September 20, 2013

halcon: in a space between a blink and a tear (pt3)


the "love letter"

that night i had a dream. someone was saying for us to go back home because we don't have food. the words "we don't have food" was on infinite loop in that dream. i felt colder and colder as i was hearing it again and again. then it dawned on me that it wasn't a dream. my back was cold and wet due to the condensed water dripping at the sides of our tarp. i kept my cool as i hear the silent snores of the tired ladies next to me. i continued on listening to the men's conversation and i found out that someone from camp 1 sent us a "love letter" through one of the guides. i slept again hoping it's just another one of those bad lucid dreams.

i woke up as soon as i sensed sunlight. one of the boys said that we should pack up because we're not aiming for the peak anymore... at least that day. they informed us about the love letter and how our team mates at camp 1 were worried sick about all of us who were beyond dulangan river. together with the "love letter", they brought a pot of rice and fried viands for our breakfast. as soon as we finished our meals, we broke camp and headed back to durungawan to meet the rest of our team mates.

as we started walking back to camp 2, migs was shocked to see his rope, the one he left for the other guides and the other mountaineers to cross, gone. we stopped to look for it. then he saw it under a shrubbery, muddied. "hindi ko na magagamit to!" (i can't use this anymore), he said. "hindi ko alam kung pano nila tinanggal pagkakatali o kung pano nila nilapag 'yan 'dyan. ginagamit ko to sa rapelling ewan ko na kung mapagkakatiwalaan pa to. tunaw ang fifteen thousand!" (i don't know how they untied it and how they dropped it there. i have been using it for rappelling. now i'm doubting if it's still safe to use. fifteen thousand pesos down the drain!). he further explains that the rope, in it's perfect condition, is calculated to endure a certain amount of pressure. any micro-fracture in the rope already means death to the one using it so ropes should be handled with hyper care. another team mate said, "isipin mo na lang na ginamit 'yan para magligtas ng buhay pero sana lang iniwan na lang nila kung pano nila nakitang nakatali sa puno!" (just think of it this way: it was used for someone else's safety. but then, they should have left tied to the tree as how they've seen it!)

when we reached camp 1, we were greeted by one of our guides, sir zeus. he told us that he's been worried about our safety and was already preparing for rescue. the camp 1 team were preparing a meal for us thinking that we have not ate enough for breakfast. we had our fill of second breakfast and lunch then joined the rest of the team for socials. while we smothered ourselves with laughter and, for others, with wine, half of our thoughts were on our team mates who we were all hoping for the hopeful were safe and have already taken their summit shots.

later on, sir zeus was cursing because of the lack of coordination. he told us that he ordered everyone to regroup at camp 1; thus the reason why the mangyan guides stayed aside from the very heavy load they are carrying (one mangyan even showed us his blistered shoulders from the heavy pack he was carrying). when we met the lead pack at dulangan river, the lead told us that they are already pushing for the summit. the rest of the mid pack assumed that was also the command until the heavy rain poured and tore us apart. "eto ang kauna-unahang grupong nasamahan kong radyo. pero kahit wala, dapat inisip man lang nila na maghintay!" (this is the first group i have handled without a radio but even if there was none, they should've been cautious enough to wait for everyone) [mistake #13 - no formal means of communication i.e. 2-way radio; mistake #14 - lead team did not mind whether the group behind them is within sensible distance]. only a couple had a walkie talkie, dennis and matelle, but they're only using it for themselves. dennis' walkie died on him on camp 2 pushing him to follow matelle with zero provisions. i cannot blame them. that's what lovers do. they risk everything. i could see myself doing the same.

