climbing with a crutch to mount calavite: AMCI 2K13 training climb 1

i have often been asked the question whether a trekking pole was an essential piece of mountaineering equipment, and my response has always been: it isn't. i liken the trekking pole to a metaphorical crutch -- not a literal one that differently-abled people must use in order to gain some measure of mobility -- but an object which offers false courage. i understand that people might rely on charms and trinkets to boost their confidence, but i've always thought that luck was more a product of imagination and circumstance that had no empirical basis. i also firmly believed that being a crutch, the trekking pole stymied the development of one's hiking skills. rather than improving one's ability to tackle obstacles and surmount challenges, an excess of reliance on this expensive walking stick really just slows you down and stunts your growth as a mountaineer.

of course i set all that aside when i appeared at the assembly area for training climb 1 with a brand spanking new leki trekking pole. people were quick to point it out. in my over 9 years of climbing mountains, it would be the first time that i'm seen with one. i will confess that compared to the rather pathetic way that i trekked gulugod baboy last weekend, my trek pole restored pieces of my shattered confidence and allowed me to walk up and down independently. while i was still apprehensive to bound down the trail, i at least was not too distressed as to rely on the helping hand of another climber. but the trekking pole wasn't the only thing that was different about me that weekend. i was conspicuously carrying a 30 liter backpack when everyone was used to seeing me with a hulking beast over my shoulders. somehow people offered me storage space when i shared that i wasn't even supposed to be climbing mountains and carrying heavy loads. it is only through the generosity of these friends that i managed to survive the ordeal that was mount calavite.

over a week ago, i devised a linguistic trap on my orthopedic doctor in order to trick him to agree that i could resume climbing mountains again. although he categorically advised that i could not yet engage in the extreme sport of mountaineering, some verbal gymnastics on my part allowed me to hike over long distances on an inclined plane. although i left out the part about steep trails deep in the forest and high above mountaintops, or the fact that those inclined planes might involve crumbling rocks and slippery trails, i was empowered by more than just my stubbornness to embark on a potentially dangerous activity. hiking is already wrapped by layers of risk, but my condition magnifies those attendant risks many times over. i am still recovering from a fractured right ankle and i will be the first to say that i am half the mountaineer i used to be.

mount calavite rises on the northwestern tip of the island of mindoro, nodding towards the west philippine sea, and curving gently over paluan bay. i have been here twice before, to bring books to the children of lamont adventist school, and also to climb the mountain, which is designated as a national park, being home to the endangered tamaraw. travel to calavite is a logistical nightmare, and anyone wanting to get there might encounter many bumps along the way. but the AMCI way eases some of those difficulties. we took a quick bus to the batangas pier, then waited 2 hours to board a slow-moving ferry having no ample seating space to the port of abra de ilog. what follows is a 2 and a half hour land trip to ulasan in paluan, passing through mamburao. the combined travel time is about 10 hours, including the periods of wait. throughout these 10 hours, i did not have a wink of sleep. i worried about how i would be able to tackle a mountain on my return to the sport having neither rest nor practice (my last climb happened in december 2012, my last run in february).

but i'm a large bundle of energy, and i managed to draw upon my vast reserves to last the trek without fainting from lack of sleep. so despite the lack of any sleeping spaces on the cramped ferry and the impossibility to sneak in some zzz's on the giant jeepney, i was wide-eyed when we turned over our donations to the lamont adventist elementary school. thanks to the generosity of some individuals, we were able to give 3 globes, 3 microscopes, and lots of books. how lucky these kids must be because when i was in elementary school, i don't ever recall operating a microscope. we had a grand old globe in the library but i don't even think we were allowed to touch it. by way of thanks, the kids sang us a few songs, including one that made a rather inaccurate description of the skeletal system (they said that the knee bone is connected to the hip bone, which is so wrong, my orthopedic doctor would scream) in which we all misheard the chorus as "tendon, tendon, tendon, alive bones!" when in fact it was "ten bones, ten bones ten bones, alive bones!".

we were the second group to depart the jump-off -- i decided to stay at the back because of my condition, and in less than 5 minutes we were already lost. very early i already mentioned that the trail looked unfamiliar, but we were just trailing the group that had gone ahead so i thought maybe they were just following the lead pack, and that we were passing through a different trail. but when we started on steep trails too early in the trek, i said we were definitely on the wrong way. bert volunteered to backtrack and we called on the other group to retrace their steps. by the time we found the right trail, we had already lost almost 2 hours. all the groups had already left, and the sweepers were left behind waiting for us to find the right trail. by then we had all agreed that we would insist we didn't lose the trail, but that we just wanted to increase the challenge. 4 hours to the campsite was a bit short.

calavite's trails begin immediately behind the school in ulasan and follow an established path into the forest. the first hour is just a steady rise until you come upon a portion which climbs through steep trails surrounded by wispy trees. the path crumbles, but few mountaineers have climbed the mountain, and mostly just local mangyans pass through here to get to a camote plantation two-thirds of the way. calavite's slopes are said to host a variety of animal life, although due to our noise it was likely the birds would steer clear of the trail. millipedes in various shades of brown and gray were on the ground, rolling into a coil as we invaded their homes.

