They say damage matures us and not the years, but wonder could always restore our innocence even for a fleeting moment. And on that day of February 2014, we were kids – frolicking at the Playground of the Gods, at Mt. Pulag.

Witnessing the infamous sea of clouds at sunrise was the culmination of a year-long planning, daydreaming, and anticipation for our little group this time composed of –

Arvin James De Guzman “The Photographer” (Prime / Runner-Up)
Kemaine Lee “Dudung” Lara (Planet)
Ann Kristine “Ninja Turtle” Degullado (Prime / Runner-Up)
Janine Kaira Dela Rosa “pato” (Prime / Duck-Duo)
Val Douglas “Doggie” Castaneda
Tiano “the ultimate chickboy” Mortenca (Planet)
Chelza “wowlegs” Sipin (Prime / Duck-Duo)
Noel “Asassin” Lisnang (Prime)
Paula “Beki” Galanido Tan (Prime) –and-
Angelo Carlo “Master Climber” Sison (Runner-Up)

 

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the PAV1 (Peak AdVenturers-1) Cast , Mt. Pulag Excursion January 31- February 2

 

Still officially the second highest peak of the Philippines and the highest of Luzon at Kabayan Benguet, towering over 2922 meters above sea level, we ventured through the Akiki Trail also dubbed as Akiller Trail known for its steep climb.

For quite a while this group has been braving peaks and hearing about how magnificent the view from above is. Truly how can you not be mesmerized by the sheer panoramic beauty of what we’ve witnessed? Words will never suffice to describe the wonder that was on that day, it surely was a sight to be seen for yourself.

Of course, the rewards are not without its share of hardships and sacrifices, armed with the reckless abandon that if we are to experience Pulag, we should at least go and earn it all out – hence the Akiller Trail, we trekked for around 3 hours until we reached Eddet River.

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Day 1 – From Eddet to Marlboro Country

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Day 1 – nearing the camp site at dusk

From there, comes the most grueling part of the climb, an intense hike of around 6 Hours to Marlboro Country through an unforgiving  trail where we would camp out for the night.

Day 2 was marked by a slight drizzle that turned into a full-blown hurricane (i think) as we passed the mossy forest and into the grasslands.

At around 2 pm of our 2nd day, most of us have reached the saddle camp where we are to set-up for the rest of the day.  Yes, the temperature was indeed super cold, especially if you’re dripping wet. And yes, the socials were a bit cramped, and yes the sleep was uncomfortable and lacking, and yes our legs were tired but all of those were forgotten the moment we geared up towards the summit.

Among our fellow climbers we were witnesses to the majesties that this experience has brought us. Bonded with the same goal, and well by the Drinks from the previous night, our group managed to pull-off quite a feat. Of Course Pictures were taken, jump shots were made, and goofing off was a staple.

And indeed for a few hours that day, we’ve forgotten all our worries and soaked in the moment where we were once again filled with awe, akin to child who has yet to lose his sense of wonder.

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Day 2 – Wet and Cold at the Mossy Forest, on the way to the Saddle Camp

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Day 3 – the coveted Sea of Clouds

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“Epic Sunrise”

Sure, one day, our backs will give-out, our knees will grow weak, and our eyes will go bad, but how many people could claim that they’ve had quite the adventure. And regardless of where we end up in this uncertain life, we could always look back on that day where but for a few hours, we were kids again and the world was ours.

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Hey, Hey!

more pictures here at

https://www.facebook.com/val.d.castaneda/media_set?set=a.10152435842597298.1073741850.632002297&type=3

Here We Come

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Everything Else

I can’t believe it’s been 10 months since I packed my bags, laced my shoes and treaded the mountains. From burning soles in the pavement, I have now transformed my lifestyle from a runner into mountaineer; of course, I will always be a runner first.

From being an ill-equipped noobie, I could now confidently call myself experienced, I think.. sort of.. maybe.

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Pico De Loro 664 masl
Pico De Loro (Traverse 664 masl)
Daguldol 672 masl
Maculot (Solo-Traverse 930 masl)
Batulao (Traverse 811 masl)
Tarak Ridge 1130 masl
Kibungan Circuit -
(Mt. Tagpaya 1820 masl, Mt. Oten 1875 masl, Mt. Tagpew 2105 masl)

Batulao (Solo-Traverse 811 masl)
Maculot (Solo-Rockies 706 masl)
Pico De Loro 664 masl
Maculot (Traverse 930 masl)
Gulugod Baboy 525 masl

I fell in love with climbing instantly, and in the succeeding months slowly built my gears, scoured the metro for outdoor shops and acquired enough pedigree.

