Sep 23, 2017

Notes of a Female Solo Hiker

Back in the day, I was one of the lucky female hikers that were interviewed by a fellow hiker-blogger Adonis Lloren. Here are my answers to few of his interesting questions:

When was your first climb and where?
A co-worker invited me to join her in pursuing her mountaineering dream. I gladly obliged, and we did a research on her target mountain—Mt Maculot. With my naivete, I proposed that we climb Mt. Manabu for the sunrise, pass the idle afternoon trekking Gulugod Baboy (with visits to Lipa tourist spots), and finally spend the sunset hours in Mt. Maculot. I thought it was that easy even for a sedentary person like me.

As expected and out of excitement, I didn’t sleep early and woke up late. We ended up climbing only Mt. Maculot! Start trek was at 1500H, with little water (I’ve got less than 250ml), little food (3 garlic bread sticks, I was on a diet that time), no headlamps (my friend has a lipstick-size flashlight), no proper information, and we were two female trekkers with no mountain guide.

Up there, I witnessed the sunset for the first time, the tangerine-turning-crimson sun setting across the side of Taal Lake. At 1800H, we were set to making the descent when other campers discouraged us. They were so persistent in providing us with food and shelter that we decided to stay. Truth was we wanted to spend a little more time with the mountain. It was May 2007 and we were young and naive.

Who and what inspired you to climb?
That co-worker became my climb buddy. She became a mentor during my early days in climbing. She’s the one who’s always prepared, the one who researched more, the one who trains for every climb….the one who took climbing to heart. We did duo climbs back then including the Bakun Trio, Pico de Loro traverse, Mt. Tabayoc and Mt. Iraya. She is now semi-retired from climbing, and is pursuing other outdoor activities like SCUBA diving, surfing, photography and solo backpacking among others.

Also, “trying to prove something” is a powerful fuel in pushing someone to try to accomplish a feat. I am no exception to this one, as I started a climbing career in August 2008… trying to prove that even as a female, no one can dictate nor restrict the mountains I can and cannot climb.

Why do you climb?
For as long as I can remember, I am smitten by gargantuan structures such as mountains. I marvel at the angles at which they appear the highest and proudest. I can recall a childhood scene where I stood staring at the grandness of Mt. Arayat…How huge, tall and near it stands that I could almost touch it! I was 4 or 5 then.

Over the years, the non-climbing me was forever mesmerized whenever I pass by a distinct mountain…until someone suggested that I do something about it and make things happen (ergo Mt. Maculot).

We all have different reasons for climbing. And that reason may change through the years. As said before, I started to climb reluctantly, then tried to prove people wrong. It became a calling a year after (I was literally dreaming of mountain hikes whenever I haven’t climbed for more than 3 weekends), until it transformed into a life journey.

Before 2007, I never knew the difference between Ilocos and Iloilo, nor that of Cagayan Valley with Cagayan de Oro. That although Pampanga and Pangasinan are both in Luzon, they are two different places. I never knew that Siargao is part of Surigao and that it is not just a typo error. And that Batanes is very far up north while Batangas is just down south of NCR. Mountain climbing taught me to go to places and learn geography by heart.

Mountaineering will also teach you values you don’t even know existed. It will fortify such values and give you something to stand for. It will make you stand for something.

What has been the riskiest thing you’ve done?
Our hobby of mountaineering/backpacking is flocked by all kinds of risks. But among those risks, human factor is the greatest. When I climb, I inherently entrust my life to my fellow climbers. One of the riskiest things I have done is to place trust on a fellow climber who clearly doesn’t understand the meaning of compassion, sympathy and camaraderie.

What has been your greatest accomplishment as a backpacker/adventurer/trekker?
As an outdoors person, I don’t measure myself against other individuals, for I will always end up disappointed since there are others who are far more accomplished than I am in more ways than one. But given my nature of being an introvert besieged with so many phobias like fear of heights (yes!), closed spaces, lightning, darkness, monsters, bovines, the unknown… practically everything, I can say that it is in itself a big achievement on my part to get outside and smell fresh air and do what I do. More so when I do it solo. Indeed I am conquering myself, one mountain/trip at a time.

What is your ultimate mountaineering dream?
I dream of absohute rcognition of female prowess in the mountaineering scene. Also, at a more personal level I can only wish for good health that I would still be strong enough to climb even after five years or so.

Who do you look up to or respect in the local mountaineering scene?
I am not impressed with achievement alone. I regard higher those people with character and values. I basically look up to anyone who exudes respectable attitude towards the mountain, fellow mountaineers, mountaineering creed, outdoor ethics and practices what he preaches. It is hard to pinpoint a specific person because nobody’s perfect, and once you attach that admiration to a specific individual who in turn violates your personal idea of what a true mountaineer is, it can be very, very disappointing.

Do you sometimes wish you were a man because being a woman impedes you from doing what male backpackers can do?
There were isolated cases where I would rather possess the inherent attributes or benefits of being male. Those thoughts linger for just a minute or two, like when confronted in an awkward position where some local men would inquire of your marital status… and when they found out you are still unhitched they could be very persistent and would ruin an otherwise perfect solo trip. (They had in mind that you as a female, travel far and beyond to look for a groom. Pshaw! I take it as an insult.)

