Playground of the gods

This post has been sitting on my drafts folder for one and a half months. I wanted to write about my Mt. Pulag trip with some of my closest friends right after coming home but the OC in me wanted to publish my backlogs in a chronological manner. Hence, I’m writing this only now.

I have this fear that if I do not write about something as soon as possible, the fleeting ideas go away and never come back. That’s what notes are for but I was so taken aback by Mt. Pulag to make one (not to mention I was either too tired/cold/sleepy/irritated/amazed) so I took the gamble of just taking it all in and then extracting whatever’s left to be extracted when the time comes. Looking at the pictures (and watching funny videos) helped bring back not everything, but a lot.

DISCLAIMER: If you are planning on climbing Pulag and you are brought here looking for answers, this is the wrong place. I don’t remember the who’s what’s etc and the tips I’m gonna give (if ever there are) would be useless compared to the ones professional bloggers offer out there. This one’s purely personal mkay?

Now, come reminisce with me the first mountain I conquered (dunno why but I kind of thought an evil laugh would go nicely with that sentence…BWAHAHA).

I have said this many times over but the adage “pag biglaan, natutuloy” is very true. Mt. Pulag was the trip we always talked about but never got around to actually taking seriously. And all you need for a trip to push through is the initiative of someone. In our case, it was Fae. I wouldn’t go into details but I suggested Pagna’t Saka Tours to her and she managed everything from contacting them to reconciling our schedules to collecting payments to depositing the money in the company’s bank account (Thanks Fae, I love you so so much!). I just found myself with a bag haphazardly packed in a bus bound for Baguio without the knowledge of my parents one Friday night. In Ruffa Mae Quinto’s words, “This is really IS IT”. pulag (5)The meeting place was the 7-eleven near Victory Bus Liner’s Terminal. The agreed upon time was 3 AM and we arrived at 2:30. There were a lot of people and I thought we were all going in one group but I soon realized every travel agency offering a guided hike to Mt. Pulag use the place for meeting point due to convenience.

I think the usual itinerary is for climbers to leave Manila on a Friday night, arrive in Baguio Saturday before dawn, be at the DENR office by 10 AM to register and attend a seminar, at the ranger station (base of the mountain) before lunch, hike up to Camp 1 or 2 and set up camp to spend the night there and continue the ascend to the peak the next day, Sunday, just in time for sunrise, followed by descent to be back in Baguio before lunch. Ours was nothing like that.

Our first problem was food. Pagna’t Saka offered the cheapest package. Unfortunately, the only meals included were the lunches before and after the climb so the four of us (I was with Jov, Cza and Lil), ransacked whatever 7-eleven had to offer.

SONY DSCSecond was the fact that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. According to my readings, it is advisable to climb a minor summit first before conquering Mt. Pulag which is a major one. Some even go on training or attend pre-climb orientations etcetera beforehand. Us? We didn’t even know what clothes to wear! The moment we arrived at 7-eleven and saw everyone with their gears and expert-mountaineer looks, it hit me hard on the face that I’m not ready for this. Parang may kulang. Then Kuya Tyler (one of Pagna’t Saka’s guides) asked who among the group has never climb Pulag before. A number of hands shot up in the air. Who among the group has never climbed a mountain before…only our four hands remained. I got nervous so I approached him.

Okay lang naman kuya na first time namin umakyat ng bundok diba?

Ok lang yan, nag-condition naman kayo gaya ng jogging, etc?

Ah, hinde!