There’s something about climbing mountains that makes every trip worthwhile, it’s usually more than the photos taken, or that feeling of accomplishment. For me, what makes this activity more than the thrill of the experience is the camaraderie shared between mountaineers along the trails or at the campsites.

In these times where everyone is connected, never have I realized that we would be able to relate more when we have cut ourselves from our electronic umbilical reliance. In the urban society where indifference have become a staple, only in the mountains are we able to share a smile to strangers genuinely.

Of course climbing is not without its responsibilities. First, there is the responsibility that you share with your climbing buddies. Then there is the responsibility that you share with the mountain. You really have to take into heart your awareness to nature. She shares with you her beauty and a magnificent experience, the least that we could do is to keep her clean.

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When we started off, it has always been to reach the highest possible, dream big and go all out, and nothing says bigger than reaching the “Playground of the Gods”. And now we’re mere days away from making this a reality.

Here we Come.

Pulag (Akiki-Amba 2922 masl) January 31 – February 2.

doggieThe atmosphere was different, the feeling, the tension, and the anticipation was a class ahead from a 21k and a 10k run. As I looked around and saw fellow runners doing their pre-run rituals, I got this fleeting sense that I was headed into a battlefield. Six hours later and that fleeting sense would be justified.

And as I was knotting my trusted red bandana to my forehead, I remembered the early morning runs, all those purchased running accessories and gears, the endless liniment applications, the itbs incident and the painful runs that would follow after. I’ve come a long way. And an intrepid smile broke into my face.

“Here I go once again trying hard to pretend
There’s a future in your man made rules
I’ll be governed by the road, get to shed this heavy load
I see no future, so leave me alone in the past”

The countdown finally hit zero, much to the delight of two thousand anxious marathon runners, and an orchestra of foot to pavement strikes ensued. Forty two kilometers. Six hours. How does one measure in this test? Why would anyone put themselves through this grueling endurance race?

The first 16 kilometers was a breeze, after more than a year of religiously running, my body has become accustomed to the feat all the while the music was blaring through my ears, keeping true in tune with every step that I took. As I passed the 21 kilometer marker on record time of 2:30, I braced myself for what I consider the hardest part of the race – the 22-32 kilometer stretch. Good thing Kasabian’s Man of Simple Pleasures perfectly fit my pace and my mood at that time.

“I am told the world is nearly ending
But when I look outside, the birds are always singing
You throw sticks and bones
Remember every dog will have its day, I’m on my way”

The race continued, even with a progressing ache all throughout my left leg, courtesy of my nagging ITBS. It was at this point when the pace suddenly slowed down that I began to notice things. “Kaya Mo Yan” (You Can Do This) printed on the back of the singlet glaringly flashed within my view as another runner silently passed me, it made me smile as to how unknowingly patronizing we were to each other. I began to notice the Marshalls’ genuine encouragement, some familiar faces, other’s gimmicks and antics, and everyone’s struggle to finish the race.

The grit displayed that day was something to remember. Along the final seven kilometers, the obvious pain was evident and shared between fellow runners. This race was no longer a competition against the other two thousand runners, but a struggle to triumph oneself. I did not know their names. I did not know their reasons, I did not know their motivations, but it was as if I could feel the weight that bears their every step, for it was as heavy as mine.

Last two kilometers, and the sun was lavishly decorating the skies. The heat was punitive. But still I ran, as I found the bearing on every stride that I made.

This was something scary, something that could be fun as well, something that could be way larger than me, and also something that poses a significant challenge. I guess that for every time that I embark on something this big and difficult, a part of me automatically makes an analogy of it to life. But this wasn’t life, merely a small dent on it, this was something that for six hours I could own. There was only me and the finish line, and the burning desire to reach that final step and cross it. There are no crazy family issues here, no shattered dreams and broken promises, no unexpected illnesses, or devastating calamities. This – this is nothing.

