May 20-24, 2004
Sooner or later it was bound to happen, this year is just as good as any other to try it - I convinced myself. There we were - my mountaineer buddies and I, chatting idly on an overcrowded jeepney from a minor climb, when I first heard the plans of climbing Halcon this summer. Mt. Halcon in Mindoro at 8482ft is the country's fifteenth highest mountain, but every serious mountaineer knows it is the toughest to climb.
Planning early gave us one advantage, we had 3 months of hard-core training before the climb. We jogged 10km twice a week, rowed thrice a week and climbed mountains with similar terrain as Halcon once a month.
Point of no return
One week before the climb, 2 typhoons hit the country. Great, the mountain is tough as it is, now we have to deal with typhoons also. Part of me wanted the climb to be cancelled - but local weather forecast from PAGASA said that the typhoon would have passed Mindoro before day 1 of the climb.
The standard trip to Halcon is 2 days up and 2 days down, Day 1 knocked me senseless. Not only was my backpack heavy and the terrain a never-ending ascent, limatik or small leeches were everywhere. They were needle-thin (when they havent sucked any blood yet) that they can penetrate our hiking shoes, socks, tight, shirts, you name it. My buddy even teased me of being vain because I kept on checking for limatik on my face with a compact mirror - very corny I admit but for awhile there it gave me some peace of mind. During the first few hours we tried to fight them using rubbing alcohol and insect repellant, but later when the supply ran out and everyone's too tired to care, we just pulled the slimy suckers off.
Stairway of the gods
What's so frustrating about the climb on Day 1 is that after all our hard work, its not even Mt. Halcon we actually climbed but Mt. Aplaya which we aptly called Mt. Sagabal. Only after crossing Mt. Sagabal did we get to have the first glimpse of Halcon, and the view was definitely worth all the pain. Halcon is beautiful, its peak is covered with clouds that seem to dance, its body is adorned with several waterfalls and its trees were like nothing Ive seen before - they were like giant bonsais.
We finally reached summit on Day 3, and the sunrise was spectacular - above the wispy clouds, we can see the entire Mindoro province and its surrounding islands. On our way to the top, we passed by the memorial of Neptali Lazaro, a novice climber who died of hypothermia in an attempt to reach the peak during a typhoon in 1994. Then we tiptoed or more accurately crawled the Knife Edge ridge, the wind blowing incessantly didnt help those who have fear in heights. After a prayer of thanksgiving, and what seemed like an hour long of photo ops, we were ready to go down.
Of dead toenails
Contrary to what Ive expected, the trip down was just as hard as going up. I got used to the sound of falling rocks followed by a large thud - another one has landed on his butt. The two days of trekking down gave almost everyone dead toenails. As the last man finally arrived on the grounds, Im just glad that Ive spent the past 4 grueling days with friends. Someone said there's no surer way to know whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them - I say climb with them.
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