They’ve done it!
At 3:30 pm on May 17, 2006, Heradio (Leo) Oracion became the first person from the Philippines to ascend the world’s highest peak.
Talking to this daily at a celebration lunch held by the Filipino community here on May 27, Oracion said he really could not describe his feelings when he stood on top of the world. “When we (his guide/porter Pemba Sherpa who has scaled the peak four times) were 100 metres from the peak, I started crying,” he said.
His dream that he had cherished for 17 years had finally come true.
Oracion’s feat was repeated by his teammate Erwin ‘Pastor’ Emata (with Lakpah Gyalzen who has scaled it five times now) on May 18 at 5:55 am.
According to both summiteers, climbing Everest was something that proved to all that Filipinos can do it. Pointing out the fact that they come from a country made up of islands whose hills are lower than Namche bazaar, this was really, really indescribable.
For the team of 12 of the First Philippine Mt Everest Expedition, this was a reconnaissance expedition. Team leader Art Valdez said that they would be back for a full expedition next year and their team then would have women, too.
“Being in a place full of snow was strange, exotic. There was too much snow and the 45 days we were there was like being in a freezer,” he said describing the expedition adding
that he was still savouring the success.
Like Oracion and Emata, Valdez also said that this proved that “Filipinos can do anything”.
For him and his team, ascending the Everest was their intent but then that was not the only thing. He emphasised that though it was a dream come true for them, what was equally important was that they befriend the locals of Solukhumbu during the three months. And they succeeded in this too.
“We look like the Nepalis and Sherpas, and we eat dal-bhaat like them,” he said of striking up friendships along the way. They got along so well with the people that Emata even spent a day in the fields of Namche planting potatoes.
“It was hard work. Everything had to be done manually. There was just one coffee and lunch break each in between and we were in the field from morning till evening,” said Emata recalling his experience. And he said that on his successful return, he was able to see the potato field he had worked in was already green with the shoots.
Planting potaoes was not the only helping hand that they gave. Valdez said that their expedition physician, Dr Rted Esguerra, was one of the most popular persons around.
“If anyone was sick, then it was the doctor that they wanted,” he said.
The doctor himself was humble about everything he had done. But he was proud of the fact that his climbers had listened to his instructions and that all team members were well and none had suffered bruises or extensive peeling of skin.
Dr Esguerra said that the expedition had taught them to be a family, more than teammates, and he credited such a bonding among them to Valdez’s able leadership. Describing what family meant to him, he said, “For family, you can give up your life.” He said he had treated many people on the way and talked particularly of a Nepali official he had helped and expressed a deep desire to know that this person was all right.
And what was very tangible at the gathering was the bonding and the team spirit that they exuded. No one took the credit for the success. Each one thumped the other’s back. Each one praised his teammate.
Oracion put it together perfectly. “We come from a county made up of many small separate islands. Like Nepal, our country has a lot of problems. This expedition has taught us that it is possible to stand united as one Philippines and build a better future.”
The team is going back as heroes, and Oracion said, “No, we have just done our duty. It is the media that has made it really big.” However, his message for the youth is, “if you hold on to your dreams, you can do it”. Emata feels that “if you have dreams, do it: with God, nothing is impossible”.
Earlier, Valdez had said, “Everest is not a prize. It has to welcome you.”
Everest has smiled on this team, and we hope it keeps on doing so.