Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mt. Pulag the Second Time Around (via Akiki-Ambangeg Route)

Merriam Webster defines the word DIFFICULT as hard to do, make, or carry out. In layman’s term it just simply means hard. For a Filipino mountaineer, Akiki is synonymous to the said word whenever he or she took that route upwards to the summit of Mt. Pulag, which is Luzon's highest mountain. One popular website rated the said trail as 7 out of 9 in terms of difficulty. Thus, it is safe to say that it is a hard climb to the summit. Even though there is an easy trail to the peak of the mountain that is the Ambangeg Route which is also known as the Executive Trail because of its wide pathway and accessible trail, many seasoned mountaineers or hikers opt the alternative route which is known as the killer trail. Most mountaineers who have conquered Mt. Pulag, which stands majestically at 2,922 Meters above Sea Level, via the Ambangeg route, dream to use the Akiki trail when they come back there.

That's where our story starts. Almost a couple of years ago, the author together with his classmates in law school conquered Pulag amidst the non-stop rain and violent winds surrounding the mountain. He reached the summit, unfortunately there was no clearing at the time so he vow to return but will use the traverse trail i.e. Akiki on his next climb there. Alas, after one and a half year since climbing there, he had the opportunity not only to return to Mt. Pulag but also the chance to trek the treacherous Akiki trail. In this sojourn, he accompanied new faces i.e. the Edge Outdoor Group. Actually, he is the new guy in this group because he only has one stint with them during their climb in Mt. Cristobal last month. Even though he provided constant communication problems with them, he eventually made the trip. As expected, he was the last one to arrive in Baguio.


Despite weather forecasts of heavy rain, the group decided to climb Pulag but agreed collectively will use the Ambangeg Route for safety reasons. On their way to Benguet, the weather was perfect. They even had pictures in Ambuklao Dam which was recently reopened last year since it was closed during the 1990 earthquake. Over in DENR station, the group had a change of heart and chose Akiki instead. They secured a guide there. His name is Teddy Aguinse. He was dressed like a regular mountaineer. He was different from the other guides who just wore t-shirts and sandals. He was kind of strict at first because he overheard the author's intention of buying alcohol which was prohibited at the mountain. From DENR, they went to the jump-off point of the Akiki trail which was an hour and a half drive. After the customary picture taking, the group went uphill to the ranger station. It was a difficult assault of around 200 meters due to its cemented surface. They settled the guide fees at the Ranger station, which served as the luncheon area for the hikers. After they had lunch, they prepared for their trek to Eddet River wherein they will settle camp. Moments before they leave, the rain made a heavy downfall. In an instant, they were looked trapped inside the station where all doors and windows were locked and closed. Minutes later, the rain started to subside. It was a sign that they start their journey. Indeed they did. And so the eight of them (Sir Jhun, his brother Zandro, Sir Geoff, Ma'am Ana, her sister Ma'am Lorna, Sir Dennis, Shane, and the author) commenced their adventure that supposedly would not happen. 
Eddet River

They passed by in a school just above the ranger station. They saw the Castle Mountaineers there where they settled for their lunch. It was a long trek. Really, it was. After climbing a hill, they have to go down and push forward to another one before reaching the river. One cannot deny the presence of Mother Nature. There were trees as huge as the skyscrapers in the metropolis. Of course there was lots of grass between the established trails. Then there were the cows that were busy doing their business. Although it was raining, it was fortunate to see those marvelous things in the landscape beside Mt. Pulag. Few hours have passed and after a lot of upward-downward trekking, the group had reached the Eddet River. As if intended by the grand design, heavy rain fell down before they start to pitch their tents. And so, a classic Bayanihan was inspired. As instructed by Teddy, some held the ground sheet upwards to cover the tent from the rain. Pitching the tent is not difficult but given the extreme circumstances, it was not easy either. However, five tents were set up in just minutes led by Ma'am Ana, which according to her was her first time. It was an amazing feat. After setting up, all were tired and went inside their respective tents. No session not even dinner were done during the evening because of the rain.


