Diary of a Happy Hiker

 Mt. Daraitan's summit was a beautiful surprise of uniquely carved rocks.

Mt. Daraitan's summit was a beautiful surprise of uniquely carved rocks.

Mt. Daraitan, March 2017

It was drizzling on the morning of my twelfth climb, Mt. Daraitan in Tanay, Rizal. No one in our group thought to check the weather since it was sunny all week long. But there we were, getting ourselves ready: Rico bought ponchos for us who came jacketless, Caloy was buying cooked rice and filling his hydropak with water, Shirley and Lulu were making final preparations while I put on socks and rubber shoes. It’s been five months since my last hike, and I was excited. 

 Felt like my lungs could have taken twice the usual air at Mt. Sembrano's summit. Do you see the wind farm in the distance? :)

Felt like my lungs could have taken twice the usual air at Mt. Sembrano's summit. Do you see the wind farm in the distance? :)

Mt. Sembrano, September 2017

It was a very hot day and the trail wasn’t friendly, at all. We all felt for our friend, Rachel, for it was her first time to climb a mountain and it was quite technical at that. We took a lot of breaks, navigated through the rocks and roots of the very dense forest, and after about three to four hours emerged on a clearing, our reward for all the huffing, grunting, and legs aching - acres of grassland that shine majestically as the crown of this difficult mountain. It was beautiful beyond words. The florets dancing to the wind, the breeze singing with the birds, the butterflies capping off the dreamy scenery - this is why I climb. There is nothing down here in the noisy, polluted city that could ever compare with the serenity of being on top of a mountain, even if you get there at 12nn.

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Mt. Makiling, hiked twice - one with limatik (September 2017) and one without (can’t remember)

~ Won’t ever go back during limatik season. Three latched on to me from out of nowhere, three shrieks I offered in useless retaliation, three times my companions must’ve thought ang arte-arte ko, haha. I myself didn’t know that that was how I would react to those blood-sucking ninjas. But there I was, screaming like an otherworldly creature suddenly appeared before me and spoke in High Valyrian. 

~ They say it’s one of those sacred mountains where other elements live and so you must be more careful than usual. It did feel a bit like that, like the mountain itself was alive, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hike (what is there to fear than fear itself?). The trail was beautiful and easy and quite cool, at times narrowing down but more often opening up to beautiful canopies, with lush vegetation and the sounds of nature keeping you in a happy embrace. It’s the kind of hike in which you can freely listen to music while taking on; you don’t have to climb over many rocks nor get your butt dirty going down. I would love to go back, but only during dry season.

 A buko a day makes all hikers gay. By that I mean happy, refreshed, oh, you know what I mean. (Almost all mountains I’ve climbed thankfully have buko vendors.)

A buko a day makes all hikers gay. By that I mean happy, refreshed, oh, you know what I mean. (Almost all mountains I’ve climbed thankfully have buko vendors.)

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Mt. Batulao, 2016

Start your hike very early, say 5 a.m., if you don’t want to suffer under the merciless sun because this mountain barely has cover. Oh, but it does pala - cover charges / entry fees for every lot owner who has lain claim to it. Who knew you could own land in the mountains?? I sure didn’t until this hike. Oh well. Just sad that this mountain has fallen prey to capitalism. Its landscape does look beautiful from Chapel on the Hill, though, and we are lucky we get to see it every Christmas for the Sittizens’ annual outreach with Don Bosco Batulao scholars.

But, if you're into trail running as my brother-in-law and his girlfriend are, then this mountain as well as Mt. Makiling make for great training grounds.   

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 Skala summit. So magnificently beautiful.

Skala summit. So magnificently beautiful.

 Take a breath, gather up courage, then focus. One sure step at a time.

Take a breath, gather up courage, then focus. One sure step at a time.

