Anyone with a spirit of adventure and love for the outdoors will take a chance to climb a mountain.
I’ve climbed about 13 mountains, and I want to climb a hundred more. The “high” is addictive. Standing on one summit makes me seek out another. I’m sure this feeling is shared by thousands of hikers and climbers anywhere.
Fortunately, this planet blessed us with so many mountains to climb. I’m sharing my thoughts from the recent climb we did: a Trilogy of Mt. Ayngat, Mt. Maynoba and Mt. Cayabu in Rizal, Philippines, about 2-3 hours from where we live.
When our friend from Central Ground CrossFit, Shannon King, invited us to join their group, I honestly expected a very easy climb. Upon research, the Twin Mountains Mt. Maynoba and Mt. Cayabu are known for beginners who want an easy hike near Manila. I will later realize that it is the Trilogy with the addition of Mt. Ayngat that would bridge the gap between “easy” and “challenging.”
We didn’t really sleep on Friday night as the agreed group meet-up time was at 12 midnight. We went in the vans to take us to Rizal (northeast of Manila) with CrossFit friends Chino Roque and Jo De Silva, and a bigger group of Shannon’s friends who were all game for a fun and different weekend adventure.
We started trekking at about 3:00 a.m. so we could reach the peak of Mt. Ayngat by sunrise. As expected, it was pitch black. The trail that was supposedly easy became hard for climbers who were ill-equipped for the dark. (Note to self: Daytime or nighttime climb, ALWAYS bring a functioning headlamp.)
We went with the first guide who brought our small group to a more challenging ascent to the peak: a rocky and steep terrain which would be doubly hard at 4:00 a.m. when some of us were just depending on and had to use one hand for our iPhone flashlights (Silly, yes).
When we reached the top, we quietly waited for the sky to change its colors for sunrise.
This is one of the mountains where the summit does what it does: take your breath away.
Everywhere we looked were mountain ridges, the sky, a long meandering river, rock formations, and greens. The breeze was like a healing balm when you’re tired from a long workweek, and, not to mention: sleepless.
Nature has a way of evoking a necessary pause. Up on the summit, many of us had to stand on our own and take it all in. We were witnessing a majestic landscape change its colors and wake up to a new day.
We were on top of a mountain looking out at nature’s show. While millions sleep, we were awake, quiet, in awe, and trying to capture and remember as much of it as we could.
After the sun has fully risen, it was time for us to descend the first mountain and head off to the next two.
This is where Mt. Ayngat proves why it doesn’t show up on Google searches. Our climb was seemingly a beta climb by special request. It is where we all get surprised by a mud trail that was at many times steep, absent of a clear path, thorny, rocky and yes, filled with the danger and drama of more challenging mountains.
Several times during the trail, we had to scramble and use both hands and feet to get from one step to the next.
Mt. Ayngat reminded me of a number of things:
- Climbing a mountain entails good judgment. We all need to make small decisions at every step, like choosing which branch or root to hold on to, or which rock to step on. These decisions are small but you never know which small decision is critical. A misstep leads to a fall, which as we all know leads to other things. We came out of that treacherous trail with a tiny gash on the head, a long bleeding scratch on the leg, some scrapes, and bruises, etc. But we were fine.
- The presence of water makes a world of difference. When it rains or it has rained, the muds will make any easy trail automatically become harder. Digging in to mud or slipping on it are almost hard to avoid when the terrain lacks rocks to step on. Water is always refreshingly welcome when it is in the form of a spring or waterfall where hikers normally rest. When the body of water becomes part of the trail, that’s another story altogether. When it rains, that’s always a bad news and climbers need to heighten their sense of caution.
- I believe there is a mountain for everybody. Because not all mountains are created equal, the challenging mountains are not for the faint of heart (and body). Technically difficult mountains are a true test of fitness. Endurance is tested for sure. In some difficult climbs, strength and flexibility are likewise necessary. For Mt. Ayngat, I had to pull myself up, bend my back and stretch my arms and legs far, just to avoid slipping and falling. Needless to say, many hikers did not enjoy the Mt. Ayngat descent particularly at the part where thorns, bamboos, and mud combined to make a clutter of a trail. I personally found it daunting, but I liked being able to overcome it.
- This leads to this next insight. Mountains test a person’s tolerance for hardship. At which point will people complain, stop or respond negatively to the difficulty? I must admit I was internally struggling, but I knew my husband and the group would not benefit from any sort of negativity at that point. What we needed were encouragement, humor, maybe a fun Katy Perry song, or just lightheartedness to get through it. Through it all, this was key: mind over mountain.
- Mountains remove us from our comforts and luxuries and we’re stripped down to our bare necessities. Mountains heighten our sense of survival and it is important that we respect the earth and acknowledge that we’re vulnerable to it. This helped me remember how mountains force modesty out of any man. Nehmann Buhl said it: “Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.” We can never underestimate nature and we must prepare for the outdoor elements. Bringing enough water and food is key, having the right gear will be extremely helpful, and being mindful at each step is needed.
- Life must truly be lived moment after moment, step after step. If we hasten to reach the top expecting a pot of gold, it may not happen. Some summits are spectacular. Some are covered by trees and lack the elevation that command anything special about it. Neil Strauss says it: “What’s at the top? Nothing. Not one thing. What was at the top was all the experiences that you had to get there.”
- Going on your own or going with a group, it is important to pack light. And by light, that includes a light heart that will smile at strangers or help other mountaineers in need. Keep these to a minimum: baggage, noise, ego. Leave no litter and keep nature beautiful. When it gets hard, find a place to sit down, take a deep breath, drink more water, and take the moment in. Then everything will be well again.
The other two mountains of Maynoba and Cayabu were very easy with the gentle rolling terrains. There were steps, bamboo handrails and proper well-used trails which can guide any hiker.
It’s wonderful to just be there: out of the city and into the woods, the mountains with its fresh breeze, the rivers, and the simple “barangay” or town where people’s lives were indeed so much simpler. Away from the stress, toxic pace, traffic, noise, politics, and all the less-than-pretty elements of living in the urban jungle, I needed it.
I quote the beautiful words of Robert MacFariane about the desire of people to find solace in the mountains: “Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.”
We’re thankful for friends whose company had been a fun part of the 10-hour Trilogy climb, from the exciting to the easy parts. Until the next one!
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Edmund Hillary