by Manny Cabido

(Editor’s Note: MSU-IIT at the top, literally. Following is Prof. Manny Cabido’s account of his group’s historic climb to the top of the country’s highest peak where they planted the flag of the MSU-IIT, a symbolic gesture that says a lot. Need I explain?)

Climbing Mt. APO was a dream-come-true.

In May 2006, I organized the first APhiO Mt. Apo Climb for Alpha Phi Omega members with the late Teody Maglunob in Kidapawan City. We jumped off at Magpet and encamped at Lake Venado on the second day. The climb was a big success with everyone getting safely back down after thrilling days of ascending and descending. Since then, I have been to Mt. Apo 6 times and I have never known when to stop climbing this majestic mountain.

I have been with MSU-IIT since my student days in 1977. I bear witness to the transformation of the Institute, its climb to the top as the best school in Mindanao and the enduring prestige it has gained with the numerous topnotchers in board exams and researches that have reaped national and international honors for its faculty members. The Institute’s climb to the top is unprecedented and, to me, being with MSU-IIT was like a climb to the top of the highest summit in the country.

I thought about climbing the imposing Mt. Apo and raising the flag of the Institute at the summit, an idea shared by fellow IIT Mountaineers – the group composed of faculty and staff members of the Institute. Raising the flag of MSU-IIT at the summit symbolizes the rise of the Institute as one of the leading universities in the country today. We welcomed with pride the idea, and we worked to eventually make this idea a part of the 43rd IIT Charter Day Celebrations.

Organizing and preparing for the climb took us several weeks. There were in the outset 9 members who composed the climb party which included Atty. Edgar Alan Donasco of the BAC Secretariat. Unfortunately, Atty Donasco injured his right foot 3 days before our departure date and his absence reduced the climb party to just 6 members after Prof. Rene Crisostomo and Prof. Charles Nebres begged off from joining the climb due to their busy schedules.

We wavered deciding between a “Go” or “No Go” even after the Special Order was released, and already with the logistic support of the IIT Faculty Union and the ANTEU. Without much fanfare, the climb party composed of Engr. Rodel dela Cruz, Dr. Jimmy Sasam, Prof. Eugene Guadalupe, Mr. Ray Aban, Mr. Elmer Gooc, two experienced students, Mr. Jerwin Radaza, Mr. Ian Culi, and I quietly left the campus at around 4:00 o’clock in the morning of July 6, 2011. We arrived at the municipality of Bansalan at around 2:30 p.m. on the same day. Here, we met with the mayor’s secretary who gladly welcome us to the town and introduced us to their Tourism Officer who facilitated the release of our climb permits.

We did last-minute purchasing of what we needed before we left for the jump-off site in Purok Pluto. When everything was ready, we proceeded to Sitio Pluto which was about fifteen kilometers away from the town proper. However, due to the slippery road condition, we only managed to reach Kilometer 9 and our van had to turn back to Kidapawan to rendezvous with us at the Lake Agco Resort 3 days later.

Fortunately, the climb party managed to hitch a ride to Sitio Pluto on a 4×4 multicab. We reached Sitio Pluto at about 8 o’clock in the evening and prepared dinner for the night. We settled in a cramped room to steal sleep in a short time, hardly resting because of the snores that reverberated around the room. Nevertheless, we were comforted from the seeping cold as we lay embraced by our reliable sleeping bags.

At about 4 a.m., I woke the group up to prepare for food and packed lunch. We negotiated for porters who would carry our supplies to the summit. With much haggling, we managed to get enough porters to haul our supplies and equipment through a long and arduous trail to the top of the mountain. The lead pack reached the summit before night time followed by the sweeper and tail group that arrived about an hour later.

The biting cold at the summit took its toll on most members of the climb party. After the meal was prepared, we fed the porters. With the biting cold, we ate our meals with one thing in mind: to settle in the comfort of our tent.

The wind was blowing outside when my partner Prof. Eugene Guadalupe told me that his knee was sore due to a minor sprain when he tried to cross a stream on the way up the summit. After giving him medication to ease the pain, I thought of how we could manage to get down the mountain the following day. Dawn came and again, I signalled the wake up call to start the day at 4 a.m. The cold was unbearable but sipping hot coffee with a drop of rum warmed us somehow.

When morning came, the team climbed the summit overlooking Davao Gulf. We took pictures and videos to show these to the IIT constituents during the Charter Day celebrations. Our videoman Mr. Elmer Gooc, Offlux — as we called him, was in awe of the view unfolding before us.

Things are different when you are above the clouds. One hardly understands the feeling even as we managed to take pictures all over the place to capture the grandeur of the majestic mountain.

We raised the banner of MSU-IIT on the summit, and with IIT’s logo on top, we also raised the banners of KASAMA, ANTEU, and the Office of the Chancellor. Our voices cracking because of the biting cold of the morning gust, we sang the “Himno ng Pamantasan” and shouted at the top of our voices: Mabuhay ang MSU-IIT! The only human sounds were drowned by the overwhelming cold, silenced by the gust and the sniffles of our wet noses.

We spent several hours at the summit stunned by the majesty of nature.

The team descended for Lake Venado for the night. Along the way, we met several climbers from Manila who had encamped at the lake. There were some foreigners, too, gasping for breath, joining the other climbers to the top. We negotiated the downhill trail for several hours and reached the beautiful lake where we pitched our tent for the night. Night came and after dinner, we chugged a few gulps of T5’s hoping to ward off the cold from our bodies. But rhum was not enough to stop the stinging cold, so we crept into our sleeping bags inside our tents.

Lake Venado (Photo by Elmer Gooc)

In the early morning of July 9, we prepared food for the whole day trek to Lake Agco down the treacherous Coong Trail along the Marbol River. We broke camp after breakfast and started the downhill trek at 8. The trail was more difficult this time as we had to hold on to roots and stones to keep us from falling down the deep slopes.

We took lunch and drank from streams along the way. We hardly noticed the sun which was covered by the vast vegetation of the forest canopy along the trail we negotiated. To my dismay, the bamboo bridges on the Marbol River which we crossed during previous climbs were now gone. The bridges were washed out by a previous typhoon which eroded the river banks. We crossed the river on foot and, with careful and calculated risks, we reached Lake Agco before dusk safely.

At Lake Agco, we soaked our sore bodies under the warm steam for several hours. The feeling was soothing for us who hiked three days traversing the highest mountain in the country.

It was great to be able to finish another episode of a climb with everyone safe in spite of the difficult and challenging terrain. We went home fulfilled, full of fun and fond memories, and most profoundly, accomplished because we had completed our mission to banner the MSU-IIT high up in the summit of the glorious Mt. Apo.

If there is anything that comes closest to signifying our Charter theme this year of “Going Beyond Borders,” our drive to scale our country’s highest peak speaks boldly of the commitments of our MSU-IIT to be at the top.

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