Friday, April 26, 2013

Mt. Pulag - an epic experience.

Mt. Pulag, third tallest mountain in the Philipines, tallest one in Luzon. It's peak is at a staggering 2,922 meters above sea level. Me, my husband and our friends wanted to conquer this mountain. We are not experienced mountaineers, heck, we don't even have any training/preparation for it. All we have are our guts.

We signed up with Tripinas Travel and Vetures since they offered the best deals. We only paid Php 2,199 each for the whole thing. It's less than usual because we have to go to Baguio ourselves since we're from Pampanga and their chartered vans are from Manila. They also offer tent and headlamp rentals, full board meals and sleeping bags.

It was Friday morning and I still have to go to work at home. We were supposed to leave that afternoon, but what the hell, it will even give me more time to do my last minute packing. We met up with our friends at 3pm in the bus terminal. We had a little Baguio-chillin' that night as if we're preparing ourselves for something big and epic the next day.

Saturday. We had to speed our way to the 7-11 Victory Liner branch to meet up with the tour coordinator. He was very firm when he said we have to be there at 4am sharp. He even texted us at 3:30 in the morning. Pressure much?

Channeling morning strength from a can of coffee.

Quick photo before departure.
After the registration and issuance of headlamps, we rode the sturdy-looking jeepneys and started our butt-numbing journey. After around 1.5 hours, we had our first stop, the breakfast pit stop. It was a nice carinderia with the view. We ate at the balcony as the sun rose - what a precious moment on a very mundane place. After eating and securing our packed lunch, we headed on the road again. Next stop would be the DENR office.

The road is a bit narrow and steep but the view was very very rewarding. After approximately an hour of travel, we already reached the office. We had our pre-climb orientation here. The lady speaker was very jolly and entertaining. She also showed us an amazing time-lapse photo presentation for us to know what to expect. One thing caught my attention though, she said the normal road going to the Ranger Station (jump off point) is under renovation so we have to take the detour. Hmmm, a detour. Sounds interesting.

It was indeed deadly.
Mini roads which are built for tires only. One wrong slip and we'll end up tumbling down the terraces.
We were even thankful for those mini roads because most of the time there was not even any. We were driving on top of loose rocks right on the edge of scary ravines. We were laughing along the way, trying to enjoy this experience. Then the jeepney actually had some mini jumps from rocks it stepped on and our laughs turned to nervous laughs, until there were none. Maybe we all had the need to pray for our dear lives. I've seen curvy, crazy, narrow, dangerous and whatever kind of roads in the Philippines but it was the first time here that I actually entertained the shivering thought of "What if we fell down?"

We were again on the mini roads when we heard a swooshing sound. It was one of our tires leaking air until it eventually got flat. Thank good heavens our driver was ready with a spare. He quickly changed it while we enjoyed the view.

A flat tire will not ruin our day :) (because we weren't the ones who changed it hehe)
We were back on the road in no time. After we got used to the terrain, yet another challenge faced us. We had to ascend on a series of very inclined roads, we were able to do it on the first few ones until we reached a place where the Manangs just did their laundry. Seriously, it wasn't a joke. Their laundry did this:

Which in turn, stuck our jeepney.
The driver tried and tried but the tires kept on slipping. Every men helped, even the locals, to somehow push and pull the jeepney upwards but no to avail. An hour passed by. It was already past lunch time and everyone's getting frustrated. It was decided that the driver will find an alternate route while we walk towards the Ranger Station to waste no time. He'll just meet us on the road. Wow, a trek prior to the main trek. It was maybe due to the chilly weather that no one ever complained with this. We walked and walked unguided and when we got tired, we stopped over a store to buy some refreshments. 

Some local kids still know how to have fun on the streets.
More or less an hour after, our ride came then finally we reached the Ranger Station. We quickly had our lunch as we were way behind our schedule. Porters were readily available for only 250 Pesos per way for a maximum of 25-kilo bag. Trying to save 500 pesos, me and my husband agreed to hire just one porter. He carried my bag while his bag was carried for him. We were advised to secure our bags with garbage bags as protection because it seemed like it's gonna rain. I proudly presented my bag's feature. It has a built-in rain cover. Oh what a genius bag! Their bags looked ugly with black bags around them while mine looked comfy with it's own yellow cover. We were not even starting with the trek yet when the rain poured so hard on us. No worries as we had raincoats and ponchos.

Yes my raincoat protected me from the rain but it didn't stop me from freezing. It was very cold that I can't even feel my extremities! I think my hand froze and locked itself on my walking stick while my feet were all soaked up in mud and water. It was not enjoyable at all! No one was talking with no one. We were walking as if our bodies just turned their auto-pilot mode on. I was in a cycle of sadness, exhaustion, frustration, anger and even self-pity. The rain didn't stop as we trekked. It took us more or less 3 hours before reaching the camping site. 

