By the time I got off Mt. Apo via the Kidapawan City trail in North Cotabato, it was already dark. Everyone who participated in the three-day climb, a traverse from Kapatagan, Davao Del Sur, were to spend the night at the Lake Agco Resort before taking the bus for Davao City the next day.
It was a successful climb in the sense that there were no casualties.
I luckily got out of the mountain with members from the Texins Mountaineering Society of Baguio City that adopted me. We waited as our fellow climbers, 68 participants, arrive.
“Who do you think it was?” an intrigued new arrival asked to no one specific as he sits at the dining table with us. He said someone, a woman, fell on a ravine during the descent.
I, with bandaged hand, was in his line of sight. My group was silent. Would it be a relief or seem wise to admit it? “Ako yata iyon. (I guess it was I.)” Our eyes met. His eyes dilated with interest. When everyone resumed to their own food and topics of interest, I was becoming distant with a playback of the climb.
It was raining. I was sitting on a ledge, laden thick with dried leaves, that was wide enough to catch me from falling deeper in the ravine that if you shout during the fall you’ll have to take another breath for another scream because you haven’t hit the bottom yet. I zoned out for a while until I heard Ate Thess shout: “Si Candice, nahulog! (It’s Candice. She fell!)”
I had to say something or they would think I’m a goner. I haven’t made a sound when I fell and I did not want to upset and paralyze Ate Thess and Hamish, an Australian and a first time climber he said, who were both closely behind me. They witnessed me drop.
“Nandito ako! (I’m here!)” I was shaky, but I had to be tough. Voices and feet rushed above me. I remained seated with my backpack on and checked for injuries. When I saw familiar faces about 10 to 12 feet above and some start appearing across the ravine, I stood up. “I think I have no injuries or pain but my right hand.” It was warm and bleeding but still numb from blood rush.
“Was there any flashback of your life or slow motion when you fell? Isn’t it just like in movies?” he asked at our sleeping quarters this time. My group did not pry much. It was getting late and we were praying for the safe descent of the others.
I was not used to the attention. Some were also listening. I was the girl who lived. I was used to being the one asking, listening, observing, and sharing a bit to keep the conversation going. I talked briefly of my fall but he gave me a look as if he’s yet to hear more. He was hoping for more drama or animation but I merely stated things without fervor.
The accident happened about an hour of descent from the eerily calm Lake Venado. I took a right step trying to get a foothold before shifting full weight when I slipped. My right leg swung up from the tricky stone step and the left leg immediately followed with nothing to hold on to. I landed on my backpack, tumbled to my right as I fall to the ravine. When my body faced the earth, I tried to grab onto anything. I groped on just rain-soaked dried leaves and dirt. My hands were looking for a rock or a root. I don’t recall how several times I might have bounced but I knew hope when my right hand hit a thorny branch. I gripped it like a rope. Thin spikes pricked my forehead, nose, right hand and arm as I slid. I gripped harder. More thorns nailed deep in my skin.
“Everything happened so fast. I was not even able to scream. I just heard Ate Thess shout for my name. No, there was no flashback or slow motion. All I know is that I slipped, tumbled, grabbed onto anything but that branch and I landed on my butt,” I said.
Mt. Apo was a difficult but an enriching climb. Even the idea of it, at 2,956 MASL, was daunting. Kidapawan was also my mom’s hometown and I wanted to know their mountain. Though I climb, I am not a trained mountaineer. I religiously ran and took the stairs for this. All I have was this sense of adventure and the willingness to do what it takes to get there and get out alive even if I had to sign up solo and book a Davao-bound flight from Manila with Cebu Pacific. I also carry this purpose of face-to-face calling it quits with a guy in Davao City as if the difficulty level of this major climb amounts to the task at hand.
I realized that though it wounded me, I’m not going to die of a heartbreak. Had I fallen that October 2010, that would have been the death of me. Mt. Apo was my life mentor. He shook me well to my senses to get more from life and to keep moving. Close what has to be closed. End moments. Clear things and just let it go even without getting an explanation. Grieve but live. Forgive.
Every step of the climb was a clash of beauty and challenge: the muddy trail, dense mossy forest, logs, intertwining tree roots and trunks that inspire creative body movements above or under it, night trek, getting lost and being found, high altitude and low temperature, the boulders, craters, steam of sulfur, the peak, the placidly enchanting Lake Venado, the ladders, river crossing and the strong current, and the light before and after dark. What you will see is beauty but what you have to go through is the challenge.
This post is my entry to the blogging contest “Your Life-Changing Travel Story” of Wego Philippines and Cebu Pacific Air.