August 05, 2013

halcon: in a space between a blink and a tear (pt1)

  • before reading this post, it is highly advisable to read my hoping my HALFcon will be whole someday blog entry so you'll know what my previous halcon adventure was like.
  • annotations on learnings are highlighted rather than adding more side comments.
  • some names have been omitted per request. should there be more names that needs to be deleted, feel free to message me.
  • i am not on adsense so i am not cheesing for hits.

"When you're at the bottom -- Tony once told me -- at the foot of the wall, and you look up, you ask yourself: How can anyone climb that? Why would anyone want to? But hours later when you're at the top looking down, you've forgotten everything. Except the one person you promised you would come back to." - Luise Fellner, The North Face

my feet and my foggy dslr
moving on

per statistics, one of the most read articles in my blog was my HALFcon misadventures. being the dangerously determined person that i am, there definitely will be a sequel but i did not expect for it to happen way too soon. the good thing about this sequel is i am now able to match places with their correct names. for instance, i've mistaken lantuyan for dulangan. i was also able to meet some familiar faces -- the lady who served me kapeng barako while she discouraged me to climb; and, if i am not mistaken, one of our guides was a former mangyan chieftain. the greatest change i've seen was calapan. before, there was only one jollibee in the area. now, there are two jollibees and i think i saw a mcdonald's too. indeed, calapan has progressed way too fast!

then of course, there's what everyone's been waiting for in a sequel -- the final conclusion to my adventure. did i reach the summit?

to tell you honestly and proudly, no, i did not. but that doesn't mean i would be sulking over defeat and would be posting bitterly for failing after the very long wait. after i reflected on what happened during our climb, i realized that my climb was not a defeat after all. i had to be there. everyone had to. mt halcon will always be there (not unless the government would legalize its quarrying) and i can always come back anytime [mistake #1: climbed during habagat season] and with the right people [mistake #2: no comprehensive profiling of organizers was done]. the lessons we've learned during those 6 long days was what motivated me to come home; thus, i write further.

halcon's opening

the philippine mountaineering community knows that halcon was closed for 5 years. for those who haven't read my previous post on halcon yet, we were the unlucky team who gambled to climb as soon as it was closed. the moratorium was due to two things: 1) to rejuvenate the mountain after the many massive climbs it had endured and 2) as dictated by the mangyan diwatas (elemental gods and goddesses) fearing that they (the diwatas) would take more lives if they fail to ban the visitors from desecrating their sacred grounds. 

there have been silent exploration climbs last 2011 and 2010, which i have rejected fearing they were illegal backdoor entries. i disciplined myself from being tantalized by the offers as a respect to the mangyan chieftains i spoke with. when i received a halcon climb invite from a facebook friend, i gave him a "go" after he showed me a scanned copy of the permit from the municipal council. coincidentally, i was about to cancel another hiking trip plotted on the same dates due to landslides up north. then there's the thought that there may be no chance for me to climb it again next year since my plans to emigrate the country are in the works. with all the synchronicity, i believed, the climb was meant for me. 

when we arrived mindoro that friday morning, we found out that halcon officially opened last february 2013, with the blessings of the mangyan chieftain. however, they are contemplating on closing the mountain again on 2014. reason is, after neptali lazarro died of hypothermia on 1994, prana escalante drowned at the dulangan river on 2004. since there was a 10-year gap in between their untimely demise, the people fear that someone will die next year. i wouldn't know when this will be confirmed but i am sure someone will let all the mountaineers know when the time comes.

the guides and porters at the lantuyan jump off and some of our team eating breakfast

kambal na bato resort and lantuyang bridge. 
by 07:00 we arrived at the lantuyan jump off. as far as i can remember, there was just one hut with one lady with whom everyone registers to before they enter the lantuyan bridge. she was also the same woman who barred us from climbing halcon 5 years ago. perhaps the resort was built as an alternative to those who were planning to climb the mountain but wasn't aware of the moratorium. or maybe, the local government was preparing for the influx of mountaineers on its re-opening that building a small resort would generate a lot of income. normally, the common side trip after a mt halcon cimb is puerto galera, which is a 2-hour jeepney ride from calapan town proper. with an entrance fee of 35.00 php per head, the place is definitely the quickest stop for a very tired person looking for a decent place to rest. 

