After Mt. Marami, I was feeling slightly (ever so slightly) bummed because I was supposed to climb the country’s 2nd and 4th highest peaks (Mt. Dulang-Dulang and Kitanglad, so termed the D2K traverse). Unfortunately, the plan did not push through due to a number of circumstances that I would not go into. Needless to say, I was itching to climb in order to compensate for that slight disappointment. Thinking back, I wasn’t too disappointed with not going – I don’t know why – so I just told myself there will always be a next time. In any case, I was still glad that Nanay Nini signed me up for the upcoming Mt. Pulag/Timbak Outreach Climb for the benefit of our brothers and sisters (yes, close kami ganyan) from Cagayan de Oro, the Rebirth Outdoor Trekkers and Adventurers club or ROTA.
Notice that I said sign me up? Because that’s what actually happened. :p During our anniversary outreach socials, Nanay brought up the upcoming climb but back then, the slots were already dwindling since the main party would be coming from CDO. So understandably, she decided to limit the joiners coming from Manila. Since I was still on the fence regarding whether to go through with D2K or not, I told Nanay that I would confirm with her the following week if I am able. I guess I took too long to RSVP so Nanay took my silence as confirmation. Imagine my surprise when the official list of Manila participants was released and I was included in it. So I thought, “What the heck? Pulag is still Pulag. Besides I’d be going with CAC. That’s sure to be fun!…right?” 😀 So to hell with D2K (figure of speech lang…), that mountain’s not going anywhere. Unless the world ends in December that is…most of us have already forgotten about that scare haven’t we? Urrgh forgive the constant tangents dear reader, I’m pretty sure I have (
So in any case, there I was packing my bags and getting ready to leave at Hallow’s Eve for a 3-day adventure up north. I left early, around 7:30 PM, on the 31st in order to make it to the 10 PM meet-up time at Victory Liner Sampaloc. Everybody was saying that traffic was gonna be bad and since I live on the far reaches of Caloocan, I didn’t want to be caught up in it so I gave myself plenty of head start. Apparently, the major roads – Commonwealth, Quezon Avenue and España – did not get the memo about this supposed heavy traffic that in less than an hour, I was already alighting at Lacson Avenue. I wasn’t actually sure where Victory Liner was located at first. I even asked Bes about how to get there since she lived nearby. This ultimately proved futile since I forgot that she has the worst sense of direction out of all the people I knew. But hey, with a little help from Google maps and a penchant for walking (mountaineer to pre!), I was able to eventually locate Earnshaw street. Sure, I had to walk all the way from Lacson but since I arrived way earlier than I expected to, I arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare.
Most of the guys from ROTA were already there along with sir Mon and Kuya Elpi. I found out later that they had come straight from the airport, killed time with some videoke (I don’t even know if this is true hahaha) then headed to Sampaloc. So most of them didn’t have time to rest or wash up. The perks of being a traveller, no doubt. 😀 The rest of the party started arriving as the hour passed until Nanay Nini along with Kuya GP (o ayan namention ka na, pwede na? haha), Doc Joyce and Phoebe arrived last, bringing with them the school supplies that we would be distributing. It turned out that since there were so many of us, we were practically renting one whole bus. So when everyone was assembled (Kuya Jepoy would be picked up in Baclaran…dahil batas siya at siya ang may-ari ng bus), we boarded our 11:15 trip to Baguio. Oh but before that, I would like to offer a moment of silence for Bing’s Iphone, which I’m pretty sure Mang Benny ran over. It was still working afterwards though (Good job Apple!), albeit it had web-like cracks running across its screen. Just pass it off as intentional design, I’m sure people would buy that.
After picking up Kuya Jepoy, who brought with him a bag of Emperador Lights (which may have been the only thing he packed…), we headed off to Baguio. I sat at the back along with Nanay Nini, Kuya GP, Badong and Jepoy. I tried to get as much rest as I could but I hardly do so during bus trips. In any case, our trip was pretty normal, encountering no heavy traffic or anything like that. At about 4 am, we finally arrived in Baguio.
Heading to Pinkanjo and Pulag DENR
After convening at the jeepneys (it turned out that we would be taking three) at 711 in front of the station, we actually saw sir Mon Cariaso who was going for a Kubungan Traverse during the long weekend. I guess since Baguio really is the main jumpoff for all northern climbs, it wasn’t that surprising. I had the strong urge to up and join them but traversing Kibungan would take more than 3 days so no options there. Hahaha We were also told that 5 mountaineers would be joining us for our trip to Ambangeg since arranging for their own jeep would be too costly given their number.
