conquering the mountain within: AMCI B2K5's TC4

at around 5pm of wednesday, i was pushing down a big cart in SM megamall while i tried to collect my thoughts for my long final exam. i hadn’t managed to study -- not since i returned from orienteering weekend, and not since i started preparing for my climb to amuyao. and i hadn’t managed to think about the real reason i decided to join TC4, when i do not happen to like amuyao. not that the mountain likes me, to begin with, nor does it matter if one likes a mountain or not for it to be there. shortly, don and then much later, jovs, arrived to help me. we were doing our marketing for our meal plan, and don was having a field day throwing stuff into the cart. we had collected P250 from a few people, but we had a bill that ran close to P4000.

we had the final exam at the makati university, and at the time, i knew i didn’t do too well. my BMC manual had fallen victim to the backpack rafting activity, and it was still very wet till that day. while my batchmates busied themselves with planning a get-together somewhere in rockwell, i had to rush home with more than 5 kilos of meat to pre-cook. our departure for banaue would be the next day, thursday. so i slept only at around 2am that day, and still had a few things to do.

at around 8pm, i was still at home, stuffing my backpack, and arranging the stuff we needed for our meal plan. i worried much about the weight of all the food we were carrying to the summit and back again. but i’ve learned, no matter how tall the challenges are, to never scrimp on the feast. besides, i could always give dya-ke extra stuff to carry. we had designated him as our porter for this climb. jovs and i decided to sponsor his climb fee as some kind of a birthday gift.

by a little past 9, i was already in the autobus station along españa with my >20kg backpack, and around 7 supermarket bags, and at the time, only jovs and dya-ke were there. shortly, the rest of the crew trickled in and we boarded at a few minutes to 10pm. but we still lacked 1 more climber. leithon arrived 10 mins after the ETD for banaue. i’d warned the group that it’d be a very cold 8 hour ride, and i had prepared all my cold weather paraphernalia for the trip, but i was rather unceremoniously sweating during the first few hours of it. only when we’d reached lagawe did i put on my malong.

we reached banaue just before 7am, and on kuya mar’s suggestion, we had breakfast at halfway. which may not have been a good decision since our meals took forever to cook. it was also at that time that i realized that apart from the rice, i had also forgotten to bring the chili con carne mix. rushing has always been least of my favorite things.

we were already behind the IT when we departed for barlig at around 8.30am. and given the jeepney’s predilection for making many stops, we reached barlig already after noon. we had a very quick lunch at seaworld resto, which was a very strange name for a canteen right smack in the middle of the cordillera mountain range. they served a few things, including dogmeat. after repacking our loads according to the meal plan, we proceeded to the jump off, but we were derailed by as long as an hour by some barlig-style bureaucracy. apparently, a new 1 guide per 4 climber policy has been implemented by the municipality, and at P500 per guide. since there were 19 of us, we were supposed to get an excess of 4 guides. this was roughroad robbery, if ever there was one! amuyao’s charm was dwindling quickly. it was not necessary to have guides for the climb since there are no confusing forks. and since the guides were only supposed to walk with us to the summit (they won’t accompany us the following day), it definitely wasn’t worth the trouble at all.

but we were literally boxed to a corner, and they wouldn’t allow us to even cross the bridge till we agreed. so TL tito boy settled for 3 guides and we were on our way, with me as part of the lead pack. the first 30 minutes of the trek along the concrete pilapil of the lower terraces was pure torture. sort of gives you an idea that you won’t make it halfway to the summit. the lady guide was just ahead of me, and it wasn’t long before distances between me and the rest of the lead pack were increasing. at the first flat just up ahead, i lowered my bag for the scheduled rest stop. but kuya mar said we had to make up for the lost time. as it was, we were already behind by 4 hours. and having a night trek was most definite. so i hauled my backpack again and started walking. one thing about amuyao is that it is a never-ending assault. one could actually count the few steps one takes along its very few flats. and most of the assault is paved crudely and primitively with slabs of stone and wood. anyone whose legs are shorter than mine would have to exert an effort to make those gargantuan strides.

without thinking much, we mindlessly walked up the staircase encased in an enchanting mossy forest, including the wooden escalator where i remember falling the last time i was there. we rested at the last shed for a while until finally we reached a clearing where it was possible to see the summit’s relay station. two antennae jutted out of the small boxes, and some dishes pointed to several directions. the water source was nearby, and we stopped to load at least 4 liters. the additional two liters on my load may have been too much since right after i had loaded my backpack, i felt incredible pain on my calves and my hamstrings. i was being possessed by an evil pair of muscle cramps, bending my legs and forcing me to kneel. i couldn’t help but watch the rest of the lead pack reduced to specks. i rested, massaged my muscles, and popped in some iodized salt. after a while, i thought i was ready to go again. but barely 20 steps later, the cramps attacked again. i had to let eman pass me since there was this possibility i might not make the summit at all!

