Monday, December 31, 2012

A little bit of Spain, America and Japan in Cebu

Ferdinand Magellan, Cebu, Mactan, Lapu-Lapu are all names written in Philippine and World history. Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler of the Spanish Expedition in search of the Spice Islands, made sure he got the names right.

Spanish influence in Philippine culture is indelible. Our churches, language, food, fiestas and siestas are all rooted on Hispanic architecture, tastes and Christianity.    

Climbing culture though is still, Pinoy. There is always fun loving, carefree climbing...but once in a while . . ."A Muerte !"
O.k. . . . so once in a while a little American too.  Democracy, a State-side ideology that influenced Philippine Politics, is perhaps too early or perhaps too late.  (Dissecting into that topic further will only serve to confuse.) General MacArthur, Spanish-American War . . . again names in World History.

A mini-van?  So there you have it . . . a little bit of Japanese thrown in the mix. Ninja culture?  Not bad  . . . World War II, Pacific World War . . . Again these references are tied up with Philippine History.

So, I think there you have it, the Pinoy . . . a confused bunch.  It's my own perspective but still worth the mention.  It's not that bad actually. It's a culture with too many "baggage" in tow but it does bring forth a people who are left with a lot of character.  A struggle is born but once in a while . . .

A Muerte !!!
Come on !!!
Gamba !!!
Pinoy climbing is like that.  Maybe it's a bit confused.  Do you want to push hard? Do you want to "Siesta" on it?  Do you keep it Zen?  It all depends  on the climber I guess.  In the end though, whichever path you decide to take, climbing will still be climbing, plain and simple.  But do take it anyway you want and make it yours until it becomes you. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Pirate’s Puzzle

When Chris Sharma said in the climbing movie King Lines, “October is the best month for climbing”, I couldn’t help but agree. Perhaps I’m biased because I regard Chris as the complete personification of climbing in my own sense of the word.  Perhaps it’s also Oktoberfest, a time when I un-celebrate my birthday. Or perhaps maybe because some of the best temperatures for climbing around the world happen on that 10th month of the year.  Whatever  it is, I’ve come to accept the many reasons I have lined up  and I’m glad I’m able to climb every October in whatever part of the world. 

This year, I was once again given the opportunity to go climbing in Cantabaco, Cebu.  I passed up the chance last year when I chose to go to Getu Valley in China for the annual Petzl RocTrip instead.  And while that trip was truly a memorable one, I still couldn’t wait to get back to local limestone. 

“Lust for Lime 8” began early for me.  I arrived at the crag October 26th, but the event formally started on the 30th.  Being ahead meant having extra time at the cliffs with just a handful of others. Belaying, taking climbing photos, and occasionally climbing on 5.11’s predominantly occupied the early goings of each day.  The mornings went unhurried and felt like a long gradual grind for the lone route I was psyched on finishing.  Waiting for the afternoon’s cooler conditions for an ascent felt otherworldly. From time to time, the wind blew, hitting the limestone wall and wafting air across our faces, cooling our sweat-soaked skin caused by the humid jungle air.

 “Jack Sparrow” is the ominous extension of “Whiteflower.” I first tried the pirate’s puzzle exactly two years ago. Before that year, there was only one successful ascent of the route. Photos of those attempts and of a bloody finger cut circulated the net.  After around two visits separated by a month or so, Carlo Chiong of Cagayan de Oro sent the route and proposed a grade of 8b+. The year after, Miel Pahati finished it for the 2nd ascent.  In between those, many have worked the route.  In between Miel’s 2nd ascent and 2012’s  “Lust for Lime 8”, many have tested their  mettle on it yet again.  On this 3rd year of the route, the thought of giving it a go for a 3rd ascent occupied my mind. One ascent a year sounded intimidating, but it felt worth the effort.

Only after a full day upon arriving in the area and getting settled in one of Ate Glenda’s dormitory rooms did I actually get to start charming the limestone. I eased through with routes shielded from the morning sun.  After half a day, the limestone felt familiar again. “Jack Sparrow” rested up on Area 5.  It is soaked in sunlight and best conditions for it came at 3pm. When the moment drew closer, I went up and joined several others to work it.

The breeze signaled my attempts regularly. When nature spoke, I listened. And when I do, nothing else mattered. Anxiety built rapidly. Calming myself down before each attempt felt difficult.  My pulse raced, my mind over thought, and my body felt on edge.  When it was my turn, I stepped under the 35m-long line as it stared down indifferently at me. I tied-in on one end of the rope, had my belayer watch me, and started climbing. 