And as I took my final turn, and heard the cheers for the final 500 meters, Kasabian drowns within the sea of my own exaltation, fades into the background, and I ran…
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“You won’t take me for a ride
I’m far too fast for you to keep up with me
You won’t take me for a ride
Never catch them really need no money
I’m not gonna be standing in the line
Waiting for you just to kick me out
You won’t take me for a ride, you won’t take me for a ride”

Lyrics excerpts from: Man of Simple Pleasures
Artist: Kasabian
Album: Velociraptor
here’s the link to their awesome music video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-nnnwKxBJQ

Shout out goes to:

• My team, Runner-Up for the best collection of misfits who probably ever graced the pavement
• Specially, Ms. Mads and Family for the support during the race
• Mang Ernie and Armel for the incessant advices
• Arvin for this kick-ass photo, and Tin
• Basheshe for the streamer
• And for every Runner out there who continues to brave the circuit!

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As this journey came to a close, and while we were prepping up for our trip home Arvin tells me “Val, let’s not do this again”. Puzzled, I intrigued why. And to which he replies “This sleepless climb”.

Sleepless, indeed Arvin could not have said it any better, this adventure kicked off the previous night on the 25th of May with the usual suspects of Primehikers plus guest climbers of the MST society. And as with any brilliant plan this one deviated way off from the supposed route, and stumble upon stumble we somehow found ourselves some 24 hours later concluding the journey on a high note, or not – depends entirely on one’s point of view.

Now how could this possibly happen? Read on…

But first, some would argue (those would be poets, wanna be philosophers or people too shallow that they have to emphasize how deep they are) that it is not the destination that matters, but rather the journey itself. Regardless of how cliché that is, that same statement would ring true to this excursion of ours, or to anyone’s for that matter.

Heading to the jump-off site we were greeted by an unrelenting traffic jam, caused by vehicle collisions at the SLEX and at the STAR tollway placing us hours late from our scheduled trek. And upon arrival at barangay Hugom, we found out that guides are not available during the “alanganing” time that we came, thus making our night trek into an early morning hike of 4 am. I swear at this juncture, the hiking gods were probably looking down on us from Mount Wherever testing our mettle. So what do we do? Yep. easy – we got wasted, some more than others @_@.

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the entire crew camping along the beach front
photo by Cynthia Canlas

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moments before the hike

Lambanog, no sleep, and a mountain of 672+ masl surely do not mix together. But this unruly bunch nagged on. Mount Daguldul is surprisingly difficult to climb specially for beginners, not because we were intoxicated upon climbing (hah!), but because the mountain offered a trail of continuous ascent while the relatively flat sections were numbered. Yep, this was almost a mini-assault endurance climbfest. Sighing, you’d have to wonder why the mountain wasn’t named with its physical relation to a certain tv personality – cause if that’s the case, this climb would have been a breeze.

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along the trail

At around noon we reached the summit, got our pictures taken, goofed around for a bit and then headed down for home. The picturesque greenery that Daguldol offers certainly is unique because the beauty lies not in what you could see from afar, but of what you could appreciate from within.

For people expecting a scenic view of the sea, hills or fields, this mountain would be a letdown. Though she allows us a slice of the Laiya beach from above, it would not be as dramatic once the negatives are developed. Mount Daguldol, for a destination is not exceedingly extraordinary, but for the journey that we took, for the shared laughters and the endless teasing while we were hours stuck on traffic, for the new company gained, for the drinking/camping at the beach, for the woes upon seeing the almost golf course summit, to the glee of actually seeing the golf course summit as advertised in other blogs, for those few minutes we had lying in the grass staring at the clouds, for the halo-halo at Mang Lizardo’s hut, for the running game we had while descending the trail – I guess this classifies as extraordinary.

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primehikers at the summit – cause normal poses are too mainstream

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mst society – rovie, cynthia, ana, ofel, macel, kenjie
photo by Rofelyn Amazona

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goof[ing around while waiting for our Halo-halos at Mang Lizardo’s hut

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breakfast at the almost golf lawn summit

So yeah, the cliché phrase about the journey and destination is as right as it could come. Mishaps and woes will always be a part of the trails that we all take, some would be tested more than others, some might even falter and get lost, but as it is with climbing mountains, we just continue walking. Cause every step bears the weight of a new memory, a new story to tell, a helping hand waiting for you to ledge on, or a life wanting to be lived. And although every step also leads us all to that same eventuality, we could always at least look back and say that our journey was extraordinary.

