|On the trail to Mt. Arayat|
Mountains are the means, the man is the end.
The goal is not to reach the tops of mountains, but to improve the man.
Walter Bonatti, Italian Climber
Oh it almost always happens before an assignment. I pack early willing myself to sleep ahead of my usual bedtime only to toss and turn until it's just an hour or two before it's time to leave. Our first order of the day was to interview and shoot mountaineer Nesty Zapanta for InFlight Magazine just as the sun was painting Mt. Arayat in Pampanga with warm hues of yellows, the dew just settling on the grass and setting off a sweet scent through the forest. What we didn't expect was that we actually had to hike midway to the mountain to get a magazine-worthy vantage point.
I was surprised that even if I was lugging my camera bag and netbook, I didn't mind the hike. In fact, I enjoyed the early morning wake-up exercise. Probing a mountaineer like Nesty, a rather stoical-type who works as sports coordinator at the Angeles City Municipio by day and climbs mountains during weekends with his buddies at the Angelenos Mountaineering Society (AMS), was admittedly, a harder task. I guess it is quite common among some mountaineers to keep quiet and let their feet do the talking. What I didn't expect was that interviewing a fellow mountaineer will make me mull over the reasons why I hike myself.In Nesty's case, he heard the call of the mountains as an 11-year old. "Napaka-ironic kasi ako Bantay Kalikasan pero yung tatay ko dating hunter," (it's ironic because now I'm an advocate of Bantay Kalikasan, a nature protection group, but my father used to be a hunter) he says. An almost automatic query would be: what got you into climbing/hiking in the first place? "Para ma-test ko lang ang endurance ko," (To test my endurance) was his quick and terse reply. Hmmm, very pragmatic if simplistic response to an otherwise quixotic query that makes other people wonder why mountaineers even bother wasting calories and exposing themselves to muscle and joint pain in the process.
Nesty seems to recall their traverse of the Pinatubo Delta Trail 5 (not the easy-does-it "executive trail" popular nowadays) with animated vividness. "7am kami nagstart ng trek, umabot kami sa campsite ng 10pm... kasi unfamiliar yung environment. Akyat lang kami nang akyat, nasa edge na pala kami. Hindi pa kami ganon kaalam sa gear. Suot ko jeans lang na short, cotton na t-shirt, naka-tsinelas" (We started trekking at 7am and wound up in the campsite at 10pm... we were so unfamiliar with the environment. We just hiked and hiked not knowing at times we were at the edge. We also didn't know much about gear. I was wearing jeans-cum-shorts, cotton shirt and slippers.) Their planned two-day-hike turned into a three-day slugfest but by a stroke of luck, a driver of a loader truck found them and helped them get to Porac. Hearing this story, I can't help but look back to the trip one of my mountaineering groupmates took five years ago when Lady Luck seemed to have lost her way in the lahar crags, turning an otherwise recreational adventure weekend trip to one that claimed two lives. Some attribute it to the recklessness of youth; others, to the spirits of Sapang Uwak that occasionally harvest souls or in the vernacular, "nangunguha". Whatever the real reason, it matters little now.
To conclude my interview, I pressed Nesty for a memorable quote or two on the reason reason why he climbs, my head filled with answers of my own. "I enjoy the challenge ng nature na minsan I have to go through certain obstacles and difficulties to get to the top... although there is danger, yung peace and quiet na nakukuha ko sa bundok nag-gi-give-way to appreciate my life more" (I enjoy nature's challenge that I have to go through certain obstacles and difficulties to get to the summit. Although there is danger, the peace and quiet helps me appreciate my life more). In my head, the reasons why I hike mountains became crystal clear -- because not all paths have to be paved so you can hike them. Because not all places have to be filled with noise to appreciate them. Because not every sky need to be filled with things man-made to make it awe-inspiring. Because as climber Walter Bonatti said so sublimely, climbing mountains can be a life- and perspective-changing exercise.
Information: Nesty Zapanta works as a sports coordinator for the Angeles City local government and is a member of the Angeleños Mountaineering Society. You can reach him via mobile 0905.9740416 or the AMS Family page on Facebook. • The AMS takes visitors up Mt. Arayat (P800 for a group of five) and through the Pinatubo Delta 5 Trail (P2,000 for a three-day hike for 5 pax inclusive of rapelling, guides) • I wasn't able to take pictures during the hike which is why I'm using images taken during an Arayat dayhike back in 2006. • Attribution: Quote of Walter Bonatti borrowed from the novel "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" by Aron Ralston, 2004, Atria, Simon & Schuster
A separate article entitled "Clark for Thrill-Seekers" appeared in the January 2012 issue of InFlight Magazine. Many thanks to the Angeleños Mountaineering Society for making this interview possible. To read the article in InFlight Magazine, click this link.