Monday, April 21, 2014

How I Popped My Hiking Cherry (Part 1/3)

Photo by Paul Louie Serrano

 If you have any good sense at all, you would not go to Mt. Pulag via Akiki trail.

 But if you want to explore the hidden beauty of the mountains and earn bragging rights for the summer, I highly recommend it.

     For those who are not familiar, the most popular Pulag trail for tourists and wanderlust locals is the Ambangeg trail: it's usually a one-day journey, you spend the night in one of the camping grounds, and wake up at the break of dawn to trek up the final destination that is the peak of Mt Pulag. It's challenging, it's fun, and you get photo-ops galore. Meanwhile, for Akiki trail, it's a three-day journey to the top. Majority of the journey is hiking uphill. You begin to question your sanity with the steep inclines and you celebrate at the sight of a few square meters of flat land.

  Akiki trail is popularly known to park rangers, locals, and DENR peeps as the "Killer trail". And rightly so. Some people assume it got its nickname because of the beautiful sights that will kill your stress and make your worries disappear- judging by the pictures. Experience is another thing.

 Reasons why you should take the Killer Trail:
1. It's the perfect trip where you can start to question your life decisions. Or just life in general.
2. A great opportunity for you to bond with friends while testing your friendship. Also a great revenge trip for your frenemies.
3. The Killer Trail is a journey where nature has its way with you and not the other way around.
4. If you want to put yourself in Frodo Baggins' place (Or Bilbo's, or Katniss Everdeen's), Akiki trail is a revelation and a reality check. The struggle is real.
5. If by some chance you're looking for biodiversity, Akiki will not disappoint.


 Fuck, I forgot my toothbrush.

  With my coffee-to-blood ratio extremely low, morning passed like a fog as we arrived at our meeting point at 4am. I'm physically present but my mind is bleary. Louie, our coordinator and official photographer, greeted us and we all boarded the jeepney where the rest of the group was waiting. There were 10 of us (not including Louie). For the sake of easier comprehension in this blog post, the group is comprised of

The Family (me, my 2 brothers, and mom)
The Barkada (2 sisters + a friend)
The Couple
Some Dude (probably the most physically capable to trek Akiki without breaking a sweat.)

  We had to make three stopovers before the beginning of the trail. First was for breakfast in this modest carinderia-slash-sari-sari store. The homecooked food was warm and delicious. I bought my toothbrush before we left. Second stopover was at the Visitors Center for orientation. When we stepped out of the jeepney, there was this friendly black dog who basked in our attention. He probably makes a terrible guard dog.

 Orientation. My mind is still foggy. The park rules involved no bringing of pets, no straying off the trail, do not trample plants or vegetation, you cannot use soap near the water source, bring your trash with you... wait a minute, we can't use soap? No soap? How do we proper hygiene??

Orientation. Photo by Paul Louie Serrano.

For our third stopover, we had second breakfast (since it was only 9am) in this carinderia owned by an old man who had lived through World War 2. Louie told us about the itinerary and there were talks among the group whether we should hire porters or not once we reach the ranger's station.

 The start of the trail was at the side of the road. Louie took a group picture of us. There was a sign at the threshold that said "difficult trail."
 "Difficult? Psshh." One of my brothers scoffed. Louie mentioned it was a 10-minute climb to the ranger's station where we have to register and get porters.

And so began our 10 minutes of hell.

 We were huffing and puffing, our leg muscles screaming. Hearts pounding into our ears. The trail is steep with makeshift stairs, zigzagging uphill continuously. We began to regret the trip before it even started. "Warm up pa lang 'to!" someone laughed.

 We collapsed on the chairs just outside the ranger's station, wondering how on earth were we going to survive the next 72 hours. ("Did you know what we signed up for?" my little brother demanded.) Almost everyone suddenly wanted to hire porters.

 We hiked for 2 hours through narrow precarious trails strewn with rocks, pine needles, cow "landmines" ("What am I doing with my life?" I muttered as I stepped over cow dung the size of Kanye's ego). The path at the side of the mountain can get even more narrow that you can look over the edge and see the entire landscape below you. Death is certain if you do anything stupid like being drunk or getting high on the trail.  Other than that, being way up there in the pine forest is exhilarating.

 The Barkada, The Dude, and The Couple were used to steep inclines since they're all pretty much from Baguio and didn't seem to have any trouble adjusting to the trail. My brothers and I eventually adjusted, though we moved slower. Meanwhile, the one who really had it bad the entire trip was our mom. She doesn't really like anything that involves too much sun exposure, difficult physical activity, and heights. Except when she signed up for the trip, she thought it was going to be a postcard-worthy photo-op sort of trip, so jokes on her, HAH.

  Along the trail, we took a few minutes' break to catch our breath or have a drink of water. Once in a while, we'd stop to take pictures of the scenery or take the obligatory selfie. I looked around for any hopping mice that the people at orientation mentioned but haven't spotted any.

To entertain myself, I'd blow on dandelions that grew plentiful along the path. We were startled by the loud moo of a brown cow along the way. The trail started to decline and we could hear the roar of a river.

  We spotted a cave filled with skulls and bones.

Do you see the skulls?

My brothers and I were confused with one makeshift gate that blocks the trail, though one can simply go around it.

"Why is this here why is it locked I don't understand."
"Point and right-click with your mouse, sir."

 Eventually, we arrived at camping grounds where we eased ourselves of our burdens. We refilled our empty water bottles, shared our snacks and marvelled at the sight of the river just below us. The others set up the tents. (There was an outhouse, thankfully, with running water nearby. At least we don't have to dig holes to do our business.)

 Upon closer inspection, we saw that there was a rusty hanging bridge over the river. "Can we go there?" one of my brothers asked Louie. He says that we could as long as we're careful. Even the short trail to the river was steep. Only up to 5 people can cross the bridge at the same time, but keep it down to 3 just to be safe.

And off we went.

  We crossed the bridge one by one, not out of caution but out of the thrill of being up there by yourself over the boulders and rapids. Soon, the rest of the group followed. Before we knew it, we were traipsing in the cold river water. The water was so cold that standing in it for a few minutes will numb your feet.

Photobomb! at Eddet River.
Photo by Paul Louie Serrano

Team Pinikpikan.
 Photo by Paul Louie Serrano.

   After our river rendezvous, we went back to our campsite, had "dinner" (it was only 3pm but the sun sets really early starting at 4pm). The fog started to descend at the nearby mountain ranges. We cleaned up, got settled in our respective quarters, and slept ridiculously early as we had to be up by 3am for the nest phase of our journey.

Inside our tent.

  Falling asleep wasn't a problem though- we were all exhausted. With my mom already snoring beside me, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the river roaring in the distance.

How I Popped My Hiking Cherry part 2

***Photos are mine unless stated otherwise.

**** For those interested in going to Mt Pulag, check out Louie Serrano's Facebook Page for available schedules and slots.

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