Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How I Pack

This is how I pack for a two-day / one night expedition:
Expedition: Arayat Traverse
Location: Ayala, Pampanga - Arayat, Pampanga
Date:  June 4-5, 2011

Things to remember before you put everything in your pack

  1. You must have a blueprint of the order of things you will need while you're doing your expedition. Things you always use should be readily accessible. Put them on the pouches, top load or side pockets. 
  2. FILO (First IN Last OUT). Make sure that the first thing you'll put in your pack should be the last thing you'll need to use during your expedition. 
  3. Group your stuff according to their use and composition. Don't pack your rubbing alcohol together with your tocino, you feelin' me?!
  4. Individually pack each group. Apexus Outdoor Equipment in Kamias (09165931910) sells color-coded sack bags. But for guaranteed water proofing, use plastic shopping bags instead. If, packed properly, your clothes make comfortable pillows.
  5. Distribution of stuff among members of the climbing party should be equitable (not equal).
  6. In general, heavy items should be stored close to your back. Cushy stuff (sleeping bag, tent body and rainfly) should go to the bottom. For technical, difficult and uphill terrain, heavy stuff should be stored low and close to your back. For smooth and rolling terrain, heavy stuff may be place at a high position. 
  7. Maximum carrying load ≤ 1/3 of your body weight

Earthpads give your backpack its framework and protection for your packed stuff. At night, earth pads give you cushion for a good night's rest.
Waterproofing is essential in backpacking. In addition to the minor waterproof packs for your grouped stuff, there should also be a big plastic bag that will waterproof everything in your pack.

Secure all fragile and sharp objects.
Utilize all available space.
Always bring extra plastic bags. You'll use them for your wet clothes and muddy shoes on your way home.
It is good to sandwich fragile and rigid items between soft items.
If the expedition involves trekking at night, the headlamp should be readily accessible. 

Things you usually forget to bring:
  1. slippers/sandals
  2. towel
  3. toothbrush/toothpaste
  4. knife/can opener
  5. arm warmer
  6. shades
Butane canisters should be vertical.
You may transfer bottled liquor into lighter containers

Avoid bumping or jolting your pack. Something might break inside.
When not camping, it is good to store your stuff (e.g. tent, sleeping bag, hammock etc) in your pack.

Always use your backpack cover! Baggage compartments in buses are not squeaky clean! Your pack will be stained. They also waterproof your pack.
Secure your buckles. Someone might step on them and break them.
Cinch your compression straps and snug down lid (top load) straps after packing to stabilize the load and reduce load shift.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Planning and Research

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
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.

Pack 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.

Monday, June 13, 2011


LIFE is a COIN. On one side is RELIGION; on the other, SCIENCE! The ridge that circumscribes and links the two sides is BUSINESS! And the metal of which the coin is made is PHILOSOPHY!

And GLOBAL WARMING can be explained by life's four facets!

RELIGION would either say:
God will never let the Earth vanish! Despair no more my flock for you are in God's hand! Global warming will never end God's creation!
Because of man's wickedness, God shalt once again wash the face of the Earth! The waters will rise and the earth shall devour every unclean creature that creepeth on its face! And the righteous shalt inherit all the good things in Heaven; the wicked shall be forever damned in Hell! Fear not my child for it is the Will of thy Father!
(in a Buddhist/Hindu perspective)
If you want to save the Earth, be a vegetarian! The more vegetarians, the higher the demand for vegetables! The more vegetables, the more oxygen breathed out into the atmosphere. Stop raising and butchering the holy cows and pigs and chickens! They breathe out carbon dioxide! But Al Gore will never support this advocacy because he gets a lot of money from Ronald McDonald and the poultry in Kentucky! So I’ll just sit here and do my meditation! Ahhummmmm…..ahhummmmm….ahhummmmm!

A Chemist would say:
Life is just a freakish coincidence! It is the bi-product of the harmony of The Trinity—Nitrogen, Oxygen and the Holy Carbon! And these elements will be destroyed neither by the melting of ice caps nor human mortality. One of the nitrogen atoms in your body probably came from the nasal discharge of the extinct Irish elk. And one carbon atom in my brain could have been a part of Plato’s thick eyebrows. These elements don’t actually die with the dying of a protein-based organism. If you want to know how particles are destroyed, talk to the physicist!

A Biologist would say:
Humans are just an interesting freak of nature! There is no LIFE (bios as the Greeks call it)! There is only LIFE AS WE KNOW IT TODAY! Billions of years ago, the earth was too hot to be inhabitable. God bless the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) which feasted on the heat of the prokaryotic earth. The blue green algae pumped enormous amounts of oxygen (the metabolic bi-product of cyanobacteria) into the air that created the primitive atmosphere. This was the beginning of the aerobic-based life on earth. Organisms that were allergic to oxygen were decimated, if not annihilated from the face of the earth. May they all rest in peace and give way to oxygen-dependent humans! The earth was not originally meant for carbon-based organisms. It’s a cycle! For some billion years, one class of existence ruled the earth and during another billion years another form of organism will flourish. Let global warming take its course! Don’t impede the natural cycle of the earth!

