How do you distinguish between being off-route and putting up a first ascent? — Bruce Bindner
You don’t; you just realize you’re off-route and putting up a first ascent. At least, that’s what happened to us in one of my most memorable accidents ever.
The only reason I would climb a mountain I’ve already climbed before is if I’m going by a new trail. I don’t like repeating mountains and I feel it’s only practical that I first climb all the other neighboring mountains. I think it’s partly because of the time factor —instead of investing time to climb a new mountain, I would waste it on a mountain I’ve already seen. It’s impractical o di kaya maarte lang talaga ako. This is also in part influenced by the level of difficulty of the climb. If it’s an easy climb, I don’t want to repeat it anymore for lack of challenge. Naks. If it’s a difficult climb, I don’t want to relieve the experience if I’ve already summitted it anyway. Perhaps other people have other reasons for wanting to climb the same mountain, but I try to stick with my first rule: explore. Madaming bundok diyan. And maybe that’s why I don’t want to climb Kanlaon anytime soon: the trauma of that first climb is still very fresh to me. Habulin ka ba naman ng kalabaw sa dilim? Who would want to relive that? Either way, I prefer not to repeat a mountain unless there is a good enough reason (like the carabaos have gone extinct).
The challenge of a new, not-yet-publicly-accessed trail, along with bragging rights of having gone through it, probably propelled me to accept Carlo’s invitation to climb Tarak again. And I was missing my group’s own climb, a 7-day full traverse of Kibungan all the way to La Union. A slightly better, pampalubag loob climb would be something as challenging. And it was an invitational climb by AMCI —put your preconceived notions to one side; I did. Convincingly, it was a good enough reason. Now I just need to invite some familiar faces. (insert Jeff, Bin, Danna and last-minute Reno).
I loved Tarak the first time I climbed it almost a year ago. I was preparing for Apo and thought the vertical climb would be a good training. I was prepaing for a wet climb but instead we were blessed with the sunniest weather. The only bad memory I have of the climb was the allergies I got, which by now everyone knows as pretty normal for me. I don’t know, but I really feel like these mosquitoes and insects have the hots for me.
Carlo’s invitation was to join the Independence Day climb of AMCI on June 11-12. It coincides with the Freedom climb organized by FIMO nationwide. The good thing is, we’re not going by the original trail. And, we’re trekking earlier than everyone else. AMCI has another trail they use in training climbs which was carved out by trail master Sky Biscocho.
The group met Friday night at Genesis Terminal in Edsa Taft. We were 19, half of which were AMCI guests. I like small groups. Not only is it manageable; there’s also some measure of assurance that we would finish earlier.
The trail we were taking is called the Paniquian river trail which takes off from the main outpost in Tarak leading us to the first stopover known us “The Gate”. This trail is used by AMCI for its inductees and is described as a very technical trail, one I would actually see and test for myself. I was reserving judgements on the so-called horror stories written about it. Didn’t they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating? But to prepare for what could possibly be a difficult trek, I did my share of morning runs two weeks before the climb and I stocked up on mosquito repellants and alcohol. Let’s just say, paranoia set in the moment I read “poison ivy” in the IT.
The IT said we were starting trek at 5:30 and we were right on schedule. After dropping off some of our return clothes at MC Lodge, off we went. Lead pack was Sky and when asked if we would like to go ahead (it’s not like we can catch up with him; he’s notoriously fast), we said yes. So the guests actually went ahead: Me, Danna, Jeff, Reno, Bin, Carlo, and AMCI members behind us.
Since we went by a new trail, forgive me for not remembering most of the landmarks. Usually, I’m one to remember a trail in vivid details, along with the insects that are present in them. But for some reason, the only trails that stood out for me, apart from the majestic Paniquian waterfalls where Danna and I decided to take a dip and slide to our heart’s content, are the SLLaJ Falls, the Papica Jerez Boulder trail, Magellan trail/campsite and the Japanese Garden.
About two hours after the Gate, we were led to Rocks File Creek for the first water source. I had just run out of gatorade and was saving another one for later, so I decided to fill it up with water instead. I remember going down that steep section and nearly slipping off a rock. That, my friends, would have been fatal, and I cursed Merrel and the fact that for nearly two years of using them, I have not learned my lesson: they don’t go well with slippery rocks, they don’t have spikes underneath them, and yes, I have been injured many times by this choice of footwear. Makulit na bata.
