It is a personal victory to be able to conquer one’s dream and one’s self. And to think that you have gambled something for that very thing that you love and you end up victorious is such a rewarding experience. My journey as a mountaineer started with a little dream, that dream of being able to push myself and overcome something. I have waited for the right time, invested on the right gears and trained myself in any ways possible – all for making it happen, the dream of climbing Mt. Pulag and witnessing the majestic Sea of Clouds.
Yes, it has been on the top of my bucket list and is one of the reason why I packed my bags and traveled all the way up North. When Kuya Gerald invited me, I still have a lot of apprehensions but I have learned that when it comes to my dreams, I should not say No. It took me just seconds to say yes, and that was one of the greatest decisions I have made so far. April 13, 2013 – the time that I have been dreading to come, and the day that I got to fulfill my much awaited dream. Ironically, I never felt the excitement before the trip it only dawned on me when I was already on my way to Cubao.
After some bus-chasing, late-waiting and after JV told me that I’m the only traveler who has no sense of direction, we were able to board a bus bound to Baguio. The start was like a series of unfortunate events from Jill and Malou’s epic fail moments in Caloocan Terminal, to having a scheduled 2AM trip, to having our tickets refunded and boarding another bus. It was fun though and was just a disguise of an adventure of a lifetime that was waiting for us.
Five hours of travel it is and it means five hours of catching some sleep and gaining some energy but I ended up awake most of the time. We arrived an hour early so we took the time to stroll around Baguio. We were welcomed by local taho vendors and I decided to try the strawberry-flavored one. The sweet kick from the strawberry woke me up and honest to goodness it really tasted good. An hour after, one by one our trek mates arrived and we have seen Kuya Ge. He and Kuya Ted fixed our stuff on the jeepney and after seeing what will take us on our way to the Ranger Station, an idea came to my mind – TOPLOADING!
For an hour we stayed inside the jeepney and waited for the go signal from our driver and when that moment came, I hurriedly went outside and secure a spot. I dreamt of doing it in Sagada but if I can do it now and do it again soon, why shouldn’t I? I sat on the near end of the jeepney, and outside I may have looked calm and collected but what they don’t know is I was already flipping cartwheels on the inside. The feeling was definitely overwhelming, being able to do something on your bucket list and being able to do it with awesome friends.
We went to stop on a viewing deck, had some pictures taken and marvel on how beautiful that part of Benguet is. Sitio after sitio, you will see how laid-back the way of living of the locals are. We passed by an eatery, bought our lunch and found a hanging bridge just beside it. Just seeing it brought back the kid in me that when I get to step on it, all I did was run from end to end. What everyone didn’t know back then was, I was going on a hard time and being able to join the trip was my form of escape. The moments I have had in there validated that I am just doing something that makes me happy.
We reached the DENR Station after an hour or two of drive from Ambuklao Dam. We registered our names, checked on the souvenir items while we were waiting for our turn for the orientation. The orientation was basically about the do’s and dont’s and everything can be summed up to, “Respect Mt. Pulag.” It lasted for around 15 minutes, and was ended by a time-lapsed video submitted by one climber. After the orientation, we had our lunch and readied ourselves for the pre-trek to Ranger Station.
Options were given, it was either we take the much more longer route to Ranger Station or take the road which was still being paved for us to save time. Since we were the last team out of 300+ climbers that day, we took the shortest way possible not knowing what awaits us. For 15 minutes we were seated comfortably in the jeepney and we safely arrived at the junction. By then, we had to reach by foot the place where our second ride was parked. At first I found it easy, and it was like my pre-climb, but as time goes by, I became exhausted fighting over the heat of the sun, the coldness of the weather and the heaviness of the load that I was carrying. Sweats were dropping all over my face, and it wasn’t the start yet but my feet were already on the verge of giving up.
I waited for our jeepney not knowing that the automobile on my front was the one that’s going to take us to the Ranger Station. It surprised me since I never expected to ride on a pig/cow truck or even the thought of it never crossed my mind. It was my first and the experience was something that is out of the box. You know that tingling excitement of experiencing something new? That was exactly what I felt. It started to drizzle on our way to the Ranger station and the gush of the wind as it cools down our faces with matching sprinkle of rainwater was therapeutic. The company we have with each other as we were throwing jokes and laughing eased all the negative energy.