finally, we walked out of the spooky portion of the trail and made the climb towards the first viewdeck, although we were not blessed with clear weather. despite the gnawing concern about my brittle bone, my legs quickly remembered that they belonged to a mountaineer and accomplished that climb with little complaint. we lingered there for a while although the surrounding vista was a complete washout. i mentioned that the campsite should be less than hour from there, and we slowly and steadily resumed the climb. i arrived at the campsite area at an odd hour. on both times that i've been to calavite, i was unable to see its summit since it was mostly covered in thick fog. also, we almost always arrived close to dusk, since we normally start after lunch. several tents already stood there, brightening the campsite with colors that can only come from a big box of crayons. the familiar sound of happy campers filled the air. a small herd of cows were inching close to the campsite. behind them, calavite continued to rise like a mound with various hues of green.

i waited for my groupmates to arrive, helped trainees to pitch the tent, and debated whether i would do the assault to the summit. it was finally my chance not having done it in the past, and knowing that not many members have reached it. but my complaining ankle won the argument and i stayed in the campsite. instead i just helped in setting up the kitchen, cooking rice, and being useful, since i did not quite manage to contribute to carrying the load. i already informed my GL about my special needs, which included not carrying too heavy a load, and she understood. that, and the help of friends helped me get to the campsite and back down with just the attendant pains i have gotten very used to since my accident.

the trainees who went for the summit assault started arriving close to sunset. we were already about to start on dinner but decided to wait as they prepared their own meals. a kilo of pork had unfortunately gone bad but we still ate very good meals. when someone from another group asked me what our dinner was, i mentioned that we had guacamole, which jay prepared, and a trainee said it was pretentious. 2K12 invited me to participate in their boodle fight, which consisted of rice, adobo, salted eggs, and kangkong poured over banana leaves. it certainly reduces our use of rollo, and i grabbed a few mouthfuls myself, before i returned to my group to fill my tummy. a good meal is always a great way to reward one's self after enduring hours on the trail. after eating, we uncorked our poisons to start this ritual we call socials -- a ruse to drink, get to know each other, and possibly get frisky. mardel brought in a few bottles of jack daniels, while jay carried patron. i don't drink coffee but my taste for alcohol prevailed and i had many swigs.

the trainees had a presentation that evening which revolved around songs with an environmental theme. either everyone was too shy or too tired to think of creative ways to interpret the songs but the performances lacked magic. members usually take this opportunity to bark back since they were subject to ridicule as trainees, and it is often part of the way things are done in the club, but the heckling can at times get unfettered and foul. nevertheless, i've always thought, given some limitations, it was a great way to break the imaginary walls of ice that seem to stand between members and trainees. outside of that elusive dog tag, there really is no hierarchy within AMCI. the drinking carried on until 2AM, and although i turned in at half past midnight, i could not get myself to sleep, due only partly to the noise. there really is no rest for the wicked.

i awoke many times during the night, hearing hooves on the ground and these immense bovine mouths masticating grass outside my tent. eventually i rose to the sound of trainees tending to the kitchen and started getting ready to trek down. the morning poured slowly over the campsite, and in that half light i managed to witness the carnage of the previous night's socials: people sleeping under tarps, puke scattered near kitchens, and bottles that have gone missing. by a little past 6AM, we were ready to trek. i knew that this would be the real challenge for me, and shortly after we left the campsite, i felt a sharp, jabbing pain on my ankle, not unlike the feeling that a blunt object is being poked into the side of my foot. it was brief, but happened often, sometimes even when i was just standing up. princeton gave me a pill, and i don't know if it helped because the sharp pain would skewer itself into my bone and remind me of my recent disability.

so it was with much trepidation that i walked back to ulasan. the view of paluan bay was clear of any clouds, and it was possible to see mountaineers up to more than a kilometer away until they disappeared under the forest. i was all too keenly aware of what had changed in my pace. although the trekking pole had restored a bit of my confidence, what the injury robbed from me was so significant that my speed had ebbed. there were instances that i felt a thump in my chest as i worried about slipping or falling, and possibly breaking my bone again. but with careful perseverance i managed to reach the plains in one piece. i was asked many times about my foot, some saying i shouldn't have pushed it, others reminding me that they always knew i could do it. i appreciate all comments, encouraging or otherwise, because they inspire me to break my boundaries, but also help keep me rooted and aware of my limitations.

we moved to calawagan resort to wash-up and eat lunch. although i've been here twice before, i could not help but be amused by the fact that it was sprawling with people, mostly friends. the TL gave a bottle of sanmig to each climber, which they left soaked in the river to cool. at 12:30 in the afternoon, we were ferried by the jeepneys to abra de ilog pier. we still had 2 hours before reina justisya would depart for batangas city so we stole this time to have our post-climb meeting. i underlined the fact that this batch should feel so lucky having climbed calavite because the mountain had been a candidate for TC1 so many times, but it was impossible to predict the weather, and if the sea was not calm, the climb would altogether be canceled. the trip back to manila was as usual at the pace of lazy turtles, but it was a great opportunity to see the mountains of mindoro rise in the distance and then disappear, to witness the sunset set the sky on fire, and to marvel at the unblinking lights that illuminate the batangas pier.

it has been nearly 7 months since my last climb. for others that may not be too long a furlough from mountaineering. but for someone such as myself whose passion for mountains can sometimes be described as a mild obsession, this separation is almost tragic, and it is magnified by the possibility of being unable to return. while i am nowhere near being whole again, i'm glad that what remains of me is still able to climb. i have often said many times in this blog that i will keep climbing mountains as long as my feet allow me. i'm glad that my pair is still able to, the metaphorical crutch notwithstanding.