A Davao Mountaineers Final Adventure

Apr. 25, 2007

Ian’s Last Climb. Ian Caasi on the peak of Mount Apo on April 5. A few hours after this photo was taken, he drowned in Lake Venado. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Caasi)

The beauty and majesty of Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak, have a way of enchanting young people like 23-year-old Alexandrous Ian Caasi. On Maundy Thursday, hours after reaching the peak, Ian went for a swim in the mountain’s freezing but beguiling lake. Minutes later, he was dead.

By Angely Pamila M. Chi

DAVAO CITY — The skies were beginning to dim over Lake Venado at past five that afternoon of Maundy Thursday. Inside their tent, MJ Lapia and Alexandrous Ian Caasi were sipping coffee.

Ian, 23, was fresh from his nap when MJ, moments earlier, got inside the tent, his video camera in hand. MJ had just taken a footage of their fellow climbers — all 23 of them — from the Mindanao Alliance Mountaineering Club (Malmoc) who, like them, arrived at the peak of Mount Apo four hours earlier, got back down and pitched their tents in front of the boulders near the lake.

Both young men were from Davao City, part of what seemed like a subculture of mountain climbers and environmentalists who make it a point to trek to the country’s highest peak every year, often every chance they get.

Lake Placid. The freezing but beguiling Lake Venado below Mount Apo’s peak. (davaotoday.com photo by Cheryll D. Fiel)

The coffee must have tasted great that nippy afternoon. The lake in front of them was placid — and inviting.

After their coffee, MJ, 26, asked Ian to start cooking rice while there was still light. MJ rummaged through his things, took his toothbrush and toothpaste, went out of the tent and walked several meters away to find water.

MJ was still brushing his teeth when he saw someone frantically waving from the middle of the lake.

Moments earlier, Jay Crebillo, 33, the president of Malmoc, was talking to three mountaineers from another group when he saw Ian come out of their tent shortly after MJ left to brush his teeth. Ian was walking opposite MJs direction and was wearing the same clothes he had when the group was coming down from the peak. Ian was headed toward the other mountaineers who were taking a dip at the northwest edge of Lake Venado.

Failed Rescue. Fellow mountaineers and porters tried their best to rescue Ian, shown at left above, but many of them suffered cramps due to the cold water, thus hampering the rescue. Minutes later, Ian disappeared (below). (Photos courtesy of Alexander Caasi)

Crebillo did not think Ian was going swimming. I thought he was only going for a walk because he still had his trek pants on, he recalled. Ian also did not have with him a towel, which the other bathers had, the better to fight off the cold the moment they got out of the water. I didnt expect him to take a bath or even swim in the lake because the water was really cold.”

Besides, Crebillo said, authorities at the Digos entry point, where his group passed, had told the mountaineers that swimming in the lake was forbidden.

Crebillo was still talking with his new acquaintances when, moments later, he saw from the corner of his eye the same person that MJ saw, waving his hands, as if crying for help. He thought maybe the swimmer was just playing around because the lake’s bank was just a few feet away.

But when the figure began to sink, Crebillo turned frantic. He sprinted toward the lake, taking his clothes off one by one as he ran, shouting out for help.

MJ thought all the while that Ian was back in their tent, cooking dinner.

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