While on a lecture in New York City, reporters asked British mountaineer George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. “Because it is there,” he said. He would die in 1924 trying reach the summit of the world’s highest peak, his body found frozen 75 years later. His grandson, George Mallory II, reached the summit in 1995.
Mt. Everest, located in the Himalayas (“abode of snow”), is 8,850 meters (29,035 feet) high. Nepalese call it Sagarmatha or goddess of the sky while Tibetans has another name for it, Chomolungma or goddess of the universe. Whatever goddess it is, Everest provides a challenge to hundreds of climbers, some of whom died scaling the summit.
At 3:30 p.m. of March 17, Nepal time (5:30 p.m. Philippine time), a “Philippine eagle” in the form of Cebu-based mountaineer from Quezon, Heracleo “Leo” Oracion, finally landed on the summit of Mt. Everest. That’s almost 53 years since Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first accomplished the feat on May 29, 1953.
Time Magazine, in a 1999 article on Hillary and Norgay (“Heroes and Icons”), asked: “And what is particularly remarkable, anyway, about getting to the top of a mountain?” Or in the case of Oracion, what is particularly remarkable about him and the other Filipinos getting to the top of Mt. Everest? Why all the hoopla attending it now?
In the annual Manunggal climb, the running joke in our group was about the fact that nobody ordered us to go for the peak. But there is something in testing human will against fierce odds that smacks of heroism. More so in Filipinos like Oracion, Romeo Garduce, Erwin Emata, etc. who sought to conquer a lonely mountain wrapped in snow.
Any mountaineer will tell you the high one feels standing on the peak—how much more to be there on top of the world? When Oracion and the others went for the summit of Mt. Everest, they brought with them a nation’s hopes. And when finally there, if only for a few fleeting moment, they showed to the world that, yes, the Filipino can.
DAMPENER. Pinoys could have savored the triumph of Filipino mountaineers better had the competition between two giant television networks not left a bad taste in the mouth. ABS-CBN and GMA 7 may deny it, but they transformed this historic moment into a ratings and eventually revenue war. How gross can they get?
ABS-CBN funded the Philippine Expedition Team where Oracion is a member while GMA 7 bankrolled Garduce. The result was a race on who would reach the summit of Mt. Everest first, threatening the safety of the climbers. In this, one of our finest moments, the worst in us still managed to show up.
–-Published in Sun.Star Cebu, May 19, 2006