Adopted mountaineers of Bukidnon
It was not my first time in Bukidnon. In fact, we have adopted Bukidnon as our second home ever since we first visited province barely a year ago. We never stopped exploring Bukidnon’s outdoors since then. It is therefore not surprising, that we, Chris, Ian, JP and me thrive so well in Malaybalay City, the capital city of Bukidnon. Tagging along Lemuel, also a climber from Tacurong and Mt. Apo co-climber , we (noisily) traveled via a bus from Tacurong City to Malaybalay.
The Trek Team
Waiting for our climb companions, we sat chatting with fellow climbers inside Famboy‘s plaza stall, our pre and post climb tambayan guy. Slowly, members of the climb team started to trickle in. The ‘expedition team’ is actually composed of uniquely diverse climbing zealots, bonded only by our common aspiration of traversing a trek that eluded as a year ago. Michael John Pizzaro (MJ), the PAMB authorized guide from Terrain Restoration and Exploration group(T-REX ) will lead our team. Joan Jatulan, an elementary school teacher and our de facto climb mother, would be joining us in the sweeper group. Aside from the TAMAC contingent, other experienced climbers are expected to join us. Already accomplished climbers are Dennis and Steve, who came all the way from Quezon city to join this climb. Donniex, Edong, Molong and two other young ladies from Bukidnon will be joining this climb and help us with their familiarity of the terrain. Lemuel, with his Bob Marley hairdo, got a twin in Butchoy, another climber cum- henna artist from Davao. Butchoy brought along his girlfriend Hazel to join us in this climb. The recently recovering ninja Jhon Meryl, who sustained an ankle sprain after climbing Joan’s gates, will also be part of the climbing team.
The Climb begins at Brgy. Lantapan.
Sixteen eager backpackers emerged from the plaza, riding a tricycle towards the terminal and after one hour of jeepney travel, in Datu‘s house in Baranggay Lantapan. Doing away with the formalities of introducing each one of the climbers to Datu as fast as we could, we camped for the night. We cooked and ate our dinner while waiting for Datu’s approval of our climb plan. We then joined the required ritual prior to any climb at Dulang.
“This has to be the longest ritual I’ve known so far”I whispered to JP.Unmindful of the time and thoroughly engrossed in the ritual, our packed meat outside was somehow snatched by a dog. ” What an unlucky day!” This left us with just canned goods and dried foods for our climb. Tired from a whole day of traveling I dozed off easily when we were done with the ritual. I slept exactly where I slept a year ago- in Datu’s long bamboo chair!
Waking up and cooking our breakfast late, we ate our food hurriedly. By 8 am we were all set to go. With Datu’s final blessing (and our prayer) , the group started the hour long trek towards the foot of Mt. Dulang-Dulang .I decided to with the sweeper group, more because of my turtle paced hiking abilities, rather than being an experienced climber. “Here we go!” This open trail is actually a rain water eroded mountain slope, exposing those big, sharp rocks and road that is apt only for off road vehicles. Luckiy, a passing farmer riding a cow (with a kalesa) allowed us to lay our packs on the sledge. This saved my back from the early strain of my heavy pack and uphill climb.
My calesa saviour, who carried my pack for almost 30 minutes!
The “sweepers” arrived at the foot of D2 with half of the team waiting for us. The lead group continued trekking upwards and into the forest towards the first stop- the Alanib River. We rested for a while at the trail entrance taking pictures and exchanging jokes over food bars and garbs. Well rested and in high spirits, we continued the uphill trek under the thick canopy of a virgin rain forest.My familiarity of this trail seemed to have been clouded by my traumatic Mt. Matutum debacle. Mt. Matutum’s terrain and virgin forests is almost similar to Dulang. Dulang’s foot trail however, is relatively straightforward and unconfusing compared to Mt. Matutum. The Latapan trail to Mt. Dulang is also one of the cleanest mountain trails I’ve been to if the number of candy wrappers littered along is our basis for judging a trail as “clean”.
Avoiding the “panganib” at Alanib River
Slowly regaining my familiarity of the terrain, I noticed that not much has changed since our last trek a year ago. “This is more like of a de ja vu!” I quipped to Joan. The eerie sound of a gushing water “told” us the Alanib River is just nearby. I had to be extra careful traversing though Alanib’s treacherous big rocks because last time, I felt my butt’s thunderous “kablag!!” after I slipped and fell butt first. Luckily, I did slipped again. But I regained my balance and thus no thundering “holy $h*!” echoed inside this holy place.
The camp just a little above the Alanib River, known for its playful and unseen inhabitants.
Hungry and exhausted we ate our lunch while exchanging eerie stories about this campsite during our last trek here. One of our former climb buddy, Ploy, saw a long haired white cloaked, faceless lady sitting on a fallen tree just beside the campsite. Nobody else saw that lady, but most of us felt her presence. Dulang is known to “house” various deities and playful fairies that play harmless jokes to visitors, especially if the team doesn’t have any ladies in the group. Our group has had this “harmless jokes” or “abat” in the local vernacular, during our last climb. Misplacing a commonly used equipment, a running umbrella, going around the same place several times to name a few. But none of us were harmed, thanks to them and our prayers.
