Adventures and Sports
From Laguna to Cordillera: A Mountaineer’s Tale
Kid Orit | Jun 09, 2014
“It is not the mountain we conquer…”
My longtime relationship with mountain climbing all started when I went to my friend’s hometown in Pakil, Laguna, to have a few days off from the city along with two other friends, and to discuss and critique our latest stories and poems.
It was a long commute from Manila—it took us hours in the bus and a half-an-hour tricycle ride before we got to my friend’s house. We arrived in the evening, met my friend’s parents, had the most sumptuous dinner (including probably the best leche flan I’ve ever tasted), before finally turning in for the night—after a few beers and a run-through of our works, of course.
But there was something curious about the place. The rustic town lined with old ancestral homes is situated between two strong elements of nature—a mountain on the east and Laguna de Bay on the west. Before I slept, facing the veranda’s open door where the mountain revealed itself under the moonlight, it seemed that the old balete tree at its peak was beckoning me to visit.
And so we did, in the morning.
Mt. Ping-as is seated along the famed Sierra Mountain range and stands around 500 meters above sea level. It has a shrine at its peak where town folk hold mass during Holy Week.
According to stories, a friar mounted a wooden cross at the mountain’s peak as part of his devotion. After the priest’s death, people began to peel off the bark of the cross—from which the name Ping-as (“to peel”) was derived. The bark was believed to be miraculous and could heal diseases. There are others who say that the priest still roams the mountain trail today.
Concrete steps have replaced the trail to the peak and the shrine, and there’s a road that brings people halfway up the mountain. But other than these, the mountain remains covered with trees, one of which is the majestic balete tree at the peak.
We started the ascent the morning after our first night in Pakil, but after just a few meters, my lungs started to burn and my eyes were on the verge of blacking out.
The same thing happened to me during my recent trip to the mountains—yes, mountains, four of them in one trip. Although I had gathered more experience since my first taste of reaching a summit, my trip to complete the Kibungan Circuit, which covers Mt. Buga, Mt. Tagpaya, Mt. Oten, and Mt. Tagpew, proved to be very challenging.
Our team needed to carry a pack full of gears and supplies good for at least 3 days—tent, sleeping bag, portable stove, cook set, clothes, toiletries, and food, as well as cameras for documentation.
During the initial ascent from the valley from where the jump-off point is located, my head started to feel woozy. As the heat of the sun continued to make me sweat profusely, the inevitable happened. I needed to take a long rest to relax and let my body acclimatize to the thin air of Benguet.
I had to stop at the trail and put down my pack, sit, and let it all pass. And as my vision started to fade into a white haze, I recalled the same moment in my first climb. On both accounts, I started to doubt myself if I can continue.
I was keeping the whole Kibungan team held up somewhere up the trail. The thought of getting into this kind of climb for the next two days only meant that I’d need to do more than all of my feats in my previous climbs over the years. It was as harrowing as the thought of backing out from this challenge.
Of course, I didn’t want to be on either end of these thoughts. So, as soon as I had gathered my wits, I went on, with my pack a bit lighter as several members of the team took some of my stuff to make it easier for me to climb up.
They were waiting for me at the first stop of the trail—just a few meters from where I almost passed out—smiling as if everyone was having fun. I tried to smile, but it was just so hard. I had to rehydrate so badly. And while I was refilling my bottle, I had to make a decision.
Will I go on with the group? Or should I let myself re-evaluate my position, if I’m a liability to the group or not? There was no stopping for the people I was with. I was almost at the edge, but I kept my feet going at it.
Slowly, as I went up the trail, my body began to feel a surge of newfound energy—a drive to go on and brave the heights of Kibungan’s challenge. Heat, dehydration, cramps, these were just some of the things that kept me from keeping up with the team’s pace. Scaling a few rock faces made me hang on for my dear life, and trails that were just a foot thick made me count my steps before the next clearing.
The battle between courage and fear kept on and on in my head. Breaks from the hike gave me some time to clear my head while goofing out my trail buddies. And just before the sun set, we reached our first camp to rest for the night.
But it was just the start of the hike’s real challenge. I needed to get through the mountain range for the next two days. At that point, there was no turning back. I already got myself very deep into the trip that the only way to get out of it was to finish the hike.
It didn’t bother me much at that time, but in hindsight, it was a big deal. Preparing dinner and my pack for the next day’s hike kept me busy, but when I was about to sleep, my self-doubts crept back into my thoughts.
We had to wake up just before the break of dawn. Who wouldn’t want to catch the first light of the day in the outdoors? Probably not most people, but I’ve been a sucker for these twilight moments. It’s the only time when you see the sky change its color, and you see a lot of hues when it does.
It only took a little over five minutes to get to Mt. Buga’s summit. It was still dark when we got there, but upon finally seeing the view from the peak, I thought to myself, “I made it.”
It was the exact feeling when I finally ascended Mt. Ping-as, my first mountain to climb— a blood rush to the veins, the excitement. To see the world on such heights made me wonder, if this is how the mountain sees me, then I’m just a speck of dust to its world. To see from where I came from is a very humbling experience.
To achieve such a feat has always inspired me to climb some more. There are a lot of mountains out there, waiting for visitors who would dare to take on its challenge. And every time I climb a mountain, I’m filled with different inspirations. I’m called to take on bigger challenges.
After every mountain I climbed came several realizations on how the world can be seen. But most importantly, I realized that I can see myself in a different light, that the person who started the climb at the jump-off point is not the same person who reaches the summit. A part of myself who couldn’t climb the mountain was left somewhere at the bottom—and this is the main reason why I’ve come to love climbing and why I’ve kept coming back to the mountains.
It’s a kind of love that comes from conquest, a conquest that’s aptly defined by Sir Edmund Hillary: “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
P.S. I finished Kibungan Circuit in one piece, thank God.