January 1, 1999
By Marinela S. De Leon
It’s been six months since I last put on my hardy trek shoes and ascended a mountain slope. After
Mt. Malepunyo it was 180 days of pounding
not the exciting mountain trails but the city streets where stone-cold
buildings replaced my beloved rolling hills and mountains. So, when I learned
of PALMC’s Mt. Pulag climb I called Romy Valdez and asked where and when the
pre-climb was. It was only after I put the phone down that I realized Mt. Pulag
was the country’s second Highest Peak and I wasn’t exactly Super Girl.
|Foto by TJ|
But once the will prevailed, the flesh was left with no choice despite the fact that we were climbing Mt. Pulag via the difficult Tawangan trail where horrid tales of swamps with blood-sucking limatiks and fierce wild boars were narrated by the more experienced climbers for the benefit of the aspiring-by-now-scared-out-of-their-wits climbers.
In my own quiet corner on the long stretch of Session Road I squeezed myself tight in between the rows of humonguous back packs hoping to fend off the creeping cold. Fire child that I was, the cold is my long-standing foe. All bundled up in my thermal undies, a layer of outer clothes and a windbreaker I was praying that God grant me the strength to make this exciting climb. Images of pine trees, rice terraces, the fog, the mist and the locals descending the mountain distracted me from the long waiting hours for the hired jeep to take us up to Benguet.
Our way up was literally the Long and Winding and Bumpy Road.-prelude to the assault we were undertaking. I secretly took deep breaths and psyched myself up for the climb that was getting scary as the jeepney roared through the steep roads. Mercifully, we passed the Ambuklao Dam where the slowly cascading water seemed like rows upon rows of soft white feathers and the sloping hills where the wind rippled through the cogon grass seemed like the sleeping giants of my fairy tale books. We stopped near a stream and I made an age-old wish come true-plunged my head into the cold running water exactly the way the cowboys in the westerns my brothers and I loved to watch. And as water trickled down my face my fears and self-doubts were washed away by the pure waters of Ambuklao.
Lunch by the lake was serene, where my beloved Balagbag Boys generously shared their breaded chicken and cold steamed rice with co-inductee Freeman and myself. At 2:00 pm we pushed for Mt. Panatayan (2,472m ASL) on our way to Tawangan. Already I was breathless and ace mountaineer Lex Evangelista chided me for being so. “Wala pang back-pack iyan, ha?,” he said as I look with longing at the jeeps carrying our bp’s uphill.
I felt the mountain size me up as I made my way up. Apruebo, one of the strongest mountaineers in the group paced himself with me and asked me the inevitable question “Why do you climb?” In between panting, I answered, “There are sights up in the mountains that I will never see in the city but more than that the towering mountains and the vast skies remind me of my place in the scheme of things.”On our way down to Tawangan, I slipped and slid down muddy trails and felt like I just trespassed on someone’s private garden of wild sunflowers and tiny white flowers. When we reached Tawangan the villagers welcomed us with the use of their school rooms with their impeccably shiny floors. No one dared bring in their mojos much less their muddied boots inside them rooms.
It was mighty nice of Lex to have boiling coffee for our group. The coffee felt good and warmed us up as we changed to dry clothes, cooked chop suey and sauteed tenderloin strips with chicharo. Right after dinner, I snored my way into oblivion and slept the sleep of the happy soul.
Days 2 Camp: 3Today, I braced myself against the shock of putting on my soaking trek clothes as we pushed off for Camp 2. Today was the day when my much-feared Baboy Damo trail was at hand. Over and over I recalled a timely phrase I heard over dinner last night-“Do not entertain fear.” Thus, fearlessly I pushed myself up the mountain. And as the slope got steeper which Freeman breathlessly described as a “cardiac assault” I felt my pace and got my rhythm. Soon, I was singing and climbing with the song of the revered mountain playing inside my head. I knew I was way behind the group but I couldn’t resist stopping and committing to memory the majestic canvas painted by Mother Earth before my very eyes.
