My latest foray to the mountains of the Philippines would lead me back to San Jose, Tarlac for a Mt. Tangisan Birthday climb with CAC and TMC. Last year, I climbed Mt. Bungkol Baka with some friends from EMS and it could be accessed from the same jump-off in Sitio San Pedro. This time around, I got the opportunity to climb its less challenging yet equally stunning neighbor, Mt. Tangisan. The climb would be the first leg in an activity that would culminate into an outreach program at Brgy. Maamot Elementary School, also in San Jose. Along with my Climb Against Cancer family, we were joined by Tarlac Mountaineering Club and the esteemed Janet Belarmino and her son Himalaya (H)! She is one of the first Filipina mountaineers to reach the summit of Mt. Everest (yes, google it pa eh haha). I first got to meet her the night before when Nanay Nini hosted a ‘surprise’ birthday dinner for one of her anakis, kuya Rowell. After the party, she impulsively decided to join us for our climb the following day and even brought along H with her. Lumelevel up ako sa mga coclimbers ko ganyan!
The original plan was actually to assault the summit of Mount Fuangi instead with the help of Tarlac Mountaineering Club (TMC). It was another neighboring peak beside the Tangisan-Bungkol Baka-Kawayan complex. A few days before, Nay Nini informed us that due to the rising water levels of the rivers we had to cross en route to Mt. Fuangi, it would be inadvisable to climb it at this time so they decided to scale Mt. Tangisan instead. I guess Bungkol and Fuangi shared the same trail classes since I remembered trekking along the river (not just cross it but actually trek upstream) for a good part of the Bungkol Baka climb last year. I also remembered tripping thrice on its severely muddy slopes all within 20 seconds and shouting every curse known to mankind but that’s another story altogether. As we used to say last year, “Kung may kaaway ka, dalhin mo sa Bungkol Baka.”
Anyhow, donning our newly acquired Black Pencil Project T-shirts (I’m sorry first batch kami eh haha), Yan and I met up at Robinsons Novaliches then headed to SM North where we would picked up by the rest of CAC. We got there a little earlier than planned so we decided to have breakfast at Jollibee beforehand. Apparently the restaurant opens before the rest of the mall does so you can actually go inside even before 10. It was a little after 10 when the jeep arrived to pick us up and after a slight snafu with the highway patrol (which may or may not be because of Yan and me haha), off we went to Tarlac City!
Upon arriving at Tarlac, we headed straight to McDonalds to have lunch and also meet up with those who rode with Kuya Elpi (Doc Joyce, Ate Chiqui and Ma’am Janet). We also bought our packed dinners there so it would be more convenient. And seeing as it was Sir Rowell’s birthday that day, we also held a mini celebration while we were there. Okay so maybe not a celebration but we did take pictures of him in front of a preexisting happy birthday banner and he treated all of us sundaes…same difference! Although, it took quite a while before any type of goading affected him and if it wasn’t for kuya Elpi literally dragging him towards the counter, I don’t think we’d have free sundaes from sir Rowell at all. In any case, thanks for the free sundaes sir!
After we were done with our lunch, we headed to the nearby 711 store where we would be meeting the company from Tarlac Mountaineering Club before heading to Sitio San Pedro. After about an hour after that, we were already alighting at the jump-off and readying ourselves for the 2 hour ascent up Mt. Tangisan. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon when we began our hike and although we initially intended it so that we could avoid the afternoon heat, the weather clearly had other plans.
About 20 minutes from starting the trail, rain started to pour. Of course, it didn’t help that the trails had to pass by muddy slopes and rice fields. We were barely off the jump-off point when we began finding ourselves having to deal with water puddles or mud pits, carefully maneuvering so that we would not get caught in either one. Most of us were successful, some, not as much. And when I say some, I meant Kuya (Tito haha) Badong. Hehehe We were crossing the rice fields to get to the other side of the trail when someone shouted because they nearly lost their balance. While trying his best to see who it was, Kuya Badong slips straight into the muddy rice field himself. Yan, usisero kasi. 😀
Anyway, even if the slope of Mt. Tangisan presented limited challenge, its difficulty was boosted due to the slippery earth as well as the local flora. It seems that when the universe was created, a freak accident imbued that mountain with millions of amor seco which are ever so ready to make any hiker’s experience as uncomfortable as possible. It was sticking to all of our clothing and not to mention contact with it resulted in scratches and bruises that by the time we were ready to pitch camp, I was scratching every body part that I could reach! We would constantly devote significant parts of our rest singly removing amor seco from our clothes in an effort to lessen them. Of course, I had to deal with the amor seco dread by the time we got back to Manila because at that moment, I guess the lot of us just realized the futility of prying them off one by one. We were going to have to pass by the same trail on the way down after all.
