I had some trail snacks alone and some guys already passed and overtook me. I listened closer to the lead packs voices and they seemed near and steady. I hadn’t realized I was only a few meters from the summit.
April 19 – Black Saturday
The day began early that Black Saturday morning at Kitanglad peak. We watched the sun rise and the thin clouds that lined the horizon, promising a bright summer’s day. We took our final group photo behind the DENR cabin before finally commencing the traverse to Dulang-dulang.
The trail slopes down into a garden of bonsai and grass at a height enough to cover visiting humans from the scorching sun. We had a surprising dose of assault from the day before and a descending path was a treat for our leg muscles. On the other hand, it was a bane for the foot joints and a real test of balance and expertise of trail walking.
Upon the descend, we were met by this almost vertical wall of dry soil disguised in thick grass. It spans a height of forty meters of loose soil and some foot holds at least. We had to climb down one person at a time but since Jason and I were having an exchange deal of our photos, he stopped half way the descend on a small ledge so we can take photos alternately.
Three more guys went ahead of us at the rope course, Vincent, Christian and James. But by the time we got off the rope, they must’ve gone far off for a good head start. The trail was rolling and evident that we were on the gully bridging the two majestic peaks. It was mostly tall grass and trees grew less frequent. We caught up with the guys minutes later and we stopped altogether for air, both fresh and fag.
Sometime later, the trail diverted from rolling down into rolling up and that was when the trees grew back in and the grass almost gone. The legs muscles had to warm up and work doubly hard again this time. By the time we reached the tree-lined ridge, we stopped to wait for the rest of the team.
After we regrouped and paused for photo ops and catching our breaths, we headed up and decided to trek just a little more before lunch. The forest grew more dense and the trees are taller as we roll softly up. The land was damp evident to the moist surroundings.
An hour later, we stopped on somewhat a wider trail and readied ourselves for lunch. Lunch was breakfast left overs as we didn’t meet our expected meal plan due to the no-meat holiday. There were hotdogs and chicken adobo, with Yukie’s special Korean flavoring. After the meals, Joefil boiled a cup of corn coffee which almost everyone shared sip by sip.
After an hour’s break, we resumed hike and this time the slope was no longer as soft. It steeped up at intervals that our bodies found hard to keep pace with. Energy was draining fast and by that time I was already out of electrolytic drinks. I had to do with water. The rain also started to kick in, and the fog hid the view of the steep face of the mountain that led to the bottom. We hiked for more than an hour more under bearable drizzling, before finally declaring the rain was too thick to battle off. We sheltered under a rock, five of us on the lead pack, while the rest of the team was still far away.
When the rain slowed down, we hiked up again for more than an hour more, no longer minding the cold, or rain or fog that enveloped us. Just as we thought the descending rope course that morning was the last tough deal of the day, we were proven wrong. We had to scramble our way up through what seemed like a vertical creek that could become a waterfall if there were more volume of water. The left steep path was all mud and stuck out roots, and to the right were mossy rocks. The guys ahead of me all took the muddy path and endure the slippery roots while I decided to take the rocks with a little caution to avoid slipping with the moss. I got up quickly with that option but there were more surprises awaiting us. We stumbled on a vertical rock wall, a little less than ten meters tall, and this time it was both muddy and mossy. Nikko and Vincent who were on the lead, installed the rope again despite that there was already a fixed, old, overused line, on it. It was slippery so we had to make sure our grips on both ropes were stable. One by one we got up in great caution.
We were by then probably only minus two hundred meters to the summit. The oxygen already thinned out and the fog still hid most of the surrounding landscape. The forest seemed to grow more fantastical than ever. The moss beautifully wrapped the tree trunks as if sheltering them from the cold and the land was filled with composting leaves and a larger species of bog that seemed to stiffen out even after you’ve walked on them.
The mossy trail seemed like a scene in a fantasy movie!
Minutes later, the summit seemed to be more promising than ever. I was now walking alone after I let them go up first. I was climbing a vertical fallen tree trunk that led me up the trail and that was when the fog cleared out a bit, revealing the tip of Mt. Kitanglad. It was a beautiful scene but I was alone and holding only on roots as both foot and hand holds. That didn’t stop me from taking a selfie.
As the afternoon unfold itself, I grew hungry again and started feeling the painful lining in my tummy. I had to stop for snacks of cookies and chocolate bars while some guys already passed me and went ahead. I then noticed that their voices did not seem so distant and became steady. It was when I realized I was only about twenty meters below the summit. I did the final rock climb and was then greeted by the expanse of bonsai garden at the peak, though still wrapped in thick fog.