A Geologist would say:
What’s all this fuss on global warming?! It’s just a speck on the blueprint of geological cataclysm! The earth will vanish if it is to vanish! And the effects of global warming (which The Kyoto Protocol labeled as threats) don’t compare to the capacity of the Pacific Ring of Fire to submerge the Philippine archipelago in deep water! The earth is in a constant cycle of cooling down and heating up! The Last Glacial Maximum happened in the time of the modern man but luckily, Al Gore wasn’t there to create fear among earth’s denizens. But life still subsisted after that! During that time, the ocean levels dropped significantly! If there is something wrong with the rising of sea levels there is also something wrong with its dropping. But what really is the ideal ocean level? Is there really?     

A Physicist would say:
Everything is relative! I’m busy colliding electrons with positrons! I want to figure out how to convert 100% of a certain mass into energy. Another war is about to happen and I am to assume a very significant role. This war will change the face of the earth more dramatically than will this global warming hysteria! Check the electrical activity in your brain you might suffer epilepsy just wasting your time thinking about global warming. 

And here’s what BUSINESS has got to say about global warming:
The Cold War has ended, let’s create another enemy! Let’s instill fear among billions of people across the globe and with this fear let’s create global domination. Now that we’ve shut up William Gray, you start Greenpeace and I’ll start the paper empire. Humans, by nature, would do anything to survive. A donation of one million dollars to Greenpeace wouldn’t hurt because mass extinction is on the other side of the scale. That’s what we do best! We create a demand and we sell the merchandise demanded. And fear creates a demand for survival. The whole world will soon be a unified marketplace and the merchandise we’re going to be exclusively selling there is SURVIVAL!

And PHILOSOPHY…Ah Philos Sofia!
She won’t say anything! She just told you this story!

And the poor LAYMAN…Oh! Should I even continue telling the sad lot that befell this creature?!
The LAYMAN will just listen to any of the four. With his eagerness to ACT instead of THINK, he will make the first step! And this single step could either be a virtue or a mistake depending on which of the four dictums he adheres to! Most often the layman is a victim of the ridge (business) where religion meets science. And so the layman will start planting trees! He will work harder so that he can make a donation to Greenpeace! He will switch off his lights for one hour because doing so makes him feel he is righteous and concerned! After all, that’s what ABS-CBN said! Indeed there is no greater motivation for humans than fear garnished with vanity! And this is enough to blind a bright-eyed layman! He will start banning plastic bags in Muntinlupa City and start using paper bags not knowing that paper bags demand for and cut thousands of trees everyday while plastic bags are just innocent suspects of the death of trees! He will sing to the tune of Jack Johnson’s Reduce Reuse Recycle while the paper placards that he is holding up can barely be reused and recycled! And when asked “How does plastic destroy mother nature?”, he will just say “Ask Greenpeace!” and sing again Reduce Reus Recycle when in fact, plastic materials can be reused and recycled seventy and seven times!
And when confronted with the bitter realization of his being conned, the layman would just say Ano naman ang maimumungkahi mong solusyon? Ang hirap kasi sayo salita ka lang nang salita. Wala ka namang ginagawa!
But in fact, who needs a solution when there really is no problem? Why would you address a problem when the problem is fabricated and invented? 

Friday, June 10, 2011


Elements of Backpacking Nutrition
1.       Main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
2.       Trail food
3.       Camp Water
4.       Trail water/drink
5.       Necessary ingredients (salt, pepper, oil etc)
6.       Socials stuff (booze and pulutan) (optional)
7.       Hydrite and Puritabs/Aquatabs (optional)

Secondary Elements of Meal Planning
1.       Cook set
2.       Stove
3.       Fuel (butane; solid alcohol; denatured alcohol etc)
4.       Utensils (spoon, fork, spatulas, can opener, knife etc)
5.       Cups and Plates (pot covers could make good plates)
6.       Water containers
7.       Garbage management stuff (tissue; garbage bag; cellophane/vinyl bags to wrap your plates with before putting food on them to do away with the washing)

Why Plan a Meal?
1.       To make sure that everyone is sufficiently nourished. Undernourishment could lead to injuries or casualty. Some climbers pass out in the middle of the trail due to deficiency of certain nutrients. If electrolytes (sodium, potassium etc.) are not replaced, this could lead to severe dehydration and/or cramps.
2.       To ease up the trek. Food is a part of your load. Extraneous or unnecessary items are additional burden. This could slow you down or lead you to an unsuccessful climb.
3.       To make the trek enjoyable, easier and less strenuous. Good and generous amount of trail food makes you forget about your tiredness for a moment. 
4.       To celebrate the journey. Socials is a celebration even before the event culminates. Although an almost indispensable part of any socials, booze may weaken a climber the day after. Drunkenness or intoxication (of alcohol or weed) could also lead a climber to jump off Buruwisan Falls at night! A good celebration is when good music, stories and jokes are shared and when intoxicating substances are just enough to make you feel good (or spill out secrets) so as to prevent fights, injury or casualty.

