This article will help relive the moments in Tawangan, a 4-day expedition in the Cordilleras after Christmas of 1998 when we were all in our shining moments. It was an "alpine" climb (by tropical standards" in the highest points in Luzon participated by 29 trekkers mainly from our club, the PAL Mountaineering Club. 8 from the Loyola Mountaineering Club attached their team to us.
Climb covered 3 mountains-Mt. Panatoan (2,422 M ASL), Mt. Pulag (2,922 M ASL), and Mt. Babadak (2,589 M ASL). To reach the jump-off point, we took an 8-hour bus ride to Baguio and another 6-hour jeepney ride in the mountainous roads of Benguet. I headed a group of 10 members, most of which are professionals. Apru Apruebo led the Balagbag Boys which included Lex E.; Barry Barcelo led a group of mostly members including Christine Medina. Romy Valdez, our EL was with the Balagbag Boys. Average temperature was 12°C, manageable if not for the intermittent rains and gusty winds.Tawangan is a test of equipment and the human spirit. Like how our dry fit outfits, chairs, stoves, leak and wind proof parkas and tents can withstand the forces for three days. It’s a test on how long we can hold on without touching alcohol for 4 days. How our body can survive the cold, wind and rain for 2 days. How we open new friendships and deepen current ones. How we manage ourselves in fatal and critical moments. Gladly in Tawangan-Pulag, we passed them all. Now we know why this privilege to appreciate Pulag via Tawangan is only for a limited few. We trekked for 4 hours on the first day, 9 hours on the 2nd day, 5 hours on the 3rd day and 4 hours on the last day.
A major climb feels like a summation climb. The Ballay walk and the hanging bridges remind me of Ugu, Sagada and Kabayan. The trek to the schoolhouse is like the Natib trek without the humid air. Lunch at the lake is a Lake Venado setting of Apo. A most impactful scene for me was the walk on the rice terraces amidst the fog with two mountain peaks at the background. You can’t escape the crossing at the last of the 5 hanging bridges where the mighty river was gushing in all the white steam against the backdrop of trees with flowering petals. Walk in the clear running stream is like the Majajay trail. The lunch at the river is the Gabaldon river crossing done with the Loyola Mountaineers. Second day is San Cristobal and Banahaw rolled into one. Last day is undoubtedly Pulag.
During the solitary moments in the trail when the temperature was dropping, I said some prayers, both for myself and for all of you that I committed to do so in my Christmas cards to you. I said thanks for the good health, the good fortune, the strong family support and the company of friends. I also asked the sacred mountain to clarify my personal and professional directions for the coming years. The Cordillera mountain is powerful enough to grant me that.
It was a most fulfilling week, a good summary of all the climbs for the year. I did not experience any fatigue nor shortness of breath. Our 9 meals were well planned, slept an average of 7 hours in the camp, would knock off at 9 and wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning. I only felt tired when I boarded the bus in Baguio to go back to Manila dawn of 31st December to reach Manila before New Year. After breakfast in the house at 7 AM, I was soundly and deeply asleep for the next 6 hours, enough recharge to meet the New Year.
Shining moments in the expedition:
- The wash up with a view at the Palancha arranged by TJ and Jojo Ramos
- Drying up tents and other wet stuff at the Palancha grassland with a great view
- Jeeps on time at the pick up station arranged by Mitch and Romy at a fair price
- The sentimental weather from the grassland to the Ranger station perfect for muni-muni
- The fine Plateau weather at breakfast time perfect for cooking but not long enough to cover packing
- The fine Plateau weather at dinner time perfect for cooking but not long enough to cover eating
- The assault to the peak led by Apru and the Balagbag boys with winds pulling them down to the ravine but completed somehow with the Loyola climbers
- The reformed, detached Balagbag Boys during the trek
- Lex Evangelista humbly sweeping, Gerry Balignasa ably assisting
- The shortened distance between the 2nd day camp to the Plateau to Romy’s surprise and to our delight
- The cold, windy and rainy weather nearing the Pulag Mountain range
- Black garbage bags, clear backpack bags generating heat while in motion
- The hot water prepared from an MSR Expedition of TJ at the Plateau campsite at the height of the strong winds and rain. What presence of mind!
