March 23rd, 2007
I just got back from my Pulag climb around 5 am Monday morning. Climbing Pulag had come sooner than expected. The Librarian and I had scheduled a climb on Holy Week together with Ojie of my Guys4Mountain group. But the prospects seemed bleak as there were only 3 of us and since none of us had ever climbed Pulag before, I was quite apprehensive as we didn’t have a really experienced climber coming with us. Hiring a jeep from the PAO office in Ambangeg to the Ranger Station in Babadak was certainly out of the question as the Php 3,000 fee would be too much for just the 3 of us. So when Blue Fairy Guy of Guys4Mountain told me of a climb being organized by Mike of Outdoor Addicts, I signed-up together with Ojie, Maynard, and Jck. There were 22 of us with the bulk of the group made-up of photographers who were to shoot the view from the summit. Another group was made-up of mountaineers who had just come from Kota Kinabalu. This was going to be my first climb outside the Guys4Mountain group.
Breakfast at Baguio
We arrived in Baguio City about 7am, had breakfast and bought our packed lunches. Too bad, Star Cafe was still closed as we would have wanted to bring along some of their really delicious meat pies. Not that I didn’t had food with me. I was packed with my usual instant noodles, a box of wanton, a pack of crab fillets, tuna sandwhiches, pasta, and my trail food of jellyace and cracker nuts. I had my usual breakfast meal at McDo along Session Rd and used their bathroom.
Whenever I’m on a climb, my ass seems to crave for every piece of toilet real-estate property as if anticipating the lack of any facilities up the mountain. The McDo toilet was my first stop.
Protected Areas Office (PAO)
We headed to the Protected Areas Office in Amabangeg passing through Ambuklao Dam where we stopped for some photo-ops. Too bad, the dam seemed dry and there wasn’t any water flowing. The pictures were plentiful and nice, though.
We stopped at Jangjang eatery for some mid-morning meal and a toilet break.
We registered at the PAO office, viewed the “Soft Paths” video and listened to the briefing by the Park Superintendent who was one cool girl. ”No love-making at the grasslands” was one of the rules she mentioned. After another toilet visit and pictorials at the sign that read “Mt. Pulag National Park” we headed to the Ranger Station in Babadek, a 2-hour ride over unbelievably rough road.
We were warned not to fall asleep lest we hit our heads on the roof. She was right. It was a mere 10k but it seemed forever as the jeep had to move really slowly. The view was picturesque though as the road meandered along the mountain side. Occasionally, we would pass through Ibaloi and Kalanguyan communities. I was more concerned with the jeep staying on the road and not falling by the side of the cliff.
We reached the Ranger Station where we met our guides, hired porters (for some), had lunch, and took our final toilet break. There was a latrine at Camp 2 but no running water. Contrary to what I had expected, the trekk was actually easy. We started from behind the station and for about a hundred meters, the trail was exposed to the sun until it reached a sharp turn at some sort of ridge on the valley. Then the magic began. The landscape was ever changing as one went higher and higher up the mountain. The beautiful path along the mountain ridge started with pine trees that gradually gave way to mossy forest, and finally grassland. It kinda reminded me of the trail in Gulugod Baboy–low elevation and winding. The only steep part was about a 5 minute hike to Camp 1. The rest was literally a walk in the park.
We met some elderly women and teen-age girls who were on their way down from Lusod, a Kalanguya community, more than 20k away. With nary a trickle of perspiration, they walked casually in their slippers. At one point, after hiking from Camp 1, I asked our guide how far it was to Camp 2. He pointed to a series of sloping hills some distance away from where we were hiking. I figured it was going to be another hour but I didn’t mind as I’ve always loved trails with forest cover. Every turn on the trail was met with wonder. Centuries-old trees were covered with even much older moss while colorful plants lined the grassy trail. There was so much color to see.
Of course, the merlats were at the head of the trail and we reached Camp 2 in less than 3 hours. It was a sight to behold. The grasslands lay before us as far as the eyes could see. Dwarf bamboo covered the slopes and the fog moved across the peaks like a stealthy phantom. There were already several tents up. The first thing I did was to rush to the latrine and relieve myself.
