I love traveling alone, even climbing mountains with just a guide, but I know there are some places I cannot go to alone for two reasons – it's so remote it's not safe to go alone; and it would cost me a fortune if I don't go with a group.
Mt. Pulag in Benguet, Luzon's highest peak, is one of those places. That's why I felt so lucky when the MLQU Stallions Outdoor Club invited me to join them for their Mt. Pulag climb.
It was originally planned for December 2010, but because of the cold weather, it was moved numerous times until it became February 18-20, 2011.
I don't really have the gears, much more for a high-altitude climb. I have a tent, a backpack, some dri-fits, a pair of trekking pants... but nothing to keep me from the extreme cold.
Good thing my sister has a lot of jackets and cold weather stuff that fit me. I borrowed two pairs of pants and two windbreakers to add to my fleece jacket.
I also bought a Trekker sleeping bag (which was useless in the 12°C temperature) and a camping stove from Rebel Grafix Printshop at the Atrium Mall in Gil Puyat.
I thought the sleeping bag would do but I was wrong. It doesn't have synthetic fill the reason why it packs so small. And I always prefer smaller stuff when traveling, but then I should've known better. This sleeping bag just won't do on extreme weather. it's just like having kumot wrapped over you.
The team met at the MLQU grounds 10 PM of February 18, 2011. K and I were a little late cuz we failed to catch the last trip of the LRT. We took a cab but the traffic in Taft Avenue was so heavy that time. It was Friday night.
The Victory Liner ride to Baguio was pleasant. I was mindful to hand carry my jacket this time. I learned my lesson during my Anawangin trip last November (also with the MSOC) when I forgot to take my jacket from my rucksack which was put underneath the bus. It was so cold that I had a cold when we were dropped off.
We arrived at the Victory Liner terminal in Baguio around 4 AM. A jeepney that would take us all the way to the Ranger Station was already waiting. A short stop at the public market to buy supplements also allowed us to roam around the area in semi-darkness. We even saw some PMAers jogging around near Chowking.
It day went on slowly after that. It was an endless jeepney ride before we reached this bunch of karinderia along the road that caters to hikers wanting to dine, use the bathroom, or sing karaoke. A lot of the same big jeepneys were already parked when we arrived.
Me and the kids (read: MSOC's Oscar Batch) just had free coffee cuz we're still full from the pandesal and freshly-cooked peanut butter we had in the jeep.
After that stop, it's already safe to topload. Not safe because the road is smoother, but safe because we're already out of "civilization" and no police would mind a bunch of kids(?) riding on top of the jeep. It was so fun it was actually my idea because I read it somewhere that you should topload to better experience the sceneries of Benguet.
The orientation at the DENR Mt. Pulag Park Office with the park superintendent was so much fun. She was so intellectually funny everyone couldn't stop laughing. She was brisk, straight to the point, and speaks with such a manly firmness in her voice. I was just shy to camcord the whole thing because I didn't wanna get noticed and give her the chance to draw everyone's attention to me. Haha! But here's a shorty from the orientation (just so you'd see how she looks).
After the orientation, we toploaded the jeep again to go to the Ranger Station. The road was so rough and dust were all over the place. I was glad I was on the roof. Dust is more manageable in open air than inside a vehicle.
We reached the Ranger Station by noon and stayed there until about 3:30 PM. Others were able to sleep, while I could only fall asleep in my own house. I should really learn the art of sleeping on public vehicles while traveling, and while sitting on chairs and the likes. I honestly envy those who could.
It was almost dark when we arrived at camp site 2. And once I stopped walking, I immediately felt the cold seeping inside my jacket. K and Ramel, who's using a four-person tent, invited me to just join them instead of pitching my own four-person just for me. But my own tent was still put to good use for there were some who didn't have a tent to use (hello Sir Julius and Sir Aldwyn).
Anyway, it was a tiring day. We couldn't wait for dinner to get ready so we just cooked noodles using my stove. The rest of the kids followed.
As night got deeper, the cold became more unbearable. I had on with me five items of clothing – a Nike dri-fit, a long-sleeved Tommy Hilfiger cotton shirt, a Bench fleece jacket, plus the Lionsdale and Fila jackets I borrowed from my sister. Well, to add to that, I also had on a pair of leggings, the Lionsdale and Fila terno pants, and my Lagalag trekking pants. Syempre there's also the pair of socks, two scarves, and a bonnet. Whew!
But despite those layers of clothing, and curling inside the Trekker sleeping bag, the cold of Mt. Pulag was still making itself felt. It was hard to breathe as you really feel the freezing air going down to your lungs. And since I really couldn't sleep outside the confines of my own home, I just closed my eyes and counted sheep. No really, I just listened to the quiet of the Mt. Pulag night, and the ramblings of one drunk camper not far from our tent. But no, the drunk man wasn't part of our team. Hey, we didn't even bring a single bottle of wine. It could have kept us a little warmer, no?
They woke the Oscar batch up around midnight. It was their graduation climb. And the members did some more deliberation before the kids could finally be a member.
What the kids went through was beyond my knowledge, by the way. They didn't allow me to watch the deliberation in Anawangin last November, and I didn't try my luck that night in Mt. Pulag. I just knew I wouldn't be allowed to watch even if I begged on my knees.
K and Ramel returned to our tent an hour or so after, hungry. We again cooked noodles and Milo and Ramel got the left-over food from the kusina. LoL!
Everyone was called for assembly around 4 AM. It was time for the assault to the summit. Mt. Pulag first timers, myself included, were all excited to witness the famous sea of clouds – a sight described as the most breathtaking in Philippine mountaineering.
It was a little more than an hour of walking before reaching the summit. But once there, one is rewarded with the most beautiful sunrise. It was just hard to take sunrise pictures using a point-and-shoot camera. And it was one of those times I wish I had even the cheapest DSLR.
We were back at the campsite around 8 AM, and it was getting hot. It was time to pack-up after having breakfast. I could imagine how hot it could be at the grassland in the middle of the day.
We were back at the Ranger station by lunch time and back on the road to Baguio City by mid-afternoon. It was already dark when we reached the Victory Liner bus station. Too bad we weren't able to roam around the landmarks of the city. K and I were able to have a Jollibee dinner at SM Baguio, though. We were lucky that the locals we asked directions from said the mall was just near the Victory Liner station. The other kids weren't able to see SM Baguio because they were told it's too far. They ended up having dinner at a karinderia near the station. But I was told the food was cheap, which could have been a good thing sana.