Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mt. Humalophop

by Ivan Ignacio

Probably one of the greatest feats of The BACKPACKERS is the discovery of a remote but very beautiful mountain in the province of Ifugao. Mt. Humalophop (or Mt. Palo for some), is located in the town of Hingyon and is a haven to spectacular rice fields and terraces. According to the locals, they were surprised to see a group of mountaineers as the place had no visitors except for the PNP who conducted a medical mission in 2011. Our Mt. Humalophop climb was part of our Give Love Ifugao: Sending Love to Even Greater Heights where we brought school supplies, goodies and sandals to the kids of Humalophop Elementary School and nine other schools in Hingyon, Ifugao.


From Brgy. Mompolia where we had another round of pampering, we geared up for the major activity in our Ifugao adventure: the hike to Mt. Humalophop. At some point in the last access road, we bade goodbye to Ma'am Ermie and to the three KaEskwela volunteers. They were assigned to distribute the donations to the elementary school in the shorter and lower mountain in Sitio Ubuag. We were taking on the longer, higher and more challenging Mt. Humalophop which is nestled at 1,190MASL in the eastern part of the amazing Cordilleras.

VIDEO: The First Few Steps

Near the end of the road
We trudged along a cemented path until we arrived at a road construction. It was at this early part when I gazed and marveled at the beautiful vista of Hingyon, Ifugao: rice fields and terraces which seemed to scatter endlessly if not for the bordering tall and proud mountains of the region. The soil was fashionably strange; orange and clay like in texture. There were also a few houses along the way. We noticed some strange tomb like structures near the houses. When we looked closely, it was indeed a tomb with an epitaph and the name of the deceased! We found out that in some parts of the region, the dead are being buried near their residence. Some bones were even either attached or hanging in some of the houses in Brgy. Mompolia! Interesting practice. This was truly an opportunity for us to immerse with the culture of the Ifugaos and we were very much loving it.

The rice terraces race
All lined up!
We deviated from the colored soil and took a 'shortcut': a quick hike to a small rice terraces in the low lying area. We were all challenged but also delighted by the sight of the terraces crisscrossing in the open field. We had to be cautious in our steps as one error can result in a muddy splash. However, we did not anticipate at this point that we were in for a scarier terraces-hiking that afternoon! We were just innocently hopping on these agricultural innovation not knowing that there were lots of rice terraces to come our way!


Descending climb party
The regular mountain path ensued. But it was a purely descending path. It reminded me of my trekking in the Bay-yo Rice Terraces in Mountain Province years ago. Trekking in rice terraces + consistent descending  which commenced in a bridge at the base of the mountain. And there was indeed a bridge at the bottom of this trail! We actually just descended a mountain where Brgy. Mompolia is conveniently situated in, arching along until we get to the base of Mt. Humalophop. And boy, we underestimated our mountain! We thought of Mt. Balagbag or Mt. Banoi when we were reminded that a community is present on top of it. But it was way more challenging than the aforementioned mountains. While we were carefully hiking down the first mountain, Mt. Humalophop was glaring at us in a distance. Its proud stance may have indicated that it was happy to give us the challenge that we, mountaineers, thirst for. The unspoiled tender greens surrounding the mountain reverberated its anticipation and excitement as the day finally came for it to welcome new faces.

The bridge

My climb buddies, and even me, got surprised that it would really be the normal hiking challenge: complete with cliffs, muds, assaults and a narrow trail where only one person can fit in. We thought it was a stroll-along-the-park. But nonetheless, we were ecstatic - not just because it was a new mountain for everybody, but because of the fact that we were going to be the first ones to climb the magnificent creation. So there was no stopping nor trailing back as this was brewing to be an adventure that we will forever remember!

A still smiling BP April and the others on their descent

VIDEO: The Girls Partying along the Trail
When we reached the base of the mountain after a grueling hour and a half of descent, we faced the real challenge: assault. We did not have any options but to go up. It was a dramatic regain of the altitude gain, or in this case: altitude loss, from the elevation that we started with down to the base. But this time, we were sweating our skins out in the territory of Mt. Humalophop. Assault on some muddy terrain...more assault...a zigzagging incline around the unfamiliar land of the mountain. And as we got higher and higher, I knew the view has got to be spectacular.And when we came out of the forest, just a few feet before the shed conveniently placed as a resting facility, our hearts were elated and our eyes feasted on our feat - a grand view of the Cordilleras and the picture of the lengthy trail that we had taken on.

