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Saklang Mountaineers Inc., 1994
University of the Philippines Tacloban College, Tacloban City
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Climbing Alto Peak

By Eleanor Palomo
November 25, 2004

I always believed that the least you expect an unforeseeable event to happen, the more it will likely to become possible. I was always interested to go out with the Saklang Mountaineering Inc. – U.P. Tacloban whenever they have an outdoor activity but now, I am hesitant to move on. This time they will go not only for a fun climb experience but for an exploration climb to Alto Peak where no mountaineering group has ever set foot on.

I remember back in my college, my simple idea of a mountain climbing activity is watching the little green picture created by God. Although I cannot really figure out what Jay meant about trail-blazing, I was challenged to see the new type of green picture I created in mind. I never had a real climbing experience before. And in order for it to happen, I thought I should join the group which trainings and experiences were rooted over time and loyalty.

At 10 o’clock in the evening (the night before their activity), Ambo and Alex called on the telephone to invite me to go with them; assuring me that everything will just be fine. I was hesitant for a while- I might become a burden and unsuitable guest to the group thinking about my feminine and unragged gestures, neat and formal composure and fragile strength. The following day, I decided to go. Although they told me a little idea about trail-blazing (which was to make a new track/path through the peak of the mountain), Ambo like Jay, never mentioned about the height of the mountain even I was very persistent in my asking. When I finally met the whole team; Richard, Jenny, Joey, Jay, Alex and Ambo, they were all casual to see me but I speculated in their eyes certain wonder and doubts of my presence towards attaining their goal: to climb the highest peak of Alto Peak, the highest mountain in Region VIII situated between the boundaries of Jaro, Leyte and Ormoc City.

I was wearing a pair of white tennis shoes and an immaculate white tee shirt; and carried a small day pack. They were all in their trekking shoes, with heavy and large back packs, and familiar ragged clothes only seen and worn during a climb. The adventure began at 10 o’ clock in the morning with a moderate rain shower. I could feel the spirit of ecstasy as we briskly move on. But before halfway in finding the first route to Alto, my shoes needed a repair already. Luckily, I got a pair of sandals which Alex skillfully tied a knot on the heel to keep my feet supported for the whole adventure. Although I was uncomfortable with my footwear, I learned to adapt walking like a ballerina along the sharp stones and muddy ground. With graceful coordination, I maintained a balanced composure that protected me from falling down against the worsened condition of the trail. This helped me even more when the group deviated from the bearing set when the trek started. I became more aware to the type of plants I could hold on to move me onwards and vigilant against any blood sucking insects that could possibly attack along the way. While Richard and Ambo were trying to use the compass and altimeter, the main instruments in finding the right trail to the peak, I was admiring the serious cooperation of the group and the compassion shown by each for the safety of a fellow member. We had a long and tiresome walk on the first day of the escapade- I suffered muscle pains in my legs. I was having a hard time bending my knee which made my body difficult to raise especially when the group was moving into a steeper elevation. I was relieved when the team would pause for a while in order regain strength. Afterwards, we continued trekking.

The group decided to stay overnight mid way to the summit in preparation for the next day’s final assault. Without any word, each member actively did her/his part in order to settle the base camp. I only knew later that the place where we stayed was an abandoned road near the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) drill site. I was surprised there was a little stream where we could get our water: I felt it was a little home for us. I enjoyed the dinner with some fresh vegetables that Jenny and I picked along the way and the dried ‘pusit’ brought by Alex, which made the night merry even though everyone was already exhausted. With the discipline of the group from carrying liquor or other unnecessary materials during the camp, I knew that deep in their hearts all they wanted to do was to sit down and savor the moments of the whole adventure with sense of satisfaction and hope for the next day’s climb. I thought the group would stay late that night to talk about that day’s event; instead everyone proceeded to their tent were each surrendered its body. It was only about 8 o’clock but the dark freezing fog blanketed the stars in the night sky. In my slumber, I could feel the cold and tranquil night and the only noise I could hear was the flow of the stream nearby and the snort of the person beside me.

At 8:00 am of the following day, we aimed for the peak. This time, the climb was more difficult and challenging. The terrain became steeper, the soil more loosened and the temperature dropped. Most of the route we took was untouched by man. I have seen thick mosses grown over years, timid wild grasses, hanging pitcher plants that only grow in elevated land and snaking poison ivies pointed to me by Ambo. The lead of the trail blazing was done interchangeably by Alex, Joey and Jay but it was Alex who made the maneuver patiently. As we gained elevation, the area became more gloomy and foggy. I often stayed at the back of Jay where I drew my strength along the journey. It naturally occurred to Jenny and me to reveal the masculine side of our nature as we kept our pace in every struggle. And on that struggle, I realized the beauty of applying self comfort and coordination towards every difficult trail that we passed especially the time when the team had to use a rope since there were no steps to cling on anymore. Unknown to the team, I appreciated the serenade of Joey in order to lessen the stress of the group. Afterwards, I found myself reciting silently some favorite poems and popular lines of movies. I just could not imagine the burden of the heavy packs they carried on their backs as they climbed the peak. However, the more the team saw the light covered by trees, the more that each member was motivated to move on with a thought in mind that the peak we were searching was already a few climbs away from us.

It was on the clear afternoon of November 1, 2004 at around 2 o’clock- while the nation was celebrating All Saints Day; I was celebrating for another cause: I have set foot on Alto Peak! I have seen at last the green picture I always wanted to capture in my mind. I immediately climbed the tree where Jay was. There I saw the clear upper part of the world which I did not see at the surface of the earth. I carefully watched the overlooking scene of the sky and the sketches of the landscape below. I came to know the familiar places while having those seen only at the top. Sensing the same excitement felt by my other team mates, I bent back and watched them: the pleasure felt between Richard and Jenny, the curious eyes of Alex, the childlike side of Jay and Joey and the mute smile of Ambo. Suddenly, I felt the first breeze of Alto welcoming our presence.

 I believe in the faith and spirit of the team, although with different views, became a guide for us to reach the top. I did not expect that the group proved it successfully it was as if I was being disillusioned that it was their first time to set foot on the peak. I congratulated the group for being the first mountaineering group to summit Alto Peak at 4,615 feet. And for my part I became an experienced beginner in the field of mountaineering on that day. It was more of the satisfaction we had than the names that Ambo and Alex carved in a special place on Alto, or the bottle prepared by Jay where he put our names inside, or the visa card that Joey hung on the tree, or the time I posed for a picture taken beside the pitcher plants or the red flag prepared by the group for the successful climb.

As we celebrated the victorious climb on that evening with fireworks in the sky; I was aware that while the millions were awake for physical labor and one in a million were awake for intellectual exertion; only one in a hundred millions were awake to a mountaineering life. Thus, I appreciated when the team made a legend to me as “The first woman to set sh_t on Alto Peak.” And I am looking forward to hearing this one-shot remark again as I am challenged to capture the next green picture I had already in mind… 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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