Gravity constantly pulls us down. The heavier we are, the stronger the pull and the harder it strains our legs, our muscles.
I was carrying about a fifteen kilo-pack consisting of my personal belongings to survive the two-night trek to Mt. Talomo located in Brgy. Sicao, Tamayong, Calilan, Davao City. The heaviest were the four liters of drinking water.
We made three initial stops. The first was at about 7 am at our drop-off point almost two hours from Davao City, at Brgy. Tamayong, Purok 6. There we had our breakfast. Our packs were carried by two motorcycles to our second initial stop by a hut beside the street in a banana plantation. We were running late. To facilitate our climb the organizer headed by Engr. Albert C. Gabriel of mtapoadventures.com had our packs carried by motorcycles to our second initial stop. From our second stop, we carried our packs to our campsite in Mt. Talomo.
Our final initial stop was at a hut with a tarpaulin and a map plastered on its wall with a public announcement that the area is part of the 6,834 hectares ancestral domain of Bacobo Clata Tribe. Here our guides and porters made the final check of our provisions: food, tent, stoves, cookwares, etc. which were part of our package for this climb.
Shortly thereafter, we started our ascent toward Mt. Talomo. We passed by the houses and we entered a thick and mossy forest. We were warned that for that first day, we would be climbing an average of 1,027 meters or from 1,308 to 2335 meters above sea level. We waded through thorny vines and leaves, climbed portions of the trail by holding on to the roots of trees, traversed sections of the trail by walking on fallen huge trunk of trees minding the slippery moss we were stepping on. Mt. Talomo’s peak was reported to be at 2,666 meters above sea level.
On the third or fourth hour of our climb, my right inner thigh began to ache. On the 6th hour, I almost couldn’t lift my right leg. The pain was excruciating, yet we still had two hours to walk. This was the first time in all my climbs that I felt this pain. What could have caused this pain? Whatever the cause, I knew I could not stop and be a liability to our group.
If this pain didn’t go away, I’d be in pain for the next two days of the trek. As I dragged my right leg, I tried to distract myself by thinking that I had found a metaphor for life. This mountain climbing, this constant pulling of gravity, this pain, this struggle to reach the summit. Ignore the pain, ignore the distance. Keep on walking. Doing this over and over again, mountain after mountain, you shall realize that there is nothing in life you can’t endure, there is no peak you can’t surmount, there is nothing you can’t accomplish. Mountain climbing, I lectured myself, was life condensed in a day or two or for the duration of the climb.
At about five in the afternoon, when we reached our campsite, Tah gave me a capsule of pain reliever. My companions asked me to lay on the tent to rest while our guides and porters prepared our dinner.
The following morning, we woke up at 3:30 am, 30 minutes late for the 3-hour assault of Mt. Talomo’s summit. Our guides and porters heated water and gave us chocolate and coffee to drink. At 4:30 am, we left our packs in our tent and started ascending Mt. Talomo’s peak. We knew we were late for the sunrise, so we took our time to the summit. The pain in my right thigh was still there but bearable now.
We were only on one side of Mt. Talomo’s summit. At our back were trees. At the front was Mt. Lipadas, on the left were the sea of clouds, on the right was Mt. Apo’s peak, the very reason we were in Davao City, the reason why we climbed Mt. Daraitan, Mt. Makilling, Mt. Tarak, and Mt. Arayat as our practice climb. From Mt. Talomo’s peak, the ashes of burnt trees appear like lines of an unspread powder on the beautiful face of Mt. Apo. It would take another 3-5 years before climbers like us will be allowed to climb Mt. Apo. Another 3-5 years, and probably 3-4 mountains for practice climbs before we can finally stand on her peak.
We arrived at our campsite from Mt. Talomo’s peak past 9 am, had breakfast and prepared to descend Mt. Talomo. A fellow and more experienced climber again volunteered to carry my pack as he did on our way up yesterday. But the contents of my backpack were my things. Every climber carefully chooses the gears to bring to make his/her pack as light as possible, as comfortable as possible. I am not about to leave the responsibility of carrying my pack to a climber, even to a more experienced one. I have decided to carry it myself, even if I had to crawl in pain. My backpack was my responsibility and no one else.