BP Jovy and guest Rexie at the stopover
BP Angel savoring the view
Exhausted but with a sense of satisfaction, we rested at the station. It was like the worst nightmare for some when they heard our PNP guide that we were just halfway through! The estimate we got was Mt. Humalophop can be conquered in two hours, and we were already trekking for two + one = three hours! That was when I realized we can not rely on the estimation of the locals because this was their homeland. They were used to tramping in the same terrain for several years. So when our police guide told us that we were just halfway through, my main concern was getting to campsite before dark - which was quite far fetched.
Another Cordillera mountain for BACKPACKER Conts!
The next phase of the climb did not have numerous nor splendid pictures that day because my fear came true: darkness ate the sky and we were still trekking! And to our surprise, we were faced with one final obstacle before reaching the campsite: Rice Terraces the dark! Yes, we had to trace the terraces once again, but this time, the fall was quite dire. The elevation from one terrace to another was higher thus each step was crucial. And talk about stepping when you can not clearly see more than half the surroundings because it was dark already! We had one casualty in the rice terraces trekking: BP King fell a couple of times in the high terraces. Splurk. Yes, his body was covered with mud each time he would fall directly in that course. The only consolation to that is at least his time with the rice terraces was far too memorable as compared with the others!


After more than five hours of trekking (and blind hiking for some), we finally arrived in our target campsite: Humalophop Elementary School! The members of the lead pack were already resting when we got there. Some took time to rest while the others washed up. The men became boys when they ran around the school grounds to take a bath under the rain. Three rooms were prepared for our arrival. Two rooms became the girls and the guys' quarters while one classroom was conveniently converted as the kitchen. The ever industrious Leah was ready to help in the kitchen as it was already dark. However, we did not anticipate that a bountiful dinner was served by the locals of Humalophop for us! They cooked pinikpikan with the helping of the native rice of Ifugao and fresh fruits! Thank you very much to the kind people of Hingyon, Ifugao.

Dinner at Humalophop ES

Dinner was served after our sinigang was cooked; thanks to the chefs Leah, Aaron, Gino and BP Jovy. It was quite a bittersweet indulgement after the minor, or major, climb that we had that afternoon. After dinner, the ladies were tasked to prepare the additional donations of The BACKPACKERS for the kids of Humalophop ES while their representative, BP Liz, faced the guys in the kitchen area for the night's socials.

The girls re-packing goods before going to sleep
The guys (and BP Liz) huddled up in the kitchen for the socials. We were joined by four locals: our two PNP guide and the two male teachers in the school. It was a nice opportunity for us to ask questions and know more about the place and the people in the area. After several hours, the bottle of Alfonso and the rice wine were all emptied and it was time to rest.


It was seven in the morning when the kids started to flank the school grounds. The BACKPACKERS and friends would tend to play with these kids. We were there for a mission: to deliver the supplies and gifts to the most remote sitio in the town of Hingyon, and the morning seemed to understand our cause as it gave us a perfectly wonderful weather. The Project Aral Ifugao in Humalophop ES and other schools of Hingyon, Ifugao will be featured in the third of the three-part Ifugao series of The BACKPACKERS Adventures.

After a very memorable gift giving, we said our farewell to the teachers, parents and kids of Humalophop Elementary School. And because it was already late the night before when we reached the grounds of Mt. Humalophop, it was this morning when we first saw its grandeur and beauty. More than anything else, it was truly striking. This is a captivating heaven in the town of Hingyon, Ifugao.

The time of descent, we already knew the drill: we had to hike through the rice terraces, inside the forest, down the mountain, then up another mountain again. This time, the exhaustion was worth it because at every given angle, a perfect moment to enjoy the Cordilleras was present. Each one of us signed up for the Humalophop challenge and Project Aral Ifugao with our own personal reasons and this was the opportunity to reflect on that reason. Some may have given up a day of work and remuneration but hopefully everything was worth it.

Mt. Humalophop taught us a lot of things. It tested our patience more than our strength. Being unprepared for a long climb, it taught us that sometimes you never get to encounter what you hold onto in life, but it does not mean that you give up and let it go. Being a mountain with no available itinerary nor information taught us the delight of discovering new things and the sweet taste of expanding our own horizon. Fate decides the destination, it is our hearts that decide if we will move forward or not. If someone quit at the very beginning, he or she would not have seen the spectacle of nature as awesome as Mt. Humalophop. Quitting is never an option for something that you started unless you want to miss out on the essence and the value of life and love and relationships. More than anything, having a kid who trekked with us and who was summoned by the local to carry a box of donation mirrored the truth that no one is living a perfect life. We had no right to complain about not living in the state of complacency when there are kids like him whose simple joy is to trek along the same fields and terraces just to go to school.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Mt. Humalophop team of The BACKPACKERS and Guests! This was a challenge, we were all underprepared, but everything was conducted for a good cause. Cheers!

Our dear guests
Top L-R: Rexie, Aaron, Isabel, Sheryl, Claire, Chad, Leah, Freddie
Bottom L-R: Mina, Gino, Mommy Weng, Thea 

Top L-R: April, Ghei, Wilson, Jovy, Conts, Heinz, Liz, King, Marion, Kenji, DeePee
Bottom L-R: Ralph, Miss Ermie, Ivan, Angel, Resty

The BACKPACKERS' Ifugao Series

(3) Project Ifugao: Sending Love to Even Greater Heights

Photo credits:
Liz, Marion, King and Ivan 

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