I made it to Pulag’s summit after enduring a long night of endless rain, bone-cracking cold, and tummy sickness. As I stood there taking this picture, I knew at the back of my mind that what I was seeing could’ve been more glorious. I’ve seen it in other people’s photos – an orange cotton candy heaven. I labored and waited just as they did. It’s just that nature hadn’t planned on showing off that day.
It sucks to not get the ending you think you deserve. But in a place where even breathing is harder to do, there’s a change in perspective to be had. Feelings of disappointment are overshadowed by that of gratefulness, conceit replaced by humility. Instead of demanding for what you think is owed, you begin to recall what has already been given. Just how many mornings like this can you have in your lifetime?
Arriving is a sum of experiences. The morning light brings into view not just sprawling mountain ranges, but also the entire length of trail path from our campsite leading to the summit. Seeing this, for me, is like the equivalent of my kindergarten self coming home with stars stamped on my wrist. “Look how much of these mountains your tiny legs were able to cover,” says a voice in my head. The thought makes me smile. There’s a sense of child-like wonder.
Just a few hours before, we walked in a single file, on this trail that winds through grassland slopes. Though chasing to get to the summit in time for sunrise, each step was nothing but hurried. In fact, my eyes were almost always fixed on the ground, careful not to miss my footing. The rain that tortured us at camp had stopped but the earth still squished beneath my feet. It was all that you could hear at times. Maybe because everyone else was also concentrating. Darkness surrounded us, and no one would want to fall into that abyss.
But at least the worst of it was already over. From the onset, it was the camping part and not the trek that worried me. I can usually get by spartan accommodations in my travels, but I knew that this mountain will redraw the lines of “roughing it out”. I am partial to the sea, warmer temperatures, and bikinis. Obviously, I was out of my natural habitat. And how the mountain sends her love is something that needs getting used to.
What I loved instantly though is the hike through the mossy forest – that part of the Ambangeg trail before you reach Campsite 2. The famed cotton candy clouds, you may not get. But this, you’re sure to have twice over.
There’s an otherworldly feeling to be in the midst of varying hues of green, of moss carpeted trunks and boulders, of twisted tree branches, and of the unseen mostly left to the imagination. There’s plenty of scenery to distract a tired traveler. Thoughts also wander… “Which fairy tale or movie to pin this scenery to?”
I had thought about Fern Gully.
It is a blessing to get to spend a weekend far removed from one’s everyday reality. To say that I’ve conquered Pulag is a misrepresentation. People do not conquer mountains. It is ourselves we conquer.
Mt. Pulag stands at 2,922 meters above sea level. I stepped 2,922 meters away from my comfort zone. And by doing so, I was rewarded the gift of perspective.
To taste both at the same time – the feeling of being so little and vulnerable in the midst of a grand landscape and its hard conditions, and the opposite feeling of being bigger than your body after enduring everything, describes the polarity of the Pulag experience.
Back at the DENR office, we got our certificates of achievement issued by funny lady, Supdt. Mereng. In my opinion, they should just do away with this, considering they’re short on funds. I’d rather have them spend more on park protection and operations. The pictures and cleaning the mud off my shoes will serve as remembrance.
I’m not sure if there’s going to be a next time. But if and when that time comes, I hope to be granted the gift of cotton candy clouds. Until then, I’ll look up at clouds like I always do, or dream about it through this…