Jan 4, 2011

Philippine Tropical Mountaineering - General Terms

This post is also a condensed article from the site of Singarong Backpackers, who I consider as a reference in climbing during my newbie years, together with the Upward Trail site. I extracted this from my Multiply archive from a few years back.

Tropical vs Alpine Climbing

The Philippines has no alpine mountain peaks because the country is situated in the tropical belt and, at least, none of the peaks in the country exceeds 11,500 ft in altitude to be able to acquire alpine conditions like Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia and Puncak Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid) in Indonesia. As such, Philippine Mountaineering (mountaineering in the Philippine setting) does not have to contend with alpine conditions – extremely low temperature, ice, snow and barren rocks – that makes mountaineering life extremely difficult and hazardous. Hence, in the Philippines, the use of protective gear for very low temperature and the use of crampons are not necessary. Much less, Philippine Tropical Mountaineering is free from the debilitating effect of very high altitude – the deficiency of oxygen supply in the atmosphere.

As a rule, the basic element of Philippine Mountaineering is the forest or any other vegetative cover. With this dominant element, Philippine Tropical Mountaineering has to contend with, for the most part, the prospect of biological hazards and orientation problems. Ironically, water-procurement is a major factor for the success or failure of a tropical peak climb. In the alps, water supply is determined largely by the quantity of fuel (for thawing ice into water). In the tropical mountains, water supply depends on the distance of the nearest water-source (a river or spring) and the capacity of a mountaineer to carry a certain amount. Allegedly, water shortage accounts for the failure of Antique Mountaineering Society to climb Mt Baloy through Valderrama in two attempts.

Tame as it may seem, Philippine Tropical Mountaineering has its share of fatalities in the practice of the sports. Interestingly, flashflood and hypothermia are the leading causes of these fatalities.

General Terms
Climbing Period
A climb covers the following phases: a.) the hike from the jump-off point (the last point accessible to transportation) to the base of the mountain; b.) the ascent (upward climb) from the base to the summit; c.) the descent (downward climb) from the summit to the original or other base; and, d.) the return hike to the jump-off point or trek to another point accessible to transportation.

Climb-Proper Difficulty (C-PD): Understandably, the Climb-Proper refers to the upward and downward climb. The total difficulties and risks involve in this period is termed as the Climb-Proper Difficulty.
Approach Difficulty (AD): It refers to the total difficulties and risks encountered during the trek from the jump-off point to the base and the return trek to the jump-off point or any other point accessible to transportation. (Arbitrarily, the use of transport vehicles is considered extraneous to mountaineering or climbing.) AD has bearing in climbing because stress and logistical supplies involve in the Approach directly affects performance during the Climb-Proper.
Climb Difficulty (CD): Climb Difficulty is the combination of C-PD and AD. One measure of the CD is the period in days covered to achieve the climb. Understandably, the prolonged climbing period has attendant stress whether psychological or physical to the climber. The average period covered to climb Mt Madja-as from Alojipan is three days and Mt Guiting-Guiting from Magdiwang is about the same time. Regarded as the toughest in the country, Mt Halcon could be climb in four days, of which C-PD takes much of the time. A minor peak, Sicaba-Diotay Peak could be climbed in five days, of which 3.5 days is devoted to AD.

Base-to-Peak Rise (BPR) and Other Factors
In tropical climbing, the primary factor that defines the difficulty of a peak is ‘elevation gain’ or vertical distance covered from the base of ascent to the summit – not peak altitude as commonly held. (Of course, in the Himalayas where the effects of altitude is very pronounced –  in particular, the debilitating effect of oxygen deficiency at 26,000 ft – altitude really does matter.) This `elevation gain’ is spelled by the base-to-peak rise (BPR), given that the base refers to the point where the climb commences, not the actual base of the peak. Interestingly, in instances a peak with a lower altitude may have a higher BPR than a peak with a higher altitude. A classic example, Mt McKinley has a BPR higher than that of Mt Everest, the tallest peak in the world. In the Philippines, the tall mountains in the Cordillera Range (Luzon) are among the tallest in the country but they do not necessarily have the highest BPR.
With all other factors equal, the peak with a higher BPR takes much longer to climb. However, the actual distance covered must also be taken into consideration. A peak with a lower BPR but with a more circuitous route may take longer to climb than a peak with a higher BPR but with a straighter route.
Moreover, secondary factors such as condition of the trail or natural obstacles (terrain and vegetative cover), have substantial contribution to make for an easy or difficult peak.
On the part of the climber, his route plan, team composition, climbing method, strategy and other choices could also be considered as secondary factors.

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