the unremarkable dance of mt. naguiling: AMCI 2k16's training climb 1

given AMCI's size, finding a suitable mountain for a training climb is always a challenging task. the sport has recently exploded, with everyone from your kid brother's dropout friend to your withdrawn  boss to your sister taking up the sport, gearing up on weekends, plotting out hikes to nearby destinations, leaving more footprints on already beaten paths. it is difficult not just to find a mountain with a campsite large enough to accommodate the number of returning mountaineers and eager trainees, but also to avoid crowds that already stretch the carrying capacities of some hiking spots. but the upside is that in this search for "new", "undiscovered" mountains, AMCI almost always blazes the trail.

this year was no different, and our search for this new, undiscovered mountain took us to the bowels of lobo. although lobo is already very popular, its breadth and range is impressive, if you consider that it is nestled on the southern edge of batangas, close to the sea facing mindoro. there are many peaks throughout this range, and perhaps, just as many trails. i have been to lobo twice already: to banoi and to nagpatong, and both climbs could not have been more different despite being on the same mountain. with these considerations in mind, we went to naguiling, which is batangueño for dancing. i'm not sure if it was an apt name for it, but then again, my experience was incomplete.

the bus ride to lobo was short and winding, and i did not manage to sleep a wink. after unloading outside the town church, we all scattered in search of toilets and breakfast. there was another long jeepney ride up ahead. at some point, the jeepney climbed an altitude higher than some campsites in lobo. after a while, we were deposited on a non-descript part of the road surrounded by rice paddies. despite the early hour, the sky was somber, and brooding clouds gathered overhead. our group was the last to start, more than an hour after the lead pack left. we started the trek by plowing through horse trails, and climbing a village path that passed through houses, plantations, and pasture lands for sad cattle.

due to my lack of sleep, i was exhausted even before the climb began. as i dragged my feet through six inches of mud, all i could think of was finding a spot to lie down. and despite the promise of rain that morning, the entire trek was unbearably humid, but none of the stores along the way had stocked on enough cold soda to quench our thirst. the trail rose gently through farmlands and charcoal pits, past cornfields and towering coconuts. we wanted to trek as a group on the strength of an assurance that the campsite was large enough for all of us. the weight of a lechon de leche was distributed among our guys, and we crawled towards the campsite without urgency. the pace was unbelievable slothy even by my slow standards.

eventually, we left the coprahan, walked past even more unmemorable trails, dipped our feet into a murky stream, and found the campsite: a sloping plot of land sparsely populated by slender coconut trees. on its upper reaches was a corn plantation, and on its flattest part was a rundown shack. colorful tents dotted every habitable inch of space, and our group was left to scrape on the leftovers. with some determination, we managed to find spots for our tents. and since none of the trainees had sufficient knowledge on the basics of tents and tent pitching, our campsite-finding problems became an extension of the classroom lecture. if i must break it down, it really should just be: the poles of follow the seams of the tent body, and the seams of the rainfly follow the poles. pegs should point towards the tent and not away. the footprint should be tucked under the body, and everything should be taut.

i was still conflicted about climbing to the summit. i wanted to, but did not have the strength to do it. i had exhausted my reserves despite the short trek to the campsite. and by my calculations, it would be dark by the time i returned. who would cook the rice? who would tend to the soup? as we sent our trainees off to their summit assault, i finally managed to sneak in a half hour of sleep under our kitchen tarp. but the campsite was buzzing with the noise of members who passed on the additional exercise. it was that and nothing else: an optional workout, particularly for my group since by the time they had gained elevation, the windows through the forest have been closed, and all they could see was this impenetrable fog. i'm pretty sure there were little details in the forest that a curious and inquisitive mind like mine would have appreciated, but there was little time to appreciate anything since everyone was in a hurry to get back to the campsite before dark.

by the time our trainees had trickled back into the campsite, it was already after sunset, and rain had started to pour. from the dry confines of yoshi's tent, i barked that they could help themselves to the soup. they were all apparently famished since not a strand of miswa was left. i finally left my tent to tend to the kitchen. we lit the stove for the rice, poured boiling oil onto our lechon de leche, arranged our pots into a row, and found seats under the tarp, away from the pouring rain. before long, we were passing on this tiny cup filled with scotch whisky, trading stories about how we found ourselves here, in this 33-year old club, the people who've caught our attention, those we admire. it's a script i've been hearing these last 11 years, and i have yet to tire from the recycled stories. i still chuckle at the  same jokes and still find wonder in the most mundane things.

the rest of the evening went by like a montage. there are gaps in my memory, but i remember highlights. the campsite was wet and slippery from the rain, and drunken laughter sprouted under colorful sheets of nylon even as other people feigned sleep or forced themselves to dream despite the noise. i found my tent with someone's help and woke up moments before a whistle was blown. and just like that, we went through this familiar ritual of collecting everything we scattered on this plot of earth,  stuffing homes and clothes into backpacks, disassembling kitchens and folding poles, and distributing trash bags  to ensure that we leave nothing but footprints on the ground.

we went back the same way we came, and despite renewed strength, i realized i didn't miss details about the trail: it was drab and mostly dreary the entire way, with uninspiring views of distant hills and villages. i was so unimpressed with what i was seeing that i took no more than 25 pictures during the entire climb. the vistas during the jeepney ride were more engaging. by the time we reached the last half kilometer of the trail, a queue had formed on the muddy stretch just before and after the stream crossing. i patiently waited for my turn, until we sprang out onto the concrete road. the first thing i did was to rinse my shoes on the roadside irrigation system, and jumped into the first jeepney that could accommodate me.

it was a smooth (if not slow) and uneventful ride to the resort, but i was jolted by devastating news upon my arrival there. somehow, we managed to fit lunch, the requisite presentations, and a post-climb meeting into an afternoon. we returned to our buses, and most of us fainted into our seats on the ride back home. the first training climb of the BMC is designed to initiate a batch into the sport of mountaineering. while i found this mountain to be unremarkable, i have to congratulate its organizers for their pioneering spirit, for insisting on new locations to keep old souls interested, and for making sure that although we bring over a hundred pairs of boots and shoes up a trail, we leave it as though only a tenth of that number passed that way.