And as Arvin tells me “Val, let’s not do this again, this sleepless climb”, yeah maybe we won’t – but we will surely continue the journey.

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a view of the shoreline from above

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doggie on daguldul

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Primehikers and MST Society

For our groups’ itinerary, check out arvs23’s blog of the same event

http://arvs23.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/mt-daguldol/

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Taal – a view from the Rockies

I remember the huffing, the hurried pace, I remember being promised an hour climb until the Grotto on top, and a three hour hike back down with a different route, I remember seeing nothing but greens. As for my very first encounter with a mountain, that’s it, those memories. Sometimes I even tried to reimagine, the trail, the dirt on my shoes and the water bottle on my hand. That was Maculot 1995.

Eighteen years later and I found myself on a bus bound for Lipa, my stop was at Tambo exit and from there I took a twenty minute jeepney ride into Cuenca. At 7:15 am, a few minutes into the trail, with a cup of coffee in hand, I conversed with a few folks at their small sari-sari store and asked for some directions. As I continued, I was half-expecting for some memories to come flooding in – no success there.

Taking the new trail, the one that diverges left from a fork in the road I marched on. Having known earlier that it rained hard the previous night, the onslaught of mud and slippery slopes did not surprised me. The mountain was very welcoming, amidst the muddy  trail you will be constantly greeted by the scenic view of Taal lake. This trail was also steep, there were very few rocks in the ground that would provide you stable footing, instead you’d have to make do with the roots and the trees lest you’d slide down. Along the way, rest stops (with makeshift chairs and tables) were aplenty, it is in one of these stops that I’ve met fellow climbers Relly and Arnold (fresh from Manabu and completing their twin hike), and the Banahaw Group (let’s call them that, since they were warming up for their Banahaw hike)

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Taal Lake – during my ascent

Going on solo for a climb really is a different experience, for one, no would be watching your back. You are your own responsibility and you have to be extra vigilant on everything. Caution is your best friend, overconfidence is your enemy. It is lonely, but you get to dictate your own pace, there’s no pressure, and you get to take in all this nature around, it almost feels like meditating.

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Self Shot – naks

 

 

At around 8:30, I have reached the camp site. From here, the trail separates, to the left is the Rockies (the most famous destination in Maculot, providing a scenic view of Taal Lake) and the right leads to the summit.

After coming from the Rockies, I found myself back at the camp site eager to take on the summit solo mode, however, hesitation and doubt set-in, and I lingered more at the spot trying to make up my mind. My pessimism concluded only when the Banahaw Group decided to head to the summit as well, as a solo hiker the further trip upwards into a seldom used trail would be perilous, but with a group – well, that’s a different story.

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Me at the Rockies

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On the Edge =)

The Banahaw Group was an awesome bunch, led by the oldest member of the family Nanay Eva, together with Euan her son, Jacq and her brother, Poldo, Tita (forgot her name) and her tween daughter and her 10 something son, we ascended to the summit hoping to traverse through until the Grotto.

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Maculot Summit as viewed from the Campsite

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The trail to the Summit

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trail upwards was strenuous, first you’d have to go through a head high grass field, and then take a continuous assault until the peak, with the reward quite disappointing. There was nothing to see at the summit, only a glimpse of the Taal Lake, nothing compared to the majesties that the Rockies have to offer. However, climbing the summit and traversing was an achievement none the less.`

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The descent – with ropes O_o

Heading down, on a tricky and rocky descent, we moved forward foregoing lunch . The trail downwards involved two very steep sections where you’d have to hold on to a rope, and carefully tread for footing. A few hours later and the group were lushly resting at the Grotto, took the easiest descent of the trail (since there were cemented steps by now), and then I bid my farewells.

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Doggie at the Grotto

 

 

Homeward bound, and as I continued to put some distance between my back and Mt. Maculot, I kept on searching for the memories of my first adventure there some eighteen years ago. A time when I was not yet an adult, but an innocent kid full of wonder and awe to the world. I did not find those memories.

 

Whatever I saw there and however I saw them were long gone. And although that adventure was already forgotten, it’s great to know that another one was made that day, seen with different eyes – when I returned to Mt. Maculot.

