Grab on roots or vines. Be careful not to hold the “teka-teka” plants. Balance yourself or slip away. Don’t look down. Manage to put your strength on your feet. It is slippery in there. Push! 100 steps more. Those were just some of the things I have told myself, not to mention the cursing part. Yes, it was the hardest yet the best mountain I have climbed so far. Mt. Arayat Traverse, has the kind of adventure that I was looking for and it is the type of mountain that I prefer.
The day before the climb, heavy rain surprised Luzon. I never thought that a tropical storm will hit that time especially that the day after it will be our climb in Mt. Arayat, and I was already geared up for the event. I was excited since I will not only be able to trek a mountain again but I will also get to experience the 18th Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. When that day came, it’s like the universe conspire to make everything work for good. The heavy rain stopped and my superiors allowed me not to render an overtime.
From the airport, we went directly to Pampanga and it was such a bummer since I was expecting that I could still use a couple of hours to sleep. That time, I was awake for like a day already, and it’s a no-no for me to climb a mountain without enough strength since I will be more prone to cramps. And also ,who would want walking like a zombie carrying loads while going on an uphill climb? I’m sure no one.
0600AM. We went to Clark to witness the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. We were given three hours to roam around and enjoy our 250php worth of ticket. We also got to know our trek mates by then, but later on we parted ways and roamed in groups. Three hours after, we were tasked to assemble outside Omni Aviation Center. We were 16 all in all including friends from Baguio, Pampanga, Cebu, Manila and an exchange student from Germany.
1000AM. We took our lunch and prepared ourselves for the trek. We had some sumptuous meal at one of the famous Silogan in Pampanga. I ordered tapsilog since it was highly-recommended by Kuya Ryan and he told us that it was the Resto’s specialty. After about an hour, we rode a jeepney and we were advised to take the necessary nap that we needed.
It was like 30 minutes of jeepney ride to the jump-off point and it was somewhat enough for me to gain some energy. From the jump-off point we did some load balancing and I took with me those that I can still put on my bag. For the sake of having more meal, I took with me the pasta and tomato sauce. Kidd.
Good thing, prior to our climb I left with me some unnecessary things on the car and I did pack light or else I will be draining my energy that fast.
1300. From the jump-off point we were greeted by the stations of the cross and it also lead us on our way. Between the 8th and 10th station, you will find the only store available in the mountain, a good sign of it not being too commercialized. Just before the intersection going to the white rock and the summit lies a water source, the only water source that is available.
What I love most about Mt. Arayat is the variety of the trail that it provides, from mossy ones, to rocks, to paths covered with dry leaves, to passing on vines, to slippery trails, to uphill climbs and the downward slopes. It was also easy since there are available signage along the trail to guide you, just make sure to be attentive to them.
1600. We reached the white rock of the first summit. The view there was over-whelming and it somewhat ease our tired legs and our aching back. After an arduous first three hours of trek we felt relieved somehow. There was something in the white rock that made me feel as if I’m one with nature and maybe that’s what they call the feeling of being home.
The last two hours was spent mostly on uphill climb and it was non-stop. I kept on fooling myself that it will only be a hundred steps more. I kept on looking above, checking the trail but all I can see are still towering trees – not a good sign. I pushed and pushed and pushed myself. I did every way to divert my attention on the climb and not on my tired leg muscles.
1730. I surpassed one muddy trail with the help of a rope. We reached the part where a tower was built and it was surrounded by fences. That was also one of the hardest part of the trail since the path was so steep. You need to balance yourself completely or it’s either you fall on the other side or you get your body wounded by the traps that were set on the other.
It was also the point where I thought that it will be my last climb. What happened was, a trek mate was asking for my help since it was slippery. I grab on a root and gave him my hand and just about when he was to reach for it, he slipped and he was able to pull me so I had my head covered with mud while he was literally on the edge. Everything happened so fast and thank goodness, I was able to hold on to that piece of root.
1830. We reached the summit at last. The fog were all around us and it gave us chills. We pitched our tents, some of us decided to take a rest while some decided to cook our dinner. Because of my lack of sleep, I just went on to slice the onions then slept. Kuya Ryan, our organizer slash cook slash dancer slash singer went on to prepare for our dinner.
The smell of the food woke me up. By far, it was the best and the most out-of-the-box meal I had in a mountain. Who would’ve thought of a Beef in Mushroom Gravy with Garlic Creamy Mashed Potato for dinner? After the dinner, some went to take a rest while some of us did the socials. It was cold in there so I decided to have some drinks. I ended up to be the last one standing and I slept at around 1AM.
Day 2: Traverse to the second peak.
0600AM. I really find it amazing how I can easily wake up early when I’m on the mountains compared to sleeping in a comfortable bed. The sun was not able to rise yet but we were already wide awake. We prepared our breakfast and this time we had Hungarian Sausage, Scrambled Eggs and Pork and Beans with French Baguette/Pandesal on side. I know, right? It was really camping like a boss. After breakfast, we also waited for the clearing to get a nice view of Pampanga River and for us to ready ourselves for the traverse.
According to our guide, only a few decided to take the traverse in Magalang Trail because of its technicality. And because we wanted to reach the second peak we braved the path not everyone dared to take. And true to what our guide told us, just the way going down was already a challenge. It was like an elevated slope and to add to the difficulty, the trail was nothing but slippery. You can hold on to branches for support but better be sure not to grab on “teka-teka” plants.
For the first few hours it was all but going down, but this time it was way more fun for me. I was able to see the beauty of Mt. Arayat with its rich flora and fauna. There were some wild flowers on our way and at times we’ll hear the call of the birds. That moment made me feel like I was really part of the mountains and that time, I was able to create a rhythm.
0930AM. We reached the white rock formation of the second peak and the view there was breathe-taking. We were on the middle of both peaks and we had a 180 degree view of Pampanga. We stayed there for a while since the pro’s were making a strategy on how we can safely rappel down on an elevated stone wall. I honestly thought it would be nothing but no it wasn’t. We spent almost an hour and one of our trek mates was close to crying or did she?
1200NN. We reached the campsite of Peak2 and we stayed there to fill in our hungry stomachs. This time, we had Kuya Ryan’s Pasta Penne in Imported Corned beef and Spam bolognese or better yet Pasta ala Arayat. After our lunch, we tried to discover the area and we unravel a hidden path to somewhere where maybe no one has ever been before.
We then continued on our journey and based on their calculations, we still have four hours of walking to do. With no time to waste, I put on my backpack and led my way. After a few hours, this time I know we’re already close to the end. We found a water source, actually an irrigation, but who cares, water is water when you don’t have a choice. I went to fill in my almost-empty bottle and quench my thirst.
0400PM. Their prediction was right! We reached the jump-off point at Peak 2 at around four in the afternoon. A jeepney was there waiting for us and right then right there, everything sunk in. We survived Mt. Arayat!
Mt. Arayat is truly a wonder and a surprise at the same time. It was really worth the 5 hours of trek going to the first peak and the 8 hours of traverse to the second one. With what I’ve been through, I can proudly say that I’m now ready to conquer any other mountains.
Side note: I hope someone or locals would put a stop to the kaingin that’s happening to some portion of the mountain. It’s really heart breaking to see that within that paradise is a hidden scar that if not attended would grow to what could lead to its destruction.