Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mt. Pulag: Vertical Horizon

IANNE Borillo is an ad agency executive and one of the owners of Mag:Net Bonifacio High Street who I met during the sought-after bar and restaurant's launch around 2006 (or was it 2007?). Ianne always struck me as one hell of a woman, a Renaissance chick who likes to give just about everything a try.

Being a creative type, not only is she an artist who stages her own one-woman exhibit every four years but she's also big on the great outdoors and extreme sports. She's one of those adventurous types who likes to put her money where her mouth is and as far as I've known her, never backs down from any challenge, be it as navigator of a cross country race that she never previously participated in or negotiating the highs and lows of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" during Mag:Net's Rockeoke Night.

Anyway, Ianne is Radio Clash's very first guest blogger. Here is her interesting, often funny but always engaging account of her very first foray into mountain climbing back in 2007. Since then, she has managed to climb a few more peaks. Read on.

By Ianne Borillo

THIS is where my half-baked decision had taken me. Maybe it’s my sense of adventure. Maybe it’s my sense of reckless abandon. Maybe both. But I found myself joining a four-day hike to Mt. Pulag, Luzon’s highest peak—a familiar enough place yet completely unknown territory.

I can enumerate a thousand excuses not to go through including those that took place at the last minute: pre-menstrual syndrome, bad weather, bad start (we missed the bus) and fair warning from one of the hosts that this is anything but a fun climb. The odds does seem to pile up on each other like a mound of heavy rocks similar to the pack I had to haul for the rest of what would later feel like an eternity of climbing.

Yet there I was, teaming up with four veteran male climbers—the only one without any prior climbing experience. Although I was the only rose among the thorns, I felt more like a thorn on the side of my seasoned teammates. So even as the guys made sure I am well-equipped from gear to mindset, I was compelled to keep up with them with every step.

True enough, fun is not exactly a word I’ll use to describe those four days. For starters, I was literally hanging on to dear life for three straight hours atop a truck that consistently broke down every 20 minutes. With no restrooms in sight, I had to quickly pee in the open trail. I also got soaked by the unpredictable rain which along with the unforgiving winds gave me a really nasty cold. And I’m not even at base camp yet. In between asking myself what I got myself into, I actually prayed for the bad weather to get worse so everything will just be called off. I wanted to go home so badly.

Arriving at base camp did not seem to divert my prayers. I have never seen my ACGs so dirty with mud I barely recognized them. At that point, I am so cold and just wanted to change into fresh clothes. The sleeping arrangement was fairly okay as I felt more comfortable and toasty inside my newly acquired sleeping bag. I slumped anxious in between bodies imagining what it’s going to be like in the morning. I did not get to sleep.

Sunrise. It’s finally the moment of truth. I’m getting more excited as I gear up. The lack of mirrors prevented me from confirming how awful and silly I look. After some stretching, our group did some photo op (in case somebody goes missing) and then off we start rolling. Atthough the itinerary says “descend” I think the word barely does the actual thing justice. I find myself ankle deep in mud, constantly slipping and helplessly clinging to a person I don’t even know just barely 10 minutes into the trail.

My short term goal is to go through the day without falling on my behind. It’s bad enough that I have to recycle my clothes so I try to keep it clean and mud-free as possible. With a little keen observation and tons of human intervention, I managed to succeed. I was amazed by the openness and willingness of these strangers to help one another.

As the moments go by, I slowly adjust to the environment, the activity and the culture of climbing. Instead of constantly looking down and minding where my feet lands, I concentrated on appreciating the sights, the scenery, to calm my nerves,

Eventually, I start to interact with the other climbers whom I will be stuck with for a couple of days. Yes, I worried about getting sick from the fickle weather and completely dread facing my worse nemesis- the formidable leech. I freaked at the sight of it crawling up my legs. As I could barely looking at the bloodsucker, much less touch it, I had to impose on whoever is nearest to take it off me.

One naughty climber, who doesn’t realize the intensity of my leech phobia, chose a really bad time to get cute and scared me further. I didn’t realize how the shrill sound of a woman’s shriek (meaning mine) can send the teams that rolled ahead of us running back as they thought I had fallen into a ditch. Thankfully, I learn that functionality before fashion is definitely the way to go as my unfashionable combination of printed slipper socks, tights and cargo shorts prevented the suckers from penetrating my skin.

Nine hours and about 30 kilometers later, we finally reached camp. Surprisingly, I still have the energy to cook a decent, rather gourmet pasta meal for my team. I realize that nature provides a constantly changing backdrop that has a way of not only entertaining you but also somehow makes you ignore your weariness.

Having survived the first day, I was pretty sure Day Number 2 will be more of the same and I was prepared to face it with a little more confidence. Wrong. The itinerary says “ascend” and “assault.” Apparently, the grueling first day is supposed to be the fun part. In addition to the physical torment of the climb, I unexpectedly got my period which explains my constant lack of energy and exhaustion. But I cannot give in to my physical and mental urges to give up. My short term goal is to just make it through the day regardless whether I slip, fall or tumble. I chow down my chocolate power bars and slipped into iPod mode. It worked. Successfully, I psyched myself to push forward until we reached camp. Unscathed. I feel extra proud of myself now.

My team then initiated a meeting to push to the next camp despite the extreme cold. Ironically, we were the first to bail out as the eldest and most experienced member started feeling uncomfortably cold. The other teams went on their way leaving just a handful of us at the camp. We started rolling at 2am, wih me wearing a long sleeve shirt, a dry fit shirt, fleece, rain jacket, tights, climbing pants, 2 layers of socks, bonnet, scarf, gloves, my ACGs and finally a head lamp. I have never worn that much clothes all at the same time.

As we trek under the moonlit sky, I barely felt the exhaustion. As if every part of my body is overwhelmed by a picture perfect silhouette of a tree atop a distant hill against the full moon and midnight blue canvas. I stop every so often to catch my breath as my little glimpse of perfection becomes bigger with every step. Daylight breaks and the previous silhouettes of hills turns to gold transforming the canvas into a marvelous play of orange, pink and blue.

My excitement turns to exhilaration as I finally reached the peak. What stands before me is a sea of pure white clouds so beautiful beyond words that I just find myself sitting silently in solitude without a care in the world. My teammate looks at me and simply utters “This is why we climb”. Overwhelmed, I just acknowledged his words with a nod and a smile.

Physical and mental torment coupled with countless mishaps aside, I am grateful that I bit that bullet. Frankly speaking, I’ll bite it again, this time with eyes very wide open.

And here's Ianne again with good friend Pia Boren as members of the Lighthouse-Subaru team during the recently concluded M-150 Unleashed Cross-Country race:

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