Ay, kaya yan madali lang naman…

Filipino time prevailed. Before we left 7-eleven, it was already five freaking AM. I have a bad sense of time but from the convenience store, we road a Jeepney for an hour or two to someplace where we had breakfast (the four of us didn’t eat. You know, saving up funds). I rode topload style and though it was really scary at first, it’s really enjoyable once you get the hang of it. Just make sure at least one of your hands is holding on to something stable lest you want to die. pulag (6)Topload is made even more amazing by the freezing weather and the beautiful scene. I was used to seeing concrete buildings that the view of mountains put an irremovable smile on my face. Because the sunrise was yet to occur and my camera DC sucks at taking pictures on low-light conditions, all the photos of the gorgeous view I took turned out shitty. SONY DSC SONY DSCThese two weren’t bad but they don’t give justice to the real thing (this sentence is true for the rest of the pictures). SONY DSC pulag (40)After the place where we were supposed to have breakfast (the four of us just slept while the rest ate freshly cooked food. Thinking about it now, we looked pitiful. hehe), it was another hour or two before we reached the DENR office. Everyone who wishes to climb Pulag needs to register and attend a seminar to know the do’s and don’ts on the mountain. Since it was a weekend, there were A LOT of people the office couldn’t accommodate everyone. We ended up not attending the 30-minute pre-climb orientation. We only learned of the things we were not supposed to do during the actual climb (no shouting, smoking, public display of very intimate affection, etc). pulag (7)From the DENR office, it was again another hour or two of Jeepney ride (actually, I’ll describe every travel time with an hour or two HAHAHA) before reaching the ranger station or the base of the mountain. However, while the previous trips were on concrete road, this one was 5 times bumpier because it’s on alternating rough and concrete roads that go up and down. Hence, toploads are no longer allowed for safety purposes. If you’re not used to zigzag roads, you might need to bring some medications for nausea. Good thing I’ve had practice travelling on Dalton Pass to and from Isabela (though Jov got sick). I’ve been to many far-flung places but I’ve never been to somewhere as far-flung as the ranger station. SONY DSCThe air was so clean I got high just from breathing. And we passed by several wonderful produce of vegetables. The place was so disconnected from the world we came from that it’s very peaceful to the senses. My seatmate in the Jeepney (a hardcore mountaineer judging from his demeanor) even said that when he first climbed Pulag in the 90s, concrete roads and electricity were non-existent so the place is showing some progress. SONY DSCAfter arriving at the station, we were given ample time to wander around, eat lunch, prepare for the climb etc. While Cza and I were roaming, we couldn’t help but think that we’d love to experience living in the area for maybe a week or a month — away from the internet, pollution and all that, like some sort of retreat. Maybe I’d even be a vegetarian afterwards. It’s actually a wonder that I was a carnivore for 19 years because I grew up in a household where they just boil vegetables, add a little bit of bagoong and eat the dish with rice like it’s the most delicious thing in the world. Inabraw? No thanks. pulag (37)Pulag had a lot of climbers during our visit (last week of March). You can say that the mountain is becoming a major attraction having as much as 500 visitors in a single weekend. Imagine the things left behind by 500 people. A friend once said that some are already complaining about Pulag becoming too mainstream and the mountain losing some of its glory. Tourism really is a double-edged sword. SONY DSCIn fact, because of the overwhelming number, our group consisting of more or less 25 people was no longer allowed to spend the night on either camps (1 & 2). We were told to set up our tent on a space 5 minutes away from the ranger station. 5. MINUTES. AWAY. FROM. THE. BASE. OF. THE. EFFIN. MOUNTAIN. The organizers were very apologetic saying problems occurred in the DENR office with regards to booking etc and that they’ll try their best for the climb to push through if (1) the weather is conducive for a midnight hike and (2) we’re willing to start climbing at midnight and ascend the mountain up to the peak without any rest longer than 30 minutes and then descend after sunrise. In short, patayan.

As much as possible, I don’t want to whine because whining won’t do anything but left and right I hear complaints from everyone saying it wasn’t what they were expecting. Frankly speaking I was also a bit disappointed because I was looking forward to the sea of clouds Mt. Pulag is famous for. But then I realized that we cannot control nature. Unlike roller coaster rides on theme parks which are under a human’s supervision, it is us humans who are under the mercy of nature.

