Foltz repeats mountain climb 35 years later

Last month, Wilton resident Isabel Foltz returned to the Philippines to climb one of the country’s most difficult mountains — Mount Guiting-Guiting — a second time.

Mount Guiting-Guiting is the highest mountain in the Philippine province of Romblon, at the heart of Sibuyan Island — its highest elevation measuring 6,752 feet. In the local Romblomanon dialect, “Guiting-Guiting” means “jagged.”

In 1982, at the age of 21, Foltz was one of the first people to ever ascend the mountain.

The original ascent was led by teams from mountaineering organizations Philippine Mountaineering Society and University of the Philippines Mountaineers, the latter of which Foltz is an early member.

Foltz said her interest in mountain climbing stemmed from a desire to “prove that women were as tough, or tougher, than men.”

“I was young and open to the adventure,” she said.

Foltz recently returned to the Philippines to attend a cousin’s wedding, and it also happened to be the 35th anniversary of the first summit of Mount Guiting-Guiting.

Foltz said she almost didn’t climb the mountain during her recent visit because of scheduling, but was “stubborn and worked around it.”

“I had to leave the first hour of the wedding reception to catch a ferry to Sibuyan Island,” said Foltz.

Upon returning to the island, Foltz discovered that a mountain spring — Mabel’s Spring — had been named after her.

“The spring was named for me because I discovered it when I was following the first climbers to go up that slope,” said Foltz, whose full name at the time was Maria Isabel Gandionco.

“Water is undependable on the mountain and even Mabel’s Spring is often dry. The mountain guides say it is because my group was parched on the first climb and I figured out a way to get water to flow out of the ground using a rolled up leaf,” she said.

“I once heard it suggested that it was instead the point on the trail when the men discovered I was leading the renegade climbers, and that I ‘sprang’ out from where we were hiding.”

Foltz said she had seen many references to Mabel’s Spring but thought it was just called that by her friends.

“It was when I got off the boat and people started asking if I was really Mabel that I realized it was the official designation,” she said.

Foltz said hearing the mystical story about her and Mabel’s Spring was “surreal” — “especially since the official story seems so strange.”

For her second trek, 56-year-old Foltz went with Ramon Ruiz — one of the first to summit the mountain — and two of his friends.

Foltz said coming down the mountain’s steep paths was “very painful” this time due to arthritis she developed after tearing a meniscus in one of her knees following the New York Marathon.

“I was surprised that the other aspects — including the rigorous climb up and being hot and filthy for days — still didn’t faze me,” said Foltz, noting that one person in the group had to turn back because of possible heat stroke.

Because she only had one day to ascend and descend the mountain, Foltz was only able to reach Mayo’s Peak her second time at the mountain.

“I am planning to go back for the 40th anniversary — even though I will be 61 — and spend more time on the mountain and [possibly] summit,” said Foltz.