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Monday, June 25, 2012

Gulag-like Coldness of Mount Pulag


I woke up in the middle of the night shivering from the cold. I can see my feet covered with my gray socks, but I could not feel it, but its shaking like a live turd out of water. I ask myself what I am doing here, as thoughts of sleeping soundly on my warm bed at home buzzed my head. As the temperature hovers around from 10 to 6 degrees Celsius, every minute becomes colder. It was a moment which I questioned my desire to be there, which expectedly lasted for only a minute. 

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I was beaming with anticipation when a friend of mine pitched the idea of hiking to Mount Pulag a month prior. I used to go mountain climbing as a member of the UST Mountaineering Club in college. I’ve been to really impressive peaks such as Mount Banahaw in Quezon province and a few others located in Luzon. Mount Pulag though, is different than the rest as attested by climbers who have been there.

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I would have been able to scale Pulag before if not for some varying reasons that rendered me unable to join my organization’s previous incursions there. Soon I lost my top notch physical condition and totally forgot about hiking. My friend Christine planned for us to take the easier route, the “Ambangeg” trail to the peak. It consists of only a three to four hour hike to camp 2 and from there it only takes another hour to the top. Along with the ultra magnificent hot mum Gaye and her hubby Sherv, Izah, Joseph, Master Erick and Olay we arrived at the Victory Liner Terminal in Baguio at around 2am - 12 hours later we will reach camp 2 of Mount Pulag.

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It was a perfect plan to slowly get my body to adjust for the required strenuous activity of mountain climbing. Mount Pulag stands 9,587 feet above sea level and the third highest peak in the Philippines (tallest in Luzon). It is considered as a National Park and managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The area of the mountain encompasses the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya.

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It's high altitude and a rain that predominates every year make it as among the coldest and wettest mountain in the country. Aside from hosting ever increasing climbers all year round, the mountain also serves as a home to the four "Cloud Rat" species that are only found in the Philippines. More than 520 documented species of plants, wildlife, bird species and the Philippine Deer are found on this mountain range.

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with Gaye Emami of  http://www.pinaytraveljunkie.com/  and Sherv
Climbers at Mount Pulag must visit the DENR office first for a 20 minute briefing about what to do and what not to do in the mountain. In there we were informed about the eco-diversity of the mountain and were further reminded to leave nothing but footprints and practice low impact hiking and camping as much as possible.

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with our guide, teacher Ditas :)
We started our hike from the jump-off at Badabak Ranger Station at around 11am and had few five-minute rests in between. Part of the tourism program at Mount Pulag is the empowerment of the locals in safe guarding the mountain, thus the necessary hiring of a tour guide. Ours is named Ditas, she is an upcoming graduating student at the University of Baguio taking up an Education Degree Major in English. She grew up at the foothills of Mount Pulag and has scaled the peak more than fifty times since she was a kid. Now, she serves as tour guide every summer and semester break to help her finance her education allowance.

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We were informed that there were around 300 registered climbers that weekend. True to it, we met a few climbers along the trail and more people at Camp 2 when we arrived at around 2pm. The scene quickly reminded me of a post zombie viral event, in which hordes of people are escaping to the mountains to avoid the city zombies. Quite an eerie scene, especially with the thick fog slowly overcoming the whole camp and visibility is reduced to a few meters. We quickly pitched our tents worried that it might rain anytime. We hurriedly prepared our late lunch consisting of tuna, bacon, sausages and noodles, pretending its gourmet food prepared by Chef Boy Logro. Due to fatigue and our lack of sleep the previous night, we skipped the traditional “socials” and went lights off before 6pm. In short, we went "galit-galit" mode throughout the rest of the night as each fought off the cold in their respective tents. Without any alarm clock, one by one we woke up in succession at around 4:00 am, just in time to make our peak assault and to catch the sunrise which is beckoning in cold blood that very chilly morning.

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As I struggle to move under pitch black darkness inside my tent I thought about going to the makeshift comfort room located about 50 meters from our camp. As I slowly unzipped my tent, my hand almost froze instantly as it felt the even colder weather outside. I hurriedly went back and tried to sleep wondering why I went in the first place. I dismissed that moment as an aberration a few hours later when standing at the peak of Mount Pulag and staring at the sunset over a sea of clouds and the rolling peaks of its neighboring mountains. I had the most beautiful sight staring back at me. How could one regret their decision to climb Mount Pulag? It’s hardly unthinkable to even fathom of not going to this kind of place. 

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The grassy saddle leading to the peak is in stark contrast to the forested trail leading to Camp 2. From the horizon you could see the lines of people climbing up, it forms a zigzagging line like colorful ants from the distance. Flashes from the cameras illuminates rapidly from the peak and almost all are looking in one direction, towards the golden crest sky and the fiery red sun slowly rising over the highlands.

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We stayed there for an hour taking photographs and just rested seated at the soft bush of the grass. I stretched both of my feet and laid down the palm of my hands at my back, looking at the rising sun breathing cold wind while clearing my mind of unwarranted debris. I think the mountains and myself has chanced upon each other again and this time my love of hiking her has been rekindled when I found out that Mount Pulag - as crowded as her thoughts can be, is everything what everybody have told me about. 

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