Saturday, June 28, 2014

Perspectives, Climbing in Marabut, Samar

I love climbing - it's a statement lacking the intricate embroidery of words that shadows all the best expressions that can define how I feel.  Movement on the rock rests my mind, blurs everything else, and reminds me of life’s simplicity - like broken seashells washed upon the shore, the feel of sand between my toes, and the sight of air bubbles rising with me as I surface from a deep plunge in the sea.  

There is always a silent chase within me for a place where I can be with just my thoughts and climbing.  An unexpectedly rainy bouldering and deep-water soloing expedition to Marabut, Samar, a place previously devastated by typhoon Haiyan, did just that.  It divined some order into my chaotic mind as I was again given opportunity to climb new rock and new lines.

The crew at Bukid Outdoor Shop, from the right:  Doors and Frenli

It has often been like that for majority of my climbing life.  I’ve been getting and getting without so much as to giving back.  Putting up a climbing gym, teaching climbing, taking photos, and telling stories feel inadequate to quell the need to give back even more.  Perhaps a deeper philosophy should begin to direct my life as a climber.  It gnawed at my stomach.  I felt bleakness in my climbing life.  There is the sudden need to reconcile my personal passion with a bigger contribution to society as a climber.  The thought bore deep in me, started changing my perspectives, and my selfish pursuit into something I hoped would leave effects beyond the fringes of the small climbing community.  I love climbing but kept to affect only my own personal life doesn’t seem fit in a society that would go on after I’m long gone.

I tried keeping down the selfishness that rose sharply. It was difficult.  Days and nights in Marabut were riddled with thoughts of sea cliffs, jellyfish and rain.  We admired the area’s potential for sport climbing.  Callous thoughts of bolting new lines here and there occupied our time.  Grand visions of developing the area as a major climbing destination swallowed us whole.  We clung to these thoughts as a validation we sought for, one that could help us wrap our heads around the idea that we were there not only to enjoy climbing but to give our very own contribution, as climbers, to Marabut’s rebuilding efforts after the typhoon.

We heard stories by locals; how they managed to tide off the storm in caves, how they crawled on pavement to save them from strong winds, and how their pets survived the flood by themselves.  These tales casted shadows over the trip like a dark cloud.  Any story we could share could never be as inspiring, bright, and hopeful as these.  They were stories of effort and pain that they had to endure during and after the storm.

"The Beach"


Unsolved Project

We needed to build up our story.  We pushed forward even through bad weather, punctured fingers, bleeding skins, and challenged egos.  We squeezed out of each day whatever climbing we could.   No amount of pain slowed us down.  If the rock bit, our fingers bit back harder.  We needed true effort from ourselves to make the trip reflect hope.  Early through the trip it felt like the only gift we could give back.

We needed to get out to sea, and climb what we were supposed to despite the rainy weather that whittled climbing to a few hours each day.  Pushing hope will be the only thing that would bring meaning and relevance to the trip.  By grace, on two consecutive days during the latter part of the week, we had our clear blue skies and deep water soloing.   We climbed free, tethered only by our personal limits, and we jumped off high cliffs to meet the water unafraid of holding our breaths and sinking deep.

"Look at the Stars" - super sustained, super fun.

"Pakdol" - New addition to the ever increasing number of boulder
problems in the area.

"Mama Mia" first DWS of the trip

"Summer Rain"-first ever DWS route in the area, FA-Wendell Getubig & Nick Aguilos

The "La-Dida" shallow water bouldering spot

A high tide project


We were able to solo “Pak Pak Lawin” or “Wings of the Falcon”, the iconic inverted pyramid looking rock in the middle of Samar’s waters. The pursuit of a gift to give back to Marabut became the goal.  I pushed, and choked back hesitation, fear, and uncertainty.  I climbed through the pain given by the scarce small sharp holds.  Pulling and pushing on holds far in between resulted in a binding pattern on the rock that resulted into two new deep-water soloing lines; one I dubbed “Ahon” literally translated “to come out of the water” and the other “Bagong Pag-Asa” or “New Hope”.  Naming the two new DWS lines felt miniscule in the grand scale of things but all the same it felt like giving back to Marabut.  It was a sad possibility that, again, it might be the only thing we’ll be able to give back. 

"Pak-Pak Lawin" or Wings of the Falcon, found off the coasts of Marabut, Samar

DWS route "Ahon" or " Re-Suface from the Water" - 
(Route on the white streak)

DWS Route, "Bagong Pag-asa" or "New Hope" - 
(Route on the black face, left of "Ahon")

"Madung-Badung", one of the more prominent and towering limestone outcrops in the middle of Samar's waters.


Our trip finally ended over beers with Jason Garrido, a long time friend.  We talked about our different perspectives: Jason believed in keeping the place as pristine as it is now for the future;  I believed in sharing something beautiful to people who are here now in the moment.  Though our visions reflect differences, our ideas moved towards positive ends that could better local climbing and crag development.  In the end we both agreed that Samar isn’t ready for bolting, not until the day when solid written guidelines are drafted that would somehow put control over how crags would be developed.  The future is wide open. Preserving a special place largely as it is would be the only sincere gift we can give to those who will someday look for places unspoiled by development.  Those who will benefit from it will thank us even after we’re long gone.  It was a new philosophy for me and Jason had it right.

Marabut’s community is a small one.  It is slowly rebuilding.  The community prospered long before climbing, and it will do so even without the development of sport routes.  Climbing will not impact community development as highly as we envisioned it.  Sustainable development is the key, and with a very fragile biodiversity, the issue is doubly intricate to balance.  Developing the area as a major sport climbing destination without due planning will only serve to hasten its demise.  Deep water soloing and bouldering though remain the draws for climbers who still want to venture to Marabut.  It requires more skill, and raw desire.  It isn’t for every climber, but it is there for those who want to be there.  More importantly, it does not upset the delicate balance between climbing, community development, and the sensitive ecosystem.

Further, to show and tell that climbing comfort in Marabut is a far cry from that of Tonsai, Thailand’s where there are numerous bungalows for rent, and that eating is not as easy as ordering food at a restaurant like in Yangshou, China, perhaps will be another gift we could give back.  “Think out of the box” ,one might say.  Not everyone wants “the comfort”; this idea may be the draw.  Not everyone wants “the easy”.  The careful balance between an egotistic, and self centered approach to climbing, and a caring nurturing feeling towards the ecosystem and the communities we get in touch with is a responsibility we should all face as climbers.  Not all places benefit from drill, bolts and hangers.  

San Juanico Bridge

MV Eva Jocelyn, beached by typhoon Haiyan

My love for climbing continues to grow.  With a new philosophy now embedded in me, I’m now expecting to reach an even higher awareness that will direct the way I climb and think about climbing.  We do not share a world with just fellow climbers.  We live in a reality filled with freedoms not only our own.  Recognizing them and respecting them will be the best way to go about sustainable development both as climbers, and as a community.