i was roused from peaceful slumber by the sound of a whistle. after opening my eyes for a moment, i quickly fell back to sleep, and got up, 25 minutes later to the sound of MSR stoves hissing in the kitchen, the whispers of my friends tending over breakfast, the heavens drumming its many little fingers on my tent's fly, and the angry sea crashing into the beach. i rolled my thermarest and crawled out of the dry comfort of my MSR hubba to see what i could contribute to that drizzly, breezy morning. it was already my fourth time to nagsasa cove. but this experience is worlds apart from all previous ones.
the first training climb of AMCI's BMC 2k11 took place in nagsasa cove. many people make the mistake of saying that the climb is via mount nagsasa. at first, i was actually doubtful whether such a mountain existed. looking at a map of the area, however, shows that there is such a mountain, although it is not climbed. the steady uphill ascent happens on the slopes of other mountains, possibly balingkilat (pointed peak) and rounded peak. having been to the area last year, the TL bestowed upon me the role of trail master. it was a position i niggardly accepted, not because i shirked responsibility, but because i wasn't interested in rushing my climb. i could probably keep pace with the strongest climbers in the club, but i could never understand their need for speed. i prefer to take it easy. to sit down and admire the view, even when the view is a featureless green mass stunted by ominous-looking clouds.
the climb began at 7:30am. we were already running late, and another 30 minutes were added to the trek since the buses didn't want to drive all the way to sitio san martin. from bgy. cawag, we walked along a smooth asphalt road which seemed perfect for a tempo run. i told yob we'd go back there with running shoes instead of a backpack. it had already been raining intermittently during the bus ride, so i was concerned about the rivers. there would be many, i was certain, because when i first climbed this way it was august. but the gentle drizzle that month could not compare to the wet wet weekend we all suffered but learned to enjoy. so with some yellow strings attached to my backpack strap, i forged ahead with the guides and the rest of the lead pack.
we crossed the first stream shortly after the asphalt road crumbled into a pile of rocks, and after walking past scattered homes of the aetas who were relocated here following mount pinatubo's eruption. the stream was still shallow, and i crossed it without the aid of a rope, although we tied one nevertheless and forged on. the beginning of the trek was mostly flat. tall grass bowed into the trail and sparse trees dotted our surroundings. after the second stream would be a gradual ascent up to nagsasa ridge. we took it slowly even as a ferocious wind blew with the intermittent but resolute rain. there were windows in the wild weather, only enough to take snaps. we could not take very long breaks because it was cold, and the pack was close behind us.
i pointed to the end of the assault and the start of the descent up ahead, which we reached after girding the side of the mountain. i didn't know that this part of the trail inspired fear in many trainees. someone asked why i didn't warn them about the steep cliff near the saddle, and i said that it didn't seem to me like one. as far as i was concerned, it was a pretty normal mountain trail, with a sloping wall on one side, and a rolling drop on the other. one person's trail is another person's bangin, i said. from the second stream until the pine forest, the trail was a mass of mountain and grass. it offered no shade. balingkilat's gullies were bleeding with instant waterfalls.
at the ridge, we paused briefly to look at the cove of nagsasa. my eagle eyes revealed two very odd things: the mouth of the wild horse creek was agape and a small outrigger boat was braving the torrents to sail. the dark, brooding sky seemed to be drawn to the scoop that forms the small bay. it was an ominous sight, but on kuya mar's prodding, we continued. by the time we reached the pine forest we had chased the delay in the itinerary and i predicted we would reach the campsite by noon. we went down the trail and crossed tiny gullies that had collected runoff, and finally came upon the final stream. we tied a rope here and i took pictures. the lead pack told me that this normally was not a luxury they could afford. and i replied that this was precisely the reason why i wasn't too keen on forging ahead of everyone else. i thought about my group, of course, but i knew they were in good hands: we were an undiluted mix of reliable 2k5ers.
at this point someone asked if this was a good spot to have lunch and i said that the beach should be just less than an hour away. we continued the trek on even terrain, which at times was covered by sand, although it was still some distance from the beach. i explained that it may have been a result of pinatubo's explosion. i explained many things that weekend, sometimes i'm not sure whether i really know the answer, or if i was just making them up. one of my trainees, joel, also an alumnus of UP law, vows to do research and dispute my explanations. i told him the challenge was on. finally we came upon the widest crossing of the trek. all the streams and gullies we passed gather here at the wild horse creek, which flushes itself onto the bay of nagsasa. at the time of our arrival, the river was shallow. the rocks on the riverbed were still visible, and i crossed while they were still adding tension to the rope. i would have wanted to stay a while longer but kuya mar insisted we just kill time at the beach. and so we did.
on the way there, the shape of a hooded man with his arms outstretched greeted us. dark, bare, and crooked lines grew out of his head, back, and arms. it was a dead tree and i dismissed my wild imaginations. but apparently, other people shared the same initial impression. our campsite was situated in the southern end of the cove. it was a fenced area with several cottages. i managed to get the best spot but the climb staff booted me out. i had to wait for over an hour for my group to arrive, and during that time, i accomplished little. i was wet, cold, and didn't have enough equipment. i was worried about everyone i could not find at the beach. for a time, the frothy sea had turned aubergine, as though red had been mixed to its chocolate color. but i was assuaged by the sight of people trickling in. there was a lull, however, in the arrivals, and i was informed the river had turned wild. i worried, but when my group finally arrived, i set about to preparing a snack while we huddled under our cottage and kept out of the rain. we also had to improve the cottage because it dripped, and a furious wind from the bay blew drops of rain our way. by 4:30pm, we had all pitched out tents, and not all of them were dripping wet.
dinner was a combined effort. i prepared a chunky seafood hotpot soup and spicy thai basil chicken dish, while the trainees cooked chicken afritada. it was not a bad effort at all, and although we had a huge combined appetite, we still had extra food left. joven treated the group to his wife's delicious desserts. at half past 8, while we were already starting to pass around a small shot glass, we were called to socials. the weather had tamed the entire time, and the groups performed skits based on superhero movies. we helped our trainees improve on their original idea, and they won second place, anchored on bernard's rocket broccolli (which weng called cauliflower) and his ring's special effects. p-chew! p-chew! the socials for the members lasted till after midnight despite the uncooperative weather. in between, the friends of tads and jhoanna offered a simple tribute for them. i remembered them in my prayer at the start of the trek, and i was rendered almost speechless by the surge of emotions. one by one, the members retired, and i was left with the task of bringing a few drunk people home.
on the trek back to sitio san martin, i begged to be excused from my trail master duties so i could be with my group. also, it gave me a chance to take photos and appreciate the trail. besides, i had no specific advantage over anyone else insofar as knowledge of the trail was concerned. we had all passed through it, but no one in reverse. so we were all on equal footing. after a group photo, janice asked me to lead the prayer again and i said that i hoped the climb would teach us humility: the mountain is never something to be conquered, only our fears. i prayed that on our return to our places under the sun, that we will not be the same persons, but better versions of ourselves. so i towed my group back up the ridge, down to plains of sitio san martin, passing again the streams, the pine forest, the small chromite mining operation, the ascent which always inspired us to keep looking back, the trail which inspired us to keep looking forward, and the fog that hovered over us, dousing us with drops of heaven every now and then.
my batchmates and i happily have a singular idea about climbing. we are all devoted to happy learning. we may be accused of doting on our trainees in assuming some of the tasks and even part of the work. but we believe that it is possible to learn and improve in an atmosphere of fun. we can only hope that all the good things we've shared will be cascaded once it's their turn to become members. it's too early to tell, but i have good feeling that 2k11 will deliver.