in the mountains, food is gold

at 17:00 while we were preparing for dinner and zeus and some mangyan guides were planning their rescue, we heard a series of howls from familiar voices. we howled back in excitement because they are safe. we counted all who ascended to camp to know who could be missing. none. everyone complete. the expedition lead came in last. i was happy to see rose but she dislocated her ankle when they were trekking back to camp. i tended her ankle with a few chinese medicines i have to somehow alleviate the pain. after dressing her ankle i went to zeus, who was having some sort of convocation with 3 other sweep team mates. "takte ang yayabang! buwis buhay na iwanan mga kagrupo makakuha lang picture sa dive board. tapos tayo andito umiinom ng mapait na alak" (damn! they're all too proud for risking their lives and leaving their buddies just for that dive board photo they want to post in facebook. while we're all here drinking wine and savoring its bitterness.) zeus replied, "walang masama kung buhay ang kapalit. posibleng mamatay sila. posibleng mamatay din tayo." (nothing's bad when you evaded death. they could've died there. we could've died there.) the expedition lead suddenly came in saying sorry. he then offered a discounted rate if we wish to join a second round on august. "pag-isipan ko, sir. habagat pa rin niyan e baka matulad nanaman dito. tsaka wala na akong leave. no-pay leave na tong ngayon" (i'll think about it, sir. it's still habagat season by that time. it might be the same as this. and besides i'm on no-pay leaves as we speak), i said. he jokingly replied, "nurse ang trabaho ko. ako bahala sa medical certificates pag kailangan 'nyo" (i'm a nurse, i'll be in-charge of everyone's medical certificate when you need them). "sasama ako para sa recon climb" (i will join you for a recon climb), the one who cried last night said sounding so eager for a vengeance climb. zeus broke his litany to the expedition lead. "sa susunod, ayoko na 'tong mangyaari. wala pang namamatay sa sa grupo ko. hindi pwedeng may mamatay sa happy team!" (next time, i don't want this to happen. i haven't had anyone die on my team. not my happy team!) said zeus. "hindi ka superhero. ang tanga mong magrescue nang wala kang dala! mas may equipment pa bisita mo." (you are not a superhero. you're so stupid to attempt rescue without equipment. good thing your guests have equipment). the expedition lead replied back with "sorries," nods, and head scratching.

as they all settled in camp, they were telling how hard it was for them to reach the summit. they had no clearing. one couple was pissed off at the personal guide they hired because they weren't able to follow. all their safety gear were with that specific guide. one person from the sweep team replied, "e pano? e ang bigat ng dala nilang mga gamit niyo samantalang kayo ang gagaan makapag summit lang!" (his load was heavy because you left all your gear with him so you can hit the summit). the atmosphere of excitement suddenly turned to heated arguments. why they did not wait. why they did not follow commands. why most people on lead had light loads. why they weren't carrying safety gear: their tent, their sleeping back, stove, food. why they all went ahead of the mangyan guides. "pwede bang kumain na tayo? lahat tayo dito pagod!" (let's just eat already! we're all tired!) someone said, which brought frowns, waving eyelashes, and whispers. zeus broke the commotion and shouted, "good vibes! good vibes" as if he did not blurt out bad comments about those who made it to the summit.

after dinner, i stayed at the same spot under the tree where we waited for everyone. the guy-who-cried called my attention to come to his tent. he wanted to tell me something, "sabi mo di ba nakaleave ka pa? tingnan mo kung anong tinago ko." (you said you have extra leaves right? look what i hid). he unwrapped a plastic bag full of canned goods enough for the entire team to last for two more days. even enough to have fed us at camp 2 so we could push forward the next day and even send provisions for gp and the rest of the guys at the summit team to endure the cold night. why would someone do this? "oh my..." one of the ladies in the mid team said in shock. he hushed all of us. he told us that when they were packing at jump off, the canned goods wouldn't fit in one of the guide's bags so he offered to carry all of them. "bakit 'di mo sinabi 'to nung nasa camp 2 tayo?" (why didn't tell about this when we were in camp 2?) i asked trying my best to bottle-up my anger. "'di na importante 'yan. ang point ko e pwede tayo mag push bukas. ngayon, gusto kong malaman kung sinong mag-oo. kung walang pera, pwede tayo maghiraman pambayad sa guide tapos saka na tayo magbayad pag nasa bayan na o sa susunod na sweldo." (it doesn't matter anymore. the point is, we can push for tomorrow. now, i just want everyone's 'yes'. we can lend each other some money for the guide fee then we pay back when we reach the city or when payday comes). people were giving back their 'yes' answers. zeus and migs came in curious about what we were huddling about. "gusto niyo magsummit bukas?" (you want to push for summit tomorrow?) whispered zeus and everyone nodded. "imposible. walang bituin." (impossible. no stars). he then points at the cloudy night sky. "agresibo pa ang tubig. bahala kayo kung gusto 'nyo mamatay. mas alam ng mangyan 'yan." (the waters are still raging" he then points at the white puffy lines that scratched halcon's dark massiveness. if you want, you can go ahead and die. the mangyan's know better), zeus continued. the guy-who-cried said, "e 'di kukuha kami ng isang mangyan para i-guide kami. magsimula kami ng alas tres ng umaga. malalakas naman kami sa mid. walang maiiwan. 'yung sweep pwedeng umuwi kung gusto nila. wala namang mawawala kung sususbukan namin." (then we can hire one to guide us all. we start trekking at 3am... the rest of us mid pack. we are all strong. no one will be left behind. the sweep team can go home if they wish. there's nothing to lose. at least we're trying). "hindi kaya. may iba akong lakad. kelangan kong umuwi. 'sensya" i can't. i have other commitments. i need to go home. i'm sorry), migs said. "pwede naman sa ibang araw. andiyan lang naman ang bundok. makapaghihintay 'yan" (i can try another day. the mountain can wait), he added. "kung determinado talaga kayo magsummit, suggestion ko lang maghintay muna kayo ng signos. pwede ko naman pakiusapan ang isang mangyan na bumaba sa bayan para bumili ng dagdag pagkain. kulang 'yan." (if you're that determined to summit, i suggest you wait for more signs. for the mean time, i can ask one mangyan to go back to town to replenish your provisions. that won't be enough).

