Monday, April 23, 2018

Mountain Horror Stories You Never Heard

Fear of the unknown keeps us going.

Our imagination is easily tickled by the story of the roving couple of Mt Cristobal; or Maricar, the lady who jumped off the 'dila' of Mt Maculot; or Taong Lumot of Mt Halcon and all other horror stories of many popular mountains in the country.

But I'm not gonna talk about them this time. Instead, I'll tell you of real-life horrors during treks. 

During my first invitational trek in 2015, a friend lost his balance and almost fell into a deep gorge. It was his GoPro that made him lose focus as he was trying to capture that buwis-buhay scene but (thankfully) it was also his GoPro stick that made him regain his balance. 

About a decade ago I got my second life when I slipped at the talahiban ridge of Mt Nangtud. I was being sandwiched by my two guides. I will never forget the tail guide who was at least five meters behind me but sprung forward to grab me by my backpack. Then and there, I realized the importance of having as many guides and supports as possible especially in an exploration. Most of us try to go cheap thinking all mountains are equal in terms of technicality.

Two years ago during a reconnaissance trek in Tacadang, I earned my third life. I slipped on a stream that turns into a waterfall off a cliff not so far away. My two companions were too shocked to do anything other than stare at the tragedy-in-the-making in slow motion where I was the main character. I was being carried down by the current of thin water and for the first time, I felt the absence of friction between my body and a hard surface. I was helpless. No grip nor clench could arrest the velocity intensified by acceleration due to gravity. Fortunately, one shallow concavity on the slope was able to stop my slide. I was relieved but only for a split-second because before long I was sliding again. I had gained acceleration. It seemed like episode 2 of that tragedy-in-the-making right after the prequel. Luckily there was a second concavity less than five feet away from the edge! And there the tragedy was fended off.

Last year, I was a motionless witness to an aborted CLIMBER headliner. My friend stepped on a pebble then he slipped off the cliff-side trail. His feet were still on the trail but his buttocks were already below ground level. Luckily, there was this offshoot of a pine tree right next to where he stumbled and he clung to it. But his position was still not stable. His weight was about to pull him down the cliff but luckily another hiker was quick enough to grab him by his backpack.

On another climb last year, a guest slipped and fell about 20 feet deep. The fall was just radioed in by the tail pack as I was managing the lead pack. I did not see the scene but I know where the spot was and I could only imagine the impact of the fall. In my smile I hid my fear and shock so that the lead pack would not be affected. And in my silence I said a prayer. The guest was okay, miraculously. In her story she said that as she was rolling down, she felt the ferns the twigs and other vegetation wrapping her body and giving her cushion. But nothing like that was seen by the other guest speechlessly watching her fall down. Where she fell, she was still not certain whether it was life after death or it was her subconscious. In her prayer she told God, "You can take this body that you lent me and I'll be very happy to be reunited with my husband in your realm pero papano ang mga anak namin?!' She was crying when she remembered her children. Until it sank in that it was real. It was not her subconscious. She was alive and injury-free. During the post climb it was the biggest reason to be thankful. 

With all these we always remember to thank God for giving us another shot at life. But most often it stops there. We fail to realize that we were sort of tiptoeing the thin line between life and death: that if it had been otherwise, the world around you, for your loved ones and others who know you, would have been totally different.
But yeah, some others, like myself, start imagining parallel universes...imagining how our loved ones would have moved on without us. And we become thankful that this is the universe that persisted. That we're still on our mission and unfinished business. But we also start realizing that it wouldn't have mattered much because our problems would have also disappeared along with our stunted hopes and dreams. And this leaves us at a deadend: LIFE. It will always be a choice, even if we forget the reason and the mission. 

These stories won't haunt you in your nightmares. But they make us believe in something supernatural, nevertheless. They make us believe in guardian prayers. But most importantly they make us realize that life itself is larger than life! At that split-second, you forget about your troubles. You cling on by our fingernails with the desperation and the prayer that you could go on with your life. 

While we are thrilled by buwis-buhay treks, let's be reminded that there are attendant risks to every activity we engage in. You will know how much buwis you're going to pay only when you've paid it.


Monday, March 19, 2018


As a man was passing by a group of elephants, he noticed that one of the elephants was leashed to a small stake on the ground using a flimsy rope tied around one of its legs. Surprisingly, however, it wouldn't attempt to break away even though it could pull out the stake with just a budge of its huge legs. Filled with wonder, he asked the trainer why it was so. The trainer told him that, when those elephants were younger, they were restrained using the same set-up. A few times  they tried to get away but they were still too young and too weak to break the leash. And they grew up conditioned to believe that they could not break loose.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Kagaya ng pag-ibig, wala ring forever na view...yung akala mong pure nature na panorama
biglang makikiapid si hand railings pagbalik mo (photo by Ed Glipa).

Many misconstrue Lagataw's 'Don't Ask; Don't Tell' Policy as greed -- that we don't want to share the experience to others. But in truth, it's quite the opposite! We don't disclose logistical information to others fearing that these others might take the wrong people to these treasured destinations.

You bring someone who panics when his substandard burner malfunctions, you burn Mt Pulag as a result. And all of a sudden everyone else may now be required to carry a portable fire extinguisher. The old experience is lost and can no longer be shared.

You organize a climb through the Kapangan-Kibungan-Bakun route and you allow a fresh graduate of Mt Batulao to join you and she slips off Taktak or early on at the 'via ferrata' segment. All of a sudden Kibungan closes the route labeling it as 'not safe for TOURISTS'. And the qualified adventure-seekers can no longer experience the same thrill that the previous participants did.

This is the main reason why I reconsider many times over before I admit an organizer into the climbing party. Many organizers indiscriminately take guests to trekking destination oblivious of the technicality of the route.

As it is, this activity of climbing mountains is just not for everyone. The incapacity and ineptitude of many tourists fuel the pervasive Safety First dogma that consequently changes not just the landscape (via infrastructure that ensures the safety of selfie kings and queens) but the whole experience as well.

This photograph can no longer be replicated...

...because now, a fence has been constructed to ensure the safety of tourists (photo by Aris Aglupus)

Remember that when you cause a mishap on a climb, you're not only jeopardizing your group. You are affecting the whole industry! So I'm not sorry if I refuse you on my treks.

We don't ask and we don't tell because we want to share!

If you think others need to know this, don't hesitate to share it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Project Onifa: A Mission; A Prophecy

I'm probably the creepiest stalker of Champion System (now The North Face Adventure Team) -- a team of elite adventure racers across Asia. And for a very long time, I had wanted to see a Filipino guy in their roster.

Ryan Blair at TNF100 Ph 2012

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Top Ten and one Hiking Stuff I No Longer Include on my Top Ten Hiking Stuff List

1. Bag Tags

Our climb ID during the first Lagataw Invitational Climb

I used to think climb bag tags were cool. We called them 'climb ID' . They were considered a validation for one’s being a ‘mountaineer’. I had two—one during my first Mt Pulag Climb in 2006 and another from the Mt Pulag invitational climb I organized in 2011. But these days, I see them as an indicator for hikers who have not outgrown their newbie fervor. I wonder if the likes of Romi Garduce still rave about bag tags. But bag tags are not solely for pormahan. They serve other meaningful purposes for others.

YOU deserve a holiday!
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