“Yaikss! tama na dude! Kakatakot na yan ha!” said Hazel. After eating we continued our trek towards the summit of Mt. Dulang. On the way I’ve been regaining and recounting my “lost” memories of our last climb. The trek has been quite easy and uneventful.
Biting cold at D2’s Peak
The lead pack arrived at the campsite an hour early. Slow and unmindful of the time, we arrived at the campsite at dusk, just before the rain came pouring in . Unpacking our stuff as fast as we could, we pitched our tent, settled in and then merrily cooked our dinner. Cold is creeping in fast while rain poured continuously. The campsite is just 20 meters below peak, but it was raining heavily and cold is biting, I had to let go of seeing the peak nighttime and do it early in the morning tomorrow.
It was during our dinner that Lemuel revealed it was his birthday that day. So we sang a “birthday song” and prayed before eating our meal of pinakbet. Afterwards, we sat around the makeshift kitchen tarp exchanging jokes over cup noodles soup. Exhausted and shivering in the biting cold at D2’s peak I resigned early to my tent and slept soundly.
The author,visibly happy from the nightlong comfortable sleep inside his tent.
I woke up early in the morning to catch the sunrise at the peak. Bringing along my camera and my sponge bob scarf I ran to the top of Dulang, reliving what I did the last time I went here.
What lay before my eyes was the astounding view of Bukidnon and the nearby peaks, Mts. Kitanglad, Apo, Kalatungan, etc. Our cameras got busy. My friends were taking turns taking pictures and posing for their one of a kind shot.
The group merrily posed for their final pictures prior to entering the traverse trail.
“This is all fantastic!” The view here is better compared to what I’ve seen. And your forest? Not like those in Luzon who are mostly denuded. This forest is pristine!” said Steve, one of our guest climber, in Tagalog.
The grueling traverse adventure
After eating breakfast, we packed our stuff and cleaned the area. Saying our prayers and final instructions, we started descending towards the entrance of the traverse trail. MJ told me earlier how difficult the trail would be. There would be vertical descents on 90 degrees slopes and rocks, holding only on tree root parts. Vegetations would be thick and foot paths narrow on several mountain slopes we’d be passing over. The traverse trail will end up at the northside of Mt. Kitanglad’s foot, where we will be making our final ascent towards the peak of K2. I was already bracing for the hardest trek I made in my life. I also silently prayed fervently that we will survived this traverse, safe, without accident or injury.
A glimpse on what we are going to go through in this traverse trek- a densely vegetated virgin forest sprawling several mountains and cliffs.
I barely warmed my legs trekking when we hit the first difficult trail obstacle- a 90 degree descent trough boulders and slippery rocks without ropes. I felt my legs weakened when I glimpsed at the descent path. “We’re actually descending over those rocks? With our heavy packs on? Jesus H. Christ!” I whispered helplessly. I have fear for heights and of falling.This one just hammered a nail into my frozen feet. But the there’s no going back. For a moment I just stood there on the edge and thought about the descent deciding what to do. Others have gone through this and so can I. “I can do this! But please, no accident, Lord?”. The “sweepers” decided to lower our packs first then descend one by one, assiting one another carefully. When my turn came I was mumbling incantations while dangling helplessly on a branch of tree and on slippery footholds and rocks. But I went down safe and in disbelief of my luck. But that is short lived because as I found out later, there are five or more descent paths like this one. Each time, I pass through one of those obstacles, I swallowed my fear, prayed and thought hard about my method of descent. I go on trance while going down this route, focusing only on my safety, foothold and grip. The final descent is even riskier and much more difficult than the previous ones. It was a 85 degrees sudden drop, with no footholds, on slippery eroded soil, hanging only on loose root parts. When my tent pegs accidentally feel out of my pack into the drop, I realized how horrifying it would be If I fall into that slope. It was during this time that I was seriously entertaining of going back. This one is too much of a risk for me. One wrong step and I’m gone. “What am I doing here?”. I stopped and watched carefully how others managed through the descent. Holding on to a branch of a tree and dangling on a cliff is the first step. The rests of the descent is pure luck and will power.
The dangerous “drop zone” of slippery foothold and loose soil, that must be hurdled during the descent, that almost churned whats left of my ego
So I plunged and held on to that tree branch, hang in mid air with my foot desperately looking for a stable foothold. For a moment I’d like to scream and curse ” darn this slippery slope!” But before I could shout, my foot found a jutting root part and then inch by inch I slowly descended down the slippery drop, breathless as to when I’m actually going to reach the bottom. After about several minutes of scary descent, I reached the bottom. “Oh yes! I made it!” I shiver in disbelief while watching Chris descend. This one has to go to my logs of “the hardest descents I made in my climbing life!”. Definitely.