Marphy, Yukie, James and Christian were resting at the viewing deck of the summit when I arrived, while Nikko, Vincent and Lotlot were trying to locate our camp site.
I was intrigued by the white cloths tied on some branches of the low trees. A coin would be wrapped in those strips of cloth. I walked on to explore the summit area and found that there were even more of those cloths! The ritual area is said to be the most sacred part of the mountain since it is where the visitors pay to the damages they have caused by visiting the forest. That payment is in the form of the coins wrapped in white cloth and tied on the tree branches. The sign board says “Warning! This is a tribal area. Entry without permit is a violation of RA 8371. – Tribal Forest Patrol” I can’t tell by then if I was breaking the law.
We camped at a depression at the summit, covered in wind breaking trees and floored with soft composting leaves. This time we were able to pitch our tents and hang our hammocks, contrary to Mt. Kitanglad where we had cozy bunks in a cabin. There were around five hammocks, three tents and ground sheets for sleeping out.
The cold was kicking in but I still believe in acclimatization. I changed into t-shirt and pants and tried to battle the cold until it no longer seemed stingy. We started preparing dinner while chatting and passing thin shots of rum to warm us up. The weather was perfect. We were lucky that the rain only lasted in the afternoon. But despite that, it was still pretty cold. I had to put on something to cover my limbs.
Our dinner was menudo and ramen with korean flavoring and dried fish on the side. It was a different kind of spice that would get stuck on our throats and give our digestive tracts superficial heat.
After dinner, we started on our bottles of rum again – at least what was left of the ten bottles we started with, after consuming some at Sitio Intavas and at Mt. Kitanglad. Our friends Sapphire and Denven from the Deaf Trekkers, always amused us as we try to communicate to them in sign language which would later turn out to be charades. We were able to understand long stories just by acting them out and the effect of the rum even doubled the fun.
It was only by then we were able to truly socialize with the rest of the climb team including our porters. Some guys skipped the drinking session though and packed themselves early in their tents.
We were starved out by the rum that Yukie decided to cook the last packs of spicy pancit canton. It was extra hot flavored so I tried only a little. But it wasn’t at all spicy! I kept eating and eating as I was also starving. It was when we were almost done with the pancit canton that Yukie realized he didn’t mix it the artificial flavoring. And that just gave us a good laugh.
It was probably the effect of the rum that Jason, Joefil and I decided to walk out to the viewing deck of the summit and took some photos in the black of the night.
Surprisingly, we finished all the bottles of rum! It was only the last four of us left sitting at our socials’ circle, Yukie, Lotlot, Nikko and I. I don’t how the idea popped in but the only thing I can remember was Nikko boiling something liquid in a pan. It smelled like perfume. Later on, he passed it to us, as though a “tagay” or shots. I tasted it. It was sweet, probably a deception from the smell, and bitter like rum. It was like rum, indeed, except that the scent was disturbing. It was only when I saw an empty bottle of hand sanitizer that I realized what it really was. Suddenly, I started blurting out my college Chemistry stored knowledge. It was funny and nonsensical though to debate scientific facts to drunk people, so we finished the drink before finally deciding to roll into our tents.
Lotlot who didn’t have a tent or hammock, decided to sleep out despite our insisting to put her into one of the tents. It was the long rounds of rum that probably stored the superficial heat into her. She did sleep out with Nikko who sacrificed not sleeping in his hammock to keep her company.
Vincent’s loud alarm went off at around five the morning and everyone got up for sunrise viewing. It was still pretty cold and dark when we positioned ourselves at the viewing ledge that faced the eastern rising sun.
Minutes later, the sun came rising up in a smooth fashion, lighting up the horizon and making visible the sea of thick fluffy clouds that blanketed the landscape. It was one of the most beautiful mornings I have woken up to.
Back at camp, we started on breakfast with our last batch of canned goods and packed off our equipment while still dealing with last night’s hang over. The air was still pretty cold but the sun’s rays were bright and hot, you could dry your used trekking shirts in a few minutes.
Because it was still pretty cold and we were just waiting for breakfast to be served, I decided to go out to the viewing area alone and spend some time for my “soul-searching”. I took some self portraits at first and then decided to just watch the beautiful nature that surrounded me. I heard sharp chirps which I thought at first was a monkey, but later realized it was a tiny green hummingbird fluttering around a small bush just next to me. Three swifts were drifting playfully past me in circular motion, as if playing tag. It was a lovely morning. I couldn’t help but appreciate how rich, how wonderful and how unique our forests are.
