An exploding stove, leeches and shot knees on a Philippine mountain trek
At the age of 60, Dave Sismey, of Birch Vale, Belper, decided to climb a mountain in the Philippines. Here is the story of his adventure in his own words.
MOUNT Matutum stands at a height of 2,286 metres on the Filipino island of Mindanao. It is a protected landscape, towering high above the surrounding flat plains in a typical volcanic cone. It last erupted in 1911.
It is not the highest peak in the Philippines but I decided to climb it because over the last few years I have seen it in the distance, from where I stay.
How many of us never do the things that are on our doorstep? Having climbed other higher mountains in the Philippines, I decided it was time I did it before I got too old.
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My partner agreed to climb with me. We obtained a climbing permit then registered with the police and hired a guide.
At 6am on Friday, August 10, we met our guide, Dodong Damandaman, and the porter Migs. On two motorcycles, the four of us rode along a track through a vast, flat expanse of fields of pineapples towards the towering Matutum, arriving at the small village of Glandang, which was our starting point.
Dodong collected a revolver and slipped it into his pack "just in case"!
Our first couple of hours were spent walking through dense rain forest, brushing against the undergrowth. At our first stop, in a clearing, we discovered something that was going to plague us for the whole trip – leeches. Hanging off our flesh, they cause no pain and you cannot feel them biting you, then there they are getting fat on your blood, looking similar to a slug.
From this point we started our climb to the summit. Four hours through the forest, up an ever-increasing slope until it was almost vertical. On the really steep parts you could not see how far you might fall because of the thick foliage, indeed you probably would not fall too far because of the undergrowth and trees. There was no view due to the intensity of the forest.
The heat and humidity was unbearable, and sweat was running off my face, my clothes soaked.
With mud and slippery roots, some as thick as tree branches, and moss covering the forest floor, we followed a narrow track upwards through dense vegetation criss-crossed with fallen trees. In parts the undergrowth was so thick it was like going through a tunnel. I asked myself, am I mountaineering or caving?
At 6ft 3in I was frequently forced to crawl under and between fallen trees and roots, expecting to come face-to-face with a snake at any moment.
I was grabbing branches, creepers and roots to steady myself and haul myself up and learning quickly which ones had thorns or stung, and which ones were rotten and would give way. This was hard work.
After about one hour, the sky clouded and a tropical downpour started, which lasted for the rest of the afternoon. It made the going more difficult.
On Matutum the closer you get to the summit, the steeper the climb gets. At about 2pm we broke out of the forest and on to the rim of the crater. Just a narrow strip of bare ground before the forest starts again on the other side, down into the crater.
We soon began to get cold and had to get out of the wind and rain. Quickly, we erected the guide's tarpaulin to make a shelter to crawl into. Next was a hot drink to warm us and replace some of the fluid we had lost climbing.
I assembled my multi-fuel stove and lit it.
Within seconds, the stove burst into flames, engulfing the fuel bottle containing petrol. The connection between the bottle and the stove had developed a leak, the fuel bottle was now a time bomb waiting to explode. In a confined space like this it could be disastrous.
Quickly, I grabbed it and threw it outside away from the shelter. Our wet headgear was at hand; I snatched it up and smothered the flaming stove, hoping it would not explode in my hands and face. Luckily the flames went out.
After a bit of tinkering I got the stove working again, but I never trusted it 100%.
We took the opportunity to replenish our water bottle from the pool that had formed in the sagging tarpaulin. I started to get colder and shiver. Migs lent me a local item of clothing, which I put on, much to the amusement of everyone.
It got dark at about 6pm and we retired, spending a rather cold and uncomfortable night in the tent. We were glad to get up at about 6am the next day to watch the sunrise, making it a warm and pleasant start to the day.
The summit was an island surrounded by white clouds far below. Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines, was on the horizon to the north-east, another island in the clouds.
We started up the dreaded stove and made some coffee, after which we climbed down into the crater, taking the gun with us "just in case". At the bottom was a dark hole disappearing into an abyss.
Back on the rim we ate breakfast, listening to some very exotic birdsong but not seeing any of the singers. At 9am we began the descent.
It was just as much hard work going down as coming up; my old knees are not what they used to be. Once again, clothes soaked in sweat, covered in mud, dirt, and now the odd patch of blood from a burst leech.
By the time we reached the last stretch my legs were shot, I frequently slipped on wet roots or loose stones.
At about 1pm we were back in the village, I bought beer to quench our thirst, whilst Migs's girlfriend prepared lunch of vegetables, dried fish, and rice.
A group of villages gathered to see the white man, including a village elder. Stories were told of our exploits, me crawling under the trees and roots got a good laugh, likewise the incident with the stove and me dressing in local clothes, all the hardships forgotten.
I was informed that at the age of 60 I was the oldest foreigner to have climbed the mountain, and probably the oldest person.