When we arrived at the Ranger Station, the place was already crowded, and everyone was in a rush since it was already one in the afternoon. The team decided to group ourselves into three – two of us ran their way to Camp 2, to secure our place and set up our tents, Team A which is composed of me, Jill, JV, Malou, Gilda, Mike, Don and Cara and Team B which is composed of our Malaysian and Chinese friends. We hired one guide and two porters to help us with our load. It was amazing to know that most of the porters there were of local women, and to think that they have to carry loads of like 15 kilos maximum for a living was surprising, and at the same time heart-breaking. When I asked one porter she told me, “Mabigat pero sanay na din naman kami” (It’s heavy but we are used to it). That did touch the core of my humanity and as much as I want to help them, to be honest I can’t carry that heavy of a load so I just opted to bring the 6 liter soup for our shabu-shabu.
The trek was easy but somewhat challenging since the trail was muddy. It took us an hour before we reach Camp 1 where we took a good 10 minute break. It was slippery that time, and to think that I was carrying a 6L load with me was like an added punishment. Reaching Camp 2 requires you to pass vegetation, a mossy trail and a rain forest. That time I did pushed myself and decided not to drink the water and the energy drink that I brought. Surprisingly, I was able to live up to that challenge, and I learned a thing or two about discipline and determination.
At around 1730 I reached Camp 2, and by that time our tents were already pitched. The coldness was of no joke that every time we say a word, smoke comes out from our mouth. It was around 12 degrees when Kuya Gerald check the temperature so I looked for blankets and stuff that can help me warm up aside from the layering of clothes that I did. My tentmates JV, Jill, Malou and I had no sleeping bags. Yes, we were that stupid to think that body heat is enough but to be honest it sufficed.
When everything was set, we had our dinner, and it was my first time climbing a mountain having an all-vegetarian meal. That night, we had shabu-shabu, and surprisingly it tasted good (that comes from someone who isn’t a fan of Asian Cuisine). After dinner, we had our socials. Though bringing of alcohol is prohibited we were able to sneak one bottle. It lasted for only an hour and we had more than enough. We then decided to sleep, but because of my excitement to witness the sea of clouds and maybe because of the sugar rush out of eating chocolates the whole trek, I was hyperactive and I did not let my tent mates get to have their much needed rest.
At around 2400, it started to rain. I got scared since it was only us who had a dome-type of tent, and rain may enter it and leave us soaking, and chilling in cold. Good thing the rain didn’t last for long, and body heat was very effective. We were able to survive Mt. Pulag without any sleeping bags, What a feat.
Our call time was around 0230 and it was only around 0200 that sleepiness dawned on me. I only got 30 minutes left but since I knew that they will still prepare for our breakfast I sneaked back to get much more sleep. After a mouthful of veggie burger, and a cup of hot coffee, we started to trek our way to the summit. It was another first for me, trekking at night/early in the morning, and fun is such an understatement to describe the experience.
When I get to see a glimpse of the sea of clouds, I went ecstatic. It was almost dawn and the sun was about to rise. Everyone was in awe and it made them stop for a while. For me, there was no time to waste so I decided to fasten my pace and reach Peak 2.
I sat there and waited for the rising of the sun and it was a fleeting moment. I breathe in, take in and indulge myself in the panorama of the sea of clouds as I was gasping for air and mentally patting myself in the back for doing the right thing.
From where I was, I can see Peak 1 and I could not let that moment pass without getting in there. Even though we were advised not to, for us to save time, I ran my way to it. I underestimated the weather that when I get to reach the top I went freezing. It was breathe-taking like literally and everything was jaw-dropping. Reaching the summit and seeing the sea of clouds with my very own eyes was rewarding. I got teary-eyed to be honest, and flashback hit me. I remembered the day that I dreamt of climbing Mt. Pulag, I was in my office chair in Cebu, and I was blog-hopping when I came across this marvelous photo of a travel blogger under the sea of clouds. Right then, right there I told myself to do the same. I never get to expect that I will be able to do it as soon as now, but maybe destiny made a way for me. I was lost for words. Me being on top of Mt. Pulag is a confirmation that dreams do come true. It was one of those magical little moments that I will never ever forget.
After about an hour of indulging ourselves with one of nature’s beauty we decided to trek our way down. We reached the camp, fixed ourselves, ate some more then went to trek all the way back to the Ranger Station. During our descent, I took the time to trek on my own. On my way, I was giving away our left over trail food to hikers and locals. A simple thank you from a local kid whom I gave pieces of jelly ace and power bars did touch my heart and brighten my day. That time, I also took the opportunity to think of things and reflect on how far I have come. All this time, I kept on chasing my bliss, and it was only then that I realized that there is no way to happiness – Happiness is the way.
The whole journey before, during and after the trip taught me a lot of things, opened doors to new experiences, helped me forge new camaraderie and made me realize that my heart is indeed designed to travel and conquer any heights. I may have went back to Manila with the same problem, but this time I know that I have had a much more lighter heart. That trip was all that I needed, to reassure me that I am on the right path.