Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mt. Damas

The BACKPACKERS started the year 2014 with a very memorable and challenging major climb in the province of Tarlac

We held a one-of-a-kind induction rite on top of the mountain where we officially welcomed new members to the BACKPACKERS family

by: Ivan Ignacio


Anna's birthday cake 
January 18, 2014 - a very promising day for The BACKPACKERS as we all geared up for our first climb of the year. This was no ordinary year starter climb, it's our second major climb held in January, the first was Mt. Cristobal Traverse on January 2012. It was also an exclusive climb slated to welcome new members to our backpacking family.

We all boarded Solid North bus at around 10:00AM, forty minutes earlier than Victory Liner which was our first choice. Solid North bus terminal is right after the latter's station, southbound. It was a long four hour trip from Cubao to Camiling, Tarlac. Our only chance to stretch our muscles was during one stopover in Mabalacat, Pampanga. Camiling is one of the most distant town of Tarlac from the metropolis. Bordering it are Bayambang, Pangasinan and the towns of  Mayantoc, San Clemente and Paniqui, Tarlac. Although the jump off point in a typical Mt. Damas hike is at Camiling, the mountain is actually under the jurisdiction of San Clemente, Tarlac.

Happy Birthday to the BP's Spanish Princess, Anna!
Once we arrived, we settled at Jollibee Camiling as we had to wait for inductee Gino who came from Malolos, Bulacan. Waiting for him paved way for a pre-climb relaxation and bonding, and also to complete the purchasing of our supplies in the nearby market. After our late lunch, inductee Leah and I bought a special birthday cake for BP Anna. When we got back, it was perfect timing as she wasn't around. We greeted her upon returning and sang a birthday song! One of the wackiest BACKPACKER, BP Anna was lost for words. As she was blowing the light on the candle, the only things she was able to mutter were "sa akin pala yung cake...", so much for the Never-Let-Anna-See-The-Birthday-Cake mission!


There are two possible starting points for a Mt. Damas hike: either at Brgy. Papaac, Camiling, Tarlac or at the Dueg Resettlement Area in San Clemente, Tarlac. The former will let you start in the lowlands and the trek is much longer. The latter will take you to a resettlement area of our Aeta brothers and sisters which is set at a higher elevation already. We were originally eyeing for a Dueg jump off point since we projected that our arrival in Camiling would be late because some people still had to go to work the night before. However, the condition of the road going up Dueg is not good and the only way to take this option is to hire a monster elf for at least 3,000Php (take note: one way). Leah and I tried to inquire at Camiling but no jeepney nor tricycle wanted to head straight to Dueg. So we took on the longer route with a higher altitude gain. Inside our chartered jeepney, we were off to Brgy. Papaac!

Inside the hired jeepney (left, bottom right)
Camiling - San Clemente mountains (top right)
As we were nearing the border of Camiling and San Clemente, the view of the mountains in the area started to pop up. Excitement and adrenaline filled my blood. This feeling was absent for two months of no hike for me, (November was our Project Albuera, and December was our Bohol adventure). There was a little fear taking this major mountain because most of us had no hiking activity for at least two months. But knowing that this would be a new mountain for all of us brought tremendous amount of excitement, this is the kind of elation I was yearning for. I'm back! We're back!

Brgy. Papaac collects a registration fee of 20Php
We arrived at Brgy. Papaac at around 4PM. The jump off point is at the waiting shed near Kuya James' house. Recommended by Sir Eman Miclat of GAME-NEST, his abode is a favorite hangout of climbers before and after the climb. A registration fee of 20Php was collected by the barangay captain. They gave us an official receipt as well.


We were introduced to our guide, Kuya Nestor. He is part of the Aeta tribe, an indigenous group of people in our country who are scattered in the mountainous parts of Luzon. They have dark brown skin, curly hair and a small body framework. Kuya Nestor, who was harvesting charcoal at that time, came in smiling and introduced himself to us. He projected humility and submissiveness in his aura, contrary to what people believed about our Aeta brothers being aggressive and outspoken. Most, if not all, of the time he was just plainly smiling.

