Not as well-known as Mt. Pulag but almost as beautiful. Mt. Ugo rises 2086 meters above sea level and may be accessed through 3 different trails. Creating national headlines when a Philippines Airlines crashed on its rugged terrain, Mt. Pulag has since been visited by numerous climbers. When I saw the poster of the 5th Summer Climb at Gold’s Glorietta, I knew it was my chance to finally climb it. I has just summited Pulag via Ambangeg a couple of weeks before Lent and I was raring to go climb another “cold” mountain.
At the end it was just The Little Boy and me after the 4 others from Guys4Mountains backed-out at the last-minute. We arrived in Baguio City at 5am on aVictory Liner Bus we took at the Cubao station filled with other climbers belonging to different groups. As always, first order of the day upon arrival was a toilet break. There were already people at the DOT offic in Gov. Pack road when we arrived. I had texted our names to Liza Diase days before so registration was easy.
It was going to be a 3-day hike and camp and my backpack was loaded with so much food. With the menu already planned by JCK (who backed-out) and I the night before , I decided to go ahead with the planned meals even if I had to cook all the stuff myself. After all, I was sick of having instant noodles and corned-beef all the time. We were going to have Herb and Garlic Pasta, Stir-fried Snow Peas, Crab and Corn Soup. The organizers were in-charge of the 2nd night’s dinner so we didn’t worry about that. There was also a water source at both camps so I just had my 2 liters with me.
There were 149 registered climbers plus a couple of staff. Aside from us, on board Jeep No. 2 were Roberto and Edward, free-lance backpackers, and the Cordillera Mountain Explorers (COMEX) from Tarlac with Titus and Dolly heading the group mostly made-of middle-aged doctors and their families. We set-off a little past 8am to Bgy. Tinongdan where the opening ceremonies were to be held.
One of the jump-off points for the hike to Mt. Ugo with the famous hanging bridge over the Agno River as one of the preliminary thrills. But we were going to take the trail from Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, about a couple of hours away. After a welcome remark and instructions from the irrepressible kapitan and a prayer from the priest, and another toilet break at the baranggay hall, we were off to the jump-off point.
The road looked strangely familiar until Little Boy told me we were actually headed to the same direction as the Ranger Station in Ambangeg, passing through Ambuklao Dam and Bokod but instead of heading straight to where the really rough roads began, we turned left. We were Jeep No. 2, but in terms of arriving time, we were definitely at way way bottom. Stopping at Bokod to buy some packed lunch and have some refreshments, COMEX decided they were actually going to have lunch at the roadside resto. So while everyone was getting by on halo-halo, suman, and bread, they were having lunch—really sitting down on tables lunching in full meals, complete with plates, glasses, spoons and forks, and lunch conversation! By the time they finished and were leisurely walking back to the jeep, everyone, except the staff jeep had left. Oh well. Maybe because this was their 3rd Ugo climb, they weren’t much in a hurry.
The road graudally turned from cemented to unpaved to dirt. Carved out on the ridge of the mountain with barely a foot between the tires and kingdom-come, it was thrilling. The path was winding and steep with great viewd of the grandiouse mountains. Bravely our jeep snorted and chortled. Then it came to a quiet stop. Our gallant driver tried to start it but in vain. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, the staff jeep was behind us. While they tried to fix the problem, Little Boy and I with Roberto and Edward decided to just walk the rest of the way to the jump-off point where the others were having their packed lunches. When we arrived about 15 minutes later, the last of the group had just finished and were heading for the trail already. We were really late. After what seemed like an eternity we decided to walk back to the jeep, get our packs, and start for the trail. It was almost 2 pm and with a 5 hour walk to the Domolpos camp, we didn’t want to be walking in the dark. By the time we arrived, everyone had transferred to the staff jeep. We decied to just get our backs and wait for it. I munched on my ham and cheese pandesal. Finally, the jeep arrived and brought us to the trailhead where porters for COMEX were waiting. We had wasted so much time already so Little Boy, Roberto, Edward, and I started the trek.
