Monday, August 8, 2011

Kat Ocol on "Is Mountaineering Sexist?"

...I climb mountains because of other people's stories that I want to retrace - the people they've met and the experiences and lessons they took home with them.

I am a kid at heart and I am fond of listening to stories from locals wherever I visit

I first heard of Kat Ocol from the Mt Guiting Guiting PaSu assistant in Tampayan back in 2009. That time, I and my two buddies had just finished our grueling 2-day-1-night trek in the same mountain via the traditional Tampayan route. But according to the PaSu assistant, this mighty woman Kat Ocol was leading a traverse trek over the same mountain! I had heard of their plan and I had known that another team was doing the same attempt around that time. It would be the first of its kind (an all-mountaineers group not supported by the local government attempting a traverse trek in Mt Guiting-Guiting). Personally, I think apart from her passion for adventurism, she surpasses a lot of men when it comes to planning and leadership!
Kat Ocol in one of her climbs in Mt Guiting-Guiting
This woman, who never posts pictures of herself, remained an enigma to me until last month (during the awards night for the Nomads Peak Competition where she was given some major awards) when I finally got to meet her in person.
She started climbing in 2007 and under her belt are the following feats:
Four climbs in Mt Guiting-Guiting including the traverse expedition she led in 2009 and a solo climb in 2010.
She has also done a Luzon 321 and a Mindanao 321 expedition.
And this year, in the Nomads Peak Competition, she was one of the recipients of the 32/7 Award (32 peaks in 7 days).
When she’s not climbing, she’s either swimming or doing martial arts. She has won gold and bronze medals in different swimming competitions in the past and last year she was the sole finisher of the 3.5K swim in Gabriel’s Symphony Ironman Relay. She aims to complete a full Ironman next year.
She also has won gold and silver medals in inter-school and national Taekwondo competitions. She also actively practices aikido and kung fu.
Kat with the other recipients of the Nomads 32/7 Award


Alias: (if any): Kat
Age or age range: 25 (and proud to be twenteen five)
City of Residence: Las Piñas City
Hometown: Las Piñas City
Profession: Human Resource Analyst
Website/blog: None as of now


When was the first time you climbed?
I started my formal mountaineering activity last June 2007, a few days after my birthday. I tried to climb on my birthday for a change and I never thought I'd like it.

Who/what inspired you to climb?
Hmmmmm.. first, other people's outdoors photos and stories. Back then, I was browsing summit photos and itineraries in and Google. Whenever I read a good story or see breath-taking photos, it was like, "Hey! I wanna climb this mountain." Perhaps, this was the story that struck me the most:
Mt Halcon is included in my bucket list because of this story.

Why do you climb?
I climb mountains because of other people's stories that I want to retrace - the people they've met and the experiences and lessons they took home with them.

Kat during her solo climb in Mt Guiting-Guiting

The adventurer Kat

What are the things that you’ve done that you think many men can’t do?
I don't know. I've met a lot of talented people in the climbs I have joined but I cannot compare myself with the rest. Most of the people I meet have something I aspire to have and/or I have something they aspire to have.

What has been the riskiest thing you’ve done?
It has always been risky to lead a team whether this may be a fun or an exploration climb. You are responsible for the lives of the people you lead.

Do you sometimes wish you were a man because being a woman impedes you from doing what male backpackers can do?
I have asked myself that question a lot of times ever since I was a kid - why I was masculine in spite of my gender. A few years ago, back when I was "soul-searching", I met a meditation guru who told me that I was a warrior in my past life and have reincarnated in this world as a woman to teach the people around me a lesson. Since then I stopped asking the question. Instead, I have been searching for answers on how to untap this "gift" I should put to good use. 

What can women do in mountaineering that men can’t?
Aside from being highly flexible, we don't start brawls at the latter end of the night socials. We are peaceful beings but can be fierce when provoked. I have proven my social sciences professor's claim to be true—men are the top rumor-mongers and not women.

