Thursday, November 10, 2011

MT. APO: Veni, Vidi, Vici

Mt Apo, 
Photo by Bong Maliwat
Four years ago, in April 2007, I climbed Mt. Apo with my hubby.  It was a very memorable climb for me because of two reasons:  first, it was my first time to go on a serious mountain climbing, not that I'd been on any  non-serious climb; second, I witnessed a young man drown to death in Lake Venado.

I've written about this in my Multiply, and I am re-posting the whole article here, with some revisions: 

Ian Caasi, that's the name of the boy who drowned, according to our porter, have come down from the peak and went straight to the cold lake with his friends, probably to cool down and get cleaned up.  (We ourselves had just arrived at the camp site from the seven-hour arduous walk from Lake Agco, the jump-off point where we stayed overnight. ) We saw them in the lake; they appeared to be having a great time.  I saw some figures swimming to and fro, and it even seemed like they were racing.  Then while we were pitching our tent we heard a commotion: people were shouting and running toward the lake.  One figure in the lake was waving his hands frantically, then disappeared.  The other was swimming toward him but returned to the bank for safety: he was starting to have cramps.  Another one jumped into the water to rescue the drowning person, but he surfaced not long after, empty-handed.  The water was too murky and too cold. And it was getting dark.  They could no longer find the man who sank at the bottom of the lake.  That man was still young, the son of the head of the mountaineering group that arrived at Lake Venado ahead of us.   Thirty minutes after all rescue attempts had failed and the boy's body didn't re-surface, he was declared dead.  Nobody could have survived under the freezing water that long.

The area where those mountaineers had pitched their tents was too quiet. Too grim.    The members of the group looked despondent.  Oh, who wouldn't be.  The death of the young lad seemed to have blanketed the area with darkness and have snuffed off  the enthusiasm that most of us brought to the climb.

 I felt a chill run down my spine.  The spirits in the lake had been disturbed, they said.  I looked at the peak.  It looked very foreboding--mighty, powerful, mysterious.  Why would people risk limbs and lives just to get there?  What's up there? After the seven hour trek from Lake Agco in Kidapawan, I now ask myself, why on earth am I here at almost ten thousand feet above sea level?

I didn't think I'd get through the night.  It was freezing despite an overlayer of wintercoat and  thick gloves we brought from our Beijing trip, as well as the double pairs of socks I had on.  I kept thinking what hypothermia was like.  Maybe it was like this.  

Morning Mist 
(Photo by Bong Maliwat)
When I got out of the tent the next morning, white  mist hovered over the lake, eerie, like ghost.  I overheard a local tell her companion that she thought she heard footsteps all over the place last night. I laughed in silence: of course there will be footsteps all over the place in the night, andami kayang tao ang nandito ngayon. May military pang dumating. 

After breakfast we secured our belongings and started our climb.  We had to reach the peak by lunch time so we could get back to the campsite before dark.  At first it was good, but after an hour I felt like giving up already.  I was having a hard time breathing.  My porter was just a few meters ahead of me.  A little girl never left my side.  I marveled at her stamina, despite the bottle of Royal Litro she was carrying, and a bag of goodies.  She didn't really ask me to buy from her, but after some time I bought two pieces of hard-boiled eggs from her, ate one and gave the other to my porter.  I would lie down on the grass or crouch under tall weeds and trees to hide from the sun, then struggle onward again.  From time to time I would look back down Lake Venado to see how the retrieval down there was progressing.  Two helicopters had arrived with scuba divers, and more military men.  People coming down would ask people going up about the incident.  Obviously, the grim story had been spread. 

The climb was getting tougher and tougher every minute.  I was feeling some heaviness on my chest, like something was weighing it down.  It was becoming difficult to breathe. At one point when we were resting I told my hubby to just go on and get to the top without me because I was slowing him down. At least one of us could get to the top.  So he went.  I still continued climbing but in my mind I said I'd stop once I meet my hubby on his way down from the peak.  But every person I met along the way who had been there would say, go on, it's not too far now, ten minutes more and you're there.  For every ten minutes that I'd progress up another happy face would be trotting along downhill and tell me, only ten minutes more, keep on, keep on.  So up I went, most of the time on all my fours, until I reached a clearing. It was just five more minutes away from the peak via a steep ascent.   

Then I saw my hubby coming down.  He was happy I made it afterall, so he climbed back to the top with me.  Our porters were grinning widely. Like my triumph was theirs as well.  We took pictures for our memoirs and took in all the sights our eyes could reach from up there. 