That's the Campsite 2. We were on the Campsite 2 - Extension.
Rain turned to thick fog as we were starting to pitch our tent. We quickly settled ourselves as the sun started to set already. The chill became unbearable especially with my wet clothes as my old raincoat leaked. I was really unhappy at that point. I started unpacking to ready my sleeping clothes. We were told the nights in Pulag drop to dangerously low temperatures so layering is very very advisable. I was in utter shock upon seeing my things. ALL MY CLOTHES WERE WET. The friggin' rain cover I was boasting about failed me. Good thing my electronics were secured in a ziplock. But how can I even survive the night with this.. gahhh, I really really wanted to teleport myself back to my warm and comfy bed at home. Since that's remotely possible, I just had to wear my husband's sweater layered it with my furry vest. I had to ignore its wet patch as I prayed for it to dry out through out the night. I only had 2 layers on. For a person like me who can't even sleep sound on air-conditioned rooms due to coldness, that is a serious problem. For my legs, I only had a wet and very thin jeggings (almost like a stocking kind of thin), then I layered it with my husband's arm socks. I had a bonnet, I borrowed a scarf and some wet gloves and socks. That's about it. I'm in an almost single and wet layer. I thought I was going to die with hypothermia. If you think I'm over reacting, I might be, lol. I was really exhausted and disappointed and not to mention, freezing that everything seemed so magnified. 

I just prayed and prayed for the night to already end. I closed my eyes and faked a sleep until I had one. In the middle of the night, I woke up. The wind was strong and there was a piter-patering sound on our tents. Ahhhh I thought it couldn't get any worse, I was wrong. The sounds grew louder and louder. Hard winds gushed deforming the top of our tent. It was so cold that the inside of our tents started to moist. Soon, the mists turned into drops. It was like rain, dropping on our heads. Our feet were starting to get soaked. The clothes I was trying to dry off were all soaked up too. Temperature dropped to 7 degrees. My defense mechanism? I completely detached myself from the situation. I had to had apathy. This ran several times into my head "If it continued to rain until morning trek going to the summit, I won't even bother going there. This trip is a total waste and I will forget everything about it".

Thankfully, I was able to catch another snooze from that nightmare. I again woke up hearing people from outside goshing about stars. Oh my God, could it be?? Could it be that the sky cleared up for us? I went outside to check. My goodness, it was the most beautiful starry sky I've ever seen. This alone lifted my spirit up. Game! Let's climb that summit!

Just so you know, Mt. Pulag's famous sunrise is its main attraction. It's like the icing on top of the cake of hardships. It's very elusive though. One stroke of bad luck and you'll end up going there for a zero-visibility foggy mountain. 

I was very hopeful this time. It was still dark when we started to trek. I think it was around 4am but I'm not sure. All I know is that the trail is harder this time. It's crazy slippery, muddy, rocky and steep. I didn't not feel any exhaustion from this trek or from last night's. It was a fresh start. I was really really optimistic that we will be able to see the sunrise despite of all the misfortunes that we had. After more than a couple of hours of uphill trek, we reached the peak. Me and my husband made it to the 4th peak, the highest one. We arrived a little early so we had a little breather.

This looks promising! Though there's not much of the "sea of clouds"
One problem though - our friends brought our bottles of water and then we left them on Peak 2. My scumbag brain, knowing we do not have any water with us, convinced my throat that I badly needed to drink. My husband asked this couple if they could share theirs with me. I could have thought twice if I were in their position and a stranger asked me to use my bottle when I know I will be needing it too. They did not hesitate for a second. Applause for my new friends, Ren and Ron, cute names by the way.
Very kind fellow trekkers who shared their water with us without even thinking twice.
They even took our photo for us right before the sunrise.
The sun is starting to peak out, I just felt pure bliss at this point.
Question: What is the best way to erase a whole day and night of hardships?

This would totally hard-reset a person.
This sunrise was just the most majestic thing I've ever seen in my life so far. Its light and warmth basked me with happiness. I gave my husband a big hug for being with me in this wonderful experience. Suddenly everything that we went through all became positive adventures. The flat tire, us being stranded, the rain, the wet clothes and all the frustrations became negligible compared to this. 

Radiance coming from the sun and me :)
Enjoying with the rolling hills on the background
People admiring the sunrise. And oh, look at the beautiful gradient of sky colors.
We were warned that the temperature on the peak will drop even more after the sunrise. I don't know what's the explanation behind that but we just complied. The peak was already a sulit experience anyway.

Trekking down the hills.
We arrived back in the campsite just in time for breakfast. After which, we quickly packed up our bags and go ready to go home. Ahhhh, it was nice to hear the word "home" at this point. 

Our porters. Most of them are on their 50s already, very strong lolas indeed!

Everything seems easy when you're about to get home. The trek, which I cursed over and over in my head the day before seemed really easy-peasy this time. The jeepney ride that we feared was just dozed off. The long bus ride home is nothing but straight 5-hour sleep too. We just got very comfortable knowing that we did what we came to do. This trip won my heart in the adventure department. I know the word EPIC is a little bit over used but I can't think of any other to describe it.