In your opinion, are there gender-related risks in travelling/backpacking/trekking?
Yes. Physiologically, women are not built to carry heavy loads. That's why there have been bags which were built for a woman's physique to lessen the load. The hip belt serves another purpose aside from balancing the weight. It also binds the person's reproductive system and other internal organs around it, to hold them in place and lessen the risk of hernia. Unlike men, who can just walk into a department store to buy supporters, women have to improvise for comfort and protection. So I teach the women I meet to bind their tummies with a cotton cloth or buckle their hip belts tight.
Also, proper breathing should not be concentrated in the chest area but in the center of our bodies or the "tantien"—to be specific, in the navel - just how babies and children breathe and dying people breathe as the body's automatic response in "chasing" air. If we concentrate our breathing in the chest area, the heart takes in the pressure which may result in future heart complications. Y’see, the heart and lungs are protected by the rib cage and the lungs' diaphragm is placed below the chest area because the heart and lungs can only withstand a specific amount of pressure and the diaphragm's purpose is to absorb it. This is important stuff to men as they are more prone to heart diseases than women.
These are the things which are not taught in BMC's which I have learned from my sifu. I am happy that he allowed me to share all of these to my fellow mountaineers especially to women.

What has been your greatest accomplishment as a backpacker/adventurer/trekker?
I am a kid at heart and I am fond of listening stories from locals wherever I visit. Perhaps my greatest achievement was to gather different myths and legends told by the elders I interacted with, most of which can never be found in National Bookstore's children's Adarna books. If I have the time and resources in the future, I might write and publish some of them.

What is your ultimate mountaineering dream?
I have always been fascinated by K2 (Karakoram) way before I saw Vertical Limit. Then when I first climbed Mt Apo in 2008, The Tagabawa chieftain told me that katkat means ‘climb’ in their language. Surprisingly, that's how my dad calls me! Is it destiny? Who knows?

Who do you look up to or respect in the local mountaineering scene? (International if no one in the country satisfies your standards)
There have been a lot of people who inspired me. One of the people I highly respect is the highly talented, Sir Benjie Jovero. He's not only my mentor in mountaineering but my photography coach as well. I also received my first informal lessons on acupuncture from him.

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?
Yes I am aware! When I was still starting, an experienced mountaineer told me that I couldn’t join their Mt Guiting-Guiting climb because I am a woman. So I trained hard and joined different groups until I led my own group to the said mountain. 
It's not just in mountaineering but in other fields as well. It's chauvinism which comes into play. Most men just can’t stand to be outdone by girls. I highly respect men who value women and their strengths and weaknesses.

What should men know about women who climb?
Given enough time and opportunity, we can equal them. Men and women are equal but not equivalent because we have different strengths and weaknesses.

Do you think Mountaineering is Sexist? 
My answer to this one is not related to the previous ones I have said. Anyway, mountaineering was sexist BEFORE. With more women getting interested in the outdoors and the Filipino society being more open-minded and confident of women's capabilities, it is inevitable that the Filipino mountaineering culture will produce more women-legends in the future, to follow in the footsteps of the Everest girls. They were the ones who broke the idea that women can't equal men in mountaineering.

What is your message (if any) to women who aspire to climb?
In Chinese medicine, it is proven that in physical activities, any body part which has sufficient amount of oxygen learns the fastest. Women were built with stronger hearts than men to sustain life or lives within her, to endure child birth and to withstand child rearing. So the female gender is not an excuse for becoming weak. If you pour out and open up your heart into the things you love—whether this be mountaineering or any other sport—you will definitely succeed!


  1. Nice! Saludo kai idol Maam Kat! -x

  2. More climbs to you ma'am Kat! Hope to join you one day! =)

  3. a woman of substance and depth... my high regards for ma'am Kat Ocol go beyond words...

  4. Wow! Kay won awards for her climbs? Good job! It's not surprising she was a warrior in a previous life because anyone who personally knows her can attest to her determined spirit. She's an inspiration! Hope you continue to light paths for future mountaineers Kat! Blessed be~

  5. you might wanna verify the guiting guiting traverse record of kat.. you should be balanced in reporting any mountain news...

  6. @anonymous: my bad. it wasn't the first of its kind. Apparently, UPM had the earliest recorded attempt but AMCI had the first recorded success. That's as per data. However, I've read a similar account elsewhere saying, all traverse attempts except for that one led by the local DENR ended in failure. Which made me say, this was the first attempt by an all-climbers team. I should be more careful when presenting information next time. I never knew someone anonymous would actually put stock in what I say in my blog. So in than line, thanks for the input and thanks for dropping by.

  7. per pamb/denr

    1. pamb/denr
    2. amci
    3. g2 re-opening (maguiting)
    4. emman palacio's group (few days after)

    - feel free to contact andy regla or sir remy robiso to verify the said info


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