Wednesday, January 16, 2008

ORDEAL AT MOUNT PANGASUGAN

MOUNT PANGASUGAN (5,650 feet above sea level) is the first adventure trek which I had with the Cebu Mountaineering Society or CeMS. At that time, I was not yet a member but trying out to be one and on July 31, 1992 we left Pier 3, Cebu Harbor on board M/V “Pink Rose” for Baybay, Leyte at 8:00 in the evening to achieve one of the many requirements for membership with a major climb at Mt. Pangasugan, with or without a typhoon.

My rag-tag gear then were composed of a cheap day pack, which I hurriedly bought for this trip, a borrowed A-type tent, a borrowed “Mickey Mouse” sleeping bag for kids and a borrowed pair of work boots resoled with threaded tire. (You know what, that shoe really held its own against expensive and branded trek boots in the treacherous terrain of Pangasugan.)

Stuffed inside my pack and within its four different pockets were the tent, twelve assorted canned goods, four t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of jogging pants, 2-1/2 kilos of uncooked rice, a kilo of cooked rice, a sweatshirt, a Minolta 110 camera, a loaf of bread, 2 one-liter bottled water, a plate, a cup, fork and spoon, three noodle packs, packets of coffee, sugar and powdered juice, a small Eveready flashlight with two AA batteries and a pair of flip-flops.

The sleeping bag I fastened above and outside of the cover flap of my pack in a Boy Scout manner. Man, it was heavy and I thought that the shoulder straps would give way, but, thanks to God, it held fast for the duration of the climb. I carried a plastic insulated 500 ml. water drinking jug which I slung around my neck which was quite heavy and moved like a pendulum as I walked. I looked goofy with my gear and I stood out among my peers, who carried or wore branded backpacks, gears and equipment all suited for the sport of mountaineering.

We arrived at dawn of August 1 at the quay of Baybay and proceeded by bus for the Visayas State College of Agriculture (VISCA – now the Leyte State University) from whence Mt. Pangasugan is within its exclusive administrative domain. We started off by 8:00 in the morning and what was an otherwise a promising and golden sunrise turned later into a gloomy state as dark stormy clouds generated by an oncoming tropical depression began to appear on the horizon.

With mixed feelings, I trudged on along the upward jungle trail following the long line of seventeen members of CeMS and fourteen from the VISCA Outdoors & Recreation Group (VORG), led by Mr. Toto Antopina. Our guide then was Manoy Berting, a former CAFGU, a para-military civilian-volunteer component of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) tasked to fight communist insurgents. (Mind you, the area that we will intrude into is not yet cleared of armed communist fighters and a week before that an encounter between CAFGUs and these red fighters resulted in casualties on both sides.)

After an hour and a half of walking, I and Manoy Berting reached a rare clearing in an area otherwise abundant of very thick foliage of diptherocarps and undergrowths. This clearing is criss-crossed by several giant fallen old logs and some old giants stood by to give shade with their high branches. We both rested here and then others arrived and did likewise.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a fully-grown Philippine great eagle appeared from below these branches gliding. So majestic it came to my direction and I noticed the ground where I sat dimmed as he neared, whose spread wings I estimated, could be seven feet, more or less. So near I could almost touch his talons and as he passed by me he left a lone feather that fell exactly where my hand was. It was so perfect and I was so awed and so shocked that I was not able to scramble and draw out my camera from my bag in time! Looking up to see where the eagle has gone to, I never knew where it went. It just went pffft!...gone!...disappeared!
The presence of my eagle only affirms the rich bio-diversity of the area in and around Pangasugan. Calls by a multitude number of hornbills echoed and reverberated on the mountainsides like a running machine and have added to the staccato of countless other bird and insect sounds and bleats of wild deer. Amid that cacophony of pleasant noise there were fresh droppings of deer and wild boar, as well as, molted skins of all sorts of scaly creatures like monitor lizards and snakes.

Carrying my prized feather in my bonnet we trekked on higher ground and, by noon, we reached a grassy clearing on the top of Mount Guintangisan and stopped by for a quick lunch. I passed by three resting CeMS guys: Bebut Estillore, Tony Cabigon the CeMS president and Patrick Ng; and one of them requested me to carry an extra luggage – two Tanduay Rhum 375 ml. bottles – to my already bursting day pack, to ease Patrick from some load, who appeared to be greatly fatigued.

We then traversed a saddle and up a ridge then down to a brook where we pitched our tents for the night. I, however, never used my borrowed tent because there was no ground for the tent's stakes to be pierced into and, mostly, I'm a bit embarrassed seeing others owning tents with names like The North Face, REI, Marmot, and so forth. Miraculously, it never rained on that day and on that night, as well!

It seems, on my first day I passed my self-evaluation by consuming only a liter of water, two canned goods and a kilo of the cooked rice; trekking, more or less, 10 kilometers of slippery and precipitous trail and despite the weight on my back which, I doubted, only a few grams had been shed. (Or added. Remember the 2 rum bottles?) How's that for a newbie?

The second day of our trek was hard. The guide lost the trail. He had to hack away at the thick foliage to create one. It was hard work trailblazing. What made it harder is that the vegetation is a lot wilder and thornier and there were no water source. Rattan vines and other thorny thickets abound on the route we created, our clothes and packs got snagged each time a thorn clung and it hurts when your own hide got stuck to it. By this time, people started to complain of thirst, of fatigue, of pain.

There was a breakdown of poise and self-control as the single line became spread out thinly and scattered in groups instead of one continuous line. (It was old-growth jungle and visibility is good only for five meters or less.) Some forgot to take their daytime meals afraid that they might be passed over by others and be left behind. I lunched on my loaf of bread and a canned food and canned juice, happy to relieve of the unwanted weight, but, overdone it by offering one full bottled water to a beautiful lady. Gentleman's habits die hard, don't they?

