(Continuation from Kanlaon the Unforgiving, Day 1)
I had been outside in the cold rain for at least fifteen minutes, in chills. Benj asked Hana and I to go inside the tent to keep warm. My first reaction was, “I’m all dirty and muddy.” Well, in cases where your life and temperature are on the line, vanity makes little sense. Wag ng maginarte, mamamatay ka na nga sa lamig, kalinisan pa din ang iniisip! There was an earth pad after all. So I took out my very dirty poncho, removed my very muddy shoes, and lied down comfortably inside.
I had no idea what the other climbers were experiencing inside their tents, but as far as I could tell, we were very fortunate inside Reno’s tent. The condition outside was getting worse. Tents could not be set up because of the strong winds and the downpour. Inside, Hana and I took this time to dry, clean ourselves up, change our clothes, and prepare for the cold night. About thirty minutes later, we heard voices outside. Some members of TMS who just arrived were looking for tents that can accommodate them. Their tent collapsed from the strong winds and Reno decided the tent can still accommodate one more. In came Rema.
Conditions like these can cause tension between people. Friends, even. Can anyone blame them? It was freezing outside and Reno and Benj were doing all the work, securing our pegs, making sure the flysheet won’t fly, and also securing other people’s tents. Impressive hard work under these conditions. By the time we had all gone inside, we were really just ready to go to bed. Cooking was nearly impossible. The choice was to cook outside which would make no sense because of the wind and the rain, or cook inside the tent, which presents a potential risk. In Apo, one of our companions accidentally burned a part of his tent because he cooked inside. All we heard that night was shouting and the next day, we saw that his tent had this big hole the size twice his face. Reno could not afford to risk it. After all, his tent was a big investment. To be honest, I didn’t mind not eating. I remember how I skipped meals while in Apo, but I terribly paid for it along the trail. But I knew where Benj was coming from. We would eat no matter what. We need to strengthen our bodies for the day ahead, and save the drama, we were all just freaking hungry from the 13-hour trek. So a little “squabble” ensued between Benj and Reno. Looking for the stove underneath the pile of bags and out in the cold was a big inconvenience. Eventually, both decided to cook. They cooked rice, noodles from Rema, maalat ng itlog (cooked already!) and coffee to warm our bodies. That meal was just what we needed to withstand the night. What we didn’t know was that we were the only group that managed to cook that night. The rest were battling just to keep their tents from collapsing.
Kat who was at Jeff’s tent, stayed with us as originally planned. The boys, ever so gentlemen, would give up their space and sleep on both sides of the tent to make us fit. But Hana was insistent. We can fit! Yes we can! I actually had no idea what time we all decided to sleep. All I knew was that we were secure in our tent, and that was the most important thing right now.
Well, the winds would have to test the durability of the tent. That night, nobody could sleep. Do you remember what it felt like when Milenyo or Ondoy hit Manila? The fierce winds ripped roofs apart, uprooted trees, brought billboards down. Now imagine that same force (or fine, a lesser force but still strong!) against a shelter made out of sheets of fabric. Tents. If houses could be swept by the wind and roofs can be ripped apart, how long will tents last? Reno’s tent had a flysheet (or what is known as a rainfly) that is used to protect the actual tent from the water. It also had a double wall or a waterproof layer which extends down to the ground all round. These would have been enough to protect us from the rain, but the wind was a different matter altogether. I remember waking up in the deadness of the night and hoping to God this rain would stop. The wind was crashing against the tent then came what sounded like the whole ocean being poured onto the roof. May bagyo? Anak ng tipaklong may bagyo talaga! I lay there awake for hours just praying silently, “Dear God, help us get through this storm.” Immediately, I thought of two verses in the Bible. One was Psalm 46:10 which says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The other verse was when the disciples called on to the sleeping Jesus to calm the storm. Mark 4:39-40, “And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?”
I had faith. In fact, that was all I had that night. Faith that tomorrow would be a better day. Faith that the rains would stop and we would be able to descend and come home safe. Faith that none of us would get injured or get into an accident. I got up, prayed silently, went back to sleep. I simply could not. At about 3:00 am, all of us were awake and just quietly observing the tent. Reno was flashing his lights back and forth to see that there were no holes. Words fail me when I try to describe what it was like being inside that tent. It just felt like we were in the eye of the storm and for the first time in the duration of the climb, I really got scared. There was a moment when everything stopped – the winds, the rain, the noises. But after five minutes, it was full force again. And it was tight inside, all 6 of us inside a tent that is supposedly for two people only. The advantage was that we added weight so the tent won’t fly and body heat to fight the cold.
At about 6 or 7:00am, we all decided to get up. The winds were still fierce and the rain still hasn’t stopped. We decided to cook our food – adobong manok prepared by the yaya of Sir Ed, and thankfully, beef tapa! No one was sure at this point if we would continue with our IT or go back down. Jhendra and Ma’am Connie came inside our tents to keep dry and warm. They had been fighting the cold, wet weather all night. One by one, the rest of our companions were asked to come inside our tent for warmth. This was a major revelation.
While we had been warm inside the tent, elsewhere our companions were flooded inside their tents and sleeping in water beds! None of them got to lay down on the ground but they were in a sitting position. Other tents suffered worse. No flysheet meant water inside the tent. Bags were drenched in the rain. Clothes were wet. None of them got to eat dinner! Jeff, Mae, Rica, Luz, Dan and Bin had it bad. When they came in, they were having the worst chills and dripping! Dan was on the verge of hypothermia. Almost non-responsive to Jeff who was asking him to help set up the tent. He was just spaced out and freezing. Mae and Luz were also freezing, their hands were stone cold and could barely stop from shaking. I felt so bad for them! We were told to start packing up our tents at 10:30. Our schedule will not be followed anymore and a decision was made to just go back down. In this weather, nothing is certain and pushing it might prove dangerous in the end.
There’s a lesson that I feel should not be missed here, and it actually came from Benj: All is fair in the mountains. And may I add: But God remains as the constant help. Some days you have it good, others you have it bad. Our group certainly did not expect this kind of condition. Sure, there was a weather forecast, but weather conditions, especially nowadays, tend to change. Aren’t we having a late summer? There are days when God grants us perfect weather and days when He doesn’t. Climbers just learn to adapt and be as responsive to these changes as they can. Surely, this was getting way out of comfort zone for me. God was the protector. Apart from him, what stands? Also, I couldn’t be more thankful to the presence of very able guys who were with us, who took care of us in the mountains. That deserves another blog :P
Meantime, the group was able to descend, and I shall leave this hanging yet again.
(to be continued…)