Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My First Climb

the tall grass and sketch's simplicity somehow
made me think of Mt Nagcarlan - my first climb.
(Drawing by Jamie Cano/ my niece)
 I joined UP Mountaineers in 1991 after I met a club member -Bernie Cavida (during a swimming lesson). During the applicants’ orientation – members awed us aspirants-then, with inspiring photos of their climb trips. (I’m talking about the use of the old projector machine where one put multiple photo slides in a disk). With nice heart-warming music/songs added, I recall at least three songs – “More than a feeling”, “What a Wonderful World” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” (can you believe that?!), I was just ignited, maybe hypnotized, and psyched to try my first climb!

There were 2 mountains for the first, “level 1 climb”, and my newbie team was assigned to Mt Nagcarlan. Mt. Nagcarlan (aka Kalisungan) at ~2500ft, is one of the ‘usual hiking peaks’ being in the nearby province of Laguna, advertised to be the last stand of the Japanese army towards the end of World War2. I have no idea how mountain climbing feels like, I just see mountains from afar, so it didn’t matter anyway where I was going. The important thing was – I was about to do my FIRST ever real climb.

Soon we assembled our gears and got ready for the (big) climb ahead. We were told to carry 4li of water, plus drinking water (almost 5li), add tent parts, clothes, rice and other food item – total pack weight was just probably 15kg or under. A HEAVY pack for me.

We took a transport and started our trip. I was amazed how 30 or 40 big packs fit the buses and jeeps – a new travel experience for me. With my reliable (I thought) old rubber shoes, and borrowed old 60li backpack, I started my hike with the team. I found the pack heavy, but so everyone else so I tried to ignore my agony. The Calauan trail was extremely MUDDY, another first. I noted that club members seemed to be enjoying the trek – mud, sweat, dung and all, while we first-timers seemed to mind every little things – the annoying sticky mud, the stinky carabao-and-horse dung scattered through- out the trail, the weight of our packs, little skin cuts from sharp leaves or thorns, among other not-so-pleasant things!

Finally, there was a long stop at the coconut place (‘bukuhan’).. AHHHH the relief of not having a pack on one’s shoulder. All through-out the climb, I was expecting a ‘pleasant experience’ but so far, everything was just difficult and mostly unpleasant. The nice buko stop was at least a good reprieve. I looked around, inhaled fresh air and thought that I was finally in the great outdoors!

Soon we trudge on, beyond the forest line, and followed the cogon (tall grass) trail. My silky palm, hand, arm skin parts were not used to sharp cogon leaves – so I was minding the little ouchie annoyance. I guess, a little rite of passage to hiking-hood.

At long last, after like several hours of hiking, we finally reached the campsite. I think past 3pm, the sun was still up and we had time to enjoy the view. My first thought was – why was the peak full of grass? (expecting a forest or something); not knowing that most mountains in the Philippines, especially those near and around big towns and cities have been heavily or completely deforested or denuded a long time back, and such grassy peak was a ‘grass take-over’ from the more ideal tree-full of summit, an almost irreversible condition (seedlings or tree-lings were no match for the suffocating grass power).

After we pitched our tent, I finally rested – and finally felt my exhaustion. Then I PUKED. Was I sick? Did I eat something bad? No, I was just exhausted. Not knowing then, that it was something that I’ll experience for the rest of my climbing life.

I ‘complained’ to one member, Norman the Batman, and he assured me that I was just tired and ‘naninibago’ (not used to it). So I brushed the ‘sickness’ aside and tried to enjoy my first camp experience.

By night, we had a ‘socials’ where groups present something – from dancing, to singing to a complete idiotic act either as comic play, or an acting gone bad. But it was fun and good bonding session.

I somehow loved the campsite-feel, the comfort of the sleeping bag, the nice dome tent, the freshly cooked meal, the starry night, and sound of crickets, and hissing of the wind, occasional drops of rain, whispers from another tent, and generally – the serenity and peace, far from the usual city experience. I dozed off, then finally fell asleep. A long, undisturbed sleep.

I felt better the next day. Soon the team zoomed down fast. I did my ‘last look act’, then rode our bus home.

Around 5 months after, I went back solo, retraced my steps (and got lost somewhere) and said my hello-again to the grassy peak. It was a ‘revenge climb’, not against the mountain, but simply to replace the little bad experience with something better.

To this day, the familiar ‘cogon-mountain scent’ of Mt Nagcarlan is still intact in my memory cells, and any hint of a similar scent became an instant trigger to reminisce ‘something nice and wonderful’…

Truly, one’s FIRST is something for keeps.

You may also want to read other local climb stories:
Lost in Gulugod Baboy
Mt Banahaw - the Navy Seal Story

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