Saturday, June 10, 2017
IN LONG-GONE times, our ancestors, the Malay settlers and the Ati, revered the mountains of Panay. They looked up at the towering peaks of Madjaas, Napulak and Baloy, marveling how they grazed the clouds and touched the sky.
There are even legends claiming that Panay’s endless mountain ranges are the dwellings of the ancient gods, sacred ground for the supreme bathala Bulalakaw. Old locals mostly feared these soaring columns of stone and green, warning that those who attempt to embark on journeys climbing them may never come back. The tales of caution vary from being kidnapped by engkantos and led astray by tikbalang to hidden crevices and mystic rivers swallowing people whole.
In these folktales, it is often only the heroes who conquer these storied mounts and live to tell the tale. I suppose overcoming steep ascents does require a lot of strength and power.
Matthew Quidato and Mary Francille Igtanloc are fresh graduates of the University of San Agustin, taking up BS Nutrition and BS Psychology respectively, and between them, they’ve conquered nearly 45 climbs in total.
The duo has been at the helm of the University of San Agustin Mountaineering Society (USAMS), a campus-based organization for climbers and adventure seekers with a common vision – to building camaraderie and fellowship through mountaineering expeditions, all the while following set regulations, valuing the environment and giving back to the local communities.
Now on its second decade, USAMS lives by the Mountaineer’s Creed – “Take nothing but pictures, leaving nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”
Francille joined in 2012, with Mount Napulak in Igbaras as her first ever climb as an USAMS applicant. She shares that she was almost discouraged after that first excursion, her body severely beaten by the tough mount. Add the fact that she wore inappropriate footwear for the slippery hiking trails – Converse sneakers – made the experience even more discouraging.
But she managed to rally back after the daunting first climb, and now she’s had nearly 4 years of experience in mountaineering and rock climbing, being one of the most capable adventurers in the region.
Matthew, on the other hand, joined spontaneously a year after, dragged by Francille to one of USAMS’ Basic Mountaineering Course seminars and he’s been hooked ever since.
One of the few youth mountaineering clubs in the region, USAMS doesn’t just live for the thrill and adventure, they also make a point to help out and give back to the communities they encounter during their climbs. Recently, the organization was recognized in their University for their efforts conducting book drives for far-flung communities in Antique and donating Solar lights villages without electricity in Maasin.
USAMS’ members and alumni had to literally cross streaming rivers to deliver the assistance these remote communities needed. The funds they used some from donations, mostly coming out of their own pockets.
“Kami ang nakakita sing sitwasyon nila, biskan ang mga LGU gani mismo admit nga hindi nila malab-ot ang mga malayo nga communities nga ini, as a way of giving back man to the hospitality they’ve given us during our climbs, we’ve done our best nga mabuligan man namun sila,” shares Francille.
Francille, Matthew and USAMS together have faced storms, close lightning strikes and deafening thunderclaps, tiger leeches, vipers and large magkal, every hardship you can imagine, but through it they’ve grown stronger.
“Kami as a group mahambal ko nga daw mag-utod na kami. Sing akon na-experience nga mabudlay ginbuligan ko nila, kung sila naman kilanlan buligan ara man ko para mag-offer a helping hand, gabulos-bulos lang kami,” said Francille.
Panay Island is blessed with mountainous terrain, numerous peaks snaking up and down our skyline. There’s Mount Napulak of Igbaras with its curious peak, the verdant Mount Manaphag in Concepcion’s Pan de Azucar Island and the towering Mount Madjaas, Panay’s highest summit.
Recently there’s been a resurgence of interest for thrilling outdoor activities, hiking and camping becoming popular recreational sports. With Panay Island’s many virgin forests and unexplored mountains welcoming more adventure enthusiasts, why not up the ante and try a more immersive experience – the new frontiers of mountaineering.
The young USAMS duo – though they enjoy the adrenaline and excitement of mountain climbing – keep in mind the importance of the mountaineer’s creed: “Take nothing but pictures, leaving nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”
“Attitude is an important part of mountaineering,” shares Francille. “Hindi lang nga gina-enjoy mo ang climb, at all times you should follow the rules, keeping in mind nga responsible kamo for each other’s lives, and you also need to learn to respect your surroundings.”
Meanwhile, Matthew shares mountaineering taught him the value of camaraderie. “During climbs you learn not to be selfish, hindi lang nga self mo lang ulikdan mo. Kung ano man matabo bululigay gid, dapat wala gid bay-anay,” he shares.
But most important of all, the duo and USAMS urge adventurers to value the environment. “We really live by the mountaineer’s creed. If wala ka respect for nature, we can’t consider you one of us,” said Francille.
USAMS conducts Basic Mountaineering Course seminars during the start of every school year in their university. If you are not an Agustinian student, but still interested in undertaking the activity, Francille and Matthew encourage you to join the Iloilo Mountaineering Club, the organization which USAMS falls under. (firstname.lastname@example.org/PN)