Friday, May 10, 2013

Mount Pulag and the Joys of Trekking

I will say it upfront. The joys of trekking, I did not find them when I trekked to the summit of Mount Pulag, the Philippines' third highest peak. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's back up a bit.

The first time I trekked to Mount Pulag was not my finest hour. Wheezing and panting through the mountain trail, I was finding that altitude was not my friend. The low pressure in the atmosphere meant that I got only a fraction of the oxygen I was used to on sea level, something my lungs and heart were violently correcting by working overtime. My blocked air passageways caused by a runny nose made sure I got even lesser oxygen. Weather, which at the time was rainy and foggy, was not helping. Glorious sunrise and sea of clouds, not this time.

That was early 2011. Pressure had built up since then that my second trek to Mount Pulag be more successful on all fronts.

Trek to Mount Pulag, Philippine Cordilleras
Mount Pulag's glorious sunrise and sea of clouds, elusive to travelers since the 1960s (or earlier, maybe)

This time it'll be sweeter

Fortunately, this second time, this time, early 2013, my trek to Mount Pulag was much more pleasant. The weather though only eventually became pleasant. The three-hour climb up to Camp II was cold and rainy. I had a water resistant parka inside my backpack but I did not want it to get wet as I wanted bone dry clothing when I finally made it to camp. At one point, I looked down on my bare, uncovered arms and noticed reddish discoloration. The rain and the cold air up here were doing things to my skin I had never seen before.

Trek to Mount Pulag, Philippine Cordilleras
It was warm and sunny during the ride to the Mount Pulag park ranger station that morning.
Weather turned sour just like that, but that's mountain weather for you.

Having had little sleep the night before the trip and having had practically no sleep the previous night in the bus to the trek's transit point, Baguio City, I realized I was pushing myself to my absolute limits. Three hours later, or what felt like the whole afternoon, I finally reached Camp II for the trek to Mount Pulag. I was soaking wet, brought by a combination of sweat from within and rain from outside.

After locating my Mount Pulag trekking group in the chaos of a camp full of trekkers, guides, and porters, we set up our tent and changed into dry clothes faster than you can say, "Brrrr." I did not know whatever else transpired after I tucked myself inside my sleeping bag. As soon as I lay down, I went into a long-overdue deep slumber. As succinctly as my native tongue would put it: bulagtâ.

When I finally woke up five hours later, I learned that not everybody had a sleep as pleasant. My two Mount Pulag trek and tent buddies had short bamboo shrubs under the part of the tent they had to sleep on, so they had to contort their bodies to make themselves comfortable, ironically enough. Unbeknownst to me, too, cold rain water had seeped into our tent. In my deliriously exhausted state, I apparently slept through it.

As glorious as sunrises get

It is a little bit difficult trekking to Mount Pulag's summit in the dark, but it was the only way we could experience the glorious sunrise and the sea of clouds Mount Pulag was famous for. We got up at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m., stretched our legs, put on layers unheard of in a tropical country like the Philippines, and brazed the icy temperatures outside.

I counted five, but it is probably closer to ten, the number of times I slipped and stumbled along the muddy, slippery trail to the summit of Mount Pulag as we walked through it in the dark (and also in daylight after the sunrise). I laughed through all of them. Everybody else in the train of people heading up the summit laughed, too, as everybody slipped a number of times as well. Badge of honor, I say.

Trek to Mount Pulag, Philippine Cordilleras
The Mount Pulag summit was full of trekkers when we got there. Tagaytay Picnic Grove up in this place.

I saw that the summit was already full of trekkers when we got there. Another thing I noticed (difficult to ignore, really) was the freezing wind that relentlessly smashed our faces. It made the near-zero temperatures feel even closer to zero. I simply cannot understand how some trekkers were only wearing short pants and a windbreaker. I was being blast frozen like a yellow fin tuna over here. I was only glad when I saw the first rays of the sun had finally tinged yellow the undulating terrain of Mount Pulag's summit. Soon, the sea of low lying clouds revealed itself. It was vast, literally as far the eye can see. It was beautiful in that it moved gently, spilling over nearby hills and dissipating slowly as it did.

Trek to Mount Pulag, Philippine Cordilleras
One of the most glorious sunrises I have ever seen. But is it enough?

The joys of trekking

As glorious as sunrises go in Mount Pulag, the experience of trekking here lacked a certain something. I am extremely grateful having seen what I saw. However, I have learned through the previous treks I have done, though few, that a trek should be as exhilarating as the views you get at the end of it.

"A trek is an evolving experience, not simply a race towards a particular destination," wrote Lonely Planet authors in their Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya guide. "There is little point in rushing the trip only to get to some place that may not be as engrossing as where you are, right now."

In my trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal, I remember walking along a thick forested trail. I trekked the slowest in our group so I was often left walking alone. As I heaved every step in the uphill climb, I realized that as strenuous as trekking was, it was actually quite relaxing and peaceful. Everything slowed down. There was nothing else here but me and the trail before me. I was forced to pay attention to what's around me: the rustling of the trees, the warm rays of the sun, and the freshest air I had ever breathed in my life.

Trek to Mount Pulag, Philippine Cordilleras
The seemingly barren high slopes of Mount Pulag. Squint hard enough and you see the trail to the summit as well as trekkers standing on a peak and walking along the path.

Sadly, I did not get any of that in my trek to Mount Pulag. No relaxation. No peace. There were just too many people climbing all at once. I reckon it's high time to impose a limit on the size of trekking groups, something that has already been proposed. I truly believe Mount Pulag is a great trekking destination. Maybe I just need to go on another trail to confirm it.

What is trekking like for you? What makes a great trek, in your opinion?

Hi there, traveler! Did you like this post? Got any comments? Do leave me a message below. A RETWEET or a LIKE would be very much appreciated, too. Sharing buttons can be found at the beginning of this post and below. You can also subscribe to this site to get new posts via email:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...