seeking san cristobal: AMCI B2k9's first training climb

with only a week between two climbs to the same mountain, it seems that there is little left to say. the mountain remains the same, yes, but the experience of climbing it is always different each time, particularly when the company changes, and more so that during this training climb, i trekked as part of a contingent more than 100-strong. i belonged to a 10-person group, with janice as my GL, and JC, karl, howard and jessie as members. our trainees were composed of bugsy, enrico, renelle, and macoy. i had done half of the marketing for the climb, so very early on saturday, janice picked me up along with my backpack and bags of groceries. at 2am, the usually busy fountain area of ayala tower 1 was eerily silent. until everyone showed up. it had been raining the days prior to the climb, and at the last minute, many groups had been whittled down by large numbers. effie's group was down to 1 trainee: donna, who appeared to be positive despite the decrease in numbers. we boarded our buses, and it was the first time that the configuration was 3 by 2. it wasn't very comfortable, and there was little space in the compartments below. after about 3 hours, we were dropped off at the gate of bato springs resort, and i had a quick breakfast: a smoked ham and tortilla roll. i had lavished it with cream cheese and a slice of cheddar. pretty good, if i may say so myself.

6 jeepneys then sent us to the jump-off. ours had difficulty chugging up the hill, and finally ran out of steam just outside the mystica cult. it had a huge metal gate with flags of countries, some of which no longer existed. after a short while the jeepney was fixed, and we found all the other groups already waiting. after a prayer, the lead pack left, and i hurriedly joined them. it would be a short liaison with these guys, since they seemed to hate slowing down and despised rest areas. i'm no longer as fast as i used to be and with my tendency to overpack, i was loaded with gear that preferred a relaxed pace. i wasn't in a hurry at all, since my purpose in the climb was to record footage. so although i didn't rest as much i did the last time, i paused several times when i found insects, plants, trees, leaves, rocks, roots, mud. by the end of the climb, i would end up with more than 8gb worth of videos, or enough to last an hour and a half.

it was easy trekking for me most of the time. by my pace, i had calculated to reach the campsite by lunchtime. along the trail, i found emil, a trainee, trekking by himself. it doesn't matter how experienced you are or how good a mountaineer you are, but trekking alone is not ideal. i always tell myself that, because i do tend to break away from other people, lost in the forest of my own thoughts, solving the world's problems with my ideas. but in this sport, where dangers abound, it is best to always have a buddy, just in case something goes seriously awry. i accompanied emil from the ridge, all the way to the final steep ascent, and the technical portions of the trail until we ended up at the crater where i found my former club: pilipinas sierra. i still know people in the club, it was a merry reunion for most of us. i informed the other AMCI people that our campsite was still 20 minutes away, and i led them through the narrow trail leading to the ridge campsite, until we followed some hack marks that ended in sabatin. emil remarked that i moved like a mountain goat, leaping on the trail with giant strides, given my average height. i had heard of that before: it's starting to catch on fire, i think.

the sabatin campsite was busy with activity. people were hacking away at the little plants to make way for a campsite that would fit an excess of 40 tents. when i first saw the area i knew there was no way in heaven we could fit more than 30 tents there. and sure enough, at 3 groups had to go beyond the hill to hack another campsite. but surprisingly, we managed to level the forest and build a tent city there. it was a metaphor for urban creep, which makes you want to question our ideas of progress: does it mean intruding into the last pockets of nature, and clearing areas for humans and their destructive activities? it's a debate which i do not want to get into. nevertheless, i had already managed to pitch my tent before 1pm. i still had to wait for over an hour for my groupmates to arrive. unfortunately, when we started to pitch their tents, a brief spell of rain began to pour, and it soaked my sleeping clothes. i sneaked into my tent to steal an hour's nap: i hadn't slept since the previous night.

i stepped out only in time to prepare dinner. mine wasn't extra special: i had asked my mom to roll us some bangus lumpia, and i brought along the special fish sauce i bought in viet nam. renelle dutifully prepared a chicken mao po tofu dish per my suggestion. she also improvised a lemon chicken dish with lemon wedges as garnish. of course, i took care of rice, which, as john once said: is always perfect. i made an impromptu lecture on cooking rice in the mountains:

  • first is selection. i tend to choose dinorado, because it's been milled well, hence no need to wash.

  • the next would be to boil the water first. i boil the water in order to equally distribute the heat, which prevents having a 3-layer kind of rice: burned at the bottom, cooked in the middle, raw and cruncy on top. now this could be a little tricky because how much water do you boil for a certain amount of rice? there's no rule. i tend to fill the pot 3/4 of the way, and just pour enough rice so that there's about an inch left to the rim.

  • third is mixing. i mix the rice about three times: once just after i've poured it, another time after a few minutes, and finally once it's boiling. the reason behind the mixing is in order to evenly cook the rice.

