My first attempt at Mountaineering started off at the wrong foot. The only friend I knew from this lot of more than 50 experienced climbers was late for about an hour so I was forced to chew the french fries I ordered real slow while waiting for him. I was thinking of bailing out when he finally came.
At the middle of the journey as we changed jeepneys from city jeeps to a tougher mountain climbing one, the darn thing snagged it’s bottom parts on a rock. We were literally in the middle of nowhere having just left the only town for miles. The road was rough, which shows how many voters were in those parts of the Sierra Madre Mountain Ranges.
After a roadside meal of flattened hamburgers and cookies, another jeep came from town so we can continue the journey to the campsite.
Did I tell you what I was wearing and what they were wearing? I was one of only two wearing jeans and shoes not meant for outside the city. One snooty mountaineer, I heard was talking about the way I was dressed and the backpack I carried (it was black and not meant for the mountains too). She was talking to her very Korean (?) friend (I was so glad I’m not the palest one), saying , maybe I just took a sudden fancy to this activity. I admit she was right but still!
I didn’t give a hoot what Miss-Snooty-Mountaineer said. The itinerary said the first day was all Lectures and socials at night. How was I supposed to know that when mountaineers plan a lecture, it doesn’t mean a classroom setting?
I was so glad my jeans were so old its as comfortable as a pair of pajamas. It turned out we do need to trek the route from the parking to the campsite. The path was so freaking treacherous, I was surprised to learn the locals use it all the time.
There were some paths as narrow as your feet with the cliff at the other side. For clumsy, uncoordinated me, that itself is pretty terrifying. I swallowed my fear and showed my blank face as I followed the freakishly gleeful group down the campsite.
The site was an unused dam (I think it’s the Laiban Dam – no photos in google to compare) that is now used by mountaineers and the PNP for rappelling activities. Another brilliant project by the Philippines government gone to waste. Well, at least we can use it for rappelling..
When you go where civilization ends, the one absolute thing you’ll miss is your toilet.
For a girl, peeing outdoors is a matter of serious logistics. If, however, exhibitionism is one of your kinks, then this part of mountaineering won’t be a problem for you.
Ideally, you’ll need another girl to act as a lookout. If however, you’re unable to drag one, a girl must pick her angles. A tree may block the view from one side but cannot protect you from people coming in from two paths.
In picking a peeing site, you must not forget to say “Tabi-Tabi po” lest a dwarf or other otherworldly elementals get peed on and you end up with boils or get cursed.
Aside from Number 1, you have to worry about Number 2 if you have a strict schedule that can’t be postponed. One mountaineer suggest not eating too much to avoid the more complex logistics for doing number 2. I highly doubt you can bring someone as a lookout if they have to endure the odors that will inevitably emanate from your behind.
I was pondering my options and was so glad I pondered for more than a few minutes because some cute officer (from PNP I guess) came down the path before I can sat down to pee.
Rappelling from the point of view of a spectator seems easy enough. But up there with the view of the rocks below, your bravado blows away with the wind.
The hike up the high dam was in itself an ordeal. The incline was at least 45 degrees of loose gravel path, you hold on for deal life to flimsy shoots and small trees. I reached the top huffing and puffing. I guess I should increase my daily exercise if I’m to continue this outdoorsy activity I’d taken a fancy to.
The jumpmaster were waiting for us with warm cola and a bit of food. I noticed a foldable shovel. A necessity in mountaineering the jumpmaster said. Huh.
They tightened my harness and finally, it was my turn to face a natural human fear of heights. It’s all about overcoming the natural instinct to not kill yourself. Easy.
My knees felt like wood. All the lecture about safety procedures in rappelling flew from my mind. It was like an out of body experience. Like I’m not really there with the heavy rope in my hand and the jumpmaster earnestly explaining again what to do. Whatever I was thinking that time, I never thought about not going through with the jump. I was already the odd ball out, the outcast, perceived as a girly ninny.
If this was a stereotypical high school, I’d be the newbie, a delicious target for established bullies. There was no way in hell I’m backing out.
The other jumpmaster kept telling me not to look down but just to look at the dude who’s assisting me in the eye. I did and my fear doubled. The dude was wearing reflective shades. Every time I looked at him, I see the ground below!
Finally, no more excuses. I took a tentative shaky step back and felt gravity’s pull. I slid and panicked let go of the rope. They frantically pulled me up again. I felt humiliated. The jumpmaster was yelling at me not to let go if the rope! So failed attempt and they tried to calm me down again. It wasn’t my fault, I say, there’s too much tension on the rope, my arms going numb, none of it was my fault!
The next attempt, I was determined to go through with it, if the kids can do it, surely I can too, right?
I took a deep breath and walked backward again towards to abyss. I got a death grip on the rope that I was supposed to only lightly hold.
One step… Two steps. I felt the world shift, spiderman style.
I was planning on playing a soundtrack in my head but as I’ve said all brain contents blanked out.
Then I heard a snap.
What the fuck was that?!
Politely, I say, “I think something’s wrong?” But they just said, everything’s fine and not to worry.
I didn’t want to offend them anymore so I just reasoned it’s probably something shifting or whatnot in the gear.
Astounding how a Paulinian facing life or death can be so polite.
I descended and gratefully did not let out a fart as I feared. They stopped my descent mid-way to take pictures. They kept yelling to take my hands off the rope so I can pose, to hell with that, I thought, “No way!” I yelled back.
Finally, my weak knees sank to the ground and they congratulated me and asked me how I felt. I said I’d try Tennis the next time and maybe I’m not cut-out to be a mountaineer. That feeling lasted about a minute and then I realized just how extraordinary that experience was.
When they suggested swimming in the river, I felt like it was the best idea in the world. You feel like you can conquer anything once you’ve conquered the thing you dread the most.