Our guide's humble abode
'Curlies' Isabel and York posing with the aeta kids
Before the hike commenced, we stopped over Kuya Nestor's hut where we met the children in his clan. They were so adorable that BP York and inductee Isabel, who both have curly hairs, could not resist taking a picture with them. Two of the Aeta children tagged along with their uncle. I also let a teen aeta who met us when we got there to tag along with us since I saw his reaction on being dismissed by our second guide, Kuya Jun. These families once resided in Dueg before going down and residing in this seventh sitio in Brgy. Papaac. In front of their abode was where we saw the highest peak in the area: Mt. Damas.

Preparing for take off
Mt. Damas hike starts now!
Introductory part of the trail
We officially started the hike at 4:30PM. One good thing about starting late was that the sun was just producing the right amount of warmth. It worked well for us as most of the first part of this longer Papaac trail was exposed. It was relatively easy at first until it became a what-you-call-as-a cardiac trail, usually an introductory part of the trail that makes your heart beat fast. BP Heinz, got warmed up so much in that cardiac trail that he started to have a headache. Unfortunately he was not feeling well the night before but still pushed through with the climb as this one's important for the group. More than a major climb, we were slated to welcome four new members in our backpacking family. After taking in a medicine tablet, he managed to push through. What a trooper!


When the trail started to go down, we saw the peak that we were about to conquer that day. Mt. Damas, with its mighty stance boasted of its green and intimidating slopes. The trail so far was easy, but I was pretty sure that the challenge has not started yet. Our pace was relatively fast as per our guide. But the excitement of seeing the peak did not necessarily mean that we were near it. It looked so near, yet I knew we were still far away from our destination.

River trekking = stone hopping + water evading
The trail dramatically transitioned from walking through the fields and open forests to crossing streams. This was the start of the river trekking. We crisscrossed the path of a river. We were hopping onto rocks following the descending trail. Needless to say, I enjoyed this part of the trek. The challenge was simple and easy, or so I thought. I was leading the end pack when I saw a small falls, a dead end. We went through the bushes again until we met the lead pack who were resting. Our guides wanted us to be close together as we were about to start the roped segments. And did I mention it was already pitch dark if not for the flashlights that we just opened.

BP Girls taking on the first roped segment
Challenge in the dark
Our guide was hesitant at first in taking the river trail since we started late. But he assessed the group, packed a rope and pursued with this technical trail nevertheless. And in no sooner, a traffic jam appeared from my sight. We started to descend a tricky segment where a rope was needed in order to not fall in the river. With the help of our guides and each other, we maneuvered through the ropes. I got a taste of rappelling down the ropes which I enjoyed most. Although adrenaline was on its best, it was important to be cautious in these parts. We had two descent that needed equipment for a safe trek. Despite the darkness, cooperation and teamwork floated until we saw ourselves in a familiar setting: river trekking again. It was supposed to be a shorter way to get to the base of Mt. Damas if we used the Pythagorean. But because we followed the river, curving on bends several times, it was a lot longer than we thought.


There was no sugarcoating when we planned this induction climb. And as per BP tradition, induction should be held in a major mountain. Every account in the blogsphere speaks of the difficulty of Mt. Damas, so we knew it was not going to be a walk in the park. Because of our conflicting schedules, every BACKPACKER took care of preparing himself or herself for the climb. 

We reached the end of the river trail and had a good 20 minute rest. This was mandatory since our guide advised us that we were already at the base of the mountain. And it only meant one thing: the dreaded ASSAULT! We got separated in two groups, the girls plus BP Mau were the first to take on the uphill challenge with the aeta kids and one guide. Down below, we saw how steep the trail was despite being just the start of the assault. Patterns of flashlights were seemingly in a 70 - 80 degree line when you connect them. My estimation proved to be true as when it was our turn to climb, we were literally hanging on to roots as slippery sand and trail were almost like walls. "80 degrees, sayang hindi mo pa ginawang 90 degrees Mt. Damas..," I thought to myself reminiscing our Mt. Arayat landslide trail adventure.

