After climbing Kinabalu a couple of weeks ago, I thought the challenge of Tapulao will be minimal. Five hours on steep muddy trails going up on Day 1 and on Day 2 a total 0f 15 hours summitting, doing the Via Ferrata, and going down was no joke of a day. But as always, every mountain has its own unique challenges. I thought I had learned my lesson by now. I had prepared myself psychologically for the supposed 8-10 hour climb of Tapulao. I had even set a goal of climbing it in less than 8 hours. I did reach my goal— 6 hours up and 4 hours down. But nothing quite prepared me for the greatest challenge that Tapulao posed—-the sheer boredom of the trail.
It’s supposedly the third highest mountain in the country but what makes it unique among other summits is the wide trail courtesy of mining operations high up near the summit. Those who fear narrow ridge trails or vertigo-inducing paths with sheer drops will find Tapulao’s trails sheer pleasure—it’s really wide. In fact, 4×4 vehicles sometimes make the trip all the way to the bunker. A thought that more than once crossed-my mind as I steadily made my way up—“What’s the point of doing a 6-hour hike on a trail that 4×4 vehicles pass through? ” Or “Hasn’t anyone made a business of this yet like in Pinatubo? Hiring out 4x4s?” Not exactly the thoughts of a mountaineer. But 3 hours on the winding exposed trail with loose stones and rocks, slippery mud, you begin to beg for a 4×4. Think of walking through Kennon Road minus the cemented road. I started out a little slowly as I was carrying a really heavy load. I had 4.5L of water, a kilo of rice, and a kilo of pork, some vegetables, and my tent. About an hour later, I was able to catch-up with Oyo who was at the lead and some minutes later, Bench joined us and later, Carlo. We kept a steady pace, a little slow, but very steady and with minimal rest. The trail is exposed 100% all the way. Fortunately, it was cloudy and we didn’t mind the light rain. After hours of hiking the relentless trail covered in loose stones, rocks, and red mud, I was getting bored. I had ceased to look ahead of me especially when a steep slope emerges. I simple stared at the ground underneath my feet and willed it to move move move.
It took me 4 hours to reach the hut where the water source is. The three others were already there. It started to rain and I quickly finished my lunch of grilled pork I bought at Andok’s early in the morning. I lay down on the makeshift bed at the hut and drifted to sleep. I awoke with the rest of the party arriving. The rain had ceased and the sun was out. It was like this all throughout. It would drizzle or rain for a several minutes after which the sun would come out. It began to rain again, a little strongly and we all packed ourselves in the hut. When it stopped, Oyo, Bench, Carlo, and I resumed our hike and left the others. The trail was steeper and muddier. We reached a flat area called durungawan from where the guide said it would be easy now except for one last steep section. They all went ahead and I was left behind as I took my poncho out as it had began to rain again.
The surroundings had changed and pine trees lined the mud covered trail covered in pine needles. At times the mist envelopes the trail and it gets pretty cold. Mined stones also lined the trail. It had been an hour already and I was all alone. I shouted Oyo’s name but there was no answer. I figured he and the others would be at the bunkers already. That final steep slope was relentlessly steep and slippery. Finally I reached flat land that wound around a ridge. It reminded me of Mt. Ugo with its beautiful vistas of mountains and pine trees hiding in the mist. Rounding the corner, I saw a dilapidated shack which the Rowell would later refer to as “Pocahonta’s hut” and a sign that read, “Do Not Enter.” For a while, I figured that maybe I was on the wrong trail. But looking behind me, I saw that another trail was blocked by a large tree. I also figured that since we were heading for the bunkers, we were supposed to be heading to the mining area. So I ignored the sign and entered. Hundreds of meters later, with the trail leading down rather than up, I again began to wonder if I was on the right track. Finally, I saw the first bunker. Oyo, Bench, and Carlo had already taken up residence in one of the bunkers. There was no need for tents. Besides it would be too cold to set-up camp outside. It was 3pm and it was such a pleasure to get out of our wet clothes and stretch our feet. The rest arrived past 5pm already. Two others didn’t reach the bunkers but we learned later, set-up camp at Pocahonta’s hut.
Dinner was pork sinigang cooked by our group mates. The hot soup was perfect for the cold. Even more perfect was we didn’t need to lift a finger to cook as our group mates from the Tarlac Mountaineering Club took charge of doing all the cooking. We simply gave them the ingredients that were assigned to us and let them cook.
Socials was at our bunker which wasn’t really a good idea as that would mean I wouldn’t be able to sleep early. Socials ended at almost midnight and that was because I kinda forced the people out and begged them that we needed our sleep.
I skipped the summit assault the next morning as I badly needed to go to the toilet. Yup! There is a toilet at the
campsite. There’s even a mini bathtub. The catch is you have to get your own water and bring it down with you to the toilet area a couple of meters down. Oyo and I were thinking of following but when the mist rolled in we figured there wouldn’t be any clearing anyway. Big mistake. The mist didn’t last long and they had a clearing. Oh well.
After breakfast, we packed our stuff and headed down. We calculated reaching the jump-off point around 2 pm where we would have our packed lunch rather than taking a break at the water source. It wasn’t exactly easier going down as some parts were quite slippery. Oyo and I walked together but at the last kilometer or so when the sun came out in full force, he sped away. I had blisters on both feet already which made walking really painful. I could have gone faster but it was just impossible. It started to rain again when I reached a tiny cemented unfinished house. I sought refuge and had a chocolate. When I set off again, I was surprised on turning the corner that I was just a few meters from the jump-off point. I could have simply walked in the rain and been resting my feet at the baranggay hall in less than 10 minutes.
First order of the day was to take off shoes, rub my feet, then buy a cold bottle of Sprite to wash down my chicken-pork adobo. It was a little past 2 pm and there were only 5 of us who had reached the jump-off. The advantages: benches to stretch out on, no waiting in line to shower, and a general feeling of “it’s over.” We headed back home almost eight already as some really took a while to go down plus the long line to the shower. There was also a post-climb where an issue about someone’s chocolates and personal stuff came-up.
I got home at past 2am already simply dead tired.
Tapulao is a beautiful mountain and the long hike is really well-worth it. However, it is a mountain that taxes your patience more than your body. You don’t even really feel like you’re on a mountain as the trail is wide and gradually ascends and winds it way up.