Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Manalmon Rain (Part 1)

Feb. 23, 2008 . . .

11:00 a.m. Only Miel, David, Lawrence and I were  left to dare the impending bad weather and continue on with our plans to do some bouldering.  Three of five cars that sped the highway for three hours have left and carried with them 10 of 14 people for another 3 hours for their drive back home.  It was very ambitious to keep on for the bouldering despite the bad weather and I for one had my indecisive moments. But going out there to do some climbing and camping out was one obsession that had to be realized.  I get lots of energy from staying outdoors and I think I need a lot more of it.   The last of the cars drove off and we checked everyone off . . .  and then there were four.   After a few acknowledging stares at each other, we carried our packs and crash pads.  We crossed the river and in 30 minutes we’d be amongst the limestone showground of Manalmon.

8:00 a.m. The last of 5 cars came up slowly in the parking area.  The runoff water parted as the mud-spattered tires came to a halt in the coffee brown puddle.  Most of us waited outside our cars and stood under umbrellas in the chilly drizzly morning.  The water soaked landscape was vibrant with color.  The only gray was the cloudy sky that loomed over us like a forewarning of a long uneventful day.   Everyone was restless; most of us waded in the knee deep river and watched Bear swim across.  Bear is a dog, she’s Alex’s and Nana’s German Shepherd and she looked she was the only one enjoying the rain.  Everyone else of course came for the bouldering and it was basically impossible to go climbing on the super slick wet limestone. 

9:00 a.m.  We all woke up from our slumber only to stare blankly at the sky through the hundreds of water beads that formed on our wind shields.  The rain had weakened but the gray cloud cover still extended as far as our eyes could see.  For most there isn’t at all a reason to stay longer.  Xtian, Beau, Anna and Harley decided to go.  There wasn’t a way to convince them the weather would get better, I wasn’t sure myself.  The rest of us decided to go out over The Madlum Cave Area.  Some rocks could have been sheltered and could have remained dry. 

The air got cooler as we neared the cave entrance.  A cold draft run the short  dank tunnel. The darkness was short and there wasn’t a need for headlamps.  We took time groping in its blackness.  The cave exit greeted us soon like a gateway to another world. The edges of the cave framed the outside world in a pretty picture.  It was a sight.  We’ve been through that cave more than a dozen times but that instant was exceptional.  Maybe because the moment presented the right opportunity to relish something that we usually just pass by.

10:00 a.m.  There it  was, a new line.  It was something we simply ignore every time we pass by that area.  It didn’t look hard and the moves on the boulder problem looked obvious.  The holds were big and not very far apart.  Just after a few minutes of searching we found what could probably be the only boulder problem we might be doing for the day.  It was dry and it was perfect.  Not so hard to get you stumped and yet not so easy either that it captures you.  It was something very important. It got our spirits up.  It could be classic. Yarding off on it’s cold features was simply joyous. I dubbed it “Rain Shine”.  It’s over hanging at the start and continues on with jugs and then exits from a good undercling to an extended reach for the last good hold at the topout.  It was a good boulder problem for a wet, chilly, semi-gloomy, semi-happy morning.

11:00 a.m.  From the fun photo sessions on “Rain Shine” we proceeded back to the cars. We brought with us some good enough high to send us off wherever.  Everyone was preparing to call it a day and head back home.  Finally, the wind blew across our faces, strands of hair wafted our cheeks and the clouds parted slightly to reveal blue patches of sky. After a few hesitant moments, I came over to the huddle and declared, “We’re staying…” .  Three of us, me, my brother David and Lawrence were willing to stay and chance it.  Miel went over to Ina and after a few minutes decided to stay as well.  
12:00 noon.  We arrived at our first hurdle.  The river had risen and the current got stronger. Crossing became a major obstacle.  We had to cross back and forth to carry one by one our packs and our crash pads.  The water rushed around our legs and forcefully torqued us to topple down. It was hard getting a good firm foot hold in the gushing river.  We had to crouch down low to prevent us from toppling over.  There were no style points in crossing the river that time.  We just had to get it done. Some dunkings were in order but it was no big deal. It was a short epic but we managed to get through and with much better appreciation for the adventure. 

1:00 p.m.  The rest of the hike was uneventful.  We passed by lush green fields and mango trees festooned with hundreds of fruits that seem to weigh down the entire tree.  We soon arrived at our campsite, had some lovely cold cuts,  and proceeded with some much needed rest.  The landscape in Manalmon changes yearly. Storms shape the landscape constantly and each visit is always a new experience. The river was deeper by the campsite, the banks of the campsite got higher and the “Gardenia Boulder” stood even prouder.  The sky was completely clear, the blue patched only by a few white swirls and the wind blew harder.  The dark gloomy feel when the day started was replaced by contentment and surprise.

2:00 p.m.  New boulder problems were everywhere.  In the span of 8 years I figured maybe the area had been squeezed out of new lines.  In the few minutes of searching we’ve seen a number of unclimbed lines.  Our eyes got bewildered by these possibilities.  They were there years ago but it was only then that we got to see these things in a different perspective.  Everything we saw presented huge potential. 

