Back from the highlands

About three weeks ago, a friend invited me to climb Mt. Maculot (LLA: 13°55’15″N; 121°2’30″E; 685 MASL).

I just got back and all I can say is, “wow!”

I have been to Mt. Maculot Twice. The first was in 1996 (or was it in 1997? hmm, I can’t clearly remember) and it was so very different then. There were no makeshift stores up in the campsite area where locals sell halo-halo and all sorts of lowland comforts that they can carry up the mountain.

This year, I (along with the group) took a different route. We traversed up through the “Grotto” trail. Along the way, there are prayer stations where the religious may light candles and say their prayers. These kept us on the right track and it took us approximately an hour to get to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. A slow pace, I must admit. I knew I should have trained and jogged everyday for at least a week before the climb, but I didn’t – I couldn’t. Or maybe I’m just too lazy. And I paid a costly price for not doing so. I had to stop at every prayer station (and often in between) to rest. My legs were screaming for me to stop and take a breather. I thought I could wing it – the mountain proved me wrong. It was high noon and the trail was only partly covered by trees and high grass. I was sweating buckets!

We stopped at the Grotto for 5 minutes to take pictures and celebrate (a quarter of the way is done!). The real test was about to start. Traversing the mountain and finding our way to the summit from the Grotto.

We hit a little bump on the road (or in this case, trail) and stopped. Bamboo was blocking the partly covered trail and it can’t be moved. Our Expedition leader dared not cut the growth down. So he decided that we go around it and hoped to find a different path that leads us back to the trail to the summit. I could sense that some members of the group were worried, but they know that our Expedition leader will pull us through. He is an experienced outdoorsman and has another in the group with us (Jovel). I, on the other hand, felt my old strength coming back after that 5 minute stop and welcomed the cool refreshing mist that the mountain offered. “It smells like rain” I whispered to myself.

Along the way, there were shrubs and trees that you don’t usually see just about anywhere but a forested mountain. Some members of the group hated the thorny shrubs and trees we encountered along the way. It snagged their head gear, clothing, even their back packs. It made me smile, because I was once like them.

Then it started to rain. It made the already slippery trails even more slippery. There were paths were there were no foot holds, not even a branch to grab hold on to, and when there was one, it was that spiny thorn plant. The group, being that there were 8 guys and only one lady, never really seriously complained about the task ahead. Instead, we kept things light and joked about, well, everything! We were even visited by the group’s unofficial 9th member – Eagle Man! We of course knew that Eagle Man was Marlon who pulled down his black bandana over his face, making sure that the eye holes were in the right place, to instantly become Eagle Man, but we pretended that we were awestruck and greeted him happily. Everybody was in to it and it made the trek so much easier.

And so, back to the rain; it kept pouring until the next morning, drenching everything that wasn’t water-proofed. I was trekking with a wet pair of boots and socks. Lucky, I wore gaiters, so it kept the scratches and the mud on my legs to a minimum to almost nothing. I have more mud on my hands than my legs because there were instances when I had to walk on all fours because either the ground was offering no traction to my boots and I had to grab hold of tree roots or rocks or I had to crawl to avoid getting snagged by the thorny palnts. As for the scratches… well, I forgot to wear my Lycra sleeves and now I look like I had a fight with a cat.

We reached the summit somewhere around 4:30 PM. We immediately surveyed the small camp site and pitched our tents, while Marlon whips out a thermos of hot coffee (talk about being prepared!). It was still raining and it was getting dark real quick. In a matter of minutes, Joy (our only female companion) was changing into her camp apparel in one of the 3 tents, trying to stay warm. Aaron (our Expedition Leader) and I, immediately cooked dinner. We were trying to keep everybody, especially Joy and Vince out of the rain (it was their first mountain) and wanted to keep them warm. So Marlon took out the pre-boiled meat and we cooked Sinigang for dinner. Oh boy, it was delicious!

After dinner, we had “Jenny on Ice”. Where did the name come from? Its Generoso Brandy mixed with a little water and a pack of powdered iced tea.

We exchanged stories, played some tunes and had what’s left of the Sinigang a la Maculot.

When it felt like I couldn’t take any more alcohol (or was it that I was tired?), I called it a night and retired into my trusty tadpole tent.

