26-29 November 2010
(This post is long overdue. Maybe to mimic the nature of this climb, this post also needed some MAJOR preparation to get it done.)
To prepare for the highly anticipated Mt. Pulag climb of KPMS, another major climb was organized to help stretch our muscles and build our endurance for the challenge of Pulag’s Akiki trail.
Arriving at the headquarters, aka Ma’am Kheix’s abode, it was clear that packing required more fuss and preparation than usual. To avoid holding back the group, weight has to be distributed to our respective packs, perishables tightly sealed, and provisions adequately calculated; understandably so, because unlike the usual fun climbs, this required three days and two nights of roughing it out on the trail.
After a buzzer-beater arrival at the Victory Liner Terminal in Caloocan, the 13 of us we were off to Zambales as the clock struck midnight officially starting the long weekend before us.
DAY 1: Rough start
The bus dropped us off at what seemed like the middle of nowhere. It was dark out and we had to adjust to the darkness before we saw the trike which would take us to Brgy. Dampay Salaza, the jump off point – a 45-minute ride from the highway.
As it was barely dusk when we arrived, the baranggay hall was still closed. Ma’am arrived soon enough and accommodated us with what we needed. She kindly assisted us in cooking the rice for our lunch on the trail later that day. Another group arrived moments later, thoroughly psyched for the climb.
By around 6am, we forged ahead, cautiously optimistic after hearing the admonitions from a couple of members describing the “long and winding” Tapulao trail. Sir Erwin,
one of the guests who has been to Tapulao, described his experience as a test in patience, as the trail just goes round and round (paikot-ikot), seemingly endless. He decided to return due to the bad weather they experienced previously. He shared that they had to set up an emergency camp as there was almost zero visibility on the trail due to the fog.
We all hoped for a better weather.
It seemed the other group was more than optimistic though, telling us that they planned to reach the bunker for lunch. We had to ask, “Lunch today?” Because unless you don’t have lungs (a common ribbing directed towards mountaineers who have high endurance), the bunker was still roughly 14 hours away on a full load, and like us, they were loaded.
The impossibility of their IT became more apparent when we, ourselves, were unable to follow our objective to take our lunch on the 1st water source. Drained from the steep ascent for the first leg of the trek, we decided to take our lunch when we couldn’t spot the water source. The road was rough and rocky, the sun scorching hot. Towards the afternoon, it started to cool down with some isolated drizzle.
A few hours into our trek, I was already feeling the pain. Our group has broken down into three – the advance team aka mga halimaw (monsters), the team lead team aka Sir H and girl power, and the sweeper team aka the-reluctant-Nelson-and-Samm-with-the-rest-of-us-weaklings. It was clear that this was not going to be one of those fun climbs organized before. On my part, as I was unable to join KP during the Tarak climb, this was technically my first major climb. And major, it is. Suddenly, Sir H’s persistent reminders for us to keep fit came flooding back. Too little too late for me, I’d say. Thankfully, help came in the form of raucous 4x4s.
The rough riders intended to camp overnight at the bunker and graciously offered to take our load and drop it off on the 2nd water source where we would be camping for the day. How can you say no to that?
The advance team, as they are advanced, was already settled in by the time we ambled our way to the camp site. Bad news came when Sir H and Kheix found out that their sleeping bag has gone missing. Not letting it ruin the entire climb, they decided to investigate the next day for when the 4×4 group comes down from their overnight stay at the bunker.
Quite a workout from months of hiatus from trekking rendering me, in particular, drained and suffering from a major migraine. So, I settled in early after dinner, knocked out cold. Ask the rest how the rest of the “no socials” night went. I was happily dreaming by then.
DAY 2: Welcoming the cold, the pines, and other-worldly presence
My eyes refused to open, dreading another day of endless trekking. Thankfully, my muscles didn’t seem to suffer as much from the previous day’s events. Even more encouraging, Wilson, the newbie who was forced (ehem, Sir J) to go major for his first climb, looked ready and enthusiastic to reach the summit. Or maybe he just wanted to get it over with. Either way, it was a good way to start the 2nd day.
One dark cloud hovered though, it was official, the sleeping bag, crucial for a warm and comfortable sleep up top, was missing. The 4×4 group couldn’t find it. So we moved on and treated it as an offering to spirit of the mountain in exchange for a good climb.
