*The photos I'll insert are ones taken the day after the climb inside the DENR ranger station
*We've already summited Mt. Kanlaon 6 months after this fateful climb. You can read the new article and complete itinerary here:
Since February of 2012, we've been burning our butts off getting ready to pursue the highest mountain in Visayas. We climbed Mt. Ugo, Tirad Peak and the three mountains of Bakun to prime ourselves for the expected ordeal climbing Kanlaon would entail. What we didn't know then was the hard decision we would be facing as we hiked the trail. A decision that if chosen erroneously could spell the difference between life and death.
As we were on the landing strip of Silay-Negros Airport, the brewing storm on the east coast of the Philippines was supposed to be flying northward. It was forecasted to exit early through Aurora virtually missing the whole of Visayas. We checked the news, scoured for information and after much deliberation, we decided to push through with the climb.
On touchdown, Negros thankfully rewarded us with a sunny day although a bit cloudy. We were welcomed by the airport’s view deck showcasing the summit of Kanlaon. Gratified at how generous mother nature could be, she did not give me an inkling that it would be the last time she would allow me to see the highest point in Visayas for the whole trip.
Planning to traverse Kanlaon via the Wasay trail ending the hike at Mambukal Resort, we headed for Guintubdan reaching it before night fall. Relaxed, relieved and ecstatic, we giddily reminisced all of our climbs as a group; not knowing that this expedition would be the most memorable of them all: in a very bad but educational way.
At 5:00 AM we were all up and about. We all had a quick breakfast, prepared our gear and prayed for good weather. The fog engulfing the whole area seemed ominous but at least the place was still devoid of rain. We prayed, stood and started the trek.
The start was easy: just a little bit of steepness from the trail. We crossed some highland villages until there were no more signs of civilization all around. We trekked for about an hour to reach the start of the forest, confident to be at the summit before 4 O' Clock when suddenly, the downpour started.
Inch by inch, with enough precaution, we steadily continued the hike. It was tough and tiring yet my optimism did not diminish until the rain became more intense the further we got into the trail.
Every step we took was grueling with the puddles of water becoming little streams of mud. As an added blitz to the aggression, the rain got stronger and stronger by the minute. As small streams turned into torrents, I was getting confused which trail to take. It was a bit frightening thus giving me good reason to talk with the guys if we should continue with the climb. After 4 grueling hours of downpour, would it be time to abandon the pursuit?
We deliberated and argued about the best solution to the problem we were facing. We asked the guides if it would still be safe to continue the hike. Finally, we all came to the conclusion of aborting it.
It was a fair decision for all of us however, tracing back the trail we trod before experiencing this war zone, we faced a dilemma: the dead and dry river that we easily crossed 3 hours ago would have to be expected at that time to have turned to a raging river.
|big branches all over the place|
We suddenly were in a situation where we needed to choose between 3 options. 1st was to continue the hike to the summit and stay there giving us enough height not to be trampled by the flood. But since the trail to the summit was cut by thigh-deep flash flood, our 2nd option was to stay at the campsite. 3rd and last option was to go back to the jump-off where we would have a sturdy shelter, enough rations of food and civilization that could see us though the next 3 days. The problem with option 3 was the need to cross the river surged by flash flood waters.
It was absolutely a hard decision to make. We all had our choices and we all had our spat but in the end we decided to tackle the solutions one by one. First, we set up a reconnaissance team to survey the dead river up the trail and see if we could cross it up to the summit, 2nd was to set up the emergency shelter at the camp site we were in and 3rd was again to set up a 2nd reconnaissance team to check on the status of the dead river we crossed down below.
By 11:00 AM, the first survey was finally going on. Other members of the group waited at our camp discussing about other solutions we could come up with. At the height of approximately 2,000 meters, our bodies were practically freezing but our minds were still alert and our spirit resilient.
After 2 hours of waiting, the team went back with bad news that the river up the trail was swollen up to their waists rendering it not crossable for our standards. Option 1 was dumped immediately and we proceeded directly on discussing option 2 and 3.
I was never enthusiastic about option 2’s staying at the camp site we were in, but 1 of the 3 guides insisted that it was a much safer alternative than crossing the now un-dead river down the trail. Most of us though were not comfortable staying at a typhoon sensitive area in the middle of the night; thus giving us enough reason to start the 2nd reconnaissance. The survey took another grueling 2 hours but at last, it produced good news.
The river was raging and swollen but it was still passable to all persons in the group. After 4 hours, we finally started the trek back home.
Going down, it was hard to recognize the trail as the water eroded almost all the footsteps we left behind. We stomped our way through the much limatik infested trail. After an hour and half down climb, we finally reached the flash flooded river.
Although it was passable, the scenery was nerve-wrecking. I was used to crossing raging rivers as a child in Nueva Ecija, but not like this wild river whose rampant waters cascaded straight to an almost 40-foot waterfall. Yes, it was that dangerous but we all had the right tools for the job.
The river crossing was just 5 meters across but understandably, being swept away in it could cause us our lives. Providentially, we were equipped with a 30 meter climbing rope which we anchored to a fixed fixture at the starting point. Attached to the rope, each passer would be afforded security from being swept away in case he/she slipped accidentally.
For utmost safety and efficiency, we had to anchor the other end of the rope at the other side of the river bank. Our guide volunteered to cross the river to execute the plan. It took us about 30 minutes of preparation: fortunately, as we were tying the knots on both sides, the flood water started to subside.
One by one, we crossed the river, cautiously unbuckling our waist straps and giving every member of the team an assigned job in any event of accidental slippage. One by one, the other side started to fill with our members. Climber by climber, we all successfully crossed over. After an hour tackling the very precarious river crossing, we started the remaining 1 hour trek back to Guintubdan.
Walking down the path, I unexpectedly had a very clear view of the revived waterfall down the river we just crossed. Like a giant washing machine, a big whirlpool was churning right in the middle of it, trampling everything it contained. The thought of slipping right through it gave me goosebumps, thankful that we've all made it through unscathed. I prayed to God and praised him for protecting us through the whole ordeal. We were all safe and sound hiking down a very easy trail to the DENR station.
After an hour of down climbing, we were back at our quarters, a bit shaky after the experience but relieved having a secure haven to cover us through the storm. Once again I thanked God and immediately texted my mom that we did abort the climb. We waited 1 year for this expedition to push through only for it to be aborted at the very first day but still, I was glad we were all safe and sound.
On hind sight, it was fortunate that this ordeal happened on the 1st day rather than the next. It would have been a disaster if it happened that way.
We stayed at Guintubdan for the remainder of the supposed climb, witnessing the wrath of the storm wrecking the trees and towers of the town. We were so blessed that when it happened, we were within the comfort of a warm and sturdy house, protected from debris and harm. We waited days for the storm to pass until finally, the sun was shining on us again.
|one whole room for drying|
After 6 memorable days in Negros, we went back to our homes with an unfinished task but we brought with us a very complete experience. Experience that will nurture us: both as a climber and as a person. We learned how to trust each other and how to work as a team overcoming adversity through careful planning and thorough execution. It was a bit sad that we didn't get to see the spectacular summit of Kanlaon but come to think of it, the peak will always be there for us to climb another day.
|signage taken down|
**We've already summited Mt. Kanlaon 6 months after this fateful day. You can read the narrative and complete itinerary here:
*Thanks to Ron Chester Tan for most of the photos in this article
*Credits to Bryan Cuesta, Ron Chester Tan for this awesomely wild experience. Revenge climb next year!!!