At UP Diliman, mountain climbing is always part of outdoor activities for college students. But usually, if I may recall, this is only being offered to students of College of Human Kinetics and/or varsity athletes. The reason I would say is self-explanatory.
Last October 27, 2014, a Quezon City resident died of an apparent heart attack while scaling up Mt. Pulag. It happened at Camp 1 while resting.
The coaches of my daughter seemed very cautious and a bit worried that I will really do climb Mt. Pulag because two members in the swimming community aged 42 and 47 had passed away last 2014 due to heart attack (notbecause of mountain climbing) and were much younger than I do.
While we were given an orientation at DENR office, I noticed something written as follows: ”If you have a heart ailment or hypertension, you are advised not to climb Mt. Pulag.”
They all seemed to me stern warnings to really think it over for the last time. But the commitment to a lot of eco-tourist guides and local students waiting for my lecture and a sky-show for Comet Lovejoy last January 9-11, 2015 was something for astronomy and PAS. But knowing my daughter will go along with me for this astronomy activity, it was all green and go.
There are four trails in going up to Mt. Pulag. We took the “easiest” (according to the guides), which they call locally “Ambangeg Trail” and is commonly called “Executive Trail” in Metro Manila. A senior officer at DOT told me that the subject trail was just like “walking in the park”. Nice.
The surge of clouds on mountain ranges looks like an over-spilling water from a dam that brings moisture to vegetation along terraces. And then you would begin to feel air temperature dropping.
Along The Trail
Weather was fair (January 10, 2015), blue sky, and the temperature was around 12 degrees centigrade. It was supposed to be “a night to remember” for a clear sky and Comet Lovejoy. Before reaching Camp 1, I first noticed immediately that my regular brisk walking at UP Academic Oval-Science Park, Ultra, and Bonifacio Global City does not seem to match the rigors of this trail which they call “executive trail” or “walk in the park”. The rough, rocky, clayey, and slippery pathways along mountain ranges do not seem to match what energy and expanded lungs one has acquired in walking on flat surfaces in Metro Manila.
At Camp 1
We had few minutes of rest under the shadows of trees. I began to feel not the “tiredness” but the boredom of walking for some more hours up to Camp 2. I was informed it was about 3 more kilometers up. My mind began to imagine and calculate - this is just like making one and a half round of walk around Academic Oval in UP. No sweat. But now I realized walking uphill was different. It feels like walking and climbing to nowhere. And every time any one asks the tourist guide “malayo pa ba”? I always hear the same answer – “malapit na, walking distance na lang”. This kind of reply “walking distance na lang” was somewhat annoying but very funny.
By this time, knowing my temper and patience, my daughter reminded me to always walk behind her. She scolded me somewhat for walking at pace with younger participants. She even noticed that my breathing style was wrong. And so she gave me instructions. Good.
Up to Camp 2
The trail was even worse. Breathing was becoming harder and the temperature was getting much colder. I recalled I should have exercised in going up and down the stairs of Pacific Star Building in Makati. Upon reaching Camp 2, our mountaineer guide congratulated me although we haven’t reached the summit yet. And it seems I’m the only one he acknowledged. Later I found out that he was the first guy to descend from Camp 2 to Camp 1 to give first aid to the man who died then from heart attack at Camp 1. Only then I realized why he was happy to see me at Camp 2. I’m still alive. Hahaha.
At Camp 2
There are two levels within this camping site. One is at la evel higher than the other. Our tent was situated at the higher site.
We saw the sea of clouds approaching the summit. But in 30 minutes, wild wind blew so strong and then turned gusty with rain showers that it sent me immediately inside the tent.
It was a big mistake! For the first time I cannot breathe and I felt like vomiting. But then I was still quick enough to realize that there’s less oxygen inside the tent. So I went out immediately and breathed and breathed and breathed until I was all soaked with wet air. My breathing went normal but I’m all wet and almost shaking. The temperature has dropped to less than 7 degrees. In an instance, I remember Mt. Sto.Tomas and an old friend John in Baguio. I then never thought of cold temperature as a threat and a fearful factor for me.
A Nightmare to Remember
The temperature dropped to 2 degrees centigrade. Still not seem to be a problem for me for as long as I’m kept inside the tent. But a group mate underwent “hypothermia”. The mountaineers were so quick to set a bonfire (though this is prohibited), to provide blanket, massage, etc. to heat up the chilling bodies of their fellow campers.
We never had a window of a clear sky even for a brief moment. I saw a glimpse of the Orion constellation amid thin passing clouds, but there was no way you could fix your telescope for a focus with the prevailing strong winds and moisturizing fog around. PAS “Karen” (our friendly travelling telescope) had to be wrapped around with a blanket to avoid moisture contamination. For both astronomers and astrophotographers, the strong winds and "freezing" temperature could be their nightmare.
For me the real nightmare was “the call of nature” and a theory in physics that frightened me. It was like super-cooling wherein water inside my body has been cooled below freezing but has not yet turned into ice. But still there was that latent energy which has not been released and all you wanted is to explode it out but you wonder why you can’t. Everything seemed to have been constricted inside my body by the coldness of the evening, or finally, it all has been “frozen. And as I stood waiting, I could hear an inner self singing “Let it go ! Let it go!”
Being trapped inside your tent in an endless evening of gusty freezing winds, one would either get bored or worried. But there were ways, I noticed, others did to overcome such situation. Some had group discussions about their experiences. Some groups had drinking sessions. The most effective way in my case is texting someone from the outside world. And when the temperature dropped further, numbness to some participants set in; some had running noses without noticing it; some voices began to garble; finger tips and lips of others are darkening, etc.
