Pack, no matter how heavy it might be, check! Lights check. Food, I'll never go hungry, check. Warmers, I got enough body fat, check. Survival instincts and first aid kit, check. Lessons taught by my seniors, in my heart kept locked. Or else they might delay my induction if I fail to bring with me my senses. This was my second time in Mt.Pulag. I was here back in December as my year-end climb with my good buddy Mark. I told myself I'll earn my badges as a mountaineer. I'll take on the hardest challenges there is and the harshest weather my host world would give me. This time it's different. This time's more special. This time it's bigger than what I could ever imagine. This is Freedom Climb 2011. Six hours away from Manila, the Mt.Pulag Tawangan Party was greeted with light rainshower and a cup of taho at four in the morning in Baguio City. It says 1000+ MASL in Edwin's highly technical watch. Good enough to be counted in our world record attempt.
Without further ado, we headed to DENR Mt.Pulag National Park office via Charlie's jeepney, a relative of the well-known mountaineer's pilot Mang Roger. Of course, we didn't fail to stop at occasional places like the Ambuklao Dam and Pinkanjo over Jangjang's. Mam Daisy headed our orientation. "...the bloody trail," Ms.D exclaimed. "It can't be," I said to myself. Good thing, I have reservations for them leeches or limatik as they call it in Tagalog.
Mam Mering's comic relief is nowhere to be found. But just the same, it's the cozy welcoming atmosphere of the Benguet highlands that warms everyone's heart. As soon as arrangements we readied our buns (do they call them butts?!) towards roughing-it-up roads. We passed-by Duacan of Akiki jumpoff and a zero-crime Brgy.Ballay.
This barangay really fascinates me. They sell no liquor. Instead, they sell you Yakult. Good for the stomach. Weird but true. No crime. Just pure love. Sa wakas something peaceful.
We reached Tabeo Lake at the foot of Mt.Tabayoc. Some snaps here and there and we hurriedly boarded Pinky the jeepney. She's going to take us to Ambulalacao Lake for a quick view (kung makakalusot, kaso hindi). Mang Charlie refused to since he has to go back to Baguio and fetch fellow mountaineers bound for Ambangeg the next morning. Alas, Brgy.Tawangan. Our jumpoff to the playground of the Gods. After filling-up our reservoirs, our guides Mang Rudy and Mang Alex led us to this so-called shortcut. The common trail from Tawangan would take us longer than usual to reach the camp with water source via Taaw river. And since it's almost three in the afternoon the group decided that we take the shorter route and cover until a supposed e-camp. Lo and behold, it wasn't easy. No one said it would be easy. Halfway, Norman was already bleeding a bit profusely from leech bite. His white and green outdoor shoes almost red from being pink.
We reached camp at around seven. Everyone stood together. No one trekked alone. This is our team. Made sure no one is left out to fend for himself. For awhile, we soothed ourselves with warm dinner of soup, rice and dilis. It is enough to give us cushion against sharp rocks and large tree roots that will serve as our resting place. Enough to replace blood lost. The moon rose above. The chilling part never made himself available. The montane area can either be amazing or downright eerie. We called it a night quickly for tomorrow's never-ending quest to reach high heavens. To join the Gods, even for an instance of immortality.
Rising early, we packed our lunch and grabbed some coffee. We had a brief meeting to realign ourselves once more. No one's to drift away from our goal. Mike and Jhonny of the Lyceum Drinking Team whisked away through the thick foliage of the montane forest. They were gone in a blink of an eye. Serving at the back is our President Jeffrey Famatiga of Philippine National Mountaineering Society with Marvin and Edwin. A couple of hours more and we reached the ridge which gave us a view of the grasslands of Mt.Pulag.
It gave us a glimmer of hope that quenches our thirst more than what our drinks could give. It revitalizes our body more than what our common trail food could provide. Finishing our lunch, along the trail the group converges. A check on everyone and our specific roles.
It's important to brief everyone every now and then. We as lovers of nature tend to get lost in an instant once we're caught in awe by the surroundings. Others only knew fun without thinking of the welfare of mother nature. We continued our way up. Everything was bright and clear. The anito's gifted us much more when reach the grassland. Upon entering a vast field of dwarf bambooes, they, the Anito's greeted us with rainshower. They welcomed our presence. Refreshing just like a bottled water commercial splashing on your heat-strewn face.
We could see everyone from Camp 2. The trails that lined-up to Camp 3 and it's happy campers. Marvin and I only knew one thing, to reach camp before fog and cold winds set in. Passing-by the lonely tree of Mt.Pulag and it's summit while being conquered by Reign from Ambangeg, we're just happy to see everyone at the camp. It's like fiesta! Colorful tents beside one another, campers mingling around checking on each other's pan cooking their dinner. This is it! Once again, we warmed ourselves with stories made even better by Freedom Climb kits distributed to every group. We we're one once again then rain poured in. Howling winds and occasional drizzle made me ask for more so as to give us the clearing we'll be needing tomorrow morning. The sea of clouds everyone was longing for. The gift of nature a hiker would trek for hours.
The majestic sun rose kissing everyone like a mother would to her son. It was a perfect morning. Perfect backdrop to everyone's pictures and video. Hikers were everywhere. From the summit, to it's sides and just about every magnificent angle that would showcase the grand scene only a few could witness. Borrowing a camera from my very good friend Rhona, I took snaps like I have such a huge capacity. I need to document everything from day zero to day two. I'll be writing a story about this event and post it in every imaginable paper I could. I would share the story via pictures. A photo essay! I will tell this story over and over again to anyone who would come my way.
My eyes welled-up as the national anthem was sung. Even more so as the FC theme played. I could only bow my head and move at the back. But yes, it made me realize even more how lucky I am to be a Filipino. How proud it is to belong in a Malay race wearing brown skin and black hair.
From there I vow to be more vigilant in defending the freedom once lost. I vow to be more protective of this archipelago's biodiversity. I vow to practice discipline in able to uplift this nation's stature to world-class. I vow to uphold the values and traditions my elders have passed on. This is an enduring fight. I, as a mountaineer, will keep afloat the hopes and burning aspirations of my mother land. This is Freedom Climb.
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