this year's BMC batch has just finished its first training climb to mount san cristobal over the weekend, and during the post-climb yesterday, it was announced that the venue for TC2 will be the mariveles mountain range, through a trail similar to the one that was done in 2005, my batch. the trail master contradicted himself when he said that the trainees need to triple their efforts, but that the trek would not be difficult. i won't be part of the recon team, so i will have no idea just how insane this trail is going to be, but if i were to contribute something to set the expectations of the trainees, it would be my blog entry fresh from that difficult experience. so i'm reposting the entry, now complete with the photos i took: i managed to expose only a roll during this climb, because it was wet, wild, and worrisome. even i had to read this entry all over again, and it brought back flashes of fear and frustration. good luck 2k9.
i had deliberately omitted to wear my arm sleeves, thinking that the absence of sun would do no damage to my my exposed arms. but instead of tan lines, what i got are superficial scratches. one is particularly bad, and looks like a wound left by a whip. it may not look like it but the mariveles climb was perhaps the most perilous experience i have ever had in the mountains.
the fated journey began several days after strong rains poured over the island of luzon. a tropical cyclone had just exited the philippine area of responsibility, and was making landfall in hong kong when close to 140 climbers gathered in ayala triangle. someone in my group was prevented by her parents from joining precisely because of the weather, and if i were a little more obedient, the same thing would’ve happened to me. i vainly tried to get some sleep inside the bus, and in a few hours, we were already in alas-asin. there was a drizzle. i took out my breakfast: a squished hotdog and a tasty torpedo from jollibee. while i was halfway through them, i led the prayer, which i did in filipino. someone mistook me for a still-practicing born again christian because of it. i say there still are shades of the pastor’s kid in me.
we started even before 5am, and the trail to tarak almost seemed unfamiliar wrapped in all that darkness. i would look behind and i would see this file of lights like unflinching and unblinking giant fireflies, bobbing up and down the trail. after a brief stop at the “DENR” outpost, we proceeded to trek just as the sun stretched its first light over mariveles. it seemed like my batch was really strong, and paused but once at the gate. this is the junction where the fork to sky biscocho’s trail begins. it turns left when the traditional trail goes right. at this point, we were assaulted by strong winds. so strong that i was blown around 2 steps to the right. so strong that alexis’ glasses flew from his face. it was cogon for a short while until we entered a wispy forest.
the trail is more or less established here, and many boots and shoes seem to have gone this way in the past. a distinguishing mark of this trail is the abundance of water sources gushing from the mountainside. or it may have been because of the past few rains. my group was more or less intact at this point. i was with some of the members, sharon and tads, and alexis was not far behind with bojo and dindo. two hours after we left the resort, and i am still singing and cracking jokes. someone was betting i’d be less cheerful by 1pm, and i wanted to take her up on the challenge.
all went well until we came upon paniquian river. there was a yellow rope tied from one tree to the next on our left side facing a steep fall. i could hear the river pouring loudly over a cliff onto some rocks down below. at this time, we were still only about 20 minutes behind schedule. with two ropes on either side, and around 3 men lending a hand, the first river crossing was a cinch, notwithstanding the fact that the water level reached my chest. my camera beltpack was slung over behind my neck. we stayed there for a while taking photographs. there was an abundance of interesting and rare scenes, like water gently dripping like a beaded curtain on an almost vertical rock wall. i know i stayed there long thinking it’d be the only river crossing involving ropes. but it was just the first of many, and it may not necessarily have been the hardest. there was a second river crossing. then a third. a fourth, a fifth, until i started losing count. i think the river may have looked a lot gentler on previous days prior to the rains. but what may have looked like a steady stream during the recon climb looked more like a huge, white, frothing menace, tumbling downstream with rage and force at hundreds of thousands of gallons per minute. many many things were swept away by the river, like bottles, a TNF jacket, a bush hat, and courage. drawn on the faces of the people who were there was remarkable fear, and a pressing concern that one false move might lead to a deathly experience rolling over big rocks downriver.
regardless of the difficulty of the series of river crossings which soaked my shoes, i was still smiling, taking pictures. i was appreciating the trail. it upped the ante, so to speak, and allowed us an experience worth talking about in future meetings. and the river itself, were it not so perilous-looking, was a fantastic sight. the waters that had been poured over the mariveles mountain range were now returning to the great ocean, and i knew that enduring difficulty of that magnitude was necessary to be able to witness such unspoiled beauty. then we came upon cox’s wall. by this time we were two hours behind the IT. the river trek took longer than we expected, and we were looking up at the next challenge. and the delay builds up, in a way. the last man should be several hours away.
