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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Amazing photos by Miggy Quinto