Saturday, April 6, 2013

Summer Kick-off with Mt. Pulag

The year started with me and my partner exploring the beaches in the country.  For summer, I opted for a different experience.  I decided to be a part of a group tour to climb Mt. Pulag.  It is the highest peak in the Luzon and 2nd in the country.

 It was an FB post from Arch. Alan Co, a friend and co-chapter that attracted me.  It's been a year since my last climb, and I've always wanted to reach the peak of Mt. Pulag.  I've done a few minor climbs before, and I have been cardio training for the past weeks and thought, I can do this.

It was a tour package organized by Parana Tours.  For 3,500 pesos per head and a minimum party of 10, the package comes with round-trip transportation, tent accommodation, 3 meals, and park and guide fees.  I joined Alan, and the group gathered by his wife Eileen and their kids.

I attended the pre-climb meeting, but its still best to research on what to expect on your own.  The night before the trip, I started packing my things.

My checklist includes:
1. Earth pad
2. Sleeping Bag
3. Clothes for the 2 days (Jackets, sweatshirts, 2 pairs of trek pants that can be converted to shorts, 3 pairs of socks, underwear, bonnet, gloves, and scarf)
4. Head Lamps
5. Rain Gear
6. Personal Care Essentials
7. Trek Shoes
8. Trail Food, although mine did not make it to trail since I was nibbling on it in the office.
9. Water
10. Snacks
12. Sandals/slippers (which i forgot)

Since were leaving on a Friday, I brought my backpack to work and headed straight to Trinoma, our meeting place.

Our van was two hours late from the original schedule, which is 9PM.  We arrived in Baguio at 4:22AM Saturday morning.  Our things were then transferred to a jeep that would take us to the DENR Station in Benguet.

On the way, we made a quick stop for breakfast.  When you order, include your packed lunch to save you time from queuing again.  This is also your last stop for a decent toilet, so take the opportunity to do your business.

Before reaching the DENR Station, we made a quick stop to Ambuclao Dam.  It's is the first among the largest hydro-electric power plants constructed in the Philippines.  It developed the Agno River for the purpose of power generation, flood control, and irrigation in the 1940's.  The size is a sight to behold.

We reached the DENR Station around 8:30 AM.  Here, we need to register and attend an orientation on what to expect and the Do’s and Don’ts at the park.  It is done in batches, so be prepared to wait especially if there’s a throng of people visiting. 

The speaker was very entertaining.  Ms. Emerita Tamiray, the DENR officer tirelessly welcomes all visitors to the park and gives information on what to expect injecting humor in her presentation.  The whole room was filled with laughter as soon as she steps in after making us watch a few videos.  She also made us watch a time-lapse video of the clouds, saying that in case the visibility is poor, we have something to imagine.

After the orientation, we boarded the jeep again to go to the ranger station. We were told that originally, it only takes 45 minutes to reach the station but due to road works, the new route now takes another 3 hours passing through bumpy, steep and dusty portions.

The ranger station is also the last stop to get provisions.  Here we met our guides and porters.  Surprisingly, most of the porters are women who are capable in carrying load almost the same as their body weight.  Here, we ate our lunch packed from our first stop.  We took our time since we were advised that its best that we arrive at the camp site late in the afternoon to avoid the heat from the sun because the area is not shaded.

A few minutes after lunch, we started our trek.  The terrain is gradual, although challenging on some parts especially the climb to Camp 1 which took us more than an hour.  After resting for a few minutes, we continued the longer trek to Camp 2 where we will stay for the night.  

You know that you’re getting higher and higher as the landscape changes.  The trail traverses a mossy forest, which according to the orientation is the sponge of the Cordillera Mountains.  You will pass by 2 natural spring water sources on this leg.  I refilled my water bottle on the second one.  After almost 2 hours, we reached a clearing that is Camp 2.

Our guides went ahead of us, and I was comforted when I saw the tents already pitched and our team leaders busy preparing dinner.  I changed my shirt, removed my shoes, and took the opportunity to lie down before my tent mates arrive.

I got so comfortable that I decided to change pants.  I left my pack outside and changed on one of the empty tents.  As soon as I put the pants on, the rain started to pour.  I immediately secured what was left of my things.  My camera made its way to another tent.  The rain showed no signs of stopping when my tent mates arrived.  Fortunately they have a good quality rain gear. We were left with no choice but to seek refuge in our tent.  All four of us share what I think was intended for 3 persons.  Fortunately, one tent mate brought a portable stove with him.  Although not advisable, we manage to heat some water for the cup noodles we brought along with us.  After eating, we prepared our tent which is now soaked with layers of earth pad and sleeping mats.  We forced ourselves to sleep even if it was just 8PM.  The rain stopped a few minutes later when I heard the invite for dinner.  Since my tent mates were comfortably sleeping, and coming out would be a challenge, I decided to forgo with the meal.  Sleeping became a challenge.  The person beside me is snoring so loud and the weather was so cold.  I checked the weather forecast and it said 9 degrees in the evening, but I think the rain caused it to plummet to about 4.