Our first order of business was to head to Pulag DENR for our official registration and orientation. But before that, we had to have breakfast first! As most mountaineers who have climbed Mt. Pulag or Tabayoc would attest, there would only be one jeep stopover for that. The ever-famous Pinkanjo restaurant! Or sa “pinsan ko” as heard by Kuya Badong. For the record though, I don’t have a cousin who lives in Baguio who would be willing to feed 40 people. :p On our way there, the jeepneys stopped for reasons that I don’t remember so that gave us the perfect opportunity to transfer atop the jeepney. I always go topload whenever possible especially when climbing up north so that was a must for me. Doc Joyce and I sat at the frontal (frontal talaga! parang skeleton lang?) part of the jeep. I was actually quite fearful with how Doc Joyce was poised because she can’t seem to find a stable position haha Sirs Moks, Billy and Jason also went topload with us, so the five of us were cramped there along with our packs as we headed for Pinkanjo.
We had our much needed breakfast at Pinkanjo then after everybody was full, we resumed our trip to Pulag DENR for our orientation. Of course, we resumed our positions on top of the jeepney as well. You just have to, you know, in order to appreciate the picturesque landscape of the Benguet highlands. Pulag DENR was still an hour away from Pinkanjo so we used that time to soak in the amazing surroundings. I’ve passed by that road a number of times but it still hasn’t failed impress me. There we were, perched – sometimes precariously- on top of the jeep, taking countless pictures whenever we could. And this practice wasn’t exclusive to our jeep of course. All three of them had topload passengers because, again, it’s hard to blame the excitement of their transports when it comes to Benguet scenery.
Curiously however, I did manage to get some shut-eye while riding topload. I just held on dearly to the rope, hooked my feet to the railing and before I knew it, I was taking a proper nap. T’was a good thing I didn’t fall though, given that I lay on the side since the middle part was stacked with bags. Meh. You take sleep wherever you get it! Hahaha
It was about a little after 9 am when we finally arrived at the DENR station. We settled our registration fees then took some pictures while waiting for our turn with the orientation. As I was wont to do, I looked for the honor society (pweh!) membership ID that I left there when I first climbed Pulag. And what do you know? My heavily photoshopped face was still there buried under countless IDs. As always, I also saw some climb IDs left by fellow mountaineer friends (CARB, HLGG 2 etc.). I’ve written how small the mountaineering community could be before, and the IDs were but another example. Bing likewise left her ID next to mine as well as some of the ROTA guys.
Then came the orientation. First timers are required to attend this whether you’re taking the Ambangeg, Akiki or other trails. Actually, if you have seen it before, ma’am Mering can excuse you from the presentation. In any case, they hold it to impart awareness as well as officially record the groups that would be climbing Pulag at any given time. She registered who our lead men, sweepers as well as WFAs are. After that famous video presentation (which was a huge hit to one Mr. Harie Milan :D), she oriented us on the rules and regulations while climbing Mt. Pulag. Aside from the basic mountaineering principles that a BMC would teach you, the whole emphasis of the presentation was about respecting Mt. Pulag. Making loud noises, throwing trash anywhere and the like were examples of what not to do. As basic as it seemed, I felt that this was a very important message that every mountaineer (who are basically trespassers to Pulag’s sacred grounds) should understand. Because sadly, not everyone realizes or adheres to this.
One thing I can say though was Ma’am Mering’s spiels have become more comic than ever. I think she’s been adding more and more material given how often she probably does it and needless to say, I enjoyed her orientation immensely. She also commended the group’s efforts of coupling the climb with outreach activities since she was well aware of how badly needed educational emphasis is among the Benguet communities. She also appreciated the awareness that CAC brings in terms of the realities of cancer and the effects it has on a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Sure, she always refers to us as “Climb for a Cause by Cancer Survivors” or something but her appreciation was still clear. 😀
Outreach at Bila Elementary School
After the orientation, we continued on to our first outreach stop, Bila Elementary School. I think most Pulag trips have to ply that road anyway since the main road was apparently being cemented or else, in its curing phase. After the DENR station, the roads would become more and more uneven and rough. Going up to the elementary school was no exception.
The outreach activity at Bila Elementary School didn’t take long – not as long as most of our outreach efforts – since we were scheduled to climb Pulag at that same afternoon. As soon as we arrived, we set about segregating the school supplies as well as readying the snacks that would be given out. The kids were already assembled on the grounds so it didn’t take long before they were neatly lined up in front of the stage.
