WE are mountaineers but when the need arises, we can turn into high altitude garbage collectors with the passion of a Pokémon hunter.
I have been climbing mountains since I was 19 years old. I’m turning 56 this year. That’s more than half my lifetime. My mountaineering club, the Northern Mindanao Mountaineering Society or Normms, has been promoting responsible mountaineering for the past 35 years. We have also pioneered other outdoor sports like white water rafting, caving, and wall climbing. Our members are in high demand in the Hongkong outdoor community as highly skilled OFWs. A big outdoor company in Hongkong prefers to hire our members not only because of outdoor skills but mainly becuase of their excellent performance and work attitude. What the owners don’t know is that Normms don’t work but play.
I am the last from my batch in Normms (founded 1982) who can still go on major climbs. It is a blessing from God and I’m making good use of it by passing on wisdom and guidance to the younger generation of mountaineers.
Mountaineering is not a right. It is a privilege that comes with a big responsibility. It cannot be given. You have to earn it. Physical fitness is the easiest part. Mental toughness is something. Mentally, we bully our applicants to toughen them so that even nature can not break them. When you are lost and alone, or worse, injured in the wilderness, only mentally tough people survive. Call us bullies, but someday it will save your life.
Applicants are not only trained how to survive in the wild. First and foremost, they must love, care, and preserve our environment. They must undergo a series of seminars in Basic Mountaineering Course that will educate them with what to do before the climb, during, and after the climb. All mountaineers must know “LNT” by heart or the leave-no-trace principle. It is all about the proper care and preservation of our natural environment. We are also trained with life-saving skills like the singleope technique, first aid, and mountain search-andescue. Ligtas ang may alam!
Regularly, we stay for three days in the mountains but if not for our footprints, you will hardly notice our presence. The leave-no-trace principle has taught us to make lesser of an impact as possible on the environment in the sense that we should bring back with us our garbage like plastic wrappers and packaging, empty tin cans and bottles. Anything that doesn’t belong to the mountain should be taken back especially the non-biodegradable.
Last week was a long weekend and we spent it cleaning Mt. Kitanglad. We were tapped by the DENR and PAMB to lead the clean-up drive. In turn, we invited other Mindanao Mountaineering Federation-affiliated clubs to help with the clean-up. Ateneo Mountaineering Society and Kaplag took the challenge and was counted.
However, this is not what we are trained to do but for the love of nature, we turned into basurero and basurera. We have nothing against being a basurero. They keep our place clean. But there should have been no need for a clean-up if only proper regulations and guidelines were in place.
Climbers who are not mountaineers are expected to trash our mountains simply because they are not trained like mountaineers. You can not teach them for 30 minutes before the climb and expect them to do the discipline we learned for months.
The pattern is alarming. We have done the same Mt. Kitanglad clean-up almost two years ago. That time, we collected over 20 sacks of garbage. This time, we had almost the same volume of garbage. The garbage were not thrown carelessly on the trail. They were cleverly hidden in holes and crevices and underneath fallen trees mostly in resting and camping areas.
This must stop! Culprits must be penalized. We support the move by DENR, PAMB, and LGU to impose strict regulations and tougher penalties on violators.
Soon, Mt. Kitanglad will be opened to climbers again. If you are one them, please, leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time. Take nothing but pictures.