Everytime we hike, we tell ourselves “Last na talaga ‘to.” (This would definitely be our last.) But I’m not sure why we keep signing up for a day hike. So that Saturday from two weeks ago, we had yet again another adventure to check off our bucketlist.

It was raining everyday the week before the climb so I am somehow expecting it would rain that Saturday. We joined the group Biyaheros and paid Php 1,299 inclusive of the transportation, trail food, registration and guide fees. The night before, almost half of the joiners backed out because of the weather but we didn’t! And I’m still not so sure why.

After almost 6 hours of land travel, we’ve finally arrived in Itogon, Benguet. We’ve waited for about an hour in the registration center located in Ampucao Barangay Hall (also within the vicinity of Ampucao National High School).

It was still raining when we arrived so the organizer even had to persuade those in charge to let us go hike in Ampucao-Sta. Fe Ridge also known as Mt. Ulap Eco Trail.

Before us, a group was turned down to proceed as it may be unsafe for the climbers. Luckily, we were allowed to go since the rain dwindled its rage.

And so our adventure began.

Mt. Ulap Eco Trail was opened to the public just last year, October 31, 2015. It has three peaks namely Ambanao Paoay (1788 mASL), Gungal (1814 mASL) and Mt. Ulap (1846 mASL) summit.

From the jump-off point, it took us about 2 hours to reach the first peak. Yes, 2 long hours. That’s how slow we were. Hey, we just uhmm how do I say this… Okay, let’s say we just took advantage of the scenery. Tee-hee!

We were grouped by four but two of them left us. (Hate you both! Hahaha) Good thing we were accompanied by a veteran mountaineer, Sir John, and a local guide, Mang Domeng when they saw us on the last. Sir John had already climbed almost every mountain known in the country. He’s been climbing even before Facebook was around. He also have worked with the famous blogger, Gideon Lasco of pinoymountaineer.com. So knowing Sir John is harkor (hard-core mountaineer), I always ask for apologies whenever I pause for a rest because the four of us rest as well. Tee-hee! 

If there’s one thing I won’t ever forget from the words of a true mountaineer ~

I-enjoy nyo lang yung climb. Hindi naman pabilisan ito. Mas masarap umakyat pag na-eenjoy nyo din yung paligid ninyo.

“Just enjoy the climb. This is not a contest of who goes first. It’s more enjoyable if you’d get to enjoy the surroundings around you as well.”

The rain started pouring again when we were halfway to the first peak.

Then Mang Domeng had a call from the Barangay Hall. We were advised to return after reaching Ambanao-Paoay. It somehow disappointed me because I’d so wanted to have a picture in Gungal Rock but as Mang Domeng said ~

Ang bundok nandiyan lang ‘yan. Pwedeng balikan. Ang buhay natin isa lang. Hindi na kayang ibalik ‘pag may nangyaring masama.

“Those mountains are just there. You can always go back. But our lives ~ we only get to live once. If something fatal happened, you can never bring it back.”

So when all of us reached the first peak, we just took about 5-10 minutes to take photographs.

Then we headed back to the jump off point. On our way back, we were again accompanied by Mang Domeng.

While everyone’s racing on the way back, we were (again) on the last. So since they’re not waiting for us and to make the most of our long way back,  I just interviewed Mang Domeng about some random things.

Me: Mang Domeng, may mga NPA na ba nanirahan dito?

Mang Domeng: Naku wala pa sa pagkakaalam ko. Peaceful dito Ma’am ‘wag kayo mag-alala.

Me: May mga kababalaghan ba kayong alam na kwento dito sa Mt. Ulap, Mang Domeng?

Mang Domeng: Hmmm. Wala naman gaano. May mga umaakyat lang dito nagkwento sa akin minsan na noong nag-camp daw sila, madaling araw noon at nasa loob na sila ng tent, nang may biglang umuungol na aso. Lumabas sila pra icheck kasi ‘di daw tumitigil. Noong nakita nila sobrang laki daw ng aso kaya napabalik sila sa loob ng tent. Tapos tumigil na lang bigla.

Me: Mga ilan kayo Mang Domeng na trail guide dito?

Mang Domeng: Mga 200 cguro kami.

Me: Ay ang dami niyo po pala.

Mang Domeng: Naku Ma’am nung March-April halos nagkulang kami sa mga guide sa dami ng mga pumupunta.

After series of questions, I think Mang Domeng enjoyed our conversation and told us more stories without me asking.

Mang Domeng:  Kilala nio ba si Christian Vasquez? Naku ang lakas nun umakyat. Minsan noong umakyat siya dito at ako ang guide niya halos ‘di na kami nagpapahinga. Gusto niya tuloy tuloy lang. Tapos ‘pag magppicture ayaw nya ng madami kasi daw mahirap mamili.

Mang Domeng: May nahulog na dito. Babae. Halos 300 ft ‘yung taas. Madulas kasi noon tapos maulan din kaya ayun, siguro sa pagbibilis-bilis niya, nadulas sa bangin.

Me: Hala. Namatay po siya?

Mang Domeng: Buti na lang hindi. Kaso nagpagong-gulong siya kaya halos pati mukha niya sugatan din. Sinagot ng Brgy. iyong gastos ‘nun. Kaya simula nun naging strict kami kapag ganito na maulan. Minsan lang talaga matitigas ang ulo ng mga organizers na kahit alam nilang delikado, para lang matuloy sila, ipagpipilitan nila talaga.

Woops. That stopped me. Somehow, I felt guilty in risking our lives that Saturday. It’s like walking over the edge and with just one wrong step, you’re gone.

But that Saturday, even with the danger we were currently in, my gypsy soul felt free. It’s like I’m somewhere no one could ever make me feel caged. Every step to and from the summit mattered. It’s a feeling I won’t ever forget. And I guess, this is why I keep chasing the world.

Climbing is indeed not about how fast you reach the summit. It’s about how you chase your desire to reach the top. And in that pursuit, what matters most is you get to learn not to give up. Not unless there’s a bad weather and your life is at risk, that’s the time you need to turn around.

Remember, you can always go back.

Thank you for reading!

Always keep safe in your travels.

With love,

D.

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