Adventures and Sports

My Unforgettable 9-Hour Journey to Ifugao's Mt. Napulauan


JP Anthony D. Cuñada
JP Anthony D. Cuñada | Jul 15, 2015
My Unforgettable 9-Hour Journey to Ifugao's Mt. Napulauan

Like all birthday parties, it started with an invitation. We were to climb Ifugao's Mt. Napulauan, the 15th highest mountain in the country. Cupkeyk's friends from ACES (Adventure. Charity. Expedition. Service.), the non-profit organization where Cupkeyk belongs, organized this climb for his birthday. Luckily, I was invited by the birthday boy himself.

Gamlay, Lira Barch 2012 on top of the Napuluan Mt. I, cup, and Soc. (Photo by Andy Favis.)

My excitement was dulled only by the realization that this climb was my first. But, I was confident that I could do it. Without a sweat, as one is wont to brag. So it came to pass that I was with 13 others—five ladies: Darlene Ganub, Lea Castillo, Shay Castillo, Soc Orlina, Joy Santoyo, and eight experienced mountaineers—Mike Navarrette, Raymond Sayon and Andy Favis and the five who call themselves ACES: Miguel de Guzman, Francis Pabiz, Angel Punto, Jericho Natividad, and Joel Donato Jacob aka Cupkeyk.

The people in the pictures are all the ladies who went with us to the summit and back: Darlene Ganub, Lea Castillo, Shay Castillo, Joy Santoyo, and Soc Orlina. (Photo by Jericho Natividad.)


From left to right: Angel Punto, Joy Santoyo, Lea Castillo, Shay Castillo, JP, Darlene Ganub, Jericho Natividad, Soc Orlina. We paused for a picture on top of one of the hills. This was way far from the Napulian Summit. (Photo by Ben, our guide.)


The Preparation

What shall I bring, I asked Cupkeyk. "I’ll post an individual packing list on our FB page", he replied. And here goes the list:

  • 1 change of clothes in a ziplock/water proof bag
  • 3 liters of potable water
  • 1 ziplock bag or small Gatorade bottle trail food
  • (m&m’s, rasins, nuts, banana chips, etc)
  • 1 small bottle alcohol
  • 1 large handkerchief or triangular bandage
  • 1 lighter
  • 1 mobile phone
  • 1 personal medicine (2 paracetamol, 2 antihestamines,
  • 2 Loperamides, Povidone Iodine, Guaze + Absorbents)
  • 2 large garbage bags
  • 1 mess kit
  • 1 toiletries
  • 1 multi-tool
  • 1 chirp whistle (no ball inside)
  • I head lamp or flash light, plus spare batteries in a
  • ziplock
  • 1 can of corned beef or luncheon meat
  • Meat
  • ½ kg of rice
  • 1 bar detergent
  • 4 sachets of mosquito repellant.

Then there’s another post on weather considerations and the warning to double or triple water proof beddings and clothes.

What were not listed were the trekking shoes, the earth pad, sleeping bag, rain coat, and jacket.

I made several clarifications on the list. Why bar detergent (to ward off leeches by rubbing the bar on your clothes)? Why chirp whistle (so that it will still sound even when wet)? What constitutes one change of clothes? What’s the recommended outfit when trekking (long socks, leggings, board shorts, long sleeves. No cotton. Cotton absorbs water that will weigh me down)?

I also made several clarifications on the items not included in the list: do I have to bring a blanket? No, because I will insert myself in the sleeping bag and it will serve as my bed cover and blanket all in one. What shall constitute as my earth pad? Where do I buy my trekking shoes?

After two weeks of preparation, I was ready.


The Climb

At 9 pm Friday, July 3, I had to meet with the group in the bus station in Sampaloc to catch the 10 pm trip to Banaue and arrived there at 7 the next morning. When we reached Banaue, we rented a jeep that took us to Brgy. Hungduan where our trek began.

Siyempre hindi mawawala ang ngiti ko. On top of Mt. Napulauan. (Photo by Andy Favis.)

