It was 26 February 2013 when I caught a note titled “To The Mountains” on my newsfeed. What is so special about the note other than it belongs to a friend, whom I met on the mountain trails two years ago, is that he is a silent, brilliant writer. I have always admired him for his impeccable diction and his ability to transcend words. Every piece of narrative he makes turns into a masterpiece; I cannot help but relish every element of it.
I believe that gripping note on climbing is ought to be be shared via my blog just as I have promised him I would on that very day. And that day has come.
Please read on, and do not stop until you reach the last dot.
It began with a desire: a longing to get out of the city. I needed to get away from the crowds, the insufferable traffic, the apathy that descends upon the streets like rain, and break free from my day to day routines. I needed to escape the depravities of commercialism that blinds people with material objects which we absently spend for in an effort to give our existence some sort of value — some sort of worth.I wanted to make something more out of this pale death that I miscalled my life.I grew up in the countryside slopes of Baguio, in a small house flanked by enormous pine trees that reached for the sky. I always adored those trees, which I sometimes imagined to be mighty sentinels standing watch.
As a child, I had very little to occupy my days — save for a few well-loved toys and my own company. I often played alone in the gardens, and fancied staying there until dark — a little boy, perched in a garden facing west, watching the sun slowly set far beyond the mountains, casting the sky in glorious flames before disappearing entirely.
I spent many sunsets that way: serenely huddled in a warm jacket as the cool winds gently played at my hair, admiring the sun and the sky and the far mountains on the horizon.
I grew to love nature then.
But that sort of bliss came to pass when life brought me to the metro. The beauty of the land was lost to me for many years, replaced by shoddy and crowded parks, noisy streets, and the wretched stink of pollution and waste. At night, I would often dream of our secluded home in Baguio, where the cold air was redolent with the sweet smell of pines and dama de noche, while the crickets filled the night with their soft music. Waking up with a deep longing for home was a real heart-breaker.
Thankfully, after a few years, I met the people who led me to higher grounds.
Mountain by mountain, my friends and I soared.
Trekking along long-trodden and unused trails alike, day after day after day, often well into the night, and sometimes even until morning. Facing formidable obstacles and difficulties like crossing raging rivers that seemed intent on carrying us downstream, using fallen trees as bridges high over foreboding ravines, and holding on to roots and rocks and vines and grasses for dear life. We’d be kissing bare rock-faces, trying with all our might not to look down should we be pierced by terror at the suicidal heights we found ourselves in.
I remember the insane grins on each of our faces as we were negotiating past knife-edge trails, even as the wind threatened to knock us over to a rather lengthy and painful fall. Crawling through the mud and muck, slipping and sliding our way down, and falling on our already-sore rears all throughout (to the point that even as we slept, we dreamt about slipping and falling that we instantly woke up with a shock); going over and under branches and trees and boulders, scaling insanely-angled ascents with nothing but a prayer (and going back down through these parts was often more difficult); getting lost along the trails, bearing the unbelievable cold that froze even our facial muscles, being burned by the rays of the unforgiving sun, and braving the hammering rain. Through all these obstacles, step by little step, mountain by mountain, this is how we soared to the summits and discovered what such joy it is to truly live.
And these, among others, are the experiences that are in our savings account of moments that we take pride in having lived.
Aside from the physically extravagant efforts we put into climbing, there are other experiences that make mountaineering truly an incredible adventure. Like that time when we managed to nervously smile at gun-totting NPAs that we crossed paths with. Looking back now, I wish I had taken a ‘selfie’ with them.
From suffering a horde of blood-thirsty limatiks, to avoiding fearsome ants and slithering snakes; from enduring the remarkable pain of little thorns prudently digging into the skin, to running away from angry bees, wasps, and wild carabaos and pigs bent on skewering you with their beastly horns. These are but a few of the things we would have missed had we chose to spend our time mindlessly roaming a mall.
Climbing mountains is not easy, but the rewards are definitely worth-while. The effort of carrying a backpack that can weigh anywhere from 15 to 30 kilos is something that demands more than physical strength and endurance. It also takes a lot of mental toughness. Because after some time, the burdens of carrying a heavy load and walking for hours wilts away to nothing more than an accepted state of reality. Pain becomes a constant: aching muscles, collapsed knees, and sore feet afflicted by fallen arches and numerous paltos. Cuts, bruises, bodies racked by fatigue, and dear physical discomfort all mean to argue that there is no greater pain than physical pain.
Climbing mountains teaches you a lot. The least of which is to appreciate the little things that you normally take for granted — a hot cup of noodles, a shower, and — blessed be, — a toilet bowl, to name a few. One of the things I’ve found is that there is no one more blessed than someone who can appreciate the smallest and simplest of things.
One of the other things that you’ll find is that the mountains teach humility the hard way. You will learn that people are weak and frail, and at the complete mercy of the world. That we are but specks of dust compared to the mountain; that our bones shall long be nothing but dust and yet the mountain shall still stand. And so you learn that you never do conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself, and you let the mountains change you.
I’ve always felt sorry for a person who is unable to appreciate the outdoors. One can only give a rudimentary explanation when people ask us why we do this; why my friends and I eagerly put ourselves in such uncomfortable situations — not to mention potentially dangerous.
Experiencing the beauty and greatness of nature is something that demands effort and perseverance. It is not something that can be bought like some cheap thrill. The experience of actually living, independent of most of the comforts and conveniences of these modern times, is unlike any other.
Man exists for the achievement of his desires. And it’s entirely up to the individual whether his desires bring purpose and meaning to his life. I’ve found that for those who climb mountains, our unspoken desires are pretty much the same: we climb because we are restless. We climb to see the world, to see sceneries that are infinitely more beautiful than any photo can ever portray. We climb because it’s like we have a raging fire deep within our hearts, a passion for adventure burning hotter than a thousand suns, urging us to go farther, reach higher; urging us to live beyond the conventions of the city life that seem to be more bane than boon. We climb to find the best within ourselves.
And as the saying goes: the only thing better than an adventure of a lifetime, is a lifetime of adventures.
Verily, I could not have said it any better myself. I am honored to have this note as my first ever guest post.
The man behind “To The Mountains” is Kevin Jason Sarfati Manuel. Aside from being an incontestably talented writer, he is also a superb photographer. I have been convincing him to create a blog but has remained reluctant up to now. I actually waited for his blog to shake the blogosphere since but was rather compelled to just fulfill the promise to him two years ago. This explains the birth of this blog post.
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The Playground of Demigods and Nephilims at yobynos.wordpress.com
A Young Mountaineer’s Reply to His Master at ivanlakwatsero.com
Young Mountaineer’s Journey to Summit at romanleoreyman.com
Why Do I Love Mountain Climbing at yobynos.wordpress.com