Pushing limits in Mt. Napulauan (Ifugao Province)
Mountains are sacred places that we should never underestimate. They should be treated with utmost respect and climbers should have supreme humility before climbing them.
I realized this after spending four grueling days inside Mt. Napulauan in Ifugao Province. It was a major climb, my first after nine years. Those four days marked the beginning of my loving relationship with anything outdoors.
A team mate from the UP Dragonboat Team invited me to join the climb organized by the Tukad Adventure Group – the outdoor group of POEA employees. The prospect of returning to the mountains after nine years of absence stirred that sleeping outdoorsman inside that I readily accepted the invitation.
To give me a better idea of the challenge that I am going to face, I checked out the mountain we’re about climb. Mt. Napulauan is one of the ten highest peaks in the country. Its exact height has yet to be declared officially by the mountaineering federation, but latest estimates put it at around 2,470 feet above sea level.
Jump off in Manila
Departure time was on 28 October 2005 at 9 pm, with the gang boarding a Victory Liner bus in Espana Avenue. I had to meet a friend all the way in Makati City that same evening, but I was confident that I can wrap things up by 8:30 pm and I can join the team in the bus. Alas, the rain was pouring very hard, and it seems that Murphy’s Law is in full force that night. Suffice to say, I wasn’t able to catch the 9-pm bus ride. Instead, I took the 10:30 bus ride bound to Tuguegarao alone.
After eight hours of intermittent sleep along that lonely highway, I disembarked from the bus at around 5:45 am to meet up with Oliver, Weng, Tony, Mamu, Jun, Ric, Zandro, Ernie, Chang, and Cris at the Bagabag Junction in Nueva Vizcaya.
We waited for Roland and Rona to arrive in the next bus. Then, we took a one-hour jeepney ride bound to Banaue (P60.00 per head). We reached Banaue around 9:30 am, eating our late breakfast and making last minute groceries. We then rented a jeep (P1,700) that will take us up to the Hugduan trail.
We disembarked for a quick picture-taking along the road, getting a superb view of the rice terraces. After that quickie detour, we registered in the barangay hall (P50.00 per head). We continue our travails, with the gang either talking or sleeping. By 11:30 am, we reached the jump off site in Hugduan.
We disembarked once more, and ate our lunch at the foot of the trail until 12:30 pm. After a few last minute check ups, we started our ascent.
It was a grueling start, even though I made the requisite 10 kilometer run before climbing. The contour of the trail and the steep incline at the start was new to me.
To make matters worst, the trail is covered by wild grass or talahib. Sir Ernie cleared up the long stretch of talahib grass along the trail using Sir Roland’s bolo. It was a total punishment: Sir Ernie sustained several flesh cut in his arms, reminiscent of the Passion of Christ. I was also marked with several cuttings because I have to whisk away the grasses. Fortunately, Ma’am Chang lent me her warmers before it was too late.
We reached Camp 1 at 6:30 pm. After pitching our tents, we started cooking our meals. It was a soiree of sorts, and I was really happy to take part of that experience. It made me wonder why I didn’t do this earlier. We made fun of Sir Jun’s ginataang gabi – the original and the fake one. We also had our fill of Sir Tonio’s menudo, fried squid, and vegetables. The only food I can contribute was a can of tuna, hehehe…
We capped off the night with rice wine (tapuy), and by 11 pm, we called it a night. The day ahead will be more difficult, and we will need all the energy we can muster.
Summit at last
The following day, 30 November 2005, we started early for the whole-day trek. While breaking camp, we saw Mt. Napulauan’s peak inviting us to pack up quickly and run for its summit. We had our last peek at the mountain’s peak before the clouds engulfed its majesty.
We started our trek at 9 am. The trail was getting more difficult in every ascent, with 45-degree angles of muddy terrain. By lunch time, we reached the mossy forest, where we were ravaged by bloodsucking organisms or limatik. Their attacks were efficiently carried out, as I sustained three lacerations while the others having at least one. Sir Jun jokingly said that I am already a marked man, and I have something to brag about when we go down to Manila.
After taking our lunch at the heart of the mossy forest, we resumed the arduous climb to the top. Sir Ernie was again at the lead. But our travails from the other day had taken toll, and Sir Ernie felt the pains in his joints that forced him to stay behind.
We continued our trek, forcing ourselves to make the step however tired we were: we don’t want to traverse the trail at night.
By 7 pm, we finally reached Mt. Napulauan’s summit. The cold winds bit hard, forcing us to quickly pitch our tents. We took our turns cooking dinner, but the cold prevented us from further lingering outside our tents. Only Sir Jun was able withstand the howling wind, wearing only sando.
