We have unfinished business, this mountain and I.
I’m not much of a mountaineer. In fact, I’m not a mountaineer at all. I love the concept of hiking and sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere, but for the most part, that remained as such: a concept. But a coworker who was just recently starting to climb showed me a photo of Mount Pulag’s famous sea of clouds, and I knew it’s a sight I just HAD to see.
I prepared as best as I could. I bought a backpack and a tent, things I may or may not ever use again, and psyched myself out and pictured all the poses I will do and imagined all the pretty photos I will take. So I packed and off I went, blissfully unaware just how thoroughly out of shape my body truly is.
It was a rude awakening. Pride caused me to refuse letting my bag be carried off by a porter. How difficult can it be, I thought. I managed just fine with the stupid thing strapped on my back while we wait to board our bus, and never felt that it’s too heavy to carry by myself. But carrying a bag full of bulky camping items across a flat, tiled surface is immensely different when you’re defying gravity. It seemed to weigh 10 times more during our ascent than it did in the bus station. In no time at all I grew tired, breathing became a chore, and it was all I can do not to collapse on the greenery and black out. I pushed as far as I could, but about 1/3 of the way a porter came passing by on her way down and I asked, begged almost, for her to take my pack.
We got to our camping site, enjoyed the last few minutes of daylight remaining and took a few photos (including the one above), and set up our tent. We were so tired that even getting up to eat dinner was unthinkable, so we skipped the social stuff and just went to sleep. It’s ok, I told myself. We’re tired but we survived. The view will be worth it.
And then mother nature decided to play an unfunny little joke and sent a storm our way.
Our tent got flooded, the winds were howling, and we were freezing. I’ve never felt so cold in my life–I can’t feel my extremities, it was that bad. I was told it was -3 degrees during the night, so I guess the fact that I was woken up a few times that night by my chattering teeth wasn’t just me being a ninny. We kept hoping that the rain would stop, but it never did. We decided not to go with the group who will push on to the summit. We thought we probably wouldn’t see a thing, anyway, and we were right. They told us all they could see was the fog.
In the morning, we set up as neatly and as quickly as we could, sent off our stuff with a porter, and began climbing down. The descent was a better experience, partly because we have no heavy bags to distract us from the view, but also because it wasn’t raining in the lower parts of the mountain. The scenery was just spectacular: pine trees and flowers grow wild and made everything photo-worthy. The air was sweet and cool. And because I was frustrated by the lack of pretty cloud photos in my camera, I had to content myself with other things: a cobweb laced with raindrops, a hill covered with tiny white flowers. Too soon we reached the ranger’s station, and were on our way back home.
It was a VERY exhausting experience for a mountaineering noob (my polite way of saying OMG I’m fat and out of shape). My head filled with a mishmash of Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings references, which I truly believe kept me sane during the ridiculously tiring ordeal:
When the hike started: TO MORDOR!!!! (To which my coworker replied “One does not simply walk into Mordor)
When the first signs of fog became visible: OMG we’re in Winterfell! (The people closest to me intoned “Winter is coming”)
In the tent: Katniss and Peeta were stuck in a cave in the rain too, and they didn’t even have a tent. And they were injured.
On the way down: You are a water dancer. Water dancers do not slip over rocks, no matter how muddy they are. Syrio Forel taught you better than that.
It sounds crazy, but at times when you’re in pain (haha!) I guess the mind defaults to whatever you’re most comfortable with, and I’m nothing if not a voracious reader.
And though I had a terrible time toughing out the cold, it was a fun and incredible experience. Now I can say I was stuck in a tent in the middle of a storm on top of a mountain, and that I rode on top of a jeepney for an hour. But for you noobs who also want to give it a shot, let me give you a piece of golden advice: PORTERS. Hire them.
I will give Mount Pulag another try. Who knows? Maybe THAT will be a pleasant enough experience to convince me that other mountains–and not just this one–is worth exploring.