Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mt Pulag (Kabayan, Benguet): A Class Exercise on Awareness

A Postcard - Perfect SideTrip
Mt. Pulag, Kabayan, Benguet
February 2012

Title:  A Class Exercise on Awareness 

(This is a recount of my first encounter with the sea of clouds and surreal slopes that Mt. Pulag has become synonymous with.
The cringe, exhaustion, extreme heat, thin air, dropping temp, breathtaking sunrise and soap-opera worthy experience
are the 
bits and pieces of memories I have with this mountain.) 

Breathe, in this playground fit for the gods
Roam, beyond the edges of heavenly facade
the fleeting seconds reveals a sea of clouds
where voyage scrolls in scenic mystery avowed

(waiting as the sun rises majestically from the sea of 
morning clouds on the summit of Mt. Pulag)

The Dos and Dont's in Mt. Pulag

Arriving at the DENR station, we hurriedly went inside the office. The small headquarter was jam-packed with climbers waiting for their turns at the mandatory orientation. While waiting for ours, we bought some souvenir items displayed inside. As an added inspiration, my friends and I even purchased a shirt with spray-painted words “I Survive Mt. Pulag”, even when the feat is yet to come.

The one-hour orientation at the DENR Office consisted of an audio-visual presentation regarding the historical and environmental significance of Mt. Pulag. It also provided the ground rules that visitors must observe as responsible mountaineers, plus some safety tips along the way. The few that I can recall (the way I remember them) includes:

A weary traveler searching far and wide
halting , in reverie he cried
for in the horizon where the clouds divide
a piece of heaven he has finally eyed

 (the long stroll in the playful slopes of Mt. Pulag reveals
scenic landscapes and breathtaking stills, all fit for the daring souls)

  1. Never create a new trail apart from the established tracks.
  2. Never eat anything from the wild, especially plants and berries.
  3. Never shout or create loud noises (The mountain is considered sacred ground by our ethnic brothers)
  4. Be cautious and attentive when trekking. The rolling hills and deep ravine is not a good place to die. It’s agonizingly painful.
  5. Never compromise your safety or the safety of anyone. Remember that rescuing someone also endangers the lives of the rescuers.
  6. Do not defecate or urinate anywhere. These activities could pollute the fragile grassland ecosystem and contaminate the bodies of water, which is the source of drinking water of lowland communities. Worse comes to worst, there are a few make-shift/crude toilets in the camp site. Make use of it.
  7. Know the signs of hypothermia. If you or anyone shows any symptoms, act on it and inform the first aiders. Mt. Pulag is characterized by a cold micro-climate, with temperature dropping as low as 10 degrees Celsius. You or your friend’s life could be at risk. Hypothermia kills.
  8. Never underestimate any mountain. Mt. Pulag is terribly hot during daytime and agonizingly cold at night! (Should I reiterate that one again?)
  9. Do not throw away food residues anywhere (no matter how small), even on the grounds. Aside from its rotten smell, food materials will also attract animals, disturb their natural feeding mechanism/structure, and create imbalance in nature.
  10. And lastly, kill nothing but time, take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but memories.

A lonesome tree growing in the embers of gold
A secret valley where mysteries are told
There lies a beauty, in memory lo and behold
An untamed haven, for daring and bold.

 (the flora and fauna of Mt. Pulag are distinctive and unique to
the micro-climate of the area. However, with the changing climate, 
this piece of paradise has become a more fragile and threatened ecosystem...)

Meaningful Realizations 

The presentation was actually staged with satirically-laced humor. It kept the boredom away and pacified the bursting excitement of most trekkers. It was a surprise showcase of creativity. I was glued to my sit, watching the entire reel. The rules were many, but I believe most were common sense (though common sense is something easily lost along the way).

After the orientation at the DENR, I realized the fact that visitors should be aware how important it is that they know what they’re doing. Considered as a National Park by Proclamation No. 75, Mt. Pulag is a sanctuary for many endemic and threatened species. Its montane forests and ultramafic terrain is home to vast spectacular glitch of nature: Dwarf Bamboos, Benguet Pines, Dwarf Cloud rat, immature grasses, Luzon Pygmy Fruit Bat, Philippine Brown Deer and other undocumented species of flora and fauna. It’s been a common turf for many scholarly/academic expeditions by some local and international scientists (my Envi Sci professor studied here the morphological variations of grass leaves in gradient altitudes).

But on one hand, Mt. Pulag isn’t the highest mountain in Luzon for nothing. Its beauty has sugar-coated the dangers lurking beneath its sea of clouds. Like any mountain, Mt. Pulag is a force to be reckoned with, not to be taken lightly yet not to be ignored completely. Such contradictions, ahahaha!

But I believe that in order for man and nature to co-habituate, man should learn to understand where they stand and what path they should not thread. Safety concerns shouldn't be taken for granted, lives will always be at risk. The cost of life isn't worth any grandeur or breathtaking views. Likewise, environmental concerns should not be side-tracked; nature has life of its own. The cost of nature, including its spiritual and cultural values, far exceeds any economic gains combined. 

Every traveler will remember something,
that he cherish leaves him wanting
that he forgets can come back hunting

For memories are faint and taunting
in this trodden path, where nights are frozen 
and mornings are breaking...

 (Getting acquainted with the cold, the hazy feel of grassland,
 the setting sun and the warm company of friends... at Mt. Pulag)


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