Following our successful traverse of Malipunyo mountain range, I set on a course to change the complexion of my year. After many stalled climbs, I am gaining momentum, so I decided to follow up my first climb of the year with a traverse of Mt. Purgatory. I was a little apprehensive on doing so because it normally takes at least two days to complete the traverse. Day hikes, however, were not unheard of so when Sarah (one of my foremost climbing buddies) informed me of her friend organizing a day hike, I gave in.
The name does sound ominous. Who, in their right mind, would ever want to name a mountain “Purgatory”? Nevertheless, this mountain deep in the heart of the Gran Cordilleras has developed the reputation of being a premier hiking destination, one of numerous mountains that made it to my must-climb list. The prospect of another adventure looming over the horizon and of basking in the beauty of nature excites me.
A Mossy Forest Trail Run
The Mt. Purgatory course is also renowned for its rich flora and fauna, it being a primarily mossy forest. I am no fan of mossy forests even though a lot have been captivated by its ethereal beauty. I just couldn’t overcome the eeriness. In spite of this, I found myself on the trails of Mt. Purgatory one fine March 4 day. However, before we could even start, we already faced a challenge: we departed late from Manila due to unforeseen circumstances.
The climb proper was supposed to start at around 4 AM because the entire 20+ kilometer course would take at least 14 hours to complete. However, due to our late departure, we arrived at Bokod, Benguet at around 6 AM and started our climb at about 6:30 AM. The only thing I am grateful of is that I am climbing with a familiar face – ate Wilma who I met during our Malipunyo traverse. Luckily, I got to befriend some of my fellow climbers.
The climb started off smoothly; the incline was gradual and was never too steep. The only challenge is that it was paved but the trail soon ended on a mountain road where a small community and a school is situated. It is also a resting place where one can buy coffee and some essential breakfast meals like noodles and boiled eggs from a sari-sari store. We proceeded with our climb by following the mountain road that eventually rewarded us with our first mountain of the day, Mt. Mangagew.
From Mt. Mangagew, one can view the rest of the course, with Mt. Pack looming. The second mountain looks so far away. Buckle up warrior, you’re made of tougher materials! You’ve done worse so let’s go! After our mini-photoshoot at Mt. Mangagew, we started the long trek to Mt. Pack by following the mountain road. We had a pleasant time walking as our path was studded with wonderful views of pine forests, lush farmlands and breathtaking sceneries. The farmlands were planted with different vegetables, reminding me that I am in Benguet, the Vegetable Salad Garden of the Philippines.
At one point of the climb, we turned left towards the mountain from the road. The trail was tricky; it was narrow and slippery due to the morning dew. According to the organizers, this is a shortcut that led to a waiting shed near the same road that we turned left from. There, we decided to take a rest while waiting for the rest of our group. As majority of our group has joined us, the lead group resumed the climb by following the again the road.
The road slithered, hugging the mountain’s every curve. The incline was gradual but the sun was already up, the heat slowing down our climb. Twenty minutes later, we reached the official trailhead of Mt. Pack. From the road, we again turned left towards the mountains. Before resuming our climb, we had to wait first because some of our companions got lost. Instead of turning left to the shortcut, they kept on following the road. An organizer had to go back to try and locate the lost members.
Climbing up Mt. Pack, the trail started to transform. It was carpeted by mosses while the trees were wrapped with lichens; ferns became more prevalent. We have now entered the mossy forest. There is an otherworldly beauty about mossy forests that can either be too beautiful or too creepy. Although my perception is leaning on the latter, I still couldn’t help but gape at the beguiling scenery that was before me. Because of its reach wildlife, the mossy forest of Mt. Purgatory has been subjected to studies of some foundations such as Baguio’s Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation, Inc. (JVOFI). Markers were placed to identify unique plants and features.
After navigating through the mossy trail, we reached the summit of Mt. Pack at around 10:20 AM. Soaring at an elevation of 2,290 MASL, it is the highest of the six mountains in the traverse course. There is not much to view at the summit because it was deeply shrouded with tall trees. However, a small and short path at the back gave a wide view of the other side of the mountain. While waiting for the rest of our company, we ate our breakfast, rested, and snapped pictures.
When everyone had their fill, we continued with our adventure, finding our way through the mossy path. Other than being damp, the trail was smooth although it went up and down at times. The thick foliage provided plenty of protection against the heat. However, one can easily lose one’s bearing in this place. Whenever I lost sight of my companions, I would stop and wait for them to check if I am following the correct trail. If there is another thing that this trail is famed for is the presence of supernatural elements which can do ill to climbers.
Thankfully, we were able to find our way through the foliage; at 12 noon, we reached Mt. Purgatory. Sandwiched between two towering peaks, the summit of Mt. Purgatory looked like a grassy valley; it is flat and, except for some trees, is very bare, unlike Mt. Pack. To those who are wondering, it was Americans who christened the peak because of the cold they experienced in the mountain as tantamount to “being in purgatory”. The mountain was used as a relay station during the American period.
Mt. Purgatory, because of its barrenness, is open to the elements. There, we were exposed to the high sun although there was an inundated shed there used as a resting place. While waiting for our companions, we explored the area and took the chance to snap pictures. When we were complete, we ate our lunch together. With everyone trying to catch their breath, it was an opportunity to get to know each other better and a chance to rest before going full throttle for the rest of the climb.
We resumed our climb at around 1:30 PM when the sun was shining brightly on the afternoon sky. From the open peak of Mt. Purgatory, we once again entered the enthralling mossy trail which ended after we reached Aponan junction where we turned left towards Mt. Bakian. We reached Mt. Bakian a couple minutes after two and we immediately felt the transformation of our surroundings. The area doubles up as a campsite for hikers who opt to stay overnight. Before proceeding, our group converged to decide on whether we are going to climb Mt. Komkompol or not.
As the group decided to bypass Mt. Komkompol, we proceeded to Mt. Tangbaw, the last mountain in our traverse. We skipped Mt. Komkompol because climbing it would stretch our itinerary beyond the darkness. Moreover, according to the organizers, the trail is more treacherous than the rest of the course. I badly wanted to do it but I have to relent to the wishes of most. We reached Mt. Tangbaw at around 3:30 PM. The area is ALSO campsite with huts climbers can rent overnight. As we are nearly done, our group took another breather and “socialization”. By socialization I mean aided by alcohol; it is my companion’s way of warming up amidst the mountain breeze.
We started our descent at around 5 PM. With our veins warmed up, we ran down the trail. At first, it was just a jog but as we started gaining momentum, we went full throttle. It was to our advantage that the trail was quite wide. Our climb officially ended at around 6 PM, after nearly 12 hours on the trail. It was physically tiring but it was a great way to spend the weekend.
Until the next climb!