I believe it was mid-90s when I got hooked by the ‘Rogue Warrior’ book series authored by Richard Marcinko – founder of US Navy Seal Team 6 (counter terror unit). If you have not heard – this is the group that quieted Osama BL.
I bought and read every single piece of Dick’s testosterone-loaded, action-packed and explosive special operations books! Not that I advocate violence and war… I was just amaze about a modern warrior’s life story – fiction or not.
If there’s one guy in this world that I respect and see as undoubtedly super tough – this would be that man!
I got so inspired that I self-groomed myself on many Navy Seal-like skills, from jungle survival, to parachuting, helicopter rappels, sailing, scuba diving, hand-to-hand and even shooting. Not that I’ve reached a certain level of expertise – but it was a good and satisfying ‘journey’ knowing that I’ve acquired some potentially useful skills. (Which later would simply be – picking up garbage 60ft underwater, hand-to-hand combat with dirty plates and clothes and other more realistic ‘special operations’).
In my little circle of buddies in the UP Mountaineers club – this Navy Seal ‘character’ is known. The trademark (tough as it sounds), lasted and endured for years – but for a totally different, and maybe embarrassing reason.
Sometime in the 90’s, the usual ‘Induction climb’ (for new club members) was set in Banahaw. The newbies started early, with the plan to camp at Puroy (camp1) following the traditional Dolores route. I, with a few other no-plan-just-climb folks, arrived late, and started our walk to join the team. Some oldies (who I can’t seem to recall), suggested that we instead take the Suplina route to ‘avoid’ the newbies, at least for the first night (until after the induction rites when partying is at the high gear). Being my usual self, I climbed without physical preparation, being inactive for many months, carried a big heavy pack (self-sufficient mode) and started feeling ‘tired’ just after 1-2hrs trying to keep up with the team’s pace. Not wanting to experience another day of ‘tiredness’ I started talking about a 1-day up. At first Nokman-the-monster-climber was against it, reasoning many things that didn’t seem logical (hehe), but finally said “Yeah I think better we get up there now and not re-setup camp tomorrow.” Another lazy dude.
Soon those in the lead zoomed up fast, excited to pitch their tent, to do what they do best after setting up camp – Tambay!
Few of us struggled slowly. After 3 hours, I started a calf-muscle cramp. Argh! I advise all in front of me to go ahead, to avoid slowing them down. Soon, what was planned to be a nice group day-up, turned out to be a ‘solo’ climb. A solo climb of misery. And later, a solo night climb.
I recall that on my 6 or 7th hour – all possible leg cramps in this world made their existence known. Calf, quads, hams, even the little outer-front-of-sheen muscles. On both legs!! AAARRRGHHH! Mag te-training ka kase! The ‘problem’ with our Banahaw route is that – it’s just steep and continuously going up – bad for someone with cramps!
Being a stubborn SOB (a trait that proved to be a necessity in my future climbs), I pushed on, crawling on many steep sections until night time came. In those days, we didn’t have LED lights, or torches with high luminosity. I used a small mag-lite, flick-flickering in the darkness – the brightness it offered was akin to a small candle light. There were times that it ‘died’ and I was cursing the damned torch while slamming it with my other hand – for some reasons, the technique worked and the torch’s light was always ‘revived’.
I have moments of ‘temptation’, to quit and camp, but I didn’t like being surrounded by tall scary trees, alone in the dark, and then walk again the next day.
