I tried retracting the pact I made with my mountaineering friends regarding the hike up to the summit of what most Filipinos regard as the holy mountain – Mt Banahaw. I woke up not excited about the climb so I kept on pushing myself up and over the hanging land of burdens and commitment. By the time the clock ticked 1700H of 30 July 2011, I made my way to our meeting place. We rode a jeepney to Alabang Terminal and boarded a Lucena-bound bus. The bulkiness and huge size of our bags gave us the only option of sitting on the back seats.
It was a bumpy ride. The world seemed like a rollercoaster ride of comfort and uneasiness. After two hours, we saw the neon blue lights of a mall in San Pablo. We went in it to buy energy drinks, had our dinner and followed the trail drawn by plastic yellow cones leading to the exit door. The bright lights were turned off, only the beaming lights from the signs were retained. And while we were sitting outside the mall with the cold wind trying to blow away the gloom surrounding me, workers rushed out of the building.
Moving forward… to the base camp, we prepared for the big day like first-timer Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Scavenging through our packed bags, we chose to leave some things. For me, I left only the clothing ensemble for the road back home. It was still dawn so we were reminded to modulate our voices and keep the decibel as low as possible. Brgy Kinabuhayan is enforcing curfew for all ages.
The hike started in Sariaya, Quezon via the Guis-Guis trail. As we took the first group picture, it started to drizzle, “like a blessing” as they say.
With our raincoats on full swing, we entered the majestic rainforest of Mt Banahaw. However, along the trail inside the forest, heat started to build-up in our bodies. So we stopped and removed our ponchos. We emerged into a river of boulders and sparkling water, along with the first rappelling section, a short one… an appetiser for the long and death-defying segments.
We passed by the portion where you could “see” at night the image of the Virgin Mary on the surface of a rocky wall. According to the guides, no cameras are allowed in this section during Holy Week.
You can take a bath also at nearby mini-waterfalls. Further cadences could take you to the Dugo Falls, named as such because of the colour of the water and/or rocks in the area (scientifically, the colour might be due to iron oxide or other iron-related substances).
Trailing over loose rocks (read: big rocks) is never easy, especially when the rain is pouring down. There is always the tendency that these rocks roll leading to one’s instant demise.
The guides suggested camping at the Dugo campsite. We found out, however, that the area is not conducive for our group because it can only accommodate 1-3 tents.
After haggling with a short 90-degree-rocky-wall, we proceeded to the Palacio campsite amidst heavy downpour. We had to endure the strong current of the flowing water and coldness brought about by the rain and wind. Before the end of the day, we reached Palacio and immediately pitched our tents. (As usual) Rey was the cook. Since I was fighting with mild fever, I changed clothes and took a rest.
Rain welcomed us on our second day in the mountain. Our bags absorbed water that made them heavier, to our dismay. Well, that scenario was expected because of the weather condition. We walked and started to trek the yet unknown trail.
Roped segments are numerous. It rained harder when we reached the dreaded rappelling section before the Durungawan areas. With heavy bags and pouring water from above (like braving the force of waterfalls), I made my first attempt in rappelling (very fatal). My knees were trembling. My body was so cold. I was like having chills while holding on to dingy and seemingly-unsafe ropes. Before taking on my first foot upwards, I was told not to solely rely on the ropes. The cold water was turning my body into a frozen item. My spine wanted to give up, but they told me not to withdraw support from the rope. That whatever happens, never give up on the rope.
A series of roped segments followed. My hands were moving on their own (to produce heat) that I could not even hold the spoon right. I asked Tracy to put warm oil on my back. And geez! Her hands were cold. So we started our journey to the Durungawan area. Led by Dev, we had to pass through tall grasses and ravines of immeasurable depth. We could not see the crater because of the thick fog. Everytime we were given the time to take a rest, we hid behind the tall grasses to avoid the wind touching our wet and already-cold bodies.
The rocks at the Tatlong Tangke Falls are slippery. The way back to Kinabuhayan is a long and winding road. Light from homes seemed so near, but only a quick turn at the next curve took us farther. The white lights were on and off as we trailed with our headlamps switched on.
The trail was muddy and slippery. The innumerable slides we did were priceless, though painful. The bruises we acquired were nothing but newly-added confirmation that we, indeed, are alive. I have gained new ideas like putting the strap of your bag near the edge of your shoulder in long walks so that the muscles adjacent to the neck would not be strained. A viper, or snakes in general, according to Bong, does not attack people unless they are provoked. But I was really frightened when I saw a green viper. I was not wearing my eyeglasses that time, but the sight of the serpent frightened me in a way that the Mt Cristobal was not able to accomplish with its silhouette radiating from a distance.
I went home fulfilled with tags of small bruises and body aches.
Photo credits: Louie Casimero, RED Mountaineers