Higher than the clouds

The sea of clouds a little after sunrise
The sea of clouds a little after sunrise (photo from LiveOutdoors page)

An outdoor recreation page in Facebook caught my interest. It says that its location is in the trails and summits. Those two magic words are all you need to bait me. Looks like Facebook’s algorithm got it right this time. The page also advertised that it will have its first Mt. Pulag Expedition on November 21-22, 2014. I had already cancelled my trips to Brunei and Macau at that time due to work and a trip to another mountain sounds like a well-deserved respite from it all.

I sent a message to LiveOutdoors, informing the group that I want to join the climb and that I will be flying all the way from Davao City. Two weeks prior to the climb, I was asked to make a down payment and to pay the balance a week after. Although a little skeptic (because reading a lot of online scams just makes you feel so), I just trusted that I am dealing with honest adventurers here.

The nuances of corporate slavery

The week leading to November 20 (my scheduled flight) was a total mess. An impending strike was about to be staged by a union in one of our client’s plants. A writ of execution was granted, but our pending application for a temporary restraining order for the said writ has not yet been granted by the appellate court. I know these sound all gibberish to anyone, but for me, it meant a possible denial of vacation leaves filed. True enough, a day before my leave, my boss said that I “should not abandon the ship while we are at war.” I did not try to argue right away. I let the thought marinate. At 6 a.m. of November 20, right after I got home from an overnight work, I texted my boss and told him that I had been postponing my vacation for two weeks already and that my colleague and I had already divided the work in view of my leave. By some stroke of luck (and perhaps heaps of compassion and empathy), my boss approved my leave 7 hours before my flight.

Stranger amongst friends

Gie, Bennie, Dyna, Fivie, Chelle, Mark, Eplong, and Randy
Gie, Bennie, Dyna, Fivie, Chelle, Mark, Eplong, and Randy (photo from LiveOutdoors page)

The meeting place was Victory Liner bus terminal in Cubao. I did a quick due diligence and learned that I got a good deal in this trip. Except for our first and last meals, all expenses were already covered by the fees. Our guides, Gie, Mark, and Randy, are experienced mountaineers. They organize treks as a hobby, not as a business. They even moved our expedition to Friday to avoid the influx of weekend trekkers. They limit the number of participants to have less impact on the environment. In all, LiveOutdoors promotes sustainable eco-tourism.

I was with persons who are already acquainted with each other. Dyna, Mark’s classmate in UP Iloilo, already met Eplong and his girlfriend, Chelle, during the Pico de Loro climb a week before the Pulag climb. Randy was their guide for the Pico climb. Fivie is Gie’s cousin, while Bennie is Gie’s friend. I was a total stranger, but I never felt that way for the entire trip. If it caused any difficulty at all, it was only that my personal space was constantly invaded and my comfort zone, grippingly challenged… AND I LOVED IT!

Reconnaissance complete!

Walking at the edge of mountains
Walking at the edge of mountains

I must admit that the reason why I joined this trek is my plan to join Pulag 100K. I know what I did here is far from the rigors of a 100K race. Besides 4 hours of continuous hike does not even come near the race’s 26-hour expected completion time. I’m just glad that I now know that running the course will be worth it. The views were like those that I only see in postcards. The vegetation of the place commanded respect and awe. The trails were footwork-intensive and should not to be taken lightly.

rice and vegetable paddies are in abundance
Rice and vegetable paddies are in abundance
Oldest pine tree in Benguet
Oldest pine tree in Benguet
Rocks, mud, dirt in quad-busting uphills and downhills
Rocks, mud, dirt in quad-busting uphills and downhills

Although I was fitter this time than when I climbed Mt. Kinabalu, the temperature and elevation still had an effect on my urban, flatland-acclimated body. I came prepared though — brought my handheld, wore shin supports and proper trail shoes, and ate trail food along the way. I was also very lucky that LiveOutdoors took care of some of my camping equipment. I did not have enough time to buy a sleeping bag or to borrow a decent tent. Sharing a tent with Dyna also proved to be very entertaining, which provided a much-needed distraction from the coldness of the night.

At last we reached base camp 2
At last we reached base camp 2

At 4 a.m. the next day, we started our assault for the summit. I will be forever grateful of my head torch and balaclava mask for saving me on countless slips and wind gusts. We made it to the top just in time for the sunrise. I swore I shed a tear or two when I saw the most magnificent sea of clouds kissing the mountaintops. The first rays of the sun never looked as eye-candy as they were that day.

Our group finding the perfect place before the sun showed up
Mountaintops peeking through the sea of clouds
Other groups flock the summit signage for the requisite photo-op
The nearby ranges will probably be part of the Pulag 100K course. I can’t wait to run them.
Any minute now…
There she is… Hello sun! I hiked up 2,922 masl for you. Thank you for not disappointing me.

Our local mountain guide, Rita Lasbacan, reminded me so much of Nordin (my Mt. Kinabalu guide). She patiently waited for everyone to reach the summit. She explained every endemic plant species in the mountain. She even helped us set up our tents. She told me that the nearby Mt. Ugo is easier to hike and that with proper training, I can finish the marathon that will be held in February 2015. That race was not really on my list, but I was blown away by this place that I have decided to complete the King of the Mountain trail run series.

I know I will be constantly reminded by my boss about how I seem to assume that my leaves will automatically be approved and how I should not prioritize my vacations and running over pressing work matters, but standing up for my vacation leave this time was one of the best decisions I’ve made this year.


Author: Elaine

Curious. Strange. Awesome

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