Thursday, February 17, 2011

Conquering Mount Pulag (First Assault)

That February weekend was probably the most difficult and challenging two days I ever experienced. I initially had the idea of climbing Mount Pulag in Benguet province on a February. This time of the year is when it gets really cold in this tropical country, more so on the second (or third, depending on whose estimates you follow) highest mountain in the Philippines, definitely the highest on Luzon mainland. And boy, what the hell was I thinking?

Mt. Pulag, Cordilleras, Benguet, Philippines
Before getting all disheveled and sickly.
© Angelica Cruz 2011

We took the Ambangeg route up and down. This route has a difficulty level of 3/9, the easiest trail to Mount Pulag. That said, the climb is still difficult (hey, they did use the word "difficulty"), especially for lowland, non-mountaineer folk like me. Especially since I was suffering from colds and cough since days before the trip. It was worsened, of course, by the freezing, damp, mountain wind. Yes, not just air, but wind.

Lesson learned: a congested respiratory system and a thin layer of oxygen in the air do not mix well. I was wheezing and panting my way up the trail, in and around the campsite, towards the summit and back down. I think the whole campsite could hear my fast, heavy yet shallow breaths.

Mt. Pulag, Cordilleras, Benguet, Philippines
Fog is coming in.
© Paul Xymon Garcia 2011

Sleep was hard to come by, too. Four layers I had on and that was not enough. Fortunately and thankfully, my friends agreed to let me into their tent. The more crowded, the better. This way, everybody gets more body heat. And that is a necessity to survival up there.

At some point, I literally feared for my life. We were at a height of 9,500 feet, so severe altitude sickness from lack of oxygen is a definite possibility. Then, there's hypothermia from that freezer-like temperature made ten times worse by the wind-chill factor.

In the end, I dragged myself through the whole experience. I did reach the summit. Though when I got there, I was not able to do much but focus on getting what little oxygen is in the air into my system. The whole summit was foggy (and windy and drizzly), too, so we were not able to witness the view Mount Pulag was famous for.

Mt. Pulag, Cordilleras, Benguet, Philippines
Can you see the great views of the mountains?
© Angelica Cruz 2011

Hence, my resolve. Despite the numerous sufferings and struggles I had to endure during this trip, I will climb again and again until I see and photograph that mountain's sunrise and sea of clouds. Mount Pulag, I will see you again.

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