Monday, August 17, 2009

NAPO TO BABAG TALES XVIII: Night Navigation

INSPIRED BY MY SOLO trek in the dark on April 4, 2009, Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon decided to try night-trekking along the trails between Napo and the Babag Mountain Range. They are, to me, the finest specimens of our kind who walked with me and I know the level of their physical conditioning and I have confidence that both can tackle navigation in the night with such ease. I opted to use this activity as an experiment in how to optimize the use of a single light to accommodate three or more hikers and to make life difficult for Boy T and Ernie.


I understand that a night hike in the woods is totally discouraged by the Leave No Trace movement, with which principles is strongly espoused by the Cebu Mountaineering Society and other outdoor clubs through all their seminars and outdoor activities, but it cannot be discounted by the fact that each individual will encounter such conditions some day in the future. I am one of those that will not swallow entirely this LNT for a reason; by a set of values entirely of my own; and a confidence borne of a wide experience in the outdoors.


However, there are other groups that do night-trekking because it is part of their tradition and of others still because it is more thrilling and challenging. These people, obviously, have not gone back to the trails where they have passed last night and see for themselves the great distortion on the vegetations caused by the limited vision offered by their hiking in the night. A little responsibility and a little training would do the trick to leave a little trace of their passing.

For this activity I will test-drive a Habagat Viajedor and stuffed inside it were my heavy old-school sleeping bag, clothes, a liter of water, a flat bottle of rum and other outdoor items. I also brought with me an Apexus tent which was given to me by Dennis Legaspi during the recent Sinulog Mardi Gras. I will be using it for the first time and, like the Viajedor, it will also be tested. I carried a much heavy load this time than our usual trip here as we will be spending a night at Manwel's Peak and there will be some cooking.


Boy T will carry and test his new Bulin camping stove, his cook set and half-cooked ham. I carried two kilos of rice while Ernie will do the honors of cooking the ham on his alcohol-fed stove and the rice on Boy T's stove. Meanwhile, I will just watch and start a little bonfire in my mind. That is the plan, I think.


On the night of April 25, 2009, we met at the parish ground of the Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu at six and we took dinner at nearby eateries before taking our traditional warm-up walk to Napo at 7:30 PM. We arrived there at 8:07 PM and we checked our equipment before proceeding to cross the first river crossing.


For my own good reason, I left my heavy Maglite 15-inch flashlight at home intending to train my eyes with starlight and to deny myself of the privilege of adequate illumination. Sounds extreme? Hard core? No and no! I am just a guinea pig this time. A crash test dummy manipulated by my own desire to achieve more night-trail experience and knowledge before imparting these to my fellow outdoors kind.


By the time we crossed the river, I led the pack with Boy T in the middle with his headlight on. Ernie donned his headlight but it is switched off and act as a back-up in case Boy T's light malfunctioned. There is no moon on the horizon unlike in my previous trip where there was a waning half moon. Despite a handicap of an almost absent lighting, I put forth a torrid pace and the two behind me sweated hard despite the cooling effect of an upland atmosphere. We arrived at the second-river crossing in almost daylight speed.


I drank from a spring nearby and we rested just a few minutes before we started on again taking another route that would by-pass the community at Sitio Busan. This trail is intended for use by us only on special occasions and in emergencies and just the three of us knew of this trail aside from the locals. We huffed and puffed as we climbed up and we wonder to each other why we got ourselves so tired this early. We proceeded steadily and took a quick rest and proceed again then a quick rest and so on and so forth...


At exactly ten we arrived at the house of Manwel Roble, our young friend and guide. He was already waiting for us and have been preparing his gears for this occasion. I was so thirsty and so were Boy T and Ernie. I drank from my Nalgene bottle and left less of a half liter of water for the last ascent to Mount Babag. Manwel's father went with us to lead us to a new trail. We followed a ridge and it went on higher and higher of a difficulty a degree or two lesser than that of Ernie's Trail.


This trail is a desolate trail and here and there were newly-cut branches and trunks of young trees and bushes and tossed about were frayed out leaves and twigs that were left to dry and rot on the hillsides. We smelled wood smoke and up ahead we heard a vociferous beat of a battery-powered stereo. Smoke blended with the fog and there was haze hanging around the surroundings and as we neared the object of the sound we saw one guy in a makeshift camp cooking rice over an oversized charcoal glowing red and hot while the other tending a charcoal-making hole. So, they do that at night now.


I call this trail the Babag East Ridge Pass and I will follow that trail again soon in daylight condition to investigate more of the environment that these mindless cockroaches are slowly eroding. This is our mountain too. We have as much right as they have on the land which they took for granted making easy money cutting trees for firewood and charcoal which they sell to greedy traders. A deed that does not help any of their children and their children's children. A deed that we hope to break someday.

