It has been raining profusely for the past couple of days. The monsoon season has finally arrived. It normally starts in June but for the past couple of years, the weather system has been sporadic. For the past couple of years the monsoon season began late. The weather bureau announced the beginning of the monsoon season as early as May but the effects were felt only in late July.
In spite of the onset of the rainy season, my friends and I were undaunted. We planned to do the Bakun Trilogy. But the inclement weather on the days before our climb prevented us from going ahead with our climb. Due to this, I looked for an alternative. Thankfully, an event which my office mate invited me to still has open slots. Moreover, it is to a mountain that I have been planning to climb, Mt. Tapulao, Central Luzon’s highest mountain located in Zambales.
Mt. Tapulao is quite a lengthy trail, with a length of 18 kilometers from the jump-off point to the summit, for a total of 36 kilometers for a complete back trail climb. My last climb, Mt. Ugo, was also a lengthy climb. But in spite of its length, I had fun climbing Mt. Ugo, hence, I was also looking forward to Mt. Tapulao. However, I was still apprehensive of the unpredictable weather.
August 5, 2017. At around 8 PM, I was on my way to Cubao to meet with the climb group. There’s already a palpable heaviness in the clouds hovering above us. As we were waiting for the other participants, there was a light shower outside, which, unbeknownst to us was an omen of what the day has in store for us. When we were complete, we departed at around 10 PM for Palauig, Zambales, the entry point for Mt. Tapulao.
Due to exhaustion, I dozed off on our way to Zambales. When we reached Iba, Zambales, I was startled by the sudden movement of my companions as they unloaded from the van to have their breakfast at a popular fastfood chain. Outside, there was an incessant downpour of rain even though it was just 2 AM. Fortunately, the rain weakened, allowing us to get out of the van. The early morning breeze brought shivers down my spine. Nonetheless, my friends and I joined our companions so that we can flex our languid muscles.
When everyone had their fill, we proceeded to Palauig, an hour away from Iba. The rain bothered me because it came in spurts – it would fall heavily then suddenly stop then fall again. I hoped that this isn’t how our day is going to be because I still wasn’t prepared to climb in the rain. At around 3:30 AM, we reached the Barangay Dampay-Salaza. We waited for the organizers to process the necessary requirements with the barangay. The rain, fortunately, has stopped.
After all arrangements have been completed, the group huddled together. As was customary amongst hikers, we prayed then introduced ourselves individually. Our guides were also introduced to us. When all pre-climb rituals and last minute preparations were done, we began our climb. Confident of my capabilities, I joined the lead group. My office mate and I already agreed that I’ll go ahead of them.
We navigated through the village’s narrow alleys before shortly arriving to a wide road that we’re going to follow until Camp 2. According to my companions, the old roads were widened to enable heavy machines to climb up the mountain which used to be the site of large-scale chromite mining operations. Because of the early downpour, the trail was muddy and slippery.
Wow, what a way to baptize my new hiking shoes. Surprisingly, I found myself up for the challenge. I tried to keep up with the lead group but I was lagging behind. This should have been a walk in the park because the trail wasn’t as steep as the other mountains that I have climbed before. However, the muddy trail proved to be a real challenge. I was breathing heavily considering that the real challenge hasn’t even began yet.
To my dismay, the rain began pouring. Expecting a great weather, I didn’t bring any poncho. But alas, there was to be no reprieve. Fortunately, I brought my umbrella. So there, I found myself navigating the muddy trail while holding on to my umbrella. Some of my companions also found themselves in the same predicament. For about four kilometers, we kept on climbing in spite of the rain until we reached the first sari-sari store. We crowded in the store while waiting for the rain to subside but our pleas went unheeded.
The heavy rain and the fog that is obscuring the trail made this endeavor seem bleak but we didn’t let this dampen our spirits. After a brief rest, we proceeded with our ascent. The trail until the KM 4 is wide open. However, past KM 4, the open muddy trail was replaced by a rain forest with a thick foliage of fern and trees. The trail got narrower but it was still navigable.
With the rain pouring hard, we kept on hiking from one kilometer to another. But nothing prepared us with the waterfall-like trail that greeted us after KM 4. A trail that is overrun by flowing water is an ingredient for disaster, something that I have feared since beginning our climb. Nonetheless, I mustered all the courage and put aside my fears as I climbed this waterfall-like trail. Thankfully the trail is partly rocky, making it easier for me to navigate the trail.
As the others were waiting for their companions, I and two others barged on with our journey. My fears were allayed when an experienced mountaineer said that this downward flow of water is a good sign because it means that the water is not saturating the soil. At around 6:30 AM, we reached the first water source at KM 6. The water source is shrouded by the thick foliage of fern trees so we asked our guides to refill our bottles.
Once our bottles were refilled, we proceeded with our climb. The trail, aside from the mud and the rain, has so far been hiker-friendly. There were no steep climbs requiring me to be on all fours. Our biggest challenge remains to be the heavy downpour. At times it would weaken but then it would began pouring again. Traversing a river-like trail has slowed down our progress. But we won’t let these unfavorable circumstances defeat us.
After another hour, we finally reached the second water source at KM 10. Compared to the water source in KM 6, the water source in KM 10 is found along the trail. I refilled my bottle to quench my thirst. The first drop of cold water is rejuvenating my exhausted body. However, there was was still an unease at the back of my mind because who knows what kind of disease I might get from drinking from unfiltered sources. But I can’t go on without quenching my thirst.
Past KM 10, while I was taking the time to rest, I met other hikers speaking in Ilocano. Apparently they are from Baguio City. I was surprised because Mt. Tapulao is the last place I’d expect to meet fellow Cordillerans. More than that, I was in awe of their speed. They started an hour after we did but they overtook us. After the brief catch up, they proceeded with their climb while I waited for my companions.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally saw my companions. We then proceeded with the climb. The only thing that I am really thankful for this climb was that the assaults were never steep. It made our climb easier, considering the rain that was falling like cats and dogs. The climb to Camp 1 was also pleasant because of the wide trail which was once used by heavy equipment in going up to the defunct mines.
On the final assault to Camp 1, we met overnight climbers who were coming down. Noticing our struggle, they kindly encouraged us with their words and they said we are Camp 1. With renewed vigor, I stretched my limbs for the approach to Camp 1 which I reached at around 10 AM. The innate competitor in me made me the first from our group to reach Camp 1 where I once again I met the Baguio climbers. They just had their early lunch when me and my companions reached them at Camp 1.
While approaching Camp 1, I can’t help but feel as though I was in Benguet. The atmosphere, the cold weather and the pine trees incognito in the thick sea of fogs reminded me of Benguet, and even my home province. The mountain is glowing with an aura that made me feel nostalgic. Of all the mountains outside of the Cordilleras that I have climbed this year, Mt. Tapulao was the one that evoked the greatest emotions in me. How I miss home.