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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Siren song of Sagarmathaji's heights

Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
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Siren song of Sagarmathaji's heights

BLURB: "Why bother climb? You cannot stay on a mountain summit forever, you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below. But what is below does not know what's above. One climbs. One sees. One descends. One sees no longer. But one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know." - Rene Daumal

Mountain savvy propelled me up Apo Namalyari's abode on a pre-Valentine climb organized by TeamXplore Luzon-Philippine Backpackers for the 4th Viva-San Mig Lite Mt. Pinatubo conquest and Camp-Out a year ago. Prior to this, my passion for climbing fueled by the achievements of two professional mountaineers German national Erik Weihenmayer and Regie Pablo of the Batangas Backpackers brought me up the 4,200-foot Mt. Hibok-Hibok of Camiguin, Mt. Bandilaan of Siquijor, Mt. Magdiwata of San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, Mt. Cabalian of San Juan, Leyte; Mt. Arayat of Pampanga, Mt. Kanlaon of Negros Oriental, Kalon-Barak of Sarangani, Kitanglad range of Bukidnon, Aliwagwag in Tarragona, Davao Oriental; Kiangan in Ifugao, and the Cordillera ranges of Nueva Vizcaya.

Sightless since he was 13 years old caused by a hereditary disease of the retina, Erik Weihenmayer conquered Mt. Everest (Sagarmathaji or "mother goddess of the earth" to Tibetans) with all of his awakened guts, his blindness to failure, and a beautiful mind. He carried his fervent conviction that no killer peak can ever become an obstacle for a man who believes he can do away with adversity. Meanwhile, Regie Pablo, the Vice President for Luzon of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Inc. and an Honorary member of the Batangas Backpackers climbed the Razdelnaya Peak of Kyrgyztan on an acclimatization climb prior to taking the dreaded 27,758-foot Mt. Muztagh-Ata in the borders of China and Pakistan.

Now I am cheering for Regie and the rest of the Pinoy "mangatkatays" (climbers) who are exposing themselves to harsh conditions to be able to wave up there on the perpetually snowcapped peak of Sagarmathaji the Philippine emblem, amid the fact that many climbers from up there failed to come home to tell the story as they were claimed by cerebral edema or the swelling of the brain brought on by high altitude.

High altitude cerebral edema occurs when fluid leaks from oxygen-starved cerebral blood vessels, causing severe swelling of the brain, and it can strike with little or no warning. As pressure builds inside the skull, motor and mental skills deteriorate with alarming speed - typically within a few hours or less - and often without the victim even noticing the change. This could result to coma. Unless the afflicted party is quickly evacuated to lower altitude, this leads to death.

At beyond 18,000 feet, dehydration becomes an inevitable by-product of heavy breathing in such desiccated air. This is where oxygen canisters, regulators, and masks are utilized for the breathing in of compressed gas. At 25,000 feet is the Death Zone where corpses of climbers litter along the way, them now one with the carpet of ice spread out on top of cracks and crevasses.

For non-climbers, it would be very hard to understand why Regie Pablo, Ariel Ambayec, Erwin "Pastour" Emata, Leo Oracion, Levi Nayangahan, Karina Dayondon and team doctor Ted Esguerra took on this challenge, particularly on what the team would like to prove to the world, when more skilled and seasoned climbers equipped with the state-of-the-art gadgets and gears were even slapped with failure and death on Sagarmathaji's gale-swept vertex.

Ambayec reportedly suffered a mild stroke in the course of the ascent to Mt. Muztagh-Ata, Pablo almost lost a finger due to frostbites, Nayangahan is also frostbiten, and Emata's right ring finger has to be operated on due to frostbites. So what drives them to go forward up the high-wind-raked summit of Sagarmathaji? And what have we to rejoice about on these climbers' accomplishment?

To borrow "Into Thin Air" author-climber Jon Krakauer's words, mountaineers have this palpable hunger for climbing, this unalloyed enthusiasm for the mountains, climbing considered as the most important thing imaginable - an ardor for such that's "undiminishable".People who don't climb mountains - the great majority of humankind, that is to say - tend to assume that the sport is a reckless, Dionysian pursuit of ever escalating thrills. But the notion that climbers are merely adrenaline junkies chasing a righteous fix is a fallacy, at least in the case of Sagarmathaji.

Above the comforts of home, the Filipino expedition team has come to primarily endure the pain in subjecting to weeks after weeks of toil, tedium and suffering. It is now noticeable that these climbers are seeking above all else something like a state of grace.

As I watch the Filipinos come closer and closer an inch at a time to the dreaded Hillary Step, a steep notch in the summit ridge, which lies some 200 vertical feet below the top of the peak, that presents some of the most technically demanding climbing on the standard route up Sagarmathaji, the oomping-thumping of their hearts become audible. I know they have already felt the siren song of Sagarmathaji's heights.

Climbing provided to "mangatkatays" most of what had been missing on civvy street - the challenge, the camaraderie, the sense of mission, author-climber Krakauer pointed out.

For some, attempting an ascent to Sagarmathaji's peak is an intrinsically irrational act - a triumph of desire over sensibility. But I do believe in Regie Pablo and his team that even when this climbing pursuit has tragic results, the Pinoy himself doesn't know this when he sets out on his adventure. Untrammelled by the wicked cold-swept environment, I am pretty sure determination would carry them a long, long, long way the way I have carried their love for climbing as an inspiration.

We Pinoys - labelled as "astigs" (tough) - wherever we stand on the globe, on our on Sagarmathajis, must always extend our reach beyond our grasp, or what should this concept of heaven for?

TEXTPRESS URSELF! "Hi! Ds s john. R u a new ager? Ur views about lyf n love n such reflect a liberal new age thnking. M a practitioner of witchcraft. N fact ur column n my artcle shard a page last halowen edition...2004...R u psykik s d title. Dn had anodr article - eye of newt, toe of frog..ur yinyang n d colum spiks volumes n also d alibata...want 2 knw mor bwt ur views. Kudos! sent: 19-Sept-2005 15:13:39; "Once, ve read Coelho's Alchemist. N snce den 8 has snt me to jorney n search of my own personal legend. Luv 2 join ur club. I'm 29 yrs old, male, married." - edelson; sent: 18-Sept-2005 11:41:20; "SAUL MATES...a story abt SAUL, a roman soldier hu punshd any1 hu follwd d teachns of Jesus Chrst whl on d road 2 Damascus, a blndng lyt frm d sky hit SAUL's eyes wc made him blind. he ws able 2 c agen whn SAUL realzd Jesus ws hs SOULmate. n d next life, SAUL bcme PAUL, a great devotee of Chrst. I am krsnaraja n2 bhakti-yoga.I cud be ur SAULMATE, u knw. M a freemn readr. I lov nito's pun d sal. Jerry & i wnt 2 same skol, colegio del sto nino. I'm a gov't doctor. Grad bats '83 gullas college of medcne sent: 19-Sept-2005 15:17:08. Mobile phone numbers are withheld.

EBOX. For your comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions, crank up my email addy:
pinay_mangatkatay@yahoo.com or text me at 09215323616. Reading sessions on Coelho, Neruda and Gibran is scheduled on October 1 at Tops in barangay Busay at 8pm. We can meet at JY Square at 7:30pm. Text or post me a notice. Thanks.