The Long Walk
The trail was at the ridge of the mountain. Some portions at the start of the trail seem to have been eroded by a small landslide as there were loose rocks and branches covering it. The trail was pretty much covered with some portions exposed to the hot afternoon sun. The scenery was beautiful with awe-inspiring towering mountain peaks on the side. Oftentime, we would stop and take photographs especially when you rounded a corner and faced before you was endless expanse of green.
The groups that had left before us were way ahead and we couldn’t see them. The others were way back. Except for a couple of local boys who were with the porters and who overtook us and then later accompanied us along the trail, Little Boy and I were alone.
After about a couple of hours, we finally caught-up with some of the climbers. A couple of hundred of meters away, another group was having refreshments at a small hut uphill. The sun was really hot now and the grassy trail was fully exposed. Ginataan, Coke, and pansit never tasted as good.
The trail was really long and you could see it winding along the mountain side, going through several ranges that lay before you. There was nothing but mountains and gorges. At one point, you could see the trail winding around 5 ranges. Thankfully it wasn’t very steep and not slippery. Certain parts of the trail had makeshift wooden gates that blocked the path and you had to go over them like an obstacle course. It was kinda fun, though. At the very least, it broke the monotony of simply walking and walking.
It was really more of the thought of dusk catching us on the trail that kept my feet moving. My traps were already screaming for help and my back was aching. I was tempted to eat all my food as my backpack was feeling heavier and heavier.
After what seemed like an eternity, we climbed a low hill and then I saw a small chapel on a plateau below. The steeply winding trail went all the way down until we reached a fenced part of the chapel. My feet were so tired by then and I couldn’t wait to just plop down on the grassy earth and put my feet up. Little Boy was already running down the trail. Finally, we reached the campsite at the Domolpos Elementary School. Several tents set-up had been set-up already while some of the bigger groups took the classrooms. We chose a spot near the faucet. There was a bathroom but the toilets weren’t working. At least there was a potable water source. We quickly set-up camp and I started with my Herb and Garlic pasta which actually tasted good. But then again, after hiking for almost 4 hours, everything, even grass would taste good. After dinner, we were so tired we skipped any socials with the other groups and promptly fell asleep.
The Hole Digger
I woke up at about 4 am, an hour before the wake-up call. Some were already bustling about with breakfast. I really needed to go to the toilet. I went to a small thickly foliaged area behind one of the classroom buildings and found myself a tidy little spot which was away from anyone’s view, unless you happen to really peer-out from one of the classroom windows where COMEX was staying (which they fondly refer to as “Hotel Domolpos”). With a broken branch I found lying somewhere, I dug a small hole and let Nature take its course. That was to be my favorite spot for at least a couple of more times before we finally broke camp to assault the summit.
After a breakfast of never-to-be-left-at-home Maling, we joined the first batch heading for the summit. From the campsite, it was a short trail down near the base then all the way up to the mountainside. From a short plateau overlooking the campsite, you can see the trail winding through several ranges. A few pics later, as the trail turned left, a wild pig with hair as black as night blocked my path. I let Little Boy go first. The pig ran up the side of the mountain.
It was a never-ending walk through exposed trails with the relentless sun beating down your back. I had fogotten to take my trekking hat and my exposed head was taking so much beating. At least, my pack had gotten considerably lighter after cooking the pasta and eating a pack of nata de coco jelly and all my chocolates. I was so tired that evening, I treated myself to all my allotments of Nips.
After about 2 hours of hiking we reached the difficult part of the trail. Before us was a steeply-rising hill. Those who had gone ahead were resting at various points. The climb was really getting steep already and there were loose rocks all around. I had to take-out my trekking pole which I normally use for descents only as I could hear my heart beating wildly and feel my leg muscles contracting. One ascent was almost 80 degrees in incline with nary a tree to offer some cool solace. The sun was hotter than ever. Midway the steep incline, I had to take a break and sat on a log with other climbers and viewed the mountains and peaks that lay sprawled as far as the eyes could see. With nothing more than my heart beat and the gasps of other climbers, the only other sound was nature’s silence. When others started arriving, I continued the ascent. I had already left Little Boy down the trail. I continued alone to the small plateau at the top where the trail led into the forest.