At 6 am the following day, we were greeted with the majestic view atop Mt. Napulauan’s summit. It was absolutely breathtaking, with the vista of lower mountains covered with clouds. We can see Mt. Pulag from our location. It was as if we were floating on the clouds.
After the usual picture-taking and breakfast, we prepared for our descent down Hapao trail. We broke camp around 8:30 am, and seven of us took a headstart with Sir Zandro as our lead. The rest of the pack stayed behind for some last-minute clearing.
Then things went wrong.
Our group made a wrong turn 10-minutes down the summit. Suffice to say, we started with the wrong foot, and all the rest were wrong turns.
At the end of the pack, Chris, Chang, and I started to worry that we might have been lost. We called to the front to start backtrailing. When the three of us were already tracing back the trail, Sir Zandro called out that he found the trail. Putting our trust to the lead, we followed suit and continue our descent (and sometimes ascent) from the mountain.
The following hours were a test of strength and endurance, and a test of character.
After hours of wandering nowhere and with the light slowly fading away, we decided to set up an emergency camp for the night. It was, perhaps, one of my most dreaded evenings. I wasn’t sure if we will survive that ordeal, and we just passed up the time mimicking ourselves giving interviews to the press if we got rescued.
It was a restless evening. Aside from the physical torture of having to sleep in a sloping terrain, my mind is cluttered with so many things that I had difficulty sleeping. I woke up several times during that night.
The following day, we tried to find our way back down the mountain. Sir Zandro led us to a trail that I consider ultimate tests of physical endurance. With no real training on wall and rock climbing, I climbed walls and walls of loose rock at near 90-degree angles. Reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger movie, Mamu held on to dear life as she almost fell down the ravine.
We continued on this trail for the next eight hours. All those time, I could recall that I was on the verge of giving up. Chang and Chris were asking me if I can still do it. My simple retort: “As if naman may choice akong hindi mag go-on, diba?”
We were sustained by the thought that we were on our way down Mt. Napulauan. By 3 pm, we were at the same rock where we decided to backtrail the day before. Clearly, we were lost.
My will started to break down, and my body started giving up on me. The wind felt ten times colder, as the two-day rain continuously drenched our tired bodies. Sir Jun was starting to shiver in the cold, and I started giving up.
We pitched an emergency camp 20 meters from the rock. Fortunately, we still had our cell phones, their batteries intact, and with a mobile signal. We desperately called for rescue, texting a Tukad member in Manila to inform rescuers of our situation. We were burning the line, keeping Airene updated on the situation of the group.
After perhaps the longest two hours in my life, a ray of hope finally peeked from the grayish clouds covering the mountain. Airene successfully reached the police rescue team in Benguet, and the officer-in-charge called me up to say that help was on the way.
We spent the remaining hours waiting and hoping. At around 11 pm, we heard a whistle. The rescue team! We whistled back, and whistled more. We’re saved!
We had to spend the night at the emergency camp since it will be impossible for my friends to descend in their current condition. By morning, the rescue team accompanied us down the mountain.
The way down was simply magnificent. Abandoning fear and despair, I viewed the vistas and the surroundings with renewed awed. The mountain is a very powerful being. Nature is indeed a very powerful force.
We got our feet on concrete roads by 11 am that day. It was a great experience, and I will not be ashamed to say that I cried after looking behind me and seeing Mt. Napulauan in its majesty and the clouds that seem to heighten its mystique.
After a few hours, we were reunited with the rest of Tukad. Jeers, claps, hugs, and stories welcomed the rescued climbers. The group renamed the trail Zandro’s trail in Sir Zandro’s honor for losing us in Mt. Napulauan.
After a few minutes of conversations with the locals, with municipal officials, and the telling and retelling of stories, we finally bid our gracious hosts goodbye. We were at last bound for Manila.
As I hit my warm bed at home after disembarking, I relished the experience the mountain taught me. It was a horrible experience when you’re up there. Up there, I was ready to give up my dreams of climbing mountains again. But now, my resolve to conquer myself and befriend nature continues.
A UP Mountaineer put it succinctly: “I would rather be in the mountains wishing I were home than be at home wishing I were in the mountains.”
I am making myself fit for my next climb. I’ve started planning more nature trips and more climbs with friends. I’ve also started investing in mountaineering equipments. It is the drive to see the world from the mountain’s peak that keeps me pushing myself to the limits of my physical being.
I will definitely go back to the mountains.
Thank you to everyone in Hapao and Hugduan, Ifugao for extending your gracious hospitality to the Tukad Adventure Group. I am able to write this piece because of you.
The Tukad Adventure Group 2,000 feet above sea level
The Lapida — marking Mt. Napulauan’s peak
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