This climb for Malu

By: Cris Evert B. Lato-Ruffolo - CDN Digital | November 02,2019 - 07:29 AM

BUKIDNON – – The acrid smell of disappointment filled the air when the coordinator officially announced that all six trails leading to the Mount Apo National Park are closed. 

The final decision came after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake jolted parts of Mindanao Friday morning, October 31, that led to the near collapse of Eva Hotel in Kidapawan City and the damage caused to two floors of a posh condominium in Davao City where nine persons were hurt while other five people were reported missing. 

I’ve been thinking about this climb/hike for more than 10 months since my friend, Mercury “MC” Montebon of MC Outdoors told me about a “Trek or Treat Climb” he’s organizing at the Philippines’ highest peak. 

I was hesitant about joining the team. I was only named after an athlete but the only time I became one was when I was 11 years old during an Area Meet held at the Libas Elementary School in Libas, Merida, Leyte. My father, who named me after a tennis player, tried hard to influence me to learn and love tennis that he bought Spalding rackets only for them  to end up as decorative pieces in our home. 

My father, my teachers said, was a student athlete who was also part of the honor list. I was pressured to be both and so clumsy, nerd me, who always had issues with finding physical balance, chose a sport that was closer to tennis: badminton. 

My first game, girls doubles, ended pretty bad but my father was there to watch the match. Our team lost, mostly because of my fault and the pair of eyeglass I wore then. I never heard any harsh words from him but that was also the last time he insisted that I pick up a sport.

Later in high school and college, after the prodding of cousins and classmates, I played volleyball, soccer and basketball. By then, it became very evident that I was much better in writing those sports than playing them. 

I have never considered mountaineering or hiking as a sport or a physical activity that requires preparation and training. I spent a significant portion of my childhood and adolescence in a village where farmers walk 75-degree slope wearing worn-out slippers and child-fishermen diving without any protective gear. Walking up mountains is a natural order. We used to gather firewood at the mountain where my paternal grandparents own a couple of hectares of land. My fondest memories of those times involved foraging guavas and wild berries and asking a manananggot (coconut wine gatherer), who is usually a relative, to get us some young coconuts which we then make into lamaw, a mixture of coconut water, coconut meat, sugar and condensed milk.

At the University of the Philippines Cebu, I spent some time hiking in the mountains with different groups. Later, in my line of work, I interacted and worked with people’s associations and non-government organizations through tree growing activities, literacy sessions and corporate-community partnerships. 

I then gave up climbing because it was expensive and time consuming. I was then in a phase where I did not have the time and the money to enjoy nature. 

I decided to pick up the hobby again in December 2018. I wanted to start from scratch. It had been 10 years. I have given birth to three babies, gained several pounds and with no exercise routine to speak of. But I pushed along anyway armed with the eternal optimism that I could get back in the groove. 

I returned to hiking and mountaineering in January 2019 by attending my first Responsible Mountaineering Course. I found myself in the company of call center agents, full-time adventure enthusiasts and my brother who dabbles at freediving and mountaineering wearing only a pair of plastic slippers. 

Picking up mountaineering or hiking as a hobby can be an expensive choice. Good-quality tents come at a price. There are affordable alternatives but when added together, the cost of a backpack, trekking pole, buff, trekking pants, shoes, socks and everything in between can be as high as your child’s monthly school fees. Not to mention the amount it costs if you want to join a major climb especially when you fancy Mount Pulag’s sea of clouds or the joy of reaching the summit of Mount Apo. 

It’s a hobby that many working mothers won’t dare take because it involves weekend hikes. It entails willpower and time away from the children. 

But I chose to do so because I need to get back in shape for health reasons. In this rekindled love for the outdoors, I have so far rediscovered the boulders of the Budlaan-Sirao trail, the sea of clouds of Mount Mago in Danao City, and the challenging assault of Napo-Babag Ridge trail. 

The hikes prepared me for the supposedly three-day journey to the country’s highest peak. 

The disappointed looks of the mountaineers from Cebu that I joined in this expedition was replaced with excitement as we left Toril, Davao Del Sur at 3 p.m. on All Saints’ Day. The van was heading to Bukidnon’s Panimahawa Ridge. 

At sunrise today, November 2, we reached the topmost part of the ridge and witness the sea of clouds in this part of Mindanao. 

It’s not Mount Apo but this will do for now. 

It will still be a challenging three-hour hike with my injured right ankle being taken care of by a team of reliable men from Cebu Laktud mountaineers. 

Today, All Souls’ Day, I offer this climb to my friend, Malu Largo, who walked for hours and hours without end to monitor adopt-a-hectare or tree-growing projects at the Central Cebu Protected Landscape to help ensure that Metro Cebu has continuous water supply. 

I’m a step closer to your heaven, Ya. 

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