later, the word about our second attempt reached the sweep team. a few people approached me to tell me that they want to join. i doubted one, the guy who was the cause of delay in the sweep team, murhab. zeus told him not to join us. our exped lead lend some of his equipment to us and offered to stay a few more days to await our return. we huddled again at the tree and repacked our stuff. our strategy was to have the mangyan guide as lead to set our pace and to ensure that we all have our safety lines. we only packed 2 tents, 2 stoves, and the canned goods which we equally distributed among ourselves. everyone is required to carry a sleeping bag, trail food, and jackets. the rest of our provisions will be packed as soon as the mangyan zeus assigned to buy our provisions arrives. 22:00 the mangyan guide and zeus were drunk. he said he'll go to the village later. the guy-who-cried and i exchanged stares. later i was having second thoughts. i slept my thoughts away.

03:00 i believe i was the first to wake up. i poked tents to wake up the members of the recon team. the guy-who-cried approached me and whispered, "wala tayong dagdag na provisions. hindi pa gising ang guide. lasing sila ni zeus!" (we have no additional provisions. the guide isn't awake yet. they're all drunk including zeus!) the rest of the mid pack came in prepared for an early trek that never was. another lady in my team said, "pwede naman tayo mag tipid. tingin ko pwede naman tayo mag push. hindi naman nakakaligaw yung trail e. kung nakayanan ng mga bata 'nung naunang team, kaya din natin" (we can budget our meals. we push, i think. the trail isn't that hard to find. the children from the other team did it. so can we). a few moments later, zeus woke up then joined us. "sigurado kayong susulong kayo na walang guide?" (are you sure you want to push without a guide), he said then points at the sky. "ulap. naghihintay pa ako para sa safety ng lahat" (clouds. wait for signs. i am waiting for more for your safety). "dini-discourage mo naman kami e. kaya namin 'to" (you are just discouraging us. we can do this), the guy-who-cried said. "kakaalis lang ng guide 'nyo para bumili ng pagkain. hintayin 'nyo na" (your guide just left to buy your provisions. just wait for him), zeus left. two hours later, the mangyan guide hasn't gone back yet, some people started to wake up and preparing breakfast. some were packing their bags. the rest of the mid team except for migs, who stayed at one corner. "mag push na tayo kung gusto niyo! walang iwanan." (we can push now if everyone wants! let's just stick together), the boy-who-cried said, "nag aaksaya tayo ng oras. makakasummit na tayo ng 11 am pag nagsimula na tayo ngayon!" (we are wasting time. we could make it to summit by 11am if we push now!) he added. "pano ka nakakasiguro na magiging mabuti nang walang guide. hindi ito batulao. hindi ito basta basta lang na bundok sa batangas. halcon 'to." (how are you so sure we can go on without guides? this isn't batulao. this isn't just any other batangas mountain. this is halcon), i said. "hintayin natin 'yung guide." (let's wait for the guide), suddenly popped murhab. "ang sabi ni zeus 'wag ka na sumama. umuwi ka na lang kasama nila." (zeus said you can't join us. you better go home with the rest), said the boy-who-cried.

