Final epic climb awaits resolute Romi Garduce
Yet that disastrous adventure 20 years ago now only comes back as a laughable mountaineering tale for Romeo “Romi” Garduce, one of the Filipino climbers who successfully scaled the iconic Mt. Everest in 2006.
“My first climb was a realization that it’s not for me,” Garduce said of his first trek on Mt. Nagcarlan in Laguna. “It was so hard that I threw up when I reached the camp. It took me two hours to finish. Now, I can run it in 45 minutes.”
Garduce shared that, eventually, he learned that such moments of pessimism are fleeting and typical for many mountaineers.
“When it gets hard, we often say that this will be the last mountain we’ll climb,” he said. “But then, there’s always that temptation to travel.”
And for Garduce, that travel bug just kept biting—many times over, in fact—that he has now come close to a phenomenal feat that no other Filipino has ever accomplished.
Seven highest mountains
In a few weeks, Garduce hopes to conquer the last of the “Seven Summits,” the collective reference to the highest mountains in the seven continents of the world.
“I never had a time frame for it,” Garduce said as he nears the end of his 10-year journey.
That monumental Everest climb has already earned Garduce a spot in the country’s sporting history. Yet true to his mountaineering form, the spunky climber just kept on going.
“I’ve known the ‘Seven Summits’ concept even before, but I never really had it in my heart or mind to do it seriously,” said Garduce, a member of the famed University of the Philippines Mountaineers.
“It just more of progressed and evolved. I just kept on climbing until [conquest of Seven Summits] eventually started to become a reality.”
Aside from bidding to become the first Filipino to complete the “Seven Summits,” Garduce aims to be one of few Asians—15 at the last count—to accomplish the feat. Only less than 300 mountaineers in the world have also pulled it off.
“It’s still a personal battle,” said Garduce. “In each climb, you’re never sure if you can do it.”
The last on Garduce’s “Seven Summits” check list is Vinson Massif, the highest mountain—at 16,067 feet— in the ice-covered continent of Antarctica.
Quest draws GMA 7 support
Just like his Everest quest, Garduce’s potentially historic stunt has drawn television giant GMA 7 to document and dub his journey as “Pito Para sa Pilipino.”
Garduce is set to leave this Friday for Punta Arenas, Chile, one of the main jumpoff points for the world’s southernmost, and practically uninhabited, region.
Although he already scaled Everest—the highest peak in the world at 29,029 feet—and survived many other Alpine climbs, Garduce said every attempt has its dangers.
“Each mountain has its own challenge,” said Garduce.
“With the Everest climb, I was also curious if a Filipino can do it. We live in a tropical country. So if you make it on top, it’s something for the Philippines. At that time, no one’s doing it, nobody knew if it can be done. And with the ‘Seven Summits,’ it’s the same thing.”
While some picture mountain climbing as peeks to glorious sunsets and breathtaking views, Garduce said it’s not exactly as romantic for hard-core climbers like him.
“Climbing is difficult,” Garduce stressed. “People usually imagine that when you reach the top, you just jump and shout. It’s not true, especially for big and difficult mountains. When you climb, you’re not even sure if you’ll finish it or if you’ll get out there alive.”
“When you reach the top, you feel like you’re almost dead,” he added. “By the time you get there, it’s really all just relief. That’s the single, dominant feeling. That finally, it’s done.”
Odyssey starts in Kilimanjaro
Garduce’s “Seven Summits” odyssey kicked off in Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, in September 2002.
More arduous climbs followed in Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, South America (January 2005), Mt. Everest in Nepal, Asia (May 2006), Mt. Elbrus in Russia, Europe (August 2007), Mt. Mckinley or Denali Peak in Alaska, United States in North America (June 2008), and Australia’s Mt. Kosciuszko (December 2008) and Indonesia’s Mt. Carstensz Pyramid (July 2011) in the Australasia region.
“Your moment on top of the mountain, it just lasts for 30 seconds or so,” said Garduce. “After that, you start your descent. When you’re done and rested, that’s the only time that it sinks in, that ‘Wow, I did it.’”
Diminutive and still remarkably strong at 42, Garduce admitted he didn’t train as much for this Antarctic quest.
“I’ve survived many times untrained and even lacking some equipment,” he said. “In one climb in Pakistan, most of my gears came from a surplus shop, yet I survived. So it’s not something I worry about.”
But it’s not like Garduce is heading into this climb all cocky and ill-prepared.
“In general, I no longer worry about stuff like that,” said Garduce, noting that he had focused more on cardio and weight training uphill.
“No matter how strong or prepared you are, when a storm hits, you can’t do anything. The unpredictable weather is a normal challenge. So you just live for the period, focus on what you have to do, finish it and just come back alive. That’s it. That’s my simple principle.”
Garduce, who juggles his passion with his profession as an information technology project manager for the multinational Procter & Gamble, also learned from past climbs that he’s physically gifted for the sport.
“I’m lucky genetic-wise,” he said. “I can withstand extreme cold. I’ve compared it before when I was with a German ice-climbing instructor. I had a higher tolerance for cold than him at minus-20 degrees (Celsius). There were also times when I only had liner gloves because my mittens fell off, but I was still okay.”
As his momentous Antarctic climb approaches, Garduce knows that it’s another gamble that may be worth his life.
“How to take away the anxiety, that’s part of the discipline,” he said. “We know that as a whole, it’s a risky activity and you can actually die. But that thought, I’m past that. I’ve long accepted that.
“It’s a dangerous sport, but we’re still crazy enough to do it.”
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