We reached the wild waters of a river where we had an hour’s respite for lunch. Everybody was cursing the limatiks crawling all over their feet. Fortunately, I intercepted one who was boring a hole through the boots. I felt its hungry tongue suck the tip of my finger as I flicked it away. Quickly, I tore off my boots and my socks envisioning a colony of limatiks draining every drop of blood in my feet. I stared in disbelief at my feet. I was limatik-free! My years of staying away from worm burgers must have paid off. I offered a prayer of thanks to the mountain gods and the Queen Limatik for sparing this wet shivering mortal.
After lunch, we trekked for hours passing through thick forests and crossing hanging bridges with an angry river below. At a mountain stream, where fatigue was catching up with me, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how I could haul myself over a huge rock formation made slippery with moss. JoRam, came to the rescue as he reached instructed me to take off my backpack, hand it over to him on the other side and climb over myself. I ate a half a chocolate bar afterwards on the advise of the Loyola Climbers who were with us. I took a sip from my bottle and asked God to bless me with strength.
At the waiting shed when some climbers rested, I joined their huddle, eager for warmth. After 10 minutes I decided to push off as the rains continued and the thick overgrowth made it impossible for daylight to break through. At first, I could see Romy’s red backpack ahead of me. Confidently, I started building my pace. It was a few hours later that I realized I could no longer see anyone ahead of me nor hear anyone behind me. I was walking through what seemed like a long corridor of trees with vines and ferns creeping all over whatever breathing space was there to fill. I realized I was in the dreaded Baboy Damo trail.
“Sama sama tayo pag dating sa Baboy Damo trail. Walang iwanan, walang take 5,” I remembered Romy telling us during the pre-climb. But here I was by my lonesome frightened self with an angry, raging baboy damo bound to ram me down any second. For what seemed an eternity, my head filled up with flashes of red. I scrambled for my whistle. I called out to Romy and prayed I’d see the familiar red of his pack. But the wind just howled and I was hearing imaginary grunts.
I stopped dead on my tracks and prayed the Our Father aloud. With calmed nerves I took out my flashlight and started walking. Unmindful of the growing dark, urging myself to go on. I plunged head on into the twilight never stopping, hearing only the pounding of my heart. “I have to reach the camp, I have to reach camp,” I urged myself until I realized I was faced with a very narrow trail that hugged a wall of prickly shrubs on the right and a deep raving on my left. I closed my eyes for one moment and saw myself hugging the mountainside with sure steps and that after a few more steps I’d see the campsite up ahead of me. The mountain gods blessed my vision as I made it through that narrow trail bend and saw the blue dome of one of the group’s tent.
This night proved to be a long night for me. Our tent, so kindheartedly pitched by Apruebo and Mokey was flooded by rainwater as its roof collapsed in the middle of the night as everyone was snoring contentedly in their tents. I could only heave a sigh and rocked myself to the rhythm of the rain. I sat up waiting for daybreak.
On the third day, the mountain further tested my spirit. The temperature was dropping as we made our way up Mt. Nabaguwan 2510m ASL. I was lagging behind everyone else as I was weak from lack of sleep and numbed with cold. As if on cue, Orly and Jojo of the Balagbag Boys appeared before my side and egged me on. “Kaya mo iyan, Sub!” “Billion nation late na Tao” “Push, Sub, Push” I repeatedly asked them to go ahead of me as I know they were practically freezing and my pace was a tiresome pace for these seasoned climbers. But they refused. Always a step behind me. Pushing me to the limit. Several times I raged and shouted, finding strength in the sudden adrenaline rush and I laughed when I saw Orly and Jojo laughing below, cheering on their “champion”.