My hubby decided to 
conquer another peak, as there were three (?), while I stayed behind, chatting with a young fellow who  plopped beside me like a worn-out flat tire. 

The next challenge, the descent.  Because you're now so tired, you'd rather roll down or fling yourself into the air to get to the bottom, back to the campsite in no time at all.  But it was during the  downhill walk that I got to notice the flora of the mountain.  There were all sorts of ferns.  I wanted to take some with me but I knew they wouldn't make it. They'd die before I could even get back to Lake Agco.  I noticed, too, that there were very few trees around.  I saw several stumps that looked burnt.  I learned  from the porter that those were indeed burnt stumps as a result of a recent fire.  So that was why there were few trees around.   I also learned that some mountaineers who were with us at that time were there to do clean-up and tree-planting.

When we got back to the camp, as we emerged from behind tall green grasses, we were met by a loud applause from people who were already in the clearing.  A great welcome from those who themselves had conquered.  It was a moment of affirmation.  So everytime somebody would emerge from behind the tall weeds and  giant fern fronds, I would also welcome them with a clap, like everyone else was doing.  It was a very sincere moment of appreciation from people you didn't even know.  Everybody shared the same feeling of triumph: Veni, vidi, vici.

Caasi's body had not been found yet.  The rescuers said the water was too cold and murky, and they lacked certain equipment.  The helicopter had left and would be coming back the next day.  

The next day was our schedule to leave Lake Venado and head back for home.  It was like a great exodus.  So many people trailing one another, some silent, some chirpy. I found particular trails extremely difficult, like that part they call  80 degrees, or something.  I have fear of height, somehow, so to look down was a great source of terror for me.  There were also some kiss-the-wall trails. You have to hug the cliff as you trudge along narrow ledge made of bamboo: one slip and you fall down a bed of boulders some ten meters below. But despite all these difficulties, which was actually deja vu on the reverse (I'd been through the same trail going up), the thought of getting back to Lake Agco gave me so much to look forward to and be happy about.  Lake Agco meant only a few hours away from home.

On our way down we met reporters from GMA-7 going up to get a scoop on Caasi's death.  My hubby teased them for going to such great length as trekking seven long hours just to get a story.  It was indeed what you call legwork!

Along the way we passed by some pipes spewing fumes, obviously some geothermal activity by the PNOC which was operating in the area.  Likewise there were some very shallow brooks bubbling with hot water that emitted an unpleasant sulfuric stench.

Soon we were seeing the bend leading to a clearing that led to the main road. Some teenagers who had started to trek  back ahead of us were already converging in the bukana, resting or waiting for transport.  We passed them by and walked straight on to Lake Agco, which was a few meters farther away.  That was where we left our car a few days ago, and we hoped it was still there waiting for us faithfully.

When we got there in Lake Agco, a lot of people who were non-climbers filled up the two pools: the cold pool (a naturally- flowing cold spring which was turned into a tiled swimming pool) and the hot pool (dark murky  hot water which they said was good for the body).  We didn't go into any of the pool; instead, we headed for the cold showers, but since there were too many people using the showers I decided to wait till I got home to clean up. 

Anyway, I was too, too, too tired to even bother how I looked or smelled.  But amazingly, we didn't smell of sweat.  Our clothes were heavily soiled, though.  After a round of beer for the boys (hubby and the two porter-guides), we drove back home.  Along the stretch of highway in Kidapawan, there were lots of eateries that sold goat dishes.  We stopped at one such place to eat.  As we ate, we heard the news on TV: the body of Ian had been recovered. 

One of our porters, himself son of a veteran porter  and climber of Mt. Apo. 
 A talkative young man who told of jokes to keep us cheerful along the way.

Mt. Apo Joke

 -----as told by our porter-guide: 
An American asked his porter  how long it will take to get to Mt. Apo's peak.  The porter was a native of the place, and he didn't have a wide English vocabulary.  But somehow they two understood each other.  Here's how their conversation went:

American: What time should we start our trek?
Porter: Sir, good morning, sir!
American:  So what time are we going to reach the peak if we go straight on?
Porter: Sir, good evening, sir!

This one I got from here:

Mt. Apo Jokes

Guro: Juan, saan makikita ang Mt. Apo?
Juan: Aba, ewan ko sa inyo sir! Kung saan-saan nyo pinaglalalagay, tapos ako tatanungin nyo! Umayos nga kayo sir!  ####

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