Although the elite Atenean students have the option to live a pampered city life with the benefits of technological advancements, it’s surprising that there exists a organization that abandon these comforts and choose to experience the sweat, dirt, exhaustion, and simplicity of climbing mountains.
People are reeled in into Loyola Mountaineers by the promise of adventure, but most don’t expect the application process to be so rigorous. They are required to participate in environmental talks and activities, time-pressured runs, first-aid lessons, Basic Mountaineering Courses (BMC), skills tests, 2 training climbs and 1 major climb. Thus, one must be able to manage his time well as this organization demands much of it. He must also be well off enough to afford equipment for climbs and climbs itself (around P900 for the training climbs, P4,000 for the major climb; the farther the mountain is, the more expensive). At the same time, still being a student, he must have parents lenient enough to let him stay longer hours in school and go out of town for entire weekends.
I felt the same nervousness and excitement the other applicants felt on our first training climb at Mt. Daguldul. Many of us initially thought it would be an easy-going climb, but hot damn were we wrong. It is a seaside mountain, so our trek began with a long walk at a rocky beach, which although may sound romantic, much silent groans and sweat were already shed at this point as many were having difficulty carrying their heavy mountaineering packs, which contained their personal belongings, food, tent parts, and 4L of water.
The experienced LM members sympathized with our pain. Once we finally had our first break, they gave each applicant a turn to talk to his pack. Everybody momentarily forgot their stress and instead laughed at each one’s rants and jokes, such as the play on the word “pack”: “Packyu, pack!”. Being able to maintain a sense of humor during difficult situations is a very important quality to have in mountaineers, for not only is it for their own benefit to be motivated, but that of the people they climb with as well.
Ascending Mt. Daguldul took numerous hours. We stopped to take a lunch break and our 2nd BMC, in which the members taught us different knots, how to use a bolo, and ropemanship. The mountaineers stressed the importance of learning these skills for different situations we can encounter in mountains.
As we continued our ascent, we first-timers were getting more and more exasperated as our bags seemed to be getting heavier, and the trail, steeper as we neared the peak. It was evident how much deeper each one’s breaths became, and our pace only got slower as we ascended.
“Why am I doing this?”
That question rang towards my head during the difficult parts of the climb. How could the members even enjoy doing this for leisure? How is it worth all this exasperation? I assumed that one is required to be physically fit to actually enjoy mountaineering. Even before reaching the peak, I had already decided I wouldn’t push through with joining this organization. “It’s not for me.”
And then we finally reached the peak.
It was such an exhilarating and fulfilling moment for each applicant to have at last dropped their packs at the camp site and realize that they had made it. We were even greeted by a site of two rainbows! We stood dumbstruck admiring the view as different thoughts raced through my mind: “Wow, this is so beautiful,” “We actually climbed that high?”, “The trek wasn’t so bad after all,” “This is completely worth it.”
Indeed, mountaineering can be a metaphor of life itself. The fulfilment of arriving at the destined goal – the peak of the mountain – very much surpassed the hardships encountered to get there. Though we were complaining and close to giving up just minutes earlier, we now all had wide smiles on our faces, laughing and congratulating each other for reaching the peak.
The night was spent pitching our tents, cooking dinner, and of course, socializing with the rest of the climbers. There sparked a feeling of camaraderie within the applicants that would only strengthen throughout the semester-long application process as they continue to experience and support each other in more hardships and fulfilments. We woke up at 5am the next day, cooked breakfast, pitched down our tent, and began another difficult struggle to descend Mt. Daguldul. We were much happier than the previous day though because we knew what fulfilling feeling to expect.
This habit of remembering that all the hard work will be worth it formed within us applicants. One of the most difficult requirements of the application is to run 15k within a time limit of 105min. During my 15k run, I once again found myself in tears wondering for what all the pain and effort I’m exerting is for.
“Why am I doing this?”
So much time and mental & physical effort is needed to join LM, so it really is a question of whether it even is worth it. Of the 249 students who signed up to apply during SY 2011-2012, only 19 said yes. What members have in common are time managing skills, financial capability, lenient parents/ guardians, optimism and humor, love for the outdoors and nature, discipline to learn proper mountaineering skills, physical capability, and of course, passion for adventure and environment.
You will not meet a member who will tell you LM did not change his life in any way. For one thing, each member learned to appreciate and protect the environment more. It also taught them all how to persevere to achieve what they want. The pain and fulfilment of climbing gives them confidence in their abilities and a sense of uniqueness when they return to the city to share their stories. In addition, being surrounded by nature and the release of endorphins caused by physical activity helps relieve them of the stress of city life. This does not mean, however, that mountaineering is a form of escapism. Rather, they do it because their adventurous spirits understand there is much more to our existence than the the routine, materialistic city life.
Friendships they’ve made and continue to make while climbing motivates them to stay in LM and continue to be active even years after they graduate Ateneo. The special bond they form in the mountains give them a sense of belongingness and camaraderie, which shows in how much they support their fellow applicants in passing the application process (words of encouragement, pacing them during runs) and cry if they didn’t.
When I am reminded of all the good reasons to continue climbing with LM, I run much faster, climb more quickly, and like the other 18 who passed the application process, did whatever it took to make it to that final induction climb. Even if I first applied out of curiosity, I stayed for so much more. For most members, it is more than just a hobby, but a part of who they are.
Now, when people ask me why I climb, I smile and give them vague answers. “Because it’s there.” or “It makes me feel alive.” There is an entirety of reasons as to why people climb that I hope I was able to answer in this limited-word post. For most part, mountaineering is a personal experience that helps people return to the city motivated and empowered. The best way to understand is to experience it yourself.
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – John Muir
Photos by Wok Alpajaro, Mikhail Gomez
Written by Kim Espadero