[PHOTO AT LEFT - Filipino adventure sportsman Dale Abenojar (second from left) and his Sherpa companions (from left) Tsiring, Pasang and Ram Krishna Tripathi display the certificate issued by the Tibet Mountaineering Association that he conquered Mt. Everest last month during their arrival from Kathmandu, Nepal yesterday. Photo by RUDY SANTOS]

MANILA, JUNE 12, 2006 (STAR) By Rainier Allan Ronda - Now that he is back home and happily reunited with his family, adventure sportsman Dale Abenojar has a new task set before him: Dispelling any doubt that he was, indeed, the first Filipino to conquer Mt. Everest — and he and his retinue have the evidence to back that claim.

Abenojar arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) yesterday afternoon and met the press as he was pushing the wheelchair of his injured 21-year-old Sherpa guide, Pasang. The Thai Airways flight from Nepal via Bangkok, Thailand landed at 3:35 p.m. and, with Abenojar and Pasang were Abenojar’s close friend, Robin Mendoza and two other people who helped Abenojar find his way to the top of Mt. Everest — Tsiring Sherpa and Ram Krishna Tripathi, the base camp manager of the 15-man international group of adventure sportsmen Abenojar joined in his bid to reach the Everest summit.

Mendoza said he and Abenojar are in the "final stages" of preparing a "convincing and comprehensive" presentation to silence the doubting Thomases who persist in disbelieving Abenojar’s claim that he is the first Filipino to complete a summit climb of Mt. Everest.

These doubts persist despite Abenojar’s presentation to the media of a certificate issued by the Mountaineering Association of Tibet of the Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China that he reached the Everest summit at 10:45 a.m. on May 15.

"Bahala na sila. Abangan na lang nila. Malapit na (It’s their call. They can just wait. We will show our proof soon)," Abenojar said in an exclusive interview with The STAR. "Masakit talaga para sa akin (It hurts me to the core) that they continue to doubt."

Mendoza said they will confront the doubts regarding Abenojar’s claim of being the first Filipino to make it to the summit of Mt. Everest soon enough: "We’ll face them in good time. Our evidence is just with us. There’s no need to hurry, anyway."

Abenojar credited Pasang with helping him achieve his lifelong dream of conquering the world’s tallest mountain early last month and seeks to have Pasang’s nine gangrene-infected toes treated at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Medical Center (CSMMC) in San Juan.

Abenojar had decided to bring Tsiring and Tripathi as a "bonus" for the help they gave him in his climb to the summit of the world’s highest mountain. "That is Dale’s bonus for those who helped him. He wants to show them around the country," Mendoza said.

It was Tsiring who gave Abenojar a crash course in alpine mountain climbing over a two-week period. "He’s a fast learner," Tsiring said of Abenojar. "He learns quickly, in just one week." Mendoza also said the presence of the two Sherpas and Tripathi, as well as the arrival of Vince Waters, a former Canadian Air Force aerospace engineer and recently naturalized Australian citizen will boost any bid they will make to prove that Dale was first on top of Mt. Everest.

"Anybody can interview them," he said. Waters is touring the world in search of places where he can engage in adventure sports and said he met Abenojar at a base camp en route to the Everest summit last month, as Abenojar was descending from the mountain summit.

In a brief interview, Waters said Abenojar was accompanied by Tsiring and added that he had no doubts whatsoever that Abenojar had climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest on May 15 taking the mountain’s more challenging north face route.

"I was able to read some of what they are saying here about doubting that (Abenojar) reached the summit, I don’t know where they get those things. They were not there," Waters said.

Waters was not part of the 15-man international expedition team that was at one of the Everest base camps, but he said he met Abenojar and Tsiring at a camp he built around the 64 — 6,400 meters from the summit — and he had a long talk with both men.

"You know what, it is easy to know if one is lying about reaching the top of Mt. Everest, especially if you’re there on the trail," Waters said. "Dale’s story (about) the bodies of the people who died along the way that he said he saw on his way up and on his way down, they checked out. I also saw his pictures."

Waters said that he arrived in Manila a couple of days ago at his own expense, but will be staying with Abenojar and his friends during his visit here. When Abenojar, 43, met his wife, Lisa, at the NAIA international arrival area, the Abenojar couple held each other in a tight embrace, oblivious to the journalists who watched them and shot pictures and video footage of his homecoming.

"First of all, I would like to thank the Lord for helping me fulfill my lifelong dream of reaching the top of Mt. Everest," Abenojar told reporters in a voice cracking with emotion at the NAIA VIP Lounge several minutes after he deplaned with his retinue.

"I would also like to thank my family, my friends and supporters who put their unflinching support behind me, which greatly helped me in my quest," Abenojar added.

In a gathering with close family and friends in a restaurant in Makati City after exiting NAIA, Abenojar was mobbed by his four daughters, Alex, 11, Kitty, 9, Dani, 7 and Rafi, 3.

Screaming with delight the four little girls held their father tight, crying out, "Daddy!"

They had not seen their father in three months and the joy of their reunion caused Abenojar to shed tears. "Grabe ang pagka-miss ko sa family ko (I missed my family so much)," Abenojar said with a smile and tears in his eyes.

After their gathering at the restaurant, Abenojar, Mendoza, Tsiring, Pasang and Tripathi, accompanied by businessman JR Cruz — said to be one of Abenojar’s main morale boosters and financial backers — went to CSMMC to have Dale’s gangrene-infected left big toe, and Pasang’s nine gangrene-infected toes examined by specialists.

"Kailangan na talaga patingnan yung kay Pasang. Grabe yung gangrene sa mga paa niya, nakakaawa (Pasang’s injuries really need medical attention. The gangrene in his feet is very bad, it is pitiful," Abenojar told The STAR.

It will be recalled that Abenojar’s claims were criticized by the First Philippine Mount Everest Expedition (FPMEE) team, which claims two of its members, Heracleo "Leo" Oracion and Erwin "Pastor" Emata were the first and second Filipinos to reach the Everest summit on May 17 and 18, respectively, by taking the easier south face route.

Another Filipino, Romeo Garduce, also reached the summit of the world’s highest mountain in a race with Oracion and Emata that brought the network wars between television stations ABS-CBN and GMA-7 to a new and more dramatic level.

ABS-CBN supported the FPMEE bid for the Everest summit and GMA-7 backed Garduce.

The FPMEE also questioned the credibility of the certificate Abenojar received from the Mountaineering Association of Tibet and the organization’s credibility as well, saying Abenojar had purchased the document anomalously in China.

What has been overlooked in many of the reports on these Filipinos’ separate Mt. Everest expeditions is they all succeeded in their attempts to reach the summit of one of the world’s deadliest mountains and braved highly inhospitable conditions to plant the Philippine flag at the top of the world and they all came down alive — a feat not many mountaineering teams in the world can claim.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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