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Mt. Olympus, June 2015

We paid a visit to the Greeks’ “Home of the Gods“ during our honeymoon, and it was a hike of many firsts: first international climb, first time to use poles, first time to sleep in a mountain refuge, first time to encounter and to scale sideways on a class 3 rock scramble, first time to cross patches of snow 2,800 meters above sea level, and first time to hike alongside three Romanian women aged 60 and up, who took on the trail without a guide. The trail was easy and well-marked; it only really got difficult on our ascent to Mytikas, the highest peak, in which we had to carefully evaluate every step we took as we scaled and climbed up the rocky mountain wall. It did look like temple steps, a fitting home for the Greek gods. And looking at our pictures now, I’m really grateful we did that climb, for the 360 views of snow-capped mountains was just amazing. Even Joey agreed that it was the highlight of our honeymoon, even if we both couldn’t walk properly for days after, haha!

Oh, and it was also the first time I got kinda rebuked for my colourful choices of hiking wear: blue green jacket, long-sleeved pink inner, black thermal leggings, pink and white striped socks, light blue trail shoes. I probably looked like Ronald McDonald to Joey and the others, but I didn’t really care. I like colour.

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Mt. Kanlaon, February 2014 

Joey’s first climb and our first ever hike together, too. How funny that we joined a 5km trail run the DAY BEFORE OUR HIKE (Joey did 10km), so of course our legs hurt so much making our way up and even more so on our way down (our thighs were screaming, and Joey’s got so maga I called his thighs sausage legs after, so that when he gets well from psoriasis, his legs will be called ‘cured sausage’. Get it? Hehe!). Also, the first time Joey truly and fully understood why that popular term “call of nature” was deemed as such. He refused to eat and drink on the first day of the hike so as not to fill his bladder and excrete the contents of his colon - but, in the end, he failed. I am happy to report and recount that he made great friends with the shovel. :p

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Mt. Pico de Loro, May 2013

Someone in our group said it was an easy hike, and so we believed that because you trust your friends, right? We believed him (or her?) so much that I brought along my younger brother and my close friend and fellow sessionista, Princess Velasco, who were both first-time hikers. Well, it turned out to be another mercilessly hot day plus we unluckily ran low on water. We must’ve thought there was a water source in the mountain so we brought less than enough (the pinakasablay of all hiking decisions our group has ever made, tsk tsk) and never imagined we would end up savouring and saving every drop of water - just like in the movies! And we had no idea the peak would be so daunting - loose soil all around, with nothing for your hands and feet to anchor on. Princess cried :( She never went mountain climbing again, and I am so sorry this had to be her one and only experience of hiking. If only we were more prepared and better informed. We are definitely wiser hikers now.

But the Parrot’s Beak, the highlight of that mountain, was indeed stunning: a beautiful rock structure towering above all the greens and browns, like an animated sentry keeping watch over everything. You had to rapel to get to the top. It was challenging but not that scary, and as with Mt. Batulao, Parrot’s Beak is best viewed from a distance.  

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 This lovely field of everyday flowers <3 I've only ever seen them in Mt. Apo.

This lovely field of everyday flowers <3 I've only ever seen them in Mt. Apo.

 Our jaws dropped when we saw this - two sets of ladders and it's not even the whole picture!

Our jaws dropped when we saw this - two sets of ladders and it's not even the whole picture!

 Lake Venado in Mt. Apo - mystical, ethereal, otherworldly.

Lake Venado in Mt. Apo - mystical, ethereal, otherworldly.

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Mt. Apo, January 2013

We didn’t reach the summit, only making it ‘till Lake Venado, because we thought we had superpowers and could finish the hike overnight! No siree for our country’s highest mountain, no siree indeed. Mt. Apo is quite beautiful and unique both in vegetation and insect life, with trees that seem like they’re not from this world. Lake Venado itself was a sight to behold, such that even if we were only about two-three hours from the peak, we were all quite happy just to be there. I have never been in a more beautiful place.

I believe the trail was also the hardest I’ve experienced. There was a part that had two ladders totalling about two stories high, and of course there were the many roots of trees to navigate. And this was also the longest I’ve ever had to walk in my life: twelve hours hike down from Lake Venado just so we would reach the base by sundown, and not counting the hike up (I forgot already). Our thighs and legs hurt so much we all couldn’t properly go down the stairs for days!

