This is my version of the climb. For Saul’s version of our climb, you may visit his site: Great Cordillera Traverse: Mt. Napulawan Edition.


Day 1: A Small World of Bloody Coincidences

When I started taking climbing seriously, the thought of doing an overnight climb barely crossed my mind. The idea of spending a night in the wild doesn’t appeal to me although I was looking forward to a new experience. The perfect moment came when Saul, a high school friend, invited me for an overnight climb. Our target: Ifugao’s Mt. Napulauan, which, at 2642+ MASL, is the 16th highest mountain in the country.

The mountain is historically significant as well as General Tomoyuki Yamashita sought refuge on its slopes while retreating during the latter stages of the Second World War. Joining us on this excitable adventure is Ahra/Arlene, Saul’s friend who, surprisingly, worked with both Saul’s and my mom. What a small world!

June 2, 2018. As this is a do-it-yourself trip, everything was arranged by Saul; the only thing I had to do was present myself. I was giddy because of two factors: one, this is my first overnight climb; and two, the thought of spending the night in a mossy forest is beyond my imagination. Mt. Napulauan is prominent for its mossy forest; all my climbs this year have been in mossy forests. Mossy forests have a diverse and rich flora and fauna but I find them creepy, and they’re normally infested with ‘em bloody blood leeches (limatik).

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Off to the wild.

On a Friday night, we were on our way to the Cordilleran hinterlands. Nine hours after departing from Manila, we reached Banaue where we bought provisions for our hike before heading to Hungduan. As public transportation is scarce, we asked our local contact to arrange for a tricycle to pick us up from Banaue. About an hour of navigating through the winding roads of Ifugao, we reached Hungduan where we met our local contact, Manang Nalyn. Aside from being a tourist guide, she is also a local tourism officer who helps in the promotion of tourism in her hometown.

Joining our mountain excursion are two local high school students – Helgie and Eaross. Helgie is the daughter of the town mayor while Eaross, I have learned after our climb, is a cousin of my friend, Joy. ‘Tis a small world after all! This is their first-time climbing mountains and they are looking forward to the experience. So are we! From the town center, we travelled for another thirty minutes to our jump-off point near Balentimol Falls. At around 11 AM, our climb officially commenced. Traditionally, climbs start at Poblacion and exit at the falls. We are doing the opposite.

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Fresh and ready! A dub to keep our spirits high. Photo by Saul Gino Killip.
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It’s about to get real!

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Balentimol Falls is about 10 minutes’ walk from the highway. The incline to the falls was gradual but after the falls, the gradual incline was replaced by a steep trail that slithers through the mountain. It was then that I began to understand why we started our climb on this portion of the mountain; a descend here would be very treacherous. We proc proceeded with our climb with utmost caution.

It wasn’t long before the blood leeches (or limatiks) started making their presence felt. Two hours into our climb, I noticed a small black lump on Saul’s exposed foot. I asked him to stop to confirm my suspicion and I was right! To think that we were not yet in the heart of the mossy forest! He hastily removed it before I handed him the alcohol. Blood flowed profusely from where the limatik bit him. This is the first time Saul was bitten by a limatik. Oh well, no climb is without discomfort, and there is always a place for a first time.

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At around 1 PM, we reached another waterfall. Saul tried washing his bloodied foot to stem the flow but it wouldn’t stop. When the rest of our climbing group joined us about 30 minutes later (Saul and I went ahead, the trail was straightforward), Ahra tried helping Saul but the flow just wouldn’t relent. While waiting for the blood flow to stop, we refilled our water bottles and ate our lunch at the waterfalls before climbing full force towards the summit.

We resumed our climb at around 2 PM and it was estimated that we would be at the summit after two hours. When we started our climb, it was a pleasant day but as the day got deeper, dark clouds started looming over the horizon. This was what I feared: the rain. Then it came. At first, it was just drizzles but as we climbed further, the drizzles became heavier. Then it literally rained cats and dogs but we were unperturbed as we kept pressing on, foolishly driven by the idea that we will reach the summit in two hours.

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Mossy forests are always filled with amazing sights.

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Oh how wrong we were! The deeper we went into the mossy forest, the darker it got and the heavier the rain fell. To find our way (we again left our guide with the rest of our group), we relied on our instincts and on the red ribbons tied on the trees. And yeah, it wasn’t just rain that was falling from the skies; limatiks started falling as well. We had to stop every now and then to check our raincoats and remove these pesky creatures. For about two hours, our group dealt with the hardships.