After this, we plunged down to the bottom of the Paniquian river leading us to the Pangil riverbank campsite, and we had enough time to do every imagined leisure before the last stretch of ascent —sleep, bathe, take pictures, read, write, eat. I decided to take a dip (Bin was surprised; in Kanlaon, I didn’t swim in the falls for fear I might get allergies). I thought the river looked cleaner and had lesser water striders, and I wanted to try that water slide that FR told us about. An hour and half of river trek and some serious bouldering followed that, leading us to what looked like solid water falling forward off the crest of the majestic SLLaj falls. It was a thing of beauty, thunderous, loud, and inviting. Reno, Jeff and Danna heeded the invitation and jumped right in; I decided to stay dry. We spent close to an hour here.
And then, there was the infamous Papica Jerez boulder trail —the trail that literally had me clinging on for dear life. When half of the group already went up the trail, Bin, Danna and I stayed together. We saw the trail sign; in fact, we took a picture beside it. What we didn’t see was the other trail sign leading to the right. Bin decided to go up the wall and just as FR warned us of falling rocks, about three came rolling down. I screamed. This was not good.
I followed Bin and honestly thought we were going the right way. Halfway through this ascent, I sensed real danger. “Wala na kong mahawakan. Lahat nahuhulog.” Logic would dictate that we contemplate and execute a new path, perhaps one that goes around the wall, and not over it on some imagined trail. But we pressed on, out of ignorance I guess and an assumption that this was the trail to take. “Tama ba to? Dito ba sila dumaan?” I kept asking Bin and Danna. I wondered why it was taking us forever to go up; did the others also have a hard time? All I knew was that rocks fell the moment we held on to them, and I was a few moments away from panic.
And then, just as Bin managed to pull himself up (I lost count on the number of rocks that fell as a result of his ascent), I started my ordeal with the insects. They were everywhere, from the rocks that I was holding on to, to the few visible branches. I was stuck in one place, unable to find a rock as a leverage to pull myself up. I was really slipping down. There was one tree behind me, very thin and perhaps the only life saver at that point. When I went for the assault, the rock I held on to came off, and in a nano second I had a choice to grab the nearest stem I could find. But then I saw ants and spiders on them, and stupid is as stupid does, I instead went for the inevitable fall. You know those scenes in movies, how the fall seems to be in slow motion? Down, down, down I went. I’ve never screamed that loud in my entire life, and the only thing that saved me was the thin column looking tree. I hung onto it for dear, precious life. Danna rushed to save me from falling down further; she was laughing, though. Nauna ang takot ko sa insekto keysa ang takot kong mahulog. Sino ang baliw?
FR came to the rescue after hearing my frantic screams. He asked me to drop my bag to make the ascent easier. I noticed I had a big cut on my right arm, and I hit my two knees hard. Putting down my bag made a big difference. Danna and Bin helped me up until we got to a more stable section of the boulder trail. My ordeal was over.
We would find out later on upon arrival at the Magellan ridge campsite, that the trail Bin, Danna and I managed to blaze through was actually a non-existent trail. The direct assault was such a waste of energy, poise and lung power: nagpaka hard core lang tayo, te!
The last stretch of the ascent led us to two more trails named Carmai and Loree-Jen stream. Nothing stands out in my memory except that, being away for about 15 minutes from the group, I got lost. This was just like Kanlaon: I went too far too fast until I was alone, and then it was just the crickets and me. I was less panicky this time. I backtracked and found the trail sign, and waited for someone to arrive. The final assault up the Magellan trail had us hugging trees and rocks until we got ourselves to the magellan ridge campsite. Day one was over.
Over all, I thought this invitational climb was a success. I had my notions about AMCI as being this exclusive, elitist group (linoloko nila ako: I belong daw), but if there was anything this climb proved, it was that they were more than accommodating to outsiders, and their reasons for keeping the trail to themselves bordered more on the environmental aspect of it. But it takes a certain group of climbers I guess to gel well with AMCI; fortunately, our group did. We had fun and were up to the challenge. We were a strong group and I invited the right people to climb with me, friends with just the right amount of strength, endurance, sanity and tolerance to screams from someone labeled (though I take offense at this) as kikay, and a clean sense of fun. With that, I find that Mariveles isn’t so wild after all.