'I Lost 100 Pounds Hiking Mountains'
In 2011, John Aubrey Cantal weighed around 250 pounds. He was also diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. “It was a burden to my everyday life,” Cantal shares.
Cantal describes himself in those days as a homebody. “I just played computer games at home,” Cantal tells Esquire Philippines. “I also did all forms of binging with friends: binge watching, binge eating, and binge drinking.”
His life began to change when a random surge of interest pushed him to climb mountains.
“I saw my friends’ post about their hike to a certain mountain, and that sparked my interest to try hiking,” Cantal says. “I did not prepare properly for my first hike. I just put random things in my bag and went for a hike in Osmeña Peak in Cebu. It was disastrous.”
After his disastrous first experience, Cantal did not hike again until after five years. Even then, albeit with less random things packed in his bag, he describes his subsequent hikes with similar humor.
“The picture in which I was on the ground wearing a red shirt was taken in Mt. Pulag,” Cantal explains. “I was having cramps! Notice that I was also wearing wrong trekking attire: jeans and slippers.”
“The most challenging climb I had was at Tarak Ridge in Bataan. I thought I was prepared that time, but I was wrong. I was not physically fit,” says Cantal. “I can’t remember having an easy time trekking through flat terrains and ascents,” he shares.
“The worst part was I got lost on my way back! I was left behind by most of the team, and I was shouting for help,” reveals Cantal, who promised himself to never let that traumatic experience happen again. It took some time before a couple of hikers heard his distress call and came to the rescue.
“It was at that moment when I realized that I needed to educate myself about mountaineering. I needed to find a group that has a solid base and a reliable support group. That’s how I found AMCI, a mountaineering club,” Cantal shares.
AMCI (pronounced as “amsi” and formerly known as the Ayala Mountaineering Club, Inc.) was established in 1983 by a group of adventurous employees who worked for the Ayala Group. It is not in any way connected to the conglomerate, however.
“AMCI taught me survival skills,” Cantal says. “I trained under their four-month long Basic Mountaineering Course.”
The Basic Mountaineering Course is an intensive training course that is conducted by AMCI once a year, starting in June and ending in October. Its curriculum covers physical training and academics. Finishing the training course is a big feat. In 2016, out of 170 registrants in the course, only 54 passed or completed it.
Some of the topics taught in the course are Basic Life Support (BLS), Basic First Aid (BFA), Trail Movements, Ropesmanship, Backpacking, River Crossing, Wall Climbing, and Meal Preparations. The very first topic they teach is the Leave No Trace Principles, a set of outdoor ethics that promotes environmental conservation. Graduates of this course receive BLS and BFA certificates from the Philippine Red Cross.
“AMCI equipped me with skills suitable for the outdoors. They also prepared my physically and mentally for every climb,” says Cantal. “You see, before every climb, there is a pre-climb meeting and gear check. You do this because you want your climb to be enjoyable and not miserable.”
Cantal recounts the time when he failed to prepare for a climb. “I led a hike that cut across three provinces. We realized that we did not conduct gear checks during our pre-climb meeting,” says Cantal. “We ended up drinking rainwater we gathered using our tarp.”
Last year, Cantal achieved the greatest feat of his mountaineering life: He finished the King of the Mountain: Hardcore 100 race, which was set on the slopes of Mt. Pulag. Hardcore 100 is reputed to be one of the most difficult races in the Philippines.
“King of the Mountain is the name of the race series, while Hardcore 100 or H1 is the name of the race,” explains Cantal.
When asked how he achieved such a feat, Cantal remains humble. “A friend of mine, who is a veteran of ultraroad and ultratrail races, saw my potential in long-distance mountain treks,” says Cantal. “He encouraged me to try mountain races, and the rest was history. Of course, the discipline and training I received in AMCI played an important role in completing King of the Mountain H1.”
Hiking for beginners
As someone who suffered from obesity and mental health issues, Cantal shares pieces of advice to people who may be suffering the same conditions he had before.
1| “The hardest part is taking the first step out of the comfort zone. Take it easy. Take time to celebrate little milestones in your life, whether it’s climbing a more difficult mountain or setting a new personal record.”
2| “If you want to try something new, do it now but you better prepare for it. You will invest time and effort on your new endeavor, like how I did with mountaineering.
3| “Push yourself to your limits once in a while to elevate your game. Have a very supportive circle of friends during your journey. You will be surprised at how far that will take you."