We actually did a graduation-like setup in order to accommodate the kids quickly. I helped in distributing the school kits while most of the volunteers were busy engaging with the students in line. The teachers kindly helped us in our efforts, often using their own language to herald the kids in order. We eventually picked up some words (well, one word…) ourselves! “Shimanda”, which I think meant, “go in this/that direction”. The teachers kept saying it in order to direct the kids after they’ve been given snacks and supplies. Before long, sir Billy was saying it every chance he gets. Which probably confused some of the the kids since they didn’t know if they were supposed to follow the line or head to another direction. 😉
After everyone was handed their share, they sang their local version of “pearly shell” as well as some ‘thank you’ songs then we sent them on their way. It’s always worth it to see kids smile. 😀 We stayed for a while since the teachers graciously provided kamote and coffee as simple snacks. I kind of got apprehensive about touching the kamote because I can’t afford to be all loose down there when I’m in the mountains hahaha. In any case, we were grateful for their hospitality. I’ve long since learned that these outreach activities were something of a give and take. We’re not always the ones who give, sometimes we’re the ones who receive so much more. :p
Before leaving the school, the whole group took the time to introduce themselves to one another since most of us weren’t acquainted yet. So there we were on the stage, campaigning to each other like politicians before a miting de avance (“sa susunod na eleksyon po!”) It did help though but seeing as we were given the task of remembering 20+ people, it was sure to take a lot more effort.:D
Mt. Pulag’s Ambangeg Trail
It would take another 1 ½ hour of very rough roads before we finally arrived at Babadak Ranger Station in Ambangeg. We had our share of the pre-prepared adobo lunch (ang packed lunch na hindi packed) then convened on how we were going to go about the climb. Nay Nini (since she called the shots!) decided that we would aim for Camp 3 or the saddle camp. I was actually rooting for this decision since this is where we camped when we climbed Pulag the first time. It’s just below the peak so it wouldn’t take much time to assault it come sunset. Via Ambangeg trail, Camp 2 could be reached in 2 ½ to 3 hours adopting a moderate pace then it would be another 2 hours to the summit. It was already quarter to 2 when we finally started the trek proper so everyone was prepared with headlamps in case night catches up on them on the trail.
I guess this is the point where I will have to say again, for the record, how I hate night trekking. I abhor it. With a passion. I don’t enjoy it and I don’t plan on doing it. 😀 With that in mind, I resolved to reach the saddle with plenty of light left. Besides, Pulag’s Ambangeg trail was fairly straightforward. I even joked once that the trail was done by a professional landscape artist. Direction-wise, there would be little to almost no possibility of getting lost.
Sir Mon was actually our lead man so he had one of the two-way radios to communicate with Kuya Badong, our designated sweeper. And since he adopted a fairly rigorous pace, I just made sure to keep up with him. I wouldn’t say that I was pushing my body’s limit (I know better than that!) but since the Ambangeg trail had relatively low difficulty compared to some other mountains I’ve climbed, it wasn’t as physically taxing. After 30 minutes, we arrived at Camp 1. There, I met sir Win, who good-naturedly chatted me up while we were resting. Apparently he was a Sorsogon-based mountaineer who tagged along with a group from Manila so that he could climb Pulag as well. I was fairly sure that he wasn’t even fully aware of the name of the group that he went with hahaha We talked for a bit while regaining our breath and after 10 minutes or so, we excused ourselves to go on ahead. His group mates were busy taking alcohol shots along the trail. 😀
Trekking from Camp 1 to Camp 2 was probably the longest leg of the entire trail although thankfully, there were rarely any steep slopes. After 45 minutes of walking straight, we arrived at the water source just outside camp 2. That’s when I realized that we were already near the summit but I’ve barely drank any water from my bottle. Maybe it’s because of the cold temperature so you don’t sweat as much? In any case, I didn’t feel the need to refill since my water supply was still pretty much full.
Upon arriving at Camp 2, around 3:15 PM, sir Mon and I realized that we may have been way ahead of the group so we decided to wait for the others at Camp 2 and get some rest as well. And keeping up with the MASA (masandal tulog) thread, boy did I ever ‘rest’! I found the nearest, not necessarily the cleanest, clump of grass and settled in. Yes, dear reader, I’m perpetually sleep-deprived. I think it was almost 45 minutes before sirs Jhong, Willes (according to Joyce, parang Bruce Willis na walang Bruce), Joren (parang Zoren na may J) and mam Jen caught up to us so that was when I was jerked awake. They pushed on ahead to the saddle camp while we continued waiting for the others. Not long after, mam Dina and sir GP arrived at Camp 2 as well along with our official guide, Kuya Jerry (who mam Dina keeps calling Rommel for some reason). After they have sufficiently rested, the four of us –Mon, GP, Dina and I – decided to push ahead as well.