sunlight slowly pierced the clouds, the rest of the mid team broke their fast with the sweep team. zeus approached me, "'yan ang sign na hinihintay ko. andito na ang guide 'nyo!" (that's my sign. your guide has arrived!) "talaga?!" (really?!) i said in glee. "i'll be joining you." zeus marched at the center of the camp and shouted for huddle. "'ayokong may naiiwan. gusto ko lahat makasummit. eto ang happy team! nag pa dagdag na ako ng pagkain para sa dalawang araw. 'yung mga gustong magpaiwan, sumama na kayo. 'yung mga gusto nang umuwi, sumabay na kayo sa pagbaba ng summit team. this is a good day for happy team!" (i don't want everyone left behind. i want everyone to reach the summit. this is the happy team! we've replenished provisions enough for two more days. those who want to stay, join us! those who want to go home, you can leave with the summit team. this is a good day for the happy team!) everyone clapped and cheered. everyone in camp was happy. everyone in the sweep team stayed and prepped up while the summiteers cooked another batch for our packed lunch before they left. we gave our manager's and supervisor's numbers to the ones going home so they can call each of them that we were all stranded soon as they reach the city. we all repacked our stuff for the new group we're in. since zeus was joining, we had our spark of hope. it was a very sunny 06:00. 


September 16, 2013

halcon: in a space between a blink and a tear (pt2)

  • 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.
  • part 1 is halcon: in a space between a blink and a tear (pt1)
  • 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.
"failing to plan is planning to fail"- alan lakein

more bad omens

"hoy gising na!" (hey! wake up!) shouted someone while clanging his cookset. i took my other phone and it was still 01:30. bad. it wasn't 02:00 yet so i attempted to snooze back but the sound was way too annoying you'd be forced to wake up. "anong oras kaya yung mga lasing natapos uminom?" (what time did the drunkards finished drinking?) rose asked, "pero sana gising na sila kasi sila may plano nito." (i just hope they're awake now. this was their idea.) i told her.

dennis was already cooking our rice while someone else from the mid team cooked our viands, menudo, hotdog, and sausage. those were our packed meals for breakfast and lunch. gp was my food buddy that time so we doubled up our packed meals for breakfast and lunch with myself in charge of the former. although we'll be eating our breakfast en route camp 1, we still fed ourselves a bit for our early morning trek. rose told us that they are still curing some spoiled meat as adobo so their meals weren't prepared yet. later, one of our buddies from the mid team started calling our guides to get their packed meals.

as soon as our team disassembled our tents and about to leave the place at 0300 as planned, the organizers were still preparing dinner. we also got advise from one of them that we'll all go together so we laid dennis laid his ground sheet and we all took a nap while waiting for them to finish up. we started trek at 04:30 [mistake #8 - did not follow planned revised itinerary]

i have always enjoyed starting trek at dawn. at this time, while your energy is still at 100% you can walk as long as you can without worrying about heat which primarily causes dehydration and exhaustion. actually, dehydration is not a problem in halcon as there are springs and rivers along the trail. the second timers only brought with them small nalgene jars while the first timers, like myself, brought a larger container. 

we reached the forest line in less than an hour. limatiks (leeches) began attacking most of the people. one of our female buddies, the most fully covered of all as a defense against leeches, started shrieking at the creepy crawlers, which she sprayed with alcohol as soon as they landed her skin. she then comforted herself by saying, "pero ok lang kasi sabi nila hindi ka mountaineer kapag hindi ka nalimatik!!" (but it's ok because they say you're not a true mountaineer if you haven't been bitten by leeches yet). yet she continued shrieking. at 05:30-ish, the sun lit our path.
lunch at aplaya
at exactly 11:00, gp and i reached camp 1. we noticed 2 of our porters resting near the bushes. these were our lead guides. most of the guides and porters were behind us. i greeted and asked, "nasan na po sila?" (where are there?) "nasa dulangan na po sila kumakain nanananghalian," (they are at dulangan eating lunch) said the guide.  our conversation continued:

