Mountain climbing is one of those sports that are not gender-specific. There are many such sports that are not partial to gender. Like swimming. Or basketball (Think NBA and WNBA). Gymnastics (although I admit, a lot of men are still uneasy and methinks it’s the tights). And tennis, to name a few. There are only a few that I know of that are gender-specific, and for very good reasons. Sumo wrestling is one. I don’t have to explain why. In short, mountain climbing is open to both men and women.
Now it would be unfair to say that the sport favors men more than women because the requirements and qualifications that make a good mountaineer are also not gender-specific.
Mountaineers are people who love outdoors. Let’s start with that. When I was a college sophomore, I got my first real introduction to the outdoors when I joined a 12-day mission climb to the Matigsalug tribe in Davao. I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew was that I was a Lasalista who’s never been in the mountains and who temporarily dies at the sight of and interaction with insects, regardless of shape, size, color. It was a climb that got us hiking for 7 hours, crossing four rivers and eventually river rafting, but I remember what I felt that time. Despite the insistence of my friends that I was in every way an inborn maarte, the truth was that I really enjoyed the outdoors. I felt alive and I didn’t even know it then, but my adventurous side was awakened.
Second, should climbers be physically strong? The obvious answer would be, DUH, you’re climbing mountains. It’s a far cry from Nayong Pilipino’s chocolate Hills. Strength is a major component because climbs present many challenges and risks that would test one’s endurance. But being physically strong is not the same as being physically fit. There’s a big difference. One of the misconceptions we have about sports in general is that a person gets in shape by just playing or taking part in his chosen sport. A big built is not an indication of strength. A friend of mine who runs and is just about the same size as me is actually in better shape than most people I know, even men. She’s not muscular nor does she look buff, but she’s physically fit. I also have guy friends who aren’t exaclty Arnold Schwarzenegger body-types, but they’re hard core climbers. You know who you are. LOL.
Third, character. Mountains, as I have come to know, can also stretch a person’s character. Patience, while a virtue, becomes a goal when in the mountains. Getting lost, hiking for hours, being hungry, trekking in the rain. All these require a great deal of patience, presence of mind and mental power.
Mountaineers are also very determined and ambitious individuals. Ed Viesturs, a seven-time Everest summiteer, used to say, “Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.” Threats are very real in the mountains and there are varied choices to make. Should we go down? Should we continue? Must we stop? Should we eat? Is it worth it? Climbers are trained to be decisive, to make quick but wise decisions. And yet there are things that don’t need deciding on, like going down.
My point is: As far as logic tells me, nothing about these traits —love for outdoors, physical and mental fitness, character, ambition and motivation, is gender-specific. Women are just as qualified to go into this sport as men are, and vice versa. Men are not necessarily stronger than women, and women are not necessarily weaker than men.
But just because there is a great sense of equality in the mountains for both men and women does not mean men cannot and are not allowed to be chivalrous to women anymore. Nor does it excuse them of that responsibility. It also does not mean women can pretty much fend off for themselves, because hey, “mountaineers yan.”
I was at Tarak Ridge when I first made this observation. Tarak Ridge is known for its vertical climbs and assaults. I had been psyching myself up for a physical climb, so I did my share of training. I ran and went on a proper diet. When we reached the summit, a good 6 hours later, I went to our camping site when I slipped along the trail and fell hard on my butt. (cue in KZ’s famous screams). Seated just in front of where I fell were three climbers resting –all guys. Any decent guy would have stood and helped me up. But they remained seated, perhaps a little shocked. One of them even had the gall of asking me, “ma’am, okay pa?” I’d have said no, except that it might just prompt another stupid answer such as “lapit na ma’am”. I wanted to knock some sense out of these insensitive men, but I didn’t say a word. I looked at them, a little irked, then I stood up, got my bag, and walked away like nothing happened.
In Mt. Apo, I had the same encounter. It was a muddy trail because of the constant rain, and it was harder especially when we had to crawl under or walk across logs. Someone in front of me (somebody I didn’t know) saw that I had a difficult time trying not to fall off. I would have appreciated a gesture of reaching for my hand to assist me, but he went his way and just left me balancing by myself.
That’s fine, I’m a gymnast, I know balance. But that was crass.
I do have many instances in which men were particularly helpful to us women, such as holding on to us as we cross the river, helping us over those slippery logs, helping set up our tents, carrying bags if necessary, even making coffee for me (things I don’t ask for, I’m grateful!) but I’m bothered by the fact that most men are losing the sense of chivalry on the basis that we are mountaineers.
First of all, before we are mountaineers, we are women. Hello? I don’t expect men to always be on our guard, protect us, even treat us like princesses in the mountains. But I do expect men to show common decencies. And to not be jerks. Period.
Second, women might NOT like being damsels in distress, but the truth is, we become one at some point or another. Let’s admit it: We’re not always capable of helping ourselves. There are times I can’t push myself up a ledge and I need a guy to assist my foot. There are very unfortunate times that we are chased by an unknown animal and instead of being brave about it, not knowing it’s a very angry carabao, it’s better to scream for help and let the man wave the red cloth. You get the idea.
Third, while I have already said that men and women are both capable of climbing mountains, their strengths differ. What can be a weakness for some women can be a stregth for some men, and vice versa.
I’m glad I’ve climbed with some men who still know how to respond to screams, and who still take it upon themselves to look after the women in their group. Nothing beats modern chivalry and being true gentlemen.
After all, chivalry is always beautiful, whether in the mountains or not.