Scaling the country's third highest mountain is part of my ultimate bucket list. I conjured up a couple of distinct scenes in my head-- jumping above the sea of clouds, roasting marshmallows over a bonfire, and rolling down the orange grassland. But alas, the real scene was poles apart from what I imagined. Different yet still dream-like.
To get here, all 2922 meters above sea level, required a painful amount of endurance, patience, and enough sore-inducing-to-the-butt experience. A six-hour bus ride from Cubao to Baguio + three-hour zigzagging jeepney ride from Baguio to DENR + another one-hour wild rough jeepney ride to Ranger Station.
The journey to the Ranger Station was like an endless crusade. From the cool mountains of Baguio, the steep ascent towards the starting point took us to more breathtaking views, more pine trees and colder temperature. I couldn't help but think, "Can the view up there get any better than this?"
Local folks welcomed us at the Ranger Station. Their houses, from roof down to the walls, were made of galvanized iron sheets. I can't help but notice groups of cute chinky-eyed kids playing around their houses.
Porters, made up of local men and women, were on standby for their regular clientele.
Travel Factor, our adventure tour group, prepared us heavy lunch at the Ranger Station. After carboloading, we finally started our climb. It was about 15 degrees Celsius, but after kilometers of walking, you could feel yourself perspiring.
The trail was beautiful, with lots of greeneries around. From small budding flowers and mossy trees to lovely terraces and tall pine trees, the route up was not boring at all.
The track was perfect for beginners and frustrated mountaineers like me-- wide, not technical and not too slippery.
There were occasional drizzles that left the trail muddy, but it was still an easy hike. A total of 1 hour and 51 minutes (excluding a 15-minute break), and we were already at the campsite. Locals say that they could reach the site in 1 hour! Take note that most of them don't use trail shoes. They leisurely "walk" with their reliable slippers!
The campsite was a shocking site! Plenty of tents were scattered all over the place, as if there's an on-going feast at the camp.
It was my first time to camp so I was quite excited to sleep like an Eskimo, tucked inside my brand-new sleeping bag. I was already inside our tent before 7 in the evening, trying to beauty sleep for the next day's 3AM wake up call. I expected insomnia, together with the 8 degrees Celsius temperature, to bug me for the rest of the night. Stories of Pulag nightmares like hypothermia and insomnia weren't comforting at all. But after counting a hundred, I found myself dreaming lala-land. I woke up again, thinking that it was already 3AM, but I was shocked to read 9:30 on my clock. My sleep already felt too looonnnng so then, I agreed that nights in Pulag are indeed the longest. The hours after were terribly dragging. I could hear too many sounds of people around us, including a five-year old girl wailing the night away. The orchestra of snores, and medley of laughters weren't helpful at all. I woke up at 2:30AM and prepared for our trek to the summit.
It was my first time to hike while the skies were still pitch black. It was chilly to the bones, but the gradual ascent to the top kept me warm. It drizzled again, making my camera sleep inside my bag once again. Using my headlamp as my torch, some trails were spine-chilling for an acrophobic like me. Tall grasses lined up the trails. But beyond those tall grasses were slopes leading to "down there." From time to time, I tried to cast light unto these slopes, wanting to see for myself how high we've already crossed. But all I could see was the great abyss.
Finally after hearing my stomach grumble for an hour, we reached the summit. It was about 4:30AM and the much-awaited sunrise won't happen until an hour or so. Idled at the peak, I finally felt the chills. Seven degrees Celsius while waiting was really really challenging to bear. From pitch-black to gray to white, this is the moment every mountaineer hopes for. After more than two hours of settling with fog, we finally accepted that the sun dancing with the sea of clouds wasn't going to perform that day.
I wasn't disappointed at all. With or without the breathtaking sunrise, Pulag (and the journey up and down) is still breathtaking and an altogether memorable experience. Where else can I experience winter season in a tropical country? Where else can I remember that good feeling of being awed again and again?
Where else can I find joys playing Pinoy Henyo while traversing the rough roads?
Where else can I endure taking a bath using ice-cold water? Where else can I forget the imperfect world, and see the greatness of the once-primitive world?
This trip not only made me test my endurance but taught me a great deal of patience. It's appreciating nature, accepting now, and finding another good place in this beautiful beautiful world. And for the first time, thank goodness for my running, I didn't feel any soreness on my muscles days after =)
Someday I will hike Pulag again. And this time, I will imagine a different scene in my head. Sunrise dancing with the sea of clouds? I'll keep my fingers crossed.
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