For the first time since I climbed mountains four weekends in a row earlier this year, I will be doing another back-to-back climb. The week before, I climbed Mt. Damas, which is my first major hike. On this hike, I met Merzon Pagaling a fellow mountaineering enthusiast who also happens to be a hiking organizer. Moreover, it did help that he is an Ilocano.
Through Merzon, I learned that his group, TP Mountaineers, has organized a climb to Mt. Daraitan the week after our Mt. Damas hike. Located in (surprise, surprise) Tanay, Rizal, Mt. Daraitan, although it has been open for quite sometime, has created quite a reputation as a premier mountaineering destination within the proximity of Metro Manila. It is advisable for both amateurs and seasoned mountaineering enthusiasts alike.
My friend once invited me a few years aback but I wasn’t able to go because mountain climbing didn’t interest me than. However, I was left ruing my chances when I saw the pictures they took. Naturally, Mt. Daraitan landed on my must-climb list. For months, my friends and I have been planning to climb Mt. Daraitan but our schedules never seem to align. Having had enough of the excuses, I decided to climb sans my friends.
And so begins yet another weekend adventure on the mountains.
As what has been the norm for my weekend adventures, the call time is quite early. Thankfully, the meeting place is quite near from where I live which ensured that, unlike my climb the week before, I will have ample rest before taking on yet another adventure.
1 AM. Some people are just about to head home and have a good night sleep but here I am, full of zest and anticipation for the new adventure that is ahead of me. Although I began feeling giddy when my reality is beginning to dawn on me – I am climbing with a group where I barely know anyone. I might feel dejected even before the climb. However, I cast away all my worries and fears when I met the group I am climbing with. Everyone seems amiable.
At around 1:30 AM, we left Greenfield district for Barangay Daraitan in Tanay, Rizal. This will be my third trip to Tanay this year after my Mt. Maynoba/Cayabu and Mt. Masungki treks. The first part of the trip was smooth but as we came closer to Barangay Daraitan, the smooth road was replaced by a rough one. We reached our destination at around 4 AM shaken but unscathed.
The morning breeze slowly woke up our drowsy spirits while the area began coming alive as weekend climbers began arriving. The sari-sari store near the barangay hall is already open so I bought a cup of coffee to counter the cold. This is also my breakfast and my energy pack for the first half of the day. In the meantime, our organizers were coordinating with the barangay officials for the payment of the necessary fees and other clearances pertaining to our climb.
When everything was settled with the barangay, we all huddled together before starting our trek. This is for us to meet our guides and for us to be oriented. It is also an opportunity for us to meet each other. What made this special is the participation of a ten-year old boy named Uno who was brought along by his uncle, who everybody thought was his father at first.
After our orientation, we proceeded with our climb at around 5 AM. Fortunately, the darkness began to lift as the signs of a new day began surfacing. However, my apprehensions emulated not from the darkness but from the discouraging previews I have read, dispelling the notion that Mt. Daraitan is good for starters as it is a “minor climb”. They think that it should be treated as a major climb. But regardless of the designation, I am quite prepared for the challenge. Is it me or have I become cocky already?
The first part of the trek was easy as we just had to pass by the village to get to the base of Mt. Daraitan. Before our climb, our guides have already issued a caveat – the climb is composed of 90% assault and 10% flat or semi-flat trail. This made me think, “Assault? I’ve been to Mt. Damas the previous week. Which mountain could offer a worse assault than that.” But I kept that to myself.
The real challenge began when we reached the base of the mountain. The trail is still wet because it rained the previous day. Thankfully, the trail is made up of limestone rocks, akin to those of the other Rizal mountains like Mt. Binacayan and Mt. Masungki. I find it easier climbing rocky trails because the rocks give me an added push and support when climbing.
After 30 minutes of assault, we finally reached the first station which has a grotto. We can see a sea of clouds on the mountains opposite us. This dampened the spirits of some of our companions as this means that the sea of clouds would have already disappeared once we reach the summit. For me, a sea of clouds would be a bonus because I am not expecting one. I was disappointed the last time I climbed a Rizal mountain in the hopes of witnessing a sea of clouds. It was all for naught as it was a sea of rain clouds that greeted us at the summit of Mt. Maynoba.
We took a quick breather at the first station while waiting for our other companions. I was quite astonished with Uno because it seems that he is nitpicking the trail, encountering very few challenges as he tackles on the assault. Oh well, the joys of youth. I was also having quite a grand time because the trail isn’t what I expected it to be. Unlike most, I found the trail easier than most. When we had a breather, we proceeded with our assault, with a sea of clouds still at the back of the mind of some of our companions.
Along the trail, I met some of my schoolmates from the University of the Cordilleras. Encountering familiar faces brought a smile on my face although they were climbing with a different group. I even asked them to take my picture because I was still reserved towards my climbing companions. But as we climb higher, I got acquainted with the other members of the lead group. The lead group is comprised of Uno, his uncle, another guy (Reymark) and two females (JM and Elaine), one of which is an Ilocana. Knowing that one of them is an Ilocana creates a whole lot of difference.
At around 6 AM, we reached Station 2 (Campsite 1). I was no longer as reluctant with my climbing mates as we have already shared some superfluous bits of our lives on the climb. The vegetation became thicker and we can barely see what is beyond the cover. But it was fine because it means we have enough cover against the scorching heat of the sun later in the day. After 30 minutes of climbing from Station 2, we finally reached Campsite 2 which is our last stop before the summit.
At Campsite 2, we again waited for the rest of our climbing group. Our guide said that the summit is just about 15 minutes climb from Campsite 2. Unable to keep our excitement any longer, we decided to push through with the last leg of our climb to the summit without waiting for the others. A couple of minutes before 7 AM, the lead group, which included me, finally reached the summit. The summit is already teeming with activities as other climbers began converging there.
The first order of business upon reaching the summit is to take a picture at the famed Mt. Daraitan summit signage. After having my picture be taken at the signage, I began looking around the area which is also thickly covered. However, there are openings on the side of the summit. There are also limestone rock formations there which provided a great vantage point.
Nothing prepared me for what I witnessed at the summit – a majestic sea of clouds! I was already apprehensive about our chances of witnessing a sea of clouds at the summit because it was already a bit late when we reached the summit. As always, God and mother nature has different plans and there, before me, they flashed a brilliant display of what nature is truly capable of. Although it is not as grand as the one I saw at the summit of Mt. Pulag, it was enchanting nonetheless.
Not wanting to miss out on this rare chance, I brought out my phone to snap one picture after the other of this sublime display by nature. I just can’t help but be in awe, and so did the other climbers. We were all busy taking pictures on every angle that we could utilize. If there’s one word to describe how our climb went it would be serendipitous. Indeed, it was a happy accident.
The summit of Mt. Daraitan also gives a wonderful view of the low-rising section of the Sierra Madre mountains. Meanwhile, on the other side of the summit, a crowd has converged as everyone is on a queue. They are waiting for their turn to have their pictures be taken at the spot that has been associated with Mt. Daraitan. It offers a wonderful view of the valley and the snaking river below. Everybody is equally excited to have their pictures be taken, including me.
It took quite some time before we had our chance because there were just too many climbers that day. And to think that this number is nothing compared to the number of climbers on peak days. It was just unfortunate that our organizer forgot to bring the group tarpaulin. We had to make do with what we have. When everybody had their fill, we began our descent at around 9 AM.
Thus ends the first part of our adventure. Do watch out for the second part of our Sunday excursion.