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MANILA, Philippines – Darkness surrounds us, the temperature at a chilling 12 degrees Celsius as we woke up that morning for the final trek toward the summit of Mt. Pulag, the third highest mountain in the Philippines.
With no time for breakfast and together with some 200 climbers, our group started the slow ascent in a bid to catch the sunrise atop Luzon’s tallest peak. Towering at 2922 MASL (meters above sea level), Mt. Pulag, or Pulog as it was originally named (meaning bare due to the growth of low grasses and shrubs on its slopes), borders between the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya.
Considered sacred by tribes that live in its vicinity, the mountain hosts a wide variety of flora and fauna, some endemic while others endangered, and is regarded as one of the most bio-diverse areas in the Philippines.
The jump-off point for Mt. Pulag is via Baguio, about 6 hours ride north of Manila; one typically takes an overnight bus service at 11pm to arrive at daybreak the following day. From the bus terminal in Baguio, chartered jeeps took our group to the Babalak Ranger Station, passing through picturesque roads, including a brief stopover at Ambuklao Dam, the country’s first hydroelectric plant.
One needs a permit to climb Mt. Pulag, a protected landscape declared as a National Park under Proclamation No. 75 on February 20, 1987. Climbers are also asked to stop at a station of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where they are shown a short video about the mountain and the dos and don’ts during camping.
From the DENR station, be prepared for a backbreaking one-and-a-half hours of rough jeep ride along alternating paved and rugged roads. While it is not exactly recommended due to safety reasons, you can choose to sit atop the jeeps for a more adrenaline-rush ride.
Babalak Ranger Station is host to the last community and starting point of the trek via the Ambangeg Trail; this was also the chosen site of the Hike 4 Light Project turnover of the solar lamps to its beneficiaries.
A short ceremony preceded the actual turnover by StS Solar Foundation Chairman Jim Ayala, Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation Chairman Art Valdez, mountaineering legend Fred Jamili, first Filipino and Filipina Mt. Everest summiteers Leo Oracion and Janet Belarmino, and together with local village leaders, barangay officials and local partners of the foundation.
The community, in turn, rendered a sacred “kanyaw” ritual wherein a black pig was sacrificed to give thanks to the gods for the gifts and to pray for the climbers’ successful ascent and safe return. Sweet rice wine called “tapuy” was served, community elders dance to the beat of the gongs, and the priest gave blessings.
We spent the night at the ranger station with a big bonfire to keep us warm and the meat of the sacrificed pig shared among us, as part of the final ritual.
The following morning, our team of more than 60 climbers began the trek. We reached Camp 2 in only 2 hours along gentle sloping terrain, a typical characteristic of Mt. Pulag.
It started to drizzle when we reached the camp, and this continued until late evening – drenching us with feelings of hopelessness about reaching the summit the next day.
By about 9 pm, the rain suddenly stopped, the sky cleared, and stars came out, true to what the kanyaw predicted. We shall not be denied.
It was 4:15 in the morning when we started our final ascent; pinpoints of light from our headlamps and flashlights curved along the long mountain path like some ancient religious pilgrimage.
We saw a wisp of crimson red, followed by shades of orange and yellows, and then the sun slowly rose from a sea of clouds against a velvet blue sky. Cameras clicked like crazy around me in perhaps was one of nature’s most spectacular show on earth: a fitting tribute to the project’s core intention, of bringing social change through the illumination of light.
The Hike for Light (H4L) project is being undertaken by the Philippine Solar Foundation to provide solar lamps to communities living near the mountains and have no access to electricity.
In cooperation with Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation and the 1st Philippine Mt. Everest Team, the project aims to summit 6 of the country’s highest peaks with 200 climbers and distribute 500 solar lamps to communities to light and change their lives. – Rappler.com
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