"ah, nagpapahinga po kayo?" (you're resting?) 
"ang bigat po kasi ng dala namin," (our load is heavy) 
"ang dami niyang dalang tent" (he loaded a lot of tents), the second porter told me [mistake #9 - guides and porters were overloaded].

then, there was silence. all the while i was thinking: did everyone really trained for this climb or am i just with a bunch of pampered tourists? i know matelle and rose have their tents and thermal clothing and are almost self contained. is it safe to assume that the reason why others were hiking fast is due to their ridiculously lighter loads? 

"tara, kain tayo!" (come on, let's eat!) gp invited the guides to join us for lunch so we could all go together at dulangan.
"wala po kaming pagkain" (we don't have food) [mistake #10 - no packed meals given to the guides and porters]

gp and i stared at each other intuitively sending each other a message that there's something wrong. overloaded and hungry guides and porters will never be a humane act! i didn't ask anymore form which team they belong. gp still has some left overs from breakfast while i opened one of my emergency foods, a can of tuna paella, so we could offer our packed lunches to them. gp went head as soon as he finished his lunch. i waited for our guides to finish eating so i could get my mess kit. then shortly, dennis, doc, cy and the rest followed. dennis  did not rest but joined me to dulangan river to chase matelle, who can't be reached through their radios.

separation anxieties

we reached dulangan river at 12:00. as told by the guides, we still met the some of the people from the lead team. actually, our line-up is already messed up. some people who were from the mid went to the lead, then there were also members from the lead team who went to the sweep or to the mid, and so on [mistake #10 - uncontrolled shifting of groups]. i would understand if these were team leads changing their posts to check on every team member or to set the entire teams pace. during the climb, people were beating time by overtaking everyone the could, if not, enjoying it way too much taking breaks for more than 5 minutes. at the sight of the lead team, i thought of joining them since i already had lunch and would be able to move forward. yet, i was also thinking of safety within the proximity of the mangyan guides (who i thought would be there in a few minutes), so i removed my backpack and swam in the calm crystalline waters of dulangan river. 

the mysterious dulangan river
selfeet at dulangan and my sock raising the bird.
other climb buddies washing their soiled clothes
a few moments later, there was rainfall. everyone packed their stuff and immediately crossed to the other side hoping they could find better covering there. however, the rain drops grew bigger that no tree could shelter us better. we decided to take advantage of the rain and proceeded walking. after threading the trail of vines and branches, we crossed another section of the dulangan river going to camp 2. as soon as the last person crossed the monkey bridge, dulangan proved to us why she was every mountaineer's 1st qualifying test before reaching the summit. in less than 2 minutes, camp 2 became an island to be engulfed by raging waters.

my dslr was foggy at that time. i tried recalling what the color was like through adobe raw and this was the best i could get. from the emerald green-like color, the dulangan river's color became similar to coffee. you will also see in the photo that the 3/4 of the monkey bridge is already submerged in water.
"naku! sana di na tayo tumawid! ganitong ganito yung nangyari sa amin sa zambales!" (we should not have crossed! this is exactly what happened to us in zambales!) migs said. the spectacle was not new to me too. 3 years ago, during my neighbor, benj, and myself first mindanao 321 (mts kitanglad, dulang dulang, and apo), the organizer that time was trying his best to boost our confidence by telling everyone that the rain was only brought by a passing cloud and would be gone in a few minutes. yet, truth prevailed by manifesting as the mud colored agco river knocking down the first monkey bridge. we waited for 5 hours chilling in our wet clothes until the river was waist high and somehow safer and manageable to cross. i almost said good bye to the world when a loose rock hit my left shin during our 3rd crossing, which caused me to fall on my knee and almost got swept by the raging current. thanks to a buddy, who calls himself "master morya", for proving to me and the rest of the world i'm a bad seed. remembering all these, i said, "wag naman sanang ma stranded tayo ulit." (i hope we won't get stranded). "pero wag kayo mag alala," (but don't you worry) migs said, "this is an actual survival situation! i'm gonna show you how to survive!"