At the start, we were very enthusiastic about taking pictures but the more exhausted we became, our enthusiasm started to wane. We totally lost it when the rain just wouldn’t stop. Our patience was nearly at its end. “When are we going to reach the summit?”, we kept asking every time we stopped to catch our breath. Wet and exhausted, we badly wanted all of this to end, immediately. There was a dire hopelessness that hovered above us at that moment. Then we stopped talking, and just hoped that we are near the summit.

We were inches from giving up because it seems that there was no end in sight. Our pursuit paid off when at around 6 PM (way off from our expected 4 PM arrival), we reached an opening where the tall trees were replaced by shrubs. Imagine our relief and excitement! We run through the course until we reached an area where a group of local high school students have pitched their tent, wiling away the time and the rain. We went further to look for a place to pitch our tent even though it was still raining heavily. Thankfully, the students were able to build a fire to warm us all up.

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Ifugaos are known for being master sculptors. This bulol was carved from the tip of a walking stick.
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We’ve got company!

Thirty minutes later, the rain started to weaken. When the rain stopped, we scoped our surroundings to find a suitable place to pitch a tent. It is my first time pitching a tent in the mountains. It was already past 7 PM when our companions joined us at the summit. We were already wrapped in darkness. Another group of climbers arrived later. Before crashing out, we updated each other of what happened during the climb, in spite of our apparent exhaustion. Ahra fell victim as well to the limatiks as she got bitten on her neck. I came prepared, fully covered to protect myself from the limatiks; I got no bites. 😊

Over the horizon, we can hear the rolling thunders. Exhaustion seized us and, after our brief catch up, we all went to bed. I had difficulties sleeping because of my anxieties; I was awake for most of the night. At around 4 AM, I was already fully awake, and so is Saul, both of us eagerly waiting for the sun to rise. It was cold and dark outside so we opted to stay inside our tent. Besides, there was a morning shower.

Day 2: A Gallery of Nature’s Beauty

The sun started breaking over the horizon a couple of minutes past 5 AM. It was a blessing that the fog that wrapped us has now settled, giving us a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. There were vestiges of sea of clouds but none that is close at the summit. Nevertheless, the idyllic view paid off very well for the hardships of the day before. Like kids, we jumped around the area, taking one picture after the other.

I’m going to use lesser words to describe the magnificent beauty we saw. I’ll let the following pictures speak for themselves.

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We survived Mt. Napulauan! Yay team! Photo by Saul Gino Killip.

When our eyes got full of the visual delight, we had our breakfast. Manang Nalyn brought a butane burner and cooked our meal. It was my first breakfast after an overnight climb and I relished it. With the sun high up, we dried up our wet clothes so that we can use them again on our descent which we started at around 9 AM. The descent was more pleasant than our ascent and the true beauty (albeit still eerie) of the mossy forest began showing itself before us. Of course, we didn’t back down from taking pictures.

Like men on a mission, Saul and I broke off from our group as we went ahead. Unfortunately, he fell victim again to the limatiks; I think he had about four or five bites while I had none. Surely this is going to be one memorable (but bloody) hike for him. The clock was about to hit 12 noon when we were nearing the end of our hike. The famed rice terraces of Hungduan was a delight as we descended. Planting season has just ended and the terraces were teeming with green colors. Our climb officially ended at exactly 12 noon of June 3.

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Define eerie.
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The eerieness is what makes the mossy forest unique.
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Fresh and damp.
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This flower is truly ubiquitous.
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Our view going down.
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A simple reward after the climb.

Now, time for a dip to soothe our exhausted bodies. A couple of minutes from the Poblacion is a natural pool where one can dip. It is a relaxing place, especially after the thing we have been through. It was to be our last stop before heading back to Manila, and our individual realities. We rode a UV express van to Banaue before riding a bus bound for Manila. That concludes our brief but memorable climb. Another mountain ticked off from my list.

P.S. Mt. Napulauan became challenging because all of the elements went against us – the heavy rain, the limatik, and the limits of our patience. However, it did remind me again of what I have realized during my Mt. Tapulao climb. Not every single time will the elements agree with us. It is still up to us to make the best out of the situation. In spite of our ranting, we were still grateful for the experience. Mt. Napulauan is beautiful but painful. 

Till the next climb!

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A dip into the cold waters – a salve to relax our weary bodies.
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