Friday, April 26, 2013

Mt. Ugo Traverse

Mt. Ugo Traverse
The BACKPACKERS' Induction Climb
by Ivan Ignacio


The BACKPACKERS love the Cordilleras! And when is the most appropriate time of the year to visit this mountainous region - none other than during summer! One astounding mountain here is Mt. Ugo, the target venue of the group for its second stint this summer.

Mt. Ugo is technically under the jurisdiction of Itogon, Benguet though it can be accessed via three provinces: Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya and Pangasinan. It stands at 2,150 MASL and you will have to pass through a lot of parallel mountains before you can reach it.

Our chosen trail is the long and enduring traverse from Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya to Itogon, Benguet, a total of almost thirty kilometers of trekking. Our feet may have been sore, bruised and abused but our eyes were definitely in premium VIP setting as we had access to a lot of lovely and breathtaking scenes all throughout!


When our bus arrived in Aritao, the first town of Nueva Vizcaya if coming from Manila, our slumber were quickly interrupted as we hastily boarded off the bus. It was much to the displease of the disturbed people who came off straight from work. But when we realized that we were one step away from breathing that refreshing air in the Cordilleras, our enthusiasm and excitement rose significantly.

We were fetched by our service, a jeepney contracted by our guide Kuya Alex. It deviated from the main road and took the Aritao-Kayapa route. It was still pitch black outside and I only saw one vehicle greeting us along the road to Kayapa. I knew we were ascending and were already in the mountains as the temperature dropped tremendously. Albeit the cold and the darkness, BPs Heinz, Resty and inductee Kenji still took the challenge of top loading in Nueva Vizcaya. Halfway through, the gentlemen decided to get inside as they could not battle anymore with the chilling temperature brought by the mountain weather.

We made it in the town of Kayapa, which is the jump off point for the Mt. Ugo traverse. The sun was slowly waking up from the sky. The locals at the market area started their early morning routine as well as it was another day for work.

What I liked about Nueva Vizcaya is their commitment to the No Smoking policy. From Aritao to Kayapa, we were reminded by the signboards and the locals themselves about the serious implications if caught red-handed. Like the streets of Solano and Bambang, those of Aritao and Kayapa were also clean and well maintained. Another impressive thing I have observed which made me appreciate Nueva Vizcaya. It is simple but teeming with orderliness.


Kuya Alex and Ate Connie met us at the clean public market area along with our six porters who will be carrying boxes of donations for the Domolpos Community School located at the base of Mt. Ugo. Altogether, we walked a couple of strides from the main road until we reached a cemented narrow trail head. As Kuya Alex pointed out, the first phase was going to be a 'basagan ng tuhod' as we had to walk uphill in a combination of cemented path and stairs. But when we got to the first resting station, we noticed that we were that immediately immersed in a mountain that offered us splendid views. It was just plain relaxing and motivating as well. We could already see some adjacent mountains filled with clouds and reflection of the beautiful rays of the sun.

"21 mountains," was the shocker of the morning. Kuya Alex announced that we were actually conquering not just Mt. Ugo but twenty other mountains along its trail. Though it was really possible as the Cordilleras is composed of several hundred mountains, it just never came into our senses that we would be stepping foot on twenty plus mountains in two days. A-ma-zing.

As we got higher and higher, the environment became cooler and the views more astounding. We would tend to stop by and adore the surroundings. Inhaling that sweet scent of unpolluted breeze gave us motivation as we continued our exhilarating journey to Mt. Ugo.


After hours of purely ascending trails, we reached Indupit Village - a quiet and quaint village on top of the mountain. It was a very peaceful neighborhood and I felt the simplicity of their livelihood. The village offered us amenities such as comfort rooms, cooking area and a nice blanket of grasses which served its purpose for our warmed up legs and bodies. We had our lunch there while we took advantage of the opportune time for us to bond while we relaxed our adventurous spirits.

We pushed through with the trek with an easier second phase. The trail was not that steep. When we got to the seemingly edge of the rough road, we were astonished with the grand vista that greeted us. A marvelous view of the chain of mountains in the area was in plain sight. It was truly exceptional and we just had to take a moment, breathe, and take pictures. Although we were literally near the edges of high cliffs, we were never really worried as the trail was very generous. Our guide told us that this trail is called the Spanish trail.

Here are some of the grand vistas that we saw in this portion of the trail:


After hiking for six and a half hours, we finally reached the village of Domolpos. It was a very surprising fact that an actual community exists in the middle of the mountain ranges. The villagers would need to hike for several hours just to get to the town center for their needs! But the friendly people of Domolpos village had been thriving here for several decades now.

We stayed at the Domolpos Community School where we dropped the boxes of donations that we carried along with us. These were special treats for the kids and the school of the village which will have a separate article. (click here)

After the outreach program, our hearts were certainly touched in a very special way by interacting and playing with the kids. We were kind of all worn out that day because of the hike and the activity but there was one more event waiting to transpire: it was BP Alexi's birthday celebration! She had a personal promise for her birthday month and that was to plant seedlings. Aside from her pack, she carried tiny plants with her during the trek. Though we were not able to incorporate it with the kids, her seedlings were actually one of what the teachers of the school were anticipating! Teacher Agnes certified that these first seedlings will be the pioneers of what they plan to have: a greenhouse or a nursery. Thank you and Happy Birthday Alexi!