i looked up at cox’s wall and couldn’t identify a distinguishable trail. save for the rope tied around the trail, i couldn’t quite tell that this was anything a normal person would do. already, i was wondering if the trail master was outside the sanity scale, but then again, what does that make me, following his lead? several times, i had to take one hand off the rope and put it over my head as rocks of varying sizes were falling down, sometimes with a thud louder than was comfortable. after an ascent which required some upper body strength, we began descending. one might think this is somewhat easier, but it is not. the trail was so wet, muddy and slippery, that some people literally sat on the trail and slid down. i didn’t want to suffer the indignity of using my butt to get down, and i employed some agility and experience to get down. for this entire climb, my greatest achievement is not so much reaching the campsite before sunset, but for not having any falls. yes, i slipped, but never fell. in fact, once while i was just waiting for my turn to go down, standing on what i thought was firm ground, i slipped. and continued slipping as the grip of my exposed hand on a tree branch was not enough. had i continued slipping, i would’ve been found dangling far down on a tree stump.
eventually, we reached the SLLAJ waterfalls of lunch. we were able to reduce the delay to an hour, and i munched on my oriental chicken repacked in one ziplock. the waterfalls was huge and impressive, and i would’ve wanted to stay longer, but i hadn’t even started to digest my food when i was ordered to load. so load i did, and looked up at the papica-jerez boulder. it was an ascent which required us to be on all fours 90% of the way, holding on to exposed roots. by this time, it required just as much faith as it did strength. my mind may have started to numb since i failed to realize that we were no longer trekking, but crawling. and crawling upwards. for the last few hours, mind you. i would catch glances of the magnificent vista around us, but one fails to appreciate all that beauty when you’re locked in a state of fear. my life now depended on whether or not this piece of root no bigger in diameter than my thumb held.
we almost got lost at some point but rediscovered the trail. a thin piece of straw was tied to a branch somewhere. even in broad daylight it was difficult to spot. from here, we found the loree-jen stream which led towards the last water source where we loaded at least 4 liters each. i was thinking about how this trek was difficult but was one which didn’t find me huffing and puffing. because of its innate difficulty, and the huge jam in the trail, rest stops came naturally, and for several hours we would be pushing forward without putting our bags down.
after the last water source is the magellan trail. and this promised to be the longest stretch. per the IT, it was supposed to be an hour and a half. we took it in over 3. here, i found mosscake confessing he just had a “this-is-not-for-me” experience. and i couldn’t say he’s given up. the trail was insane. it invited danger, and i encountered several near-mishaps myself. my buddy sharon whom i kept in front of me till we reached the campsite herself fell several times and i’ve had to use my foot to stop her fall. our lives were under a huge threat. it’s the kind of trail where, without bending down, you can actually kiss the piece of earth where you’re supposed to put your foot. it was scary, and its length was burning my patience fast. but then again, the length of my patience is the philippine coastline.
we had a brief respite along the magellan trail. mosscake was providing some humor to distract all of us. we were tired, exhausted, and under some pain. but we had to push on. when patrick announced that we had reached the japanese garden, we found a few people resting, and we overtook them. rope had been tied near the start of the trail, so-called because it looked like a series of rocks stacked one atop another. but a garden it was not, and the colors around were a monotonous green. after we had run out of rope, we came upon a boulder which was as tall as me. sharon had it easy since i pushed her up. after i took my first step, wedging my foot in a crack, i was gripped with amazing concern. i’m just about to fall, i thought, and my knuckles were getting stiff on the piece of rock i was holding on to. i was making love with a huge piece of rock whose girth was beyond the length of my outstretched arms. i glanced behind me and i saw nothing but nothingness. my heavy pack would assist my quick descent to death! i closed my eyes, whispered a prayer, and raised another foot. praise the Lord, i whispered when i found myself, both knees and both palms on a flat piece of rock.
after the japanese garden, we reached the vintana towards tarak peak. it was pure cogon here, and with no natural barriers, we exposed ourselves to a really angry gust of wind. from here, it was pure descent to the campsite on cogon and rocks. and in all that fog, we couldn’t quite feel the life that had gone ahead of us. the trail was very slippery, and i off-trailed. finally, i reached the first bunch of tents. it was halfway till 6pm. i reached the campsite before sunset: mission for day 1 was accomplished. loree led us to our campsite, which was about twenty minutes away! i passed through a few more campsites. we were very scattered indeed.
at our campsite, we found the other members’ tents pitched on flattened grass. i had chosen a spot that was the best given the circumstances, and sharon helped me pitch my TNF talus 23. it stood nicely there, and we gathered to prepare dinner, until we realized there was very little to prepare save for soup. since we distributed the load, all our ingredients were incomplete. we waited, thinking the last group might arrive by 10pm. tads arrived at around 8pm. rain fell exactly as we were supposed to put the lights out, and i proceeded to my tent to get some cover. so we all decided to sleep without dinner, surviving on the soup and the grower’s peanuts. inside my green tent, my orange prolite 3 therm-a-rest was laid out on one side. sharon was in the middle, bent like a small animal. imee was on the other side. i tried to get sleep. i was excited to use a mattress in the mountains for the first time. but a clump of earth right under the small of my back and the downward slope from my waist to my feet made for a far-from-ideal contour. i couldn’t sleep. my back was beginning to hurt, and i worried about bojo, alexis, and dindo. where were they? i would wake at the slightest movement, and each time a light passed my tent.
