I will be celebrating my 27th birthday on July this year. On my numerous climbs this year, I kept hearing about birthday climbs. Unfortunately, my birthday falls on a weekday, hence, I won’t be able to do a birthday climb. Besides, I have deadlines to meet on the same date. I guess that is the inconvenience of being born too early in the month.
Nonetheless, to celebrate this milestone, I have booked climbs for four consecutive weekends – mid-June to mid-July is bound to be a very busy month. Two weeks ago, I have conquered Mt. Damas in Tarlac while a week ago, I have fulfilled one of my climb wish list, Mt. Daraitan in Rizal. The third mountain on my July mountain hop is Tarak Ridge, a mountain that is also part of my climb wish list.
Thankfully, for the second consecutive climb, the meetup point for the organized climb is near where I am staying. This ensured a longer rest for me before I take on yet another physical challenge. Over the couple of months that I have been climbing, I have learned that ample rest and preparation is crucial in near flawless climbs. This is the reason why I favor meetups that are near my place.
At around 1 am, I am fully awake, quite excited for a new adventure. I find it funny how about a year ago, I would still be frolicking on my bed on a weekend. A year thence, my weekends are now alive with adventures that I always eagerly look forward to. I’ve realized the truth behind what people have always said – in a matter of one year, your life can take a 360 degree turn. My topsy-turvy ride over the past six months is a clear testament to that.
At the start, I was very apprehensive about joining this climb because it would be my first official solo joiner climb. In a mountaineer’s parlance, solo joiner is someone who joins a group without knowing anyone. My Daraitan would have qualified for my first solo joiner climb had I not been acquainted with one of the organizers. But my apprehensions quickly abated as the group warmly welcomed me. Most of them have known each other through mountains climbing and solo joining.
When the group was complete, we departed for Mariveles, Bataan at around 2 AM. One of the reasons why I wanted to climb Tarak Ridge is because of its location. By climbing it, I will finally set foot on a province I haven’t been to before. This is a step further to accomplishing my Project 81. It is my goal to visit all 81 provinces of the Philippines.
The trip was quite quick. Two hours after departing from Manila, we reached Mariveles. I was still feeling groggy but the cold morning breeze slowly woke up my dozing spirit. I was still feeling a little awkward around my new company but I tried to fit in as much as I could. This is one of the challenges of being a solo joiner apparently. To lift our sleepy spirits up, we all went to drink coffee in a carinderia near the barangay hall. The barangay hall is also the registration area for climbers.
From the registration area, we still had to travel for a while to the jump off point. When we reached the jump off point, we introduced ourselves and met our guides. After our orientation, we began our hike at around 5 AM. The darkness was slowly breaking as the sun began creeping in on the eastern horizon. It was still a bit cold though, which is actually a good thing. Because of the early light, we barely used our lamps and flashlights.
After about 30 minutes of trekking, we reached Nanay Cording’s house. Her house also serves as the portal to Tarak Ridge. We had to register and gave donations. Please note that donations are not required and any amount is accepted. In front of her house, climbers hung their tarpaulins, a testament to their conquest of Tarak Ridge. There is quite a lot of tarpaulins hanging! It was like an abstract art of tarpaulins. It is reminiscent of the collage of climber’s pictures in the visitor center where we got oriented during our Mt. Pulag trek.
After registration, we resumed our long journey to Papaya River, the starting point for the hike to Tarak Ridge. The trail to Papaya River was wide and is obscured by tall trees. However, as we climbed further, the wide trail got narrower. The vegetation wasn’t too thick. However, the trees provided ample protection from the early morning sun. As a result of the forest cover, the entire trail was damp. But this is nothing compared to the descent from Mt. Daraitan summit to Tinipak River.
Because of the rain the day before, the trail was slippery. The trail was also filled with felled trees which, according to our guide, was downed by strong winds and rains. Nonetheless, the trail was not particularly challenging. There were some minor assaults along the way but overall, the trek was pleasant. One of the things I enjoyed while climbing to the river is the cacophony of animal sounds that welcomed us once we entered the forest. The harmonic sounds reverberated all throughout the forest.
After nearly two hours of traversing the damp trail, we finally reached Papaya River. Papaya River also serves as a campsite and the first water source. When we got there, the campsite was slowly beginning to come alive with activities as campers woke up from their slumber.
While waiting for the rest of our group, my companions fetched water on the river. The river, although it looks more like a spring, was really serene and pure. The water was cold and very clean. The swimming hole was really enticing, inviting me for a quick dip. Unfortunately, we had to make a pass because we haven’t began our real journey yet.
At the campsite, we also had our breakfast in preparation for the real challenge. When everyone was already revived, we began our trek. At first, there was a gradual increase in the incline. For a couple of minutes, the trek was pleasant. We were literally consumed by nature as we climbed higher as the vegetation was relatively thick. The sounds of the forest filled me with elation because these are sounds I never get to hear in the city. This is the kind of noise pollution that I would never mind.
The trail going to Tarak Ridge is covered by tall trees. According to our guide, some wild monkeys are residing in these trees. They are rogue and tend to go wild. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter these rogue monkeys during our climb. The trail was also damp and muddy. There was not much assault but there were some parts where we had to cling on big tree roots. If my memory serves me right, there are some roped segments.
As we were climbing, we met climbers who were already descending to Papaya River. Some were running down, undaunted by the muddy trail. They astonished me because, wow, they can do that! We enthusiastically greeted them a good morning. They also greeted us in return. This respect on the trail amongst climbers is something that I appreciate. No matter how exhausted one is, climbers never failed to greet one another on the trail.
At around 9:30 AM, we finally reached the campsite of Tarak Ridge. Unfortunately, there was no clearing, we were literally enveloped by a sea of fogs. The breeze, however, was rejuvenating after the pulsating climb. We settled down at the campsite while waiting for our fellow climbers. Being surrounded by nature is an experience that I will never exchange. It is just sad to think that this will not last, that this is temporary. But let me just breath it in while it lasts.
After a while, the group was finally complete. We began exploring the area. Unfortunately, the fog was as thick as ever. We tried to be patient while waiting for clearings. There were flashes but nature wasn’t giving it to us today. For a quick while, we got to see the other side of the mountain but we weren’t able to get a view of the sea. We weren’t also able to get a clearer picture of the ridge.
Watch out for the second part of our Tarak Ridge/El Saco Peak adventure.