled, and in a solemn voice he added, “I always see people declare that they conquered the mountains, for me the mountains always represent the supreme being. So you’ll never ever conquer mountains because by saying so is akin to saying you also conquered God. Everyone makes it to the summit because the mountain allowed us to experience it”

Those were his parting words as he exited the hall; in his wake he left a seed of hope and a dream.

“Great things happen when man meets the mountains” – Reinhold Messner

The low profile Lester Susi instructed the Basic Mountaineering Course and Land Navigation with the classic charm of a mountaineer who had been there and done that.

According to some sources, he had been part of exploration teams that opened the trails of some of our favorite mountains. In his lecture, he stressed the importance of equipment – choosing the right pack, tent and hiking shoes, the roles of each team members, layering, food preparation, how to use the compass and read a topographic map.

For better understanding, he paired his lecture with actual demonstrations by bringing the participants outside the hall and under the afternoon sun for compass reading.

His lecture on compass and topographic map carried me back to a similar lecture during a time when I was still a struggling teen, inside a room internally fighting my drooping eyelids.

IMG_1781
Huge shoes to fill. A participant inspects a pair of the shoes used by Regie Pablo in his ascent of Mt. Everest in 2007 / VenAp

While fun was the way of learning the Basic First Aid and Introduction to Disaster Management tackled by Erwin Alvarez and Christopher Jazmin respectively. Both gave witty lectures that elicited laughter from the participants. Everyone tried their best to mimic how the bandage is wrapped on an injury and as a result looking like a mummy.

Trained and certified in the ways of providing rescue, first aid and mitigating further injuries, both shared their knowledge unselfishly.

Halfway through the course, Jasper Galvan confessed that the two-day BMC is full-packed, “There is a lot of information to digest, overloaded but I was able to learn things which I was not aware. Although I am not new to this sport since I also do mountain biking, the lectures were really very informative. Overall, it is a good starting point for me”. He started mountain climbing last year and claims to have already walked the trails of some of the mountains in Rizal.

A fellow participant who came straight from work was fighting off sleep during the early part of the first day. Waking up so early to prepare and driving to the location left most of the participants fighting their own eyelids, it was a long day but one of the most awaited lecture is yet to come – learning the mystery of ropes.

Jay Arc Nordado is one patient lecturer as he rushed from one group to another to provide a step by step demonstration of how to execute the knots. Hopefully for future BMC’s, this part will be transferred to a more favorable hour so that the participants may enjoy the visuals and his soft engaging voice.

To wrap up the course, the Wilderness Survival was included as a part of CLIMBER’s BMC because they believe that mountaineering and bush crafting – where wilderness survival is taught, goes hand in hand.

In this same hall, I heard Jing Egurrola, a bush craft practitioner discussing that same psychology. The skill to survive when equipment, gadgets, training and preparation fails in the mountain, surviving using the skills of bush crafting may just be your ticket to a second life.

READ ALSO: CLIMBER Holds It’s First Basic Wilderness Survival Course

Finding yourself or your team stuck in unexpected and unfavorable circumstances – food, water and patience will run out. When it does, the mind automatically starts to panic. However, Egurrola said that if you are equipped with survival skills, the chances of getting out of the mountain alive is higher.

Ramon Jorge, a Camp Red member who learned bush crafting and wilderness survival under Jing Egurrola, introduced Wilderness Survival’s rule of 3 which are as follows: 3 minutes survival without air, 3 hours without shelter in a harsh environment, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food.

CLIMBER invited Khai Fredeluces from JEST Camp (Jungle Environment Survival Training) based in Subic to demonstrate to the participants the how-to’s of making and setting up different kind of traps.

And one can not avoid but think about Jon Krakauker’s account of Christopher McCandles’s death in his book titled Into The Wild. Could he have survived if he knew the basics of wilderness survival? Maybe. Based on Jon Krakauer’s account, it seems McCandles knew how to catch game yet he may have missed the knowledge of preserving his catch.

For those who debates that Bush Crafting and Wilderness Survival goes against the Leave No Trace Principles, both lecturers of the topic believes that the two skill are needed when doing mountaineering.

Erick Suliguin who trained under NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) based in US which according to its website is a wilderness school that teaches technical outdoor skills, leadership and environmental ethics, provided the participants with an interactive lecture about the Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles.

