climb

looking for mariang makiling

i had written this article about 4 years ago, and i shortened it from the original 4,000 words for submission to manila bulletin. it came down to around 2,200 words, but they came back to me with a request: please bring it down to 1,400 words. so i took out my chainsaw and trimmed it down to just less than 1,500; it had become a pale shadow of its original self: thin, without much substance, undernourished. i think the article has no soul, because by paring it down to its essentials, i had removed the story, i took out the personal experience, i cut it down bare, and left only its bones. such is the reality of contributing for a national daily: you have to work within certain rules, which i do not necessarily agree with, but are often necessary because there is in increasing number of people who are part of a generation that does not read. if you'd like to see the original text, you can read it here. the one that came out on the manila bulletin last monday is below:

The Taming of the Few: Traversing Mount Makiling
Text and photos by Alman Dave Quiboquibo

I have been climbing mountains for a few years now, but I have only been to Mount Makiling once. In 2006, the damage wrought by typhoon Milenyo obliterated many of the trails. As a result, trekkers got lost, not on account of bewitchment from the mountain’s guardian Mariang Makiling, but due likely to the fallen trees that erased the terrain. For this reason, entry points to the mountain have been made off-limits to mountaineers. This climb took place before the mountain was closed off, which I now recall with every vivid detail clearer than when I was actually there.

Makiling is a mountain steeped in legend. There are persistent stories about climbers never returning, of hikers getting lost for hours. Its trails are narrow and confusing, with several suspect turns. The surrounding greens can also be oppressive, leaving precious little space for mountaineers to walk shoulder to shoulder. For the most part, we hiked, single file, watching the burdensome backpacks of the hikers in front of us bobbing up and down. What makes this mountain particularly tricky, however, is that there are hardly any real and permanent landmarks to peg a trail. A few minutes on the wrong turn could lead to as much as an hour’s delay. Even for an experienced mountaineer, the trail can provide some puzzles. The mountain’s texture shifts according to the dictates of the season. On the blessed Saturday morning when we began our climb, Makiling was wrapped thickly in her rain garments.

Had the conditions been any different, the trek through Makiling’s forests would not have been any easier. Along with some personal clothing carefully wrapped in individual Ziploc bags, I was equipped with 4 liters of water, a dome tent which sleeps five people comfortably, a stove and fuel bottle, a non-stick cookset consisting of two pots and a frying pan, complete kitchen utensils, half a dozen eggs, a collection of cooking herbs, a folding three-legged stool, and a camp lantern. The poles of my tent were sticking out of my bag like antennas, as they were too long to fit inside. Lifting the bag was an ordeal. Multiply that weight with the number of steps and the number of hours we’d be spending on the trail. My back has never had this sort of brutal punishment.

No one in the group was ill equipped for the climb. Each one was assisted by some form of technology designed for the outdoors and for conditions more extreme than those that visited Makiling on that weekend. But when a series of natural obstacles makes helpless even the most modern piece of equipment, you realize that despite your arsenal of fancy-sounding trademarks, the best gear you will ever bring with you on any climb, is yourself. And regardless of how much care we exerted, mud had crawled all the way up to our shoulders. None of us had ever been this dirty on any of our previous climbs, but everyone seemed to be filled with cheer. We were a merry band of raggedy stragglers who sincerely reveled in what would have been otherwise miserable circumstances.

When we resumed our trek after a few minutes, our team leader said that we might just make the itinerary. “Palanggana is just over there,” he said, and waved his hand on an area obscured by tall trees and a thick layer of mist. Everywhere, there was an ever-present gray curtain threatening to descend upon the company.

Finally, we reached Palanggana: a clearing barricaded by a collusion of trees. Above us, the sky could not be seen as the branches of leaves had clasped their leaves over us. It was just past 1 in the afternoon, but it could have very well been nearing dusk. Very little light filtered in through the thick clouds and dense canopy.

