Monday, January 24, 2011

HOW DO I SURVIVE ALONE IN THE WILD?


First I’m not in the WILD if by wild, you picture Alexander Supertramp! The mountains I climb have trails. It’s not like I have to do bushwhacking if I’m alone in the mountains. I use the trails that either the locals or the unsung heroes of Philippine mountaineering in the 80’s have left us! And I survive not solely because of personal merit but because of a lot of other factors that are not within my control.

Luck
My survival is not all due to me and my good judgment! Let me tell you about my Mt Makiling experience. My first climb in Mt Makiling was a solo traverse trek from Sto Tomas, Batangas to Los Baños, Laguna. I started the trek at 0700hrs and reached the Arts Center as early as 1430hrs. Check out the same trek by other groups. They usually reach Agila Base in UPLB at night. Was I good because I finished the trek really early? NO. I was just lucky to have gotten lost. Yes getting lost is sometimes an advantage. I got lost in the sense that I didn’t walk the trail used by most visitors of Mt Makiling. Somewhere after station 16, I found myself in a trail which, unlike the clear trail from the peak to station 16, was covered by decaying leaves indicating that the trail is not often used by humans. My knowledge told me to go back and look for the trail that leads to station 15 from station 16. But my instincts told me to push on! And my instincts didn’t fail me.
During my second climb there, I was with a buddy. We weren’t even able to get to Melkas Ridge that time. After the ‘Palanggana’, we couldn’t find the trail through the thick talahiban. I noticed the newly planted trees in the talahiban so I decided not to slit our own trail fearing that we might trample on those new seedlings planted by some concerned individuals. We decided to just spend a wonderful night at the DENR hut before the Palanggana.
During my third climb, I was guiding three companions. We were able to traverse the mountain but I was very disappointed not to have found the trail that led to the Arts Center. After Station 16, I slowed down and was very watchful not to miss that shortcut to the Arts Center. But when I saw the Station 15 sign, I knew we were walking the traditional trail. And I gave up the hope of finding the shortcut again when we reached the Wilderness Zone signage. It was a long walk to the College of forestry in UPLB. We reached the jeepney stop at 1700hrs.
You see, my success during my first Mt Makiling traverse was mainly out of luck. Experience and knowledge of the mountain (especially the likes of Mt Makiling and Mt Marami) don’t guarantee success and survival! When the mountain doesn’t want you to succeed, you won’t. And luck is usually with the beginners and the solo trekkers. My success in my unguided Amuyao and Pico de Loro traverse treks were a lot due to beginner’s luck! So if you’re a beginner, use this luck before it leaves you! I don’t have it with me anymore. My knowledge and experience have slowly replaced luck with fear and caution. I wish I could be a beginner again!

I ask people around…there is always a Jesus in the mountain!
The man at the four-pronged fork in Mt Makiling
Who knows the mountain better than the locals who live in it?! Ask the locals for directions and timing. But always multiply their estimated time by a certain factor. Their one hour is usually a mountaineer’s two hours. And by some freak of nature, you usually find these people when you badly need them—talk about Jesus in the mountains! Get this: in Mt Makiling a man happened to be sitting at the four-pronged fork that would have been a labyrinth for me had he not pointed me to the trail that led to Palanggana. In another case, me and my buddy Alvin Evangelista came across this guy at an intersection of trails in the wilderness of Mt Kabunian in the unlikeliest time of dawn (0400hrs) telling us which path to take. We had actually already started following the wrong way for a few minutes. At a recent traverse trek in Pico de Loro, I was going to follow an unclear trail through the bamboo forest when a local came up from our side pointing us to the right way. I mean come on! Of all the time in the afternoon, we crossed paths at that place and time! I think the mountain treats mountaineers like her children. She will never let anything bad happen to you as long as you don’t hurt her and you are heedful of her warnings!  

I rely on my instincts and intuition.
Climbing down the Ifugao side of Mt Amuyao
I tested my intuition in Mt Amuyao. Somewhere after Pat-yay, my buddy and I came upon a fork—one fork leading downward to the west and another one upward to the east. Both of them very clear for at least 100 meters so I couldn’t use my clear-trail-right-trail reasoning. Moreover, the Lonely Planet tells me that Cambulo (which was our destination) should be to the west. But my intuition told me to take the more difficult uphill trail that leads to the east. I didn’t tell my buddy about what I knew that time, otherwise, he’d have interfered in the decision-making part of our journey through the Mt Amuyao wilderness. And, probably due to beginner’s luck again, we reached Cambulo before sundown and before my last joule of energy dissipated. Another instance in which I tested my intuition was in Mt Makiling as I previously mentioned. Mt Napulak was another test of instincts and intuition. I didn’t fail to summit Mt Napulak. I gave up. Your instincts and intuition flail when you travel with other people. It’s either you trust their intuition or they yours or both. In either case, your instincts are not heightened. This happened in Mt Natib. We failed to see the trail leading to the peak because my companions said YES when I asked them if we should push on (through the trail which I felt was wrong). I’m not blaming them. I’m blaming myself for not trusting my intuition. But we had a wonderful night that time.