By midnight, I am having the urgency to use the toilet, but tried to prolong it until the morning.  At 2AM, I had surrender to the need and decided to go out of the tent.  The ground was still wet from the rain and my socks soaked up the cold water left on the tent entrance.  I put on my shoes, and find my way to the latrine, which was not very far.  It was my first time, and up to now I am haunted by the experience.  I went back to our tent area and decided to just wait until everybody wakes up to summit.  While waiting, I took the opportunity to admire the stars we rarely see in the metropolis.

A few minutes later, Alan joined me until eventually, everybody’s up for the climb to the summit.  After coffee, we started trekking 45 minutes after 4AM.  Since most us is still sore from the climb to the campsite, our pacing was slow compared to the more seasoned mountaineers.  After reaching 1/3 of the trail, we can already see the summit.  The trail is lined with a procession of lights from the headlamps of trekkers that looked like stars zigzagging its way to the top. 

The sky became brighter as morning progresses.  We are racing against time to reach the peak before sunrise and we only have 30 minutes left.  Our guide gave us the option to just climb either peak 2 or 3 to give us a better view of the sea of clouds best appreciated as the sun rises.  I personally thought that I would not let all the efforts of coming here go to waste by not reaching the peak.  We told our guide to speed up our pace.  By this time we were almost running.  Nanette another friend joined me as the guide took the shorter and steeper trail to the top.

Our hearts was pounding really fast and we took deep breaths as we reached the summit.  We arrived just before sunrise.  We can’t help but be proud of ourselves as we view the distance from our campsite to the peak.  We we’re rewarded with an amazing view of the sea of clouds in the distance and the amber sky as the sun slowly emerge from the horizon.

A few minutes later, Alan, then her wife Eileen joined us.  We took the opportunity to take pictures to document our achievement.  Their kids arrived a few minutes later with Alma, another friend.  We were surprised to see Alma reaching the summit, considering this is her first climb and have no preparations prior.  Our other group mates and younger contemporaries just settled on Peak 3.  I admired her determination and will power.

The trek back to the campsite was relatively easier.  Our breakfast of Longganisa, Rice, Eggs, and the Adobo we missed during dinner was waiting for us when we arrived.  After eating, we packed our things and prepared for the trek back to the ranger station. 

Since we consider ourselves the slowest being the last group reaching the summit, we decided to went ahead for the trek back to the ranger station.  Together with our porters and guides we started the trek down with the pacing relatively faster than the trek up.  We were surprised on how fast we reached camp 1.  After resting a few minutes, I together with Alan’s kids pursued the trail to the ranger station.  Fortunately, we arrived ahead of the pack and were able to freshen up and use the toilets with little competition from other campers.  We were also able to have snacks while waiting.

The rest of our group mates arrived, and after freshening up and tidying a bit, we boarded the jeepney again that would take us back to the DENR Station for lunch.  We arrived around 2PM and were served with rice, pinikpikan (a local chicken dish with broth where the chicken is tortured before boiling), and sautéed vegetables.  This is where campers usually bathe which what my other group mates did.  I just changed my shirt since, the road to Baguio would still be dusty and I am already on my 15 hour of the third day without bathing.  I will just take a really long shower at home.

We left the DENR station close to 5PM and arrived at Baguio around 8PM where our van was waiting for us.  After loading our things, we were on the ride back to Manila, making stops for pasalubong near the highway and for dinner in La Union.

I reached the house around 1 AM and took a really long shower. I rested for the time that was left of the morning before going work.  

Special thanks to Arch. Eileen Co and Arch Alan Co, for letting me experience this trip with your family and friends.
To Lance and Alex, for racing with me to the toilet on the trek back.
To Arch. Alma for the cheese bread and the the promissory baon that was left in the car.
To Nanette for pacing with me to the summit.
To my tent mates (I'm sorry, I'm bad with names!) for the cup noodles.
To the entire group for making the trip more fun!
To the guides for not letting us get lost.
To the porters (we had a lot of them) for making the trek more bearable.
And to the kuya's from Parana Tours for making it all possible.    

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