“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”
― Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and Beyond
For a small group of men and women coming together for the love of adventure and exploration of the outdoors, this became more than a quote. It became a truth.
In the early hours of the 21st of February, these mountain enthusiasts, who initially had the same workplace as the only thing in common braved the unforgiving terrain of Mount Pulag in the province of Benguet, Philippines for the love of adventure. They soon found out that there was more in store for them. In these ungodly hours, the uncertainty was not just a concept. Visibility was only a good maximum of ten meters which their head lamps can reach. They were trekking an eight kilometer uphill climb of rocks and mud traversing the thick forests and tricky grasslands of this mountain fondly called, “Playground of the Gods”. Needless to say, it was dangerous.
The first question, however, is why climb Mount Pulag?
It began as a suggestion on one sales meeting. An idea the group was just toying with. Slowly, the group found more people interested as it was learned that there were actually a handful of outdoorsmen and women in their workplace. The idea quickly gained more serious thought. What if we actually climbed Mount Pulag?
Playful talk turned into more planning. Finally, a purpose developed – they were a team. They knew they were strong as evidenced by their outstanding performance as a sales team in the past two years. So far, they have been unbeatable. But to sustain excellence requires mastery. Perhaps, if they can find themselves in a situation they are not used to, so uncomfortable and challenging, they may find that character that they need to call out from the depths of their team’s spirit that will lead them to mastery and ultimately – sustained excellence. This group then decided to go for it and climb Mount Pulag.
STRENGTH OF WILL IN A SMALL PACKAGE
The wake up call was at 1am. They wanted to catch the summit at sunrise. The climb began.
At one point in the climb, everyone was already dead tired. They were in the grasslands and have been trekking for four hours nonstop. At this point somehow, the guide was left behind in the climb with Myleen, their sales office’s administrative assistant – all but five feet two inches tall with little trace of athleticism. The rest of the climbers were ahead and the excitement and darkness has made them careless. They had no idea that Myleen has been left behind for a significant distance. They stopped to rest their weary bodies. It was still dark and they wondered where could she be now. With worry on their minds, they knew they shouldn’t stop. They must reach the summit.
The head of their sales team, who was climbing with them, would have been disappointed if they didn’t push through to reach their objective. In a different setting, which is the workplace, he was there to lead and he was magnificent at this job. Within themselves, they must find that resolve and courage not to falter. These thoughts crossed their minds as they wondered, where could the other climber who was left be? Can she do it by herself?
Then, one of them heard a voice. He said softly, “It’s Myleen.” Then another shouted in the middle of these mountain ranges not knowing if it was for naught, “Myleen!”
From far away a voice answered. What she said they couldn’t quite make anything out of. That was not important. They knew it was Myleen. Another one flickered his head lamp. Myleen from a distance which they could only guess as probably a kilometer away flickered her headlamp back.
She was on her way.
At that point, everyone looked ahead. They could not see the summit. But they knew it was there. The path was correct and they must trust the path. This was the group’s direction. You may not see what lies ahead but in the ambiguity, you must move forward because you trust the path. This is the right direction.
THE 2 KILOMETER BAREFOOT CHALLENGE
For some, this was a struggle with the mountain and with themselves. Most of the team were first timers on this mountain and this was a test between body and mind. One of the members, Pao, had his eight year old hiking boots in pieces because of the unforgiving muddy terrain. Despite this, he was able to push on to the summit and walked barefoot on ice cold mud for two kilometers. This was a first time for him and even though he was already the most seasoned hiker in the group, he still experienced and learned new things. He said to himself that he must make it to the summit and back regardless of the condition of his shoes and his tired legs.
They kept climbing. It was 530am. The wonderful sunrise and the sea of clouds seemed like heaven for them at some point. They were near yet so far and just could not stop. They could smell imminent triumph. Sunny, also known as Doc Pulag, recalled the words of the infamous runner Steve Prefontaine, “Never give up! Many of Life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
The group was able to finish the climb and come back to the ranger station successfully. Their bodies bruised and aching. But they were successful. They realized a couple of valuable things:
Challenges are made to be conquered. Keep on walking.
Limitations are built in the mind and it is the mind who will eliminate it for you – but you need to will it.
Never underestimate people – the smallest person in the group got to the summit by herself.
It was an experience everyone would remember in fondness. It was special. It was the day they tested their character, inner resolve; and succeeded. But the most important thing of all was the discovery of the capacity of this team to forge ahead regardless of the situation and keep its eye on the goal.
They did not conquer Mount Pulag. They conquered the mountains of their mind.