Vibrant orange and purple hues shimmer as they reflect off the clouds. Grass-covered mountain tops ripple the cloud floor that appears soft as fresh-whipped butter.
That’s what the brochure promised as the girlfriend’s cousins signed us up to hike Mount Pulag – the third highest mountain in the Philippines and the highest on the northern island of Luzon.
But, as it often is in life, that cherry wasn’t as sweet as the travel guides promised.
The drive from Solano, Nueva Vizcaya is three hours of bumping, winding, stomach-churning terror as the driver, who may be considered quite good at his craft in the Philippines, dodges, ducks, dips, dives and weaves his way around potholes, mildly slower drivers and any tricycle unlucky enough to be beckoned to make the journey.
What should have been an enjoyable, if tiring, hike up a mountain turns into a gruelling and bone-chilling eight hours of rain, mud and blisters.
The natural beauty of Mount Pulag persists as you climb through pine forests to camp one before entering the mossy-oak forest to camp two and finally the grasslands to the summit. However, despite the store clerk’s promise that your new kicks are waterproof, your feet are soaked within the first 30 minutes. After four hours, they’re full of mud. After five, they’re frozen. After six, the blisters begin. And, as you know, mud and open wounds go together like peanut butter and mayonnaise.
Wind rips across the grasslands as you enter the clouds. The rain has turned into a heavy fog and the group of 16 hikers and three guides slowly separate. Four hikers decide it isn’t worth the trouble and head down the mountain. You’re cold, tired and sore, but the summit is figuratively in sight. Left-foot, right-foot: two hours to go.
Finally, the summit is in sight and images from the brochure flood into mind.
Your knees almost give way as you crest the final peak. Awaiting your arrival is a small, wooden sign that reads, “Mount Pulag summit, 2,922 metres above sea level,” and a sea of grey nothingness that looks less like a breathtaking sunrise and sea of frothed milk and more like a bowl of sour yogurt – a bowl that took only eight hours of walking in inclement weather, six hours of broken roads and two days out of your vacation to earn.
And then it’s time to walk back down.