|The topographic maps that set the blueprint for my Benguet expeditions|
Planning and Research is number one in my BMC! Most new mountaineers underestimate the importance of good planning and research as much as they overlook the dangers that await them in the mountains. I have met climbers who came back home heartbroken because they were not granted entry into Mt Halcon. Some got extorted in Bakun, Benguet by the local tourism officials. And some others got abandoned in Melkas Ridge (in Mt Makiling) by their guide who promised them that the Los Baños exit was just 30 minutes away. Many newbies have lost their Adidas and Nike soles to the mud of Mt Romelo. Many come back home with arms revealing the whip of cogon grass that outnumber the pores on their skin. And still some rave and rant in Facebook for having to surrender their iPhone and The North Face backpacks to local thieves. All these because of bad research and planning!
I usually climb alone but that doesn’t mean I am carefree and careless. Before I set out on a journey, I do my homework! I do intensive research and I ask pertinent people pertinent questions. Then when I am satisfied with the answers I hit the road!
Know the Destination then Know Thyself!
When going to a place one should ask the following questions: What are the neighboring towns or the towns and cities you have to go through to reach the destination from your home or from the airport? If you know that the order of the cities/towns along the national highway from west to east is Kidapawan—Digos—StaCruz—Davao and you want to go to Sta Cruz from Digos, you’ll know you should take the bus bound for Davao and not the one bound for Kidapawan. You should also know what body of water is in the east or which mountain is in the west? In short, keep the map of the Philippines in your head if you can’t keep it in your pocket. Although this may not be very accurate and safe, I always keep in mind that the sun rises in the east, then I have my shadow as my compass.
As to the nature of the mountain, one should ask these questions: Is there water source? If there are, where are they and how many? Is the water safe for drinking or just for cooking? Are there a lot of limatik? Are there many snakes? Will the journey involve rock-climbing, river-trekking, habal-habal ride, walking on a knife-edge that may not be friendly to my friend who has acrophobia? Is it open? Is there a lot of talahib, teka-teka, rattan and poison ivy? Which and where is the nearest community to the campsite? What is the altitude and elevation gain of the trek? How is the peace and order situation in the area? Is there insurgency? Is it rainy there in a particular month? How many bus/jeepney trips go in and out of the area and what times? How long will the trek take at the minimum? Will it involve steep ascents? Answering these questions comprises only half of the task. Your answers will change once you’ve set foot on the mountain.
The Lagataw Way
But you can always do away with most of the details above when you’ve got plenty of time and money to waste. I sometimes ask myself just one question: Where is the mountain? And then my itinerary will be defined as my journey unfolds. I do this when I’m alone or when I’m with my trusted climb buddies. That’s what happened in my expeditions in Alto Peak, Mt Tabayoc, Mt Timbak and Mt Baloy-daku. I just knew where they were and when by chance, I was somewhere in the vicinity of these mountains, I just discovered the access points and routes in these destinations. But now that I am aware of the risk of travelling on impulse, I don’t get a lot of these serendipitous discoveries anymore. My beginner’s luck has long abandoned me!
We are all but intruders in the mountain! Know thyself before you delve into the mountain’s realm.
Ask yourself and your companion/s these questions. How long can you walk? Have you climbed before? Which mountain? Are you acrophobic? Are you allergic to pollen? Is your left arm injured? How strong is your grip? Do you have flat feet? Are you scared of bugs? Do you know altitude-sickness., hypothermia and dehydration? Can you live without a fancy toilet? But in the end, it is still the mountain who knows the answers to these and other questions.
With the knowledge of the destination and himself, the traveller can now decide on what and who to bring.
Who will be climbing?
Some climbers are ‘instant’ climbers! Instant climbers are climbers who live at an instantaneous level. If at a certain instant they feel thirsty, they drink. The moment they feel tired they sit or whine and cry. The moment they feel hungry, they eat. They don’t think of what lies ahead. They don’t care whether they still have enough water as long as their thirst is quenched at that instant. They forget that they don’t have a headlamp and don’t care if they’ll have to grope or fall off the cliff in the dark as long as they are able to sit and have a rest for as long as they want!
Some climbers are freeloaders. They show up at the assembly and tell you ‘Tol eto lang ang pera ko!’ or ‘Ay nakalimutan ko bumili ng pagkain!’
Some climbers are always late!
Most climbers are drinkers; many climbers are cigarette smokers; some climbers smoke weed! An irresponsible smoker can create a big hole on your Eureka tent! A noisy drinker can make you stay up late and may start a fight with other groups. Some junkies think they’re cool because it is rasta to smoke cannabis in the open, oblivious of the belief system of others!
And some individuals are just physically weak! Don’t force them to hike up the Akiki trail within a day!
Who is the organizer?
Do a background check on the organizer. Has he/she organized a climb before? How many people joined? Was there any negative feedback? Is he/she religious? Does he smoke weed? Will he/she tolerate your beliefs and practices? Does he/she know the place and its culture and language? Is he/she a slowpoke or a speedy Gonzales? Is he going to harass you? Is he going to milk you? It is always good to know the answers to these questions than regret joining the climbing party in the end!
The traveller should always know the transportation options to and from the destination. He should know the first and last trips in both the destination and the origin. The traveller must get in touch with the transportation personnel (dispatcher, ticketing office, driver or conductor) and know the updated rates and schedule of trips. At times the traveller may have to book a ticket in advance. Then from his knowledge of the route, the traveller can plan on a convenient side trip.
For future reference, the traveller should save important numbers! He can share these numbers with friends who might need his help in their research.
Coordinate with local officials. Ask them about permits and fees. Don’t delete their messages as they may change the terms when you get there. Ask them about the local practices and what things are considered taboo and inappropriate in the area. Coordinate with people who have visited the place (the more recent the better). Get the number of the driver/conductor/ticketing office or any resident of the destination.
This is how I made my Bakun Trio Expedition a success even though it was a strong candidate for a big failure. The only bus bound for Bakun had already left by the time we got to Baguio City. Fortunately, I had the driver’s number and we were able to catch up with them somewhere in Benguet where they had to change tires. Coordinating with the local officials as to the required fees and permits made it easy for me to do the budgeting and spared us from cheats!
After carefully coordinating with the local officials and knowing the updated fees and necessary expenses, do the budgeting. Always state the safe amount. If the journey is to involve chartering of a vehicle, the organizer may demand for a confirmation fee to ensure that the charter for the vehicle is covered. Confirmation fee is almost always non-refundable.
After research and planning, the traveller can now draft his itinerary.
The basic components of an itinerary are: The Title (name of the destination); Elevation; Location (or coordinates); Trail Class; Overview of the Destination; Time Table (Assembly; ETD; ETA; Lights out; break camp; Day 1, Day 2 etc); List of Participants; Breakdown of Expenses and Contact Numbers.
Meal planning is very essential in backpacking. The traveller should be nourished throughout his journey. The engine won’t work without fuel!
Click here for a separate discussion on meal planning.
Reflecting the knowledge of the destination, the itinerary and the meal plan, the traveller must plan what he should pack. If the mountain is of freezing temperatures, the traveller has to include thermals on the list (gloves, mufflers, jackets etc.) If the mountain is covered with talahib, the traveller may want to wear arm warmers and long trekking pants. The itinerary and meal plan also determine the number of clothes and the amount of food one has to bring.