We got off the jeep, said our little prayer for safety and guidance, and scaled the side of the highway towards the mountains at around 10 am. It was still mostly open fields and the sun was unforgiving. After around two hours of scaling we congregate with the forward squad and had lunch. All throughout the climb, I was catching my breath. This is the exercise I'd been wanting to have, I proudly told Darlene who was in front of me and was having doubts if she could persevere to reach the summit. I encouraged her to take slow but sustained steps. Slow and sustained steps, I said. We sang songs and momentarily, forgot that we were tired. The more songs we sang the less rest we took. We kept walking and sometime later we noticed that we had left behind our companions. We stopped at junctions to wait for the guide and moved on. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 hours of walking and we still haven't reached the summit.

Topload to jumpoff point.


Here we are on our way up the summit. (Photo by Angel Punto.)

My back was aching with the 7-kilo load consisting mainly of 3 liters of water, earth pad made from a slice of an insulation panel, a sleeping bag, few clothes, pairs of socks, and a bag full of self-confidence that was now weighing me down. The fellow trekkers we left had now caught up with us. The rain had started falling. We sang no more songs.

We took a rest from the unforgiving sun in mostly open fields. Photo by Joy Santoyo.

It was dark at 6:30. The stops became more frequent. I asked our guide if we were near the summit. He said we were nearing, about an hour hike to the summit. Why did I ever think that this was going to be easy? With every stop, I could feel myself wanting to spread my earth pad and my sleeping bag. My chest was about to explode from 8 hours of continuous struggle to catch for breath.

The mossy forests. (Photo by Darlene Ganub.)

Our guide said we could no longer afford to take rests. We were wet, it was getting darker and colder. I couldn’t go on forever, I said. Angel assured me, “You’ll be a better man once you reach the summit.” I asked how.

Finally, we saw the light from across the hill. It was our forward team at the summit. We had to pass through one steep descend and ascend before we reached the summit. One final struggle with gravity and we were done.

We at the summit the morning after. 

At around 7:44 on the evening of Saturday, July 4, 2015, we arrived on the summit of Mt. Napulauan. It was raining, the fog was hovering, the breeze made me shiver in my raincoat and wet shirt. I needed focus to open my bag for a dry shirt. The world below us was darkness.

The ACES from L-R: Francis Pabiz, Joel Donato Jacob aka cupkeyk, Jericho Natividad, Andy Favis, and Angel Punto.

The ACES members have, all throughout this climb, treated us with care. They prepared our lunch on the trail and pitched our tents. What a relief it was to have our dinner and tent ready as soon as we arrived. I no longer had the strength to dig through my bag for my mess kit. I borrowed Darleen’s and started eating.

Before leaving the summit, we posed for a photograph with our guide Ben. From L-R yours truly, Ben, Angel Punto, and Darlene Ganub.


On the way down the highway from the summit. From farthest to nearest: Francis Pabiz, Raymond Sayon, Mike Navarrete, Cupkeyk, and Jericho Natividad.

Two days after I returned home, the memory of Mt. Napulauan remains in my legs. It is here every time I stand up, use the stairs, or simply walk. For Darlene, Angel, Andy, and a few others, Napulauan's memory also remains in their skin, in the holes from leech bites that keep on bleeding days after the leech shrank and fell when poured rubbing alcohol.

Mountain peaks become islands in the sea of clouds. (Photo by Andy Favis.)

Why did I climb in the first place? I climbed because it was Cupkeyk’s birthday. Cup and I are members of a poets’ organization called Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA). LIRA holds the country's longest (from June to December) poetry workshop where Cup and I met in 2012. For this climb, we were joined by another LIRA member and batchmate, Soc.

Have I in fact become a better man now since I reached the summit? I don't know.

What effect do the hours of walking through the mossy forests have on me?

I can only guess.

If there's a single word that summarizes this climb for me it's accumulation. Accumulation both as formative and destructive concepts. The accumulation of 9 hours-worth of steps brought me to the summit. I'll remember this climb in relation to my dreams since my goal seems so unreachable. The accumulation of steps on the way down from the summit hurt my right knee, as well as my toes as they pushed against my shoes. The nearer we got to the highway from the payao, the heavier my feet became. I almost could not lift my feet. I had to drag them. Slowly. One at a time. One at a time.

As I laid my head to rest that night on the summit, I was surprised that I was still panting. Was I sobbing for joy without tears and without me knowing? I shared Cupkeyk’s tent and I confided I was dead tired. He said, maadik ka rin. Looking back, I wonder where I got my energy the next morning to walk another 8 hours back to land. Sometimes, we human beings are simply amazing.

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