Just before the assault to the foot of Mt. Pulag, we caught up with Romy. I told Orly and Jojo I’d just climb with Romy. I told the boys to go ahead. They asked Romy to take care of me. At the plateau, I was greeted by a truly enchanting sight. Mountaintops peeked through thick fogs, rain swept grass trembled with rushing water below and the sky seemed so close I could almost feel them. The world was at its best. Everything was virginal-untouched and unsoiled by the trivialities of mortals. Silence brought the mighty voice of nature and plunged my soul in deep reverie. I was in a magical place with a group of people who offered me friendship and shared with me a deep love for the mountains. What more can one ask for?
“This was paradise,” I said to myself.
“This is why I want to climb mountains,” I murmured.
And as my weary body sought solace from the pristine beauty that enveloped me the howling winds blessed my shivering body and warmed my soul.
Going up the steep slopes, getting muddied, being battered by the rain and the wind and humbled by the beauty of my Maker’s creation is the affirmation of my life-giving mantra-Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
I am glad I made this climb. . . even if I’m not Super Girl.
No. 1 Climb Mt. Pulag in December During La NiñaJanuary 3, 1999
By Nameless of Loyola Mountaineers
The New Year ironically is usually greeted in retrospective. With numerous magazines coming out with lists like: The 10 Best Dressed of 98, 10 Biggest Film Hits to remember that Year of the Tiger. Take the Top 10 Worst Things in 1998. I don’t know exactly what people would put in this list. Maybe other people might fill up the list with the Asian economic crisis, Erap being elected president, or even Clare Dane’s remark. One of the things which will enter the list of some members of the LM would be: No. 1 “Climb Mt. Pulag in December during La Niña.” (It would probably enter the top 10 stupidest things to do in 1998 as well.)
At the induction party/pre-climb meeting in the middle of the semester
break, Gabby Dizon and Gabby Narciso were chuckling when someone announced that
there would be an end of the year climb to Mount Pulag. They found it
ridiculous that there would be Mountaineers crazy enough to climb the 2nd
highest peak in the Philippines and the highest in Luzon during the coldest
time of the year.
|Who among them is nameless? 15 years after, it still is a mystery|
Well, eight wacky Loyola Mountaineers collected on December 27 at 4 AM in 456 restaurant in Bagiuo City to join twenty-one PAL mountaineers. They were Jenny “Amazon” Atienza, Jaja “gaga” Reyes, Nick “the quick” Tobia, Ching-I “Buddha’s disciple” Wang, Gabby “Care Bear” Narciso, Caloy “quick-as-well” Tobia, Gabby “Gabo” Dizon and Harry “The Actor” Pasimio.
To give an overview of the climb here are Chito of PAL Mountaineers’ notes: 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 a 6-hour bus ride to Baguio and another 6-hour jeepney ride in the mountainous roads of Benguet. Average temperature was 12 degrees C, manageable if not for the intermittent rains and gusty winds.
Why maybe one may ask it would enter the list of the Top 10 worst things to do in 1998? Well here are 10 reasons why.
#10 The Bus Ride
From those at least coming from Manila rode the 10 PM Victory liner bus which was actually a very pleasant ride. That is until the Bus driver probably to keep himself (and while he was at the whole bus as well) awake with the music of “the best of Aaron Carter” and, then best of pinoy rock which had lyrics like; “Kapag kasama kita-gumagwapo ako.” He blasted his music loudly inside, it was Harry who eventually lowered it during one of the bathroom stops. The eyes of those who rode the bus blinked tears of sleepiness. But in these moments these eyes caught glimpses of what they hoped to see. Fueled by memories of pictures brought back, they took heart and tried to get as much sleep as they could. I guess this wasn’t so bad but I think the mountaineers should have taken it as a sign. A foreshadowing of the discomfort yet to come.
