"On a particularly rainy day just recently, the air was dripping with humidity as I stared into nothing, in the middle of nowhere. I was up to my knees in mud and goop and lost on an angled slope, in the upper reaches of Mt. Banahaw. I had been theorizing alone in the jungle for the past hour or so, looking for a connection to a trail known as the Crystallino. My thought was that I could connect the standard trail to my ideal sightseeing "trekking highway". So, there I was, struggling to find stable footing amidst the slippery roots and fallen branches, thinking to myself that I would surely break through to open ground within the next five minutes! Of course, I hadn't fully accepted the fact then that I had been telling myself that for over an hour. My pack was getting heavier and heavier by the minute as water started to seep through to my haphazardly "plastic bagged" gear. There was an unmistakable "slushy" feeling in my bag as I collapsed against a rotten tree trunk. At that point, I pretty much had my butt handed to me on a silver platter by the mountain that many regard dismissively as "moderately strenuous".
In the pursuit of mind melting, body-warping experiences like this, we often find ourselves in a constant state of decision-making hell. Should I jump down the waterfall? Will it smash me against the jagged rocks down there, and turn me into jambalaya sauce? The possibilities are endless and the prospect of a sad, miserable, and untimely departure, five minutes in the wrong direction is often greatly increased by exploratory hubris. But can adventurers really be blamed for their actions in the conduct of searching for, well, adventure? Adventure, as they say, is not without risk and the possibility of withering away in some remote jungle is the whole point of the entire exercise. Yes, of course, adventure is all that and more but only if we were all trappers in some frontier land, or maybe if your name happens to be BÝrge Ousland, or Tomaz Humar! Plainly, you have to be some sort of a professional to be able to take the word "adventure" quite seriously. Otherwise, our mothers cancel our allowances, our fathers take away our pride, and our girlfriends break up with us and run away with some "dude" from gym class! It's a really scary proposition that can all be easily averted by simply staying on the trail, and by resisting the temptation to go on safari each time we see forest cover.
Trail safety is a concept most of us feel strongly about but rarely ever do anything at all in regard. It's a reality that is slowly creeping up on us from behind, and nobody seems to be looking! The local "outdoor adventure" population grows exponentially each year, and the absence of a universally accepted framework for safety preys upon the newly baptized, like hawks to a hare.
Recently, a climber was lost in the foothills of Madjaas mountain in Panay Island, and despite several weeks of search effort from numerous volunteer groups and individuals, that climber remains at large up to now. At 2,090 meters above sea level Madjaas is one of the highest points on the island and, like many other local mountains, had been identified as an insurgency-active area in the past. At press time, there have been no further updates on the status of the search despite the best efforts of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, UP Mountaineers, Ilo-ilo Mountaineering Club, PAL Mountaineering Club, UP Visayas Mountaineers, CEBU and other clubs and individuals. Fred Jamili of IMC confirmed that the missing climber was last seen 2 hours away from the trailhead in barangay Flores, near Culasi. Rescuers have since meticulously searched the area near the place of the last sighting, extending the search effort for at least a month and a half.
In a similar incident, a few hundred kilometers to the north, on Mt. Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas, several climbers went missing during the Holy Week climbing season on that mountain. At about the same time, a rocky promontory adjacent to the "saddle campsite" suddenly erupted in flames. This conflagration prompted many of the campers to abandon the campsite and descend to safer areas on the lower slopes. As the excitement died down, three of the missing climbers found their way back to the "saddle" and immediately sought help from a number of climbers who were said to be milling about nervously, engrossed in conversation about the fire that suddenly engulfed part of the camp. Richard and Christopher Puso, brothers who looks after the "convenience store" at the campsite, remember clearly being in a state of helplessness as they tried to control the blaze without the help of any of the campers. The three climbers opted at that point to descend and eventually found themselves in the house of Captain Guillermo Lunar of barangay Pinagkaisahan. Kapitan Gimo, as he is known in Cuenca, quickly organized and dispatched a search party composed of several barangay tanod and members of the Emergency Rescue Association, Cuenca Chapter (ERA). Unfortunately, when the would-be rescuers reached the place where the two remaining climbers were left behind, the rescuees had already decided to walk off into the forest on their own. The rescue party found only the climbers' abandoned packs containing most of their supplies and other gear. The saga continued for another two days before the missing hikers were finally, albeit fortuitously, rescued from the mountain and brought to a local hospital aboard a helicopter; generously provided by Cuenca town Mayor Enrique Comia. Although both were severely exhausted and dehydrated from their ordeal, the successful rescue of the two climbers provided a much lighter ending than to that of the incident in Madjaas.
Although these incidents are truly unfortunate, and absolutely not intentioned by those involved, there is a certain degree of responsibility that everyone engaged in the outdoors must face as a result of these events. Now, more than ever, it has become a certainty that there must be a collective sense of protectiveness among the outdoor community. That is, if we truly want to become a real community of similar passions, coming together to seek out adventure using the most basic skill of all, our sense of responsibility for each other; with which, we may thrive under any conditions.
At present, the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines (MFPI), headed by Reggie Pablo, its current president, is doing its best to implement existing safety guidelines and training requirements to prevent such incidents from occurring. The MFPI president has already issued a statement to all the federation members to help bring the message across to everyone regarding the necessity to work together in improving the effectiveness of the MFPI. In the meantime, everyone should put some serious thought into the usefulness of being well informed, properly skilled, and amply equipped with enough supply of common sense on our next foray into the wilderness. After all, it is always a good plan to stack the odds in your favor at all times, whenever in the outdoors. And we shouldn't wait to be actually out there before we start thinking about these things. We could start, say, maybe in the next five minutes?