Walang Kibuan sa Kibungan was an overnight event, a climb to Mt. Tagpaya, Mt. Oten, and Mt. Tagpew located in the Municipality of Kibungan in Benguet in the southern tip of the Cordillera Administrative Region in the island of Luzon. This event was organized by ACES (Adventure. Charity. Expedition. Service), a non-profit organization of individuals who love to climb mountains. This was my third mountain with Aces, having gone with them to Mt. Napulauan, my first mountain-climb, in Hungduan, Ifugao, and Mt. Marami in Maragondon, Cavite in July and August, respectively, last year. For this climb we were joined by five Aces members: Joel Donato Jacob aka Cupkeyk, Jericho Natividad aka Empoy, Miguel de Guzman, Angel Punto and Kai Dacula. And eight guests: Shay Lumague, Kristel Joyce Leonardo, Darlene Ganub, Jhess aka Joy Santoyo, Alexa Lopez, Dana Panopio, Chino Ramos, and I.
We began by descending the steps of concrete stairs and pathway towards the payao. It was quarter to ten am on April 30, 2016. Two hours later, we were climbing a hill about four or five storeys high. It was midday and the sun was ablaze. The hill was made of stone so that only the grass grew, and no trees to shade or cool us. Next was the ridge made golden by the dying leaves of grass. Then there were pine trees, and another ascent, and then another, and then another. While taking a rest under the shade of a pine tree, some of us picked up candy wrappers, juice containers, and other garbage littered around us. Despite the heat we kept on moving in slow but sustained steps knowing the longer rest we took, the hotter the sun. It would be late arriving in our campsite.
We ate our lunch in Buga Campsite. Right after lunch, at about 3 pm, the rain fell. We huddled under a temporary shelter, but decided we could not wait for the rain to stop. So, we pushed through. Under the rain, we walked beside the great wall of a mountain of rock. We looked up on its peak and wondered how to reach it. We thought we were going to pass by the side and to its back, and circle it to the top. Thankfully, our guide said we were going straight to Mt. Oten where we would set up our camp for the night. Although we would pass by Mt. Tagpaya Campsite, we had no more time for Mt. Tagpaya’s summits
We arrived on the summit of Mt. Oten at about 8 pm, or after about 10 hours of trek. On the final hour, we clambered on the side of the mountain aware that at the opposite side was a cliff but without an idea how deep because of the dark. The following morning, from another mountain, we saw just how far we clambered on and how dangerous it was.
When I changed from my trekking to sleeping attire, I noticed drips of blood on my right and left leg. No limatik had bit me in Mt. Napulauan, and neither in Mt. Makiling. But here, in this place where there was supposed to be no limatik, two bit me. Kai also had a bite on her leg, and Angel on his butt. I wiped the blood from my wound before dinner. I wiped it again before I went to sleep. And I wiped it again in the jeep back to Baguio. To finally stop the bleeding, Chino, one of our nurses, wiped the blood and put gauze on the wound and tied the same with plaster from Joy, another nurse. I was warned that the wound would keep bleeding for at least three more days.
I slept peacefully at past 9. At past 3 am, I woke up to relieve myself and did not want to return to our tent. A quarter moon was shining. The sky was gray, and I could see the outlines of our tents, the trees, and the nearby mountains. The world was calm. All I hear were the snores of two or three people from inside the tents. I walked towards the area under a small pine tree where we ate dinner of pork with cocomilk and pinapple chunks. With the aid of my headlight, I saw the cook sets and stoves. There were also water containers lying on the side. I wanted to heat water for coffee, but I could not find a lighter to start the fire. I sat beside a tent and looked at the moon and the gray sky. The wind was chilling. Alone and with nothing to do, I decided to return to our tent to get some more sleep. When I stepped in, Empoy woke up and asked for the time. It was already 4:40 am, time to wake up and prepare our breakfast. Instead of getting back to sleep, I borrowed his lighter and went back to the stove, started the fire and heated water for coffee. Miguel helped me estimate the amount of water I should heat for coffee that should be enough for the group, and cooked our noodles. Angel cooked our rice. Empoy diced the salted eggs, and Chino and I helped in dicing tomatoes.
It was past 8 in the morning when we left the summit of Mt. Oten and proceeded to Mt. Tagpew, four hours of walk away.
How do I use my wet socks and my wet shoes? Cupkeyk had the solution. Wear the dry socks, wrap the dry socks with a cellophane bag, and wear the wet socks over the cellophane bag. Then wear your shoes. My body heat would dry the wet socks and the shoes, according to the theory.
After about three hours of walking from Mt. Oten, we entered a mossy forest. The cool feeling being around them reminded me why I love trees. It was so refreshing to be in their midst. After another thirty minutes, we arrived at our last water source by a hut where the men had tied a pig on poles of bamboo, and they wrapped another pig in a sack and tied it on another set of bamboo poles. They bought the pigs from Baguio City.
After a few minutes of rest, we proceeded to the summit of Mt. Tagpew.
At 3 pm, we had lunch beside the church. My socks and shoes were not yet dry. But almost. It was because I didn’t dry them in the sun, according to Miguel.
Since the sky was again threatening to rain, I wore my slippers for an hour and twenty minute trek past mountains, across a river, and under a sayote vines to the road where our service vehicle picked us up and brought us back to Kibungan Barangay Hall where the party of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was having a caucus. We took a bath in the barangay hall where Ate Grace served us dinner of rice and nilambong, or large slices of pork cooked in water and salt, and nothing more.
“This is it! Ito na talaga ang pinakapaborito kong bundok!” said Miguel on our way down from Mt. Oten. This was more beautiful than Mt. Ugo, he continued. But since I had not been from Mt. Ugo, I had no way to compare. I asked myself, what makes these mountains so beautiful? We walked on trail among the pine trees. Or we walked on ridges or on the side of mountains. Left and/or right were cliffs several stories high. Across the cliffs were mountains made of stone, devoid of trees.
In my Mt. Talomo article, I said “perhaps all mountains have the same terrain. They only differ in length. To climb them, you wade through thorny vines and leaves, hold on to the roots of trees or ropes, and traverse sections by walking on fallen huge trunk of trees.” But Kibungan’s are a totally different mountain, with terrain not included in my definition.
So, what makes these mountains so beautiful is perhaps because they are fraught with danger; and what makes us appreciate more its beauty is perhaps, consciously or not, not only the risk of losing one’s life but the hope of surviving to tell the tale. Like love and hate, holding on and letting go, beauty and danger cannot perhaps be separated from each other. And wasn’t this climb also a pain to our muscles? Although this pain momentarily goes away on the summit, the pain stays with us days after we have gone home, so as the bleeding from our limatik wounds. Perhaps to remind us that, yes, beauty has its price in the form of danger and pain. It’s like nature saying, face the danger and endure the pain and I’ll let you experience what peace there may be in my midst.