The One with the Dirty Tent

Today, I was able to finally wash my tent.

This might sound like the most ordinary boring task, but if I tell you that this particular tent survived the Ambo typhoon last June 2 on top of Mt. Maculot in Batangas, that dried mud at least an inch thick is still very evident (mongo seeds can probably survive if planted) and that when you take the tent out of its bag, an old and musky smell will invade your nose (as if you’ve gone underground and been buried 10 feet deep) then you would definitely agree with me that cleaning my tent after almost 3 months is one major, if not extraordinary, feat.

It’s also almost 3 months since I’ve set foot on a mountain and saying I miss Mother Nature is an understatement. People often wonder why we climb mountains. What can I say? Because it’s there, yes. Because I revel at the feel of being more alive than ever more so as sweat trickles down my body and my muscles scream at each step. Because every climb is a different story and a different experience to remember it by and every trail gives me a different perspective of life but that wherever you may come from, the view is always, always better from the top. As I watch the dirt wash off my tent, I felt a pang of memories from my most memorable and epic climbs in the Philippines flood back to me:

1. Mt. Pulag Traverse
Kabayan, Benguet (2922 MASL)
Here, I thought I died and gone to heaven, but the excited thump of my heartbeart says otherwise. And no, it wasn’t only because we took the more challenging, but more scenic Akiki-Ambangeg Traverse (aptly called the Killer Trail). But because when I finally reached the summit all I could do was stopped breathing and stare in awe at the phenomenal sunrise and sea of clouds. No one should be allowed to die without seeing this piece of heaven on earth.

2. Mt. Amuyao Traverse
Mountain Province and Ifugao (2702 MASL)
If in Pulag I thought I died and gone to heaven, here, our 4-day traverse of Mt. Amuyao (from Barlig to Batad) was the true killer trail. The 21 kilometer stretch consisted of knee-challenging steep ascents, muddy and butt- numbing descents and a lot of balancing acts in the midst of seemingly endless rice terraces (yes, I’ll never be able to look at supposedly harmless rice terraces the same way again). Endurance, both physical and emotional was tested by this climb which still tops the list as my most challenging climb, ever.

3. Mt. Arayat Traverse
Arayat, Pampanga (1030 MASL)
This mountain is very close to my heart. I was only nine when my father passed away, and I have very few memories of him. He grew up in San Fernando and Arayat, and whenever I pass by this mountain on my way home to where I grew up in Tarlac, I’ve often imagined him, if not climbing this mountain, at least exploring the surrounding area and looking up at the same mountain. I never imagined I would one day climb it and much more traverse it from North to South Peak.

4. Mt. Batulao Night Trek
Nasugbu, Batangas (811 MASL)
If someone told me three years ago when I started climbing that I will be doing a night trek (this means start climbing at 11 pm with only a headlamp, full moon, lots of guts and a teeny, little bit of crazy as your guide) I would have said, no way. Why? There’s no sense in doing a night trek at all unless you’re already atop the mountain, in the middle of the night, have seen a ghost and obviously need to come running down as fast as your legs can go. But I did.. three years after.. and I can say my life as a mountaineer will never be complete without the experience of a night trek. It’s not only different because I’m used to climbing with daylight, but at night, the air is cooler, the effort might be double but the exhaustion is far lesser.

5. Mt. Balingkilat- Cinco Picos- Silanguin Cove Traverse
Sitio Cawag Settlement, Subic Town, Zambales (1100 MASL)
One miss, we miss you.” – a constant joke among mountaineers during really treacherous treks like this one that includes crossing the ridges from Balingkilat to Cinco Picos. It was a 14-hour continuous trek (and this was only Day 1 of a 2-day traverse) which according to the Aeta Chieftain (the indigenous people based in Zambales), has never been done before. Here my shoes finally gave up on me and I almost gave up on myself. I lost count on how many times I was tempted to pitch my tent mid-way through the trek and call for a helicopter. Twice, I almost lost my footing while crossing a cliff. I’ve never been more happy to arrive at a campsite when we finally got there after a straight 14 hours of trekking.

Whenever I leave home for a climb my mother often frustratingly comment out loud that will I ever run out of mountains to climb? I have to tell her that my answer is no, and that most probably my knees will run out on me first before that happens (and yes from time to time- much to her annoyance, I’ll probably be too lazy and will take months again, before I clean my tent). They say you don’t really conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself. And that it’s not really the altitude but the attitude that measures each mountain you experience. I could go on and on with my quotes on mountain climbing or I could just say we’re simply one of the insane ones. But why I do climb, one of my favorite books, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer couldn’t have said it any better: “…I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions…” Once, twice, thrice and I go on as long as there is a mountain to climb.


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