Resting before the assault
Rexie, are you tired?
short segment of a very steep trail would be very much bearable. But Mt. Damas up the ante as it was a pure steep assault saved by a few where we had the chance to walk on straight ground (but trust me, these were very short). This difficult assault went on for hours. One eighth of the trail, inductee Leah had a hard time catching up and she fell behind with the guys. It was understandable as the assaults were really tiring. I tried to help her with her backpack and was later helped by our guide when I myself felt the fatigue of carrying two full packs. Several people, including me, were attacked by cramps along the way. The night was getting colder. If nights in the metropolis are unusually cold these past few days, what more on top of a mountain! These were the challenges that we faced during the assault - but despite the difficulty, we still managed to have a good time especially during take fives.

Lead pack arriving at the summit campsite
Birthday girl BP Anna's voice reverberated from afar as we were trailing. We figured that they probably reached camp already. Positive. The girls, minus inductees Isabel and Leah who fell behind with us, were already at the campsite. When we found an opening through the talahib grasses to assess the distance of the campsite, we were dumbfounded with what we saw. Their lights were up and distant. We figured we rested too long in the water source or the trail is just really very steep that a short stride will take you to a relatively higher place. Regardless of which held true, only one thing was sure: we had to keep going. Reaching the ridge was such a relief. Added a couple of steps in that cold evening brought us into the campsite which was also the summit of Mt. Damas. We reached campsite at around 10:30PM wrapping up the trek time to six hours that first day.


Chilling is not an understatement as we were literally welcomed by a very cold breeze on top of Mt. Damas that night. We just rested a bit before setting up camp. The summit campsite can only hold a few tents. We passed by a smaller clearing in the shoulder of the mountain which is slightly wider than the summit. Some of the BP boys wanted to go down the shoulder to just pitch our tents there. But most of the people had set up their tents already when our guide confirmed that it would be our haven for the night. Our guides did not have any tent. Since we had tents to spare, we had the liberty of giving them one tent especially for the kids who trailed along with us. I couldn't take the cold, what more for these kids.

BP April and the moonlight in a shivering evening
The people in charge of the kitchen cooked our late dinner. We had chicken adobo pre cooked by BP Heinz and inductee Leah, lechon manok courtesy of inductee Gino and corned beef. But no matter how delicious the dinner can be, some people were not able to eat as they were already sound asleep when dinner was served, and that includes me! Only four people had the guts to face the cold temperature outside with the helping of one Emperador bottle: Wilson, Rexie, Gino and Leah. They shared a shivery socials together.

Socials challenge with BP Wilson and the inductees Gino, Leah and Rexie
Is this part of the induction rites?
Waking up the next morning, most of the people were fully energized from the lengthy and deep sleep. When I went out of the tent, a lot of BACKPACKERS and inductees were already posing to get the best combination of their angles and the surrounding. It was a marvelous 360 degree view on top of Mt. Damas. All efforts the night before were worth it.

Equipped for the cold summit campsite
A promising morning atop Mt. Damas
Mt. Damas is the smallest mountain classified as a major climb. Standing at 685+ MASL, its height is quite not at par with, say Mt. Tapulao, Mt. Ugu etc. But we never underestimate the mountain because its challenges are definitely identical with the aforementioned two. Its summit is breathtaking no matter how cliche as it may sound. We did not feel that we were just 685+ meters above the ground. Accomplishing the ass kicking difficulty from the jump off point to actually being there made us feel like we were on top of the world.

Here are some of our pictures on top of Mt. Damas:


After the selfies, jump shots and group shots, BP Wilson signaled the start of the Induction Rites. This was a special moment for all of us as we are about to officially welcome four beautiful souls with adventurous spirits in our family. The inducting officers Wilson, Mau and Kenji spearheaded the program.