Some took an early slumber inside one of the classroom of the Domolpos Community School. Me and the others (BPs Anna, Weng, DeePee, Heinz, Resty and inductee Mau) took advantage of the time to mingle with the locals especially with Teacher Agnes and Kuya Alex. And it was very nice to bond with them! They were humble and cool!


The wake up call was at 4AM. After we readied ourselves, at past five we found ourselves tramping in the darkness across the village. We were ascending once again in a moderate pace. And when sunlight hit the sky, we were reminded that we were inside a haven of beautiful slopes and rolling green hills. It was perhaps one of the lightest mornings we shared. And what made us merrier was the sight of some floating cottons in the sky: it was a wonderful vast sea of clouds!

The hike from the village to the summit of Mt. Ugo is supposed to be just two hours. We did it in three hours and in my assessment, what prolonged the hike was the several stops during this phase to stare, appreciate and take pictures of the wonder in front of us. And we can not really stop it, after all it was one of the reasons why we climb: to commune with nature.

By the end of this moderate rolling hills, Kuya Alex halted us to prepare for the steeper section of the assault. Favorite trail food were passed around while we were staring at the horizon in the west side of the mountain ranges. This path leads to the Pangasinan jump off point which according to our guide can take approximately two or three days to traverse. By this time also, we were being engulfed by the sea of clouds that we encountered earlier. This made the visibility along the trail close to zero.

We arrived at the summit after some cow encounters and several more tramping. Despite the sweat brought by the assault, the cold temperature made us put on our jackets. Everyone took their respective positions to do a quick slumber while BP Resty and inductee Wilson selflessly prepared lunch for the group.


After lunch, the fifteen BACKPACKERS huddled at the summit marker of Mt. Ugo for the most important event of the day: inducting the newest members of our family! The inducting officers BPs Alexi, Ghei and Resty took charge in the whole initiation process for the inductees Kenji, Mau and Wilson. It was one creative induction, and all smiles were flashing throughout the event.

Meet BP Kenji!
BP Kenji has just recently discovered a hobby that would be later on his passion: mountain climbing and nature adventures. He has joined The BACKPACKERS for four consecutive months this year and has gotten immersed with the culture and the values of the group. Welcome to the family, Sir Kenj!

Meet BP Mau!
BP Mau is no stranger to the group. He has joined in several minor climbs of The BACKPACKERS before finally committing to be one of us. A talented and artistic individual, we are so happy to have you! Welcome to the family, Sir Mau!

Meet BP Wilson!
BP Wilson, or more commonly referred to as Daddy Wil is a nature enthusiast who definitely has a lot of knowledge and experience to offer the group. He is the only BP so far to have joined in two major climbs before being inducted as an official member. Welcome to the family, Sir Wil!


We started the descent at around quarter after ten. This last phase was the longest. We were made aware of the length of the descent thanks to the presence of trail markers from the summit until the exit at Itogon, Benguet. Fifteen kilometers. Experiencing fifteen kilometers along the highway of the North Luzon Expressway is undeniably incomparable to a fifteen kilometer hike crisscrossing, arching out, snaking and ascending-descending through the trail to Benguet.

The first few kilometers were actually enjoyable. Aside from the breathtaking views and slopes, what made the trek worth it was the abundance of magnificent pine trees lined up across the trail. These scattered trees also paved way to a more soothing and relaxing climb. They attracted the breeze which made the trek like a walk-in-the-park; a nice and beautiful pine tree park.

At kilometer 12, we stopped by to refill our canteens. Then we had to hurry up the pace for we needed to reach the village before dark. Kilometer 11…10.5…10… The trail seemed endless if not for these markers.

At kilometer 7.5, we entered Lusod village which reminded me of Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings. The fields were green with colorful cloths swaying in the wind. There was a semi circular hill where a hut was conveniently located, it reminded me of Bilbo Baggins' house.

At kilometers 7 to 5.5 was another steeper ascent followed by a carefree descent in an area which reminded me of Jurassic Park. It was in these kilometers when I trekked alone - thus my solitude moment. Lead pack BPs Ghei, Mau and Mon started first and were long ahead while BP King and the girls were trailing behind me. Because of the snaking trail, I could not see both the advance and the trailing parties. And I appreciated this solitude because it was my time to commune and thank Mt. Ugo for the countless breathtaking experiences it provided me, and the group. At kilometer 5, we already saw the highway. It seemed so near yet still so far. We stopped over at kilometer 4's water source where we ate our late lunch.


After an hour of resting and lunch, we continued the long tramping in Mt. Ugo's traverse trail.  I was a sweeper at the End Pack with BPs Weng, Conts, Jovy and BP Anna who got injured and was being assisted by BP Wilson. When we were a kilometer away from the village, dark clouds started to creep into the sky. The Lead Pack already reached Itogon village's hanging bridge when a heavy downpour came. It was good timing that we, the end pack was at a store in the village when the thunderstorm poured. We waited for about an hour before we followed the Lead Pack at the municipal hall of Itogon, Benguet which by then were already done washing up.

We headed to Baguio with our rented jeepney. We were surprised to see people flocking the terminal of Victory Liner so we had to devise a way to get to Manila for the BPs who had work the next day. So Mau, Mon and I contracted a private van which serviced up to Pangasinan. Then we boarded a bus going to Manila.

It was our Second Hirit Sa Tag Init
It was our Sixth Induction Climb
It was BP Alexi's Birthday Climb

It was a long and tiring traverse but everything was worth it! 
This is certainly one of the most memorable climb this year!


Photo credits to Alexi, King and Ivan

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