Ads 468x60px

Friday, January 23, 2015

I Can Never Conquer Mt. Kinabalu

By Zoe Arugay, MD

I reached the summit of Mt Kinabalu on January 4, 2015 just before sunrise.

Some years ago, my rock climbing mentor told me that you can never conquer mountains. He said that the mountains will always be there and never existed to be conquered. The power of nature is always stronger than you are, so to him it's simply not a proper statement. I can understand that, but I felt that I needed more convincing. Nevertheless, I steered clear from using the word "conquer" in any of my adventures.

My mentor has been on sabbatical from climbing since then, but my passion for the outdoors still burns. And this was when SIGA was born. SIGA is the Special Interest Group for Adventure of Mensa Philippines. It brought together the adventurous souls in our roster with the hope that we would make our way to the mountains, the sea, and allow us to explore what else is out there. In Filipino, "siga" means tough or rough, and can also mean fire, befitting our mission and vision for the group. In January 2014, we climbed Mt Pulag, the third highest peak in the Philippines. By June 2014, we decided our next climb would be Mt Kinabalu, and we thought of inviting our Asian neighbors on this trip. Since then, we had climbs as part of our preparation. In addition, I had a month and a half of serious cardio training.

On New Year's Eve, three days before our climb, I had the misadventure of consuming something funky, that by New Year's Day, I was repeatedly trotting between my bathroom and my bed. I was too weak to go out, go home to my parents, or go to the labs. On January 2, I had enough strength to get myself tested. It was tricky since I also had to consider the prophylaxis I had planned on taking as I am classified as high risk for altitude sickness. After some work up, fluids, and much consideration, I made my final decision to push through with the climb and take in an alternative medication as my first choice might aggravate my electrolyte imbalance.

That evening, I barely made my flight. I had too much going on earlier in the day that it had compromised my time.

In Kota Kinabalu Park, we only had 3 hours of sleep before a knock on the door signalled the start of our journey.

After our buffet breakfast and a short flight of stairs, I noticed I had some easy fatigability and that my heart was pounding wildly. It got me worried because this was not normal for me. However, I may also liken it to what I may feel like warming up before my cardio training. But after another episode a while later, I made the decision that I did not want to gamble with my life. Coming out of dehydration and with borderline electrolytes, I decided to hire a porter to assist me with this trek.

The Mesilau trail was as beautiful as it was arduous. It is longer by approximately 2 km and tougher than Timpohon, the usual route that climbers choose. We would stop at times to admire what was around us - the falls, streams, and clearings which would give us an exhilarating view...or even the lack of it because we were walking through clouds. The flora that surrounded us were fascinating. But the trail was steep. At this point, I was working on pure determination and relying on my leg power to push me through. My mind was just on auto-pilot with one thing: Just walk. And then stop and take some pictures. Or videos.

I was alone on the trail most of the time, but later on had caught on with Aldrich. My porter had caught on to us as well. We had short, frequent stops, where we either catch our breath or attempt to capture macro photos of flora.

After 5.5 km, we reached a fork in the road and continued on a steeper ascent. Some meters later, we saw the 4.5 km marker. This was for those who took on Timpohon. It was amusing that it felt like we were set back by 1 km, but we easily brushed it aside. Because by this time, we were higher than the clouds and at an awesome vantage point to witness the sunset. Aldrich and I took this time to marvel at a phenomenon we usually take for granted because today, it was not just a daily event - it was a reward.

The three of us strapped on our headlamps, gloves and fleece in preparation for a colder, darker hike. The last kilometer to the base camp was the toughest psychologically. It was a constant crusade against pessimism and weary bodies. We were hungry and anxious to end this course. At 7:50 pm, Laban Rata greeted us with an empty and half-lit mess hall. All climbers have been to bed some 50 minutes prior. And since we arrived more than two hours after the buffet closed, we only had packed meals.

The staff informed us that it was advisable to wake up at 1:30 am, prepare our things, have breakfast at 2 am, and start leaving as early as 2:30 am. So much for ample rest. Our group, possibly because we were the most sluggish, left later than the rest at 3 am. Estimated time to reach the summit was 5:30 am.

We met the start of the rock face of Kinabalu some 700 meters from Laban Rata. A white rope was bolted on to it where climbers can use it to aid themselves up. Pretty soon, it was all the same to me - climb a little, follow the white rope, rest a little, walk, sit a little. It was dark and the pace was slow. It was so slow and robotic that the climbers seemed like the walking dead coming towards Aldrich and I. That's how exhausted we were.

After passing the 7.5 km mark (which signalled the last 500 meters), Aldrich and I were discussing how something that seems so short would actually be longer.  We convinced our minds not to get ahead of ourselves and just keep climbing. Aldrich motioned me to go first. I had my mind on negotiating the rocks when I reached the end of the white rope. Where do I go now? It was too dark to see.

It turns out, it ended because I reached the summit.

Yes, holey rocks, Batman, I finally reached the summit before dawn.

Sights along the Mesilau trail to the summit of Mt Kinabalu with the author, Aldrich Cu (Philippines) and Ashutosh Sodhani (Mensa Singapore).

There was not much to see there, just a marker and a fleet of climbers clamoring for a piece of rock to sit on as they wait for the first rays of light to shine through. I immediately took the opportunity to ask a complete stranger to take my summit photo.

I found a spot where I tried taking test photos when Aldrich, and later, Ashutosh found me. It was a triumphant moment for us as we watched the sun rise on a glorious day. Ash was particularly in high spirits since our guide concluded a day earlier that he does not have what it takes to make it to the summit, and yet he was third in our group to make it, proof that your spirit cannot be broken if you don't let others do so.

