Kathmandu, Nepal - The 1st Philippine Mt. Everest Team is all set for its reconnaissance climb on Mt. Everest in May. The team will take a 45-minute flight tomorrow morning from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal to the town of Lukla. From Lukla, the team will trek for 8 days to reach Everest Base Camp.
Leo Oracion and Pastour Emata, the team's lead climbers are already at Everest Base Camp (EBC) waiting for the rest of the team. They have been in the Everest area since February, training and allowing their bodies to adapt to the high altitude.
At 5,500 meters, EBC has half the amount of oxygen compared to sea level. The body adapts to this by producing more red blood cells, which enables more oxygen to be transported to the brain. But this process takes time, which is why doctors recommend climbing no higher than 300 meters per day once you are past an altitude of 3,000 meters. Climbing too high, too fast could result in altitude sickness - symptoms include nausea, headaches, vomiting, impaired motor skills, and in severe cases, death.
With the completion of their acclimatization program, Leo and Pastour are all set to climb Everest in May. While their primary goal is to gain experience on Everest to lead the team's 2007 climb, the two have a very strong chance of reaching the summit this May. Other international climbing groups and even high altitude sherpas have expressed surprise at how strong the two Filipino climbers are. On a recent training trek to the sherpa village of Kericola, the two made it to the village in 5 hours, when it normally takes 9 hours to get there.
Leo and Pastor will be supported by fellow team members at Base Camp. JB Anonuevo, Fred Jamili, Levi Nagayahan and expedition leader Art Valdez will provide logistical support, while Dr. Ted Esguerra of the Philippine Coast Guard will provide medical aid.
Team member Jong Narciso says their presence at Base Camp also goes beyond providing for the two climber's physical needs. He says it is good for the two to be surrounded by friends to keep their morale high amid the miserable conditions on the mountain. Jong says they are also there to reign in the two and remind them to stick to their climb schedule. "These two are very competetive and very strong climbers who may push themselves to the limit. While we do not doubt their strength, we will be there to constantly remind them of what their ultimate goal is, and that is to keep safe and get back down alive."
The other members of the team meanwhile will conduct a training climb before proceeding to Base Camp. Larry Honoridez, Jong Narciso, Regie Pablo, and the team's three women - Janet Belarmino, Karina Dayondon and Noelle Wenceslao - will climb Island Peak, a 6100 meter mountain 3 days away from Everest.
The training climb at Island Peak is part of the teams continuing training program in preparation for the whole team's attempt to climb Everest next year. Dubbed as the 2007 Unity Climb, the team hopes to climb simultaneously from the north, or Tibetan side, and the southern Nepalese side and meet at the top.
Team member Regie Pablo says, the 2007 Unity Climb is meant to show the true strength of the Filipino's Bayanihan spirit - that despite all the political bickering and economic problems hounding the country, when Filipinos put their mind to it and work together, they can accomplish great things. "We are just ordinary people, just everyday Filipinos. But with the support of each team member, our sponsors, and the many others who have helped in their own way, we know we will achieve what many believe is impossible."
The team has already earned the recgnition and respect of other nationalities. A mountaineer from New Zealand said the Philippine team reminded her of the movie "Cool Runnings", about a team from Jamaica which joined the Winter Olympic's bobsled competition.
Emma Pariar, a Filipina based in Kathmandu says the Philippine Team has given the Filipino community in Nepal a new sense of pride in the flag. While hundreds of mountaineers pass through Kathmandu each year to climb Everest , they never thought they would see an all-Filipino attempt to climb the mountain in their lifetime. "Many foreigners here in Kathmandu, even though they are well travelled, don't know much about the Philippines. Now, when they find out I am a Filipino, they say, 'oh, you are sending a team to Everest!' I see the admiration in their eyes and that makes me feel proud."