The seven principles, he said, were based on the four seasons from where they originated.

“Take for example, you cut off a leaf, in the U.S. it would take another year for it to be replaced, however in a tropical setting like ours, after two or three weeks another leaf had already grown to replace it” Erick Suliguin said. The example is just for emphasis and it does not mean we can go and cut off trees wantonly as they take years to grow.

He further clarifies that LNT is not a law or a set of rules but rather it is a principle, a way of life and each mountaineer has a choice to either practice it or not.

Under the light of the moon and a few stars, he closed his lecture with a challenge for everyone, “let us protect our mountains for our children to enjoy”.

The two day activity covered Basic Mountaineering Course, Basic First Aid, Land Navigation, Introduction to High Altitude Mountaineering, Leave No Trace Principles, Ropemanship, Wilderness Survival and Introduction to Disaster Management.

IMG_1685
“We live for adventures” a slogan by Extreme Outdoor Club headed by Edzel Herrera who brought his team to the BMC. EOC organizes local and international climbs and other extreme sports / VenAp

SHOULD YOU TAKE THE BMC? A question posed by cyber climbers every now and then. Every answer is an opinion and every person is entitled to his or her own.

Learning takes a lot of form; we get the big chunk of it from experience, from our mentors, our peers or from the mountain itself. Every individual has his or her own learning style but we need to start somewhere, don’t we? Classroom based learning had been proven to be an effective starter.

In today’s generation, data are available at the tip of our fingers and learning on our own is easier. However, most of the contents of the modules used by BMC lecturers are a compilation of their research, their years of experience and the experiences of those before them. It takes a lifetime to learn what they did and they are offering it on a silver plate, aren’t we lucky?

BMC is not mandatory but it is advisable.

Tracing back the history of mountaineering in our country, the sport had consisted mostly of elite mountaineers who were tight-knit back in the 70’s and 80’s, the numbers had now quadrupled overtime.

The sport trended along with the travel boom and partly due to the impact of social media. These days the mountains near Metro Manila are experiencing traffic along the trail, sacks and sacks of garbage are being brought down by mountain clean-up groups and the proliferation of undisciplined, who call themselves mountaineers, are conquering mountains.

The trend won’t last but as of the moment, people are flocking the mountains like pilgrims to holy sites creating a huge impact on the ecosystem and altering the make-up of the mountains. With this trend, non-profit organizations like CLIMBER who genuinely cares about preserving mountaineering ethics and the environment are up in arms against those who climb irresponsibly.

They fight by choosing to educate.

IMG_1756
Lester Susi showing how a tent is being assembled / VenAp

CLIMBER Philippines, like any other non-profit organizations, had been conducting educational lectures and hosting activities focused on empowering newbies and seasoned mountaineers alike with knowledge on how to be a responsible mountaineer.

According to a source who also offers BMC under a known mountaineering club, “the challenge is how to encourage people to attend the course. For some who doesn’t think they’ll be doing it (mountain climbing) in a long term, they won’t consider attending”.

Taking this as a challenge, may we use social media to encourage our friends who wants to try mountain climbing to learn the basics of how to become responsible mountaineers and raise awareness in protecting the mountains we climb.

A series of videos by Conservation International with a slogan Nature is Speaking wrapped up BMC 12 with a message,

“Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature”

AS ANOTHER DAY comes to an end, that same moon dangles in that almost cloudless sky, each participant scrambled to get their things packed with minds already thinking of the civilized world they left behind – the unfinished paperwork on their table, the reports needed, the parties or weddings they were invited to or just the usual problems of modern man.

I watched the last jeepney disappear under the blanket of the night, in each carrying the hope of the CLIMBER administrators, that each participant has now been given basic knowledge to begin their journey in becoming responsible mountaineers.#

******

For factual errors or questions, send me an e-mail at phmountainstories@gmail.com or on my facebook page. Should you want to discuss more about the Leave No Trace Principles, you can directly message Erick Suliguin at erick.suliguin@climberphilippines.com.

You can check out CLIMBER Philippines upcoming activities by visiting www.climberphilippines.com or signing up on their official Facebook account.

Advertisements

One thought on “Becoming a Responsible Mountaineer, the CLIMBER’s Way

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s