Just a week after my trying experience at the TNF100, I returned to the mountains. It was perhaps the sound move in healing one’s race frustrations – conquer more mountains to strengthen one’s uphill/downhill resolve. This time it’s the highest peak of Luzon (and the 3rd in the Phils. after Mts. Apo and Kitanglad). Together with friends from the gym (William, Cris, April, Totoy, Melo) and some new faces, our 18-member group under team leader/guide/organizer Deo Calumba, we departed at 9 pm from Manila and arrived at 2 am in freezing Baguio City. After accounting for everything, we took a jeepney, on our way to the nearest site leading into the summit.
After a few stopovers (a yummy lunch and a DENR orientation), our jeep finally reached the starting point where we had another registration. By now, I knew that we wouldn’t have the camping area for ourselves. It was sort of an exodus of mountaineers, hikers & newbies of varying skills in conquering a mountain, all taking the path going up the summit area. I was fortunate to have hiked it up with a 56-year old biking veteran (Mr. Valdez) with his handy sound system blaring Beatles ditties along our 10-km sojourn. The route covered cogon lined slopes, fern covered mossy forests and boulder strewn plains. But the ascents hardly settled so it was a wonder I kept up with our almost non-stop pace. Now that’s how strong, resilient persistent and tough I would want to be, 10 years from now.
When we got to the camp area, tents of all sizes were already being set up so we chose a near flat plain for our group. Soon our members began emerging from their mini-expeditions into a grass-covered world surrounded by planes of higher hills in the horizon. Some were swearing from the punishing ordeal. With a cool breeze and creeping fog closing in, one literally feels to be on top of the world (or Luzon island, at least). We hardly noticed the setting sun as our giant tent rose from the ground and darkness set in. Well, not really. With scores of tents cramped in the limited flat area, it was more like tent city after a great devastation.
We partook of Deo’s delectable, piping hot Caldereta dish. At almost 2,900 m above sea level, it was the most comforting sensation one could get his mouth into, in the midst of dropping temperature with some insane headwinds blowing out of nowhere. Deo had planned out some kind of Social Hour after dinner but since everyone had never had real sleep for the last 24 hours, the tent was quiet by 730 pm. Unfortunately, our neighbors had more exciting plans for the night. Alcohol which was supposed to be banned from the peak were being freely passed around and shot by rowdy mountaineers as the night wore on.
But I hardly noticed them. What kept me up during the night was the penetrating cold which worsened by the hour – in the face of my 5-layer armor [raincoat & windbreaker over a fleece sweat shirt, surfing and running long sleeved shirts]. Yep, I came prepared for 5-degree celcius temperature which felt below freezing with the occasional breeze entering our tent. The longest snooze I got was probably an hour before Deo woke us up at 3 am to start our assault to the peak to view the best sunrise this part of Benguet.
After endless hemming and hewing, I joined Deo to reach the peak early and get a good space among the hordes of people. We kept with his pace, overtaking some slow walkers who didn’t give a fig if they stopped the whole caravan. It was a sight to see a procession of (head) lights streaming along the mountain wall into another. Soon we were ascending way too steeply as we took the Dragon’s trail (instead of the Horse’s trail) in the final uphill into the highest point. We took an ideal space as the sea of people kept coming up and crowding the place.
An hour later, our group was complete (save for Mommy Kim) as the sun slowly painted the sleeping world with streaks of yellow fully blooming into an orange kaleidescopic sky. Time for some Facebook profile pic. The cameras never stopped clicking with views of the sea of clouds, the further peaks in the background and some jumpshots to boot. The feeling of being one with the heavens and being on cloud nine was enveloping the whole peak.
Then it was time to go back to base camp and savour Deo’s freshly cooked corned beef. After we packed up and the porters dismantled the tents, we were off on our downhill journey. Together with Martin and Lynn, we were gliding on our descent which I’m already beginning to enjoy. Going down, I realized how steep our uphill had been the day before. Our jeepney was already waiting for us to travel back to the DENR office where we each got our certificate for conquering Pulag. We had a late lunch of Deo’s Tuna spaghetti in a resto where we also showered and cleaned up from our 48-hour adventure. We reached Baguio city by 7 am and took a hearty dinner at Max’s at SM. It was another 5-hour trip to Manila wherein we hardly woke up. Everyone was just dead beat from 3 nights of minimal sleeping and a lot of hiking. But it was worth all the time and hardship to have explored and conquered Mt. Pulag. More mountains, please!