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So you wanna go mountaineering?


img_6488If you’re a landscape freak or simply a photographer looking for fresh subjects to take, mountaineering is an activity that could unleash a horde of photo opportunities. Imagine those Ansel Adams landscapes, macro flower shots, or simply star trails in the night. If you’re lucky, your itinerary would include a brief stopover at a remote tribal community.

Unless you plan to go to the Himalayas that needs another set of skills to climb those ice-covered peaks, mountaineering in the Philippines is not as hard as it seems. The key is preparation .

Make sure you are physically conditioned

As mountaineering involves a lot of hiking, it pays to build up your cardiovascular fitness. If you’re a couch potato, you should do some aerobic exercise like jogging or brisk walking three hours a week, at least four weeks in advance.

img_0532Gather the proper gear

If you don’t want to do mountaineering on a regular basis, then it’s wise to borrow or rent some of the equipment I will mention below:

  1. Clothing . Wear light, comfortable clothing, preferably those made of fabrics that wicks away perspiration easily. I prefer to use bicycle shorts underneath a shorts of light material. My shirt is partly cotton and partly polyester. Mountaineers avoid maongs or thick cotton because they tend to become heavy when wet. If you plan to hike through trails with dense vegetation, wear tights (even men do this) underneath your shorts or light jogging pants, and a long-sleeved shirt, to avoid getting nasty scratch marks on your legs and arms. When hiking to high altitude areas, bring a windbreaker and/or a light jacket. Wear a cap or a wide-brimmed hat as sunshade. Military fatigues are absolutely not allowed. If you’re the type who hates too much sweat dripping on your face, wear a sweat band or a folded bandana around your forehead, below your hairline.
  2. Trek shoes . Unless it’s a walk in the park, ordinary rubber shoes just won’t cut it. Hiking boots is a must as you go higher and go to difficult terrain. This is one way of protecting your feet from the elements. Wear high-cut boots on high terrain and difficult trails to minimize a sprain ankle. Low-cut, light trek shoes are applicable on easy trails. Do not use a brand new trek shoes on the trail. Let your feet adjust by wearing it going to and from your work and around the house for two weeks prior to outdoor use. That is called break in. Make sure that the shoe size is a bit larger than your normal foot size to make room for thick socks.
  3. Sandals . Try to get some sandals with a good grip on the ground. It’s great for river crossings and serves as a back-up, in case your trek shoes give way (believe me it happens, especially on multi-day climbs). You can also use it at the camp site instead of bringing your house slippers.
  4. Backpack . A good backpack should be made of sturdy material and can carry a load of weight. Make sure the shoulders pads are comfortably. It should have a waistbelt that you can adjust to help you distribute the weight between your shoulders and your hips. Buy your backpack from stores that know what they’re selling. The vendor would usually measure your back, from your nape to your waist, and make adjustments on the straps for proper fitting of the shoulder straps. Protect your backpack with a backpack cover available in many outdoor shops.
  5. Sleeping bag . This is bulky and adds a lot of weight. I only bring one on high-altitude climbs. Try to ask your Team Leader beforehand about the weather at the summit. With mild weather, I only use a “malong” as my blanket; it also doubles as a jacket-cum-shawl and as a towel. Malongs are light-colored fabrics from Mindanao and can be bought from the Moros at your local market.
  6. Tent . This would serve as your temporary shelter in the outdoors. As a group equipment, not everyone has to bring a tent. Try to assign this to someone who can carry a lot of weight. Try to match the tent that you bring to the conditions you will encounter. A summer tent with a panty fly won’t make it on a rainy and windy peak. Don’t pitch your tent at the campsite for the first time. Do some practice before heading off. You will thank me when you arrive at your campsite and it’s raining or it’s nighttime, and you’re tired from a whole day’s hike, and you just don’t have the patience to figure out where to insert the poles or which way should you attach the fly. Bring a ground cloth to put underneath your tent.
  7. Cooking and eating utensils . Outdoor shops sell cooking and eating utensils especially made for the outdoors. These are usually smaller and lighter than their household counterparts. Porcelains are a no-no, if you don’t want to strain your back. Alas, campfires are not the norm as we did at the Boy Scouts. It’s our own way of preventing forest fires.
  8. Water bottles and containers . Try to estimate your trail water intake before heading off so you don’t dehydrate while trekking. Water containers come in all shapes and sizes; some are collapsible and can be packed easily when empty inside a backpack. Ask your Team Leader or guide beforehand for water sources along the trail and at the camp site so you only carry what you need during the trek. Unless clean water abound at your campsite or it’s all right for you to carry more water than you need, plan to cook meals that use little water.
  9. Lighting equipment . Each member of the team should have his/her own flashlight for use at night. There are headsets attached by a band to the head which frees both hands for hiking in the dark. Lamp is a group equipment and is used mainly to illuminate the campsite at night. The latter should not be left inside a tent.
  10. Toiletries . A comb, small mirror (useful in emergencies in case you get lost, you can beam the mirror to search helicopters), toothbrush, toothpaste, soap (use this only when you’re back in civilization; mountaineers do not pollute the waters in the wilderness), tissue paper, etc.
  11. Emergency kit . Try to bring some provisions for emergencies like medicines, alcohol and a first aid kit. Make sure this is easily accessible when you pack this in your backpack.
  12. Other essential items . Bring also the following: a swiss knife to cut your veggies, open a can, etc.; lighter or a match to light you stove, cigarette or lamp; whistle…if you watched the movie Titanic then you will know what I mean.
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Pack your bag properly

