First part: Mt. Kalatungan Climb – Day 1
It was a cold, gusty morning on the summit of Mt. Kalatungan and our tent was still miraculously upright. Raging winds gave it a serious beating the previous night. There was a puddle of water inside and our sleeping bags were wet, which explained why our asses were freezing the whole time.
Ben was outside getting busy with breakfast while Tupe and I stayed in the tent, complaining about the weather and sound-tripping to mournful songs of Joey Ayala and Gary Granada. It turns out we had similar tastes in music and the propensity to get terminally depressed during stormy climbs. In our defense, it’s well-documented that horrible weather makes people sad and droopy (and probably whiny as well) so cut us some slack.
We eventually overcame our sluggishness, thank God, and got around to packing up and breaking camp. Tupe suggested that we back-trail but Ben insisted we stick to the plan of taking the traverse route, climbing two more peaks before going back down to Barangay Mendis. By then I didn’t care which route we took, I just wanted to see sunshine again. I was sick of the rain and the wind and being cold. (See, bad weather really does make people whiny. Or maybe it’s just me.)
It was 10:45am when we started the trek, going down the traverse trail. After about an hour, we reached the bamboo campsite, which is where most climbers set up camp. It can accommodate large groups, has ample forest cover and a water source nearby. The campsite was named as such because of the abundance of dwarf bamboo in the area.
It took another hour of hiking through the forest before we made the ascent to Lumpanag, a secondary peak in the mountain range. Ben and Tupe said this could be among the top 10 highest mountains in the Philippines since it has an elevation of over 2800 meters above sea level. Its proximity, however, to the Kalatungan summit (2,880 MASL and currently ranked fifth highest) relegates it to a mere sub-peak rather than a separate mountain. Lumpanag is also known as Mt. Wiji, named after a Japanese hiker who made a map of the area.
We took a break to have lunch and then descended into another forested trail. The trek to the third peak was a short, steep hike but what made it difficult were the thorny shrubs that lined the trail. My hands and arms were covered with cuts by the time I reached the top; it looked like I had a brutal fight with a blade.
This minor peak is still unnamed so I convinced our guides to name it after me. Fine, I didn’t make a fancy map like Wiji but I’m still calling dibs on it (because that’s how you name a mountain, by calling dibs like a 10-year-old). They both agreed and Kuya Erio happens to be a barangay kagawad (village council member) so I’ve got political support right there. Ben is also warming up to the idea. Of course, they may have just been humoring me but I’m still taking it very seriously. I’ll just have to get more people to back me up on this and I’m counting on you, dear reader. Spread the word.
After the descent from Tintin’s Peak (get used to it, people), we hiked through another mossy forest which was just as enchanting as the previous ones. This was my favorite part of the climb. The weather was still cool but no longer chilly, the trail was easy to navigate, and I was in the midst of a beautiful forest.
While the guides were far ahead and my climbing buddies were busy taking pictures, I was by myself skipping, running and sliding down the trail with a stupid grin on my face. I felt like a child again and the entire mountain range was my playground. This is why I climb mountains. This is what makes everything worth it. After the grueling hours of trekking and being pummeled by vicious winds, I live for these solitary moments of unadulterated joy. (Bad weather also makes people cheesy. Or maybe it’s just me.)
The forest trail ended after two hours of hiking. The final leg of our descent was an open trail that passed through the Manobo community in Barangay Mendis. This is where I got to practice the sampling of Manobo phrases that Kuya Erio taught me.
“Manupyan mahapon! Laklak kay-on. (Good afternoon! We’re just passing through.)” I would cheerfully call out to every house we passed by and every person we met on the trail. I’d get a return greeting and an amused smile. Meanwhile, Kuya Erio and Kuya Tanyo were giggling at my determined efforts to show off my puny knowledge of their dialect.
We arrived at the main road at 5:30pm. After saying goodbye to our guides and promising that I’ll be back (and I definitely will), we took a habal-habal (motorcycle) ride to the town center of Pangantucan.
There are some things I didn’t get on this climb: sunset, sunrise, picturesque summit view, a good night’s sleep. But there are also a few awesome things I did get: beautiful forests, challenging terrain, cute mushrooms and, ehem, a peak named after me (seriously guys, get on board with this already).
The weather doesn’t have to be perfect, the view doesn’t have to be scenic, and the sun doesn’t have to show up on the horizon. I was doing something I absolutely loved and that in itself is enough of a reward. It was still one amazing climb and I can’t wait to do it again.
Huge thanks to Ben for arranging everything and making this climb possible, to Tupe for the great company amidst the miserable weather, and to Kuya Erio and Kuya Tanyo for the language lessons and for being the most cheerful guides in the world. Daghang salamat!