Dawn of January 11, 2015
At 4:00 AM we were called upon by the mountaineers and tourist guide to wake up and be ready to assault the summit. I thought of it as a suicide to trail along and go against gusty winds and freezing temperature. Majority decided not to push through except for six including my daughter.
As a staunch admirer and bodyguard to my daughter, I had to, though she was preventing me. But since I cannot prevent her, she cannot prevent me too. So we did. Not only as a body guard and an admirer, but her personal photographer too.
We noticed some water droplets crystallizing or may be condensing on carpet of grass.
Going Down Finally
Desperate and ugly, all my black hair (some of them I mean) turned gray. Hermit!
I saw again the beauty of some trees of such rarities that Mt. Pulag can offer.
And the Sun was shining!
Executive Trail ? – yes for mountaineers it is.
Walk in the Park? – yes for eco-tourist guides and porters who are friendly natives of Mt. Pulag.
As for me – it’s “Bataan Death March” and a “Survivor Series”.
A younger female participant asked me if I enjoyed and would still be coming back. Being tired but not exhausted, I said “I do not know. But I’m sure once I took my bath and have a good sleep, I’ll have good memories to enjoy”.
By now, more than 24 hours had passed of what I thought was an ordeal, I am sure of myself, I’ll be back again.
Pioneering Philippine Astronomy to the supreme!
That's what I loudly thought when I stepped into the Astronomy Center of the Rizal Technological University at Boni Avenue.
Were it not for the solar image that John Nassr posted in our PAS Forum to which I answered about Jenny Baltazar's possibly squirming in her seat and all the more her wanting to buy a solar scope on seeing that image, Dr. Torres would not have announced the Astronomy Center at RTU for us to see.
A gem waiting to be unleashed!
Going there ahead of Jenny, I got transported into a wave of emotions as I looked into the panoramic murals covering the walls of the Activity Center at the First floor. Was just transfixed there - gazing at the nebulae, the galaxies, the constellations. I was looking into the Universe!
The hallways and three classrooms are similarly filled with blown-up framed images of deep-sky objects, besides the enviable vast collection of astronomy books and magazines in the library. Also, an array of assorted telescopes with different sizes and mounts instantly beams into view from the glass door at the
second floor. But despite this now impressive and awesome look, the Center is not yet finished. There are more features to be added, according to Dr. Torres, our guide for the tour of the Center.
What an inspiring bonus to the students in Astronomy who hold their classes there. And more so an inspiration to the Astronomy instructors Engr. Camilo Dacanay, Engr. Ronald Tanco, Ms. Leah Villalon, Dr. Armando Lee, Bamm Gabriana - current and former members of the Philippine Astronomical Society.
Located at the Graduate School and Research Building, the RTU Astronomy Center is the brainchild of Dr. Jose Q. Macaballug, former RTU President and now Officer-in-Charge (as his term has expired).
It is the result of the many years of researches and observations writings by the current Vice President for Academic Affairs of Rizal Technological University - Dr. Jesus Rodrigo Torres. Apparently an astronomer himself, Dr. Torres authored many astronomy books, received the Padre Faura Award (deemed highest award for excellence in the field of Philippine astronomy), and he's one of the only four Filipino members in the prestigious International Astronomical Union.*
RTU is now spearheading the advancement of space sciences in the Philippines and probably in Asia with the completion of the Astronomy Center. The structure for the 40-seater Planetarium and for an observation facility is already in place on the top floor of the building.
RTU also pioneered the offering of Bachelor and Masteral degree programs in Astronomy Technology - rightly in cognizance of and in answer to the challenge of world's clamor for space studies and exploration. Rizal Technological University thus holds the distinction of being the first university in the Philippines and in Asia to offer these degree programs in Astronomy. Recently, Dr. Torres received a request from New Era University to design an Astronomy Program for them. Seed sown is now growing big!
This alone catapults Rizal Technological University into a sublime status to contend with in Asia in the field of space sciences. Already, the second Southeast Asian Astronomy Network Convention was held here at RTU last February 2010.
In a letter to the Board years ago, I expressed my wish to the Philippine Astronomical Society to negotiate with the Department of Education for the inclusion of Astronomy as an elective subject in college courses. I remember not having Astronomy at all as one of the elective subjects to choose from when I was a student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Mentioning this old wish to Dr. Torres during Jennifer Baltazar's and my visit to the Astronomy Center, he immediately countered that "Earth, Environmental, and Space Sciences" will soon be a regular subject in all Philippine colleges and universities.
Dr. Jesus Torres and Dr. Merle Tan of the University of the Philippines similarly saw this same need and worked for Astronomy's inclusion in the collegiate curriculum. Indeed, what an upward development with time. Alleluia!
Not only for astronomy students, astronomy enthusiasts, hobbyists, full-fledged and amateur astronomers but for all the public - the Astronomy Center at the Rizal Technological University is a separate institution in itself that doubles as a Museum for the inquisitive minds to see.
Thank you, Dr. Torres. Thank you, RTU.
Left photo: Dr. Jesus Torres
Right photo: Jenny Baltazar and Dr. Jesus Torres
*The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is a collection of professional astronomers at the PhD level and beyond, active in professional research and education in Astronomy.
Headquartered in Paris, France, it acts as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies, planets, asteroids and any surface features on them. The main aim of the IAU is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU maintains friendly relations with organizations that include amateur astronomers in their membership.