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saw this while on my way home

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More Adventures to come…

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April 27th saw me being back again at Ternate, Cavite and squaring off against Mt. Pico De Loro for the second time in a month, only this time I’m with my running buddies – Team Runner-Up.

Well it would have been the same story except this time; we were going to traverse the trail from Ternate, Cavite to Nasugbu, Batangas and of course by now, I’m dead set to climb the Parrot’s Beak.

Early in the afternoon, the skies poured heavily and would not let up until around 5pm, the whole team met at SM Bacoor expecting what entails next – a muddy, slippery night trek.

Pre climb preparations at the jump-off and minutes before 11 pm, the night trek ensues. As expected of the trip upwards, the trail was unforgiving, handing us difficult maneuvers one after another with the team trying to avoid the slips, spills, and splunks.

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Pre Climb

PreClimb

Base Camp 1

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Mud Casualty

The muddy terrain took a heavy toll on us, especially with our footwears as with every step, the mud that keeps on sticking at our soles accumulated, making our strides heavier. In fact, the mud claimed the shoes of a couple of my team mates, good thing my trusty rope was ever present in such situations. Nyohoho!

Four hours later and we found ourselves setting up camp near the peak. The climb would have been much more difficult if not for my gears. These guys were of much help:

  1. Deuter 40+10L ACT Lite – A good bag is essential, the first thing I’ve learned from my previous climb. The tech allows air circulation at my back (now that’s a lot of comfort), and the belt strap eases the weight of the pack off the shoulders (means I am not straining more carrying my stuffs).
  2. Sandugo SH1201 – Shoes! This would have to be my first hiking shoes, compared to the one I used before, which was a running shoe, this one did its job well. The soles were made of hard plastic rubber (that makes a stable footing especially on rocks and my foot didn’t ache all through the ascent), and the whole body was constructed expecting the shoes to be wet.
  3. Energizer headlamp – Having a headlamp instead of a handheld flash light frees my hands. This allows me a wider array of movements during the night trek.
  4. Rain Gear / Poncho – Though it would not be used until the next day, the poncho shielded me well from a heavy downpour during our descent.

There were fifteen of us who climbed the mountain that day, and we were organized in two groups. This division was designed so that breakfast preparations would be faster with two burners and two cooksets, and also allowed us a little bantering as to whose breakfast meals was better.

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Group 1: Mang Ernie, Miss Mads, Arvin, Tintin, Basheshe, Jops, and Me (Doggie) – 7

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Group 2: JCuenca (yes we were with a celebrity), Joey, Meg, Papa Bear, Kuya Chris, Angelo, CrisTy, and Onin – 8

During break camp, the group even had a chance to meet with Sir Tony (GN Mountaineers), with the Shembot Climberz (?!). Hats up to these fellas for their enthusiasm and of course for some great photos, we even shared a few moments with these guys before heading down, a moment which involved Arvin, and Isabel, and one which Tintin would like to forget. Haha! Boom!

Runner Up with GN Mountaineer

Runner Up with GN Mountaineer

Runner Up prepping for the summit

Runner Up prepping for the summit

from the back photo

from the back photo

Past the summit, the group continued the descent to climb the infamous Parrot’s Beak – yeah, that one monolith that we were not able to climb the first time. From the view of the summit the monolith would look pretty intimidating, which was not the case once you started the climb here. In fact, the only difficult part was on the steep section of the boulders where you have to grab unto a rope for stability, after that, it’s almost a walk on the park.

At around noon, and after a few minutes later we started our descent to the Nasugbu Batangas trail, this was a traverse hike after all. At Campsite we have arranged for traspo, and houses where we could freshen up once done – so everything’s set then huh? – Well except that it rained good during our hike downwards. Sigh!

My Muddy Trek Shoes

My Muddy Trek Shoes

Living with discomfort was a fitting title for this article because by the time we’ve finished the trail, some of us were bruised, drenched in sweat and rainwater, lathered in mud, and just plain exhausted. It took us almost four hours to descend a trail that was relatively easier, though farther. Take Fives (rests) were kept at a minimum and we kept on marching until the finish line.

The heavy downpour gave us much trouble since we were on a muddy and slippery incline. Slips and Slides were unavoidable and every instance was met with laughter and jokes and our lunches were mere portions from our festive breakfast, yet this group endured.

