Photo courtesy of Riza Ornos

#NoFilter: A Mountaineering Guide for the Selfie Generation

By riza ornos

This was a time when climbing mountains was not merely for shouting out your ex’s name out loud.

This was a time when a mountain bore witness to a camaraderie built on high altitude and not the drunken spectacles of weekenders.

This was a time when each climber was conscious about their collective environmental impact and not just to fill a slot for big, organized tours.

This was a time when communing with nature was to nourish one’s soul and absorb the knowledge of the old trees, and not for selfies.

More importantly, this was a time when climbers were well aware of their personal limits and nature’s complexities, ‘coz they know it’s not about reaching the summit, but conquering one’s self.

Six years ago, I joined a group of freelance climbers who were heading to Mount Nangtud to kick off that year’s climbing expedition. Most of us were working professionals who lived in different parts of the archipelago, and the only time we saw each other was in the company of ancient trees surrounded by mountains.

Our close-knit group already braved Mounts Madia-as and Baloy. Mount Nangtud is the last mountain we would climb in Antique’s infamous Tres Marias and, as warned by people who have experienced its wrath, has a reputation for being one of the most treacherous mountains in Panay, if not the entire Philippines. So, armed with guts and some experience, I knew going in that this hike was anything but easy.

First Day

mount nangtud pathway - project iloilo
Photo courtesy of Riza Ornos

We began our adventure in high spirits. We—as in all eighteen of us climbers—logged to the town’s police station and had a courtesy call to the mayor, where she talked about her plans of making Mount Nangtud as one of the main tourist attractions in Barbaza, and to look out for sightings of Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. Of course, what would an adventure be without a hearty feast, too?

It was a Friday when we embarked on a journey that, as we would find out, would turn into an extreme expedition. The original plan was to use the river trail to backtrack our way. Due to weather changes, we ended up taking the (literal) high road. Mind you, this was no ordinary trail; this was like an open invitation to sunburn and heatstroke, and where water was scarce.

We went by ridges that seemed impassable, gone up on summits we thought were insurmountable, and hugged cliffsides with breathtaking views that went beyond our expectations. Despite all of these, we had to quickly make our own trail because we actually got lost—all while having to be conscious of large rocks falling overhead.

Second Day

mount nangtud river - project iloilo
Photo courtesy of Riza Ornos

We woke up at the break of dawn and went on our journey not long after. As the sun rose to its midday glory, we slowly felt the toll of our sleep-deprived bodies and our diminishing water supply. After hours of what felt like drought, we found a water source that would last us enough to our next pit stop. Man, I can still remember when I found it hard to swallow the crackers I was eating since my mouth was all dried up. I don’t want to ever experience those two hours of extreme thirst and heat where the first drop of water on my lips felt like heaven again.

After 12 grueling hours of hiking, where the occasional rain showers in between made the heat bearable, I could not be any happier when I heard our guide announce that the next campsite was only a few minutes away. We were the last group to arrive, and I was so thankful to find my bivouac for the night prepared by my tent mate. I was already shivering from the cold, so I couldn’t wait to get out of my wet clothes and collapse in a soft, comfortable bed oh wait, that was just me doing wishful thinking. By 7 pm, we were already enjoying dinner, and I was lost in deep slumber by 8 pm.

Third Day

mount nangtud ridge - project iloilo
Photo courtesy of Riza Ornos

Wake-up call was at 4 am. Everyone quickly fixed their tents so we could move on to the next phase of the climb: the summit. The day’s plan was to get to camp as early as possible, leave our bags there and head to the peak and back again before sunset.

The hike getting to our next camp was fraught with danger. Imagine walking on a ridge at 8 in the morning where one misstep will plunge you into vast nothingness. But with the sun shining above and with clear blue sky, getting to be personally there on the picturesque view of the mountain was all worth the difficulty.

We arrived at camp at around 10 am. As we were preparing lunch before the final assault, I contemplated, and then decided, to stay behind since I knew I couldn’t make it up the summit without slowing down the whole group. The trek would take around six hours, and I know that my body was not ready for it.

By noon, nine climbers from our group started their trek to the summit, while the rest of us who stayed prepared dinner. After about six hours, the group went back shivering, and they were so hungry they ate almost everything—and keep in mind that we prepared for a LOT of people!

They had a bad experience on this hike. It turned out that they haven’t even reached the actual summit, but only reached the EBJ (Evelio B. Javier) summit instead. They also braved the cold brought about by the weather while going through an unforgiving trail populated with blood-sucking leeches that tried to cripple them along the way. Hats off to these nine!

After dinner, we retreated to our tents, and the thought of going the entire way down tomorrow scared me, and with good reason, too: we were documented to be one of the few groups of climbers who willingly traversed Mount Nangtud at that point.

Fourth Day

mount nangtud group shot
Photo courtesy of Riza Ornos

Our guide woke us all at 4 am to start the early descent. We started trekking by 6 am and, as we passed through the same ridge we encountered yesterday, our nightmare began. The ridge trail was getting steeper as we went down. Tall talahib grass covered entire paths and, no thanks to last night’s rain, the moist soil and wet leaves made for a very slippery descent. However, we were blessed with good weather, so the heat was bearable than before. Of course, we again encountered that postcard view as we reached the final summit for the descent.

As we reached the river bend, we were greeted by the rushing water of the majestic Libacao River. The current was so strong that crossing through it was almost impossible. With His guidance, we survived the river crossing and reached our destination, but not without some bruises and scratches on our body. We effin’ did it after 12 hours of ridge-walking, ass-sliding, cliff-hanging and river-crossing!

We may not have “conquered” the mighty Nangtud, but after everything we’ve been through, I can truly say we won. The thought of giving up played in my mind, but it was immediately replaced with a sense of accomplishment every time I reached camp. The best of part of it all, of course, was the bond I shared with my fellow climbers. In the real world, we were just acquaintances and friends brought by friends. But each climb slowly cemented our friendship. Only on higher ground did we see each other as equals. No one was above anyone, and that’s what made each climb meaningful.

To aspiring mountaineers, here’s my advice: be present wherever you are, and leave no trace. Mountains are there to be scaled and, if possible, to be experienced with friends. You are there to say endless “wows”, where each breath of fresh air lets you savor your every word. They aren’t just beautiful backgrounds for your selfies; you are to marvel at their grandeur, to enjoy nature at its purest, and to respect everything in its environment, be it living or non-living.

Be one of the proud guardians of these giants. Because at the end of the day, scaling their heights to feed your soul is worth more than the “likes” and “hearts” you get on social media.

Riza Ornos is the Queen Mermaid of EarthingPH and Visionary Nomad of Home of the Lost Soles. She is a true-blooded Ilongga who delights in writing her thoughts on while getting lost on the road.