Like yesterday on our way up to our campsite, I strapped my backpack and tightened the belt on my waist so that all the weight would be on my hips. After about 10 or twenty steps, the intense pain was coming back again. I remembered the trick I discovered while on our way down from Mt. Tarak: if I joined my fingers together and lifted my pack from behind, the pain in my legs went away. It was a eureka moment for me. I released the strap on my waist and let my shoulders carry all the weight of my pack. Since then, my thighs didn’t hurt again even after hours of descending Mt. Talomo.
For our descent, we chose a trail that led nearest to the waterfalls we would be swimming in the following day. This trail had not been used for the last three years, according to our guide. We did not doubt him as the trail was filled with untouched moss. After about four hours of descent, we were at Sitio Basikong. We arrived in another hut where we took a rest as our guides and porters prepared our lunch. After lunch, we proceeded to our campsite which was about an hour walk farther down the mountain.
The following morning, after an hour trek that was no less difficult than climbing Mt. Talomo summit, I watched, mesmerized by the unending fall of water from Pikot Falls, estimated at six to ten storeys high. Like the pain I felt yesterday, everything I saw of the falling water was past, while the boulders and the river remain. I believe I have stayed my course, and remained like the rocks and the river. I have survived this climb and this trek to the falls. I shook as the cold wind hit me. Silently, I celebrated the triumph of human spirit.
A little farther up the river was the Tres Marias Falls. I was sure the water in Tres Marias was at least as cold as Pikot Falls. I did not anymore dip in the water nor had any pictures taken under one of the falls like Tah, Darlene, Erg, Gadz, and Lloyd.
We left our campsite in Sitio Basikong at 2:14 pm. In less than two hours, or at 4:50, we reached Purok 6, our drop off point.
At past 5 pm, we were in a van back to Davao City. By 8 pm, we were having our post climb dinner of bulalo, boneless lechon, liempo de Cebu, tuna belly, and pakbet. We joked that the closest thing we reached of Mt. Apo was Mt. Apo Street, where Green Windows Hotel was located, and where the 8 of us: Erg, Lloyd, Gadz, Tah, Darlene, Charles, Ron, and I stayed on April 14, 2016, our first night in Davao City.
After dinner, we went for a body massage just beside D’Counter Executive Dormitory at J. Camus Street where we were billeted.
The climb to Mt. Apo was seven months in the making. The fire that razed her on Black Saturday or two weeks before our scheduled climb was the gravity that pulled our spirits down. It strained our patience, it tested our resolve. All our alternative mountains: Dulang-dulang and Kitanglad were closed. Mt. Candalaga was closed three days before our arrival in Davao City. Our contact confirmed we were climbing Mt. Talomo only a day before our arrival. Even then, I was doubtful if we could actually climb Mt. Talomo because the locals or the local government unit can close the mountain anytime. Despite this uncertainty, we still pushed through our trip to Davao City. The uncertainty though caused four of our 12 members to back out. Instead of joining us in Mt. Talomo, they created their own itinerary and went around Mindanao, and they too had a blast.
On our way down from our campsite to our drop-off point, our organizer in Davao, Albert C. Gabriel, of mtapoadventures.com told us that we should expect the same terrain as Mt. Talomo if we climb mountains in Mindanao. I thought perhaps all mountains have the same terrain. They only differ in length. To climb them, you wade through thorny vines and leaves, hold on to the roots of trees or ropes, and traverse sections by walking on fallen huge trunk of trees. And all mountains offer us the same benefits. But if all mountains have the same terrain and offer the same benefits, why not stick with a mountain, or the basic question, why keep climbing? The answer perhaps is because, consciously or not, climbers have found in mountain climbing a metaphor for life. When they are down and discouraged, they climb a mountain. When they are broken hearted, they climb a mountain. The pain they experience in climbing a mountain is no different from the pain they experience in life. They have to ignore the pain, ignore the distance, keep on walking. When they are back safe in the comfort of their home, they realize that there is nothing in life they can’t endure, there is no peak they can’t surmount, there is nothing they can’t accomplish.