Monday, December 23, 2013
A LOT OF PEOPLE here in Cebu make a big thing out of “climbing” Osmeña Peak. The mountain stands at 1,015 meters above sea level and is, without a doubt, the island province’s highest point. But, by the very location of the trailhead at the Mantalongon Public Market in Dalaguete, it meant, that you would only have to walk about two kilometers and climb just more than a hundred meters. Long ago, there used to be a trail but, now, it had become a concreted road. Then you brag about it in Facebook.
Even I, unknowingly, got into that scene in the 1990s and in the early years of the next decade. I have gone there three times with my old mountaineering club, twice on solo and five more times guiding tourists. The last time I was there was in April 2009 when I was “baby-sitting” thirty-five Boy Scouts from the Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu. At that time, I begin to see a lot of changes within the Mantalongon Valley and on the peak itself.
What makes Osmeña Peak very attractive to people? Well, for one, it is very accessible and you do not need to have a guide if you are smart to know your way. Second, is you get to relish cold weather unusual for a tropical island and a perfect getaway from the summer heat. Third, the view is impressive and I do not need to explain. Fourth, it is a staging area to enjoy the cool waters of Kawasan Falls after a half day of knee-wrenching downhill hike. Lastly, you get a bragging right being on top of Cebu.
Because of all of the above, Osmeña Peak became Cebu’s highest garbage dumping site. Early mountain climbers and hikers left it pristine but the mountain is not their monopoly anymore – me including. A different crowd goes there to compete camping space among the ethical ones and these are the “seasonal climbers” and the “corporate mountaineers”. Both are not well-versed about the principles of the Leave No Trace and impose their will, not just on Osmeña Peak, but on any mountain. Another thorny issue are the mass climbing activities organized by mountaineering clubs who know their LNTs very well.
I ask you now, WHY, despite gaining just about a hundred meters inside of an hour climbing Osmeña Peak, you need to brag this in Facebook or putting an article of your exploits there for a blog? I, myself, have been mulling that question if ever there were blogs and Facebooks ten years ago. I do not want anymore to be part of that crowd who come by way of Mantalongon then leave a day after bound either for Matutinao, for Basak or back to Mantalongon. Very traditional and I need to change that through this article.
I like creative people and I liked to listen of creative exploits especially those done by only a few groups tackling Osmeña Peak on the other side of the shore. I would love to do that and discover the joys and pains of those who came before me and enjoy that trail while it is still there before concrete takes over. I am talking about the route from Osmeña Peak to Basak in Badian, only, I will do it in reverse. That done, I would give meaning why the climbing of Osmeña Peak is a worthwhile endeavour. I would have love to do a survey alone but I am generous this time.
So today, August 4, 2013, in the middle of the foulest of weather, I am leading this reconnoitering climb, guiding my “tourists” Boy Toledo and Ramon Corro. Both are in their late 50s and they are old men by local climbing standards. What I like about old men are that they stick to schedules and they don’t give a damn about the foulest of weathers which younger people have a lot of aversion to and would gladly abort an outdoor activity at the first sign of rain. Or a muddy trail.
Yes it rained hard last night and the following dawn. When my cellphone alarm screamed it is still raining and cold. Boy called me if the activity would push through which I found as a no-brainer. I take my bath and leave the house for the Cebu South Bus Terminal. By 5:00 AM, I am now waiting for my buddies at Seven Eleven. One after the other, they came and we found seat inside a CERES Liner Bus bound for Badian.
Boy and I belonged to the same mountaineering club but he stayed while I quit after 20 years and organized my own club – Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild – the first and the only one its kind in the Philippines. The fact is, I see local mountaineering clubs too tame and too girlish for my whole liking now and I disdain its full adherence to LNT which cripple individual freedom although it is good to have this as a guiding principle to all the lowest mammals – the newbies.
We reach Badian at 9:30 AM and we go to the market to secure our food ingredients for our lunch, which we will cook along the trail. From the market, we transfer to Basak by tricycle. I share my bread with Boy as our breakfast and I down mine with water hoping it will expand in my intestines. Ramon is a corporate executive. He is just new to mountain climbing, in fact, less than a year. Boy had been tutoring him on the light stuffs while I had been exposing him to the real world.
We leave Basak at exactly 10:45 AM at approximately 235 meters elevation. So that leaves us 780 meters more to gain and, at what time, I do not know. I check on my compass since there is no sun to orient myself. Rain is pouring hard and this is very interesting and challenging. Rain sharpens my mind and covers every trace of my passing. The trail is wet, parts of it muddy, most with puddles, but I choose to skirt it by stepping on side vegetation. Limestones are slippery and every rock is an obstacle.
Every uphill rise is height gained and a chance to settle limbs for a minute’s rest. Cold is an unrelenting tormentor. Each moment of brief rest, it seeps through your skin. You move again but never allowing yourself to overstretch else the cold would grab you by the limbs and make you immobile. Your body heat is slowly gnawed by the elements and, when you have less of that, cold could be menacing, especially at the higher elevations where exposure to wind chill is great.
We reach the small village of Malagaring at 11:30 AM. Sure that would be a good place to stop and prepare our meal but I do not follow conventional thoughts that found dependence on the clock. If I do, we will lose momentum to cold. Lunch could be had later behind those mists, possibly, at 1:00 PM and at a place where we are beyond the halfway point. I know where that would be but it is best that I keep this to myself to discipline stomachs of Boy and Ramon and to lessen their expectations.
