Friday, November 30, 2012

Mt. Tapulao

It was a climb that tested us in varied aspects - physical strength, mental alertness, and our virtues. But as a Group we were able to emerge from the challenges that came along our "trail". And once again, we were able to prove that while knowing the technicalities of a particular target climb prior to the attempt is very important, still, it is how the group utilizes that knowledge and the group's approach to difficulties that promises an achievement. 

Because of "The BACKPACKERS' way", five mountain climbers were welcomed as new members of the Group in a successful climb to the highest peak in Central Luzon.

The BACKPACKERS Fifth Induction Climb
Conquering Mount Tapulao
By Heinz Lopez Alvarez, Jr.

November 24, 2012 - It was an ordinary past midnight in Manila and the Group was already almost complete in Victory Liner - Cubao Station before the clock hit 01:00 AM. While the girls (BP April and Inductees Alexi and Ghei) were patiently waiting for me and BP Tin (who had a shift until 01:00 AM that day) by the entrance of the bus station, the boys (BP Mon and Inductees Nick and Resty) accompanied BP Lead Ivan in scouting for a van-for-hire that would transport us to Olongapo City. 

Prior to that assembly, most of us were in The BP Headquarters and were busy preparing the must-to-brings. We then distributed loads amongst ourselves knowing that it's going to be a long trek before reaching the campsite at least. While we were all preoccupied with our climb thoughts, BP Treasurer Jovy was unselfishly devoting her time and efforts, came all the way from Antipolo to Mandaluyong, just to cook for us so that we could have decent "ulam" (viands) in Mt. Tapulao.

Jovy's Adobo Especial
The Journey

We found ourselves already seated comfortably inside the Van with two commuter-passengers (requested by the driver for added income purposes) and felt it moved heading to the north at around 2:30 AM. To regain the lost energy because of the preparations we had to do the previous day, we preferred to doze off on our way to the northern city dubbed as “Palm Tree City of the Philippines” and "Music Capital of the Philippines" - Olongapo.

April and Tin feeling comfortable in our hired van bound for Olongapo City.

It was a smooth trip going out of the metro. As a matter of fact, we were already in a fast running jeepney that would bring us to the threshold of Mt. Tapulao's trail just a couple of hours after leaving Manila.  At this part of what seemed like a road trip for us, everybody stayed awake especially when the roadside view was becoming more and more enticing. We could not help ourselves but praise the beauty of Mt. Tapulao when we were able to finally see it from afar. Added to that is our appreciation of the well-paved national road that's laid out in the middle of healthy green farmlands. Also, the fresh air and the cold breeze that touched our cheeks early on that Saturday morning welcomed us to that beautiful part of Luzon. 

When we reached Iba, Zambales at around 06:30 AM, we had a stopover by Victory Liner bus station to fetch another inductee, Sir Gerald. Then, we had our breakfast in Jollibee. We were obviously full when we boarded back in the same jeepney that brought us to our destination in Zambales. At around 07:30 AM, we were finally at the "mountaineers' center" in Sitio Dampay, Brgy. Salaza in Palauig - the jump-off point.

From left: April, Ghei, Nick, Tin, Heinz, Mon, Ivan, Resty, Gerald, and Alexi

Because it was going to be a long trek, Ivan reminded us to leave stuffs that we won't  need anyway while in Mt. Tapulao. That strategy made our backpacks lighter to carry.  Actually, days before the climb, The BP Lead had been sending advices and reminders regarding this expected-to-be-strenous activity.  

It is expected of all mountaineers to be fully prepared before proceeding to  an attempt. Studying the specs of the target mountain, checking weather forecasts, preparing the gears needed, and readying self physically and mentally are the major things that must be covered.  

After proper registration and introduction to our guide, Kuya Alvaro, the Group pushed and started the climb. The time was checked - it was 09:00 AM.

The BACKPACKERS Way - We do not want to start a journey without saying a prayer.
The Group... starting up.

Kuya Alvaro
The startup walk in Sitio Dampay gave an opportunity for us to observe the the small village. Personally, I would have to say that its residents are generally peaceful and friendly. They carried on with their chores after nodding "Magandang umaga!" (Good morning!) to us when we passed by their homes. They live a simple and a life full of patience as reflected by their means of living - farming and animal raising, making barbeque sticks and some handicrafts, and tour guiding. Kuya Alvaro is a good example. He would smile right after responding to our queries. He did not complain and he would not refuse whenever we needed to have him carry additional load. And, he would track back just to check if we were following along the trail just fine.