There is an art as well as a science in properly packing a backpack. To protect your stuff from the elements like rain, try to individually wrap your stuff on a plastic bag. I usually wrap my “after-the-trek” clothes in two layers of plastic bags. Line also your backpack with one or two layers of a big garbage bag to prevent any water from seeping in. The garbage bag can be handy later as an emergency blanket or jacket. Clothes and sleeping bags should go in first at the bottom. Stoves and other heavy stuff should be in the middle. Your tent should be easily accessible when you open your backpack. You don’t want yourself rummaging through the whole content of your backpack when you arrive at the campsite, before you can pitch your tent. Try to put your trail water on an accessible part like the side pockets of your backpack.

The “Leave No Trace” ethics

Mountaineers are guided by three important tenets:

  1. Take nothing but pictures . In as much as we enjoy what we see, it belongs in the wilderness and should not be taken;
  2. Leave nothing but footprints . We are visitors and at best intruders of the mountains. Let’s do our share in preserving it by hiking only on established trails, by practicing low-impact camping and by leaving the areas as pristine just as we came to see them. Pack out all your garbage! If you don’t take out your garbage, nature cannot just decompose it; it will be there forever. I’ve been to some popular areas many times and despite the beauty of the place, I felt dismayed when I see traces of previous visitors.
  3. Kill nothing but time . The flora and fauna that we encounter are integral part of the ecosystem and should be left untouched.

Suggested places near Metro Manila

  1. Mt. Maculot, Cuenca, Batangas – Easy hike. A different view of Taal Lake and Volcano. Popular among students, it’s not a place for those who want a lot of privacy.
  2. Pico de Loro, Nasugbu, Batangas – Easy hike. A better approach and easier trail is via Ternate and Maragondon, Cavite. 360-degree views of adjoining provinces and the South China Sea.
  3. Mt. Makiling, Los Banos, Laguna (and/or Sto. Tomas, Batangas) – Moderate hike. Well-preserved rainforest. “Limatiks” or small blood sucking leeches abound during rainy season.
  4. Tarak, Mariveles, Bataan – Moderate hike. Hot trek from below but the weather is stormy at the summit. Views of the mountain and valleys, Manila Bay and the South China Sea. Waterfalls and cool rivers midway.
  5. Mt. Banahaw, Dolores, Quezon – Difficult hike. The mountain is not for casual hikers. Known as a Holy Mountain, the place is popular especially during Holy Week. There is a “caldera” which can be filled with swirling fog, viewed from the summit.

There you have it. Don’t forget to bring your camera and other gears. Have fun and happy shooting!

[Ricky Gundran]: http://mysticwaters.stormpages.com/articles/mountaineering.html

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