From Camp 2 onward, Pulag’s trails would become solely the grasslands that the numerous pictures depict it as so. It’s actually the most beautiful part of the trail and the most exciting to traverse. The grasslands offered mountaineers a vast view of the Pulag expanse. And what a view that was! 🙂 That’s probably the most enjoyable part of the trail as well since even though you’re tired of walking or carrying your pack, seeing the gorgeous view would definitely alleviate it. Another reason why I don’t want to get caught night-trekking. Here are examples of what you’d be treated to once you clear Camp 2:
We were barely 15 minutes from camp 2 when the group decided to rest again (peace! :D) so I decided to push on ahead because aside from avoiding night-trekking, I also wanted to enjoy the summit at dusk. I want to make it a tradition between Pulag and me. 😀 So I continued on with my own pace, taking in the sights and feeling all emo about it. Just kidding. At one point I caught up to the lady porters of our group who were resting at an incline. As I approached and greeted them, they said, “Sir, ang lakas niyo po.” Of course you’d think I’d be imbued with a strong sense of machismo after hearing a comment like that but frankly, I took their remark with a grain of salt. I would have loved to point out that they were carrying backpacks that totaled twice my body weight so my feat was nothing to be proud of. 😀
I caught up with the quartet of mam Jen and the 3 sirs at the lonely emo tree (cue: Moonstar88 song) standing along the grassland trail. Since I figured that the summit was no more than 20 minutes away from there, I likewise pushed on ahead of them. Sir Jhong would later joke that I was trying to beat the porter (Duartie…that’s what he told me his name was) but I wasn’t. I was trying to beat the sun! 😀 It was already past 5 by then and I really wanted to assault the summit before heading to camp.
I did catch up to Duartie at the ledge leading to the summit so we headed there instead of continuing through the trail leading to the saddle. So there I was, enjoying the peak on my own and waving like a crazy madman at the others who were still on the trail (Kuya Jerry would later exclaim, “Ah kayo pala yun sir!”). From the summit, I saw that there were already 6 (uniform) tents that were pitched on the saddle camp. I guess most of the groups who got here before us decided to camp at Camp 2 instead.
Being up at the peak really brought back memories of my first climb here. We used the Akiki trail that time so we got to the saddle camp a little earlier than our friends who would be taking the Ambangeg trail (who left a day later). Four of us –Lee Jay, Elle, Vernz and I- decided to assault the summit for the sunset as well. We were the only ones at the peak that time so we got to enjoy that space uninterrupted. It wasn’t so much about the view that time since dusk was likewise waning, but more of the feeling of reaching the summit. It was my first ever major climb after all. It was Vernz’s as well and for Lee Jay, it was his first climb. Ever. Elle had been climbing before we were. 🙂
I guess I basked in the same feeling when I got to enjoy the peak all to myself this time. It made me think of that first climb and how relatively long ago that was. I’ve met a lot of people since then, lost loved ones, been to a whole lot of places, climbed a lot more mountains – I’ve even already climbed Apo! But being at the summit of Mt. Pulag still had me humbled. I absolutely loved that feeling. As I like to say, mountaineering is “finding yourself a place where you feel little so you can alleviate your own ill sense of self-importance” 😀
I sound like I’m dying no? I’m not (
I think). Please just humor me with this introspective/esoteric/emo crap. Okay? 😀
Anyhooo, back to earth. Duartie suddenly called me to say that the quartet of mam Jen and the 3 sirs –Jhong, Joren and Willes- (sorry sa bansag, it’s the easiest way I could describe you guys!) were already bypassing the summit shortcut and were already heading to the saddle campsite. I thought they were going to go to the peak as well but it turned out that they weren’t. So Duartie and I descended on the other side as well and met up with them at the junction leading down to the saddle. There was still light when we arrived at the camp so we hurriedly went to fixing up our tents. All the while, the other group was strumming the guitar and singing, pleasantly I might add, Filipino alternative songs like “Your Love” and “Tag-ulan”. I found myself humming along with them while I was pitching my tent as a matter of fact. 🙂
The rest of the group started arriving as the sun slowly receded in the horizon. After we were settled, sir Mon fashioned a mini basecamp in the middle where we prepared our dinner. Like our lunch, dinner was pre-prepared as well. It was beefsteak which I guess didn’t taste all that much like it because they kept kidding Nanay that the ‘caldereta’ she prepared was great. 😀 I wouldn’t know since I don’t eat beef (Jollibee and McDo are the limit to the burgers that I can tolerate) which was why I practically coerced Kuya GP all night long to heat up the remaining adobo from lunch so that I’d have something to eat for dinner.
