“There are two events in our lives that are beyond our control,” began Romulo D. Henson III, or Long Henson, as he is fondly called by his friends and fellow members of Metropolitan Mountaineering Society (MMS) which he co-founded in 1994. “Our birth and our death.”
46 MMS members and two trainees, including me, hang on to his every word.
We were commemorating the life and death of Robert Arevalo Jr, an MMS batch 1999 member, in the sala of Baban’s Homestay near the Ranger’s Station in Mt. Pulag. A few hours from that time, at 11:30 PM of March 31, 2017, we started to leave the house, reconvened at the Ranger’s Station, and proceeded to Mt. Pulag’s summit.
We were accompanied by Robert’s three siblings: Tina, Mark, Rosie, and their cousin Cindy.
I don’t know Robert Arevalo Jr. I heard about him for the first time during the MMS Anniversary celebration on March 11, 2017 when this Memorial Climb was announced. I wasn’t even sure at first if I could join this memorial climb since the participants were limited only to 60 and I was on the waiting list. But a few days before the climb, slots were opened and I was in. I was joined by fellow trainee Christain Miralles.
There were six contemporaries of Robert, aside from Long, who spoke about him that night: (1) Rommel Jotic, (2) Edwin Buboy Serapio, (3) Jodes Coates, (4) Mark Tristan Santos (5) Mar Alrey Jumarang, and (6) Cary Regaspi. Finally, Tina, Robert’s younger sister and fellow MMS Member together with his brother Mark, who was also present, thanked her MMS family for fulfilling her brother’s last wish.
There was one theme in the stories they tell about Robert. That he took care of his mountaineering brothers. He would organize climbs, arrange transportation, and talk to local people for the group. He would be the first to jump into the river to test its depth. And since he was also stronger and would usually arrive on the campsite ahead of every body, he would retrace the trail for the remaining members to help carry their pack so that they too would arrive on the summit sooner. Joades Coates talked about how Robert was like an angel to him on a stormy night when they were climbing Mt. Napulauan. Out of exhaustion, he lied down to sleep on the wet ground. And Robert went back for him and carried his pack to the summit.
He also took care of animals. Al told the story of a dog who followed them on Mt. Banahaw. Robert fed the dog, he had to rappel using only one hand as he carried the dog across a cliff to their house. And when the dog would not eat, he returned the same to where they first found him.
They were not only into mounting climbing. They were also into biking. Cary recalled how Robert would take seriously his challenge for a bike race. Robert would pedal away and leave them behind. When they reached the next town, Robert would be on the middle of the road, hands on his hips asking what took them too long not knowing that they were just making fun of him. He also recalled how, when he, Ariel Cambri, Juboy Wilkomm, and Robert biked to Baler, Aurora from Manila. Cary and Juboy gave Robert and Ariel freshly extracted cow’s milk. Devoid of pasteurization, the milk caused Robert and Ariel to suffer loose bowel. They sped away to the nearest sari-sari store to look for a toilet.
Robert joined other groups but remained loyal to MMS. When he migrated to the US, he would climb solo and had pictures with an MMS banner.
Robert’s MMS family honored his last wish by remembering him on Mt. Pulag
Every January to June, MMS conducts Basic Mountaineering Course. This training also serves as the introductory course to the organization for would-be members. Christian and I belong to this year’s (2017) batch of trainees.
I always hear from the members the saying “once an MMS, forever an MMS”. Surely, this saying didn’t come out of nowhere. For wouldn’t claim this fierce loyalty if a member like Robert would jump first to test the depth of a river, and to sacrifice sleep to retrace the trail to help the slow and not so strong reach the summit? No wonder, he is at least remembered.