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Grasping For Heaven » Through the Freezing Montane Shrubland and Up to the Peak of Mt. Pulag

Mountaineer catching the sunrise at Mt. Pulag summit
The trouble began on this last trail section before the summit. We just passed the enchanting mossy forest and we still need to get through the grassland but darkness is already on its onset. Setting camp here for the night is impossible because the conditions were hideous, so we have no option but to continue walking until we reach the summit campsite. I thought our trail master calculated everything just right especially the time that we need to reach the campsite, but during the approach our timing just all messed up.

Freezing grassland along the Akiki Trail near the Mt. Pulag summit
View suddenly changed from thick vegetation of the Mossy Forest to dead trees and grass upon entering the shrubland.
The sun now gone, tiny frost on our eyebrows and temperature keeps dropping – this is not fun. On my fingers, I felt the first pang of dread and frost, and with it I felt the first unpleasant gnawing of fear. My mind race but there was no option and it felt better to keep going than to stop. I took two deep breaths then started trekking and trekking. This turned out to be my first taste of serious hazard throughout the climb.

A mountaineer trekking and looking at a dark ravine
Walking in darkness: A few kilometers before the summit campsite
We could walk continuously, but only with great care, for on one hand in the eerie darkness there might be a ravine and you-don’t-know-what on the other. We couldn’t see the trail at our feet due to knee-high wild grass and dwarfed bamboos. We just followed our trail master and keep everybody close. This is the worst place and time to feel alone. We were shivering constantly and had to whisper comforting words to each other while encouraging everyone that we can do it – and amazingly it gives us strength.

Two mountaineers walking at the freezing grassland on the Akiki trail going to Mt. Pulag
Trekking the grassland few minutes before dark
Then came doubt. About wether the whole thing is worth it. This part of the mountain is a bastard. I asked myself why I have to do something artificial and dangerous to feel content. Why I tend to confuse life-and-death with fun. 

Asking and doubting how much of myself I can give to the mountains – this is what my experience in climbing this part of the Akiki trail has done to me, and probably about mountaineering in general. Ironically, I like that feeling – the novelty of risk, cold and tiredness.

Out of the darkness and cold winds came a beautiful sight – the ghostly scattered lights from tents at the summit camp. I felt greatly relieved, knowing that soon we can rest and eat.

We are safe and but it isn’t over.

Night at the Campsite

Upon reaching the camp, we rushed out to find a space to pitch our tents. It was pitch dark and bone cold. Fierce winds and rain is battering us on open grassland, thus fixing or tents is not an easy task.

Row of tents: Nightime at the campsite at the summit of Mt. Pulag
Nighttime at the summit campsite
As soon as all the tents are fixed, we all went inside and dropped exhausted – no more evening socials. Ready-to-eat food is our saviour that night, and hot instant mami-noodles is a luxury. Temperature is steadily dropping and based on what I gather, temperature at Mt. Pulag summit could drop below zero at night especially at pre-dawn.

To prepare for that chilly evening, I wrap my foot on plastic bags under two layers of socks and wear three layers of clothing and a thick bonnet. But despite that, I still felt cold and for how long I shivered that night, I can’t recall.

This way to the playground of the gods

The amazement, exhaustion and fear we experienced during the previous days of trekking the Akiki trail are now all too easily obscured by the thought of finally experiencing the famed Mt. Pulag sunrise over sea of clouds. Excited, we woke up at three in the morning to prepare for our final assault going to the summit.

Summiteers trekking the final trail going up the summit of Mt. Pulag
Exciting twilight: Moments before the big show
Other campers started the slow ascent in a bid to catch the sunrise atop Luzon’s tallest peak. To climb the actual summit block from the camp site, we hike across the plateau then ascend about a few feet going to a steep gully – although steep, this short trail seems like a walk in the park because this is the moment we are all waiting and we are all excited like a child tearing the wrapper of a big gift.

Panoramic view at the peak of Mt. Pulag before sunrise
Breaking Dawn: Colorful moments before sunrise
The views at the summit of Mt. Pulag are truly striking… a beautiful part of Luzon, and for an hour – all ours. Distant mountain peaks surging like enchanted islands in the ocean of dreamy clouds. The horizon burst into different shades of blue against strips of orange, or more specifically deep saffron, perfectly representing the sacred color of Hinduism.

The Thinker: Man contemplating at Mt. Pulag peak looking at the sea of clouds
My version of "The Thinker"
I can feel the thin cold air on my lungs and felt a bit breathless and giddy, but I know it's not because of the high elevation. It is the sense of exhilaration of being on the clouds, on experiencing how it feels to be at the playground of the gods.

I shared the peak together with other summiteers but the summit was a private experience for me. This achievement had a much higher importance to me. It had been very difficult; I had grown so discouraged that I just left it to faith.

Photo of sea of clouds phenomenon at Mt. Pulag peak
Magical sea of clouds phenomenon: This is what Mt. Pulag is famous for.
But now, this perfect finish, at the majestic Mt. Pulag peak on a splendid morning. I remember thinking even then that this climb was probably the best climb that I could ever do, because things work out that well so rarely.

Mountaineer standing at the horizon between mountain ridge and sky
Between the mountains and the sky
Truly, in order to understand mountains and the beauty of mountaineering, one has to climb because there is just no other way to understand. Experience is the best teacher as they say, and when we get on the mountain and reflect on the trail, we will then know what the mountain holds and what the mountain is; why it is difficult to conquer and why, and amazingly what it can reveal us about ourselves.

Down to Ambangeg

Sign post for Grassland Summit and Tawangan along Ambangeg trail
Signpost along Ambangeg trail as guide for mountaineers
Our descent down the Ambangeg trail was a bit anti-climactic but relaxing. It was an easy, mostly flat trail with some picturesque landscapes – but not as grand as the views along the Akiki trail.

Ambangeg trail across rolling hills
A walk along the Ambangeg trail is like a walk in the park
With the cool weather and rolling hills our descent along the Ambangeg is very relaxing and enjoyable, a treat we truly deserve after our ordeal at the Akiki grassland.

This is the last part of the below series: 

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Mountaineering, Trekking, Hiking Escapades

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