while the organizers were setting up the guides and the porters, most of us took our breakfast. in this climb, i had some of my facebook buddies as part of our team, dennis, matelle, and gp. the 4 of us, the main organizer, and some others who i have only met at the event consisted the mid team. rose, who was supposed to be my climb buddy and my tent mate, was accommodated by the blaze team during the last minute. the 5 of us were long time chat mates and dayhike buddies but halcon was our first time to become camp mates. i also met as part of the lead team, sir migs, one of yabag's leaders, an expert in jungle survival. at the sight of him being member of the blaze team, i was confident that our climb will be in good hands.

matelle, dennis, gp, and rose at the lantuyang jump off
cross training with gcc
after my back injury, which happened on the second quarter of 2012 and some change in priorities mostly related to getting a side-job in the arts, i had a hard stop in climbing. the idle time we had prior to starting our trek was spent on catching up and telling stories of past adventures and how we all prepared for this climb. most of my buddies joined the training climbs the organizers prepared. as for myself, juggling among 2 jobs, my fiance and myself's out of country and in country trips, photography seminars, and family, i had to train on my own. i did a series of dayhikes at pico de loro, batulao, and talamitan on sundays with 3kg load of pebbles on top of my normal dayhike load as i cannot do a full camp training. i needed the load to simulate as if i was carrying a long pack but i determined myself to finish a dayhike. then, when i was in china, there have been a series of dayhikes at the gubeikou great wall ruins together with my fiance, who at that time, didn't know i was preparing for halcon. while not climbing on weekends, gcc (before i quit - long story) was my steady training as i needed to sustain a 10000-step count by jogging. if not, i swam at the village pool ensuring i accomplish at least 50 laps or just bike around if my feet hurt from past days' activities so just to beat the competition's weekly mini challenges. 

matelle, told me that this climb would finally conclude my halfcon. however, knowing the feedback heard from old school mountaineers and accounts read over the internet, i shouldn't be that confident. mt halcon -- they say -- is a place not to be trifled with. while nested in the philippines, it has its own weather, own hardships, and mysteries. but then again, there have been mountaineers who died or got severely injured recently in minor mountains. adrian alba died at wawa on 2011; this year, victor ayson died at maculot, a lady was lost in a back door climb at banahaw, then, joey vergara was shot to the shin with a hunter's trap at malarayat. why would and should i be that confident? my first ascent to mt guiting guiting, despite being at my best climbing condition, also wasn't a success due to weather conditions. i told her, "let's see. i just got back to mountaineering." whatever i'll be getting from this experience will be a good experience. after all, halcon will still be the best judge of one's preparedness and she is not a lenient one. 

an anticipated delay

preparing for the trek
after almost half an hour of chit chat, the climb organizers huddled everyone. there was a problem with the guides and porters of lantuyan according to the head organizer. he told everyone that what he knew was the ratio of the guides and porters was 5 is to 1 but he was told lately it should have been 5 is to 2 as a new rule with only one of the two guides will be the porter. he added further that if we follow the porter assignments as discussed online, instead of having 6 porters we would be climbing with 9, which is far too many considering that some would be paid without carrying a single load. he then decided to call a new jeepney to carry us to another jump off, mayabig, where they previously climbed [mistake #3: we should've proceeded by sharing load or cashing out for extra guides. or we should've already proceeded to mayabig. itinerary was 6 hours delayed]. he then cheered us up by saying that mayabig is quite easier compared to lantuyan. the latter's trail is a drastic ascent from 0 masl while the former is a gradual ascent from a higher jump off point but quite longer. what i knew back then from the silent climbers of 2010 and 2011, they were proposing a ratio of 3 is to 1. perhaps during their secret invitationals, many people have already rejected the proposed rule being too expensive, thus the 5 is to 2 ratio at lantuyan. obviously, it is expensive but good if you're talking about safety. the majority agreed to the organizers decision and proceeded on taking a or eating more for breakfast while waiting for the chartered jeep.  

another half an hour passed, our jeepney came. it was smaller compared to the first one we rode so we had to squeeze ourselves together with some of the bags inside, or go for a top load adventure if ready to be sun-kissed (or charred). as we were about to leave, the lead organizer escorted a very familiar lady to the front seat of the jeep -- the same lady i met 5 years ago is now lantuyan's barangay chairwoman. i heard her name is cherry. according to some sources, she was the one who organized the mangyan community at lantuyan. all frequenters of mt halcon knew her very well as she was the one securing the permits and guides prior to climbing the said mountain. i also heard from some of the people who climbed the mountain, she also owns the new resort at the jump off. as we were all about to leave, she kept on nagging at us to be aware of the local government rules moving forward. i can't believe that at that point and time, she was still hindering me and everyone from climbing mt halcon. yet, being some sort of authority at mt halcon, everyone has to follow. at that time, the head organizer was sending an sms to sir minic, who was our main contact person at halcon.

