Through mountain climbing, I was able to push myself beyond the bounds of what I thought I was capable of. However, there is a crux that keeps weighing on the back of my mind – so far, all I’ve been able to climb are, in a mountaineer’s parlance, just minor climbs. However, I have already climbed Mt. Pulag via the easier Ambangeg Trail although I barely considered this a major climb. After numerous minor climbs, I am now prepared to up the ante.
While browsing through Facebook, I saw a friend mark “interested” an organized climb to Mt. Damas, a major climb. I immediately checked the mountain’s profile. From the profile, I deemed myself capable of climbing it in spite of its difficulty level. It would be my 13th climb for the year. 13 sounds ominous. Nothing prepared me for what is about to happen when Carl meets Mt. Damas.
I just came from our company outing and I barely had enough rest. This made me a little hesitant on pushing through with my weekend plan. The number of participants for the climb also made me feel apprehensive. But ahead of the climb, my companion and I already agreed that we will climb ahead of the pack, quicker if necessary.
Up until the last minute, I was torn between going or backing out. But I am not about to go against my word. I have already committed to my friend. With a weary body, and a heavy feeling, I pushed myself. I am actually quite excited on doing my first major climb. At least I have something to look forward to.
At 12 midnight, I found myself at McDonald’s Panay Avenue. My pal, Saul, was already there and he introduced me to his friends who he met on his other climbs. Gaining new friends is another facet of mountain climbing that I began to like, and enjoy. Extreme adventures are best shared with friends. At about 1:30 AM, the four vans carrying over 70 participants departed for San Camiling, Tarlac.
I was still feeling languid. Had I the choice, I’d have taken a couple of hours of sleep before climbing, just like what I did during my previous climbs. It was unfortunate that we were cramped in our van which was smaller than the other vans. I was seated in front and the driver was driving quite fast. But my fatigue got the best of me and I was finally able to sleep, even if it was for just a couple of minutes. I was conscious of the van’s speed but I am too tired to complain. Besides, I am already used to daredevils.
At about 4 AM, we finally reached Barangay Papaac where the organizers registered the participants and secured guides for our trek. The barangay captain was welcoming and attended to our needs, from letting us use their comfort room to boiling water for coffee and cooking pancit canton for those who haven’t had breakfast yet. Please note that the pancit canton and coffee are for sale. The organizer advised us to have a heavy breakfast because what we are about to undertake is no joke.
At around 4:30 AM, all participants huddled together for the orientation. After the orientation, the group began the climb. For about an hour, we just followed the road up to the junction. At first, the road was concrete but then turned into a rocky one once we reached the hilly part. We passed by wide expanse of rice fields. This monotony was broken by the slow and dramatic entry of sun over the eastern horizon.
When we reached the junction, we took a left turn to the mountains. The first section of the trail is a downward path covered in grass which was slippery due to the early morning mist. Thankfully, most of us successfully completed the grassland unscathed. When we reached the base, the grassland was replaced by trees and the downward path became more even.
We navigated the trail until we reached what the locals refer to as the “kubo” (nipa hut). The kubo is also the first water source. We rested and waited for the other participants so that we can regroup. After the “kubo”, we are about to enter the river portion of our trek. When the group was complete, we resumed our trek at around 7:30 AM.
To get to the base of Mt. Damas, we followed the winding river for an hour. The river portion is rocky. There are some roped segments on the river which we had to tackle. We proceeded with caution because these sections are slippery and steep. The river crossing actually is one of my biggest apprehensions due to the possibility of flash floods. Thankfully the flow of the river is not voluminous.
When we finally reached the base of Mt. Damas, we rested again for a while before taking on the greatest challenge for the day – the assault to the summit. We were cautioned by one of our organizers who have already climbed it. He said that the climb is composed of five levels of assaults, one of which has an 80-degree incline. There are very few flat surfaces in between these assaults. From the river, we can already glimpse the challenge that lies before us – the first assault was immediately after the river crossing.
