Tired, cold and sore Vernon Morning Star reporter Parker Crook and an equally chilled Monica Lim celebrate their successful hike up Mt. Pulag Aug. 21. (Parker Crook/Morning Star)

Tired, cold and sore Vernon Morning Star reporter Parker Crook and an equally chilled Monica Lim celebrate their successful hike up Mt. Pulag Aug. 21. (Parker Crook/Morning Star)

AT RANDOM: 3,000 metres above sea level

Reporter decided walking for eight hours in mud up the side of a mountain was a good idea–it wasn’t

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.

Air is thin and breathing heavy as you reach the Ranger’s Station and base camp at 2,500 metres above sea level and hop out of the van. Along the way to the homestay, locals clad in down-filled jackets come and go with steel pots full of rice, chicken adobo–a Filipino favourite–and prawns. Unlike the balmy province below, Mount Pulag National Park is cool.

Anticipation runs high as you finally reach the homestay–a welcoming wooden cabin. Guides prepare dinner and it’s off to bed before the 1 a.m. wakeup call.

Rain pounds the corrugated metal roof and your start time is pushed back from 2 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. when the rain finally subsides. Everyone is in a hurry to get ready and hop in the Jeepney – the iconic and popular form of transportation in the Philippines – and head back to the ranger station.

However, the ranger didn’t get the memo that it was time to go, and you wait in the back of the breezy, red and orange vehicle until well-after 5:30 a.m. before he finally arrives. By now, the sun has already began to rise, though it is hidden behind dense rain clouds. That’s right: it’s raining again, only this time it won’t stop until after your hike.

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. The last 45 minutes are a gruelling tour of mud and steep slides. And, if you slide too far, tumbling down the side of the mountain is not out of the equation.

Finally, the summit is in sight and images from the brochure flood into mind. All that stands in the way is a near vertical wall of mud, but it’s nothing that your soaked shoes and jeans, because you neglected to purchase anything more appropriate for a hike, can’t handle. And, once you’ve bested the slope, everything the guide promised will be yours.

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.


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