the long ride commenced in our cramped transportation. clueless about what's going to happen while cherry was with us, we talked about aborting the climb and going to mt malasimbo and puerto galera instead so as not to waste the filed leaves and recover some extra days. malasimbo also has a brood of limatiks (leeches) and coming from malasimbo, no one wouldn't know we skipped halcon as we could always lie about running out of battery power, jinxed by the earth elementals, or forgetting to bring a cam. a limatik bite scars plus coming from mindoro is all it takes to tell everyone we've climbed halcon without posting a single photo on facebook *wink*

by 09:00, we arrived at the police station where cherry dropped off thinking we're really heading for puerto galera. we also registered at the police station while waiting for sir minic. then lately, we found out that we are to alight to be transferred to the smallest jeep we rode in the series of transfers. the small jeep took us to mayabig jump off where we'll meet our new guides. during the ride, i overhead some conversations from minic and the organizer. at that time, we were supposed to be at the first river stop from mayabig [mistake #4: advise from a contact person to take the mayabig jump off was not followed by the organizer]. he (minic) did not expect that he would meet us at the town proper. counting off the hours lost, we were 6 hours delayed from our original itinerary as the plan was to start trek at 0430. he added that the 5 is to 2 issue has always been like that at lantuyan and we should have had our itinerary to start at mayabig in the first place to avoid delays.

we arrived at the mayabig jump off at 10:00 where we met the guides. the organization of guides and porters at the mayabig trail had a 5 is to 1 rule. some of us had their early lunch while the rest took refreshments at the nearby sari sari stores after the long exhaustive ride transfers. as soon as the guides and porters took their load assignments, the organizers and sir minic huddled us. as his send off to the entire team, sir minic said, "kapag mangyan ang kasama niyo, nasa mabuti kayong mga kamay." (when you're with the mangyans, you are in good hands). the plan was to reach aplaya by 2100 at best case scenario and 2300 at worst, depending on the pace of the entire team. if we reach aplaya (camp 1) at night, we would be commencing with the normal day 2 itinerary as posted in the invite. if not, we'll have to wake  up very early in the morning to chase the lost time. after our small huddle, one of the climbing leads, dan, led a lengthly prayer. as everyone positioned themselves to form a circle, i slowly realized we were a very large group, more than what was posted in facebook which was 20 [mistake #5: massive climb - too many participants]. at facebook, not everyone who clicked "going" really joined. maybe i was just too focused at the friends i will spend my climb with that it was only at our prayer that i actually counted. 

children playing at the mayabig river

we started our trek at 10:30. the weather was humid. the clouds signified rainfall; yet, by how i felt the heat, i sensed that we'll first endure a long excruciating afternoon walk. looking at the children doing summersaults then diving into the evergreen river of mayabig taunted us not to proceed and played with them instead. yet, there's a greater and promising playground across the river and that's the path we took.

as we threaded the trails further and further, my load became heavier and heavier as the heat pierced through every cell of my body. i loaded myself 1.5 liters of water and had been noticing that i kept on pacifying myself with my bladder's mouthpiece frequently. so far, that's the worst heat i have encountered. mayabig is an open grassland with no portions of shading from trees. the forest line is approximately 3-4 hours from the jump off yet it seemed like i've been hiking forever. what made my hiking worse was someone's body odor. i apologise but no matter how hard you try to respect and accept your climbing buddies, there will always be something you wouldn't like so excuse me. i stayed longer at the lemon grass patches for aroma, which kept my balance a bit longer. yet as i  tried fighting the heat and the stench, my sight became duller and duller that i abruptly stopped, removed my back pack, then told the hikers behind me to overtake. someone from the mid team stopped to wait for me to get my senses back. after a few minutes of of our mini socials (and after learning that he is also a bicolano who lives in the same place as my father), we proceeded to trek after 5 minutes when the rain suddenly poured. 

as soon as the rain took away the heat from my body, i dashed my way. seeing a few of my fellow mountaineers, i asked permission if i could over take and proceeded if they approved, then i stopped again after a seeing quite a number of mountaineers who stopped for a break. i couldn't help myself but asked if they also smelled the same stench and, good heavens, i wasn't the only one! one of them told me that it was the very same reason why they rested. they thought it came from one of the guides, which is quite understandable and acceptable. but if it came from one of the mountaineers, i'd react violently on post climb! 

