Kitanglad rhapsodies and blues

Much to my chagrin, I recently found confirmation that Mt Kitanglad of Bukidnon wasn’t the second highest — nor even the third highest — mountain in the Philippines. It is ranked fourth, says this blog and this much-discredited online resource.

When I was climbing the peak with some friends last April, we were in the belief that we were scaling the country’s second tallest mound of earth. We had earlier dismissed Mt Pulag of Luzon as the third highest, despite claims by the Luzon inhabitants that it is second. (Of course, there is no dispute regarding Mt Apo of Davao being the tallest of them all.)

But a few days after our climb, a resident of Bukidnon corrected us, saying the second highest peak is actually Mt Dulang-Dulang, which is part of the Kitanglad Mountain Range. The mountain we had climbed, he said, was just one of the peaks of the said Range — though, yes, it is called Mt Kitanglad.

I was devastated, and I love to exaggerate.

***

The climb was tough. Four hours (10 am to 2 pm) of continuous ascent (interrupted only by lunch) over mud and boulders and rocks and grass and leaf-laden muddles that could pass as quicksands. And it was cold. At times it was almost impossible to see beyond 10 meters because of the clouds.

But I can honestly call all that “fun”. It was!

But it was a bit disappointing that it was cloudy when we reached the peak, though happy enough to have survived the climb (which was the most difficult for all of us). Then add to the panorama’s “obscurity” the presence of transmitter towers (plus some technicians and their shelters there) — I mean, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot hamlet! The view at Pulag — I was told — is a hundred times more breathtaking.

But the air was fresh and the feeling of being (nearly) on the highest point of Mindanao was just amazing. The apple I brought tasted heavenly, and all I wanted to do was take a nap on a verdant patch of grass — which I did.

***

But it began to drizzle. After less than an hour of resting at the peak, we started our descent. There were gnarled, leafless trees near the top of the mountain — like frozen (with lichens thriving) hands of dead giants pleading for heaven’s mercy; I’ve never seen anything like them. And there were bonsai-like trees that remind you big time of Elven lore.

Down we went, destroying our knees — and then the first thunder boomed. Before you can say “rain”, it did. Of course we didn’t bring umbrellas or raincoats — so it was like, “Hello, rain!”

Soon the trench of the trail became small streams that sometimes tarried in muddles. Water entered my non-hiking shoes, and I slipped several times; so did my companions. The experience was reminiscent of my failed nighttime Pulag climb some years ago. But I was happy, weirdly, because all that was a new experience. Besides, we were lucky: our guide told us there was a confrontation between the military and some rebels at one face of the mountain just a few days ago. Like, I’ve never felt so safe in my entire life.

***

Three hours later, we were back at the cabbage fields at the mountain’s shins, which we considered our starting point. It was already dark, and the rain had already disappeared.

Resting at the door of the jeep that would take us home, waiting for our separated group of companions, I marveled at the mountain.

Second highest peak! Blissful, ignorant, I smiled to myself.

***

Amazing photos by Miggy Quinto

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Running on Bukidnon’s rugged mountains

The cool and sunny heights of Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon (Philippines) – particularly the area towards the famous zipline adventure park in Dahilayan – welcomed three intrepid runners from Manila, who knew no fear and had not the idea exactly how far their trail was going to be.

That trio – far from the Three Stooges – was us: Robbie (in black), teacher, choir master, and staunch advocate of the Latin language; Russel (in blue), a geology student with a 10k Timex Run under his belt; and I (in white), who suffers from the delusion of being a pale, slow, and lanky version of Usain Bolt.

***

It was April 29. The pine trees that surrounded Mountain Pines Place (our lodging house for the three-week seminar we were attending; also called MPP) were cheering us on: leaves and strong winds combined to give us “the wave and roar” as we were exiting the house. Everything was perfect for Automattic’s Worldwide WP 5k Run.

We knew the route was going to be tough. We had gone through it a week ago (before I realized we could actually do it again on the 29th specifically for the Run). Russel told me the round trip between MPP and the zipline park was about six or seven kilometers – more than enough for the WP event. (I was secretly marveling at the fact that other WP users would also be running 5k’s around the world on this date.)

So we ran. It was 10:45 am.

***

As we rushed into that fine summer morning, I realized our main obstacle was our trail’s diverse, zigzag, inclined terrain. The first few hundred meters were gravelly and downhill, passing through a creek and a small hamlet with curious inhabitants (I imagined they were thinking, “Why run in the mountains?”). Then came the climb, this time with rocky grounds and occasional vans passing, going to the zipline park. I’m allergic to dust, so I covered my nose with my shirt every time a vehicle passed beside me. And the final stretch to the park was a wavy dirt road – a continuous climb that reminded me of Dante’s Purgatory. The banner image of this blog was taken at one part of our trail.

But the panorama around us ranged from scenic to SCENIC: green rolling hills on the plateau that is Bukidnon; the valley, broken by a stream at its lowest point, separating MPP from the zipline park; and the vast purplish pineapple-laden fields of Manolo Fortich, stretching out into the mountains that dropped north to Cagayan de Oro and the coast.

***

When we reached the adventure park, it was about 11:30 am. Towards the zipline area people were either silent in shock or shrieking in the process of “ziplining”. Russel bought three boiled corns to be eaten when we arrive back at MPP.

We couldn’t waste time — so we ran back, hoping to beat our previous record by arriving at noon.

And we did! But not after a harrowing run up to MPP. The last ascent (rocky, 45-degree inclination) was towards hell — under the searing heat of summer. So when MPP came into view, heaven’s hope was restored. But we just couldn’t run properly anymore that we had to walk on our last 100 meters — except Russel, who ran till the last 50 meters or less.

As I sipped my well-deserved glass of water, I looked at the valley towards Dahilayan Adventure Park again. The view was breathtaking — but the run across it and towards the Park was breathtaking in another sense.

Thanks to Robbie for the photos. Banner image by Jojo Nicdao.