End of Day one

It was still dark when their eyes started to open. Even though feeling drowzy, they have to wake up early so that they could commence their real journey to Pulag. Because none of them had dinner the night before, everyone was hungry for breakfast. Hence, it was like a feast. Rice, Maling, Daing and Tinapa. The leftovers served as packed lunch later in the morning. It was still twilight when they broke camp and proceed to their trek. Most of them had run out of water so they have to gather some from the river. However to cross the river, one should use a bridge made of steel which is hanging from each side of the river. Obviously it is dubbed as the Hanging Bridge. Again, customary pictorials arose near the bridge. Then comes the assault. The pathway is steep. One has to burst energy to every step he takes. The assault was like a zigzag route. You turned right and then you will turn left and vice versa. Way up to Marlboro country boast scenic views like the neighboring mountains of Pulag. Moreover, trees were all over the place aside from the chirping of the birds. This is when the group was broke into two. 


Shane, Zandro, and Jhun together with Teddy were on the fore front while Anna, Geoff, Dennis, Lorna and the author (who served as the sweeper) were in the tail end. The pace of the former was normal while the latter was not so due to constant photo-ops(mostly of the author). In one long break, the five noticed that the others were already far away from them. Grievances such as Teddy were just guiding three people instead of eight. In an instant, warm heads prevailed on a cool weather. Then as if planned; Teddy appeared like a mushroom from out nowhere.

He was blasted from all directed by the two siblings. Imagine a guy being shot by an AK-47 them shot again by a Glock-9 pistol. Yes. It was murder. Although is sounded a brutal beating or bashing which depends on your interpretation, the two were still on the side of the fence meaning they argued with reason. Nonetheless, it was too much for Teddy who was not able to defend him due to the non-stop onslaught of the two. In fairness to him, he acknowledges his faults although it seems that he just surrendered from the unlimited bashings he obtained from the two. As penance perhaps, he volunteered to carry one of their bags.
Aside from the hot tempers, the sun started to make it presence felt. Fortunately, they were all in the E-camp that protected them from the sun. While the men were topless because they put their wet things under the sun to let it dry, the others were savoring their long awaited breathers. Minutes have passed when they decided to move forward to Marlboro Country which serves as place to eat their lunch. On their way there, the sun was already scorching but thanks to the huge trees surrounding the trail, they were shielded from the heat. Nevertheless, going upwards is still a struggle due to the loads they were carrying as if they were like the cross burdened by Christ. That is when a sort of entertainment arose just before they reached their target site. The two sisters agreed to take turns of carrying the bag. They collectively decided to take turns every thirty minutes. Of course being the younger of the two, Ma'am Ana was the first to carry the bag. At first the idea sounded good but when minutes before the arrange time, the eldest sister was already far from her so she cannot take her turn. Intentionally or not, she took her bag moments after the agreed time but when it transpired, they were minutes away from the camp. It took another couple of hours before they arrive. A bunch of mountaineers were already there. Some were resting while others were already preparing for their ascend to the saddle camp. Because their lunches were already packed, it took them only less than an hour in the said camp.

The afternoon was the exact opposite of the morning. It means that while the sun was there to witness their struggles during the morning, it was absent in the afternoon because rain took over in penalizing these poor souls. Even though they were inside the mossy forest that is also covered by a bunch of huge trees, they still cannot escape the wrath of the rain. Rain drops were falling inside and out of the forest, which somewhat transformed into a maze because it was so long and tiring. It seemed that it was endless that it will have any exit to the grasslands. The forest is quite beautiful but because of the rain, it was hard to notice. Beauty was blocked by the beast. No one can appreciate it because the minds were already set of overcoming the rain by moving out of the forest.