The wind was getting stronger and colder as night fell. It was so cold, I didn’t have the energy to cook. Fortunately, all the meals were taken cared of by the organizing group. I never appreciated Nilagang Baboy as much as that night. Hot soup on a windly cold night is incomparable. I joined the socials a bit but went back to my tent by 11 as wake-up call was at 4:30 am.
It drizzled throughout the night and I could hear the rain sheet flapping wildly. For some reason, perhaps because my digestive system knew there was a latrine, I kept getting-up to relieve myself. At about 3 am, I woke-up to poop. Stepping out of the tent was like walking into a haze. My headlamp could only penetrate a few meters before me. It was os darned cold, I scrambled back in and tried to go back to sleep. But I really had to go. Shitting in the cold with fog around you was absolutely chilling. Perhaps I could write a poem about it and title it “Shitting By Woods on a Snowy Evening” with all due respect to one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets.
Assaulting the Fog
After a quick sip of hot chocolate and some leftover nilaga we left for the hour and a half trekk to the summit. It was about 5 in the morning and we were hoping to catch the sunrise. The drizzle had not abated since the previous evening but I was still hoping against hope that it would let-up. We walked through dwarf bamboo and grass along narrow paths. One section was only a foot in width with one side sloping down rolling hills. The fog was all around us and you could barely see the person a few meters behind you. We reached the summit and there was nothing we could see. The drizzle kept on and the wind was blowing hard. We huddled among the dwarf bamboo while waiting for the others to arrive. I had on my down jacket and yet I was still freezing. My trek pants was totally wet and I wished I had layered some clothes. A couple of us decided to go back to camp when the others arrived. It was really freezing and my fingers were numb inside my gloves. We met Ojie on the way down. He, Jck, and another climber didn’t read the directional signs and took the trail to Tawangan instead. They only realized they were on the wrong track when the trail took them to the forest. The other 2 decided to go back to camp. This was Jck’s second Pulag climb and he was luck to have had the sun on his side last year.
After breakfast, we broke camp and trekked back to the Ranger Station. Rex lead the way with me and Ojie behind him. My dad was calling me on the phone but I couldn’t take it out of my pack as it was drizzling. Besides, that would have meant stopping and rummaging through my pack again. With a cha-cha ringtone to let me know it was him calling, I had some music accompanying me down for about 30 minutes. I took out my trekking pole and used it like a majorette’s baton. Midway, the drizzle stopped and the sun came out. Lunch was at the station. We dried our stuff, rested a bit, took our pictures (what were the photographers there for, after all) then jumped into our jeeps for the trip back to to the PAO station to buy some shirts and log out. The trip back to Baguio City was uneventful except for a flat tire along the road near the city already.
Bluefair, Jck, Maynard, Ojie, and I decided to hang-out in Session Rd and take the midnight bus home instead. We hurried to Tea House to get some Chona’s Delight a concoction of moist chocolate cake, cream, and syrup in a tub. I had a Triple Delight which wasn’t as delightful. It was closing-time already and they had to get some Chona’s Delight at the SM branch. While waiting, Chona came out from the kitchen and regaled us with her point of view of the world and gay men. It was one of the most hilarious converstations I ever had. But that’s for another blog I shall aptly call “The World According to Chona”. She was a nice and cool gal. Aside from the meat pies at Star Cafe, I’ve got the cakes at Tea House to come back to. We stopped by Zola for some dinner (which wasn’t really good) and drinks at Azotea.
We got back at the Victory Station just in time as were too busy chatting to notice we took a wrong turn on the road. So we ended-up doubling our hike.
I never got to see the famous “sea of clouds” from the summit as we were literally on the clouds the whole night and day. I was a bit disappointed, more because there wasn’t any photo-op at the top as it was all fog and wind. But at least I made it to the roof of Luzon and the home of the Cordillera gods. I know I’ll be back soon. Maybe on my return, Kabunian will let me see the magnificent view from his abode.
Originally posted at www.drippingthoughts.wordpress.com on March 23, 2007