After that, the trek to the foot of Mt. Kitanglad was a battle between sheer determination and our exhausted body. I felt like I was dragging my legs all though out the trek.I could barely talk from exhaustion. The air is darn cold and the rain showers just wont stop. But I was grinning and smiling. This has to be the price I have to pay for being a stubborn, ego maniacal climber that I am. “Ka sarap sarap ng buhay sa clinic! Mag climb talaga!”.
When we stopped for lunch, it was like a blissful feast for me, even if it was just salted egg, pork and beans and tocino. I took a 3 minute nap, to gain some energy. Then we started hinking again. The whole climbing team waited and met near the foot of Mt. Kitanglad, just as we planned. The transmission towers on K2’s peak are visible from where we are. Very much happy and relieved, I was unaware of another seemingly unending climb obstacle.
We are to ascend a cogon vegetated 80 degree slope holding only to cogon leaves most of the time, towards Mt. Kitanglad. “Are we nuts?” I was cursing. “There are ropes” shouted Ian, who was acting as rope belayer on the other side of the slope. “Ropes!???? That hard?!???”
Hard was an understatement. The ascent was so difficult we had to rest often and “traffic jams” were created on the ascent trail. I could easily collapse in exhaustion. My breath labored, I wasn’t talking even. I was concentrating dragging my heavy ass to K2’s peak, some thousand feet up. I was surprised at how sturdy cogon leaves can be. Just about 400 meters below the peak, we came across an 85 degrees incline with only loose soil and a rope to hold. The rest is “drop zone!”. “I’ll be dammed!”. I’m not good at rope rappelling much more balance myself with my backpacks on. But I made it up, more with luck and prayers than anything else. I finished the rest of the trek (which was mostly easy) still thinking how on the earth I survived this traverse. “I simply don’t have any idea how!”
At last, safe and without injury on the second peak!
We arrived at Kitanglad’s peak with the full moon well above the dark sky already. Other team members were warming up inside the bunk house. ” Yahooo!!!!!” I dropped lazily on the floor and rested without even removing anything from myself. Realizing, I was still drenched in mixed rainwater and perspiration ( not to mention mud and the stench all over me), I stood up after a full 30 minutes of rest. Despite the freezing temperature outside, I took a bath on open air near the water tanks on K2’s peak It was the coldest bath (and probably the highest) I ever had so far! I felt cold down to my bones! After washing off dirt from my body, I hurriedly changed to dry clothes and warmed myself inside the bunkhouse.
We ate our dinner merrily while watching TV. This has to be the highest channel surfing, TV battle between “Kapuso” vs “Kapamilya” followers. After dinner some of us went into their own sleep holes and snored. I together with a few others stayed on watching TV and chi-chatted for a while. I went to my bunk about an hour later, and happily dozed off in the comforts of a cramped “sleep couch”.
I woke up early next morning, hoping to catch the sunrise early. Fog already covered most of the landscapes we’re supposed to marvel at. We just had coffee outside and then chatted some more while breakfast is being cooked.
After eating breakfast, we packed our things and then cleaned up the bunkhouse.
We started going down around 9 am, when the fogs cleared and the sun was already warming up the trail. I’ve trekked down Kitanglad before, so I didn’t expect this to be rather difficult. Except for the slippery path and the big rocks exposed by constant soil erosion, none of the first few thousand meters of the path has changed. It was in this first few meters of rocky trail that unforeseen lurks, so I was extra careful here. The rest was an easy downhill trek.
At the water source, a campsite built for a brief stop over of pilgrims going up K2. The water source was also “piped” into the clearing. There was this carved figure in one of the makeshift chair that wasn’t there before so I pose for picture with it.
The author with what seemed to be a geeky figure, carved out of wood, in one of the makeshift chair on the trail downhill from K2.
We arrived at the foot around 1pm and ate our lunch together with the rest of the team.
We took some more pictures and then started trekking the open trail to Brgy. Intavas. The whole group was waiting in Brgy Intavas and as we congratulate each one of us for completing this traverse trail, we exchanged souvenirs and “pabaons”. Then the group rented a multi cab and headed back to Malaybalay City.
Some of the the group members decided then to go to Gantungan Falls, a favorite post climb relaxing place for us. The rest of the pack went ahead to Malaybalay City and promised to meet us during our post climb socials in one of the bars of Malaybalay. That is however, another story to tell!
Credits and Acknowledgments:
We are much indebted to the leadership of Joan and Michael John, both accomplished climbers and true friends to us. To Chris, Jaypee, Ian, Sir Joy and Lemuel the TAMAC contingent that made this all happen. Special thanks to our guests climbers, Steve and Dennis who shared with us their climbing experience beyond Mindanao. To Donnex, Edong and Edong’s Angels, as well for the food they offered us. The henna artistry of Butchoy and Hazel wouldn’t be forgotten also. I would like also to thanks our friends who didn’t join us during the climb but have greatly contributed to this traverse preparations: Famboy, our Tambayan’s owner; Merlin our ever magician and gracious hosts;Yayan, who came all the way from Cagayan to join the socials and the so many other friends I couldn’t remember their names. Thank you!