There were also thoughts of mumo, and scary images of elementals. As I scanned my then-disappearing forest trail, I imagined suddenly seeing something hair-raising! Shining a light up the tree canopy made me ‘see’ or imagine tikbalangs - a mythical half-horse half-man giant (believe me all those trees were like looking down at me, with raised big claws, about to grab me). A feeble light on a shrub made me ‘see’ or imagine dwendes (dwarfs)! A sudden reflection of light from thick shiny leaves offered a ghostly appearance of the ‘white lady’. Even low hanging leaf-branch felt like affectionate touches of forest maidens. This fear lingered and lasted maybe for a couple of hours, until that moment when I was just so tired and cramped – I stopped and silently declared “show up if you want to show up!” magpakita na ang gustong magpakita! If something shows up - I thought that I’ll probably cry out in fear “Waaaaaaaaah”, but even with adrenalin pumping, I would not been able to run away! What would I do, keep shouting in fear?! Until ‘they’ disappear? Until morning? I think whatever fear I used to have – simply vanished (in that transformational moment, and lasting until now). Because I simply accepted that I may see ‘something’ and not be able to do anything about it. Bring it on!!!
(So, where is the Navy Seal story? Wait lang.. Napahaba kuento).
After an eternity of exhaustion, muscle cramps, and mumu fear - (total 9 hr hike, the last 6hrs with cramps), I finally reached the end of my misery. I put down my pack on the first tent site, looked up and thanked the One up. (Later in my career – I’ll be almost-always doing this look-up-and-thank-God routine - my natural expression of I’m-glad-I’m-still-alive!)
I started setting up my ever-reliable-but-heavy Alpine Meadows tent (modified A-frame), fixed my ‘beddings’, and set up my cooking apparatus. I was alone, at least in my immediate vicinity, the other guys were somewhere higher (few hundred meters) near Durungawan crater ridge. I didn’t have the energy and interest to mingle until morning.
Soon I got the stove set ready, to start cooking my meal. In my laziness to move in and out of the tent, I decided to move the stove inside my tent, very near the ‘door’ - which was open wide (to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning). I quickly got bored, so to put some flavour in my routine, I decided to practise my Navy Seal skills – Night Ops!
I tried to memorize every bit and things so I can easily grab whatever I need. I turned off my light, and started operating the stove.
The stove started running initially with a big flame (this is the old pump-type Peak1 model), I put my pot on top to avoid a tent fire from starting, I pumped the stove some more to build up more pressure for sustained flame. As I try to find my water (for cooking), it became instantly evident that I forgot a step, to bring my water jug inside the tent. Not wanting to topple over my pot and stove (while reaching out to get the jug), I temporarily ‘off’ the stove and remove the pot and ‘put it down atop my rubber pad mattress’. (Note: the pot is a way hot when nothing is in it, accumulated heat in the metal vs. heat transfer to something inside).
As I reach out, a familiar bad rubber-plastic burning smell shocked me, “what the f*?!?!”
I switched on my maglite, lifted the hot pot and was SHOCKED to see a 5in-diameter HOLE in my tent floor!!!
In the navy seals book (or I thought), reaction time should be very quick – say half of a second or faster! If I were a true navy seal in a battle, I have died that night. I think I was in a passive shock, in disbelief (of self stupidity) for at least 5 full seconds (I can say 15 bad words in that time frame).
I soon realized that the hot pot hit only a portion of the insulating rubber mat, and half of its bottom burned my tent through. Night Ops huh?!
I regained ‘consciousness’ and quickly got the repair work going. I got my tent repair patch (I only carried 2 or 3pcs of 1.5in. strips), my duct tape and sealed the hole top and down. Very efficiently done. Probably in less than 2mins. Marcinko would probably be proud of my speed performance but will shoot me anyway for being careless! Haha!
The next morning, I visited Norman-d-batman’s team busily cooking their breakfast. Being my honest self, I told them about my f*d up stove ‘special mission’.
Obviously everyone laughed, but the mockery just started.
As club members stormed in the campsite, the “Navy Seal’s Night Ops” story quickly spread like a virus. And that trademark and memory would last for years – some new folks not knowing that it was not a trademark of toughness, but of carelessness.
Well, pake ko... Subukan niyo kaya na walang ilaw..! ;p
Oh - I still have that tent 'alive' and operational (20yrs old now), and yes the hole-patch is still there.