Breathing Clouds: 2922 meters above sea level at Mt. Pulag

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Grasslands near the peak of Mt. Pulag

At -4 degrees Celsius at 1 a.m. and trying to dodge the water droplets that had condensed inside my tent and were falling straight to my face, I couldn’t have hated myself more.

I honestly didn’t know what I was thinking when I invited my friends to a hiking trip to Mt. Pulag in Benguet last January. I guess I just wanted to try something daring after the New Year, and what better prospect than to climb up the highest peak in Luzon, Philippines?

One of my friends, Tanya, had already broken down into tears after failing to go to the latrine (the makeshift “comfort room” that comprised a bunch of wood covering two holes in the ground) earlier that night because of the heavy fog outside. The two of us had tried to brave the mist and walk across the camping area to the latrine to empty our bladders before sleeping. Less than ten seconds after stepping out of our tent, our face resembled what happens to a water bottle after you take it out of the fridge. We were literally breathing clouds. She literally thought she was “gonna freeze and die.”

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Hikers climb up towards the camping site. Strange vegetation thrive on the land that is thousands of meters above sea level.

I prayed that my friends wouldn’t remain too pissed off at me once we returned to Manila. I was already practicing my apology speech to them in my mind, which I would deliver with a pot of spicy Korean noodle soup in Greenbelt. Thankfully, Tom, Tanya’s boyfriend, had managed to calm her down. Ayn, who lay down beside me, was the first one to fall asleep. Everybody else in the camp were quiet and there were only the occasional marshals making their rounds of the perimeter. But my bladder was still screaming and wouldn’t let me sleep.

And so against my better judgment, I ignored the buddy system that made sense in camp settings and went out to walk by my lonesome to the latrine. On the way down a hill, I slipped and landed on my bum, covering my pants in mud. After doing my business, I returned to the tent, only to find Ayn had spread out and taken over my spot in the tent. I tried to wake her but she was out cold. Literally cold. I only had an hour and a half before waking time at 3 a.m. when we would start walking towards the peak of Mt. Pulag, roughly a two-and-a-half hour trek, to catch the sunrise. So I immediately assumed fetal position, made the best of whatever space was left for me, and dozed off.

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Path of bushes leading to the latrine (far left) in Mt. Pulag’s campsite

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A clearing marks the camping site of Mt. Pulag. On the right is the forested area a hiker must traverse for three hours before reaching the camping site.

The four of us awoke to the voice of our guide telling us that we had no time to spare. The sun would rise in a couple of hours and our group needed to be one of the first to reach the peak, otherwise we could end up waiting behind a long line of hikers in a very narrow trail. With only a cup of coffee as breakfast, we set out into the night, walking up, down, and grabbing on to bushes to keep our balance. I would find out a week later that I was allergic to them.

With only caffeine running through my system, I tried to numb my mind to everything–the cold, the heaviness that was accumulating in my limbs and joints; the guilt for being the one who came up with this idea. In that department, the stars helped. My God, the stars were amazing that night! Even though the fog covered the camp area itself, the view of the sky as we were climbing up remained unobstructed. That was the best night sky I had ever seen in my entire life. That alone was enough to lift my spirits. Too bad my camera didn’t have a Star Mode. I could have used manual exposure but we didn’t have 15 to 30 seconds just to wait for a shot. We had to keep going.

Three hours later (we were slow hikers), I barely realized that we were already approaching the peak. The sun threatened to come out within minutes. With one last push of our legs and respective psyches, we finally made it.

AND IT WAS WORTH IT.

No regrets, definitely.

Me, feeling fulfilled after reaching Mt. Pulag's peak

Me, feeling fulfilled after reaching Mt. Pulag’s peak

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Sunrise at Mt. Pulag’s peak.

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Tanya, looking out over the mountain after reaching the peak of Mt. Pulag

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Silhouette of hikers against a backdrop of clouds

Ceiling of clouds (view from Mt. Pulag's peak)

Ceiling of clouds (view from Mt. Pulag’s peak)

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Rainbow greeting (from left to right: Ayn, me, Tanya, Tom)

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Some kind of plant in the grasslands

All photos by Raydon L. Reyes, taken with the very awesome Canon S100.

Want to climb Mt. Pulag? Email Ann Pablo Bechet of Tripinas at tripinas@gmail.com.

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