Most of my solo trips I would get curious remarks like “Why are you alone?” or “Where’s your significant other?” or “Aren’t you scared?” Once or twice can be a bit amusing but when you are flooded by unwanted attention (which is not so with solo male travelers), it is not fun anymore.

What can women do in mountaineering that men can’t?
Let’s face the fact that TODAY, men technically rule the arena. They do more than women… which of course doesn’t mean they do it better. But in my opinion, one aspect that women can excel at is DISCIPLINE. If you put a group of women alongside a group of men on an overnight climb (given the current culture of our mountaineering society)… you will find that the group of educated outdoors women in general will be more in observance of LNT, sensitive to other campers regarding noise and disturbance and outdoors ethics than most group of educated outdoors men. Also, most of the time, we can be on the tail of the group without having to suffer the feeling of being less of a man. =D

In your opinion, are there gender-related risks in travelling/backpacking/trekking?
We cannot separate risks with traveling/backpacking/trekking. It doesn’t discriminate. But those dangers are amplified many times over if it is a woman that is concerned. For one, women are perceived to be easy targets by “predators” because of their trusting nature and confidence… strengths that
at times translate more to being weaknesses. Security is the main concern here.

Quite a few male mountaineers have told me, they wouldn’t wanna marry a mountaineer (for varied reasons). Are you aware of any stereotypes on female mountaineers?
I could think of several reasons why men would rather get hitched with girls not into mountaineering. I, myself, share the same view, of not tying the knot with a fellow mountaineer for more reasons than one. Females who are into the outdoors are more aggressive and/or confident to men’s distaste. “Amasona”, I think, is the proper term. Female mountaineers are less feminine and less refined than your average girl-next-door (since basically we have more testosterone than them ordinary girls… in fact maybe some of us have more testosterone than your male mountaineer friends hahaha kidding!).

Also, those involved in the sport of mountaineering (men and women) are more social… and exposed to vices such as alcohol, smokes and even drugs. Most women (and men) are exposed to risks and temptations that are normally not present in the environment of non-mountaineer girls (guys).

In my experience before, female mountaineers are expected to be more open to physical closeness with “every” male mountaineer. I can recall how absurd it sounded to me and my then buddy when we were “post-climbed” because we were “mahirap akbayan”. We fought stereotyping early on, and are still fighting that kind of branding against female climbers.

To all guys (in a group) out there, please don’t generalize all female climbers. Don’t hold it against us if we don’t approve of such practices as physical closeness. Also, please don’t deny us our privilege to climb just because of that.

Two non-mountaineer friends, when I was still a newbie, confirmed the above-mentioned stereotype that based on what they’ve heard, all female climbers are “loose women”. Girls, we should prove them wrong and crush that kind of reputation!

What should men know about women who climb?
Some women climb for the mountain itself. That the reason behind shouldn’t be misconstrued as a motive other than the love of the outdoors. Also, there are times when we want to do things on our own, and that we would immediately request for help when necessary. Thank you very much for that unsolicited helping hand but no thanks, I think I can manage well by myself.

Do you think Mountaineering is Sexist?
Mountaineering in the Philippines is still young in age as only a few years back only a handful are involved in this sport. It became a cult sometime between 2009 and 2010 with the coming of age of Facebook, the rise of a for-profit organization I wouldn’t name, and the exposure of the sport in other media like TV, blogs, word of mouth etc.

Back in 2007 when I was still a fledgling, women in the outdoors were still viewed as just accessories to climbs (no woman, no climb) and needed to be taken care of every step along the way. I can distinctly remember a climb in Tarak where the males of our group mandated all women to have a lights out when the men from another group professed intent to join the socials (yes they are that over-protective). Another instance was when one of my first climbs in Pico De Loro, the guys would not allow us girls to climb the rock monolith because it was too dangerous for us they say. I could proudly claim that I have made it to the top when I did a duo climb with my female buddy.

And an all-women climb was still unheard of. Today, women mountaineers are growing in number and most of them have already proven that they could have a safe climb without the aid of the males. All-female climbs are now becoming a trend. It makes me proud as a female to witness that we have come all the way from being the accessories to becoming the main man of the show.

Discrimination is all in the mind. Mountaineering could be sexist in one era, but everything can change in a blink of an eye nowadays. It is gearing towards a more leveled playing field for both genders. And I can see that more and more guys are accepting that indeed, with women equipped with enough know-how and proper outdoor mindset…. mountaineering is definitely for all genders.

Some of the guides, with me a female as team/expedition leader, are more comfortable talking to the males of the group so they ended up getting instructions from the guys so yeah, mountaineering is a bit still sexist and we women must be more aggressive in pushing for equal acceptance.

What is your message (if any) to women who aspire to climb?
Given the proper preparation and discipline, we could do anything what men can do. In the mountains and in the eyes of nature…all is fair.

Blogger's note: It had been years since this was originally published in I want to thank Adonis for the opportunity to give my insights on how it is as a female solo hiker. The days of me being a solo hiker may be fading out to oblivion now, as I barely hiked at all this year.

Mountains will be forever in my heart...but people change as we gain years of maturity. My climbing years may had been a reckless and a roller coaster ride for someone like me, but it made me who I am today and for that I am forever grateful.

To all female hikers out there, don't let your gender define what you can do. But...always take some precautions and be prepared for your endeavors. With every hike, I always make sure I am self-sufficient. You may check out my solo dayhike climb preparations.

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