I headed back to camp and dried out my moist trekking apparels and later had coffee and breakfast.
Finally it was time to pack things out. We had to put everything back in to our backpacks and readied our team shirts for final photo op at the summit.
It was a lot brighter now than during sunrise and the fog melted away to reveal the breathtaking landscape.
We started hike at ten in the morning. The trail was soft damp leaves and roots but it was all descending in a friendly slope. I ran most of the time to save on the energy and time. I reached the rest of the team about half an hour later at what they called “plaza” which was also an emergency camp.
We left our bags at the plaza as Nikko invited us to a vast bonsai garden where you can view the ridge of Dulang-dulang summit. It was also a tribal ritual place as there were same white cloths around and possibly another Ancestral Domain Boundary Monument.
The trail down to sitio Bul-ogan in Lantapan, Bukidnon, our exit point, was the part we all had our space and pace. Some were running, some were still walking in the park, and we were at great intervals that I seldom saw anyone on the trail.
After passing a sacred river where we last regrouped, we started at our own paces again but got stuck in trail traffic as a big group of porters were hiking up carrying large baggage and equipment. They were followed by a group of local scientist who greeted us. Later another group, this time foreigners also greeted us and introduced themselves. They were biologists from California who came here to study the plants at Dulang-dulang. They were to stay there for at least a week.
We got to the barangay road of Bul-ogan at around 12 noon. We didn’t realize it was still a long way to go to the national road.
I’ve tried running and brisk walking but the road never seemed to end. I even asked one local regarding how far it was from the highway and he said “duol-duol na” or almost there, which was apparently subjective. Locals are used to walking that far because of the lack of transportation (aside from Carabaos) so it seemed near to them.
It took almost an hour that I finally reached the highway. The rest of the group arrived a little later since they made a stop at a store in the community. We were pretty hungry already, that we made do of warm soda.
It was still a long travel to our after-climb socials venue. From Bul-ogan to Valencia and Valencia to Maramag, was a total of two jeepney rides. On the first ride, an old woman inspected our looks and finally talked to us about climbing their mountains. She said Dulang-dulang was a very sacred mountain and they held high respect for it. Women were not allowed to climb if they weren’t wearing skirt. I remembered her mentioning about their babaylan (lady priests) group too. It was an interesting cultural trivia, but she had to alight before she even finished.
We rented the jeepney on our second ride to Maramag. We stopped over at the market to buy tonight’s meal and fortunately they were now selling pork on Easter Sunday. Vincent got a quick semi-bald haircut while waiting for the guys who went to the market. It was already getting late and dark. I grew hungrier and made do with my last chocolate bar.
We finally arrived at MGM resort at seven in the evening and took a dormitory that was just the right for eleven persons (Marphy went home to Davao and Vincent was only staying for dinner).
We surely missed the taste of pork after the chicken, canned goods and noodle fiesta we had at the mountain.
We spent the night at their pool, just until it closes at 10pm, where we were able to wash off the dirt and filth from the climb.
That night we had another round of socials night. That was the night when we heard stories from the guys from Zamboanga, Christian and James, who were both Red Cross volunteers. They shared their first hand stories of the recent war and how they managed to be neutral responders to the casualties.
We also had a notably delectable pulutan of pork joints boiled in veggies. We finished around three long bottles of rum, exchanging stories, and then gave up on the last bottle.
The next morning we had our preservative filled breakfast of canned goods and noodles. Some guys even picked green mangoes from a nearby tree from our dorm and we made a snack out of it.
At nine in the morning, we finally decided it was time to head home. We packed our stuff and bade the dormitory good bye. The sun was up and bright and scorching. We took our final photo before finally leaving the resort.
It was yet another fulfilling experience that goes down to memory lane. The feeling is hard to forget though. It was a real test of strength and endurance which in turn will be repaid by the wonderful scenery that unveiled before us not just momentary but in a string of three days. The friendship and fellowship, above all, was worth keeping and I’m still looking forward to seeing these guys again despite the fact that we are geographically distributed.
Mt. Kitanglad, Philippines fourth highest mountain, and Mt. Dulang-dulang, second highest, are protected areas of forest reserve. I hope that the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, which both of these peaks are a part of, will survive the next decades and centuries in this advancing world, It is in places like these that we are given hope – a sanctuary and assurance that there is something beautiful and hidden right behind your backyard that if only kept away from destruction, brings life and home to multitudes of species of flora and fauna we may not even know about.