Two weekends ago, I climbed Mount Ugo with my buddies.
Mount Ugo is rated 5/9 as per the Pinoy Mountaineer classification system. At this point, 5/9 mountains are satisfying but slightly easy climbs for me. And that’s pretty much what went down this weekend; I found the hike up to the summit a bit disappointing-although the last half hour hike was pretty special-as we were walking in thick clouds that whole last stretch. The result was eerie: most trees were leaf-less and dying in the fogy back drop, while the grass was lush and green and thriving with constant exposure to the dew. The air was opaque and grey all around us with visibility reduced to a few meters ahead. Straight out of a gothic novel/movie.
The sunrise at the summit (the next day) was spectacular (see the picture above). But it really was hiking with my friends, and the hike down on Sunday which I am taking home with me.
On one of my first hikes here in the Philippines, I met this inspiring woman. T., who I hope to get to know better. That first hike together, T asked me what I had learnt from the day’s adventure. She added that she always asks herself that question post-hike because she always does learn something from walking up and down a mountain.
I’ve been asking myself that question post-climb, ever since. I don’t know exactly how to formulate the “teaching” moment contained in my experience from Mount Ugo, but here goes. Having been a bit disappointed with the ascent the previous day, I decided to push myself harder on the descent. Thus, I followed the faster batch who seemed to have opted more for trail run then a leisurely hike. It made the descent a lot more fun, and helped me take stock of my increased skills and stamina over the last four months. Cool. Well that’s a “learning” moment from Mount Ugo. But just as I was racing down the trail and thinking about this, my buddies ahead of me came to a weird slowed pace. As I reached them at the bend they pointed out a group ahead of us and explained we would need to push on through way in front of this group or hang back and give them a large berth. They were making a decision. The vision before me was symbolically and factually poignant: two men, accompanied by a third, were holding a large bamboo shoot between them, to which a hammock was attached with a woman curled up inside. She was being carried to the hospital I was told.
I have since heard fellow filipino hikers say “Going up the mountain is optional but coming down is mandatory” in reference to emergency exits from climbs. The thing is, watching this woman being rushed down (these men were going really fast, considering they were carrying a grown human being between them), I was stuck my the immense privilege of choosing to go up and down the mountain. As I watched this group zoom by (i decided to hang back), I assumed that this was a local woman with a threatening ailment. Despite the considerable physical challenge and risk of running down the mountain, people had weighed in favour of bringing this woman to the city for medical care. It must be that her illness/injury was beyond the community’s care. I’d also seen locals climbing up the mountain with heavy loads, ostensibly to supply their community, importing goods. Again, I was stuck by the extreme privilege of choosing to climb.
It turns out the woman in the hammock was a hiker from an other group. She had taken a tumble and sustained some injury. Nevertheless, as she was severely anemic, she and her group decided it would be best to get to a hospital to prevent any serious complications. So, it wasn’t “as bad” as I had built it out to be, though the privilege of being able to go to a hospital for preventative purposes and from such a remote location, perfectly captures this very privilege that I was stuck by that day. Maybe I understand a little bit better now how and why my filipino friends keep hiking through injuries and discomforts without flinching, in a way I’ve never experienced back home. There is an embodied understanding of this particular kind of privilege that changes everything (maybe).
All in all my Mount Ugo weekend was fantastic and I am taking a lot home with me. I had a great time with friends at the summit, I got to see some pleasing scenery, I observed my footing’s increased confidence and took in an important lesson about mountaineering and privilege.
Next week, I’m back in Manila, back to the kids visiting and resting up before getting out to my next adventure.