Sunday, July 1, 2012

REMINISCING MOUNT PANGASUGAN

ONCE UPON A TIME, I had been a part of a large party of a Cebu-based mountain club trying to climb Mount Pangasugan (5,650 feet) in Baybay, Leyte, Philippines. It was my first time with them and my first and only time to walk this virgin jungle. We were 36 people coming from Cebu plus 14 people from a local outdoors group. 
  

That was in August 1992 and two weekend days were just allotted for this activity. If it were held today, I would not have went with them. Not because I am a lover of LNT1 (I am not); but because I organize outdoor activities and I know it is a nightmare when the SHTF2 time comes. I will reminisce this event and see it from a bushcrafter's eye.

Okay, we arrive at Baybay in the early morning of the first day and we transfer to the Visayas State College of Agriculture (VISCA)3. There was a low pressure area spotted east of Samar and it made its presence felt in the form of dark overcast clouds at a mountain range where Mt. Pangasugan is located. Everyone were quite alarmed.

We crossed our fingers hoping the rainclouds is just a state of the mind and will dissipate sooner than the time we approach the trailhead leading to Pangasugan. I stand out from the rest of the Cebu-based hikers for I am not attired and equipped like them. They carry branded mountaineering backpacks, boots, clothes and other gears designed for the outdoors.

I have with me a cheap backpack that I refitted with additional body straps and re-stitched at the vulnerable points. I have a pair of work boots re-soled with tire threads, an A-type tent, a sleeping bag with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck prints - all borrowed. A pair of Rayban Wayfarer gives me a sense of genuineness though.

My bag is heavy with eleven canned goods, a kilo of rice, water, a pair of jeans, etc. and I thought the shoulder straps would give way. I am wearing basketball shorts, cotton t-shirt, ballroom-type socks and carry a heavy insulated water bottle that hang in my neck like a pendulum! Carrying of knives were forbidden (crazy idea) but I managed to secretly bring a small folding knife for emergency.

I am in the middle of the party but have overtaken several people when the trail became steep and difficult. A local guide had been hired and I know he is there ahead leading our party through this beautiful wilderness. The jungle is very dense and avian life abound on most branches and trees. Competing space are a few visible snakes and a million leeches.

On a rare clearing, the tail of the advance group rested on logs and rocks and I rest as well. There were about eighteen people here and half of them were balancing on one huge log for picture-taking. Everyone saw something moving below the branches of ancient acacia trees and I turn my head to the direction of their attention.

It is my first time to see a Philippine eagle in the wild and it just floated majestically towards my direction. It is so surreal. The ground where I stood dimmed when the raptor passed overhead and released one tail feather that dropped effortlessly into my right palm. My hair stood on its edge as I try to comprehend the purpose of this chance meeting.

I inserted the feather on my bonnet as if it is a trophy and continued walking. I followed the gist of the direction like a tail following the body and head of a snake. I overtook a trio of resting hikers, already pale and winded, and one pirate had the gall to pass me two flat bottles of Tanduay Rum for safekeeping. No complaints there for the additional weight.

On top of a grassy hill, I ate lunch with the rest of the forward group. This hill is called Guintangisan, according to the guide. The air is filled with the echoes of a multitude number of hornbills croaking one after the other and it sounds like a running chainsaw. Leeches made the urban dwellers shriek and jump but, to me and the local climbers, it is nothing but ordinary and a fact of life.

We stopped by to camp near a stream when darkness almost overtook us. Everyone unfolded their expensive tents while I tried to set up mine in a hidden corner. I switched on my cheap flashlight at the brook and saw a lot of fresh-water shrimps and crabs at its bottom and banks. I even saw some crayfish of some kind. I listened to the night sounds of the campsite and around and it was a pleasant one.

In the early morning of the second day, I heard distant bleats from a deer answered by other deer. We cleared camp and continued for our destination. The terrain became more rugged and the jungle more dense. Worse, the guide lost the trail and was now hacking at the thick foliage. I saw some recent deer and boar droppings along the path.

I took lunch at the trail on a high ridge overlooking a sheer valley. Everyone were exhausted and I was behind the guide now and our pace is slow. I took a chance to conserve my strength and slept beside the path. I noticed people calling me when they pass by me until I ignored them and I book me a time with Lady Dreamland.

When I opened my eyes later, it was so eerily silent except the clash of leaves and branch shaken by the breeze. I tried a shout and a reply came from somewhere far down below me. I studied the terrain and the path everyone took goes winding down on a long loop before going in the opposite direction and passing about 300 meters below me.

I decide to do an Indiana Jones and slid myself off the mountain on the seat of my pants so I would reach the main party come what may. So down I went on an unknown swath of path that I am making, inflicting myself so many cuts from rattan palms. I suffered a slight cut below my right eye and it was such a close call as I landed between two hikers who never knew from Adam where I came from.

I see people on the verge of exhaustion unable to trust their bearings and balance and rely more on their hands and their weight afraid to tumble over the slope and it makes a slow progress. For just a short time, I am able to master the most basic of trailcraft like balance, gait, timing, eye-to-muscle coordination, breathing, observation, improvisation, sense of direction, etc.