Where to Buy?
It is good to do the grocery shopping in the city. Very often, there is no or limited supply of goods at the jump-off. However, I sometimes buy some supplies at the jump-off so that in my own little way I can help the commerce of the locality. But in one of my Mt Maculot climbs, the fun in the road trip made our group forget that we had not bought rice yet. Fortunately there was a 7-11 at the campsite.

When to Buy?
Ideally, the day before the trek is the latest time to buy stuff. This gives room for buying other stuff that you may have forgotten to include in your shopping list. Buy butane gas whenever you have the chance even when you’re not climbing. Always have a stock of butane gas in your cupboard. This way you don’t annoy the team leader with the lines ‘Wala kasing bilihan sa may amin!’ or ‘Sarado na kasi kagabi!

What to Buy?
Foods should be rich in carbohydrates, protein and fats. Chocolate and sweets are good sources of energy. It is better if your drinks contain electrolytes to replace the potassium, sodium and other essential electrolytes you lose while trekking. Daing can do the trick too. Also avoid foods that have antagonistic effects to ‘good’ foods. Although caffeine can make you feel energized and less sluggish, diuretics (e.g. coffee and Cobra) may make you want to drink more water, which is not good in a dry mountain.
Always have the principle of minimalism in your mind. Think of foods that have minimal weight and require minimal space and water (and minimal impact to the environment). Foods that make you thirsty like biscuits and cookies are not very ideal trail foods. Foods that require minimal preparation time are great. Salted eggs are always in my backpack. Bottled foods and drinks should be transferred into lighter containers.
As mentioned in the video, ‘what to buy’ is determined by the destination and the length or duration of the journey. Good and ‘real’ foods are great! But there is no room for sinigang in a dry mountain unless you’re hiring a porter to carry more than enough water. Hot and spicy foods are great in places that are of near-freezing temperatures.
Foods with shorter shelf life should be consumed first. Tomatoes and other vegetables ripen easily when not exposed to air so buy the green ones. If you’re skeptical about the condition of your food, don’t eat it!

How Much to Buy?
Bring enough but not too much! Insufficient water and food could lead to dehydration or passing out. Too much food equals excess and unnecessary weight which could also lead to fatigue. Estimate well. In my case, a two-day-one-night expedition (with 3 meals) requires one-fourth kilo of rice. For an elevation gain of 500 meters, 100ml-300ml of trail water (+ optional hydrite or salt) is enough. Consuming too much water while trekking exhausts you more. Water discipline will be discussed further in another post.
The overall amount of food you need is determined by how many meals and how much trail food the trek is going to involve. Always group foods according to how they will be prepared during the expedition. Include in the groupings the necessary ingredients and condiments. This way, you can avoid bringing too much and too little.

Who will Buy and Who will Carry?
Members of the climb party should be assigned with different tasks. Everyone should responsibly perform their duties. At the (assembly) terminal, check whether all the necessary supplies are brought. In the load distribution, divide the supplies equitably (according to capacity) and not equally. Expenses should be divided equally. Sponsors are very much appreciated!

Food Preparation
Pre-cooked real foods are great. They taste real! They won’t require water and preparation time. A usual pre-cooked meal is adobo. It doesn’t spoil easily. Some boil meat at home and freeze it before packing. Then at the campsite you can turn it into any kind of meal. Foods which don’t have sauce also don’t spoil easily. I once packed lechon kawali and it still tasted like lechon kawali at the Los Baños peak of Mt Makiling. Goldilocks offers a variety of semi-real foods in foil/tetra packs. They’ve got dinuguan, laing and probably more.
Foods that require little preparation time are also recommended. Salted eggs and canned goods are common camp foods.
Always consider the little things that you need in the preparation of your menu. How can you fry if you don’t have oil and your pan is not Teflon coated? Bring enough fuel but not too much. One canister of butane gas for every group of three persons will do for a 3-meal trek.
Always set your camp kitchen at a safe distance from your tents. Clear the ground of weeds and other combustible materials before cooking. Always bring your stove and fuel. Avoid using firewood. Always secure sharp objects like knives and can openers. Always keep a trash bag handy.

Dispose of Waste Properly
Always bring down everything you brought up! When disposing of cans, open both ends and flatten them to minimize volume. Sharp objects should be layered with cardboard or tough plastic to prevent them from tearing the trash bag. Remove liquid first before putting trash into the trash bag. Keep the trash bag away from dew and animals so that they are easy to put away the following day. Avoid tying trash bags outside your backpacks. Twigs and thorns may rip them open and your trash will betray your tracks as bits and pieces of it fall one by one on the trail. In addition, any dangling object disrupts your balance and concentration. You may insert your dry trash bags beneath your backpack cover or inside your backpack. This is the reason why it is important to avoid dew and get rid of liquids from food before putting garbage into the trash bag. Seal the trash bag properly to avoid getting the stuff in your backpack dirty. Trash should also be divided among members of the group. Maarteneers don’t get invited to the next climb.

YOU deserve a holiday!
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