Inducting officers Wilson and Mau
I won't delve deeper into what actually happened during the induction, but there's one interesting tale to tell. Rewind to Jollibee Camiling: the inducting officers asked the four inductees to take care of an egg until their induction rites. They literally need to look after that egg while scaling the challenges presented in the above sections of the story. And with all those stone hopping, talahib evading, rappelling, river trekking and super assaulting, taking care of an egg seemed so simple but it was not. Especially when your peers joke about finding and crushing your special egg. Three inductees succeeded in the challenge, Isabel, Leah and Rexie. Unfortunately for fireman Gino, his mishandling of the egg caused it to be crushed during the river trekking phase. And the consequence he paid during the actual induction rites that morning.

The BACKPACKERS Batch 7 Induction Rites
Taking care of the egg represented RESPONSIBILITY. It meant that whenever we go on a hike, each BACKPACKER is expected to allot a space even as small as an egg for the group's distribution of load. The challenge also somehow showed that we have to take care of each other in every expedition. And that each of us is responsible, for ourselves and each other, in making our adventures as safe as possible. Climbing mountains presents a lot of risks, but with responsibility and prudence we can all get back with our lives without any scar of injury...just like the eggs of Isabel, Leah and Rexie.

The inducting officers and the newly inducted BPs
The second challenge to the inductees represented TRUST. After this challenge was conducted, a couple of speeches and welcome notes before I formally announced, "Welcome to The BACKPACKERS family!" and love occupied Mt. Damas' summit as hugs and kisses were exchanged by us and the newly inducted members.

Congratulating the newest BP batch


We first met BP Isabel during our Survivor Zambales: Backpackers vs Guests in May. She played in the Guests' tribe and was voted out on episode three. Since then, she was actively participating in succeeding BP activities and climbs. She is an adventurous soul with an outgoing spunk. A native of Romblon, she hopes to scale soon the province's pride: Mt. Guiting Guiting in Sibuyan Island. 
To know more about BP Isabel and view the mountains she climbed, click here

We first saw BP Leah during our hiking buddies' Shyne and Louie's wedding way back in May 2013. A common friend who was seeking for a nature loving group at that time. But her first stint with The BACKPACKERS was during our Mt. Tangisan climb in June. Since then, she became one of our regular guests and was slowly immersed in the BP culture. As a matter of fact, she was one of the punong abala during our 3rd Year Anniversary party
To know more about BP Leah and view the mountains she climbed, click here

We first met BP Rexie during our Mt. Tangisan climb in June 2013. He is a friend of another regular guest Aaron and soon became our friend as well. He enjoys motorcycle riding and has traveled to some places in the country with this sport. In climbing mountains and conducting nature trips, you get to travel as well. This is when his interest in joining the group sparked. He has actively participated in our succeeding climbs and events since then. 
To know more about BP Rexie and view the mountains he climbed, click here

We first met BP Gino during our Mt. Maculot climb in February 2013. He was introduced to the group as he is one of the best friends of the BP Lead and BP Mon. He then became a guest during our Survivor Zambales: Backpackers vs Guests in May 2013. He made it in the finals but lost to Ultimate Survivor Kaye and BP Ghei. He is the outdoorsy type of guy who seeks thrills and adventures. On top of that, he is also a loving son to his parents and brother to his siblings. 

To know more about BP Gino and view the mountains he climbed, click here

BACKPACKER Girls on top of Mt. Damas
Leah, Isabel, Weng, Angel, April, Liz, Alexi and Anna
BACKPACKER Boys on top of Mt. Damas
Gino, Wilson, Heinz, Mau, Ivan, York, Kenji and Rexie

It was a memorable induction conducted on top of Mt. Damas thanks to the creative minds of Wilson, Mau and Kenji. According to BP Liz, our family just got bigger and the people who were added in the family really surprised all of us in the program. We were all joyous and excited during the induction proper. After welcoming BPs Isabel, Leah, Gino and Rexie, we opened and ate BP Anna's birthday cake while breaking camp. It was already a very unforgettable stay in this Tarlac mountain which offered us an excellent blend of challenge and beauty. When everyone had their packs ready, we started our descent, but the adventure was just about to continue... 
Our next stop: the majestic Ubod Falls!

Completing the Mt. Damas circuit by visiting Ubod Falls 
and taking on the dangerous traverse trail.
The challenge is not over yet for The BACKPACKERS!

Photo credits to Alexi and Liz

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