By Karen Alafriz
My husband and I are both mountaineers. In fact, we met in a Mindanao Madness climb that a friend has organized. (That’s when you squeeze a climb between two mountains in just one long weekend.)
We now live in Auckland, which can be described as a vast sub-urban sprawl with easy access to beaches, parks, and hiking trails, also known as walking tracks. All tracks that we’ve been to are sign posted. There is information on the distance, the level of difficulty and the track classification. Most, if not all information are available online, which makes planning for our weekend day trips easier with two small kids in tow.
The trails are well paved, ascends are made easy with wooden steps, and warning signs are timely put up. These tracks are maintained by the local council and are highlighted to visitors who’d want to experience the great outdoors. Best of all, the jump off sites are just a few minutes away from the car park. There are lots of lookout points for you to appreciate the view. We take the kids with us in these walks and when they get older, we’ll definitely tackle more advanced routes.
Tramping is the equivalent of Mountaineering here in New Zealand. The major difference however is that here, there are cabins along the route where you can spend the night. Hence, tramping is a very accessible and generally safe recreation compared to the rugged and risky mountaineering that we are used to back in the Philippines.
As an occasional mountaineer, I enjoyed visiting rural Philippines to go climbing. It’s a perfect excuse to escape Manila’s jungle. It was always a big adventure for me, hopping into the bus with other climbers whom I’ve just met during the pre-climb, and then venturing into far off barangays.
If in Auckland it doesn’t take long to reach the jump off sites, in Manila, I travel hours using public transportation often with transfers before I reach the jump off point. Sometimes, mountaineers are required to log into the nearest barangay office but otherwise, we just disappear into the bush. And out there, with no cellphone signal, we just pick up a trail and hope for the best.
During the climb, I get invigorated as I get closer to the summit. There’s nothing like being greeted by the sun on a sea of clouds despite waking up on a very cold and ungodly hour just to make it in time. And it’s refreshing to be able to sit on a fallen trunk, on the side of the mountain and witness a vast mountain range that seems to be untouched by humans. It’s in those moments, after saying wow, that I pinch myself and say that I can’t believe I made it this far. I’m definitely not the strongest one in the pack but I do catch up and I am always grateful for each experience. It’s amazing to see people’s survival skills and how with every climb, we come out rejuvenated, refreshed, and maybe even changed as we discover something new along the way.
I look forward to weekends as there are still plenty of tracks for us to explore. And given the opportunity, I would definitely want to witness the sea of clouds again but this time, it’s to be with the family.
Recommended Hiking Spots in the Philippines:
Mount Pulag in Benguet, Ifugao – Beginners would want to take the Ambangeg route. It’s famous for the sea of clouds. Mornings can be frosty so dress up in layers.
Pico de Loro (Mt. Palay-Palay) in Ternate, Cavite – Ideal for beginners. The new trail has established pathways and even benches for those quick stops.
Mount Candalaga in Maragusan, Compostella Valley – The trail is difficult, and you need to follow a system of waterfalls. The flora is impressive though such as the rare rafflesia, orchids, huge mushrooms and lots of moss covered trees.
Mount Hamiguitan in Davao Oriental – It has the largest pygmy forest and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mount Banahaw in Dolores, Quezon – It’s a classic rainforest. You need to be conscious of the people who live here though as you might come across spiritualists, hermits or possibly the NPA.
Karen Alafriz was born and raised in Manila and now resides in Auckland, New Zealand. She finds satisfaction in discovering new places and is drawn to challenges with new experiences. Writing helps her remember things, deal with homesickness and, find a voice. She looks forward to weekends, figuring out with her husband on where the next family adventure will be.