Lost in Translation and the unusual ‘tagay’
After dinner, Nanay Nini called the shots. Literally. 😀 We held the climb socials around the camp, telling stories and passing around alcohol. All under the sublime moonlight that Lady Luna provided us (how’s that for poetry!) We didn’t want to make too much noise (respect Mt. Pulag and all that) but still we managed to have a healthy bit of fun. Kuya Jepoy kept saying, “Yah! Why not? This is a free country. You could ______ anything you want to.” A sentence that would eventually catch on to all of us so by the end of the trip, most of us were chipping in these phrases…about any topic we’re talking about. 😉
We had a lot of fun even though understandably, a slight language barrier was between ROTA and us. They would, of course, be more comfortable conversing in Bisaya while the lot of us, in Tagalog. And I’m Quezon-born so my Tagalog is slightly different and purer (?) than Manileños (a fact that some mountaineers keep rubbing in my face…yes, Frederick Reyes at Aerol Paul Banal, if you ever read this, kayo to!).
I do, however, have a working knowledge of the Southern languages. My mother spoke a version of Bisaya, I had a lot of batchmates who were Bicolanos and I lived in Samar for 4 months during my university fieldschool. And since most of the languages of the south share cognates, I understand them in context. Their conjugations are different though so I don’t try to speak Bisaya. When we went to Davao, all I ever said were, “Lugar lang!”, “Gamay lang.” and “Palihog daw bai.” 😀 Unless I’m really really drunk – in which case I’d feel no shame if I spoke incorrectly- would I be convinced to speak Bisaya. I’d have to really study it first. 🙂 That’s what I did with Inabaknon (a language in Capul, Samar, our field site). I’d get drunk and then I would speak it fluently. By this time, every time I go back to Capul, I talk in their local language now.
So most of the time, I understood what they were talking about in context (…most of the time). Too bad for mam Dina though. She was all like, “Hahahahaha…anong sabi niya?” 😀
Another unusual practice that they have (well, unusual for me…) is the way they take alcohol shots. The way we do it in Manila (Manileños back me up here!) is we pass around a shot glass that is filled with just a small amount of alcohol, drink it in one gulp then down it with a chaser. For ROTA on the other hand, they pass around a cup that is filled to the brim with alcohol and it’s up to you how much you’ll consume before passing it on to the next one. I didn’t find it weird in the sense that I thought they were crazy (in my field site, tinatagay ang beer…), it’s just something that I wasn’t used to. And since I’m not an experienced drinker anymore, I really found that system difficult. I’m not a hard drinker in any case and I don’t like that the alcohol touches my lips so what I did was (Me and Phoebe :D) get a separate cup so when it was my turn, I would transfer the right amount and down it the way I know how.
I really didn’t want to be impolite by refusing to drink with them since I had no reservation about alcohol drinking anyway. Besides, I’ve learned (in my college course more than anything else) that during social drinking, it’s more about the ‘pakikisama’ than the actual alcohol consumption. I don’t want to sound all anthropological and shit but experience teaches us well. 😀 I don’t know if my compromise was offensive – I hope not – but if it were, I apologize to ROTA. Next time, pag-aaralan ko kung paano tumagay ng ganun 😀
In any case, I don’t know how much we consumed (around 3 bottles I think), so it was just the right amount of buzz when we finally called it a night. I actually stayed up a bit more along with the other ROTA guys and talked with them (lighting up a smoke under the Pulag sky :D) while we sobered up. I didn’t want to go to bed while slightly tipsy because I fear I’d throw up. So I chatted a while with sir Tops, mam Evie, sir Joren and the others as we all waited for our own respective tipsiness to subside. All while sir Moks was playing 3EB in the background (oh elementary days…) on his phone. He didn’t actually talk… he just hovered around us with his phone on speakers. :p After a while, we all turned ourselves in with anticipation for the coming sunrise and of course the famed sea of clouds. 🙂