“I can’t do this anymore,” I thought, puffing oxygen from a can. It was a cold dawn, and the pain on my hip from carrying a 16-kilogram toddler grew monstrous as we dim-trekked the muddy eight-kilometer Ambangeg Trail to Mt. Pulag’s summit.
We had high hopes that March morning. The sun shone after weeks of torrential rains and below-zero-degrees temperature in Babadak. Constellations appeared after a long celestial drought.
On a mountain that’s believed by the Ibaloy to be the playground of the gods, these were signs the gods were sending us off to a beautiful and sunny trek.
From where we were in the mossy forest, hundred-year-old trees swallowed everything in their deep, dark bellies – the moon’s faint light, warmth, will. We found ourselves alone in pitch-black darkness, beneath the sound of breath and wind. I slumped on moss-covered rocks, sweaty from beanie to sock, watching white mist escape from my mouth into thin air. The balmy wind seeped through layers of fleece, swathing every nerve and bone.
I have dreamed of scaling Mt. Pulag long before I became a mother. I trained. Still the brunt of climbing a high-altitude mountain against five hours of wintry air and constant pain was unbearable.
The hours fleeted, and night gave way. The trees receded, revealing soft tinges of tangerine above us. Camp 2 Grassland Summit, a sign read. I ran feverishly toward it, laughing and teary with joy.
Mountain clutches capped with dwarf bamboos, all bathing in the sun’s golden rays, filled the cerulean sky. I placed my asleep daughter on my lap. “We are here, in a dream.” Tears of happiness, of a dream coming to life, trickled down.
Over coffee, we saw a blanket of clouds rise above the Cordilleran mountains below. The last of 500 hikers to make it to Peak 5, we missed the sunrise. But it didn’t matter. Others make it to the summit many times without experiencing its famous sea of clouds or a good weather. Like the gods that guard it, it is a fickle mountain that commands, not surrenders.
Experiencing Mt. Pulag is pure magic: the crisp scent of leaves and crimson flowers, clouds floating beneath your feet, mossy strings hanging from century-old barks, and pine-fringed cliffs. For some, the magic stems from the thrill of numbers, of reaching the Philippines’ third loftiest mountain.
But for me, the magic was simply being up there – a place where the sun gives birth to its first rays, where dreams happen, where the gods play.
Story and photos by:
Gretchen Filart Dublin