By now, everyone where resting more often as their water supply begun running out. I still have a little water in my pendulum jug and a full liter hidden inside my backpack but generous enough to surrender the bottle to a pretty lady. Meanwhile, water could be heard from a distance and it is torture to someone who is water-starved and they stayed where they sat and waited for the night to come.

When I felt I have found the best campsite for me I will stay. I have chosen my den above the trail where a root of a giant tree gently curled itself. It is the best place at that moment while there was still light. I took an early dinner on my last slices of bread, liver spread and canned juice. A little while, the guide came back with bottles of water and I drank about a cup and shared the rest to others.

In the morning of the third day, I see fresh boar droppings on the trail just below my sleeping quarters, probably, attracted by the smell of my last night's meal. I walked just a few meters after I consumed a breakfast of pork and beans and another can of juice and I reached the forward camp. They were eating uncooked noodles. Poor critters!

They showed me the source of last night's water that saved everyone's throat. It was just a small pool of stagnant water that got collected itself from rain runoffs with wrigglers going about among submerged debris! Joe Avellanosa(+) proposed the idea of straining the water through two layers of socks before dropping a chlorine tablet for each bottle. Just about right. Just about right.

Trailblazing a route to the peak would entail a huge amount of time and energy for the whole party, notwithstanding, to the fact, that almost are suffering from dehydration and fatigue. A condition that Joe and the expedition physician - Dr. Abe Manlawe - have foreseen in the event it rained and there would surely be casualties.

Anyway, the guide happily led us to a small valley from whence it led to a dry watercourse and then a small spring. I passed by several of these clear spring pools and they were populated by a number of fresh-water shrimps, fat and unafraid of humans in broad daylight. We follow the creek until it became a river and fell into a high waterfall that became the first obstacle. This waterfall is about 50 to 60 feet high.

We stood at the headrock to find a way down until the guide found it just underneath it. But going in with big backpacks are a bit of a problem so the first backpacks were thrown from above and waterproofing plastic burst during the impact. Joe and the rest devised another way by tying a rope on a backpack and drop it slowly, one by one, but it is time consuming.

I decide to suggest to have the backpacks slide along the rope with carabiners from one high end to another end secured to a tree below. This process made short work at much less time. The second obstacle is another high waterfall almost of the same height. We found the same kind of passage and we repeat the process of hauling backpacks to the next level. Deja vu?

The last three obstacles were three 20-30 foot waterfalls and a petite lady made short work of this by plunging from the headrock of the first waterfall to the water below that set off a stampede of waterfall jumpers. Everyone enjoyed these moments of excitement except one person.

One tried to slid off a rope from above into the pool but the water current below a fall creates a whirlpool that force the rope end to travel with it and it swirled around the calves and legs of the guy almost drowning him. Fortunately for him, me and three others were very near him and we saved him with lots of time to spare.

Recovering our wits, we continued on our river trek. You follow a river and it will lead you to the ocean. That is the standard survival maxim and it remained true to that day as it led us to a coconut tree and more of this kind. Coconuts meant people and people meant a village or a community, then civilization.

Finally, we reached VISCA at 2:30 PM but we do not have enough time to board the boat for Cebu that day. We decide to celebrate our feat with the two bottles of rum that someone gave me at the trail which I carried up and back to where it was bought in the first place. Anyway, my Mickey Mouse sleeping bag became the butt of jokes as it play host to the most piratical individuals of this group.

We stayed the whole day of the fourth day doing nothing preparing for our departure for Cebu that night. My wife got pissed and I got marked absent for two days in my work. But the most painful thing was missing to watch the early games of the US Dream Team in the Barcelona Olympics.

OBSERVATIONS:

  1. The wilderness of Mt. Pangasugan is best for two to five persons. More than that and it will spook wildlife away.
  2. The knife and other blades are standard equipment for bushcrafters. It is insane to go into the wilds without one.
  3. I didn't know that I had already practiced bushcraft in 1992 when I improvised on cheap equipment and gears to give me optimum performance. Bushcraft is about improvisation and acquiring expensive gears is a distant option and unnecessary.
  4. There are many sources of water in Mt. Pangasugan yet most of those who came were not mentally prepared to accept that drinkable water could be had anytime anywhere aside from what you carry.
  5. The late Joe Avellanosa is really a bushcrafter by heart. I have seen him do things that only bushcrafters would normally do and he shared ideas and things to me that he don't want other people know.
  6. My encounter with a Philippine eagle was a vision quest and has spiritual significance.


Document done in Libre Office 3
1Leave No Trace. It has 7 principles that outdoor clubs and individuals follow by heart.
2Shit Hits The Fan. Standard word acronym used by bushcrafters and survivalists when something goes wrong.
3Now known as the Leyte State University.

3 comments:

Bundok said...

I admire your bushcraft tenacity Trailhawk. And while I also use "modern" climbing gears, I go with the "boyscout" type of hikers. And I don't care if they were maongs or hung an a type tent. They usually are the ones who'll save me from my own climbing stupidity! More stories!

Neil Luna said...

Sir, we're planning to climb Pangasugan this sem break. I would appreciate if you can give me some pointers and directions. Taga Cebu sab ko (Mandaue) ug VSU alumnus. Neil (inventoluna@gmail.com)

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