2:30 p.m. “Scary Movie Too” sits right of  “Scary Movie”.  It starts low on a few good crimps. The problem got a few hard changes midway all our attempts as a few crucial holds popped out.  In the end, the problem got technical and more demanding.  The crux lies on the upper section of the line; it’s a fully extended right hand jab to a pinch above head level from a crimp that’s around hip level.  It sends the climber to tight and extended “iron cross”. The next long reach left to a good hold high up on the boulder’s lip presented another teeth grinding scenario.  Although the hold got better, the thought of the hold popping out and sending you off right towards the water seem to be the real crux.  This I think is what makes outdoor climbing more interesting.  Indoors, all those dyno’s and quick moves  are all easy, but outdoors, you have to choose wisely when to cut it loose.  Sometimes, specially on precarious limestone, it’s wiser to be more delicate and pragmatic but still remain confident. It’s an interesting mix and it’s something only climbing outdoors can offer.

4:00 p.m. “Barbara Z.”  is one of the long standing projects in the area.  A good friend Anthony Prieto saw it some 6 years ago.  I tried it and tried it and got close to finishing it but the last lunge for a bad sloper was all too impossible for me at that time.  Our visit this year might tell a different story.  Me and Miel stood below “Barbara Z.” and lovingly brushed it’s pockets and crimps.  We got on it but it was still a bit wet from the morning’s rain.  The chalk marginally dried the holds and at the time we just had to make do of what was given.  We saw some new possible sequences and immediately jumped on the problem again and again.  My fingers got sore, my body sagged out of tension and the daylight slowly faded. Miel got on it several times more, strongly stable on the opening stabs on its pockets and then dynoing to the last move but too was running out of time. Perhaps tomorrow would be better. After a good rest and after “Barbara Z.” getting air dired, the chances of getting it done will be better.

6:00 p.m. The day slowly ended and the light gradually turned orange.  We had to get back to camp, dip in the cool water, prepare dinner and just wait for the stars.  The day was more than perfect.  What started out short of an epic ended up to be a really fine day.  We cooked delicious spicy pasta al tonno and stayed out in the stars for as long as we could.  The skies were clear and mapping out constellations became a good pass time.  We camped beneath “jurassic” bamboo trees.  It’s leaves rustled a distinct tone and the it’s stems crackled with the wind.  The melodic tunes of nature nestled us to slumber while the iridescent moon watched over us.   

Part 2 soon . . .

Monday, March 17, 2008

Expanding climbing

Rock climbing, bouldering, sport climbing, competition climbing, deep water soloing, trad climbing, aid , they all are as varied as they can get.  Each one defined by a specific aspect of the climb and each has its own charm.  But for whatever its worth, all of them still constitute a basic reality.  All of them still focus on the ascent and, as simple as it can get, they all require you to haul your ass up from the ground on a vertical path.  I have been on this path for a little more than 10 years and still climbing has always been new and ever expanding.  The limits of where to go next are pushed out further and further.  You could go bouldering and then do deep water soloing, join a competition or do some lead on some 30 meter routes or whatever suits you and all of them are unlimited.  New climbing areas are being discovered and the rates at which these areas are being developed are getting faster and faster.  Access becomes a minor issue as more and more climbers are willing to go great lengths, trail blazing and setting up routes even on remote reaches.  The places to go are vast and limited only by your ability to create the time for it or fund yourself for the journey. 

My journey into this world of climbing is an endless one.  I can not see myself ever running out of places to go and rocks to climb and though the act of climbing itself becomes the ultimate goal or finishing a route being the definitive act of accomplishment, the search for the boulder or the search for the line you want to climb is actually already a big part of it .  For me being able to get to the right setting at the right time, seeing a pretty place, a pretty face and being amongst people with lots of energy for the climbing is already a reward in itself.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Small Things and Big Things

What’s more about climbing is it’s quintessential effect that transforms you to appreciate the smaller things in life and help you see the bigger picture.  It’s a humbling experience to be climbing outdoors where you are with the elements.  You are dwarfed by the presence of these huge rock formations, the depth of the water you fall on when deep water soloing and the immensity of areas you visit while searching for a project.  Then, you also get to see the smallest of crimps.  They are small but as small as they are they also present an inspiring validity of our existence.  We are giants in this whole new different scale and yet not all of these small crimps will be easily dispatched.  Small things also demand a level of respect sometimes equal and even greater than those you would expect. 

It's good to be a climber

Dingle, Iloilo.  Photo by Marco Malaca

In a world soaked with harsh realities, wet from world hunger, poverty, global warming, and civil wars that trickles down to unrealized dreams, forced unions, and broken promises, a climber is reduced to just that, a climber.  He becomes someone with a personal agenda having little or having not much effect on society or a community.  He is not bound to save the world from itself; he is not destined to solve world problems.  He practices climbing that becomes an excruciating luxury to some and becomes just a passing fancy to most.

