Mt. Pulag Diary

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By Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

Speaking Out

Monday, June 9, 2014

EVER since my college buddies Ernie del Castillo, Eli Navarrete, Walden Bello and I “scaled” Mt. Mayon eons ago, I have dreamed of actually climbing one of the peaks in the Philippines. The Mt. Mayon experience left me craving for more.

While we reached a clearing that gave us a majestic view of the Bicol lowlands, our ascent was extremely easy as it involved for the most part a jeep ride to a lodge very near the summit and then climbing a mere 100 meters to the top.

Somehow, however, the honest-to-goodness climb, with back pack and camping gear, never materialized.


So it was with understandable fatherly pride that I received recently a text message from my daughter Frannie that she and her friends have “conquered” Mt. Pulag.

Mt. Pulag at 2922 meters (9587 feet) above sea-level is the highest peak in Luzon and the third highest in the Philippines. Only Mt. Apo and Mt. Dulang-Dulang are higher.

In her notes, which Frannie agreed to share with our readers, she said that as early as 2012 she knew that she wanted to climb. A friend Nikki Baqueriza, a seasoned climber (of Mt. Apo and mountains in Nepal) got Frannie interested in climbing. Nikki suggested Mt. Pulag because, even though it is very high, there are many trails up it and one of them is a relatively easy trail.

Nikki gave Frannie useful tips on physical and mental preparation for the climb as well as what to bring. (“Bring salt to offset loss of body salt during the trek.”) She also taught Frannie how to pack her backpack and even lent her some stuff.

The climbers initially consisted of Frannie’s prayer group but eventually expanded to include friends of the group. CCF friends Lani Lao and Rich Porley, who had a prior Pulag experience, led the planning.

Lani and Rich also suggested an outreach trip to the Mt. Pulag Elementary School after the climb. So aside from their own preparations, the climbers started a solicitation drive for donations for notebooks, pencils and other school materials for the Pulag school children.

Frannie’s physical preparation consisted of climbing and going down stairs in the office (she shunned elevators) and running two hours a week. She also read stuff on basic mountaineering.

Weeks leading up to the climb were spent either borrowing or buying (mostly borrowing) stuff which Frannie needed. (Raincoat and mitts from Nikki, a heavy-duty backpack and headlight from Carlos Benavides, a sub-zero rated sleeping bag from Saman Saadat, and ear muffs from Racky Velazquez).

Here are excerpts from Frannie’s diary:

“Though it was an easy climb, there were some parts that were steep. But it involved hours and hours and hours of walking. Also, the oxygen got really thin near the top. We started our trek from the base of Mt. Pulag after lunch. It was after several hours of trekking when we reached the camping ground where we spent the night.

“The sky was soooo clear and there were millions of stars. From our vantage point, they appeared so close just like fireflies.

“Outside the tent, the temperature felt close to zero even without the chill factor but I felt okay due to proper layering of clothes. Inside the tent, thanks to a warm sleeping bag, I felt rested even though it was only a few hours until it was time to ascend the summit.

“From camping ground to the summit, it took another two hours or so. We left the camping ground at 3 a.m. to be able to reach the summit in time for sunrise.

“The sea of clouds simply takes your breath away. No wonder locals call Mt. Pulag the “playground of the gods.”

“The sight of the sunrise at the top was just an awesome reward for all the trekking and climbing. When the orange, purple and red rays peek out of the clouds and flood the horizon with their splendor, you forget that your nose and fingers are freezing and you are just gripped by God's majestic creation.”

Other sidelights of Frannie’s trek:

“The lady at the DENR (Ma'am Mereng/Emerita Albas) briefed us on the rules, and was she a character! When it comes to the most animated and entertaining briefings, she takes the cake! She is a rare gem in government.

“The faces of the kids at Mt. Pulag primary, along with their parents and teachers, were just amazing. I was ready to drop because we hadn't eaten lunch after the trek, but seeing their grateful smiles made me forget that I hadn't eaten or showered yet! I still had on my muddy hiking pants, but it didn't matter!

“I am blessed by the overwhelming outpouring of generous donations for the outreach. We even had to turn away some donors already, because we had so much to bring.

“I was very blessed to have gone in a group where I knew most of the participants: Lani Lao, Rich Porley, Hazel Salvador, Mich Bastasa, Barbie Mamuyac, Dan Rivera, Berns Angeles. Additionally, Rich invited his officemates Michael John Brin, Aubrey, Maj and Amreet, while Lani invited her friend Noie Santos. Team Leader Joel Grande and “sweeper” Lianie Thompson Lamonte expertly shepherded us during the trek and Lianie even gave up her tent for me when my tent mates and I couldn’t fit in ours.

“We all clicked and bonded so well! As I write, we have several reunions already planned, one of which is a diving trip! I am very excited about this!”

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