Thursday, 2 September 2010
Mountain Climbing in Mariveles Bataan
Despite the internal grumblings, I took off with 81 AMCI trainees and members at 11:30pm from Makati to Alas-asin, Mariveles in Bataan. The 81 was divided into smaller groups. I belonged to Group 5- with my twentysomething climbmates Ging Valencia (left in photo), Mot Maramot (with hand waving), Mike Ella, Mai Pudol (in red bandana) and Ian Villar, led by veteran climber Lester (on top of the boulder).
With our head lamps on and gloves in place, we left the outpost at 3:30am. "The Gate" (590m) gave us a preview of the trail condition which was muddy, slippery and with the downpour, almost eroded. Papaya River (515m, right photo), our first water source gave a preview of the upcoming river treks which was wet, cold, slimy with rocks of varying heights. My new Columbia storm surge pants didn't help. It was difficult for me to balance 40-45 pounds load on my back and watch each step. I kept slipping and falling waist deep.
At SCAJJ waterfalls, our last water source, we crossed our second river and made our way up the steep trail to Tarak Ridge (1004m, right photo). It was extremely windy and foggy. I was bending all the time to duck the wind and clutching the tall cogon grass covering the side of the mountain. Mai kept groaning with each step since she was afraid that she'd fall off the cliff. I felt like the trek was an eco-challenge of some sort because when we got to the summit "Bintana" (1121m), lo and behold, the other side was an entirely different terrain. This time, we were staring at boulders.
The trail was aptly called the "Japanese Garden" (900m, left photo) because of the sculpture-like rock formations. We had to make our way down the slimy stones under the pouring rain, with the aid of the ropes in place. Thank god the lead pack (Sky Biscocho who by the way, created the trail for us) placed orange reflector stickers on some boulders as trail signs. After the rocky area, it took us over an hour to negotiate the almost impassable, muddy "Magellan Ridge" to the campsite. We arrived exhausted at 7pm and the next task at hand was to find a suitable place to set camp.
Most of the area was already taken and my tent-mate, Mai found a relatively flat but slightly sloping area to pitch tent. It took us some time to figure out how to set-up the three tent poles. By the time the tent was up, water seeped in my leaky flysheet and left a pool of water inside the tent. I was too pooped to eat dinner and more anxious to rainproof our tent with spare tarps and our raincoats. Around 830pm, we settled in and made used of our kermantle as a clothesline to hang our wet clothes to dry. By 9pm, I was already tucked in my sleeping bag and could hear late climbers trickling in, looking for their groupmates.
When my alarm went off at 4am, I found my whole body on the side of the tent with Mai leaning on my left side. I guess since it rained all night, the ground eroded, creating a 40-45 degree slope. After donning our damp clothes from the day before, we headed to the cooking area where Mot with the help of Lester was already preparing our breakfast. I don't normally eat rice in the morning; but surprisingly, I wolfed two platefuls down including the pink-colored corned beef. After breakfast, we prepared our pack lunch and started to break camp.
We got to Loree-Jen Stream (886m, right photo) at 9:30am or 1.5 hours behind the scheduled itinterary. Before noon, we were at SLAJJ waterfalls (792m)- named after Sky, Lester and ...sorry I don't remember the last three founders. The waterfall was amazing and we took our time here to enjoy our lunch, chatted with fellow climbers and went swimming. Actually, it was more like dunking to remove the mud and dirt from our face, body and clothes. I also took the time to attend to the pesky teka teka bites on my legs by peeling it off using duct tape.
I was hoping that the trail would lead us to flatter terrain. Alas, at the end of the river, Lester paused and asked if we wanted to take a rest. He described the next trail, as pretty 'intense'.
"Lasbal Trail", I'm sure it's another acronym for Lester, A..Sky..., was a steep, muddy vertical ascent. I will never forget this day as I almost tasted the kiss of death. Somewhere in the middle, as I was trying to reach for the vine with my left hand, I slipped and lost both my foothold and the rock I was hanging onto with my right hand came off the wall. I started sliding down the ravine with my left side grazing the rocks, vines, twigs, you name it. Instead of thinking of dying, I was more hassled with the thought of scaling the trail back up again so I quickly grabbed on to whatever I can grasp and made my way up. This was my second major slip and decided to be more vigilant and mindful of footholds and handholds.
"Loggers Trail" was fairly even and easy on the legs but a long, long way down, almost three hours trek. We were joking around with Ian scoring each of our fall "Mountain 0: Group 5, 9" was the last tally. It was 6pm when we reached Mariveles River and based on the itinerary, it will take us at least another two hours to get to the pick-up point. It was getting dark and we could hear the river roaring. The current was picking up as we crossed the first point. We caught up with Bosing and Bert, who were sweeping Kathleen Almonte and warned us at the second crossing that the river was dangerous and to look for another path. At the last river crossing, all ten of us formed a human line by holding on to each other to make it to the other side. The trail to the pick up point was again muddy and slippery. At this point, I was already praying to guide the rest of the climbers behind us and to keep them safe.
At 8pm, we arrived at Crusher, Barangay Kamaya, Santa Monica where we were met by the team leader Jepay and Francis. We washed up in the stream. The ice cold water was good for our tired, aching body. At 9pm, we boarded the jeepney to take us to Seashore Resort for dinner. At 12 midnight, we boarded the first bus back to Manila.
Fortunately, our Group was always intact, no one went ahead or was left behind. We moved as one unit. It took us a total of 15 hours up and 12 hours down to traverse the mountains of Mariveles. We survived three assaults, four rivers and countless gullies. The trek was indeed very difficult and required physical and mental preparation. I am deeply grateful that everyone came back in one piece.
Here's something to ponder on from mountaineering author A. Alvarez: Climbing in particular, is a parodoxically intellectual pastime, but with this difference: you have to think with your body. Every move has to be worked out in terms of playing chess with you body. If I make a mistake the consequences are immediate, obvious, embarrassing, and possibly painful. For a brief period I am directly responsible for my actions. In that beautiful, silent, world of mountains, it seems to me worth a little risk.
And five tips I learned from the legendary Lester:
1. Don't just look for one trail sign. Like chess, anticipate the next move. Look also for the second and third trail sign all the time. Also check the path for footsteps.
2. Don't over take the lead. Let him/her lead and decide which path to take.
3. Don't slide. Be courteous and mindful of other climbers all the time. Keep the trail intact by standing, using quick baby steps and walking sideways.
4. Do face the current in crossing rivers and walk sideways.
5. Do keep the group intact all the time. Compress by pulling the group (lead) and pushing (sweeper).
The last tip reminds me of a Confucius saying "It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you don't stop" which encapsulates our Group's trek song... I like to move it move it, I like to move it move it... MOVE IT!
Photo credit: action shots c/o Lester Susi's Bring it on TC2 album.