Facing Fear, Testing Limits, and Seeing Beauty at Kibungan Mountains – Part 3

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY EUDEN VALDEZ

(Last of Three Parts)

Chasing Time, Going Home

DO you know that feeling when you’re chasing time to something very important, like a concert or a flight, but suddenly luck isn’t on your side? With every ticking of the clock, you’re tummy is also turning. You need to make it, no matter what.

There wasn’t any concert in the mountains or a flight back to Manila, but we were indeed chasing time on our last day at Kibungan. To be exact, chasing our bus ride back home. It was still in the evening but we already knew how limited our time and resources were. The chase was on. 

​We had actually considered and planned everything the night before. We counted how many hours it would take us back to the jump off and then to Kibungan town proper. Despite that fact that the trails would be easier than the previous days—since these were already part of the commercial circuit—we were told that it’s going to be one, long stretch.

We also counted our budget and thankfully, we had enough left to hire a van back to Baguio. The original plan was to just take the local bus like we did going in, but we realized that we would miss the last trip.

With the van, we had just enough, AS IN ENOUGH, time to make it back to Baguio—God forbid we don’t experience heavy traffic on the road. It was after all, the end of a long holiday and those who vacationed were on their way back to Manila.

Another important thing was to set out early. With all our food and pack preparation, plus breakfast and photo ops with our gracious hosts, we managed to start Day 3 trek at past 7 a.m. Later than planned.

Not an hour into our trek, we already countered a little trouble. Our group got separated. As one of the last three members in the formation, we passed by a group of hikers also preparing to leave. Small huts were scattered and there was a crossroad with signage. No visible team member was in front so decided to take the trail up ahead. Nobody waited to tell the right direction, or marked the wrong trail—which wasn’t really an option because it was being utilized by the community. 

(With additional Photos from Robi Ann Vanzuela)

Ten or more minutes in, I knew there was something wrong. I couldn’t see any more footprints and the distance between us shouldn’t be that far. We were now headed toward a semi-wet river trail, although some huts were still visible.

In times like this, it’s best to make a signal to your teammates. We have our signature call, which would be returned if heard. No call returned.

We decided to head back until finally, we were met at the crossroad. We should’ve turned right. With tension, stress and exhaustion, it’s easy to lose cool. Some voices were raised and blame thrown this way and that.

I am speaking for myself and I admit that I was already so high-strung and impatient then. The severity of our situation rendered too much pressure. We risked wasting our bus tickets, not only our money but more importantly, the convenience of having a trip back home. If we missed this, who knew what time we could board a bus on a hectic Sunday evening?

Thankfully, Kibungan’s commercial trail was just so cool and calming, it was enough to clear one’s mind—but worry still at the back of it. 

We were finally traversing familiar Cordillera trails, covered in pine trees and embraced by chilly air. Yet, the surrounding was still true to Kibungan’s steep ascents, narrow steps, makeshift hanging bridges, and just really, unending breathtaking views.

Crossing paths with fellow hikers was also a welcome sight. This may sound like an overstatement but it made us feel that we were back in civilization. The irony of it! So any chance we got, we made little conversations with other hikers.

Our pace was faster now since everyone was mindful of the time. This afforded us ample time at one of Kibungan circuit’s summit where we held our official group photo op. High above the clouds and overlooking where we came from and where we were still headed, we couldn’t help but regain strength. We had come a long way and the only way left was to finish the journey.

So we pushed ourselves some more, harder, through Kibungan’s unlimited bangin and descent. But when we just thought that things were getting better, the weather started toying with us again. It would rain just enough to get us wet, and then stop abruptly over and over again. It became a silly scene of wearing raincoats, removing them and then repeat. 

As always, we could also see where we’re headed and as if to mock us, always so faraway. At first, we could see the community where we would have lunch. Arriving there at noontime, we could then see Kibungan town proper. We ate and rested for just an hour. We actually even saw the last bus to Baguio passing by the highway. No doubt we missed it.

Now we only have three hours left before we get on the van—which we had finally manage to get a hold of—and leave for Baguio.

One final descent of Kibungan’s unwavering and unrelenting steep trails and we crossed the last hanging bridge over a big river. We knew then that we have reached the foot of the mountain. After this, a trail of rice paddies opened.

Up until the very end, Kibungan was blessing us with her abundance of beauty. Both the strong emerald river and the terraced rice farms were sights to behold, even for the tired and weary.
There was one last plight of high, cemented steps to conquer until we emerged at the highway, where our van was patiently waiting. It was 3:30 p.m. We could spend an hour washing up at Kibungan town proper before we leave but, a blessing in disguise came for us. 

Our fellow RAK member who bought our tickets and who would travel back with us, was celebrating her birthday in Baguio where she lived. The moment I had signal back on, we were invited to her home to partake of her handa and most of all, her Visco’s strawberry shortcake. 

After much deliberation, it was decided that we would leave Kibungan immediately so that we could wash up and have dinner in our friend’s home in Baguio.  

By miracle, the driver made it there in three hours tops, navigating notorious zigzag roads with expertise and caution amidst the rain, which was obviously chasing us too!

Time and rain, our formidable foes.

At 7 p.m., we were eating ravenously the very good food served before us, while taking turns in the shower. It was a team effort at the very end with the strawberry shortcake as the cherry on top—pun intended.

The Kibungan team with the addition of our RAK friend left the house at 8 p.m. I kid you not, we arrived at the bus terminal just before 8:30 p.m. and we boarded straight inside the bus. In a matter of minutes, we left for Manila.

We made it and we made it safely. Despite everything that we went through, we finished strong not just as individuals but more importantly, as a team. RAK Ph Mountaineers remained true to our guiding philosophy, #WeClimbAsOne.

The author (seated) with (from left) Ate Briget, Coach Paul, our local guide, Tupe, Ate Kikay and TL Rick.

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