from the other side of mount purgatory: 2K14's training climb 4

the thing about mount purgatory in bokod is that it is either a long 2-day climb, or a very easy 3-day affair. when the initial destination for training climb 4 fizzled out, the BMC committee mulled whether the mangisi traverse fulfilled the requirements of this year's BMC. my quick suggestion was this: reverse the trail. at least the first day will be very challenging, as i recall most of it was downhill from komkompol. i first climbed mt. purgatory in december 2012, and what normally was done over the course of 2 days was extended to 3: it was an extremely easy task, although the last 5 kilometers of rough road from brgy. ekip to the agno river inpethal was a painful and seemingly endless ordeal that i disliked immensely. no one bought my idea when i first brought it up, but as the day of the TC approached, my proposition was revisited and eventually adopted.

we arrived in bokod on a bright, sunny day. we were invited inside a room adjacent to the municipal hall for a briefing that included a video presentation that described how purgatory got its name. i wanted to correct a line which said that the mountain got its name based on the description of purgatory in the bible. having been reared a protestant, of course my response would have been that the concept of purgatory is a catholic invention, and perhaps a stretch of what the bible actually teaches. but i didn't want to get into a religious debate because it was certainly the fastest way to earn ire, scorn, fire, and brimstone.

from the municipality of bokod, we traveled for about 4 more kilometers until we came upon a hanging bridge. the concrete road dips under a stream which swells to an impassable river during the monsoon. a more reliable means of passage for vehicles is currently under construction. we began the trek towards small office in brgy. ekip along a winding road that rose gradually, but interminably. the hot sun shone over us along the way, and although there were no significant obstacles along the way, save for some laborers working on paving the road, some members of the team were slowing down under the weight of all that heat.

we were informed during the pre-climb that that the crawl towards the campsite would take about 7 hours. my main concern was whether i would get there without suffering a bout of cramps. in the last two climbs, i crumpled to the ground when my leg muscles contracted, resulting in very painful strides. although the trail from the jump-off until the campsite had no steep portions, the rise was steady and continuous. we walked through the same, familiar path that cut across a mountain of pine trees that quickly evolved into a forest where the trees were wrapped in moss. i suddenly realized that when i descended this part during my last climb, i did not manage to remember much about its characteristics, as i failed to notice anything familiar. i slowed down significantly on the last stretch of the forest as i battled exhaustion.

by the time we had reached the komkompol viewdeck, the weather had started to change. moody clouds were invading the sun's place in heaven, and our views of the outstanding mountains in the distance were disappearing. we resumed the trek towards the campsite, entering once more a forest that had turned wet with fog and slight rain. shortly thereafter, we emerged into an open field, and i finally announced that our quarry for the day was just over the hill, although i could not be sure as there was nothing to see beyond 5 meters. i only realized that we were already at the campsite when i heard voices of people tending to kitchens and struggling to set up tents. i decided to pitch in the same spot where we camped the last time, a little up the slope, where we had to flatten grass into mattresses.

the evening quickly fell even as the fog turned headlamps into pale balls of light bobbing in the distance. by the time the rest of the group had arrived, our soup had gone cold, and dinner was prepared with patience and love. our trainees were eager to impress even as their heavy loads became subject of dinnertime jokes, and the results were anything but plain. it was a fiesta, notwithstanding that we were in elevations upwards of 2,000 MASL. we received visitors throughout the evening, even as the other group's socials turned them into rowdy beasts with balance issues. we were more subdued, in a sense, although the celebrations lasted till after midnight, even as the cold crept into the seams of my clothes, and i crawled into my tent shivering and regretting that i didn't bring along my sleeping bag, or any blanket for that matter. i was so enamoured with the idea of bringing along my MSR hubba's gear shed which took so much space in my osprey exos 48 that i omitted some items resulting in extended suffering throughout the evening. the following day, i could not be bothered to take any good photos of the views below since i was busy with preparing breakfast. there were many hungry and sleep-deprived mouths to feed.

reversing the trail on mount purgatory significantly changed the climbing experience. where previously it was just a relaxing stroll along rolling terrain, a slew of challenges presented itself from the very beginning, although the scale of difficulty diminished on the subsequent days. from mt. tangbao campsite, it was actually already possible to walk until the end of the trail in japas, but it was a task that had to wait another day. besides, after a fantastic lunch in the mt. purgatory marker which was moved slightly up the hill where a small shack had been built, it seemed as if the trail stretched unexpectedly. we walked through enclosed forests with narrow trails and fences of slender trees in mossy garments. rain poured during the most difficult section, where stairs to the mt. pack marker became puddles of mush.

along the way to the dirt road, we encountered a group of people headed the other way. at the rate they were going, it was possible they would hit the campsite after sunset. on the other hand, our burdens were shorter, although not necessarily easier as it was exacerbated by the endless rain. the dirt road connects bokod, benguet with kayapa, nueva vizcaya, although sections seem impassable at the moment. a few motorcycles roared past while we trekked, and a number of earthworms with the width of two fingers were inching across the path. when we reached the designated campsite, i knew finding space to pitch a tent would be difficult, so we allowed to rain to pass while tucking our hands into our armpits in front of a small fire inside the square wooden house where the farmers stay temporarily. we were offered hot water which we used to make coffee and a diluted tea, and the rain just kept pouring in sheets. there was a brief interruption which we took advantage of to set up a campsite on the hill separate from where the other groups had pitched. it was a small space, but we were at least cozy, and the ground underneath our backs promised to be even.

the group was completed before nightfall, and we quickly went about preparing dinner under the dry shade of our massive parawings. i had a two-sauce pasta dish which was whipped in very little time, and shot glasses made their rounds even as the undecisive weather squeezed light out of the day. the cold was spreading over the campsite quickly, even as the thick fog erased any hint of the other groups up the road. i knew it would be a short trek the following day so we lasted well into the morning despite the dripping sky. i snuck into my tent and used my gear shed as a blanket. the following day, it was moist with sweat. breakfast was quickly prepared and i was already packed and ready to trek while our trainees were still wiping food from their pots. the climb staff arrived and in true sweeper fashion they hovered over the laggards with hands on their hips. since i was already decked i went ahead.

the road from the campsite turned from bad to worse. many parts were muddy and covered by large round rocks. when we reached the village, which was less than 20 minutes away, the mud had gotten deeper and only disappeared when we arrived at the narrow trail that would take us to japas. it felt like an inordinately long way to the road, and the silent forest of pine trees was a vertical counterpoint to the wandering trail. i was alone for this part as i looked around me and admired the scenery. finally, at the end of the trail, i was welcomed by a cold can of beer and a hose to peel the earth off the soles of my shoes. we were whisked to the junction for a late and uninspired lunch before being taken back to baguio city.

i last completed the BMC climbs in 2009. a lot of people might find this surprising but i missed some climbs because i had other things to do, not because i was lazy, or found my climb companions uninteresting. a lot of things change in the club, and along with it the people. but one thing remains consistent: it is the lure of the mountains which i heed everytime i hear it. i don't know what inspires people to lace on their hiking shoes and go tramping in the backcountry. we may have different reasons, but regardless what it is that makes you go outside, i only hope it isn't some temporary desire to be in the company of birdsong and biting cold, but a more permanent longing to be away, to escape the droning sounds of cars and hopeless internet speeds. in the mountains, i find my connections more meaningful, and the noises other than my own, enchanting.