I was following the guide and thought I had a good head start and took my siesta near a rock overhang, but, I overslept and when I awoken I could hear no more movement or some rustle of vegetation. I called out and I heard a distant reply way, way down below. Getting rattled now as the sun was nearing four in the afternoon, I decided to risk danger by sliding down the mountainside that is overly grown with thick vegetation, including that pesky thorny rattan vines! (I lost my treasured feather here.)

Whew, that was a race that ended in luck for me as I landed in front of Dennis Legaspi, just missing a cliff by a few meters but got tagged with several superficial wounds and scratches on my skin instead. Tough luck! Winded of my travail I almost gulped empty my only remaining bottled water.

After an hour of crawling pace, we ran out of water and some could not move forward anymore due to extreme fatigue caused by dehydration. Luckily, Manoy Berting came back just before sundown for us and carried bottles of “fresh” water to relieve and quench our thirsty throats! I drank a half bottle and shared what's left to others. By that time, it was already dark and I decided to make camp just by my lone self above the trail cradled by a curled root of a giant tree twenty meters behind the forward camp. I ate supper on two canned goods without rice and without water. Lucky me, it had not rained that night.

Feeling refreshed the following day I moved up to the forward camp and, to my dismay, that “fresh” water we drank last night was just a puddle of stagnant, wriggler-infested and debris-filled water in a rock hewn out by spring run-off that went dry. Anyway, it saved my butt and those of others, as well. Hehehe!!!

We were now just a few hundred meters below Mt. Pangasugan's crest and separated by an impenetrable wall of thick vegetation. But, then again, seeing the condition of our companions, we decided to divert our goal – which is Pangasugan's peak – and try to reach for Guinatanguisan river, about two-and-a-half kilometers distant below us, and abundant water!

In almost two hours we reached the headwaters of the Guintanguisan and followed it downriver for VISCA and civilization. But, it wasn't easy sailing for us.

Guintanguisan (in Waray dialect it meant “teardrops of pain”) refused to let us go without first negotiating two very high falls having an elevation of around 50 feet, more or less; and five (5) lesser falls having drops of between 20 to 30 feet! In this trek where we never ran out of good fortune: the two highest waterfalls we discovered have the same passages underneath their headrock and both have similar caverns under, or behind, the waterfall itself like that scene of that movie, The Last of the Mohicans!

The five minor falls we either jumped far below (the girls started it) or by rappelling down. Here, Sir Menmen Paredes almost got drowned when the rope he was rappelling with got swirled by the current so hard that the rope coiled and got entangled around his legs and his body leading me and Etche Bongbong to rescue him in time.

We arrived at VISCA at around 3:00 in the afternoon and we rested at its sandy beachfront whiling away time finishing the two bottles of rum (which I carried up in the mountains and back from whence it came!) with Bebut, Patrick, Dennis and Tony; joined now and then by Ben Lao, Matt Lao, Etche, Sir Joe Avellanosa (+), Daddy Frank Cabigon, Dr. Abe Manlawe, Sir Rex Vecina and Sir Menmen and by the ladies: Arlene Lee, Joy Yap, Lilibeth Initan, Ann-ann Ragaza, Anne Vidal and Cla-cla Abrahan.

That misadventure we experienced at the fastness of Mount Pangasugan closely bonded us so well that in the following months that I get to know more of my climbing companions they became almost like family to me, be it huddling inside tents of some bleak and cold campsite or at 16 Kabahar Street, Guadalupe, Cebu City – the CeMS unofficial headquarters then and meeting place and, sometimes, our watering hole.

We slept soundly that night at VISCA and the following day we spent another whole day at the campus nursing our bruises, scratches and minor wounds, leech marks, muscle pains and all other body aches. By 4:00 P.M. we left VISCA for the pier of Baybay to board our boat for Cebu (and home at last!) that will leave Leyte at 6:00 in the evening. In the meantime, I got marked absent for two days in my work. Well, that's okay. It was worth it.

Self Assessment:

THE TREK AT Mount Pangasugan has given me good insights of how to improve on the following areas where I find it most wanting:

Better Gears. It doesn't have to be branded or imported and, therefore, expensive; but, rather, it should be sturdy, durable and dependable. But, mostly, cost does have its advantages over cheap gears and that brings me back to square one – the branded and imported ones.

Big Backpack. The day pack I used, it seemed, is not suited for a multi-day climbing activity. It's just too small and too frail for my frame and pace. I would replace it right away with something big that would accommodate all my gears inside and strong enough to withstand the weight and sudden jerky movements.

Waterproofing. So far I have been lucky on that climb at Mt. Pangasugan: that it didn't rain for the whole duration of the trek or that the water level in rivers where we trekked have not swelled higher and are not deep enough (crotch level). I have not had the slightest idea about keeping all my cargoes dry by insulating it against water by stowing them inside a large plastic bag that's thick enough to withstand force and pressure.

Portable Stove. What if I got separated from the group? How would I prepare and cook my own food? This one's a priority.

Earth Pad. A camping accessory that should not be ignored also.

Racing Mentality. I kept looking over my back who is following me and too eager also to overtake somebody who's in front of me. I have to teach myself all over again that this is not a race and everybody crosses the finish line as equals, irregardless of who's first or who's last.

Accountability. Sleeping beside the trail speaks of an irresponsible demeanor. I have never had the idea that the group would be held accountable if ever I would be found missing. I am accountable, not only to myself, but, to the whole group as well.


Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer, Trebuchet MS font, size 12.

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