Manalmon Bulacan, 2003
A climber veers bravely away from the norm when time permits.  A climber takes himself far away from urbanity, far from the idiosyncrasies of the city, and far into the wilder side of his surroundings.  He takes to an escape sometimes looked upon by others as almost solitary and sad.  It is an image tainted with prejudice.  It is judged through standards of a society that rose from commonality, living in a coexistence that sometimes become full of multiple compromises. 

Tali Beach

Disinterested, indifferent, solitary; this is a climber to the eyes of most.  Why become a climber? Why is it good to be a climber?  This maybe the question one may ask that would aim to fit the branched out world of climbing within a uniform society.  It would try to fit a world where a climbing trip, the next 5.14, or the next project takes precedence over politics, stock markets, religions and washing dishes.

Benguet Capitol Boulders

Catanico Boulders, CDO

Sto. Tomas Boulders, Baguio

Puting Bato, Cogeo

Slayer, Wawa, Montalban

Hugan Province, China

Let me offer a few maybes.  Maybe it is good to be a climber because we climbers get to see the world in the eyes like that of a child.  Everything we see is vast, the expanse of where we go is endless.  Everything is new, and even the small things become of great interest.  The view from atop a cliff is undeniably surreal.  It takes great effort to be there, and the time we spend up there is always a short-lived moment lasting a few eternal minutes at the most.  We celebrate small victories then move on onto the next quest.  It’s pure and untainted.  It is as honest as it can be.  There is no way of cheating up a cliff.  We get to where we want to be the only way we can, through hard effort and pure grit.  You can’t say this and do that, you’re always real when you climb and to share this honesty amongst people who share the same passion is intoxicatingly magical.  

Central Crag, Hong Kong

Training in Malaysia

World Cup Singapore

Getu Valley, China

Ailfroide, France

Tonsai, Thailand

Under the Gran Boveda, Rodellar, Spain

Asian X-Games 1998

The climbing life is simple.  It is a gift and gifts are always good.  There will always be a crux in any climb.  It is right where a lot of “the difficult” conspires to make you give up.  Everything hard for you come to one point, condenses to give you the toughest time, and blurs your vision of the imaginable.  The gift is that single moment when all the right elements fall into place and allow the convergence of all the good to come play with you to finish the route. It is that single moment when the absence of one element can spell the difference.  That single moment when the wind blows, when the pain in the finger tips vanish, when there is only silence, when everything that was so impossible becomes possible, … that is when you get to feel why it is good to be a climber.

Dispatch Magazine

Sidetrip Magazine

Ambongdolan, Mt. Province

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Simply Climbing

I am thankful for the many things climbing has become, even for a select few people, in the Philippines.  I like the way it has given an alternate path on which children and adults alike could tread on for them to express themselves both physically and mentally.  It has taught a few some life lessons;  how to get along with each other, and how to respect the other person.  It has made some people more accepting of their own and another's weakness.  It made some realize what they can and cannot do, what is an immediate possibility and what needs incessant effort.  It’s also noteworthy to say that it has also brought contour and symmetry to the climber's body which is already more than what is needed to be said.

I like it too because, whether we like to admit it or not, it hurts when the skin on our finger tips burn, it hurts when the forearms tighten, and it hurts when the back muscles feel tired and pumped from constantly defying gravity. If it were all too comfortable and easy we wouldn’t have that same satisfaction for the climbing day's end like coming home from a fishing trip hefting a huge catch.

Climbing is, sure, just climbing but there is more to it than it’s simplicity.  Yes, we climb and say, "Get your ass up there and pull!," but there is more to be discovered about it.  Sometimes everything in climbing happens within seconds and split second decisions, an inch short of reach could feel like a yard, a huge handhold will sometimes feel entirely useless, and still a nib of a hold could sometimes spell the balance needed for an ascent.

Within climbing's simplicity lies a complex branching of further gifts I am thankful for.  Each gift it gives opens to more gifts, each revealing secrets; some in people, some in places, and some within the passion itself.  Climbing is simply climbing but in time, when one is ready, it reveals more of itself in perfect order. 

VX-Boulder Climbing Gym in Marikina, RIP 2006

"Red Dragon"- 8B, Yangshou, China

Left:  Dingle, Iloilo, Philippines
Right:  Lagen Island, El Nido, Philippines

Manalmon Bulacan, Philippines

Ceuse, France

Gran Boveda, Rodellar, Spain

Under "Familia Manson"- 8B+, Rodellar, Spain

World Cup Singapore, 2006

Left:  World Cup Singapore, 2006
Right:  Hong Kong Invitational Bouldering, 2002

Huguan Province, China, 2009

SEA Games, Palembang, Indonesia, 2011

Perticarra, Italy

Rodellar, Spain

Fosso' d'Llermo, Italy

KM4, La Trinidad, Philippines

Huguan Province, China

Sagpulon, Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

Left:  Cantabaco, Cebu, Philippines
Right:  Ambongdolan, Mt. Province, Philippines
Wawa, Montalban, Philippines

Wawa, Montalban, Philippines

Wawa, Montalban, Philippines

Wawa, Montalban, Philippines