after almost an hour of hiking, i saw a few huts, which signified a small mangyan community. i was told by some of our climb buddies that everyone will have to regroup at the biggest hut, the iglesia ebanghelika, where the the locals gather for school or for worship. at the hut, i met gp, matelle, dennis, and rose who were feasting on coconuts. the mangyans sell coconuts to mountaineers for 10.00 php as an extra source of living. while we were having our mini breaks, a few children came by to greet us. cheng, one of our climb buddies and a photographer as well, told me that we are allowed to take photos of these mangyan group as the ones who would not allow visitors to take photos of are in farther places of mindoro. the children posed in front of our cameras as if many visitors have taken too many photos of them already.

when rose, gp, dennis, matelle, and myself noticed that we have been hanging out at the hut way too long, we asked the head organizer if we could proceed with a mangyan, which he approved. i asked if they would join shortly but responded that he still needs to cook food for the some of the guides and would be joining shortly. at 14:00 the 6 of us, a mangyan guide, and a couple proceeded to start trek. a few blessings in manifested as drizzles. walking further was a flowing stream. i helped myself remove the remaining heat by washing my face, my chest, and my back. if mountaineering was an rpg game, say ragnarok, rain and water have always been my mana and healing potions. taking a quick splash at the stream helped me rejuvenate. later, i saw our head organizer at the tail of the team telling us to relay that we needed to regroup at another small hut after the small fence to wait for the sweep. at that time, the head of the lead team positioned himself at the tail to assist someone... assist someone. 

so we did as told, after reaching the fence, we stopped by one of the huts to rest while waiting for the sweep team. at that point and time, we sensed something isn't right. someone said, "maling mali 'to! hindi dapat nangyayari to," (something's wrong! this should not happen.) "may bilin na daw pala na sa mayabig dapat tayo e," (the advise was we all should be at mayabig) a few people seconded seconded. technically, if it wasn't for the mix ups and the confusion of the guides and porters ratio, we're almost at aplaya or we've already settled at aplaya. true, but i didn't care anymore. some things happened already. we're stuck in another mangyan village still overlooking the town structures and main roads, way too near the jump off point and barely at the forest line. we can't rewind. for me, what if's and should've's didn't matter anymore. what i needed to hear at that time was a sound solution to what we're in right now. however, until i am not yet aware of the status of what's happening at the sweep team, i myself, having organized a many climbs before, i can't think of any.

moments later, the team lead of our blaze arrived together with the sweep. once they've settled, the main organizer gathered us again for another huddle. to make things short, he informed everyone that someone was injured and could not push further so we need to e-camp at a an open field just a few meters away from the very hut we're staying. to make up for the lost time, we need to start our trek at 04:00 the next day so we could reach camp 3 by night time. after the huddle, we picked up our packs and proceeded to our e-camp, a grassland plateau overlooking the cities of oriental mindoro. just a few meters below the plateau was a flowing stream where everyone could drink or take a quick bath. rose positioned our tent the highest part of the ground near the trail which leads to the forest line. since the weather has not been that good, she did not wanted us to get flooded while we're sleeping.

the trail leading to the forest line 

as soon as we've set up our tent, i immediately messaged my fiance to inform him that i am ok. the signal at the e-camp is receptive enough to get a decent 3g for continuous communication through imessage. i informed him that this may be my last message as the reception at the other parts of the mountain is unsure and unstable. walking out of the tent, i overheard conversations from the other team their plans for the next day. one even mentioned that if they (the organizers) did not wake up early, they would go ahead and start hiking with their guide. at the sight of the organizers hurrying to finish a bottle of brandy than preparing our hosted dinner, all from our side of the campsite agreed to the proposal. we need to wake up at 02:00 to pack quickly, eat breakfast, then leave at 03:00. 

i went to the organizers to ask about dinner. when i arrived at their tarp, the head organizer was removing pre-cooked meals sealed in ziplocs. the the foul stench that the came from the bag, the tint of pink at some of the meats, and how his faced irked at the smell, wasn't a good sign of a meat cooked well [mistake #6 - badly done pre-cooked meals. should have canned goods as back up]. i asked when dinner will be served but i was offered a shot of brandy from one of the sweepers instead [mistake #7 - too much influence of alcohol during the climb].  i told him i stopped drinking. he accepted my denial and said that they'll have to sort out some of our food first. i went back to our side of the campsite. some were already preparing rice for our team's packed dinner and packed breakfast. they finished earlier than our organizers and went ahead to eat a few portions for dinner. rose and myself had left overs from our packed lunches, which we ate for dinner. i glanced at my mobile phone and set the alarm the sound at 02:30. at the sight of my fiance's message which arrived at 18:00 confirming the one i sent -- that he'll just contact me on monday -- i went to sleep.