Of Implements and Second Chances

Saturday, July 22, 2017


To freeze to death wasn't the way I imagined myself to go, but the icy air slicing through my lungs and the frost coursing in my veins made it damn sure feel like it was exactly how I was going. As we slept, the midnight downpour found its way to the tent, gathering in a pool of inch-deep mountain rain. My sleeping bag was soiled, and the bud of cold blossomed beneath me. I was too tired and too hungry to worry about our belongings, too cold to even move. My annoying mind whispered, "What idiot brings a beach tent to the mountains?"

I'm not entirely sure how I survived that night. Perhaps the gods that call Mt. Pulag their playground took pity on this inexperienced fool, or just thought the whole thing funny. Nevertheless, I did zero overnight hiking after that. Not that I was traumatized. I just found that mountains are more generous when you don't stay too long. I go up, saw that what I wanted I could get from just a day-hike, and have been careful not to wear out my welcome since. It was fine this way. Until BaseKamp came along.

The opportunity to go on an overnight hike with BaseKamp came like a midsummer rain. Unexpected, but just what you need to break the dry spell, or, in my case, to allow for second chances. Of my three years climbing mountains, I guess it was high time I give mountain camping another try.

When I found out who my companions were, the deal was sealed. I was deemed worthy to be with the likes of the people behind Nomadic Experiences, Jovial Wanderer, Travel Up, and Biyaherong Barat. Who could say no to that?

At any rate, unlike my less than pleasant episode in Mt. Pulag, BaseKamp made sure I came well equipped to this trip. For one thing, I was provided with a proper tent – a BaseKamp Ridge 2 (SRP: Php3,650) that could fit four people. And my companions were seasoned outdoorsmen. Everything was going to be fine. 
affordable tents
The yellow one is my the Ridge 2
sandugo eiger purple
Purple Sandugo Eiger (SRP: Php1,995)
nalgene water bottles philippines
Nalgene water bottles for everyone!

The trail to Tarak Ridge was delightful. Densely forested in most parts, heat was not a problem. Here, the trees were tall and ancient, casting an eerie shade of emerald over the path. The air was cool. It danced around and with us, shimmying over huge boulders and through bushes and shrubs. When we sigh to catch a breath, the air swallowed it up, and it whipped from secret nooks to hurry us along.
tarak ridge trail

tarak ridge trail

tarak ridge trail

Good thing too, for when we arrived at Papaya River, it was only barely noon and the trees made sure we weren't bothered by the sun. Our pace was quick, Jed told us, and so there was plenty of time to rest. As he, BMC and safety extraordinaire Rangel, and our team leader Greg from BaseKamp-Market Market prepared some rice, the four of us – Marky, Christine, Kara and I – went for a dip in the river. 
BMC Instructor Rangel

We found a spot where the river formed a basin, bordered by rocks placed just right. The water was clear you could see your toes; refreshing, calming, and cool. Its quiet gurgling merged with chitters and chirps – Nature's ambient music.

After we had our packed lunch, we had enough time for a nap. Marky found a massive fallen trunk, thick and long enough for lying down. The weathered wood felt good against my back. I squinted at the canopies up above, lofty and out of reach. I thought I saw a branch squirm. Was it a snake? The breeze and the heady scent of the forest were doing its magic. It didn't take long for my eyes to droop. 
tarak ridge trail
Marky amongst trees

Later, when we resumed our hike, I was glad for that brief shuteye, for the path to the ridge was – to put it simply – brutal. The incline was sharp; the footholds testy. It needed careful maneuvering and lots of help from random branches and roots. My heart was hammering in my throat. My lungs were eager for air. My sweat gathered and poured until it watered the ground. It was amazing. I mean it.