Rows of bamboo sticks on the road is a daily sight in Sitio Dampay. 

Though it was not steep at all, the Group did acknowledge the difficulty of the trek early on.

The 16 kilometers long trail to Mt. Tapulao's summit is composed mostly of an exposed rocky road (80-85%) with a continuous ascend. It is relatively wide as it is also being coursed by extreme sports players driving their 4x4s.

It was a remarkably difficult trekking for us primarily because we started when the sun was already up. We were exposed to the sun thus its direct hit on us made us exhausted so quickly, no matter how many times we tried to rehydrate. And what made it more exacting for us was the fact that the trees that had grown just by the roadside, that could have possibly provided some shade for us, were extremely limited. And on that day, there was almost no wind in that part of the trail. So imagine how long we had to endure the scorching heat from the sun while walking along what seemed to be a never-ending ascending trail; and, while we barely could breathe because of the thin air.

There were parts of that day when we were provided with what I considered as an intermission number. Atmost 13 4x4s passed by so we needed to give way whenever they were coming, which was just alright because (for obvious reasons) we needed take five's from time to time. Watching those cars while their powerful engines and super-durable wheels crunched those rocks on the trail was absolutely fascinating! I even dreamt of having my own one (someday) while in amazement of the action that they had showcased. 

Reaching the first water source at around 01:00 PM provided great relief. We cooked, ate lunch, and took a short nap. 

Lunch time. The goal: full tank.
Resty securing water for rehydration.
When everybody felt already recharged and strong enough again to continue facing the challenge, we got up on our our feet, put our backpacks on, and readied with our trekpoles. For some, wood or bamboo sticks found somewhere along the trail were enough to serve the purpose. It was 02:30 PM and the sun was at it's best showtime.

Once again, our endurance was put into test. Almost every one uttered "ang hirap ng trek na 'to," (this trek is difficult). Even Sir Gerald, who we consider a hardcore mountaineer and who had climed Mt. Apo just recently, added "wala na bang katapusan ang trail na 'to?" (is this a never-ending trail?). But what was very noteworthy that day was the attitude - nobody cursed the very exacting trail and none had wished to quit from the attempt to reach Mt. Tapulao's peak. Everyone was patiently continued.

Mt. Tapulao's peak has an elevation of 2,037 MASL, making it the proudest mountain in Central Luzon. 

The Group was able to reach the 10-kilometer mark at 04:30 PM. It was where we found a guardhouse (made of sacks and branches of wood) along a curve part of that ascending road. More importantly, the temperature had become more and more cooler and the shades more available from that part of the trail onwards. However, because at this point we had been trekking for almost eight hours already, we stretched ourselves and continued despite the exhaustion.

BP Lead Ivan at the guardhouse   
Mon and Kuya Alvaro literally dedicated their remaining strengths to purposely get ahead of us. The game plan was for Mon to secure a place and to prepare dinner for the Group.

Inductee Sir Gerald
Inductee Ma'am Alexi
Inductee Sir Nick
Inductee Ma'am Ghei
Inductee Sir Resty

The moon was there for us.
As expected, our pacing became faster when there was no more heat from the sun. And, by this time, we were already trekking along the trail that was guarded by those pine trees. The natural scent coming from those trees and the cold temperature did make us feel we were having an evening walk in an old romantic road of Baguio City. The beautiful view that surrounded us, especially the sight of verdant mountain ranges view when we turned our eyes to the right side of the way, definitely gave added motivation in reaching our goal that day - the bunkhouse.

The clock hit 07:30 PM and we found ourselves still walking on Mt. Tapulao's higher elevation. And, because we had been walking for straight three hours already, we all agreed to take a 30-minute breather. Everybody slumbered right where they dropped their backpacks off. That rest was as important as our determination to finish the course.

It was the escalating icy breeze plus Kuya Alvaro's presence, who backtracked to check on us, that awoke us and made us rose up on our feet almost when our alarm clock was about to make noise. With all our might and using the power of our minds, we pulled ourselves up and started walking the final stretch to the bunk house. At 09:30 PM, the bunkhouse was already fully accupied. 

The original plan was to have a small socials at the bunk house. But because everyone was completely tired and exhausted, the lights-off happened right after dinner.

