Friday, June 14, 2013

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LX: Night Navigation Training

PEOPLE GET A FEEL OF excitement when they hike up the mountains during night. Some do this for fun; others do this because they have to; and a few do this to train themselves. Except training, all rely on the battery-powered flashlight and they all go up to their campsite destinations in a long chain of lights, a wonderful sight to behold from the eyes of a startled toad.

The battery-powered flashlight, which have developed from a low-voltage incandescent bulb to halogen to light-emitting diodes (LED), is the standard equipment of a backpacker and it is a good option to carry an extra. The LED have multiplied the ordinary bulb’s lumen power a hundred times over and changed the name of the flashlight into a torch. Credit that to technology.

However, when you use a torch, there is one primeval function that you inadvertently choose to ignore and disregard. It is not one’s fault though but this is an instinct that have evolved through constant use in the past by our earliest ancestors and have, likewise, declined through neglect, through our dependence with modern technology and through ignorance.

This natural night vision is developed to great advantage by nocturnal hunters. I am not a hunter but I prefer to use my eyes to work my way in the dark. That is a fact. I have led people on the trails many times and, by situations beyond my control, commit them to walk in the night. Of course, they used lights but I advance my natural sight to good use on myself.

Night Navigation Training is taught in the mil but I am fortunate to be taught by them. Like water, knowledge should meander down and be taught to others and when it does I make sure my people at Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are given priority. Actually, NNT is one of the skills that is highly valued in bushcraft and survival. However, I am generous enough to welcome members from other outdoor clubs or anyone willing to learn upon my invitation or through referrals.

Ten new participants arrive at Guadalupe in the late afternoon of Black Saturday – March 31, 2013. They are Antonette, Patrick, James, Mario, Nyor, Silver, Maria, JB and a couple of guys. Most of them have never tried hiking in the mountains under a pale moonlight. Old hands Ernie, Dominikus and Eli Bryn will assist me in this activity. I give a short overview of NNT and final briefing before proceeding.

We start from Napo, Sapangdaku at 7:00 PM. I advised the participants to use their flashlights when crossing streams and when in doubt of the ground where they are going to tread at. Always fix a certain celestial body as reference when the moon have not yet risen. By the way, the moon waxed full last Holy Thursday and is still bright tonight although it may rise later at 8:30 PM.

Our pace is slow. Deliberately done to control the brain from sending the wrong signals. We arrive at Lower Kahugan Spring at 8:00 PM and proceed to refill water bottles. Sooner, we will be at the place where we will prepare, cook and eat our dinner. Camp Red prefer to eat their meals fresh from the cooking fire.

We leave the spring after a brief nocturnal hunting along the river and I lead them to a steep switchback and, at exactly 8:30 PM, we reach the Roble homestead. We are welcome anytime to prepare our meal at this place and make noise at that certain hour of the night. We begin unpacking things to retrieve our food ingredients.

I start the cooking of the milled corn while Dominikus boil water for coffee. Meanwhile, Ernie begins to prepare an assortment of palatable dish like pork adobao, pork sinigang, swamp radish salad and fresh-water crabs. Silver cook red beans and JB fry dried fish. The rest help in the slicing of the pork meat, vegetables and spices underneath the silver sheen of the moon on the landscape.

In between, I show the participants how to look for Polaris using Big Bear and True South through Cygnus, the Southern Cross. We eat our supper at 10:00 PM. This day is my last day of fasting. I do this every Holy Week and I should have broke my fast at 6:00 PM but my commitment to teach NNT precedes over my gut. We leave the place for Babag Ridge at 11:00 PM. Nevertheless, NNT should proceed without haste.

We follow the East Ridge Pass and I could see clearly the trail. The fogs covered the moon yet it is still bright enough for my eyes to see. Rest is given to those who toil and everyone give their best to ignore pain, fatigue, unfamiliarity and that primeval fear of the dark. Safety in numbers negate that fear and those who paced faster wait for those who lagged.

