Mad Pilgrimage

Imagine yourself standing on the summit of every Philippine mountain (hand on heart), that would really be awesome!. But I really don’t have that as a goal (not right now) but just thinking about it makes my heart beat faster. A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot, said a famous inspirational speaker Joe, sounds true.

This year I’ve met lots of people, people with different beliefs, different mindset and different professions. I’ve got to experience hardships with strangers, share a common goal, eat the same meal, see the same landscape and feel the same emotions. Climbing mountains gives you those precious memories and more. So let’s backtrack to the year that had swiftly passed (almost).

BATAD

Majestic rice terraces, Tappiyah waterfalls and   Bul'lul.
Majestic rice terraces, Tappiyah waterfalls and Bul’lul.

I had been lucky to have spent my childhood in this mountainous part of the region, to have woken up each day to see a masterpiece, the rice terraces. It embodies the beliefs, hopes and dreams of the ancients. It brings back memories of being mesmerized as the stalk of rice dances with the afternoon breeze, a ripened grain glinting against the morning sun, images of aunts and uncles bent to plant and the hudhud (a story in a form of chant) of the elders. Those are fading away as modernization creep its way within the mountains of the Cordilerra’s, changing the ways of the old. Yet before all this disappears, I start in my pilgrimage of re-discovering the beauty of its waterfalls, the rice terraces and the Cordillera Mountains. My 28 begins.

Trail Difficulty: 3/10

PICO DE LORO

Iconic Monolith and a view of the sunset atop the summit
Iconic Monolith and a view of the sunset atop the summit

Best described as an unexpected beauty and experience, just like meeting someone you’ve never had any expectations of and you end up being mesmerized. The trail itself is easy for seasoned mountaineers but for beginners it can be tough, it derived it’s name from its shape, a parrot’s peak. Seen from afar one could also see a dog sleeping on its back. Or was it just me and my twisted imagination?

Thankful for the cool breeze from the sea as you reach the summit which envelopes you like a velvet glove, you’ll want to spread your arms and feel the wind.

But what really fuels the adrenaline rush is the heart-pumping climb of the Monolith. It offers a little rock climbing and bouldering but to be able to set foot on that swat of flat on top could be rewarding. As you look beyond the horizon at the setting sun and the cauliflower-like tops of trees below, you are glad you are alive.

Trail Difficulty: 3/10

MT. PULAG

My first
Epitome of a sunrise and grassland

It would be my third summit on the same trail and each year I saw drastic changes both at the jump-off and the trail. Changes that brought both comfort and discomfort. A part of me wanted it all to stay the same, it gives off feelings of nostalgia. To see the beautiful flower bloom each year, the place where it usually grows had been trampled by hundreds of climber’s feet. The aphorism that change is the only permanent thing holds true but I wish the change can be regulated. Maybe in the next few years, a sophisticated toilet complete with bidet would appear on camp 2 in exchange of the dug out where you need to crinkle your nose before you can take a dump.

I climbed this year with officemates and high school friends. We went through the Ambangeg (executive) trail, the cold night, experienced the grassland, reached the summit together and was amazed by the sunrise. The sunrise and the sea of clouds as one sees from the top of Mt. Pulag – the playground of the gods, is one of the best I’ve seen and maybe always would be. Like how first love occupies a space in our memories.

Bias aside, the sunrise at this particular summit gives off the feeling of hope, the thought that all your dreams can come true and that the future will be as bright as that rising sun. Must be the gods praying.

Trail Difficulty: 6/10

MT. APO

Shrouded with fog, standing high and proud, the Mt. Apo
Shrouded with fog, standing high and proud, the Mt. Apo

It would be a climb that would be my most memorable one for so many reasons. I have already covered that in one of my blogs for Extreme Outdoor Club. To read my full account of the Mt. Apo climb, find it here.

Dubbed as the highest in all of the Philippines, climbing the Grandfather of all mountains is a dream come true and the journey to the summit and back was a roller-coaster ride. But one thing is sure, Apo gave me a wonderful gift.

Trail Difficulty: 8/10

MT. BALINGKILAT

August mist hidding the summit
August mist hidding the summit

After Mt. Apo I thought that no other trail would be difficult and arduous but my experience of this mountain was an eye opener. Every trail poses a different challenge and that no trail is the same. For some mountaineers, their experience of the mountain would be a hot, scorching sun bearing down their heads on a summer but ours was gusts of wind on our faces, rain battering the exposed skin, tents giving way to nature, the knee buckling descent and an extremely long night. I had to wish my angel was there but came morning, the green landscape, a distant waterfall and the sight of the rise and fall of the mountains nearby took my breath away.

Trail Difficulty: 4/10

MT. BATULAO

Symmetry in mountains
Symmetry in mountains

It was an easy breezy day hike, a walk in the park with a great view. The best time to climb the mountain is on a sunny day sometime in August and you’ll get to be rewarded with the beautiful panorama. It got a lot of peaks, peak 10 is supposedly the highest. Eat your packed lunch and you’re ready for the next leg. Bonus for me was I drove around Batangas just to reach the summit. It was indeed an epic adventure. My extra gratitude to those who waited.

Along the way, we’ve met a trail runner, some fellow hikers who entranced us with their suicide and ghost stories of Mt. Cristobal, offered us a drink of gin bilog.

Trail Difficulty: 2/10

MT. MACULOT

Known for the rockies which had claimed a life. A drop would really kill you for sure, lucky if you would even hit the bottom. Life and death for solo, selfie takers on the rockies.

The risk to life is constant in every mountaineer’s life and that somehow adds to the allure of climbing mountains but some organizations like WiSAR trains about rescue and LUCP hosts safety courses. One just needs to sign up.

But risk would always be present even for hard cores. That is why some says climbers are like masochists who pay for the risk of life and limb and for the body aches. It is risking what you hold so precious – your life, in exchange for the feeling of euphoria, mastering yourself, your fears, discovering your strengths (maybe your weaknesses too) and broadening your views. While you look at the wide landscape, you may also realize you are just a dot in the universe finding your own niche’, a person wanting to be successful, a soul hungry for love or just a twisted being looking for adventure.

Trail Difficulty: 3/10

Beyond the rockies
Beyond the rockies

MT. DARAITAN

Friendship climb
Friendship climb

The river is clean as we took the boat, fear of falling into the water one has to sit which we did but some had more courage and remained standing. What the heck, a dip on that clear water would be rewarding.

The climb was pure bliss, full of laughter and stories and that was how I pictured my last climb for the year. We weren’t able to experience the joy of river trekking which most blogs boast about but reconnecting with friends, meeting new ones from a rival company and experiencing night trek was precious in itself. Even the lome from a local eating place was a delight.

Trail Difficulty: 3/10

Oftentimes while in the middle of a climb this thoughts assail me

What am I doing here? I should be in bed watching Running Man or some other TV shows or curled in bed reading a book or enjoying a movie at the cinema or strolling at the mall .

But love smitten as I am, I continue to take the step towards that summit, may that be shrouded in mist or basking in the morning sun.

My mad pilgrimage for the year ends while I look forward to the offerings of the coming year.

I look back and acknowledge that mountaineering taught me a lot about myself, I gained friends, I’ve rediscovered my love for nature, I experienced new things that became precious memories, I met people worth having in my life and I recieved some precious gifts worth keeping.

My gratitude to those who invited and believed in me. See you on a different trail next year.

Disclaimer: Trail difficulties are as percieved and experienced by the author.

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