The clouds were far below us. The rocks were colossal. And there I was above all that - recovering from a sickness, exhausted, and severely lacking sleep for two days. Being on top of the world at that moment reminded me that something majestic lives here that is more powerful than I am. It gave off an other worldly feel to small specks of human beings like me trudging its tracks. That was a very humbling moment. The mountain has only allowed me to be a part of it, and to leave a part of myself here.

I now understand why it is that I have not conquered Kinabalu and never will. On the contrary, Kinabalu has conquered me.

Most importantly, I conquered myself.

The sun was up and everything was bright when it was time to make our descent. A sea of clouds was on the horizon, the massive rocks looked barren, but still magnificent. We were not able to appreciate these when we were climbing hours before in the dark. Now it was simply beautiful.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mensa Philippines and Mensa Singapore Reach Mt Kinabalu

Members of Mensa Philippines and Mensa Singapore climbed Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia on January 3-4, 2015. The climb was organized by SIGA, the Special Interest Group for Adventure of Mensa Philippines. The group was composed of Zoe Arugay, Charlene Tan, Angelica De Chavez, Allan Ostrea, and Lex Dela Torre  of Mensa Philippines; Ashutosh Sodhani and Shashvat Shukla from Singapore; and the team's family and friends Aldrich Cu, Paulo Chua, Prashant Shukla and guide Dennis Aputar.

Top row, from left: Shashvat Shukla, Prashant Shukla, Lex Dela Torre, Ashutosh Sodhani, Aldrich Cu, Allan Ostrea. Middle, from left: Angelica De Chavez, Charlene Tan, Zoe Arugay
Front: Paulo Chua

The ascent on January 3, 2015 took the team from Kota Kinabalu Park to Laban Rata through the Mesilau Trail, reportedly the longer and more difficult route compared to Timpohon, which is the usual trail preferred by climbers. The team arrived at Laban Rata in groups starting 7:50 pm until 10:30 pm, the last team being caught in the rain along the trail. The group stayed there for dinner and much needed rest before the final stretch to the peak.

The teams reached the summit of Mt Kinabalu on the morning of January 4, 2015. They descended through Timpohon safely.

SIGA is a newly formed SIG that brings together the adventurous members of Mensa Philippines. They have climbed, sailed, and explored beaches. In Filipino, "siga" means tough or rough, and can alternately mean fire.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mensa Philippines Invade TEDxManila 2015

by Jom Sadie

Members of Mensa Philippines received invitations to the first independent TED conference in the country for the year: TEDxManila!

Armed with their business cards, smartphones and powerbanks, April Grace Santiago,  Dan Robert Caracas, Jomar Sadie, Judd Guerrero, and Reg Muñoz arrived at the halls of the University of the Philippines' Institute of Biology located at the National Science Complex, Diliman, Quezon City, ears eager for an afternoon of TED talks.

What is TED?

TED is a nonprofit devoted to "ideas worth spreading".  These ideas are introduced into the world in the form of short, powerful talks (20 minutes or less) usually in the spheres of Technology, Entertainment and Design.  Meanwhile, TEDXes are similar talks but where "x" stands for independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events, including TEDxManila, are self-organized. Such independent events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Held last January 10, 2015 lasting from 1 PM to 5 PM,  organizers of TEDxManila once again pulled all stops to bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

Injecting his timeless sense of humor,  Father Xavier Alpasa, now seemingly a mainstay in TEDXes, opens the conference with his talk on  our  personal "why"s or our passions. He challenged the audience claiming that he is looking for FINE Fellows or Filipino Innovators, Nation-builders, Earth Advocates.

Prim Paypon of "Imagineering a Filipino Dream" follows strong taking on empowering the youth towards nation-building. With dream like oil paintings on his slides he discussed that the Filipino has forgotten to dream. He dare asks "How can we claim to love the country if we can't even conjure a common dream for the Philippines? "

Karylle Yuzon revealed she's got superpowers.  The star described how her powers of invitation help raise funds and hands for the sick children that they help thru their efforts in Child Haus.  And when that time came when she lost that drive for selflessness after witnessing one too many deaths, she told a story of how the power of invitation came full circle and brought her back.

Speaking of full circles, Sam Bloch of Communiteer, demonstrates how "community-driven aid" is the best tactic in response to natural disasters. His PowerPoint slides detailed how a relief center should be set-up: complete with facilities for rebuilding, logistics, and victim-assistance. Physical set-ups that are both affordable and sustainable. His Haiti-Center had art shops to help victims cope and mobile tool-lending units to help residents rebuild their homes. When Tacloban experienced a similar calamity,  Sam traveled to the country to help by replicating his Haiti center, only this time, he even received funding from Haiti Communiteers.

Taken by Cars posed the question "Did technology kill the musician?" and answered it by comparing the pros and cons of advancements in technology. Piracy versus sharing. Complacency versus cost efficiency. Organic versus Democratize Opportunities. They concluded their talk by playing the quite apt "This is our city" using only  a six-dollar Garage Band app.

"The best form of charity is to make yourself obsolete " says Illac Diaz,  father of One Liter of Light which aims to light the world one (plastic)  bottle at a time. His open source designs are testament to the idea that solutions need not be expensive or inaccessible so long as volunteers are willing to teach.

Individual videos of this Talks are available online for viewing and sharing. Spread the word.

(you may email the author at