"the best overbudget climb i've ever had": part VI of the kaladkarin chronicles

i’ve been blogging rather sluggishly of late, and it must be because too many things have happened in the span of three weeks, and i might need to rest my itchy feet which have taken me to a at least 3 blog-worthy destinations recently. the first weekend of june, for example, found me returning to the lahar plains of mt pinatubo. i had been there before, in may of 2003. over two years later, i found it to be much the same place, though i could not remember having been there. it is because while the lahar fields remain the same, the landscape has undergone some major changes. the bends, the spiked cliffs, the green-capped gray walls were still there, but in places that i do not recall them to be at.

the trek began rather well. the tourism folks of capas welcomed us when we arrived, and even took the initiative to get us a jeepney. we were quickly whisked to sta juliana to pick up our guide and to pay the fees. at the jump off, things were not very promising. the sky was blue, with puffs of clouds here and there. but it augured to be a hot trek. and this is something one will not appreciate at all in mt pinatubo. but mother nature must’ve winked on us, because after about two hours, more clouds swarmed the sky, and a slight drizzle began to accompany us. the trail to the crater is open. pretty open in fact, and hemmed in by hundred-feet high cliffs, it feels a lot like a dry riverbed. and our guide did say that it was actually the o’donnel channel, or something to that general effect. though not exactly flooded, there is, all throughout the trail, an undecided stream, which at some parts runs deep. by the time the trail funneled, and vegetation increased, the rain turned ugly, and a storm was very much in the offing. this was no cause for much concern, except that i’d really hate to pitch my tent -- my freshly minted TNF talus 23 -- while it’s pouring.

when don and i reached the campsite, i discovered that a new covered structure had been built, and we rushed for cover very quickly. some of us were still very far behind, but as the clouds squeezed their last few drops on the crater, the last among us had arrived, still in very high spirits. the rain was so strong that waterfalls were gushing out from the cliffs overhead. we began trekking at 10am, and reached the campsite at around 4.30pm. this was inclusive of about 2 hours of rest. even before marga reached the campsite, i had already taken out my stove and my cookset, preoccupied with preparing soup. it can get really cold there when it’s raining.

once the soup was ready and the rain had completely stopped, we started pitching our tents. my talus 23 was neatly pitched somewhere near the viewdeck. space was abundant, and we chose spots far away from each other, it seemed we were either strangers or had intimacy issues. but i think it was providential since my tent was a good distance from sir oca’s. he is apparently a very deep sleeper, so i’ve been told.

for that evening, we had 3 dishes on the menu: thai garlic pork, sinigang na bangus sa miso, and chop suey. i took care of the first, don the second, and zero body fat raul the third. and even while three stoves were burning and three chefs were busy tending to their pots, getting small burns in the process, that vile liquor called gin started to make its rounds. there were other brews on the mountain. kuya mar had taken red wine with him on the request of rohan. by 8.30pm, when we were done with dinner, and pretty much enjoying our food, and i was starting to put together the most excessive part of the meal plan: a fruit, marshmallow, and cake chocolate fondue, we were disturbed by the arrival of a few people. they descended from the pitch-black darkness of the evening, the faint lights of their lamps bobbing up and down. all of a sudden, we were gripped by a realization that we were not alone on the crater, but this did not get in the way of our having fun. and what fun it was. maybe because we had a lot to drink, or maybe because we weren’t very tired at all, that we made sure we’d laugh till we dropped. and this was most true for sir oca, who seemed to run out of breath. i did my usual spiels and spoofs, and they’re really getting old, since i’ve been doing them over the course of a few years, and i haven’t developed new material, but kuya mar gets a kick each time.

once the last drop of gin had been poured, we retired to our tents. i shared mine with rohan and mardel; due to some miscommunication betwixt them, neither had brought a tent. luckily, my tentmate had backed out, and i had space for both of them. in spite of the extra man (or woman) in the roomy tent, i slept soundly that night, and awoke only the following morning. iton peeked out of his tent the moment i started humming a tune as i tended to the kitchen. the other campers had already started eating breakfast, and ours was still underway. one by one, my group started waking. it was a nice morning, with a low-lying cloud gravitating towards the turquoise waters of the crater lake. soon after breakfast was prepared and eaten, we descended to the lake. i’ve waded in its waters before, but this was always something i will grab should the opportunity be there again. i shamelessly stripped to my swimming trunks, despite having grown a tummy from the many alcoholic binges i’ve had with my AMCI buddies. i’m a long shot from the gutless days after my training with PSI, and with zero body fat raul showing off his cuts, i really should’ve wrapped myself in my sarong.

nevertheless, we enjoyed our time in the crater, and although we were scheduled to start our descent by 11am per our IT, we left the campsite at around 11.30. there was a raft on the lake, which we abused. kuya mar took it almost to the middle of the serene lake which was so deceptively peaceful, it was possible to think unknown creatures might lurk underneath its still surface. since the beginning of our trek, we had the whole gamut of weather changes. from extremely sunny to very cloudy with occasional rains. the second day was much the same. we’d be soaking one minute, then the next we’d be cowering from the terrible heat. we had overtaken some of the guys who left almost two hours ahead of us. two of them sustained injuries. the trail going back to sitio tarukan is long, and seemingly endless, but is so flat, we hardly took any take 5’s, save the half hour for lunch along one of the narrower spots beside a stream. we had mardel’s famed patatim, and in under 5 hours, we reached tarukan where our jeep had been waiting for over an hour. he was prepared with a chest of really expensive cheap soda drinks. that may sound like a contradiction in terms, but he was selling us 200ml bottles at P15 each, and these weren’t even produced by either pepsi or coke. he was quite the entrepreneur.

back at sta. juliana, we showered, and after we all had freshened up, we had the jeepney deliver us to a place where we could eat dinner and have our post-climb. other than the discussion about whether to intervene in the incident involving the injuries sustained by the other group, everyone had a lot of positive things to say about the climb. sir oca was saying that he has seldom had meals better than the ones we prepared, even when he was in the plains. kuya mar may have most appropriately described it as the “best overbudget climb” he’s ever had.

on our way home, we unfortunately flagged a colorum bus. these are the types that usually ply EDSA, and are very uncomfortable. i was apprehensive about falling asleep because i really thought we’d meet an accident somewhere. despite my fears, i was able to get home safely and soundly, and in one piece.
it does not, actually. lots of sulfur but also lots open air. hehe. the water on the lake, though, tastes different.