“Nung sinabing day hike, napangiti na lang ako,” our guide said, telling me how he found our idea of trekking Mt. Palali in a day mildly amusing and downright ridiculous. I was in no position to argue. It was pitch dark and I was lying on a plank of wood in the middle of the forest, swatting mosquitoes on my face while making a mental list of what we did wrong.
Kuya Roldan and I had been in the campsite for nearly an hour waiting for my three teammates. We still had a long walk ahead of us to get back to the jump-off. By my estimate, we’d complete the trek by 9pm, nearly four hours behind schedule.
We came up with the idea of a Palali day hike to train for a major climb. Climbing this mountain in Nueva Vizcaya is usually done in two days so a one-day itinerary would be more challenging. The planned major climb fell through and most of the team were not available for the supposed training climb. We still wanted to push through with Palali though so the organizer opened the event to our other friends and two more people joined.
The itinerary, designed as a training climb, was not adjusted to accommodate the pace of the new participants. We should’ve ditched the day hike idea and gone for a more relaxed two-day itinerary.
A Palali day hike demands a good trekking pace and solid endurance. The mountain has the terrain of Mt. Makiling and the trail length of Mt. Tapulao. It’s not extraordinary in terms of technical difficulty since the trails are fairly typical of a rainforest. It’s the sheer length of the trek that will do you in. For climbers who are not physically and mentally prepared to do 12-hour treks on dense forested trail, it will be a very difficult hike.
Mistake no. 2: We underestimated the mountain and overestimated ourselves.
I was a little surprised when a friend told me he’d be joining the climb. I reminded him that it was a day hike and the trek would be long and grueling. He said he can do it. So I shrugged and forgot about it.
We should’ve done a more realistic and accurate assessment of the mountain’s difficulty as well as each person’s capability to take on a challenging climb. It’s not about belittling other people’s strengths or succumbing to one’s limitations. It’s about being fully aware of what it takes to go on a difficult climb and making a serious commitment to prepare for it. Some of us were not in the right condition for a tough hike and we failed to prepare as a group. That’s why we messed up.
Mistake no. 3: We started late.
We began trekking at 6:15am which was less than ideal for a long day hike. We would’ve had a little more daylight left during the descent if we started at least an hour earlier.
The early part of the trek was on a wide, muddy road similar to the trail of Romelo in Laguna. We passed by rice fields and grasslands, and arrived at the first campsite after nearly two hours. From there it was a long assault all the way up to Haring Bato, a gigantic rock formation with a 360-degree view of neighboring mountain ranges and the plains below.
About 45 minutes from Haring Bato is a second campsite. If you plan on staying overnight though, it’s better to set up camp on the third campsite, which has a water source nearby although it requires an additional 30-minute trek.
Mistake no. 4: We continued to the summit.
We were already an hour and 15 minutes behind schedule when we took a break at the third campsite to have lunch. The summit was still more than an hour away and our pace was getting slower. It would’ve been more prudent to abort the summit assault so we didn’t have to extend to a night trek. The rational part of me thought of bringing this up with our team leader but I didn’t want to be a buzzkill. And to be honest, I wanted to reach the peak myself.
We got there at 2:20pm but only three of us made it. Our fourth teammate decided to stay behind on the trail to rest and recharge for the descent.
The forest was denser and the trail was harder going up the summit. Unlike Haring Bato, the peak was covered with thick vegetation, which concealed much of the view.
The trek back down was tough on our already tired knees. Good thing Kuya Roldan was a talkative guy who made the descent less of a drudgery with his entertaining life stories. He told me about his family, his childhood, high school crushes, how he met his wife, his two kids, and the odd jobs he got into before working as a guide. We talked about local politics, rural economy, the reproductive health law and the good looks of Jeric Raval. (He was an action star in the ‘90s who was fond of leather jackets and copious amounts of hair gel). It was obviously a very long descent.
While the guide and I were on a brisk pace to make the most of the remaining daylight, our three teammates steadily fell behind. Cellphone signal was present throughout the trail so I got updates on their progress as we waited at the first campsite. Their pace was very slow and one of them was already having difficulty walking. I seriously contemplated calling for rescue and Kuya Roldan explained the logistics of it, which would somehow involve a carabao.
After more than an hour, the three arrived and promptly turned down the rescue idea. (What, no carabao?) So we continued walking. Everyone was exhausted and starving. I was in a foul mood, frustrated with how the climb went awry. Kuya Roldan, God bless him, was still as enthusiastic as ever with his stories and didn’t seem to mind that we had been on the trail for 15 hours.
He and I reached the jump-off at around 8:45pm, and the rest of the group followed after 30 minutes. For a late dinner, we lapped up the best instant noodles we’ve ever had in our lives.
As screwed up climbs go, this was far from the worst. I’ve heard of day hikes that turned into 24-hour ordeals. Others had more disastrous and even fatal results. We still got lucky with this one. Nonetheless, we shall learn from these mistakes and I’ll try my damnedest not to screw up this way again.