MANILA, March 15, 2006
(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Two members of the First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition (FPMEE) team are now gearing up for a reconnaissance climb of Mt. Everest as part of their preparations to lead the whole team for its summit bid next year.

FPMEE expedition leader Art Valdez said tough climbers Leo Oracion and Erwin "Pastor" Emata have been in Nepal since February and are about ready to ascend Mt. Everest in May.

"We know it is a big challenge to climb Mt. Everest. It is inherently dangerous. This is why we’re taking precautions by sending Leo and Pastor first this summer. The reconnaissance climb will give them enough experience to help lead the whole team in 2007," said Valdez.

"They are in peak physical condition and they have proven their technical climbing skills, stamina, determination and teamwork on Muztagh-Ata. We are confident that they will be ready for Everest," Valdez also said of the two climbers, who led the FPMEE’s successful assault on the highly technical and demanding slopes of Mt. Muztagh-Ata in the boundaries of China and Pakistan last year.

Oracion and Emata, two of the country’s most respected and prize-winning adventure athletes, have been in Nepal since February to train and acclimatize with the cold weather conditions of the Himalayas.

Valdez will lead a support team, which leaves this month to rendezvous with Oracion and Emata at Mt. Everest base camp by the first week of April. By then, Oracion and Emata should have already been acclimatized with the weather and ready to begin their ascent when the Nepali government opens the path to the Mt. Everest’s peak.

"For now, the government of Nepal is not allowing mountaineers to climb Everest since the terrain is still considered unsafe," said team leader Reggie Pablo from Olongapo.

Other members of the expedition team are Dr. Ted Esguerra from Davao, Ariel Ambayec, Jong Narciso, Choy Aquino and Noelle Wenceslao from Metro Manila, Levin Nayangahan from Ifugao, Karina Dayondon from Bukidnon and Janet Belarmino from Nueva Vizcaya. They are supported by Philippine Airlines, ABS-CBN, Stratworks, MedCentral, National Sports Grill, Fitness First, PowerUp, Rudy Project, FedEx, Kodak and the Philippine Accident Manager’s Insurance.

"This year’s reconnaissance expedition and the 2007 Unity climb are a chance for the FPMEE to bring glory to the Philippines. We will also be proud to have the first Asean women to reach the summit of Mt. Everest next year," said Valdez, from Bacolod. "We hope to lift the spirit of Filipinos and bring hope to our nation by showing that all things are possible as long as we are united in one cause."

The team will be split into two groups starting from different points for their summit assault in 2007. One group will ascend from the north in Tibet along the Rongvuk Glacier where the legendary George Mallory once began his climb in 1924 while the other team comes from the south via the Khumbu Glacier, tracing the path Everest pioneers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay took in 1953.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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