We split into three groups again, the halimaws well ahead of the rest of us. The trail was less steep than the previous day, the air cooler, the vegetation more lush, and the scenery more stunning. We finally caught sight of the pine trees Sir H promised would take our mind off the fatigue. He was right.
The appeal of Tapulao fully unveiled itself with the wide trail lined with pines, which this highest peak of the Zambales mountain range is named after. Dubbed “the poor man’s Pulag” and “Little Baguio,” Mt. Tapulao draws mountaineers for the cool climate and multi-tiered vegetation similar to Mt. Pulag (rainforest-pine trees-mossy forest). Chromite ores are being mined here, so we saw piles of them on our way to the bunker.
Making the most out of the scenery, cameras came out and pictures were taken. On the trail we caught sight of the popular trekkers’/beach lovers’/campers’ destination – Anawangin.
Detour: We re-grouped at the guard house and discussed our option for the camp site. We gathered information from the 4×4 group that the bunker was no longer there, so Sir H suggested we camp at the “secret camp site” by the entrance going to the summit. To further encourage us, he said the trail’s easier compared the steep assault we would have to face if we continue on to the bunker. Decision’s a no-brainer, we went for the “secret camp site.” So went left and faced a relatively easy ascent.
Once at the clearing, a great little spot with a great vantage point for the sunset, Sir H decided to investigate further into the mossy forest and check the other camp site option, a mere 30-minute trek to the summit. He took Maku while the rest of the guys went down the precipitous path to the bunker (still there, apparently) in order to get some water.
When all got back, it was decision time: stay and have a longer trek time to the summit or forge on, fully loaded, for a camp site nearer the peak. Majority won and we stayed and camped by the entrance. The reasons presented were all good and logical, we were loaded and the forest ahead is denser which would slow down the pace and drain more energy especially for those who just carried liters of water up the assault path from the bunker down under.
Later though, during the always entertaining socials, the more creepy reasons came out as to why some opted to stay in the clearing than forge ahead to the dense forest. Sir Gary admitted to having seen a not-so-pleasant presence hovering while he was answering the call of nature which explained why he was adamant on staying put. This started the onslaught of ghost stories. Let’s just say that some of the stories effectively made me stay away from some mountains I’ve climbed, and some made me want to explore the others.
Stories are all well and good. Whether you believe in spirits or not, they serve to remind mountaineers not to underestimate nature and to always remember to treat the environment with respect.
DAY 3: Frozen at the summit and laughing all the way home
Bright and early Monday morning, we ambled our way to the summit. Sadly, the same way as we were struggling with the cold, the sun was having trouble overcoming the thick fog. So we ended up not getting the clearing we wanted, but we did “find” a good view deck. There’s none of the sweeping 360 view, or the precipice great for a photographing on-the-edge shots; in fact, the summit was marred by a big hole. But we managed to make the most of it, taking pictures, huddling to keep warm, and playfully threatening to push each other over the edge.
We gave up waiting for the sun to show, so we navigated the labyrinthine path of the mossy forest and found our way back to camp for a hearty breakfast.
We broke into groups going down, playing off each other’s energies to get a feel of our respective pace. Some mountaineers tend to relish the trail going down as the pacing tend to be much faster, others just can’t wait to reach jump off and clean up, while others with injuries take their time – we got them all for this climb. Nothing serious but this was definitely a long walk to remember for all of us.
More things went missing on the way down: a Mountain Hardware jacket, a TNF cap, a lucky necklace etc. But we were alive and well, there’s nothing more important than that. Although, should you see a well-dressed person in Mountain Hardware sleeping soundly inside a comfy sleeping bag, call us!
Slight injuries and missing items aside, we got a good laugh on the way down with a hilarious prank that’s become a staple story in KPMS. Let’s just say it involved a shoe, a rock, some scheming mountaineers, and an unsuspecting KP member.
Wrapping up a majorly fun climb
Another major climb done, another event safely locked up into the memory bank. Whatever happened to the other group who planned to reach the bunker for lunch on Day 1? Well, they didn’t make it on time, to say the least. As in everything, plan well, never underestimate the mountain, and come prepared. Otherwise, prepare to huff and puff like your life depends on it.
See more Photos here.