when i picked up my bag again 5 minutes later, some pain was still radiating in my legs until i received a phone call from janet. she was delirious! we spoke for more than 5 minutes and that was another rest period for me. while i was talking to her, lyn had caught up with me, and she looked out of it. i was laughing my heart off telling janet how the mountain was killing me! finally, after i said goodbye, i caught up with lyn who paused every 3 steps. i said “look up lyn, we’re 5 minutes from the campsite!” tried to cheer her up. rushed to the site, plopped down my bag and went down again to help one of my IC mates.

so i was at the summit of amuyao just before 6pm, while there was enough light from the sinking sun for us not to use our headlamps. it took me less than 4 hours, which is a big leap from the last time. it took me over 6 hours in the cold wet darkness to get to the tower last year.

i quickly pitched my tent -- pegless (one strong gust of wind and it would have gone tumbling down to barlig) -- and started preparing dinner. for that evening, we were supposed to have chicken curry, ground beef in tomato sauce (which was supposed to be a chili con carne, had i remembered to bring the mix), and a refrigerator cake. i figured since we’d be having arctic conditions up in the tower, the cream would stiffen, but i was dead wrong. we wound up having very good chicken curry, ground beef which seemed more apt for pasta than anything else, and sweet baby food which everyone called gerber dessert (i sort of just mixed the crushed grahams with the cream and the condensed milk). nevertheless, it must have been a filling dinner, since it was gobbled up rather quickly. after that we had the socials, and all us trainees were required to give one joke each. none of the jokes was funny, but eman’s delivery of his was a winner. for alcohol, we had fundador and carlos uno, both of which i found very disagreeable and disgusting and each time i took i shot, i’d grimace almost indescribably. i honestly don’t know what people like about some of these expensive drinks. yuck!

at around 10pm, i decided to turn in. i would wake up every now and then since the socials area was right beside my tent. when jovs and dya-ke came in, i realized how big dyake was since he literally pushed me to the wall. when ver, jovs and i shared my talus 23, it didn’t feel that small. at around 4am, i woke up and slipped out of the tent to prepare breakfast. jazzie was also up so we shared kitchen tasks: she the hash browns, and i the chicken nuggets. shortly after, i also prepared the aligue pasta with squid chunks (for lunch) with don’s assistance. we’re on a strictly no-pork diet for this climb.

by 7am, we were already prepared to descend to pat-yay. TL tito boy briefed us the previous night what to expect on our descent and we were sufficiently warned to be careful. the view from behind the upper building was astounding. as far as the eye can see were layers of undulating ridges and ranges of green mountains covered in a thin blanket of mist. even while the sun was rising, the mountains surrounding amuyao appeared like lazy, dreamy, blue misty mountains, although i had precious little time to take pictures because i had kitchen duties. nevertheless, there was more than enough time to appreciate the abundance of beauty around us.

from the summit, we descended into a mysterious mossy forest which may very well be home to enchanted beings. it looked very much like a scene from a fantasy flick. moss can be very deceptive at times. it may conceal holes and gaps formed by intertwined roots. also, when growing on prostrate logs, it can be very slippery. the edge of the mossy forest is a small waiting shed. from there, the descent continues till we reach a small river near pat-yay. this part is no easier. there are thorny plants all around, and carelessness has a huge price. but somehow, we reached the edge of pat-yay when we came upon a camote plantation. there were women harvesting their crops. by this time, we were way ahead of the IT, and although it was still very early, we decided to have lunch by the cold waters of pedrito’s stream. the temperature was freezing but we gamely took off our sweaty clothing to take a long, relaxing dip. upstream, dya-ke washed his cycling shorts.

after a long, leisurely lunch, we departed for pat-yay. we were supposed to camp at the bat trap ridge, which was about an hour and a half from the pat-yay village proper. getting there wasn’t easy, and crossing terraces wasn’t necessarily fun, since so close to a sign of early civilization, and we’d have a small casualty: lyn injured her right elbow when she used it to cushion her fall over a large boulder. she was asking me for gauze to wrap it with “for the rest of the trek”, when tito boy announced that we’d be staying there for the night. our arses were resting on a flattened out part of the terraces where around 4 traditionally-styled houses stood, apart from a big one where we’d be shacking for the evening. it was barely 2pm, and the climb staff kept repeating that we’d exceeded their expectations. the sweepers arrived about an hour and a half after the lead pack.

nearby, there were very young children who seemed both excited and afraid by our presence. they’d look at us with very inquiring and eager eyes, but would hide at the hint of us approaching. they were particularly afraid of our cameras. interacting with them was an absolute joy, and since we had a lot of free time, we had many opportunities to steal images.