I easily scurried up to the 2nd bolt.  I felt awfully strong.  I cruised on the early part of the route.  I tried to power through the lower crux believing I had enough. It felt easy.  I felt light.  I felt stable and in full control.  But as quick as the easily changing breeze, it hit me. The stigma of failing the 1st crux at the very start plagued me again in one swift blow. There was a sudden failure to understand a section of the route before it all collapsed. My fingers started hurting on the sharp pockets, my shoulders started to sag low, my core slowly gave way, and my feet started slipping off the smooth footholds.  I tried to collect some more energy.  I grunted out a guttural primal scream from deep inside me.  I was able to lift my shoulders for a time to get stable.  I held on for what seemed like time without end.  I held on until the pain became too much to endure.  I peeled off the rock, my mind went into withdrawal, and my spirit waned.  My mind exploded into an emotional fit. I punched the wall, but the sound of my knuckles hitting the rock was distant to my ears.  I breathed, relaxed, and decided to continue up the final crux to the top of the route. 

A vivid memory of the two attempts I had on “Jack Sparrow” two years ago left me with a sequence and a struggle, and a mind unable to wrap itself around them.  Now two years after, the same crux felt different. The sequence felt lighter.  The crimps didn’t feel as sharp, the marginal shallow half-pad under-pinch for the left hand felt enough and the slopey pocket for the right middle finger felt deep and stable. The crux involved moving from these marginal holds for a right hand deadpoint to a far away pocket. Getting stable with the left hand for the huge throw to the right felt like a V7 or V8 boulder problem, only it’s carrying a long pump in tow.  I was able to stick the long throw a number of times over the course of my stay. Several times I had to climb to the very top with only the lower crux undone.  At times I would fall on the crux move, but still I would be able to connect to the chains.  It became just a matter of piecing the whole thing together in one go.  Failing on the lower crux always sapped my motivation. I knew if I could do the lower section faultlessly, my drive to finish the top crux will be bigger.

The last climbing day of the trip brought with it both anticipation and a lot of surrender.  I was excited for the outcome but I was no longer clinging on to the thought of finishing the route in one go. While it would feel so good doing so, giving it my all and just enjoying the effort was at the forefront of my mind.

I started the route with a calm mind.  The lower crux, where I usually struggle, felt undemanding.  Planting my left foot onto a slopey foothold and twisting just enough at the hips to secure a solid stance felt natural. I sailed through the route to the roof where “Jack Sparrow” really began.  I started to feel my breathing get constricted, and I took my shirt off to let it fall 35 meters to the ground.  The wind on my bare skin felt like a soft touch that urged me to proceed up the last hard section.  The crimps didn’t bite back.  The slopey pocket didn’t push away.  The under-crimp felt bigger than usual and the throw for the far-off pocket seemed nearer.  I felt my fingers latch on. My body didn’t peel off the rock.  The entire weight hanging on my arms felt nil. It was done!

The effort of thinking about the route for two years, letting go of it, coming back for it, trying as hard as I can on it, surrendering and finally enjoying every bit and morsel of the entire route in one complete consummation, flooded my brain.  Every nerve ending felt alive.   For the entire belay down I was somewhere else. I was in a place where voids are filled and where one second felt like hours. When I reached the ground, I untied, walked off to another route, took in the last bits and pieces of the other world and then climbed again.    

Maybe Chris Sharma is right. October is the best month for climbing. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Magic Dragon - 7c/7c+

Bouldering in Manalmon, Bulacan is best from late December to early February.  The river would have subsided and the boulders could freely be accessed. Extensive waiting for the boulders to pop out the river pays of and when it does you can be sure to discover new gems.  We started bouldering in the area since 2001 or prior or shortly after that, a clear track to the details have faded from memory.  Throughout the years more and more boulder problems show.  The promise of a new line never fades.  We've mined the area for the most obvious lines and now it's more difficult to spot new ones.  The next few problems in the area would be more creative and definitely harder.  Still the classics would be there.  I'm psyched on the prospect of the tail end of the Dragon in Manalmon.  It would be fun to shoot, fun to climb and fun to spend days and nights among the boulders.  