we did our mini logistics check and to our surprise, most of the people we're with were not prepared for this kind of situation. i then figured out why the guides were stuck at camp 1. their tents, warmers, and sleeping bags were with our guides. [mistake #11 - people's equipment were mostly with the guides] if it's not for migs and myself, we wouldn't have ropes, carbiners, emergency food, and thermal blankets. moreover, without us, some of us would've pushed through unequipped against the wilderness (although some did). i had a very quick realisation that the new batch of mountaineers now don't care about safety. they are numb and blind to what their uncalculated risks may impact the people around them on a larger scale. they only care about the value of money and how it could give them awesome selfies, peak shots, shares, and likes in social media. this is not a question on generation gaps since i am part of the majority's age group. but for us who have already risked the untimely season of climbing halcon, it's already a lack of common sense to forget your survival "lifelines" and leave them with the guides instead.

our little shelter
shit happens
as for the question of whether we are pushing through, migs decided to wait for the guides to cross. we thought that they'll cross in less than 30 minutes than how we did. yet, 2 hours have passed, there were still no signs of mountain guides only heavy rains and the ever rising dulangan river. for safety, we moved up and searched for flatland to eat and pitch our emergency tarp. our food that time was some orange chewies migs was supposed to bring home to his son kidlat. gp then decided to scout a location at a higher place. moments later, we heard a whistle sound. our instinct told us that the sound came from the guides, we tracked back but we did not see them in the trail but on another side where the waters were a bit calmer but deeper. we were right after seeing our lead guide hailing and shouting to notice us. he didn't bring with him his pack. only a jungle bolo and a small drysac. obviously, he did not have the intentions of pushing for the summit. instead, he only went to check on us and ensure our safety. shortly, our expedition leader came. he brought with him migs' equipment - his carabiners and ropes [mistake #12 - organizers solely relying on participant's equipment]. we exchanged shouts to communicate and we agreed on setting up a safety line for them to cross. the mangyan guide inflated the drysac, clipped it on himself as a floatation device, and then he jumped into the deep waters. everyone was silent mostly fearing for his life. a few strokes struggling with the current. the scene was like those in the action movies then our thrilling shifted when he lifted himself up showing everyone that the water level he is in is just half-shin high. then he shouted that he knew the place quite well that he already knows where the water is deepest and where to stand to make his grand entrance. when he successfully crossed the river, our exped lead hurled at us migs' red rope. everyone helped in pulling in and tying to the rope to the tree. after the rope was secured, he took his turn in crossing the river.

setting up the rope
our e-camp. the place is the midpoint between camp 2 ang balugbog baboy

err on the side of safety

of course, he told us that we won't make it to the summit considering how we are and how we're lagging in the itinerary. and since we're secured at where we were, we decided not to back track to camp 1. instead, he'll have the mangyan guide return to camp to bring us dinner and breakfast so we could push the next day while he (exped leader) would be chasing the people ahead of us. dennis, at that time, was desperate to contact matelle, joined our exped leader. "sigurado kang susunod ka sa kanila nang yan lang dala mo? (are you sure you're moving ahead with only these?)" migs said. so we prepared to pack him a few stuff we had which will help him survive the night at least. i also had him bring the half of my tent so rose can have shelter. that night, i was only worried about her safety since most of the lead team had their tents, food, sleeping bags, and clothes with the guides. it was so depressing that it took only minutes of rain for us to be separated from each other. at that point and time, i was having thoughts of joining them already. then again thinking of the worst, if something happens to my buddy, who would communicate to her loved ones, friends, and the ground support about what happened if i would be hurt too? i decided to stay.

after our exped leader left, we settled in for the night. some of us were just enjoying the company. some were crying over at the loss of his "summit sunrise". we greeted the climbers ahead of us who were passing by to reach camp 2. we informed them of our situation and of dulangan river for their safety since we noticed that there were children with them. that night we were thinking of plans of whether to push through or not since most from the e-camp team are working for bpo's and we can all afford an entire day of stay compared to those working at day. that night, i had a lot of things in mind -- going home, my buddy rose and the entire lead team, dennis, gp, and our exped leader, and the team at camp 1. thinking of them were like counting sheep. my night, i thought, ends.