by as early as 4pm, after we left our clothes to dry outside, we were already busy with dinner. i had designated a corner of the first floor as the kitchen area, and i asked the camp keepers to fetch water for the team. i prepared the soup, and nestor haggled with one of the locals for the price of a native chicken. the tab was P200, and it wasn’t long until i noticed the smell of burning feathers. roy took care of making this strange, but tasty, chicken soup, while don cooked kaldereta from a very expensive big-boned cow. he mixed carrots and camote with the brew, and although there was more bone than meat there, the sauce itself was enough of a meal. i prepared fruit salad, which was a lot more successful than my sweet gerber the previous evening.

after dinner, i began preparing breakfast for the following morning. we had another round of socials, and although someone warned very early that we were within the village, we couldn’t quite contain the noise. without the fundador and the carlos uno, gin was the only available drink, which is something i find more tolerable, and i had lots to drink. so much that i provided much of the entertainment that night, harassing both dya-ke and jundel. it was a slow-moving evening, and we could not believe that it was only past 8pm by the time we finished the first few liters.

finally, at around 9.30pm, i crawled into bed, and quickly fell asleep after i set the alarm. the next thing i remember is waking up, feeling cold, and failing to refuse a call of nature. went down, pissed, put on a jacket, and fell asleep again. someone pulled on my big toe and i just looked at that person. i wore my headlamp, but fell asleep again. i only got up when jovs woke me up, asking that i take care of breakfast. very unwillingly, i pulled myself out of bed, heated water for the swiss miss and the coffee, and reheated the breakfast and lunch i cooked the previous evening.

at 6am, we were all prepared to start our trek to cambulo with 2 guides. the first part of the trek for our final day was an ascent unlike any other. it was short, but very difficult. the view from the ridge, however, was nothing short of outstanding. when you’re in pat-yay, the walls of the terraces appear unattractive and even unpolished. but from a certain higher vantage point, the shape of the terraces becomes a lot more evident, and you are amazed by the ancient engineering principles employed to create them.

from the ridge, it is another punishing descent down loose rocks and loose soil, where the ground breaks and falls apart when the weight of more than one person is applied on them. when we reached the first stream, kuya mar managed to calculate that we’d reach cambulo long before lunch, and he suggested that we push for batad. and so we did. this part of the trek was the most visually-rewarding of the trek. walking along 15 foot high rice terraces, it was often necessary to lean a little towards one direction. a misstep might send falling to a very muddy -- not to mention embarrassing -- grave.

before 11am, we were already in cambulo having lukewarm coke and sprite which retailed at P30 each. it is only from pat-yay that you get to realize that cambulo’s center sits in a riverbend, and that its terraces stretch out along a ridge. from cambulo, there is a sign which reads that batad is 1.5 hours away. nestor and i followed our guide closely, and although none of the members was with us, we decided to rest and frolic on the last stream before the viewdeck. then we fell witness to the majesty that is batad when the narrow, covered trail opened up and we were accosted by the expanse that is the batad ampitheater. i had seen this before while it was much greener, but it is no less magnificent now than it was last february.

we trekked along the terraces parallel to simon’s inn, which we reached in less than 30 minutes. there, kuya mar ordered all the ice cold beer available. we also sampled all the pizza flavors and the very tasty organic rice. by 1pm, we had all washed up, eaten lunch, and were ready to trek up the saddle. i advised everyone to wear shoes over sandals since the trek isn’t as short nor as easy as kuya mar had suggested. however, the last two persons in the team were nowhere in sight. finally, at 4pm, looking at how the sweepers missed the last instruction by going down the cemented stairs, tito boy told me to rush to the saddle to call up autobus and try to convince them to wait for us “at all cost.” so i rushed up the saddle, and my pace may have been too much for dya-ke, because he huffed and puffed along the way. i gave all sorts of excuses and assurances to the autobus people to try to convince them to wait for us, but in all honesty, i knew we’d be left behind. finally, at 6pm, the last man arrived and we rode to banaue amid rain and darkness. i was very very concerned at the time since i knew the way up the saddle was very dangerous and steep. i continued praying, silently this time, since i’d been asked to pray since day 1.

at around 7.20pm, we arrived at the autobus station in banaue. the bus just left 20 minutes earlier. it would have waited longer, but some of the passengers were complaining. so the jeepney pushed for bambang. we were dropped off at a roadside diner just as the jeep overheated. we all had warm, hearty meals at 10pm, and before midnight, we hailed passing buses for our trips back home. by 5.30am, amid the freezing conditions inside the florida bus, i reached quezon avenue. jovs and i took separate cabs getting home, and i was welcomed at our gate by our over-excited dogs. before i proceeded to sleep, i took out my wet clothes from my bag.

i didn’t debate whether or not i’d show up at work that day. in fact, i looked forward to a long day with friends. i was weighed down with the need to tell great stories about a climb that refused to accept all the pessimism that haunted it. we had endured many trials and challenges, and i wanted so much to share what i learned throughout those three days. i conquered many mountains within, while the mountain without humbled me, once again, and i am all the more a better person.
hey thanks!
this story is long overdue. and i wanted so much to tell it. :D