#9 The Jeep Ride to the Drop off Point
After waiting for quite a bit, the two jeepneys arrived to fetch the 29 climbers. The jeeps were loaded up and the six hour trip to the drop off point began. At first the mood was “high” with Harry and Jaja singing the Weezer album song by song soon though all singing stopped and actions were held to very minimal as the jeep “shook up” the passengers by rocking back and forth through the dust roads. Leaving their senses Undone-the jeepney song. But the violent shakes was just the tip of the iceberg as layers and layers of dust began to settle on its passengers. Making many looking like old men and women with white hair. On the way a couple of Jeep problems turned up (aside from the occasional wee-wee breaks and dust offs). There was also a problem of the Drivers worrying about getting back to Baguio City before becoming too dark. So, they brought us as close as they could which entailed some walking while the jeep took the bags for the last part of the ride.
#8 The Pacing of the PAL Mountaineers
When the group arrived at the drop off point. They all had a quick lunch by the lake, which produced a great double rainbow. It was a fairy-tale beginning for everyone. Then the trekking to the village began. Soon, most of the PAL mountaineers over took the LM members. Which was how the order remained throughout the rest of the trip. (LM would have to wake up earlier to pack up and the like to keep up.) On the first day the mountaineers trekked to Tawangan where the group would be able to stay overnight in a school room which was great because that was one day that they did not have to set up the tents.
#7 Communal Mess Kits
To save more time communal mess kits and utensils was born. The LM had their meals in a more bonding way. As Jenny’s fork and spoon floated around. Gabby’s plastic tumbler soon became a cooked rice case. The things will just be tossed around. “Take one down, pass it around.”
#6 Wet Socks
Aside from sharing food, mess kits, and saliva (from using the same spoons), the LM members also shared the cold feeling of putting on the wet socks of yesterday and thanks to the weather the perpetually wet shoes. Cold feelings are brought to a new level after taking 4 squishing steps in mud. And nice new socks stay dry for about 2 seconds. Also in connection to wet socks on the last night in the plateau. Gabby D. suffered greatly as his sleeping bag was discovered to be wet and had to needed body heat from Harry and Caloy to keep him warm that night. Which consequentially kept Harry awake by Gabby’s chattering.
#5 Equipment Problems
It was raining the whole time and along the way to make matters worse some important equipment broke down. It was realized that the less people who climb, the higher probability for things to go wrong in the sense of having a “lack off.” Caloy’s flashlight broke in the jeepney ride. Then Jenny’s Bag broke by the shoulder straps. Then Ching’s shoes broke to be patched up with rope and strings. Then some straps of Jaja’s bag (which the group realized later on was self-contained) gave way on the way to plateau.
#4 Trekking at Night and Irritations
Aside from having some equipment problems on the second day of trekking (which was incidentally the longest day), the group left the school at around seven in the morning. Had lunch at a river with ice cold water. This was also where jugs were filled up. During this 10-hour trek the group unfortunately hit nightfall taking out flashlights to begin set-ups.
To share with the reader the type of irritation we had let me share some quotes:
Since Caloy was not yet there, irrational behaviors Nick said to Gabby D.
“Nasaan si Caloy?”
Gabby D: “Nasa likod ko.”
Nick T: “Iniwanan mo?”
Gabby D: “Oo.”
Nick T: “BAKIT!” As if Nick had a right (NOTE Gabby D. was not the Tailman.)
Ching: “Don’t you remember the MODULES! We must re-evaluate membership.”
Our little camp on the trail became “Sungit City.” Miserable is probably the best word to describe the evening.
#3 Limatics (Like Automatic)
A major irritation aside from that evening of the 2nd day was that it was also the day the Lematics (leech like creatures) were discovered. Alcohol was abundant only at the stops so on the trek we had to take it out with hands only to find it sucking on our finger. Squashing these 1/2 inch wonders was out of the question as they would only slip through our fingers.
1. The dinner of that hell evening had a special spice as it was discovered to find a cooked Lematic in the Adobo.
2. In the morning while packing up Gabby N. discovered one at his ear and quickly removed it causing a bloody mess as a result.
3. Harry also discovered on thinking it was a nosebleed but only to find a wound at his neck. He also wins the biggest-lematic-to-suck-my-blood award.