So we set up our tent. I’ve been to Girl Scout camps before but in my former school we only slept like Sardines in classrooms so I do not know how to set up a tent. Neither do my companions. Safe to say preparing our roof for the night (especially when all of us are novices) was a test of friendship. HAHAHA. SONY DSCI expected Mt. Pulag and the surrounding area to be cold but alas, there was nothing between our campsite and the blazing heat of the sun during the unholy hours of 12 to 3 o’clock. Despite the heat, we fell asleep out of tiredness from the Manila-Baguio trip and the subsequent Jeepney rides. pulag (11) SONY DSCThen I was jolted awake by my brains screaming for something to cover my body with because it was freezing. Time check: 6 PM. Dammit. It was raining. If this continues, the only tale I’ll tell when I get back from this supposedly Pulag trip is how we set camp at the base of the mountain. Not enticing at all. SONY DSCSocialization was supposed to be at 6 PM but no one was feeling sociable so we ate our early dinners by group of friends quietly inside our own little tents. Our acquaintances brought cooking equipment, utensils and the like. We bought processed foods and two loaves of bread and we couldn’t be happier with how little effort it took to prepare our meal. After eating, we went back to sleep wishing and praying and hoping that when we wake up again, the rain would stop. pulag (10)The universe was on our side because at 11:30 PM, we began what we came there for! In retrospect, I think it’s God’s will for us to be trapped on the base of the mountain and ultimately start ascending at midnight.

First, we didn’t have to bring heavy bags on our hike, only the valuables and some food. This is such a big help because I don’t think I’d have survived carrying my 7kg backpack.

Second, there was no traffic and it felt like our group had the mountain all to ourselves because everyone else was asleep.

Third, our sense of sight was limited we can only see what’s in front of us. This appears bad at first because we weren’t able to appreciate the view but it actually works for the good because we can’t see the steep slopes either. I fell down on my butt two or three times and I stood up like nothing happened. Then during our descent, the guide pointed where I fell. OH MY, a couple of inches more and I would have rolled over the hills and became plant food. What you don’t know won’t scare you. SONY DSCI think there are four major trails up the summit and we traversed the easiest one which was Ambangeg. And since I don’t have anything to compare it to, I don’t know if it’s really easy or not. All I know is that I am not as exhausted as I expected myself to be (tho maybe it helped that I used to climb an 11-storey building daily during my training in one hospital).

The climb was fun and it taught me the following:

(1) Headlights are very important esp if you’re trekking at night. Yeah, you can bring flashlights but the hand you’re using to hold it could’ve been used to support yourself more or if push comes to shove, could’ve been the difference between life and death. If your tour organizer rents one but you’re such a cheapskate you’re unwilling to shell out 100-150 pesos for it, then shove that amount down your throat during the climb. Seriously. We were four of those cheapskates and up to now I still think a headlight would’ve made those moments of my life ten times better.

(2) Water is essential but it is not everything. The four of us, due to laziness, decided to bring only one water bottle which can fill up to two liters. It was already halved even before we reached camp 1. Afterwards, we passed by a spring so naturally, Cza filled the bottle up to brim and then gave it back to Lillian who was in charge of carrying it (we took turns). After a while, Lillian shouted because the water was dripping. Apparently, Cza expected Lil to seal the bottle while Lil thought Cza would do it. In the end we had less than a liter of water. We argued about it a little but we managed somehow. Actually, there was still some left during our descent. Plus we had a funny story to tell.

(3) Things that distract your mind from the kilometers you still need to travel help. Like listening to music. Or talking to your buddies in between catching your breath. Or imagining the horrors lurking in the dark.