There were instances when I woke up in the middle of the night for a lot of reasons. One of them would be that I had to go and take a leak. But it was too wet and cold outside that I chose to dismiss the urge and just went back to Lala Land.

I saw no stars that night. *sad* 😦

I woke up the next morning at 5:15 AM and it was still drizzling. And you guessed right – I chose not to get up just yet. When I felt like everyone was about to get up, I got out of my tent, pulled up the fly sheet and whipped a hot cup of coffee while having my morning cigarettes. I then cooked rice, made sunny side ups, fried danggit and dried squid. Aaron also cooked rice and made cream of mushroom soup.

After the hearty breakfast, we took some photos, talked about who snored the loudest and joked around some more. We then broke camp after noticing that it stopped raining and made the most out of it and made ready for the trek down the other side of the mountain to the grassland camp site.

After making sure that we have packed or rubbish and secured it on to our packs, and left no trace of our visit to the peak, we then started our descent down the mountain. That was where I got most of the scratches on my arms (note to self: wear a stretch sleeve next time! You should know this; you have been up a mountain quite a few times!).

Although it was no longer raining, the clouds racing through the mountain offered either a soothing, cool feeling, erasing all signs of weariness, or its just plain friggin’ cold! Still, it was a welcome treat for a city slicker like me. One doesn’t get to breathe air as fresh as that, ya’know.

The trail down the peak to the grassland campsite was initially wet, muddy and slippery, but was surprisingly dry and comfortable when we exited the forest.

We couldn’t see the trail because the cogon grass bowed towards each other and blocked our view. Joven traced the path and suffered a lot of scratches on his face and arms the most. But that didn’t stop him and the rest of the group from reaching the grassland camp site. We stopped at about a good 15 meters from the campsite when we saw a clearing. We put down our bags, refilled water bottles and enjoyed a quick snack of garlic flavored crackers.

After a short stop at the grassland campsite, greeting fellow mountaineers who were then having lunch, we then proceeded to walk down the trail leading to the lowlands.

On our way down, familiar marks on the trail greeted me. The ground was dry and the sun was starting to smile down on us. I saw this big old rock where I would always sit and rest. I greeted “him” and said hello to an old friend. “It has been years, it’s nice to see you again”.

It was a quick trek down the mountain and we even had time to stop every so often and wait for the rest of the group. In one of the rest stops, I saw a huge blue ant. I never got to photograph it, my camera phone’s battery was draining low at that time and we were to continue trekking down. Tsk… Next time perhaps. So, we continued on our way down the mountain and I just had to stop at a station where two trekkers were sitting at, not because of them, but I saw a local woman, selling coconut water (with strips of young coconut flesh). It looked so inviting with all the cold beads of water precipitating on the outside of the container. Being that I was on the head of the pack, I unbuckled my bag, set it down next to a tree, and took out my wallet. I bought a glass of that cold coco water and I wasn’t disappointed. It was cool and refreshing; you get a healthy amount of coco flesh in every gulp. I even had a second serving! So when everybody caught up with me on that rest stop, I invited them to check it out. Marlon (a.k.a Eagle Man) had 4 servings, if I’m not mistaken.

We continued walking until we reached the jump off point. It’s a hut maintained by a local family that caters to mountaineers. They have your basic needs like a head, food and refreshments. Jovel, Marlon and I ordered lunch while we waited for the others to arrive. We then took a much needed shower, brushed our teeth, and repacked our back packs and waited for the tricycles that the lady of the house called via text messaging.

We paid thirty pesos per person for the tricycle ride to town and took pictures of the town’s marker arch, making the mountain a beautiful background.

A bus, ride to Pasay City, dinner at a hamburger chain, post – climb debriefing, took some more photos, said our good-byes and we called it a night.

As I write this, I look back at the experience with great joy and a sense of fulfillment. It felt great to once again commune with nature. To go out there, and just rough it out. It brings a smile to my face. *sigh*

Take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time, leave nothing but footprints.

3 Responses to “Back from the highlands”

  1. the thought of actually getting stuck/lost on a forest with cute guys still amuses me. *sighing*

  2. gosh… i always wanted to experience the outdoors, but never had the chance and I think I never will… kainggit!

  3. I have a scheduled hike to Mt. Manabo on the 28th. Would you like to come?🙂

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