I have to climb Apo again in my lifetime. Will make it a two-night hike, not only just to reach the summit, but to get to experience being in Lake Venado once again. And this time, we won’t do white-water rafting the day before, haha! Tsk tsk, our SMP, Samahan ng Makakati ang Paa group, always on the lookout for adventure but never looking forward enough to assess just how much we would all suffer from our impulsiveness. Still, so much memorable fun to go with the equally memorable aches!

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Mt. Maculot, July 2012 

How come there’s not much I remember from this hike except that this was during that time when I was heartbroken and would eat all the Rebisco Cream Sandwiches at home while binging on Grey’s Anatomy - in short, ang taba ko ng mga panahong ito, hahaha! Baka din kaya wala ako maalala, maybe my brain automatically shelved all memories of my life from that time - did you know it can do that! Galing, noh? But wait, let me look at the pictures again and see if anything jogs my memory..

We saw blue ants!

Apart from that, I don’t seem to remember much else.. I guess it was neither too easy nor too hard a climb. As my younger brother would say, “sapat lang”.

 Gray, gray, the world in gray!

Gray, gray, the world in gray!

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 Swimming in the crater lake is now prohibited, I believe.

Swimming in the crater lake is now prohibited, I believe.

Mt. Pinatubo, March 2012

SUPER FUN!! Another trek I would love to go on again soon because IT HAS ALL THE INGREDIENTS FOR AN EPIC ADVENTURE!! It starts with a 4x4 ride away from anything green or brown or familiar, into a world where lahar (volcanic ash) covers everything - AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL. Then your jaw will drop some more once you reach the foot of the lahar mountains. I remember ruminating then how something so devastating can create something so achingly beautiful, because indeed, Mt. Pinatubo is that, and trust me, as a Filipino you owe it to yourself to see it with your own eyes, this beauty that sprung up and is made out of ashes.

The trek itself isn’t that hard, your only considerations would be the sleeplessness from waking up early to drive to the jump-off point in Capas, Tarlac (that is, if you choose not to spend the night in Pampanga like we did), the very bumpy 4x4 ride, and of course, the heat.

When you get to the crater lake though, all exhaustion departs because again, it is quite a marvel to look at. It reminded me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, except of course, this particular lake of collected rainwater is rich in sulphur and is in a volcanic crater. I remember it felt weird swimming in it.

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Mt. Pulag, January 2012

The sun seemingly caressed us with fatherly, good morning kisses as we watched it light up acres of grassland, inch by inch with its golden rays, above an incredible sea of clouds. A display of wonder like no other. Sweeping views of rolling hills and the occasional sprouting of trees. Freezing temperatures that prevented us from getting good sleep. Socks that felt like they were forever wet that night we camped under the stars. A thick blanket of clouds to welcome us at the jump-off point, Ranger Station. First camping experience. First hike in the dark with only our headlamps to guide us. One step at a time. One beautiful view after another. One latrine were thousands before us have urinated in, another for business number two that we didn’t dare go in to. The ascent to the top that was almost at a 90-degree incline and so, so hard - but when you get to the top, so, so worth it.

I thank the Lord for Mt. Pulag and all the beautiful mountains He has created, and seeing pictures of its ravaged 5 hectares because of the actions of some careless, irresponsible hikers break my heart. 

But, who knows? Like Pinatubo, Pulag might rise up even more beautifully from the ashes. I certainly hope so.

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Bongao Peak, 2011

How fortuitous that my first ever hike happened in Tawi-Tawi, at the very same time that I surmounted another mountain of another nature - that of meeting my father for the very first time. Both were experiences unknown to me, and I suppose both left me hungry for more. And while there were so many mountains to choose from henceforth, I had only one father, and I was grateful that I got to know and spend time with him, even for just a short while before he passed away that same year. 


Every mountain is beautiful, every mountain is different. Every challenge makes you stronger and also leads you to know yourself more. And I can’t wait to know my other mountains, traverse my own valleys, emerge dirty and smelly yet exhilarated because I know that I gave it my all, for every aching journey is rewarded with views you will never have seen have you not had the courage to try.

See you in the mountains!

Love,

Sitti

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