Batulao Climb, Part 1 – 08/02/08

Last August 2, I joined my office’s local mountaineering group for a minor climb at Mount Batulao (in the province of Batangas.)  I should have been blogging about this weeks ago just after the trip, but some tech-related setbacks occurred that caused the delay.

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I’ve always preferred the mountains over the sea but I realized that over the past decade, I’ve been visiting beaches more frequently than the mountains.  That, and the fact that I’ve haven’t left Metro Manila for the past 2 years made me sign up for the Batulao trip.  It was quite exciting because my previous mountain-climbing experience was confined to informal climbs involving barely-challenging peaks (i.e. those that don’t even require backpacks and can be accomplished in a day.)  This climb was an overnight one, which necessitated the bringing of food rations, tents and lots of tissues and wet wipes.

We left the office Saturday morning straight out of the shift.  A number of rides using public transportation brought us to the drop-off point at Evercrest in Batanggas.  After a short on-site briefing, and after acquiring the services of two guides barely 10 years old, we began our ascent.  With our backpacks, and rain gear (because it started to drizzle – an ominous sign), all 21 of us moved forward in varying paces with groupings that changed a number of times.

The first part of the trek was made in relatively flat terrain.  Actually, there was even a part where the trail went downwards – making us wonder if we were on the right path.  Our prepubescent guides and experienced companions, however, assured us that we were on the right track.

The first major difficulty in the trip was crossing through wide gaps of mud in the path.  It was at this early point where a lot of us experienced their first fall of the trip.  It was indeed a huge effort to prevent oneself from falling while balancing a heavy backpack and contorting one’s body to the angle of the particular terrain.  I’ve observed that a lot of us were so conscious of getting muddied feet that we ended up getting muddied a lot more than just on their shoes.  Those who were inexperienced and wearing sandals, in particular, had a very hard time because their sandals kept on being left in the mud whenever they step into a deep part.  Later on, a number of them just went through the trek barefoot, in frustration.

One thing that can easily be observed about going to Mt. Batulao is that there is horse shit everywhere.  It seems that in transporting goods up and down the mountain, the lack of roads still necessitate the usage of beasts of burden, and as far as the mountain people are concerned, the horse is the beast of choice.  It’s not hard to see why.  Carabaos are stocky and relatively short-legged so they aren’t agile enough to climb up steep parts of the trail.  Horses, however, are very strong (although not as strong as carabaos) and can carry loads for sustained periods of time.  Their long legs are also useful for negotiating uneven and steep terrain.  Anyway, back to the horse shit, in the rainy weather this almost always mixed with the mud – an unfortunate development for those of us who decided to go barefoot.

Due to the number of newcomers (or maybe because we just wanted to eat and smoke every hour) we made a lot of stopovers during the climb.  There was even this house that sold ice cold Mountain Dew (how appropriate) and some mountain crops, where we spent more than the usual stopover time in.  Later on, this slow pace became a cause for mild concern because we were still less than halfway to the camping site.  All throughout, the sky was overcast with clouds and the precipitation alternated between rain, drizzle and none.

I was expecting Batulao to be a “normal” singular mountain wherein there was just one peak, and we would pitch our tents on a site near the peak.  As it turns out, Batulao had 10 peaks, and our campsite was at an area between two of those peaks.

I honestly don’t know how my smoker’s lungs enabled me to keep up with my companions.  By the time we reached Mt. Batulao proper, greater challenges lay ahead.

Some parts of the trail were steep and of varying surface conditions.  There was rocky ground, muddy ground, and some of the muddy parts – to reiterate – were mixed with horse shit.  The lack of trees was replaced by grasses almost as high as a grown adult, and some paths branched off to God knows where.

(To be continued)



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