- Tents that wouldn’t leak, tents that can be set-up and dismantled so quickly when rains and wind batter the campsite. Perhaps all including the Loyola Mountaineers’ Coleman held on.
- The team spirit evident in all groupings
- Meal schedules followed to the letter with surprisingly top quality taste
- Perfect rice all throughout the expedition
- Water all the way
- The dip at the cold river
- Photo coverage of Ching, Danny, Mitch, Lex, Christine, TJ
- Emil saved from falling down the ravine
- Mitch saved from slipping in the white wild river
- Loyola male climbers Gabby, Gabby, Nick, Harry, Caloy shaping up and getting stronger each day
- Loyola female climbers Ching, Jenny and Jaja relating with the group
- Freeman’s and Subs fighting or frightening spirits
- Cartoons talk of Jojoy, Emil and TJ
- The shortened trail between Coral and Plateau
- The rice terraces against the series of mountain peaks
- Rope tied shoes of Barry and Ching
- More equis than checks from the Balagbag Boys
- The shortcut to the emergency campsite
- Apru and Christine’s excellent choice of campsite for the 2nd day
- Emil and Barry’s tarp
- Reunion of Jojoy, Barry and Emil
- Christine’s pacing, matched by Larry’s
- Apo boys reunion-Orly, Jojo, Jerry, Art, Mitch, Chito. Loyd, Dulce and Russell were at the Baguio bus terminal
- Art’s Baguio accommodation for his teammates Cooking area the corridor of the Tawangan Elementary School
- Freedom to snore at the Tawangan Elementary School classroom
- Lunch at the Lake on the first day reminiscent of Lake Venado
- Lunch at the river on the 2nd day reminiscent of Kabayan River
- Trail foods on the 3rd day providing heat to the body
- Presence of mind in tent setting, trail blazing
- Popcorn during socials, adobo on the big dinner night by Mitch, vegetable in oyster sauce by TJ, pears in cream on the 2nd dinner, apple in the elfin forest waiting shed, chorizo, dried seafood of Juno
- 3 working stoves, 3 clean cooksets per group
- Bonsai at the Plateau water source- Moss in the alpine forest trees
- Limatic and Larry’s violent reaction to Limatic
-The baboy damo family
- The no-show muddy trail at the Coral compensated by the all water trail to Pulag
- The all-reliable, ever dependable “reformed” Balagbag Boys
- Jojo Ramos’ map and compass reading
- Barry’s professional group
- Loyola Mountaineers determination
- Chito’s organized, discipline and equipped group
- Juno’s fatherly presence, TJ’s vigor and strong feel for outdoor survival, Danny’s endless initiatives, Mitch’s open accommodations, and Chito’s quiet presence
- Close to a thousand and five hundred pesos expense almost a week of togetherness
Romy’s confidence and cool disposition
What gift has the Cordillera’s given you? Guests Larry and TJ received them, I don’t know if they realize it. Orly, Apru and Jojo were reminded of their physical limitations, Jerry, isolation. Emil and again Mitch were reminded of their life. Mitch got a gift. even before the climb. Sub, Mokie and Freeman perhaps got the biggest package. Barry, Christine, Jojoy, Art, Lex, Danny, Juno, Jojo, Ching, Jenny, Jaja, Gabby, Gabby, Caloy, Harry, Nick surely got theirs. Romy will get what is due him for bringing all of us there.
Ruby G. of Meralco MC crafted a fitting tribute to our climb. “I should say there’s a lot of value in a well-prepared climb. Instead of having to struggle against the forces of nature (which we already knew would extend no mercy!), we can calmly delve deep into our core for that intimate conversation with our soul-to give thanks for all our blessings and pray for enlightenment and guidance. Standing as a mere speck in the vastness and overwhelming magnificence of the Cordillera Mountains, one can’t help reflect on one’s worth, fate, and purpose in this life. I understand some of us climb not merely to explore the mountains but to explore our inner selves.”
Photos by Mitch Soria and Ching-I-Wang