For the fourth weekend in a row, I found myself on the trails of yet another mountain. After Mt. Damas, Daraitan, and Tarak Ridge, Mt. Ugo is the last mountain on my planned birth-month mountaineering adventure. Mt. Ugo is also my third major climb in this stretch. But as my four-week adventure is about to draw to a close, I am not sure what to feel – relief that my masochistic venture is about to end or sadness because I will miss the trails.
To be honest, Mt. Ugo is a mountain I am not planning on climbing yet even though I saw a friend do it already. I am not really sure if I am physically capable of enduring a 30+ kilometer trail. When a friend’s friend I met during my Mt. Damas hike invited me to climb Mt. Ugo, I was naturally apprehensive. But after some consideration, I decided to take up the challenge because as they say, you will never know what you are capable of until you try. Besides, the alternative would be another fruitless weekend.
Due to its location, our scheduled meetup for this climb is earlier compared to my other hikes. Before our meetup, I tried to get as much rest and sleep as I could but try as I might, I cannot complete a shut eye. I am not sure if this was due to my apprehension or due to my excitement. I cannot seem to discern which one is prevailing.
8 PM. Saturday. The night was still young. While some are on their way to partying the night out, I was on my way to our meetup place. Mistaking our meeting place for the one that we used for our Mt. Damas climb, I nearly got lost. Thankfully, I was able to make it in time before our group’s departure. Unfortunately, one participant wasn’t able to make it due to traffic. Decisively, the organizers pushed through sans this one participant because it is crucial that we leave early so that we can complete the climb before dark. I have to commend the organizers though because they waited for the participant who got left behind and referred her to other organizers who had a climb on the same date as our Mt. Ugo climb.
10 PM. We departed for Nueva Vizcaya, the starting point for our Mt. Ugo traverse dayhike. Our exit point is Tinongdan, Itogon, Benguet. At around 3 AM, we finally reached Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya. The early breeze brought shivers down our spine. Nonetheless, the breeze is refreshing, especially after being soaked in the scorching Manila heat for so long. While the organizers were busy doing the necessary arrangements, the participants were also busy doing last minute preparations. Some were also rousing themselves up after the long slumber caused by the long trip.
We began our climb at around 4 AM, after our orientation and after our guides were introduced. The first phase of our climb is comprised of following the concrete road before turning left towards the mountains. As we were passing by residential houses, the dogs’ barks greeted us. Their barks resonated all over the community, rousing it from its deep slumber.
After about an hour of hiking, we reached the pine covered forest. The transition is noticeable as we can no longer hear the barks of the dogs. The increase in altitude was still gradual but the slippery trail presented a bit of a challenge. Over the eastern horizon, we finally see the light breaking out of the darkness. It always takes my breathe away when I see a wonderful sight. It is an exhilarating experience and I can never seem to have enough of it. It is a promise of a great day and a great adventure ahead.
While we were climbing, we can’t help but pause and try to capture the beauty of the sun rising over the towering Cordilleran peaks. On another side, a sea of clouds is enveloping the mountains. These majestic sights that greet us whenever we climb are just among the numerous reasons why we endure long and tedious climb. Behind the exhaustion and body pains, it is all worth it.
As we were approaching Domolpos Village, we passed by a trail that is partly infested by the dreaded limatik. Unfortunately, in spite of my caution, I fell prey to one of these tiny blood-sucking creatures. When I felt the tingling feeling on my right ankle, I immediately pulled the limatik off, which I later realized is a no-no. In my haste, I forgot the pieces of advice I have read and heard. When bitten by limatik, either let it become full or apply alcohol or any mind based liniment. Pulling it off will make it leave its teeth on the spot where it bit you. What is important is to let the limatik detach on its own.
After regrouping at the village, we resumed our trek. We followed the road that led us to the next village, Ansipsip. While leisurely walking, I can’t help but notice the mossy forest that flanks the road on one side. The other side, meanwhile, offers a great view of the grand Cordilleras. Between the first village and the base of Mt. Ulap is a long stretch of road which we walked for about two hours. At one point, we even got enveloped by a sea of fogs.
At around 8:10 AM, we finally reached the last village before Mt. Ugo. Although we had to walk a long way, it was all behind us now as we can finally see our mission for the day. From a distance, we can finally see the majestic Mt. Ugo, its bald summit reminiscent of Mt. Pulag’s summit. However, there are trees on one side of the mountain and the trail to the summit is dotted with dead pine trees.
At 9 AM, we began our final ascent to the summit. It was, at first, pleasant and presented no real challenge. We just had to follow the well-established trail. However, before the summit, there is a stretch of steep incline, the final assault. The trail, at this point, got trickier because it is filled with loose rocks. Utmost caution must be exercised at all times because there are very few things to cling on to if one slips.
Finally, at around 9:30 AM, I finally completed hurdling the last assault and reached the first camp site. I was the first one at the top. The first thing that greeted me at the top is the overwhelming smell of cow dung that is all over the area. The camp site is also a grazing ground. It makes me wonder how those cows made it all the way to the summit. I then waited for my companions before pursuing the trail further because I had no tour guide or organizer with me. While waiting, I just breathed in the view, a 360-degree view of the Cordilleran range, the towering peaks thickly covered by tall pine trees.
I also used this moment to rest, a perk of being the first one on top. However, I learned later that I have not reached the summit yet. When the rest of the our group and the guides finally caught up with me and the lead group, we were informed that the summit is about 20 minutes walk from the campsite. Without further ado, we proceeded to the summit and reached it at around 10:30 AM, 6 and a half hours since we began our trek.
At the summit, we again had to wait for the rest of our group. As they arrive one by one, they all began unloading their lunch. There is a marker commemorating an airplane crash that happened in June 26, 1987. Mt. Ugo remained mostly obscure from the mountaineering community until the crash of the Baguio-bound Flight PR206. All 50 people on board perished.
The crash site is about 200 meters away from the summit. Due to the rescue efforts, trails to the summit were established, and soon enough, a new hiking destination was uncovered. However, because of this crash, ghost stories soon began to haunt. But instead of discouraging climbers, even more climbers began gravitating towards this scenic and popular hiking destination.
There is no view at the summit because it is shrouded by tall trees. Before everybody had their lunch, we took the opportunity to take group pictures to also, ironically, commemorate the achievement we have unlocked.
Do watch out for the second part of my Mt. Ugo adventure in the coming days.