  • once the pot begins to boil and some of the water absorbed, you can lower the fire. in filipino, this is called in-in. the closest to english i could think of is simmer (now that wasn't too hard). normally, you should just leave the pot, but it might do some good to open it once or twice to check on the water level. it may need a bit more water, or could do with draining off a little. this in itself is a skill that comes with experience.

and there you have it: perfect rice.

dinner was pretty good, and we cleaned our mess kits and pots afterwards. i love it when nothing goes to waste. then i introduced a new kind of dessert: instant smores (this one i borrowed from kerwin of UPM). i lit my stove, roasted marshmallows, topped it with chocolate, and sandwiched it between two graham crackers. it was a hit. a bit of work, but still pretty good. then we opened our alcohol. we had more than 3 liters in total, and we just sat there quietly inside our 3-walled kitchen, sharing anecdotes and jokes. we even invited niel's group to join us briefly before it was time for the trainees to hit the sack. before turning in, i invited to karl to see what the other group was up to. it turned out that ver and momoy were mourning over maxie's 1-person tent. it had a sloping rectangular roof which ver with his off-track imagination, construed to be a coffin, hence the wake. we surrounded maxie's tent while he passed around shots from inside his "coffin". i found the situation already weird, with momoy and ver shouting half-funny jokes, and only marris laughing at most of them, and all of us laughing at marris' reactions. it was too strange for me, so after 1 shot, karl and i left and slept.

i may have been very tired because i fell asleep immediately and woke up only at around 4am when i felt that karl was covering me with his malong. apparently, i was already shivering from the cold. uncharacteristically, i omitted my malong from my pack, and a few other things, hoping to cut-down on weight. i've never been a light-packer, but with my advancing age, i really should be able to identify the essentials from the accoutrements. at 5am, i left the tent to assist in the kitchen, i found it to be in disarray. thankfully, there are no wild animals in san cristobal, at least, none that the naked eye could see. i helped with heating water for coffee and milk tea, and finally, breakfast and lunch. while i fried the tuna longganiza, the trainees went to the summit window to look at banahaw. we packed quickly and then began the trek down back to the jump off.

it was a slow descent, and we were frequently caught in traffic. we had allowed some very brutish and uncouth climbers to overtake us. breeding is the world's rarest commodity. although normally, i would be running down, i decided to slow down and sweep enrico, whom i noticed was running quickly out of patience when he slipped often. at one point we instructed him to adjust his pack and one of the buckles snapped. ack! that's my pack. hopefully, deuter would have it fixed. we were all steady-eddies until montelibano, and we devised ways of preventing a knee injury along the paved road. after a while, we arrived at the bato springs resort and immediately rinsed so we could take a dip in its cold pools. that was refreshing, not unlike drinking a can of soda. i always find it odd that immediately after a climb, the first thing we look for is a carbonated drink. it's probably not the best thing when you're thirsty and dehydrated. but it serves its purpose.

when all the groups were complete, TL flinn asked me to host the presentations. by this time, i had already imbibed beer, white rum, and gin, so my humor was in full steam. most of the group's skits and dances won't be remembered, really, and they're in a lot of luck that these were conducted at the wash-up area rather than up in the mountain. at least they had a microphone and music to accompany them. at least us members had a great laugh. but what stole the show was when JC, jay and a few AMCI boys danced to the wonder girls' "nobody". allen was not about to allow them to be the stars though and he reprised his sexy dance to everyone's delight.

after all that, we loaded onto our buses, laden with beer. for the next two and a half hours, our bus got really drunk, wild and happy. to think that we had just finished a climb, you'd think everyone would be snoring (in the other bus, apparently, nearly everyone was asleep). but not when 2k5ers and a lot of happy people are around. things tapered down only when we reached bicutan.

so there will be some learnings from this experience. i'm still on my way to perfecting the art of packing light, and hopefully, by induction time, i would already be able to bring the total weight of my pack to 85% of what i usually carry. i have very few pictures from the climb. in the end, i have to realize that i cannot make a movie out of everything. most of the 10 or 20 seconders that i recorded will never be seen. youtube only allows me 10 minutes, and at an acceptable resolution, it still takes half a day to upload videos. so the preferred medium still has to be stills. but for whatever it's worth, i strung together my recordings for a 9-minute clip of the climb. here it is.

finally, let me just emphasize that what was climbed was mount san cristobal, and not just mount cristobal. for a person who works a lot with words, i tend to nitpick on such things. but precision has its rewards.

i didn't expect the post-climb meeting for TC1 to be particularly controversial. compared to many of the climbs i've joined, this one was relatively smooth and hitch-free. there are always areas for improvement, but one group's arrows were way off the mark. i think many of the points that they raised were uncalled for and one trainee's values are largely misplaced. in addition, i would like to place emphasis on the matter of members being well-prepared and not to be additional burdens to the trainees. we're there to support them, and not the other way around. nonetheless, i am well aware of the matter of noise. being visitors, we should make it a point to minimize the sound that we make on the mountains; too much of it could be a form of pollution as well, and could severely and adversely impact the environment. but at the same time, i don't think the people should curse at my ability to speak. lastly, some people have strange ways of defending their shortcomings, that they defend themselves by finding faults in others. when you run out of arguments, so the saying goes, insult your opponents.