After Malagaring, the trail follow the contours of a narrow valley which was converted into small farms. We keep to one side until we cross over a ridge and out into another narrow valley. The trail climb up and cross another ridge and back again into the first valley. By now, farms have been few and we pass by a swath of forest where, twenty years ago have been thick. This forest have thinned considerably through the years as people begin to encroach.
The rain have not abated and it is a welcome option than walking under the hot sun. I know this trail. It is really very warm during a normal day except at the forested area and, of course, during a rainy day. Fogs cover the surroundings beyond 30 meters hampering slightly your vision. Few birds are flying although I hear the noises of those who did not. Pacing slowly, done to accommodate Ramon and to prevent accidents, we gain elevation.
I do not have proper breakfast except for a piece of bread which I shared to Boy. Ramon, on the other hand, had prepared for this event and ate his breakfast early at home. I know that a small piece of bread won’t last long but I drank water afterwards to bloat it. Boy did not. While on the halfway point to the village of Patong, Boy slowed down. Ramon backtracked for him and Boy complained that he is hungry.
I have advised Boy and Ramon to rehydrate often. Just because it is raining and you do not feel thirsty, you elect to preserve your water untouched. What you do not know is that you are surrendering heat to cold and your body need to maintain temperature by food you ate and water you drank. Boy did not take water and his body used up his eaten small piece of bread quickly. Failing that, it would take a toll on your resistance to cold and fatigue.
I keep Boy’s hopes high by assuring him that Patong is just over a low hill. I could hear dogs barking from afar and I see a family below the narrow valley gathering firewood. Ramon did not abandon Boy and both of them are safe. I would not wait for them but would go on my way, only slower, else I would suffer from the inactivity of waiting. The trail is ascending but not abrupt. I look back and the duo disappear from my view.
I pass by solitary houses until I see a small community. A pig squealed somewhere and I pass by a small patch of corn smothered by something more formidable than wind or water. I could feel the tight squeeze upon my calves. I am amused at the thought of people wrestling a pig in the middle of a corn farm which I have not seen but traces of it tell a story. My thoughts are still good despite not drinking myself a drop since I left the trailhead. I know my body very well and I listen and I push it to its limits and know when to stop.
When I reach the village center, I stop. It is 1:10 PM. I drink two gulps of water and sit for the first time on a wooden bench. Oh God, it is a luxury to just be sitting down again. Thanking silently simple blessings are part of my habit. I get up again and prepare coffee and cook milled corn. I know Boy and Ramon will not arrive in five minutes time and both will be safe in each other’s company even without me. The trail is clear and there are houses they could stop to ask directions for.
While I am in the middle of cooking pork adobo, the squealing pig which I heard a while ago arrive bound above a basket which two locals alternately carried. It is a good-sized pig weighing about 75 kilos and the two men would carry that over a high saddle of the Southern Cebu Mountain Range then going down to the Mantalongon Public Market more than four kilometers away in the rain. What a formidable test of strength and balance for these duo.
Meanwhile, Boy and Ramon arrive more than fifteen minutes since I took refuge in Patong. They had stopped earlier to make coffee on the trail and would have prepared meal on their own when they remembered that I have all of the stuff with me. Boy got revived by coffee and both decide to forget their excruciating conditions to look for me which they did after hearing the squealing pig. Ramon take a reading from his digital altimeter and we are now at 641 meters.
Boy took over the cooking of the pork adobo and then the pork stew with mushrooms. I cook another pot of milled corn. The cooking is excellent and I get myself three servings of the hot soup and leave the pork adobo alone. There was so much food left that we gave it all away to the locals. We pack our bags after cleaning the pots and the utensils and leave Patong at 2:30 PM. By now, the rain had stopped but gusts of wind replace it. Wind chill factor is now discernible here but we ate a good meal and I trust that my partners would make good at the higher elevations.
There are now many houses along the route to Osmeña Peak from Patong. I could not blame people owning a homestead in a land classified as timberland. We are here for recreation and they, on the other hand, eke out a living from an inhospitable land and these mountain ranges are not anymore the monopoly of recreational climbers. They have to live and concrete roads give them easy access to sell their produce to markets and I cannot blame why trails are replaced by concrete. It is a fact of life that change is constantly true to its form.
We reach the high saddle and a road project is ominous. It tiptoed over the ridge and, someday, its train of concrete will flow down the narrow valley of Patong and Malagaring and connect to a road that is coming up from Basak. The road will bring convenience to the life of highland inhabitants and, sadly, it will give up woodlore and primitive-living skills practiced by them. I am saddened but, on the other hand, I am happy for the folks, especially the children. It will create a lot of opportunities for them.
We walk down the fog-shrouded road and looked up at the Peak. It deserves a visit and Ramon will have that honor being his first time. What will make it more sweet for him is that he did not do it from Mantalongon. HE DID IT THE HARD WAY FROM BASAK! Boy accompany him up a trail and both initiate their respective altimeters to read mode. Boy with the analog barometric wristwatch at 1,015 MASL and Ramon by his iPhone 5 digital reader at 1,025 MASL.
When the pair got down, we all cinched our bags for a last push down the road to Mantalongon. The light had faded and soon it would be dark. We reach the Market and it is Angelus time. We hop on motorcycles-for-hire for the highway and completed a trek that would now give Osmeña Peak the respect that it deserve as the “Grandfather Mountain of the South” and it also deserves a space on your Facebook wall granting you tackle it from Basak.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer