Friday, May 8, 2015

Mt. Ugo, Itogon, Benguet: Happy Hiking with Happy Feet Adventours

Our Mt. Ugo hike with Happy Feet Adventours last April 18-19, 2015 proved that sometimes, the thrill of mountain hiking is felt not when you are at the summit – but when you are only 4 kms away from completing the entire trek. I will tell you why. The adventure was truly something to be remembered.

At the summit of Mt. Ugo (2,150 meters above sea level)

April 17, 2015. Victory Liner, Kamuning Station

My trekking buddies Hannah and Ranna arranged a hike at Mt. Ugo in Itogon, Benguet with Happy Feet Adventours thru Happy Feet’s adventure guide and Ranna’s friend, Justine. A week prior to the trek, Justine met with the participants at SM Megamall where he provided a briefing on what to bring and what to expect, among others. I wasn’t able to attend the briefing but the pointers were discussed with me through Facebook. I was reminded to bring jacket, umbrella, hat, sleeping bag, extra shirts, food container and utensils, and trail food, among others. I made sure that all of these were ready a day prior to the hike.

Since the trek on April 18 would start in the morning, we needed to leave Manila in the evening of April 17. From the office, I dropped by condo where I stay, picked up my things, and went straight to the terminal. We met at Victory Liner, Kamuning, 10pm. There I met Justine in person and the two other hikers, Kuya Alvin and Ate Anna (husband and wife). I forgot to bring blanket so Hannah lent me her peacock-inspired malong. I also forgot to bring water because it was not in the things that we had to bring! 

(Mountaineering Tip 1: Those who would go on hiking should bear in mind that water is a necessity. Just like oxygen.)

We took the bus going to Nueva Vizcaya. We left at 1130am and slept inside the bus. The usual 5-hour drive took 7 hours because we were caught in a traffic jam due to a road widening project somewhere in San Jose. It was rather an uneasy travel for some. As for me, I had a pretty good rest.

April 18, 2015. Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya

We reached Nueva Vizcaya around 730am. From there, we transferred to a van going to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya. We travelled for an hour and a half. We met with our guide, Kuya Manuel, and our porter, Kuya Bryan. Before we officially started our 32-km Nueva Vizcaya-Benguet traverse, we had our breakfast at Eat and Go, a nearby carinderia in Kayapa Market, across from the barangay hall. I ordered for Pinakbet and one serving of red rice that cot me around Php 50. We also bought a loaf of tasty bread, a pack of mayonnaise, and bottle of peanut butter which we would eat for lunch. 

Eat and Go Restaurant at Kayapa Public Market

We freshened up and took photos of this tree with purple flowers which mimicked cherry blossoms of Japan, before we started with our trek.

The tree with purple blossoms (Jacaranda tree)

Then, we began what we called the “walk to remember”. The ascent was challenging because of the literally burning heat plus the steepness of the trail. Good thing, the trail was covered with towering pine trees which provided shades. Whenever we stopped to rest (which was every 10 to 15 minutes), we would ask our guide to take our photos! Kuya Manuel was a servile and helpful guide/photographer. And, even if we were not going to rest, but we would see a picturesque scenery, we had to stop and capture the astounding natural view!

Tree-covered trails

What I noticed about the Ugo Trail were the structures and sheds built for hikers where they could rest. We had our lunch in one of these sheds.

Covered structures where hikers could rest
"It's an uphill slope, but I won't lose hope" - Go The Distance

We continued with the arduous uphill climb until we reached Indupit Village. Indupit Village was where we would start walking on a flat terrain, finally! There we took photos of breathtaking setting of mountain ranges and rested for 30 minutes in a small community where we met lovable kids. One of them gave Hannah yellow flowers that she took with her for the rest of the trek.

At Indupit Village
Justine and Hannah with the Indupit kids
Hannah with the little girl who gave her flowers

Our relatively easier trek continued. We were looking forward to reach the boundary of Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet. We would have our photos taken there to be captioned “being in two places at the same time”, similar to what Mandy Moore and Shane West did in the film “A Walk To Remember”. As we went higher, we had to stop from time to time, as Hannah experienced difficulty in breathing. But she was able to overcome that. On our way to the boundary, we saw the fog covering the trail! It was a stunning sight to behold, having the blanket of fog as your background! In no time, it drizzled. Thus, we had to cover our bags and our heads!

Flat terrain from Indupit Village going to Domolpos Community School
Hannah ang myself taking advantage of the view
More photos for me...
...and for the group!
Keep on going: 11 km more to summit!
How cool is this shot, huh?!

The drizzling only lasted for a while. After a while, we reached the boundary of Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet. 

At the boundary of Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet
Doing the "standing in two places at same time"

As planned we asked Kuya Manuel to take our photos! Then we proceeded walking to Domolpos Elementary School where we stayed for the night. Going to Domolpos was difficult. Because it rained the trail was slippery due to the clay soil. Around 6pm, we reached Domolpos Community School.

At Domolpos Community School

During summerbreak, the local government allows the hikers to stay in the school classrooms. If I am not mistaken, there were 3 rooms which could be used. Kuya Brian our porter, was already at the school waiting for us with our belongings when we arrived.

Domolpos Community School

Kuya Manuel lives nearby. According to Kuya Manuel, the kids attend elementary school here. When they reach highschool, they would go to the town and stay there for the week. The kids would just return home on weekends.

The school had no electricity. But it had a source of water. According to Kuya Manuel, we could drink the water as long as it’s boiled.

The classroom where we stayed for the night

There were 2 comfort rooms/toilet and 2 shower rooms, one of each for male and female. The challenge was the illumination and the place to hang your clothes should you wish to take a bath. But we’re able to take a bath and “release our inhibitions”!

We had our coffee. Since we did not have drinking cups, we used our plastic food container, instead. According to Ranna, we should pretend like we were sipping Japanese tea! True enough.
Our coffee!

Justine prepared our dinner. He had his portable stove where he cooked rice. We just discovered that he did not know how to cook rice if not thru a rice cooker! “Justine, kung gaano kataas ang bigas, ganoon din karamin ang tubig. Itinuro yan sa elementary,” we told him. Justine learned something new that night. He brought delicious adobo (yes, already cooked) and prepared salted egg with tomato. Ate Anna and Kuya Alvin brought canned tuna which they shared with us, too.

Our dinner!

We shared travel stories during our dinner. We learned that Kuya Alvin was a chef in a cruise line and has been traveling places. He would return to work by June and he was looking forward to this trek.
Conversations over dinner

We washed the dishes when we finished eating. Since we were not able to bring dishwashing soap, Justine shared with us a “mountaineering trick”: use dry tissue and wet wipes. How? Wash the food containers and utensils with water, wipe them with wet wipes, and then dry them with tissue. So we followed him. It worked, we could still smell the oil of canned tuna.

(Mountaineering Tip 2: Bring dishwashing soap/liquid.)

Around 9pm, when we were about to sleep a group of around 25 hikers arrived. They set up their tents and stayed awake until dawn. We could hear their noise from where we stayed.

April 19, 2015. Domolpos to Mt. Ugo Summit

We woke up at 2am and prepared for 4am ascent. Justine boiled water from the faucet and prepared coffee for us. He also cooked tuyo, scrambled egg and rice. Hannah and I did not eat rice. We washed the dishes again using the new trick we learned.

And because we run short of potable water, we boiled the water and filled our containers. Because the water was boiled in the pan, it tasted more like wet wipes. But we had to do that to survive! We had 5 more kilometers to trek to reach the summit.

We left the school at 5am. The other hikers were still sound asleep, cans of beer resting outside their tents.

We witnessed the sunrise while climbing. It was a view to behold. The sea of clouds from afar and the mountain ranges made me realize how wonderful the world was. It’s God’s creation.

View of sunrise

The sun was greeting!
Sloping terrain to summit
More astounding views!

Finally we reached the summit! We weren’t able to see the sea of clouds touching our feet but to be able to stand 2,150 meters above sea level was already a feat!

At the summit with Happy Feet Adventours banner

We had our mandatory photo-ops and stayed there for about 30 minutes before beginning our descent.

2,150 meters above sea level?! Wow! That's an achievement!

Mt. Ugo Summit to 4kms before the end of trek

The descent was relatively easier because the terrains we trekked were relatively flat. And, most parts of the trail were covered with trees. I enjoyed this because we’ve got to talk while walking instead of just focusing on how we would secure our feet on the soil/rocks, so that we would not stumble!

This is me and Kuya Manuel (at 15 km to end point marker)

We had our lunch at around 11am, and as usual, Justine cooked our lunch. We still had adobo! And Ate Anna and Kuya Alvin shared with the rest of the group their canned luncheon meat! We rested for a while and continued with our trek.
The group rested while Justine was preparing our lunch 

We target to be at the end of the trail by 5pm. Thus, we were walking fast, but we would have our occasional rest.

The trek was going smoothly until we saw a forest fire from afar. We asked our guide if the fire would passed by the trail and he said probably it wouldn’t. So we continued with our trek.

We stopped by a community to ask for some potable water. We’re directed to a “poso” (water pump). The village was also selling soft drinks at prices as high as the mountains!

The store where my friends bought softdrinks

When we reached the 4km marker to the end of the trail, we were shocked that the forest fire that we saw earlier was crossing the trail!

At 4 km marker: yes, the fire was crossing the trail!

This was where the action happened. Kuya Manuel, Hannah, and I were the first to cross the trail! We jumped over the knee-high fire. The first one. The next fire crossing the trail was taller than we were! The moment we’re about to pass “through” it, the wind blew, which made the fire even bigger and wilder! The smoke covered the path that we weren’t able to see anything before us! There were rocks falling from above! “Should we go or should we not?” “We should go!” I told Hannah. Hannah got the peacock-inspired malong from my bag and I gave her the bottle of water, waited for a minute until the visibility was clearer, before we crossed the fire eventually. Imagine the thrill of running – just one wrong step, you might off the cliff!

The experience was worse for Ate Anna, because she was wearing contact lenses! So she had to close her eyes and Kuya Alvin had to hug her while passing through the fire!
But God was good! We survived the most challenging part of the trek!

With our knees still shaking, we rested for a while before we continued walking. And the remaining time we had was spent recollecting what just happened – this time, laughing at what we had just experienced.

This just shows how extensive the fire was!

One kilometer from the end of trek to the end of the entire journey

One kilometer from the endpoint, we rested in a village again and drank cold water and soft drinks. Finally, we reached the bridge where we had our mandatory photoshoots again!

Another store where we had refreshments
The bridge

We walked another 500 kilometers to the end of the trail. From there, we rode a van that transferred us to Itogon, Benguet Barangay Hall. 

Zero kilometer selfie
At the barangay hall, we freshened up. (They were serving free coffee there!) We also reported what just happened and sadly, we learned that forest fire seemed to be a “common incident”. According to the barangay officials, they could not do anything about it. They suspected that the fire was deliberate and was done by those who own cows! The grasses were too tall already that instead of just cutting them, these owners opted to just burn them so that when it rained, new grasses would grow!

Tinongdan, Itogon, Benguet Barangay Hall

What saddened us was the fact that the local government seemed to accept this. We would like to start an advocacy to stop forest fire. And the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should be strict in implementing its policies. Otherwise, just like other laws, these rules would just be good in papers.

We received our certificates of completion, having conquered Mt. Ugo. However, to say we conquered it was an understatement. But this was truly a memorable traverse!

The faces of victory! Woohoo!

The van transported us to Baguio, where we were able to catch the 10pm bus going to Manila.

I promised myself, after my comprehensive examinations in July, I would be joining Happy Feet in their treks!

I would always remember this trek.

For hiking enthusiasts or for curious spirits who want to experience their first mountain climbing, visit the page of Happy Feet Adventours, for schedules.

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