Friday, May 8, 2009

Mount Apo Experience (Part 1)

In this three-part series, Bro. Rollie narrates his wonderful experience in climbing the Philippine's highest peak - Mt. Apo in Davao City - interspersed with his personal reflections along the way. He dedicates this climb to the men and women of Courage Apostolate.

The last time I ever climbed a mountain was in the year 2001, and it was just the happy trail of Taal Volcano - normal trekking over a trail that just keeps going up until the magnificent crater of the volcano. And so when my companion in Living Waters invited me to climb Mount Apo, I was hesitant at first. I initially had an excuse because there was a scheduled retreat that I am to attend during the Holy Week, since the climb was also scheduled on the same week. But when the retreat was postponed to a later date, I was surprisingly thrilled that I could now opt to join the climb. The invitation was from my trusted group of friends in Living Waters, a safe place where significant healing of my personal issues took place like year, and the invitation was to climb the highest peak of the Philippines (a feat that most Filipinos would not dare take - side comment: I just learned later from a fellow climber that only 1 out of 500 Filipinos have climbed the mountain). And so with unprecedented excitement, I called up my friend Sonny and asked to be included in the climb.

His response was totally and gratefully impressive! He told me a litany of things to prepare and how to keep in shape for the climb, he sent me several email messages with attachments on things to bring, the proposed itinerary schedule of the climb and the composition of the team of climbers, and he has been able to book me a return flight in ZestAir to and from Davao! All of these happened within the day, and I had to pull myself up from mixed emotions arising in my heart. Then a thought came to my mind: I shall be offering this feat for the men and women in Courage. As I prayerfully submit this promise to the Lord, a renewed determination settled in my spirit.

As the day of the climb draw near, I felt I'm not preparing that well physically for the climb. Yes, I have been going to the gym, but most of the exercises I have been doing was for my chest and arms, none whatsoever for my legs. And so I asked the Lord for an opportunity to exercise my legs. The following day, our boss announced that a fire drill was to be made in the entire building. We were in the 11th floor, and so when the fire alarm rang, we had to rush down through the flight of stairs going to the parking area - which was done nonchalantly by the employees (which explains why we have faired poor in terms of the time it took for all of us to evacuate the building). When the fire drill was over, the main lobby was filled up with people who are waiting for elevators to pick them up. I seized this as an opportunity, and after challenging a co-employee lining up for the elevator who gets to the 11th floor first, I raced up through the flight of stairs almost without a rest. It took me around five (5) minutes to get to the 11th floor, yet not without having perspired profusely, requiring my body to calm down in my desk for some time before I resumed my work.

Just five (5) days before our departure to Davao, I felt very sick. I didn't go to work, instead I tried to figure out my illness and fought dehydration by drinking lots of Gatorade. Late afternoon of that day came and my condition didn't improve, so I decided to come to the hospital to be checked up. They ran some tests in my blood, urine and stool and found out that I was having amoebiasis. I bought the medicines, some more Gatorade, and spent the night resting. Though still sick, I managed to come to an ordination, gave a talk, attended meetings and went to work the next days prior to our trip to Davao.

The night before the early morning flight, I was frantically packing my stuff, trying my best to make it as light as possible since I already had a big mountaineering bag, two sleeping bags, and a tent to contend with. My stuff was still heavy, considering I just packed one shirt per day of our stay and two shorts, because of the canned goods and 3 liters of water/Gatorade that I bought - good thing it still passed the 15 kilos capacity for each passenger for the flight. We were 3 R's (Rollie, Rod, Rodel) in the flight to Davao.

When we arrived, we met up with the others who were already in Davao two days ahead of us. We ate our lunch, had our last minute marketing, repacked our stuff - segregating our common stuff like tents, sleeping bags, and food that will be carried by our porters - and travelled to Kidapawan City for our pre-climb orientation. The officer-in-charge of the Tourism Office , Ate Ging, told us about some of the regulations for those who wish to climb Mount Apo - including getting down on the same trail where you went up. She was kind to give us three (3) young men (Fidel, Ron and Lemuel) as rescuers for free in addition to the three (3) porters (Boy, Rio and Massiah).

We then went to the hot spring resort at the foot of the mountain that will be our jump-off point to climb Apo. We came there by batches so as we were waiting for the others to arrive, Rod cooked dinner and segregated while I prepared the rest of the food that will be cooked in our camp during the climb - which includes marinating fish and chopping the spice ingredients. When they arrived the room was packed with people. We then had another lecture from an experienced rescuer Kuya Panot, who gave us some tips in packing our stuff and what to expect in the diverse terrain going up the mountain. He then told us the tale of a man who died at the slopes of the mountain and he was not registered at the tourism office. This tale recalled in my mind a late night show "I Survived" where it featured Mount Halcon and the worst scenario for a climb - a storm hit the mountain area at the several climbers they were isolated from one another in the middle of the trail. One of the climbers died of hypothermia because of the extreme cold. I thought to myself that Mount Apo is no different. They told us that we had to protect ourselves from the cold weather near and at the summit - and all I had was a thick jacket and a bonnet. I was in deep thoughts when a cold wind entered the room and brought chills to my body despite of wearing the bonnet and the thick jacket (I was in shorts as I had brought no pants). I thought to myself - if this is how cold it is at night at the foot of this mountain, how can I ever survive the cold when I am way up?