We arrive at Babag Ridge at 12:00 midnight and everyone take a rest to recover their breath. We walk in almost daylight speed to the top. Wow! The brain must have to do something with this. The fogs are not that thick and it is around twenty-three degrees Celsius. We walk the road down to Babag I and then up to the trailhead a kilometer-and-a-half away.

The last half of our journey will be downhill and it is perilous. The moon is on the downswing of its orbit and it may disappear anytime behind the mountain range. This time I encourage everyone to use their lights and provide walking staffs to those I think who need it most.

This trail to Kalunasan is seldom taken by me and I always have trouble remembering my last route there even during daylight. The night presents a bit of a problem for me this time so I arm myself with a heavy staff. I could use it as a weapon, a probing stick and as an anchor to stabilize my downward pace.

The No-Santol-Tree Trail is a route that I have discovered four years ago based upon the description of a local about the presence of a santol tree (sp. Sandoticum koetjapi) that marks the trailhead. The moment I looked for that tree, it is nowhere to be found, and I got lost as well, walking in circles obviously wanting to satisfy my exploring spirit never knowing that I found a different path.

I have limited control this time and this is the most difficult part of the activity and it is where the old hands come in handy to keep watch of those that are beyond my scope of vision. I have to use my small LED light as well. I remember I slipped here many times last year. Vegetation is much thicker here but I am not worried because I have a torch and a new pair of Columbia Coremic Ridge 2 shoes which I am testing.

The shadows play on my brain and I begin to doubt at myself. The route I followed seems unfamiliar leaving me lost for a while, then I detoured and I persisted until I see a hint of a faintly-familiar bend in the trail that led me to a more common contour. I am the navigator and guide and I use my trailcraft skills to the max despite the deceptive appearances caused by shifting shadows.

I cross a low saddle that lead into another ridge and, this time, I know where I am going but the going is not easy as I have expected. The path have been obliterated almost by thick growth due to non-use by people and I hack the vegetation with my wooden staff to part a way and to shoo away anything lurking there.

Meanwhile, the peaceful night is shattered by blasts of firecrackers in the distance. A religious activity signifying the Resurrection of Christ has just started. I wait for the slow walkers and give myself a break. The trail is very misleading and I would prefer that those behind me are very visible from those much much behind. I walk as if without purpose just killing time so that those from the tail end could catch up.

Satisfied with the pace, I cross several arroyos – dry waterways – where loose broken rocks and detritus accumulate in an unstable manner. I arrive at the first of the many tamarind trees found along this trail. I reach a copse of tamarind trees and rehydrated. I rest and wait for the participants to arrive. One by one they came and welcomed the opportunity to sit again after many hours of walk.

We finish the walk at 3:30 AM and it is still dark. We decide to walk back to Guadalupe on the road and reach it at 4:30 AM. We have come and walked from the dark mountains of yesterday to greet Easter Sunday and it was a great sacrifice. Osiyo!!!


  • Night is different than day, caution should be exercised.
  • The walking stick is very useful in night navigation. Not only it could aid you in your balance and a counter to gravity, it could be used as a probing stick and a weapon.
  • Check night sky fixtures as your reference. It will aid you in your general direction.
  • When using your natural night vision, refrain from switching on your torch. The glare of unnatural light destroys your night vision. If it does, switch off the light and close your eyes for ten seconds and blink several times afterward to fine tune it back.
  • Use your peripheral vision to great advantage. It is that part where you could detect movement and the details of the trail which cannot be detected by a frontal sight.
  • Use your light when crossing a stream or when you are in doubt of the part of the path before you.
  • Do not play in to your brain. The brain receives signal from your eyes and tenses the muscles and release more adrenaline. Heart pumps more blood and would need more oxygen. You hasten your pace and you gasp for air and you become fatigued. Save your energy instead as you are not chasing someone in the dark.
  • Walk very slow. Take your time.
  • Walk during full moon or at least where the moon is not less than half.
  • Wear visible clothing.
  • Prepare a route card and leave it to your base support crew, a friend or to the authorities; and indicate the time when you will arrive and to notify them.
  • Train in a controlled environment.

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