The Victory

Waking up early on that cold Sunday morning felt so good! The natural low temperature in that bunkhouse was a real treat, certainly better than what air-conditioning systems in Manila could have provided for tired people like us. Everybody had at least five hours of sleep but it was like closing your eyes for a 15-minute power nap. And, literally, we were re-energized.

What makes Mt. Tapulao attractive to hikers is its semi-temperate climate accented with the allure assembled by its all-natural features - pine trees, wild ferns, the flora and fauna and some rock formations - comparable to the Cordillera mountains'.  Having said that, it is undoubtedly a good alternative to Mt. Pulag.

Inductees Resty and Gerald joined forces, ignoring the freezing air outside, in heating water and preparing hot coffee and bread for the Group. At 06:00 AM, we started the assault to the summit.

The BPs and Inductees by the bunkhouse.
The assault to the summit was an unforgettable experience. Our guide said that it would take us an hour; but with The BACKPACKERS' way, getting to the top the safest way while enjoying the surprises along the way was more important. We noticed that the established trail climbing up to Mt. Tapulao's highest peak is composed of two ravishing parts. We took down the first part, which started just right across the bunkhouse, full of excitement. 

It was a steep assault amidst lovely pine trees. And for me, that was what made it unique from all of the mountains that the Group had climbed in the past; and different from Mt. Pulag's path to the top, which features cute dwarf bamboo bushes. I have not been to any cold foreign countries yet, but hiking in that part of the mountain felt like I was in the same place where Frodo Baggins used to play with his best friend Sam. Our girls, on the other hand, said they felt like they were with Edward out for some hunting and would see Jacob later.

"Tapulao" means pine tree in local dialect.

As it was not that tedious because of the pleasing temperature, we were able to reach the small flat area, which marked the end of our pine trees celebration and the start of the second part of the trail going up - a footpath that snakes through a mossy forest. 
Snaking through the mossy forest

That part did not only spoil us with naturally scented fresh air, but also surprised us with its rich flora and fauna. The first group reached the summit in one hour. After just a couple of minutes, we all finally conquered Mt. Tapulao when everyone reached its summit!

A responsible mountaineer does his homework about his target beforehand.

One of the things we learned from our Lead, Ivan Ignacio, is to research about our target mountain before the climb. Because of that, aside from being "technically" ready for this climb, we also did not demand nor look for extra-magnificent views from that summit  marked by a "world tree".

A bounded visibility of the West Philippine Sea can be enjoyed atop Mt. Tapulao.   

The Group enjoyed what the summit had to offer on that 07:30 AM - the gratifying sense of being on top of a great gift of nature. 

To further celebrate the successful attempt to conquer "Mt. Pine Tree", for us as a Group,  meant to enjoy being in that peaceful place together and to formally induct Sir Gerald, Ma'am Ghei, Sir Resty, Ma'am Alexi, and Sir Nick as official members of The BACKPACKERS, as we acknowledge the fact that our Group is indeed continuously growing. BPs Tin and April hosted the Induction Program.

Finally inducted and now Official Members of The BACKPACKERS: Resty, Ghei, Nick, Alexi, and Gerald
With Inducting Officers: BPs April and Tin sandwiching the new members
The New Members with the rest of The BPs present in Mt. Tapulao: Heinz, Tin, Mon, April, and Ivan
A Christmas Tree: The BACKPACKERS in Mt. Tapulao's "world tree"
The three-hour length of time that we dedicated for the highlight of this activity - the assault to the summit and induction program - was more than enough for us to be able to appreciate and enjoy Mt. Tapulao. We then happily made our trek back to find ourselves clearing the area and the bunkhouse by 09:00 AM.

The BACKPACKERS Way back to the bunkhouse
The rest, as they say, is history and we were able to show up to the tourism authority back at the Mountaineers Center in Sitio Dampay safe and intact.

It was a climb that tested us in varied aspects - physical strength, mental alertness, and our virtues. But as a Group we were able to emerge from the challenges that came along our "trail". When our physical strengths suggested a surrender, we kept an alert mind and got hold of the virtues that we have learned as a Group -  patience, motivation, determination, and support. With The BACKPACKERS Ways, we will continue to grow.

Photo credits to Alexi, Ivan and James

The BACKPACKERS would like to thank 
Sir James Singlador 
from the 4x4 Team who let us borrow some of his pix for this writeup. 
If you are also amazed with his pictures here, 
like his facebook fan page at 


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