Reflection: When we hear stories of other people struggling with homosexuality, encountering pain and even death along the way, we start to shudder at the thought of suffering ourselves. With stories of failure we resign ourselves to status quo, fearing that we would also fail ourselves (without even trying). We tend to shy away from the struggle, and decide to remain where we are - in the familiar places and people - and not even trying to step into that decision to struggle.

The day of the climb came. I had mixed emotions - excited, anxious, perplexed. My get-up for the climb is a marathon singlet, shorts, bonnet and trekking shoes. Sonny saw me and said "Yan lang susuot mo? Hindi ka tatagal sa taas!" hehe what encouraging words! Thankfully he gave me some stretchable bands for arms and legs to keep my skin from direct cold. I thought when you climb mountains you wear the same comfortable clothes - shirt, shorts, sandals or rubber shoes. But when climbing a high peak like Apo, you must protect yourself more from the cold wind (and rains) than from the scorching heat of the sun. After two hours of finalizing stuff, we were ready for the climb. We came at the foot of the mountain, had our pre-climb pictures taken, and went to register ourselves with the Philippine National Red Cross who made sure we had a satisfactory blood pressure before allowing us to climb. And the climb began. I was thrilled! My heart was hopping for joy for finally climbing another mountain after a long time. But after a while the joy was now mixed with fear - for difficult terrain now becomes evident (there were steep slopes and areas with slabs of rocks and edges of cliffs), and there was a time I was walking alone with no one in front of me nor at my back. I began to doubt if I was still on the right track. When you start climbing the mountain, don't expect to have a good start, and easy round. The first trek I came across was a steep slope, not so easy to dash yourself downwards. And it has been a mixture of rough and light trails along the way. I heard voices behind my back so at least someone was following me. But what if I was going in the wrong direction? I was disturbed that people were following me, but I myself don't know if we are in the right path. Having other people behind you increases the fear of being lost, because you feel you have lead others to be lost as well. Until I heard voices upfront, and a stream can be heard at the foreground. Others have gone the way of the trail I am following. I smiled - we're safe.

Reflection: First, what clothes/armor do we wear as we start our struggle for chastity? Do we heed the call of St. Paul to use "the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit etc."? Do we constantly shield ourselves with prayer especially in moments of temptations? Second, when we start struggling for chastity, sometimes we expect it to be easy at first - but actually the rough edges comes in first! Frequency and degrees of temptations heightens. It will never be easy in the struggle to be holy. Third, we sometimes feel alone in the struggle and begin to question if we are still following a good path. Others may start to follow our example and we fear of not only the possibility of being lost, but of leading others to be lost as well. We will only be at peace, knowing that there are other people who have gone ahead of us, who have trudged the same road less traveled, the road of obedience to God's will through cultivating the virtue of chastity.

It has been four (4) hours' climb, and my legs are starting to get weak. I felt that sole fire drill exercise I made a week prior to the climb was not enough for me to strengthen my leg muscles. On upward slopes I would not anymore walk on them, but crawl on them! I was literally crawling my way up with my heavy backpack across these slopes. Letty, our sole woman companion, was convincing me to give up my backpack to the guides. Notwithstanding the jeers that my companions were giving me, my clothes dirtied by the mud, and my knees scratched by the rocks I'm crawling onto, I just kept pushing my way up that slope. Though my flesh is weak, my spirit is willing to go on further. Sonny pitied my crawling state and asked me to drop my backpack and let a guide carry it for me. At first I was unwilling to do it (I had Courage in mind thinking to do this sacrifice for the group), but after several attempts I complied. I was given a trekking pole that would help me walk through difficult terrain.

Reflection: In our struggle we should know our limitations. Sometimes, our performance orientation gets in the way for us to really be able to climb certain hurdles in relation to our struggle. We refuse to ask for help, until the burden is too heavy for us to carry. We journey through life not as individuals, but as a team. We must realize our inability to manage our own lives with lust and homosexuality as our cross. It is too heavy to bear it alone.

to be continued...


  1. thank u for visiting me. inspiring blog u have here :)

  2. Mt. Apo is the highest peak here in the Philippines. You can experience the wonderful vista scenery upon reaching the top peak of the mountain. This is also the home of the Philippine National Bird; The Monkey-eating eagle or Philippine Eagle.