Shortly, we reached our campsite: deep in the bosom of the rainforest. It was savage and surreal, surrounded by small plants not seen anywhere else, and decked by several tall trees whose leaves converged well above our heads. Some of the trees were visibly old; their roots branched out far from the trunk, like an intricate spider’s web permanently embossed on the ground. Some of the trees were tormented by a confusion of slippery-looking vines which wrapped the sturdy trunks in an asphyxiating embrace. Each time a little wind passed, the trees shivered and sent down their wet blessings to the ground.

I slept peacefully that night, even as a late evening drizzle drummed on the fly of my tent. The following morning, I was up a few moments before Mar, our team leader, boomed his voice over the campsite to rouse the campers from their sleep. The trek up and then down to the other side is a bigger ordeal.

Even while the sun struggled to sneak its rays in through the thick mist which had wrapped Makiling, we tore down the campsite, and made sure we had packed everything in, including the smallest details of our visit. Mar began explaining the series of challenges that we would find along the trail to our destination: Los Baños in Laguna. Unlike most mountains, our campsite was at a clearing far below the summit. The three peaks of Makiling had been reduced to footnotes along the long and difficult trail.

With Mar leading the way, we began a gentle ascent. Each one still looked a little shot: deprived of sleep and the usual comforts of home, but no less energetic. Some of us wore the same clothes that had been dirtied beyond description the previous day. The first bottleneck were some small boulders planted precariously at the edge of a steep cliff. With more faith than actual strength, I pulled myself up by holding on to a slender piece of rope which hung down along the steep path.

There are many distractions along the trail, least of which are the magnificent views of the outlying towns. We were all but deprived of any feeling of vertigo, as the deep ravines on either side of the narrow trail along a thin ridge had been obliterated by the fog. Occasionally, the more observant climbers were blessed with sightings of pitcher plants, and other strange looking flora. A pressing concern for many was our passage through the mossy forest, where countless leeches make their residence.

One of the biggest challenges on the trail was Haring Bato: an imposing wall of rock which stood between me and Peak 2. I struggled to propel myself up its steep incline, and held on to a thick piece of rope used to moor ships hanging from high above. My cumbersome backpack was assisting gravity in pulling me down.

When I finally found myself at the top, I stood for a moment at the edge, feeling a little triumphant, and watched as the others behind me labored to overcome the challenge. In my celebration, I had almost failed to appreciate the abundance of danger, not realizing that one wrong move would send me plunging down to unknown depths.

As we neared Peak 1, tree trunks and huge branches, and sometimes even exposed roots blocked the trail. Many times, we had to crawl under them, the full length of our bodies in complete contact with the ground. Down on all fours, we are taught once again the value of humility.

With some difficulty, we reached Peak 1. It would be down-mountain from hereon. This was not necessarily easier, I realized, as my backside absorbed the brunt of the many falls I suffered from being too careless. When the slope began to roll gently down, the strangest things started to happen. After having spent the better part of the morning tackling a host of challenges on a most inhospitable trail, the next couple of hours on more or less gentle terrain became the most unbearable. After a little while, the trail opened wide. We had reached the road, and impatience started to grow.

Finally, we reached the camping grounds of the UPLB. The rain had paused, and we had clear weather until we reached the College of Forestry, at the edge of the UPLB campus, where we regrouped to peel away the second skin leased to us by Makiling. Each one had taken a piece of the mountain with him. I fished out a fresh set of clothes from my bag and queued for the shower. Some of us were nursing not a few cuts and bruises, others were lamenting the failure of their equipment, but no one seemed to regret joining the climb. Mountains are always a source of spiritual awakening, and Makiling had provoked in us a profound sense of adventure. Indeed, that mountain is enchanted, and each one of us went home that day possessed.
Re: climbing mountains
thanks. although i'm not so keen on putting up my own organization, and it's not as easy as going to the SEC and having it registered. to incorporate an entity, you'd need at least 5 incorporators, at least PhP5,000, an AOI, a set of by-laws, officers, trustees, etc. i've helped incorporate a few organizations so i know that it's not that easy. but thanks anyway for dropping by. and yes, climbing mountains is one of my passions. :D
Re: climbing mountains
thank you for reading. and like i always say, no question is too silly or mundane. we are after all curious beings. and curiosity is the mother of knowledge. or something to that general effect. :D