The first section of the the assault was steep and difficult. It was a non-stop climb on a 60-degree trail. It is physically demanding because the trail was slippery because of the dry soil. Thankfully, there were trees to hold on to. However, this didn’t last long as the vegetation quickly shifted to a bamboo grassland to purely grassland. This is another challenge because we are left with nothing to cling on to. We literally had to crawl up on the very steep portions. Clinging on the sharp-bladed grasses means a bloodied hand. It did not help that the trail is not well established yet.
As we climbed higher, all my underestimation of the mountain slapped me hard. It feels like a cold bucket of water is being thrown on me. Before taking on this challenge, I totally underestimated Mt. Damas simply because of its height. At 685 MASL, it is shorter than some of the minor climbs I already had like Mt. Batulao and Mt. Maculot. I thought that it would be as easy as these two. But boy was I wrong, really really wrong! The ignoramus in me was nonchalant of the fact that this is a major climb.
As I climbed, rather crawled higher to the summit, I found myself panting and gasping for big breaths of air. I had to catch my breath every two minutes of physical exertion. However, it wasn’t only I who found the trail a challenge. Nearly everyone was having a grandly difficult time. This is undoubtedly the mountain where I have taken the most and longest rests on the way to the summit.
After an hour of extreme assault, we finally reached the second water source. Inevitably, we took a rest because the trail and the heat is draining every bit of energy that we have. I have to admit that in all the mountains I have climbed, this is the very first time that I was really close to giving up. But the inner competitor in me just wouldn’t let me. The others, though palpably struggling were still pushing through in spite of the circumstances. I mustered what is very little energy I have left to reach the summit which is a 10-minute climb from the second water source.
Finally, at around 9:30 AM, four and a half hours since we began our climb, we have finally reached the summit! Except for a few trees dispersed scantily on the area, the summit is really bare. My exposed skin wasn’t prepared for the scorching rays of the early morning sun. Unperturbed by the heat and by our exhaustion, we took the moment to appreciate our surroundings.
When we reached the summit, we can’t all help but paint smiles on our faces. We can barely imagine the difficulty we had to go through just to climb Mt. Damas. The summit offered a wonderful view of the Central Luzon plains with its wide rice fields. The northern, eastern and western views are highlighted by more mountains, some even higher than Mt. Damas. “The best views come after the hardest climb,” is imbibed in this climb. That assault is no joke. I am glad that I pushed myself beyond my capabilities. Otherwise, I’d have missed a lot.
Ironically, I was one of the first six who made it to the summit. The first one to reach the summit is a newbie – this is his mother mountain. He reached the summit 30-minutes ahead of the second group. As this is his first climb, he thought that he needed to wait for the rest before climbing down. Fortunately, he didn’t forget to bring his umbrella. Otherwise, he’d have roasted under the aggressive heat. To the uninitiated, mother mountain is the climber’s first mountain, something that I learned on this trek.
When we’ve all had our fill, we began our descent at around 10:30 AM. Before going down, we took final pictures at the lone tree located before the summit. While we were busy taking pictures on the tree, the other climbers began arriving. When we reached the second water source, we decided to have our lunch. We’re all tired and hungry.
Due to the heat, I have already emptied two bottles of water. I was left with no choice but to drink the water on the water source. I refrained from drinking water from these sources because I have a sensitive stomach. But my throat is already parched and I am no longer sure I’d be able to carry on further with the absence of water. Thankfully, my stomach was able to bare it.
After having our lunch, we proceeded with our descent at around 12 noon. The climb up was difficult but the descent was doubly difficult because it is slippery due to the dry soil granules. I avoided clinging on the grasses because they are really sharp. However, my exposed hands weren’t saved from the sharp grasses. I got numerous cuts. Fortunately I was numb to the pain and I didn’t have a fear of blood. Imagine passing out on a steep descent. I’d have rolled all the way down to the base.
30 minutes after leaving the second water source, we finally reached the base where we are about to begin the second part of our Sunday adventure. Do look out for the second part.