I pray.
I am a self-confessed agnostic! I disdain the church and any gathering of two or more worshippers because from two emerges greed! But in times of trouble, I never forget to call on Him! I talk to Him in every step of the way! I always pray for guidance and I never forget to thank Him for all my safe returns. Well, nobody would know because I do it privately.
And I treat the mountain itself as a goddess! I talk to her all the time. I say “Sorry” when my single jerk disturbs the peace and natural order of things in the mountain. Yes I always say “Tabi tabi po!” whenever I take a leak or wherever I sit or I lay my backpack during take-fives. For a philosophy major, yeah, funny but true! 

I give up.
The Nipple Rock of Mt Napulak
When she says stop, I stop! I was climbing up Mt Napulak alone in November, 2009. For that day hike, the plan was to reach the summit by 1500hrs and head back down. I started the trek at 1300hrs and I got lost around 1430hrs but found the right trail again. Around 1500hrs the ‘nipple rock’ (summit) was very close but I had to follow my ultimatum so I headed back down although the clear trail was going to lead me to the summit! I had to consider many things that time. I didn’t take a lot of food and water with me, I left my tent at a local’s house and the dark clouds threatened me with heavy rains. I felt a new kind of joy as I trekked down. It was the time when I knew how to be mature enough to be scared and scared enough to be a mature climber! You don’t have to push all the time! At times, you gotta know your limits. Otherwise, you’ll be off the edge! 

Personal Merit
I may not be the toughest but I’m pretty sure I’m not a wimp! I maintain a good physical condition. I have quit smoking. I stay as active as possible. I can last 12 hours of trek.
I am a pack-lite trekker! I don’t bring unnecessary stuff. As I have said before, the fun part of the climb is my last priority. I don’t care if I don’t have speakers, i-Pod, tripod, booze and other things that I can live without! I bring at most three sets of clothes. I strictly observe water discipline. I only take a sip when my throat feels dry.
Look back and be ever watchful of backward forks
I have a ‘backward’ orientation of push! I keep pushing when I know I can go back. I always look back to check for reverse forks. You don’t have to worry much about the forward forks that you come across because you can always go back to the nodes. Reverse forks are the ones that you have to be very mindful of when trekking alone. I look back and take a picture of a reverse fork with my finger indicating where I came from. I calculate time two-fold. I measure how much time I have spent climbing up then I divide it by two and the result should be the minimum amount of time I need to go back down in case something terrible happens on my way up! I always think of the things I need when I have to go back. I need something to light my trail downward when night falls. I need enough water to condition my mind not to be thirsty. I get thirstier when I know I have no water. Just the knowledge that I still have a little water quenches my thirst.
I do some kind of a manual ‘macro-orienteering’. I don’t have a compass but I know that the sun rises in the east…and Anthony Hopkins (The Edge) has taught us how to improvise a compass when the sun is not out! I may not have a map but I see valleys, coastlines, peaks and solitary trees! They can be really effective waypoints. Take note where they should be (relative to your major location): for instance, you should know that as per Philippine political map, Nasugbu, Batangas should be Southwest of Ternate, Cavite. When you see a coastline to the west (as you go down Pico de Loro) that should be the coastline of Nasugbu. It’s third grade HEKASI. You don’t need a GPS for this! But you don’t have to worry about all these when you have a Suunto X10.hehehe

Lastly, I share!  
Hope that was worth your time!

12 comments:

  1. nice write-up bro..

    Follow your intuition, trust your buddy's intuition or trust both..

    In that case, who will be the leader of the day?

    Art

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  2. Thanks bro! Socials tau minsan kung di ka na busy!hehe

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  3. mahusay, dami kong natutunan. salamat po ng marami dito, sana maraming makabasa nito.

    Rainier

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  4. idol ser!! very useful for some solo hikers!

    leleboy -busog mountaineers-

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  5. @Charlie: salamat sa pagbisita...twice ko na nakadaupang-palad ang Busog Mountaineers (Pulag at Marami)...sana minsan makasabay ko kayo!
    @Rainier: nice meeting you ser kahapon! keep climbing! Salamat sa socials sa Buruwisan!

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  6. Napapangiti ako sa Jesus in the mountains.

    Lahat ng maling trail na pinapasok namin laging may naharang na locals para ituro samin ung daan.

    Ayos to sir!

    Totoong maeexperinece mo yung beginners luck.

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  7. wow! you really enjoyed your adventures and moments in this place... i love this place too where i was born and grew up and still loving it... despite the growing population and pollutions and nuisance... thanks for you have enjoyed your moments here...

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  8. Maraming salamat po sir Lagataw! may natutunan akong bago s blog article nyong ito. I also do solo climbs and knowing that its a risky thing makes me more cautious for the things I have to remember. More power po sa blog nyo!

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  9. Sir, any thoughts regarding the recent incident in Mt. Maculot?

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