After a couple of hours, we finally reached the ridge. A haze shrouded everything and, for a moment, all we could see were wisps of white. As we dropped our things and caught our breaths, the world turned and gave way to this scene: an undulating sea of green, rich with trees punctuated with peaks. In the distance, a stretch of water where the tadpole-shaped island of Corregidor and the mountain ranges of my home loomed in silence. Between the sea and the summits, there was Bataan's skyline; comfortable and snug.
tara ridge
Marky of Nomadic Experiences, Me, Christine of The Jovial Wanderer, and Kara of Travel Up
Power Rangers!

Dusk came quickly that day and we gathered 'round the makeshift kitchen for dinner. 

"Wow," was all the four of us could say upon seeing our dinner, mouths agape from the sight of golden chunks of pork shoulders.

Crispy pata.

Before the climb, we were asked what food we wanted, and we jokingly requested for this sinful Pinoy favorite. I, for one, didn't think it was possible to make such a complex dish up in the mountains. But Greg and Rangel pulled it off – effortlessly, I might add – and proved us all wrong.

Greg and Rangel – our master chefs

Our meals since then were lavish for a hiking trip. We had nilagang baboy for breakfast, and two variants of Adobo for lunch the next day. I had better meals here than at home, to be honest. 
But back to the crispy pata. It was so good that I didn't notice night had fallen and we were sitting in complete darkness. The man-made lights from the city below flickered into life; the silhouettes of land masses unmoving. No stars dot the sky that night, but that didn't take anything away from the moment. 
overnight tarak ridge

It was a Thursday then so we had the ridge all to ourselves. It was us and the mountains. Over our words were croaks and shuffling. Our laughter mixed with screeches and anonymous wild calls.

We talked about a lot of things that night, from the trivial to the nostalgic and philosophical. We shared our favorite hiking trips and were even thoroughly gobsmacked at one point (Looking at you, Rangel). When I said my good-nights, and went inside my tent, there was a warmth in me. It could just be heartburn from all the crispy pata, but I like to believe it was the company. Despite the balmy night winds of Tarak, and the smell of ozone that threatened of rain, I wasn't at all a bit worried. I had no reason to, I've found, for the weather was beautiful during our trip. We were later informed Bataan had been having days of incessant rain. Talk about good timing!

The next day, the most compelling reason to camp in the mountains made itself known to me. No beach-side dawn or country sunrise could ever compare to a morning in the mountains. To see the sky transform from black to navy to light tinged with crimson, to feel the newborn rays of the early sun on your skin, and to watch the dew settle on the grass around your feet; these make everything absolutely worth it. 
Basking in the early sun rays

Coffee in the mountains

It wouldn't be a stretch, therefore, to say that that hiking trip painted me a different picture of the mountains. One that's more complex and full of possibilities. After Tarak, and now that I have the proper gears to make it happen, I can't wait to spend more nights in the wild. In fact, just a week after the trip, I went camping in Treasure Mountain in Tanay. Camping now, to me, carries the same amount of charm as day hikes, if not more. I'm even fixing to get a Fire Maple (SRP: Php1,200) cook set from BaseKamp just so I could try being a wilderness chef like Greg and Rangel. Imagine having chicken wings and french fries up there in the mountains!
affordable camping cookset

See, while there is much to be said about hiking with just heart, you cannot deny how the right implements make it all the more easier; how they open up possibilities. Throw in some great company in the mix and you're sure to have the most wonderful time.
tarak ridge summit
#SquadGoals: Christine, Kara, Marky, Me, and Jed

tarak hiking party
Team Tarak!

Want to read more about our hiking trip in Tarak? Go and read Kara's informative account of our experience.

This hiking trip was organized by BaseKamp Trampers Retailer Inc., a local retailer of quality adventure gears. They carry brands like Deuter, Nalgene, Amihan, and my favorite local brand Sandugo. They also regularly organize hiking trips like this one, complete with meals worthy of a Filipino fiesta. Check out their Facebook page for more information.

Many, many thanks to Christine, Jed, and Kara for the photos. You're the best, guys! 

Into mountaineering? Check out my slew of DIY Hiking Guides!

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