Entering the leafy forest was like going into an airconditioned fairy land. Trees created a cool canopy overhead while leaves covered the trail. Shadowy corners bordered by plants and shrubs beckoned. It was a refreshing change from the scorching trail. It was about a 10 minute walk which led to another winding grassy trail on the mountainside. After another 10 minutes, I reached the summit. The only other person there was the lone member of the Baguio Bankers Outdoor Club and his guide-porter who was busy unfurling the welcome banner. We took the opportunity to have our pics taken at the banner and marvel at the outstanding landscape quietly.
It was about 9 in the morning and the bare summit was quite hot. The forest nearby offered some shade but there was nowhere to lie down. I took a small spot in between some low shrubs and took a nap. About 20 minutes later, I was awakened with the arrival of the others and Little Boy. Some quickly set-up shades with their rain sheets and earth pads. Of course, we didn’t have any shade with us and with just a single trekking pole, we couldn’t set-up one as others had already tied theirs to the nearby branches.
After some short naps, photo-ops, and breath-taking views, we started the descent to the Lusod camp which was about 2 hours away. I slipped at the damp soil in the forest and my left knee hurt like hell. Fortunately, it stopped aching after a few steps. I made a mental note to bring a knee and ankle support next time. The trail was long and and gradual but at least it was mostly shaded. We passed by the Old Saw Mill where we were supposed to set-up camp but since there was no water source, the organizers decided to move us to Lusod. Little Boy who is an expert at descents was running all the way down and I couldn’t catch up so I was left alone. About an hour later, I broke through rice-fields. I finally reached the village entrance. I took a trail that led upwards to what seemed like a log house. I was overtaken by a climber from LASPAG and when I caught-up with him, he said we took the wrong trail as he saw the others on the trail below us. He looked at the steep ridge and decided rather than going back, to just simply slide down. He was thin and wiry and easily managed that. I was big and hefty and I had to really slide all the way down the dusty incline.
The small village consisted of a few houses spread around the mountainside with some standing on a small plateau overlooking the rice fields. There were toilets a-plenty and water was gushing everywhere in public faucets. We set up camp on one of the dry rice-fields. While the men were busy chopping-up the freshly-slaughtered cow for the evening’s traditional Ibaloi feast, watwat, women, children, and the elderly clumped in groups curiously watching us. They were high-above the ridge leading to the fields where we were camping. I felt like livestock on an arean being ogled at.
It was in the middle of the afternoon and the sun was hot (as always). We set-up the tent minus the rain sheet. While Little Boy slept off the heat, I had refreshments at a shade set-up in the middle of another rice-field. Too bad the refreshments lady ran-out of ice-candy so I had a Coke instead. There wasn’t any electricity in the village which meant refreshments lady had to carry the ice-candy all the way from the next village which had electricity.
To lessen the load of our packs, I cooked the Crab and Corn soup and the instant pancit canton. At dinner time, we all lined-up for the boiled beef and rice. I mixed it with the Stir-fried Sweet Peas I cooked earlier. It wasn’t gourmet, exotic perhaps, but it wasn’t bad. Cordillera cooking is often just that—boiled meat. The meat was soft and was salty enough to be quite tasty. After dinner, I had my first bath since Thursday night.
For socials night, Ma’m Lisa asked all the groups to prepare a production number each which would feature music-making using natural materials such as stones, branches, etc. Of course, no one really paid attention. Little Boy and I, of course decided nothing in this world will let us go up in front of the crowd and sing in behalf of Guys4Mountains. A couple of guys from MESAU who set-up tent beside us had hooked with LASPAG and were inviting us to join them. The evening was fun was Ibaloi musicians playing the gangsa, sulibao, and kimbal, and a pair of metal clappers opened the program with people dancing. I suddenly missed my field work days as an ethnomusicologist. There I was, in an Ibaloi community amidst traditional music playing and dancing, and all I could do was ask a few questions, take pictures and videos. A local singer also sang some western country songs accompanied by a local version of the double bass.