The group decided to camp at the saddle instead of the actual summit campsite because Nanay Nini feared that we may be cramped since we were fairly many. And since we were just about half an hour from the summit, it would take no time at all to just do a summit assault the next morning before heading back down. So, with the rain constantly pouring over our heads, we decided to do our best and pitch our tents as quickly as possible. Of course that would be harder if you had complicated and brand new ones like Kuya Elpi and Joyce did. I think they ended up reading the manual before they were able to set it up. Mam Gulay and Kuya Sunshine (sorry Raymond pala hehe) had it easier although I think ate Gulay preferred it if Lando set up her tent for her. 😀
The rains became intermittent during the late afternoon, sometimes drizzling down to where it would be possible to move around while also becoming heavy and steady at others. Because of it, we mostly had to stay inside and communicate through walls made of fabric. Kuya GP made some popcorn, Yan and Vernz held a mini-concert inside their tent, there were some unrequited affections going on (hahaha) and Doc Joyce was insistent in doing rounds and inquiring whether everybody is alright…trip niya eh. 😀
I made my tent as comfortable as possible which was nearly impossible by the way because I was pitched at a slope and water was pooling at the other side. Thank god the rains stopped altogether late that night so I didn’t have to worry about waking up wet. I didn’t need to add that to waking up squished at the left side of the tent because I kept sliding down during my sleep!
Regardless of the weather conditions that befell us during that night, it still gave me comfort when I was settled inside my tent. It actually gives you a refreshing change of perspective. Atop the mountains, your tent may very well be your best friend. You feel most secured while inside it and you’re confident that it can shield you against anything. Whether it’s the constant rain, the cold or even against cows walking around the campsite (trust me, I speak from experience…), nothing can get to you when you’re inside your tent. You don’t think that technically, its just fabric propped on poles and it would take the grand effort of just pulling a zipper down for someone to invade your sanctuary. But when you’re atop the mountains, it seems like you wouldn’t ask for anything more right? 😀
Later that evening, the rain stopped which gave us an opportunity to finally go outside and hang out. For one, it was kind of humid inside our tents because there wasn’t that much breeze. So we took advantage of the night sky while enjoying each others company, culminating into a photo-shoot involving photoluminiscent bracelets. In no time at all, it was already late into the evening so we decided to turn in since we agreed that 4:30 would be the wakeup call the next day to give us time to break camp before heading to the summit.
Dawn came soon enough with Nanay Nini complaining about my singing during the whee hours of the morning (“Maganda naman boses ko ah.”) Yes, I fired that back as my reasoning but I don’t stand by it at all. I’m not as disillusioned as other people to actually think that I sing well when I know I’m dreadful at it. ;D Anyway, the sun rose not long after which led us to quickly have breakfast (ever trusty spicy chicken Yakisoba!), break camp, enjoy the sun rise and prepare for our summit assault. Most of the TMC members did not join us anymore and decided to wait for us back at the campsite.
Since we weren’t carrying packs anymore, the ascent was much easier. Every once in a while, we would stop to take pictures of the surrounding views which were by all means breathtaking. I guess every mountain brings it distinct characteristic and Mt. Tangisan was no different. You could see Mt. Arayat towering in the distance and the whole of Tarlac and Pampanga stretched out before us. No matter how many peaks I have scaled, views like that never fail to impress and humble me. Oh yes, despite my penchant for literal-interpretation-driven sarcasm and alleged bullying, I am capable of being humbled. 😀
We reached the peak (kissed it of course!) in about a half hour then took in the amazing landscape that can be seen from it. We wasted no time exhausting our camera batteries in an effort to capture the moment. We also engaged in our ritualistic jump shot picture taking (yes, we are in that bandwagon too hehe) at the campsite.
After straining our legs in search of the perfect shot, the group convened to offer our customary prayer against cancer atop Mt. Tangisan. I’ve expressed my views about this before and still maintain that even if thoughts and prayers are all that we can offer to those fighting against incurable diseases, we’ll still be willing to give it no matter what. There’s nothing wrong with hoping that one day, nobody would ever have the misfortune to suffer such hardship is there? 😀
Records were set that day by the way. It was Ate Chiqui and Kuya Elpi’s first summit (congratumalations!!) and apparently, Himalaya was the youngest mountaineer to reach the summit at 5 years of age. Given the records Mam Janet has set, I guess it’s in H’s blood to follow his mom’s footsteps. 🙂 So after our prayer and class/family picture, it was time to head back down and brave the amor seco and mud once again. We stopped at our campsite to collect our things and it was a quick descent after that. Vernz, Yan, Mel and I went on ahead with our guide Mang Johnny, which was actually quite fortunate since he led us a different path so that we would not cross the rice field that claimed Kuya Badong the day before hehehe The others were less fortunate as we would later find out.
Upon reaching the house where Mang Danny (our driver) was parked, we quickly washed ourselves up and waited for the rest of the company to arrive. I actually laid out some stuff in the sun to dry them out and make for easier packing (all my recent climbs seemed to end up in the same situation…). We changed into our CAC shirts and by 11 o clock, we were already heading to Brgy. Maamot Elementary School for the outreach leg of our weekend trip. It was goodbye to Sitio San Pedro and its mountains for now. I’m thinking Mt. Kawayan when I go back there next. 😀
*Photo credit: Nay Nini Sacro
**Photo credit: Bernard Llaguno
***Photo credit: Joyce Anne Regalado
****Photo credit: Vernz Fabroa