finally, at 3.30am, just before the wake-up call, some noise was building outside the tent. i found my tentmates awake. we began joking about preparing both dinner and breakfast, and i said i’d volunteer to cook everything once everything was there. then we heard a voice. it was bojo’s. he was up on a hill trying to figure out how to get to us. i went up to meet him and before long, i was performing my job as camp cook. i ordered people to do this and that. i cooked the mushroom and cheese omelet with my secret herb: basil. people seem to like my omelets since they look very pretty and are very tasty, but i actually don’t like carrying my mom’s teflon skillet (yes fab_ab, i am crazy; i brought my mom’s pan again!), but i don’t know how else you can make perfect omelets. i also cooked the chicken longganiza and some of the thai garlic pork. both were very good, but for hungry people, even grass might taste good. so i don’t know if i’m really a good cook, or i’m surrounded by voracious people. either of the two, at least i won’t be getting a “it doesn’t taste like anything” encounters. even elmer, who usually just subsists on powerbar, had a helping of what i prepared. and i have got to say i never liked elmer since that “so you’re the infamous aRman” incident, but it turns out he isn’t as bad as his first impression.
preparing the food so exhausted me that while sharon campkept, i slept again. that is, until alexis arrived at 5.30am. i met him again, ordered him to take off his gloves, shoes, and arm sleeves. gave him wet tissue, unpacked for him and put his clothes and stuff inside the tent which tads and eugene pitched. the poor alexis though, who now belongs to a more-or-less exclusive 24 hour trekking club, was falling asleep as he ate, his hand with the spoon freezing in mid air. his fingers have stiffened like he were holding on to an overturned bowl, and sometimes he would shut down looking like he were mashing someone. then alexis proceeded to his tent and tried to rest. he was complaining: “alman dumudulas yung tent.” i barked back: “hindi yan dudulas kasi naka-peg yan. mataba ka lang talaga.” that early in the morning and in spite of the exhaustion and hunger, i was still my old, funny, jolly, bitchy self. elmer remarked i was like a version of fabian, who was very blunt, but in filipino. ey, i could do insults in english too you know!
then, we packed up, and at 10am, we started our descent. this is the only part of the trail i’m familiar with since i’ve been to the traditional tarak route before. i knew it would be a cinch after what we were just through the previous day. and we reached papaya river by noon. the path to the small falls was blocked by felled trees, and the jacuzzi looked like an overflowing pool. it was actually a little scary. i soaked myself there for a while since it was hot, and as we progressed, there were more mini-pools and falls along the trail. hot trek after a wet trek the previous day. i say that’s a recipe for sickness.
in a short while, we reached the gate, and by this time, eugene and i were practically running the length of the open trail. we reached the DENR outpost at about 2pm and tweet and i had buko juice. sharon had fallen a little behind, accompanied by joven. either sharon was in a hurry to catch up with him, or he was trying to slow down so she’d catch up. so i’ll stop there.
finally, i reached the resort at half past 2, and immediately had lunch, which disappointed. a lot. i rummaged through my things and waited for my groupmates so i could cook the chili con carne (which should just be con carne since it had no spice at all). and when they did, i whipped up something which brought a lot of joy to those who were lucky enough to taste it. it was gone quick. and since i don’t eat what i cook, i was left still very hungry.
finally i took a bath and slipped into a fresh set of clothes. the sky blue trekking shirt was starting to look like a completely alien object: smelly, dirty, and beginning to take on a life of its own. it felt good to wash away all the grime of that killer trail. all other killer trails should be renamed since they have not had sky “the mad mountaineer” biscocho hacking a way. to think that being very tired and all we’d be spared the socials (too bad too since we prepared for it), but we weren’t. okay, JC and moss can get star of the socials award. i can’t compete with them. i can’t beat their acts. all we had was my penis-shaped microphone and funny hat. we didn’t have wigs and leather pumps. haha.
finally we left for home. we were all very eager to sleep but not after 1 small bottle of gin was finished. of course joven and sharon, who were in front of me, were busy reacquainting themselves with each other. i wonder what they were talking about. gosh i’m malicious.
with TC2 over, my batch is now thinking of a party. it was an emotional climb. it wanted to break us, but it didn’t. it wanted to defeat us, but we won. it’s time to celebrate. i’ve never had anything more technical than this. to compare the first day of this climb to my second halcon climb, i’d say no day in halcon, taken individually, was ever this hard. or perilous.