I climbed Mt. Maculot every week last December to lose some inches on my tummy. And because not everyone likes to climb the same mountain over and over again, and because I'm really a loner, I climbed those four times alone.
The Rockies campsite is safe to climb alone. (I can almost hear my few more experienced mountaineering friends disagreeing with me.) The trail is wide and there are no forks aside from one early in the trail, but there’s an arrow pointing to the right direction so I really don't see how anyone could get lost.My first two weeks were bliss. I was literally alone at the campsite aside from a big tuko on the first and a monkey on the second week. I was able to pray (which I do secretly when there are mountaineers around) for the safe climb, lie down on the tables, close my eyes and savor the quiet sounds of wind on the trees and the idea of being alone 300+ meters above sea level.
But was I really alone during those times that I thought I was?
I'm going to fast forward to January 3 because my third and fourth solo climbs on the third and fourth weeks of December were full of happy mountaineers along the trail and at the campsite. They were really friendly, aside from a few shy ones, but I wish I could teach myself how to become a large group type of person.
Going back to that first Thursday of 2013, it was a happy climb for me because after a little more than a year, I was able to climb again with my climb buddy K. He became so busy when he transferred school because he went back to playing the quinta drums and couldn’t find time to climb anymore.
After the holidays, though, he was a little less busy. And even if it was the last mountain we climbed together, we chose Maculot again because (1) I told him I will show him the "dila" part of the Rockies; and (2) we will do the traverse which he hasn't done yet.
I have traversed Maculot in 2010 with Danilo and a kid guide starting from Brgy. Pinagkaisahan to the Rockies down to Brgy. Tico, and I decided to do it the other way around this time. Little did I know that we really couldn’t start at the Brgy. Pinagkaisahan jump off because it is currently closed aside for foreigners. But that's another story.
After taking pictures at the so-called "dila" of the Rockies, K and I set off for the traverse at exactly 9:38 in the morning. K was excited to use for the first time his Casio altimeter watch that his father gifted him with last Christmas.
We occasionally paused to take pictures and/or admire the surroundings. A little over 800 MASL, we again stopped to admire a tree with a bunch of round fruits that looked like grapes. I took a photo of K by the tree and also took pictures of the wet surroundings.
It was raining and oh-so-foggy that day. It was bearable from Brgy. Tico up to the Rockies, but it was wet and muddy after the Rockies campsite onwards.
After taking photos, it’s time to continue walking. “Let’s go,” I told K who was in front of our two-person line. He turned away from me to resume the trek but suddenly turned back again, his gaze searching somewhere behind me.
“May tao sa likod mo,” (Someone’s behind you) he told me in his typical flat tone.
Thinking he meant there were other mountaineers behind us, I turned back as well to search for them at the trail behind. There were none, though, and when I turned back to look at K again, I sensed through his tensed expression that it was something else.
I’m not a mind reader, but the two of us have climbed mountains as a duo long enough to read each other’s thoughts just by the movements of our eyes.
At that point, I was reminded of the “green man” my guide saw was following me during my Mt. Romelo climb, reason why from there, I told K I’ll take the lead (I was the one who knew the trail, anyway). I also knew better than to talk about “what” K saw while we were still in that mountain.
We didn’t stop walking again after that, climbing at least a hundred MASL straight until we reached the summit. We became more quiet, more cautious, and perhaps more aware of what’s around us.
We stopped at the summit for a while. There, we ate our Jollibee cheeseburgers (K is a sucker for burgers, BTW) and took pictures. When my jaw started rattling at 24 degrees centigrade because we were all wet, I decided it’s time to start the descent to Brgy. Pinagkaisahan.
The trail on that other side was as steep as I remembered. However, the rope segments were more difficult going down than how I remembered it going up.
After the second and steeper rope segment before the grotto, we bumped into a Kiwi on his way up. He was being guided by Kuya Jun. I remembered the guide as the one at the registration during my 2010 traverse. He was also the one who gave me the 14-year-old Denver as guide. He remembered me as well and he talked like an old friend, explaining why there was a new fork in the trail near the summit and why they don’t allow mountaineers to start trek at Pinagkaisahan anymore.
I wonder why he gave the mountaineer from New Zealand a special consideration, anyway. And with that, your guess is as good as mine.
The area around the grotto was devoid of trees and the wind was particularly strong. We decided to eat K’s pancit canton there. After taking a lot of pictures, that is.
We completely forgot about what K saw until we were already comfortable eating burgers (again) at McDonald’s in Robinsons Lipa some three hours after.
“Ano’ng nakita mo? Naka-green?” (What did you see? Someone wearing green?) I asked K, thinking it was the same “thing” that followed me in Mt. Romelo on my way to Lansones Falls in 2010.
“Naka-white,” he answered, and I got instant goosebumps upon hearing that.
“Lalaki?” (A man?) I asked again because the one in Romelo was male, but perhaps I was also hoping the Maculot entity wasn’t what I thought it was.
“Babae.” (A Woman.)
I had more goosebumps after that, especially when K said the woman in white was standing to my left but a couple of steps behind.
All K could describe was black hair and white clothes as he said it immediately disappeared when he turned to look at it again.
I believed him, as I’ve also seen “things” like that on several occasions, the last of which was three days before this posting. But again, that’s another story.
Back at home, I told my friend Mylene about the white woman in Mt. Maculot. Mylene was a mountaineer before she married and gave birth. And then she told me a story of her mountaineering buddies hearing marching footsteps and Japanese voices during an overnight at the Rockies campsite.
My Mt. Romelo and Manabu Peak “goosebump-y” experiences coming soon.