Tramping (trekking plus camping) and Mountaineering isn’t an activity for everyone. In the middle of a hike, you can’t just turn around and head back home, you can’t always expect an ideal weather, and you won’t find convenience stores at camps. Being in a group or with buddies makes it easier because you share the responsibilities with your mates, but that doesn’t mean that you no longer need to pull your own equal weight. But for this noob who’s beginning to embrace a life of discomfort, I could clearly see the need to endure, and the need to experience whatever nature could throw at you. Cause at the end of the road, we are always promised a solemn sunset, a peaceful starlit sky, a mesmerizing dawn, a fear conquered, or an exuberant journey – kinda like life.

Till Next Time

Till Next Time

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So how did this little adventure of ours came to be?

Maybe it started out when an office mate saw some pictures of another having climbed the said peak, then mentioned it to another, with the other guy agreeing, a facebook event page was created, and then then it snowballed into something quite.. well.. awesome.

From over 20 people who intended to climb, 11 pushed through. Now here’s the fun part – it was going to be a night trek! And most of us are climbing newbies with one or two really minor climbs under the belt, some none at all. This is us all groomy before the 3 hour hike.

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Pico de Loro is located at Maragondon, Cavite, some 3 hours away from the Metro. Pinoymountaineer.com lists the mountain as 664 meters above sea level, with a trail class of 1-3, and difficulty level of 3/9.

Heading into the jump-off point (DENR station), i was having major reservations when we closed the L3’s headlights along the highway just to see how dark it was going to be, well it was pitch black!

The trek lasted for about 3 hours, about 40 minutes in the trail we arrived at Basecamp 1, there we did our registrations and proceeded with the climb. To say that the climb was hard, is an understatement, first off – i was sporting a regular bag, which causes the weight to be solely focused on the shoulders. Then my shoes were not really built for a climb – it only looked like one though. And third somewhere along the trail, as positions got switched, i found myself as the sweeper. Yeah, the guy at the back, with nothing but darkness behind him. Having a vivid and active imagination didn’t help me there at all.

Three hours later and we were drinking labanog at the campsite laughing in a hushed manner and eager to sleep. Then came the morning – and boy were we in for quite a surprise.

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I’ve got to say waiting for the sunrise on top of a mountain, with a cold breeze gently stroking your nape was quite a surreal experience. Now i understood why a lot of people would put themselves in a difficult situation for this. This feeling of having conquered something quite spectacular, in one with nature and her splendor.

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Now to reach the summit.

Climbing the summit was more difficult, though short lived for only about 30 minutes. This was a steep incline of probably 45 degree angle with dirt for surface, making your footing and balance a little tricky. Then you’ll have to hold unto the grass, and be on all fours for additional balance, otherwise you’d be on the next morning’s headlines. =)

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Reaching the summit, a monolith of a rock would immediately catch your attention, specially since climbers were heading to it. I guess the thrill just wont let up huh.

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Now climbing this or rather getting to it would have to be the scariest part here. I’m not scared of heights, though I’m not too fond of them either, but upon reaching the summit you’d have to go down again on the other side, on a steep and rocky formation, at one point on a narrow path, with cliffs on both sides. That made my stomach turn a little, though the stupid grin on my face never faded.

Once down you’d have to climb again, for about 20 minutes on a 90 degree ascent with ropes. We’ll this was where we drew the line. Only two from the group dared venture unto this point, one being me and the other as Mark, the most experienced climber of us. Below the monolith, we were still pumped to climb but time would not permit us (excuses excuses). As the long line starts here, if we were to push through we’d be taking an hour or more from the group just from the waiting. Oh well, the Parrot’s Beak’s monolith would have to wait for another time. I’ll take you on by then.

Upon descending the summit, we readied ourselves and packed our bags. Its time to say good bye to this excursion.

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In over a night, we trekked for about 6 hours, braved a mountain, climbed on all fours, ventured into the darkness, and had a hell of a lot of fun, with most of us inexperienced and under-equipped. I got acquainted with new terms like jump-offs, traverses,and assaults, shared an exhilarating experience with friends, watched the sun rip through the skies, and found a new appreciation for the outdoors. Am I going to do this again? You bet I would!

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Primehikers circa April 2013