Fitness

Carina Dayondon Conquered The Seven Summits. Now She Rests.

Photograph by Lea Valenzuela

After the peak, Dayondon’s view on life remains limitless.

After a life of conquering heights outdoors, Carina Dayondon says she had to adjust to being inside.

As the first Filipina to climb the Seven Summits of the world, Dayondon is an accomplished force. She is the second Filipina to reach the peak of Mount Everest, Earth’s highest peak above sea level, which she achieved with an all-women team composed of Noelle Wenceslao and Janet Belarmino. In Tibetan, Mount Everest is “Chomolungma” which means “Mother Goddess of the World”—an ode to feminal origins.

She comes from Bukidnon, which directly translates to “highlander” or “mountain dweller.” Located in the country’s southernmost island of Mindanao, the province has an abundance of mountains and lush agriculture. Both formed and informed by this topography, Dayondon was always exposed to a life of adventure, and fostered a personal symmetry with the natural world.

Photograph by Lea Valenzuela

Dayondon’s demeanor is gentle and welcoming when you first meet her, but underneath is the kind of resilience—one that is empathetic, one that stems from healing.

“The Filipina is strong. She can do anything she puts her mind to,” she often says. When praised for her spirit, she reiterates the mantra: “The Filipina is extraordinary.”

The preparation to reach the peak is, to say the least, grueling. Dayondon recalled traveling to other countries to train as the tropical mountainscapes found locally are much more forgiving.

She stressed the importance of being mindful of one’s self and one’s team. “You have to strive to avoid being a statistic,” she says. In this case, the statistics of being defeated by the mountain. Nature, too, can be brutal.

It was in the difficulties that she encountered pre-ascent that left her beaten: organizing logistics, finding sponsorships, and attracting government support. Dayondon was acclimated to the ascent but found herself struggling with the technicalities found below. “I had to do all of it alone, taking loans and sometimes, being the only woman in a team of foreign men.”

She recounts her trip to South America to climb Aconcagua, the sixth of her Seven Summit crusade. Due to disastrous weather, the first attempt had failed, leaving her to lose personal investment in the trip.

Dayondon had been unable to secure funding or external support for her expeditions. The loss was heavy, leading to her temporary break, which she used to build herself up for the next endeavor.

“You need to recharge, connect with family, heal relationships to be stronger and eventually, [return to] accomplishing dreams,” she says.

Today, Dayondon is an active duty officer of the Philippine Coast Guard canine unit. It was her second calling after mountain climbing, having officially joined in 2012, only a few years after being inducted as an athlete member.

After culminating her Seven Summit voyage, she returned to what she regards as her “mundane life” in the Coast Guard. She has bartered nights in tents and coats for days with a Coast Guard Working Dog, a Golden Retriever named Kendry.

It’s another kind of service now, “I’m not serving the government as an athlete but as a full-time [civil] servant,” she muses.

FIRST STEPS

Summiting Mt. Denali was part of Carina’s training for Mt. Everest. Photograph courtesy of Carina Dayondon.

“You go there to pray, be with nature, and of course, to achieve dreams,” Dayondon says. “The journey is not just physical but mental, emotional, and spiritual.”

Upon reaching the apex of Mount Everest, climbers participate in a traditional Puja ceremony, introduced by the Sherpas accompanying them. It is to pay respects to the mountain itself, for safety, thanksgiving, and praise. It’s a confluence of practice, praying as a people with a shared nerve for the mountains, the surroundings, and the liminal world.

When she triumphed over the summit of Antarctica’s Vinson Massif in December 2018, the first step onto the mountain top inspired a stream of emotions that quickly condensed into tears.

Dayondon concluded her Seven Summit tour in 2018, 12 years after the initial ascent. She has already reached the top, or in her case, eight of them or more. She continues to return home, whether it be to her family, her team, or her country.

Mountaineering terminology lists “col” as a small and perhaps the lowest pass between two peaks. It’s easy to navigate and it also happens to be where the best view is found. Dayondon, a woman shaped by her land and a spirit driven by what’s above, has achieved more than one dream, trekking route after route, and conquering peak after peak.

Dayondon recognizes the mountain as symbolic of the Filipina struggle, an allegory of her journey to the top. “[The mountain] is another space or arena for us Pinays to understand how we can overcome our challenges,” she says.

Today, she has found comfort in giving back. “There’s still life after a life of [fulfilling] dreams,” she remarks. The Filipina traverses across multitudes of wins and losses, but in spite of the outcomes, her soul perseveres, moving on to the next, and the next one after that.

A version of this article appeared in the Vogue Philippines September 2022 issue.

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