At the final stretch of the trail, I let Ernie and Boy T, with their headlights on, overtake me and I tackled the dim trail with just the aid of starlight. It was barely discernible but I followed the trail marked by a parted hard ground in between plant growths and low vegetations. It was a slow pace I made for beneath what my eyes can't see are surfaces that were uneven and blocked with half-buried rocks and wood and protruding roots. And it was steep!


I arrived last at Babag Ridge at eleven-thirty and they were waiting for me on two parallel bamboo benches! The idea of walking on an almost even flat surface at the Babag Ridge Road is already rest for me so I forego with the temptation of sitting on the bamboo benches. The rest followed after me their lights bobbing in the dark. At almost twelve midnight we claimed our campsite at Manwel's Peak, three hundred meters far from the tower-ringed peak of Mt. Babag.


I pitched my Apexus tent and it was very easy to erect by my own self, much more so with a helping hand. Boy T tried pitching his tent but one front arch pole broke in two pieces leaving Boy T's tent looking like a strange UFO with two protruding antennas. Hehehe! I switched my sweat-soaked clothes with dry ones and I felt good but not my tummy! Boy T and Ernie were also very hungry resulting from the exertion so we decided to cook the rice and the ham and accommodate for ourselves a late late second dinner. We were so tired and we decided to forget the rum that I carried up here. Ernie later slept with Boy T while I shared sleeping space with Manwel.


We woke up at seven in the morning the following day, April 26. We reheated the ham and cooked another round of rice and ate breakfast before we decided to break camp and went downhill to our favorite store overlooking Metro Cebu. So early in the morning we consumed already four 1-liter bottles of San Miguel Beer Grande and we were greeted with a song from Tony Orlando's “Beautiful Sunday” on an FM station. After we have had enough of our drinking we backtracked to where we went at 10:00 AM and went down via Kahugan Trail. It started to rain. Hard!


We were so delighted by the pouring rain that we let ourselves soaked to the soles. FYI, raincoats are not part of our gears during our training. We need to increase our endurance to the cold. The rains packed hard the loose topsoil in going down to Kahugan and there were no slippery moments as we went down and down in such a fast pace. We made it in lesser time reaching the San Roque Chapel than the last time we visited here.


From the chapel, Boy T and me ran the excellent trail in under seven minutes time to the river crossing; jumping over obstacles and evading curves and turns with practiced food placements on a trail that were already so familiar with us. Our sweat mixed with the rainwater in our shirts by the time we reached the river bank and waited for Ernie with his cane to arrive. He did arrive three minutes later but it still was a good pace.

We walked the rest of the trail to Napo and arrived there at ten-forty. The skies were still cloudy and we decided to walk the asphalt and concrete road down to Guadalupe church and made it at 11:15 AM. From there, Ernie and me hopped inside Boy T's KIA Pride and drank empty the three bottles of San Miguel Beer Grande near the Guadalupe police station before resuming to attend the CeMS monthly meeting and consumed another two bottles. After that there was mayhem...


SELF-ASSESMENT


NIGHT-HIKING, NIGHT-trekking or night-walking is not advisable for anyone. Not even to those who have enough experience of the outdoors. Remember, the conditions encountered during daytime is different during nighttime. We all know these and we don't have to stretch our imagination further why is it so.


But there are three exceptions: (1) When you are caught up with dusk as you tried to make it to the campsite or to a pre-defined destination, (2) you rouse early from sleep and start at early dawn, and (3) you are training in a controlled environment.


The recent activity undertaken by us only illustrates the limitations by which a group of travelers in a very dim trail will encounter. It is already a given, that everyone is equipped with a flashlight or a headlight considering that this is one of the items that is given a high priority. As dusk approaches everyone will settle down and retrieve their own lighting device from their packs. And at a convenient hour everyone switches on their lights.


The night navigation training however dissolves the common notion that everyone should do as they please with their lights. That would be a comfortable thing to do walking in a well-illuminated trail without thinking of the consequences if all the lights fail at the same time. That is impossible, yes, but there is always Murphy's Law to contend with and that natural law will never go wrong. Then there's the matter with security if you give off a bright luminescence from a distance.


With the training, the participants were instructed to maintain a walking formation whereby a single light would be adequate and to make available other lights on stand by mode. The other purpose of this training is to develop and make use of the participants' natural night vision and how to sustain this plus how to identify certain constellations that will keep you oriented.


One light is sufficient for three people, two lights for five to six and the lightbearer should be strategically placed in between and the fewer lights used the lesser visibility from a distant observer. This is not an easy thing to do but, through practice, it will be second nature. Ernie and Boy T have gained with this experience and they have learned fast unheard of for old men.


Night Navigation Training is one activity that does not come often. The trails in Napo to Mt. Babag would present that opportunity perfectly to anyone who may avail of this. Just give me a nudge and I will oblige your request.


Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

3 comments:

john paul paquibot said...

i love mountain hiking or mountain biking but i have seen downhill mountain biking in youtube so i was more on biking now.

but i still love to see mountains.

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