Each of the groups were asked to join the dance which everyone (well at least almost) gamely did with some of the bigger groups like AdTrek, Pilipinas Sierra, Phinoe, YAPAK really took to the hilt. Of course, Little Boy and I slilthered away and hid in our tent when we were called. I take off my hat to the lone guy from the Baguio Bankers Outdoor Club who danced all alone. We only came back when it was LASPAG’s turn. Most of the bigger groups had presentations with some even donning makeshift g-strings and dancing. What really brought everyone laughing was when our plainclothes police escorts from the Itogon station started dancing and a hefty guy (Robert perhaps?) with his face covered in a shirt and wearing only his briefs suddenly emerged from the shadows and started dancing. To gangsa music, he was gyrating and rolling his arms like a macho dancer and even attempted a half split. It was really hilarious especially when people started shouting “Lechon! Lechon!” That was the defining moment of socials.
The Long Road Home
After a quick breakfast, we started to break camp but were called to Mass. I never really go to Mass but the morning was so beautiful and hearing Mass in the middle of a rice field surrounded by mountains seemed so novel and moving. During Holy Communion, I quietly slipped away and went to the toilet. It was time to break camp by the time I went back. On the trail back, we met the refreshments lady who had a styrofoam filled with ice-candy. Walking the trail while sucking on frozen milk is absolutely wonderful!
The trail to the pick-up point was quite steep and my knees were screaming. As everyone knows, descents, especially on steep trails are more difficult than ascents. The blisters on my toes were bothering me already. From a rise on one of the peaks, I could see a road where a fiera was parked—the pick-up point. Finally, I hit a cemented walk-way passing through rice fields that went all the way down to a flat road. Several climbers were already cooling their heels at the refreshment stand. I must have gulped down 10 glasses of buko-salad juice. Relief was short-lived as it turns out, the jeepneys were still farther up the road and we had to walk for another 20-30 minutes on a dirt road that had absolutely no cover.
Finally, we reached the jeeps and we took the first one that arrived. The dirt road was narrow and bumpy with steep ravines on the side. “Manong, lakad na lang kami. Ok lang. Kaya pa naman eh!”, joked someone. After about 15 minutes of ass-pounding terrain, we hit cement. We got-off at the turn-point to the hanging bridge passing through a small a village. Spanning the Agno River, the bridge was quite long but not really thrilling as there were wooden planks firmly placed as well as strong cable that held the bridge stable.
We met-up with the jeep again after crossing the bridge and finally we were back in Tinongdan. Because dessert always comes first, I had my halo-halo as soon as I arrived. Incidentally, just like in Sagada and in Bokod, there was also macaroni with the halo-halo. Strange but yummy. Lunch was adobo, vegetables, rice, and soup and entertainment was Pacquiao’s fight.
Awards were given at the closing ceremonies for the youngest climber (a 10 y.o. girl from COMEX) and the oldest (a 57 y.o. guy from Pilipinas Sierra), most organized group (Pilipinas Sierra), among others. Just like a graduation ceremony, group representatives were called on-stage to give their remarks about the climb. There were the usual exhortations to keep the mountain clean, thank-yous to the organizers and fellow climbers, and so on. My speech: “First-time namin umakyat sa Ugo. At talagang napaka-sarap talaga kapag unang karansan!” Cheers from the crowd. Hehehhehe. We were called one-by-one to receive our certificates handed-out by kapitan while wearing our souvenir t-shirts. Para talagang graduation. Kulang na lang corsage, weepy parents, and a graduation hymn!
We said our goodbyes and we boarded the jeepneys that would take us back to Baguio City. We were the first to arrive at the Victory Liner station but the only available tickets were for the 10.15 pm trip which was still more than 2 hours away. That was enough time to go to Tea House at Session Road for Chona’s Delight, Star Cafe for meat pies, and Treat and Toppings for Baguio longganiza. Oh, and we were able to go to the market and buy vegetables and pasalubong, too. For a mere Php 100.00, we were able to buy 6 bags of vegetables.
I reached home way way past dreamtime.
It was my first-time to join an invitation climb and a massive one at that. I had fun not only because of the exciting trail and beautiful mountain but because of the people I met who came from such diverse backgrounds but were united in their love for the outdoors.