Jan 12, 2005

First Filipino in Mt. Aconcagua

His Steady Climb to Glory

Updated 09:52am (Mla time) Jan 09, 2005
By Maria Congee S. Gomez
Inquirer News ServiceEditor's

Note: Published on page Q4 of the January 9, 2005 issue of
the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

"AIN'T no mountain high enough," says Romy "Garduch" Garduce with agrin. "Like the air I breathe, the summit is part of my lifestyle,"says the 30-something, Bataan-born mountaineer.

Flushed from his latest conquest, he can't stop talking about Mt.Aconcagua in Argentina which, at 22, 842 feet, is considered thehighest peak in South America. Successfully scaling this mountainwould make him the first Filipino to have climbed the highest peak inthe world, he claims.

But it's not the honor he's after, says Garduch, adding that he's noteven getting any compensation for the feat. The climb, he says, ismeant to raise funds for the internal medicine ward of the PhilippineGeneral Hospital.

Last year, Garduch's climb in Russia was earmarked for the BauanConservation Project in Anilao, Batangas. For this Argentina project,Bukas Sarili Foundation joined him to spearhead the charity work.

"We were able to get sponsors, pledges and other donations to augmentthe funds, but everything else is voluntary," he says. But he had toshell out a considerable amount of personal funds as well-for thetickets, the outfits and contingency expenses.

More than the expense, it is the physical and mental preparationsthat are crucial before setting out to confront nature, saysGarduche, citing the Prana Escalante case. Escalante, a UST coed, wasfound dead on Mt. Halcon several days after she went missing when shedecided to do a solo climb to follow her friends in Mindoro.

"I learned about Prana's case from stories and e-mail sent me bydifferent mountaineering clubs," he says. "I put these together tocarefully draw a similar study with the 1995 accident that alsoclaimed a life on Mt. Halcon."

Important factors

Three important factors are involved in Prana's climb, contendsGarduch-track record, changing weather conditions in Mindoro,specifically on Mt. Halcon, and information. He knew something wasamiss when the searches failed to produce results on the third day.

Expounding on the flash flood, said to have directly caused Prana'sdeath, he says: "This flash flood is similar to an avalanche thatnormally occurs in an alpine setting." Flash floods, he says, leavevery little option for escape or survival. "If you think gettingnearer the ridge or galley is a safe alternative, then you're in fora surprise because you can't swim through or out of a flash flood.Perhaps with fins attached, you might manage a one-knot intensitycurrent, which could immediately turn into five or 10 knots. Nowthat's impossible to swim. Delikado ka (You're in danger).

"Experienced mountaineers rely on a certain degree of risk toleranceacquired through years of climbing. Garduch describes this as theexpert handling of unforeseen danger that puts man's limits to atest. But he admits that he'd probably be at a loss, too, if he werein Prana's shoes despite the expertise. He regrets that his hecticschedule in preparation for the Argentina climb prevented him fromhelping out in the search and rescue mission for Prana.

Not full-time

Of medium height (5' 71/2") and lean at 150 lbs., Garduch says he'snot a full-time athlete. His day job as a systems manager for amultinational IT company keeps him busy on weekdays. On weekends, hesqueezes in time for mountaineering under extreme weather conditions.

Despite his track record as a mountaineer, Garduch's sport was notsomething that his family welcomed. Brief visits to Bataan wouldusually end on a sour note, he says of his family's opposition to hisoutdoor life. But not anymore, he adds. "My family is now doublyproud of my international climbs and respects my decision.

"Garduch attributes his literal climb to glory to Bernie Cabili, whomhe met during frequent laps at the pool at Philam-West, Quezon City.Cabili, a senior member of UP Mountaineering Club and a playing coachof UP's swimming team, brought him along to the club's lectures andgot him interested in the sport. He simply wanted to experience thejoy of being surrounded by nature and nature lovers, says Garduch ofthe sport's initial fascination for him.

Since then, nothing has stopped him from scaling the heights. So far,he's done several peaks in Nepal, East Africa and Pakistan, includingMount Pokhalde (5,806 meters, peak), Mt. Gokyo Ri (5,320 meters,peak), Kala Pahar (5,600 meters, peak), Kongmala (5,600 meters,peak), Cho La(5,300 meters, peak), Uhuru Peak (19,400 feet), K2 Basecamp (5,400meters), Throng La (5,400 meters) and Annapurna Circuit. He hastrekked through Japan, Korea and New Zealand, tackling Mounts Fuji,Rokko, Pukansan, Daedun, Fox Glacier and Cook. An all-aroundsportsman, he does scuba diving, kayaking, white water rafting, rockclimbing, parachuting, sailing, downhill skiing and mountain biking.

Being in peak condition has seen him through more than a decade ofclimbing, says Garduch. Except for a knee injury sustained inPakistan, he's fit and considers his endurance his strongest asset.

Awe and desire

While he considers mountaineering a "macho activity," Garduch says hehas gone past the point of making wishes every time he scales apeak. "I have seen and been to too many peaks that I have practicallyskipped making wishes," he says. Still, natural formations provokethe same awe from him and the desire to climb yet another mountain,he says.

Two things Garduch regrets these days are losing the more seniormountaineers to greener pastures abroad, and missing Bubut Tan-Torres, his role model in mountaineering. The guy was Garduch'smotivating factor at UPMC. Sadly, he kind of felt burned out withoutdoors sports by the time Garduch joined the club, he says. "I'velost track of him. The latest I heard is that he now lives inSiargao. Sayang, we did not meet at all.

"Beyond the regrets, Garduch feels privileged to have seen Argentina'shighest peak and raise funds at the same time. He describes Mt.Alcongua's summit as being "like the roof of the world strewn withhigh points, scattered sculpted slopes and clouds that sail past anicy crest.

"It's so beautiful, it has moved him to wish he spends his lastmoments among the snow-covered peaks. When the time comes, he says,he plans to leave no trace of himself. He'd rather shatter intopieces that rescuers can no longer trace, he says. "It's not too muchto ask, is it?"