Not long before the summer ended, not long before the rains would start, I found myself hiking up the trail across Wawa river. Over the creaky hanging bridge, up the ugly concrete steps, through the bamboo fenced houses, Krissie, Justin and I hiked up towards “Slayer,” easily my favorite route in Montalban. Much about the way to the crag was like the crisscrossing lines on my palms, familiar and intimate. The split on the trail, one leading to “Uling” and the other leading to “Slayer”, the slippery final section of the approach on loose gravel, the thick guide rope on the steepest portion of the trail, and finally the right turn on that easy-to-miss cut-off just before the rope ended, they all already were part of a sweet memory that I’d never forget. Getting lost in the hike, although sounding tragically romantic, no longer crossed my mind. I don’t think I’d lose my way ever again or at least I can declare I’ll never get lost again even in the dark. The hike felt short. Sweat could never be avoided on that hike, but the effort getting there felt lighter. Familiarity ground in deeper. I felt the jungle embracing my presence and I welcomed the warm greeting.
We unburdened the packs from our backs at the base of the overhanging limestone of “Slayer.” We rested to catch our breaths then took out ropes and draws, wore our harnesses, and proceeded underneath our route. Justin clipped the quickdraws onto his harness and led the pitch as Krissie belayed. I prepared my jumar rope, ascender, gri-gri and all the slings I use to rig-up for high angle climbing photography as I warned Justin of the sketchy start. Up until today I never did commit to memory a definite sequence for moving over the first few draws on that route. I always found myself moving differently on all ascents. I waited until Justin finished his try for an on-sight attempt. It was a long hard battle. He rested long before the crux, switched both hands for a shake-off and then proceeded after what I thought was marginal recovery. For someone climbing “Slayer” it was either be the slayer or be slain. It’s such a cliché. Sadly, Justin found himself peeling off the rock and accepting Krissie’s belay as soon as he gave a go for the hardest section on the route. It was probably the warm weather that made it difficult for him or maybe the long layoff while touring the Philippines with Krissie. Either way, he’d try again before the day ended.
I tied-in, dragged a trail rope for my rig from my harness, shot up the route, and clipped continuously in sequence all the quickdraws that equipped the line. Each biner gave a hard sharp “click” as they snapped close as I passed rope through them. The sounds were pleasure to my ears. The cold snapping sounds pierced through me. I felt the high pitch, it crawled through my skin, and left slight tingles my nerves enjoyed. It could be likened to the afternoon sun when you face an orange sunset with closed eyes. Warm across your face, you feel it on your skin, you don’t see it but you know it was there.
I reached the anchors easily. “Slayer”, is a route below my limit but I wouldn’t mind climbing on it even several times in a day. It would still give me the same gratifying feeling each time. It wouldn’t feel like work and every move on it would be totally enjoyable, feeding all my senses. I love the route to a fault, its perfect steepness where a fall would always be clear, all its cold solid hand holds, the right amount of crimpers, the underclings, the well spaced hangers and the perfect height. I know exactly how to move on it.
I decided to rig higher on its extension, “Dragon Slayer.” I haven’t been on the extension for a long time and I was glad it felt foreign. I nourished myself on the unfamiliarity. The tight squeeze going for the tufa twisted my body to a cramp, but as it did, it also twisted my lips to a wide knowing smile. “Dragon Slayer,” like all dragons I knew had surprises. I enjoy rigging up on “Slayer” or even “Dragon Slayer” for that matter. I could jumar up and down the entire day to look for another good shot. I’ve taken photos from up there but could never have enough. Besides the perfect view of the river and the high exposure the route delivered, “Slayer” helps me learn new things. It has given me the opportunity to experiment on photographic composition and single rope techniques, both the artistic side and the technical side of high angle photography. These are a few reasons why it has endeared itself to me. The rest, I commit deep in memory and keep close to heart.
At the end of the day we all felt the same tired feel. Me from jumaring all day, and Justin and Krissie from trying and trying “Slayer.” Justin finished. Krissie tried. Still, it was a good day. It all felt really good. We enjoyed the climbing, the peanut butter & honey sandwiches, bananas, sausages and skyflakes and the short stories on climbing, some personal and some not, shared over lunch under the cold cave underneath “Slayer.”
We packed our bags and took our time hiking back, hunkered down by the sad feel of the day’s end. After a quick early dinner of Aling Norma’s famed fried chicken we left in separate cars. We didn’t exchange “good-byes” only “see you soons”. A few days later, Justin left for the U.K. A few weeks after, Krissie flew for the U.S. Everybody was going. Everyone was, except me. I found myself in a tale opposite of the usual traveller’s. I would see them again soon. The thought became something to look forward to instead of a sad end. Maybe we won’t see each other under “Slayer” again, but perhaps at another crag, somewhere. It was time to move on again.
The end of the day came fast. The end of the summer came faster. It was almost like a blink of an eye kind of fast. I blink, I see a new face, I blink again, I see a new place. There are only vivid memories now. I close my eyes and sleep, and then realize, Justin sent the route and he left it, as he should. He slew the slayer. As for me, I finish the route every single time, but I still can’t quite leave it. It sent me, I got slain by the slayer.