Monday, August 1, 2011

Cheryl Bihag on 'Is Mountaineering Sexist?"

...I am always amazed by how beautiful the world is! It is natural beauty untouched by the creative minds of people!

Cheryl Bihag climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (Africa's highest)
I met Cheryl at the Second Annual Hungduan Climbathon in Mt Napulauan (Ifugao) April this year. We ran the 17K mountain trail from Hapao to Hungduan accumulating an elevation gain of more than 5000ft. She finished 3rd in the women's category. I saw her again at the TNF Thrill of the Trail in CamSur. She finished 7th in the women's 100K event! Then when I looked through her 'mountaineering resume', I was utterly humbled by the accomplishments she's made so far. If I were to mention all her feats over the last few years, I would have to make a totally different post about them. To name a few, she summited Mt Kilimanjaro (the highest mountain in Africa) in 2008; she has done two winter climbs in Snow Mountain in Taiwan, a winter trek down the Grand Canyon and a climb up Mt Kinabalu. 
Cheryl atop Snow Mountain in Taiwan
She is also a big fan of The North Face Thrill of the Trail participating in its races in Singapore and The Philippines. She has also participated in a lot of other runs in Southeast Asia including the KL Standard Chartered Marathon (42K) and SG Standard Chartered Marathon (21K). And you can also see her in wall climbing competitions in the country! What else do you want to know to prove that Cheryl's the real deal?!  

finishing the TNF Thrill of the Trail in Singapore
Name: Cheryl J. Bihag 
Alias (if any):None
Age or Age range (optional):37 
City of Residence: Pasay City 
Hometown: Siquijor 
Profession: Human Resource Practitioner 
Website/Blog (if any): none. 

When was the first time you climbed and where?
The very first mountain I climbed is Mt. Talipanan/Malasimbo in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro (July 2000). That was the first training climb of the BMC that I was taking at that time. Up to now, before summiting Mt.Kilimanjaro, I can say that was my most difficult climb ever. At the saddle after the muddy part, I thought to myself "Why am I doing this, this is not for me". I was just so tired and wasted then; I couldn't even appreciate the beautiful view around me. Carrying a very heavy pack, sleeping in a tent, getting up so early despite my aching and tired body were some of the reasons I had to think a hundred times if I was really going to finish the course. Until I said "Ok I will give it a try to TC2 (second training climb)". I gained friends along the way, I learned more techniques on how to make my life easier on the mountain, until I finished the four-month course, and not just that, I became really obsessed with climbing that after my BMC I climbed most of my weekends. 

Who/What inspired you to climb?
Climbing was never in my mind at all until I got a job that gives me a chance to travel to different places in the country. It was then that my interest in the outdoors was awakened, I grew up in the province so I was really close to nature. In one of our travels, my co-worker and friend Joy Fallarme saw my interest in the mountain and she pushed me to take part in a BMC. It took me 3 years before I was able to join one. Mike Walde, another workmate accompanied me in my training days up to the several training climbs that I had. The two of them serve as my mentor in mountaineering, they were the two people who believed that I can do it in the outdoors. 

Why do you climb?
Because I love the beauty of nature, I love being one with it. No matter how tiring and difficult my climb may be, I am always energized by the beauty of the place that surrounds me. I am always amazed by how beautiful the world is! It is natural beauty untouched by the creative minds of people!

The adventurer Cheryl
What are the things that you’ve done that you think many men can’t do?
Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro and Finishing a 100K Trail Run 

What has been the riskiest thing you've done?
Climbing Snow Mountain in Taiwan (our first winter climb in year 2008)! On our summit assault, the weather was so bad and there was less than 1-meter visibility. To make matters worse, we were climbing without safety devices like ice ax, rope and proper crampons. In other words, we were not properly equipped for an alpine climb. 

Do you sometimes wish you were a man because being a woman impedes you from doing what male backpackers can do?
No, not at all! 

What can women do in mountaineering that men can’t?
I can’t think of any. For me, men and women can equally do the same thing in the mountain. 

In your opinion, are there gender-related risks in travelling/backpacking/trekking? One could be unsafe if traveling in remote places alone or in an all-women expedition. To minimize the risk, I always make arrangements ahead of time when traveling alone. Or I join groups whom I know I can trust with my life. 

What has been your greatest accomplishment as a backpacker/adventurer/trekker?
Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro 

What is your ultimate mountaineering dream?
Summiting Mt. Everest and/or a multi-pitch climb at El Capitan

Who do you look up to or respect in the local mountaineering scene? (International if no one in the country meets your standards)
Romi Garduce and Conrad Anker

Quite a few male mountaineers have told me, they wouldn’t wanna marry a mountaineer (for varied reasons). Are you aware of any stereotypes on female mountaineers?
None that I can remember. I always admire mountaineer couples and wish I can find a partner of the same interest too. 

What should men know about women who climb?
That no matter how passionate we are about climbing or any extreme outdoor activity, there is still the soft side in us, the female side in us. 

Do you think Mountaineering is Sexist?
No, I don’t see it that way. For me, mountaineering and other outdoor activities offer equal opportunity to both men and women. What men can do, can also be done by women!
What is your message (if any) to women who aspire to climb?
Just go for it, keep the dream, and pursue it. Just enjoy being with nature and be with others who share the same passion. Start with the minor climbs, until you hit big expeditions!
I also have these follow-up questions:

*all images are courtesy of Cheryl Bihag


  1. Wow, lufet pala ni maam chery... Congrats po maam sa lahat ng naachieved nyo..You inspired us. :)

  2. i salute this woman for being enthusiastic and perseverance for her passion to sports especially in mountaineering....May God Bless her more strength to continue with all she desire to climb and to run ....

  3. She's am amazing person. Good luck on that Argentina Expedition and bring us at the office some corned beef :P


  4. Hi, im planning to trek snow mountain in Taiwan. how can i contact Ms. Cheryl? big thanks for the great feature.


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