Here's an old clip of "Magic Dragon", one of the classics and a must try on a trip to Manalmon.  Anthony Prieto and I spotted the problem in 2003.  I couldn't recall him sending it but we did push ourselves on it.  It was a one day-one boulder problem kind of day.  Miel Pahati joined us late in the day and he sent it on the last go under dying daylight.  I got spent from trying it over and over in the crisp morning air, the heat of midday sun, and the cool afternoon shade.  I can no longer recall how many tries I had.  It must have been many, many times, but the first go of the second day I can clearly recall.  It was too unfortunate we didn't have enough tape or battery to capture it all.  The "green" take on the last few seconds of the clip shows Miel on the FA but it was either that the film ran out or the batteries had fully drained.  Newbie mistake !  The next day, it didn't matter anymore.  It was purely for the sending.  A clear mind and a boulder problem equals a quick second ascent.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chasing Dragons

A real Golden Dragon, Mong Kok, Hong Kong, March 2012

Dragons. Mystical, majestic, feared, highly revered, honored . . . My fascination of them have grown ever since my imagination started to evolve.  No, I'm not Chinese nor of English origin where most notable tales of these creatures come from, but somehow their mythical existence have burrowed deep into my consciousness making me fanatical to a fault. Now I have a deep unquenchable thirst for dragon lore.  I find books, and movies, and pictures, and routes, and boulder problems named after dragons simply very mesmerizing and I'm simply spellbound to read, watch, and try.

Left:   Jade Dragons found crouched over on top of a pagoda around "The Temple of Heaven", Beijing, China,  2009
Right: Mountain Dragon over looking over his domain, Huguan Province, China, 2009

Left:  Sea Dragon, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, 2012
Right:  The tail end of a Huguan Dragon, 2009

My climbing and my dragons mended together early 2000.  I started climbing 1998 but only after 2 years did I gain enough momentum to propel myself with enough energy to rush in impetuously into the climbing world.  It's now 2012.  It's a Dragon year. The tail end is coming.  Once again, I find myself chasing Dragons.  The 12 year circle, as I've come to realize, is a powerful cycle.  Waves of rush and renewal fills much of the voids left by constant battles left and right.  You survive getting  flanked and sometimes it will leave you limping. The roar of the dragon resounds in my ears and rally's every fiber coursing through my body.  It plays like rhythmic music, taiko and shamisen, low bass pounds right through the heart, high pitched treble piercing right through the brain. The chase begins again, terrifying, dizzying but this is what I live for.  The constant struggle for perfection roots itself in me, crawls itself around me like the veins pulsing around my arms.  Beads of sweat will fall,  lungs will heave for air, muscles will spasm . . . but dragon blood renews fast, I'll always be ready!  

My "Red Dragon", Yangshuo, China, 2009
The tail end of the Dragon is coming. It whips and lashes out wildly. It will not be easy to predict where it's headed.  Catching the dragon by the tail is never easy.  Meeting a dragon head on, you just have to bait it to eat you up.  It sees you and you see it and that alone gives you a good enough handle to anticipate. The tail, however, can either destroy you with one sweeping motion or if you can catch it, can give you one spectacular ride better than any roller coaster ever.  That is the goal.  

A fierce White Dragon found in Vigan, Philippines, 2012

I will keep on chasing dragons for as long as I can.  There are those in plain sight and there are those that hide, you just have to search for it.  The best though will be the one which finds you when you least expect it.  The kind that reveals itself to you unexpectedly. . . surprisingly . . . freely . . . will be the one that would leave indelible marks on you.

Left:  Pearl Dragon, Vigan, Philippines,  2012
Right:  Rainbow Dragon, Mong Kok, Hong Kong,  2012

Left:  A Rain Dragon found dancing in the shadows,  Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, 2012
Right:  Clown Dragons playing around  Xiamen, China, 2012

Left:  A Red Dragon Ball, dormant at Xiamen, China,  2012
Right:  Dragon sentries at a pass leading to the "Temple of Heaven", Beijing, China,  2009 

A proud Stone Dragon perched over a tower infront of Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 2009

The benign Water Dragon at Changzhi, China, 2009

Left:  Enrique Caballero on "Dragon Shit", Wawa, Montalban
Right:  Miel Pahati sealing the dragon blood pact

An old sketch of what could be the dragon keep at Orpierre, France, taken 2008

Granite Dragon overlooking Barcelona, Spain, 2008

The Dragon Realm of China, where Dragons thrive…this could be what it's like soaring through the skies while mounted on a dragon. - 2011