Text and Photos by Euden Valdez
RAIN was falling and despite the forest cover, it was seeping to the ground and whatever waterproof clothing we donned. Rain was also touching layers of leaves, tangles of vines and roots, and freshly grown moss attached to branches and bodies of trees — making vivid a green sea of fauna. This was a sight to behold but then there was the biting cold.
A day before, a tropical storm was forecasted to shroud most of the Cordillera Administrative region, north of the Philippines. Where we’re at, Mt. Amuyao, was part of Cordillera’s vast mountain range infamous for sea of clouds and cold temperature. Yet during the country’s rainy season, expect only to get the latter.
For someone’s first major climb, a mountain classified at 9/9 difficulty level, in the middle of a storm, was not the most ideal condition. Add to this the fact that it was a reverse-traverse from Banaue in Ifugao to Barlig in Mt. Province — regarded as trail less traveled of Mt. Amuyao.
Yet, in the face of Mother Earth’s beauty and unpredictability, we persevere with much gratification and appreciation of the simplest of things.
Like finding a local tour guide who never left our side and our sight. When we were struggling, he would share the weight of our burden both literally and figuratively. A true-blue Banaue local with tanned skin and fine built, Jun Patawon was also blessed with a kind heart, strong will and a sense of humor.
And another Cordilleran we met along the journey was Mang Jose, whose name reminds one of a Parokya ni Edgar song about a local superhero. Albeit petite in physique, Mang Jose of Pat-yay village in Mayoyao town, was big in hospitality.
We arrived at his humble abode past 9 in the evening — after passing by the village of Batad, the jump-off point, and then another village, Cambulo, then surviving high fields of rice terraces, a steep ascent of an unidentified peak, and finally, descending the dark path to Pat-yay — already exhausted and it was just the first leg of the climb.
At that point, we wished only to sleep with a roof over our heads. But our host not only provided us with shelter that but also with stories — enough to keep our night going despite our exhaustion.
The next morning, we awoke with renewed wonder. In the light of the day, we saw the surrounding. Facing Mang Jose’s abode was a hill carved with rice terraces. Everything was dewy from the night’s shower. At the foot of the two hills below, a river gurgled silently.
Some of the huts seemed to be sleeping still except there were kids already hanging around, curious with our presence. Together, we savored the mouthwatering aroma of frying sausages, ready to devour breakfast any moment. Good food on our plate nourished our bodies and spirit.
It was time to continue our traverse, expecting it to be wet once again. At the foothills, there were scenic rice terraces we were ever so careful to cross — lest we fall in the paddies. Upon entering the mountain, the familiar scent of forest greeted us. Finally, Mt. Amuyao and all its glory.
At most, Mt. Amuyao’s trail at Batad side sloped gently but nevertheless, long and winding. Trees, ever green and damp, embraced the trail with their bodies, branches and roots — requiring nimble movements from us hikers. Crawl if we must, soak our shoes in the wet soil, claw our hands and dig our nails in the wet surrounding. Already, our palms were crinkling from too much moisture, while our clothing, soaking from the rain, and our bodies losing body heat despite much activity.
Ascending higher and nearing the summit was parallel with the setting of the sun and the dropping of temperature. Winds battered our drenched clothing and equipment.
Situation as such taught one to prepare for worse mountain conditions yet still hope for little interventions. And heavens, hiring Mang Jose as porter to our ascent was one intervention. His endorsement allowed a night inside Mt. Amuyao’s bunker. It was rusty and beaten by the weather but to our eyes, it was so desirable.
Indeed, everything had to seen in a different perspective. Just like being inside the actual sea of clouds instead of seeing it. We even humored ourselves. Or better yet, gave ourselves a reason to return, during summer, we quipped!
When we do, be reminded of those silly accidents during a slippery descent. We all came out alive although a little scathed. And then of course, that time when Mt. Amuyao suspended mist in the air and took our breaths away.