(4) The nearer you are to the goal, the easier it is to give up. When you’re in a tour group, the guide won’t force you to climb the highest peak. If you’re body really can’t handle it then they can’t do anything. That’s what almost happened to me. From the base of the mountain up to the grasslands, the route is pretty much manageable. Some are rocky and others muddy but even children can get past them. The most difficult for me was the ascent to the peak because the slopes become steeper. On my way to Peak Two, I remember thinking I can’t take it anymore, I’ll just lie there and wait for them to come back which brings us to

(5) The magic of reinforcement from others (be it positive or negative). Personally, I hate being a burden. I don’t like it when people wait on or for me. Because I didn’t want to cause traffic, I walked at the fastest pace that I could. I believe I pushed my legs which were about to give up on me beyond their limits (it even felt like they became well-toned afterwards but I gained the cellulites back haha). After Peak 2, I was firm in my decision not to climb Peak 1 (the highest at 2,922 meters) but thanks to Cza’s encouragements, I went and have never been more thankful because I would have regretted it big time. It is not every day or every week that I get to climb mountains of this calibre. SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCIf you’re gonna ask me what the hardest part of the whole climb is, I’d say it’s the wait for the sunrise at the peak. Especially if you’re not wearing proper clothing. It is so cold it makes your eyes water, your nose red and everything else numb. “Feeling ko yun yung feeling ng mga pasahero noong lumubong yung Titanic at nasa ocean sila” is what I always say when people ask me to describe it. I know I’m overreacting but I swear that’s what came to mind at that time. It felt like I was gonna have a frostbite and I was already imagining my parents’ reactions when they visit me at the hospital because my toes or fingers got amputated. I said to myself I am never gonna complain about the heat again (of course I complained exactly 3 hours after because I have no EQ).

When the guides made fire using their gas-powered cooking equipment, I didn’t think twice. I squeezed myself between strangers and alternated putting my hands over the bluish flame and holding hands with whoknowswho. BEST. FEELING. EVER. p1And the majestic sunrise which I am not going to insult by describing in an inferior manner. TOTALLY. WORTH. IT. pulag (14) p2 SONY DSC pulag (24) pulag (27) p3 pulag (29) SONY DSCBreakfast at the top yo! Oh, we just learned that you’re supposed to protect your belongings with a plastic so when it rains, you’ll still have dry clothes. You know how unpredictable the weather in the mountains are (that sounded wrong because I was thinking of Grand Line hehe). pulag (28) pulag (30)Of course the descent was easier on the whole body except the knees. I dunno why but it felt longer (twice the length of our way up). Also, you’ll feel more tired because of the heat. Which reminds me, do bring a sunblock. I became two shades darker without noticing it.

Going down was more carefree because we can see where we’re actually going and we already have the feeling of accomplishment from conquering Pulag. I remember we were laughing, joking and merrily greeting everyone we pass by. Hehe. pulag (33) pulag (31) p4 pulag (34)I was so tired I fell asleep while riding topload. Good thing I didn’t die. Too bad I wasn’t able to take better pictures of the view. p5Pagna’t Saka prides itself in bringing their guests on three side trips: A sulfur spring pulag (42) pulag (41)A hanging bridge pulag (43)And Ambuclao dam pulag (44)Up to now, I still can’t believe I survived Pulag. I believe I walked for 12 hours straight with 5 to 30-minute breaks in between (plus the sunrise viewing which was about an hour and a half)! At the same time, it is one of my greatest achievements physically. HAHA! I was so exhausted I’m sure I’m not gonna visit the mountain again anytime soon (maybe after 2 to 3 years and via a more challenging trail yabaaaaaaang!).

Picture with the Pagna’t Saka crew who were all friendly and professional. It’s sad that Kuya Tyler lost his phone in the mountains because we had some nice pictures there. Oh well papel I took tons myself. pulag (45)If you’re planning to visit Pulag, go for it. No need to overthink. If some overweight sedentary (capital ME) can do it, why not you?

Also, it kinda gives you a benchmark. Like, in difficult situations, you find yourself thinking “If I can conquer Pulag, I can do this!” :]

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3 thoughts on “Playground of the gods

  1. “imagining the horror lurking in the dark.” Laughed out loud on this. This is such a nice post. All the best!
    (And yes, you should try Pulag via a different trail.)

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