4. A family of Limatics (all size ranges) welcomed Jaja and Ching when they had to pee in the dampened forest.
5. Jenny deceivers to be mentioned being the most frequently visited by the Limatics among the LM.
#2 The 2nd Lunch of the 3rd day
This is probably a memorable lunch because it was so cold. One could tell if another was speaking if there was vapor coming out of their mouths. It still was raining a little but it was really so cold because of the wind. It was so chilly that instead of eating in the clearing the Loyola Mountaineers had to stay back down a little to the trees that served as natural wind barriers. This is when Gabby Narciso burned himself (gaining two new birthmarks on his face) trying to open the stove’s fuel compartment with his teeth. It was so cold and probably the bleakest point in the climb. After which was the ascent to the plateau. This was also where Ching and Caloy nearly got sidetracked. It was also really cold that Harry was ready to let Jenny sign the “witness” part of his organ donor card, which he carries in his wallet. He wasn’t certain he was going to make it. When we got to the plateau we got settled down and ate a really good dinner and slept.
#1 The View
Finally, one may think that this would be the redeeming factor, the saving grace of the climb. As the cliché line goes “I’ve trekked long and hard but the view was worth it.” This was one of the motivational factors pushing a lot of climbers. The view from Mt. Pulag was supposedly magnificent. Well, because of the weather there was only fog after the 30 minute run-walk to the peak. Others have requested that beside their picture a witness to sign: That is the peak.
Awful you might think.
This may sound like a cop out answer but let me share with you this idea. Life isn’t really about what you get out of it in the end, it pays more attention to what you may become at the end. Those ten things are a small sacrifice of what we truly became after the climb. The experience, the process is even more important.
From this climb the LM has learned much from the PAL Mountaineers and gained an insight in climbing etiquette. But more importantly we have developed better relationships being with them. Bonds between people are born because of this particular expedition and new friendships were formed with the PAL mountaineers. The LM were their “bunso” group whom they looked after.
The groups have shared more than just misery, but also the multitudes of stories (even beer too). As we leave the climb, it is taken for granted that the 8 mountaineers have brought their own personal relationship with each other to a new level, a “I survived Mt. Pulag in 1998 with you” level. And though it is unsaid there was the existence of these phrases unsaid in words but understood in action. “You were my support. You gave me strength to calm myself. We don’t master the mountain we master ourselves.” One really has to be a different kind of person to climb mountains and keep on doing it.
So there was no heavenly view from the mountaintop but the trek were full wondrous things that make Mt. Pulag beautiful. The “natural highs” of the mountain were bountiful. If the peak was not so fabulous, there are many other instances when the world revealed a part of her beauty. Like the rivers would tirelessly chant their song and though the wind and rain were biting, they performed a gorgeous dance for all that could look up to enjoy. A favorite part is not on the peak but towards both the peak and the campsite-one is gifted with sight of rolling hills. And it’s mystical wonder and one cannot help but absorb the radiant aura of nature only Mt. Pulag could reward one with.
And there something’s that would not have been as good without the trying parts of the climb: Jaja’s pasta dinner on the plateau, riding the top of the jeep, eating lunch on a jeep, breaking bread, eating meat, being passed around, eating Pizza and ordering water. Returning to love ones for a brand new year.
The climbers are also entitled to having one wish being granted a gift for climbing the mountain that is a pilgrimage. I wonder what the eight goofy Loyola mountaineers asked for to prepare them for the year to come.
“Don’t mess with the bear-dude he’s with me.“-Harry
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, whatever.”-Jenny
“If gets the job done, it gets the job done.”-Gabby Narciso (after burning his face)
Along the trail a bag was seen. It was Harry’s but Caloy stopped and asked
“Anong ginagawa mo dyian?”
Harry replied: “Nag ma mahjongg-ano pa kaya Caloy?”
Photos by Ching-I-Wang (except where otherwise noted).