It was still raining, when they finally reached the grasslands. This time, another obstacle has to overcome and yet another pain to endure, the water flowing in the trail. Some paths were already flooded but had no choice but to step on it. As a result, water entered the shoes. Thus, the socks and feet were wet. Hunger also became a factor. Due to fatigue, food really became a necessity. A pair of cloud 9 bars and a piece of flat tops were the only ones available but it was enough for the final stretch to the saddle camp. It was about half a day when they could hear the sounds of the hikers who were already in the saddle camp. Then there was a SWOOSH. No, it was no Michael Jordan jump shot. It was Ma'am Ana's signature move whenever she nears the destination. And then finally after twelve hours of journey to the land above the clouds, they arrive to their to the saddle camp. Upon reaching, they respectively put up their tents simultaneously. Just like the other day, the night seemed to be fast because of fatigue and the unfriendly rain.

Later that evening, the rain had died down. It was replaced by a magnificent show in the sky. It was perfect for stargazers or astrologers. In fact, a shooting star appeared out of nowhere. The stars were so splendid that one cannot see it in the metropolis due to the pollution being made every day. It was one memorable moment that can only be trumped by the sea of clouds in the morning.

End of Day Two


What promises to be a perfect weather in the morning was shattered into pieces by the rain and the fog it created. No clearing in the summit is the only clear message when they woke up. Better luck next time. It was like the mountain played the mountaineers as if it was just a little kid making pranks to his elders. Bitter. Perhaps. Painful. Extremely yes. Sad. A big no. Despite the fact that none of them had the chance to see the clouds froming like an ocean just below the summit, the experience going up there is always be treasured. It was one of a kind experience for mountaineers, either seasoned or novice. It is a kind of fulfillment in climbing this mountain that one had to endure physical and mental challenges in using the Akiki trail. In fact, some were teary eyed when they reached the top. Remember, in life you have to climb the mountain before you reach the top. Literally, they had done it and were successful in doing it.

Enough of the drama. Going down is now easier because of the Ambangeg route. However, it is still long because again the mountain is so high that it stretched the whole Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA). It's the third day already but the bags are still heavy but not as the same weight before. Still it was a burden to carry. In fact, a hiker almost fell on his way down from the summit because of the loaded bag he carried. It was kind of scary because it was face first. His two female companions just stared at him. Sir Zandro gladly helped him who survived the ordeal with minor bruises on his hand. It was quite envious because he got a souvenir from the mountain. Kidding aside, easy or difficult there is nothing wrong in taking precaution because one's life is the exchange here and it is indeed a serious matter.

Fortunately, there were no winds like the last time the author went there. Only muds produced by the rain were visible in the trail. In every step, there was mud. But it was kind of helpful for the mountaineers because it prevented the path to be slippery. As proof, there were no incidents of slides made by any member of the group. It's probably a record. Still. A long way ahead. They just reached the camp 2 site where they prepared their lunch. All remaining canned goods were opened. The remaining rice was cooked. And the surviving daing were finally eaten.

Going down was like a walk in the park but it did not felt like that because of fatigue. All were set of reaching the ranger station. The route is really easy because of its wide path. There were no difficult trails other than a 400 meter surge from camp 1. After that it was just a long trek to the Ranger Station. And after six hours of trekking, they arrived safely and unharmed. After what have transpired and happened in three days in the mountain, the aftermath of surviving the treacherous Akiki-Ambangeg route is Hope. Hoping that someday will return with a new quest in mind. Hoping it will be gracious of experiencing the sea of clouds every mountaineer had dreamt of. Hoping that the magnificent Pulag will always remain magnificent. Hoping next time that it will not play games anymore to its visitors. Hoping for another safe adventure in this mountain.

The End

(Author's Note: Acknowledges the great organizing skills of Ma'am Ana who had done a splendid job in organizing this climb.And Thanks to Brods Geoff and Jhun for assisting me in evey step of the way. Also to Sir Zandro for providing me the pacing I needed during the darkest hour of my climb. Moreover, Sir Dennis and Ma'am Lorna, thank you for sharing me your sheet in covering my tent so that I have a relaxing sleep. And to Shane for supplying the Daing who served my dinner in the saddle camp. Of course thank you all for sharing this experience with me. 'til next time!)

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