Now that you’ve heard of our trip to Pinatubo, fast forward two years later some weeks ago when my now leaner healthier husband has once again decided to go up another mountain. This time up Pico de Loro also known as Palay-Palay mountain.
It was the Spanish who called it Pico de Loro because at an angle the two mountain summits looks like a parrot’s open beak facing up the sky. The mountain is smaller than Pinatubo at 664m above sea level while Pinatubo is around 1200m.
Based on my Pinatubo experience, I was not up to doing it again. I made a decision two years ago that mountain climbing wasn’t really my thing as I explained, it is one thing to go up, the going back down feels more like a mandatory unfortunate stretch of torture. But JG put-on his puppy dog pleading face and really asked that I do this with him. And what unfeeling wife would say no to that? Also he pledged crossing his heart to take me to the beach for our next trip.
Similar to Pinatubo we joined this group called Travel Factor that organizes different kinds of trips for groups of people, where you get a ride to and fro the site, guides, and sometimes snacks all in a package. I think it’s great that there are a lot of companies such as this springing up here in the Philippines because it really helps promote tourism and outdoor activities, not only to foreigners visiting but for the locals, looking for a trip without having to go through the hassle of organizing and making necessary plans and decisions.
So we went with around 20 other people ages ranging about 18-35, including two guides from the said company and another guide, Kuya Wilson who lives near the mountain and has been guiding hikers up Pico de Loro for three years.
There are I think three other ways up the summit, and I think we took the shortest way. When we got there early around seven in the morning, we were told that the trek usually lasts an hour and a half. But because it rained during the night the trail has turned muddy and therefore slippery. This in turn would slow us down to twice as long as the usual time to go up the summit.
And boy were they not exaggerating about the muddy-slippery warning. The first few minutes was okay, albeit a little tricky as you had to cross this little stream. I guess most of us wanted to get through the trail as clean as we started so we did what we could to avoid falling into the water.
But all that proved to be fruitless since the next few kilometers into the trail started to become steeper and more difficult to handle. It would definitely have been easier, admittedly bit of a work-out for a hike, but easier still if it wasn’t for the mud and really slippery trail. We had to be careful we made sure steps, because even the firmest and most stable stance causes you to slide off balance.
The trail also wasn’t a one direction kind of way, sometimes it would require you to climb, and sometimes you would need to go in a downward direction. Both ways tricky, as you need to get a firm grip onto something to ensure a stable climb in case you slip as you carry your weight up. Meanwhile I found the descending paths more difficult as the pull of gravity often leads you to instinctively run down. But because of slippery factor you lose control of your descent. I must have landed on my butt several times during these parts of the trail.
It did help a little that I found a walking stick which proved really useful. At the beginning of the trail there is a basket that rents out sturdy ones made of cleaned tree branches, but I found them heavy and thought that I wanted to challenge myself and not use one. I soon changed my mind minutes into the trek, and luckily found one along the way. It wasn’t as stable as the ones available, in fact it thinned out towards the end which made it a bit bendy like skiing pole. At first I wasn’t sure how to use it to my advantage but I got that hang of it eventually by sticking it down to a higher more stable part of the climb and use it as leverage to lift me up. When I needed to go down I did the same thing and it helped keep me stable and keeping me from slipping.
Compared to the Pinatubo climb, in Pico de Loro you are surrounded by trees and plants which kind of makes things a bit more reflective. Unlike the dreary desolation of rocks and grey ash of Pinatubo, every time I took a breath and looked up the height of the trees and the sounds of the forest, felt a bit more calming and refreshing. The shade of the trees also lessened the stress the heat of the sun could’ve added.
Occasionally Kuya Wilson would climb ahead and tie ropes around sturdy branches to serves as handles for the really steeper parts of the climb. But because there were twenty of us, some not as fast or as strong climbers as the others, he eventually decided to stick with the middle part of the group to make sure he had an eye on everyone and that no one got so far behind.
On our short water breaks we were free to ask him questions that he graciously answered. He said that the mountain was where General Yamashita was buried so the long standing rumors of his buried treasures of gold are somewhere there along with the several man-made caves made by the Japanese soldiers who fought in the Philippines during the second world war.
Kuya Wilson was also asked to debunk an old Filipino belief of wearing your clothes inside out whenever you find yourself lost in a forest to help you find your way. And he said that it was of course true, recalling how he once did this one time he was lost. He explained that the spirits and mythical creatures would play tricks on trekkers, even experienced guides like him. He said he remembered being able to hear the sound of the the nearby village so he thought he was close but somehow he just kept going around in circles, thinking he is getting closer to the town but couldn’t quite get there. But as soon as he changed his clothes inside-out, it was as if a clearing was made right in front of him.
I suppose since it took a lot of effort and concentration in making sure stable steps, time seemed to pass during the climb, and as tiring as it was, we soon found our way up a plateau, the jump-off point before the actual summit.
Now to get to the summit is a bit more treacherous, I dare say. The climb would take about ten to 20 minutes depending on your strength, but even steeper in fact it felt almost perpendicular. We knew this because we were no longer able to stand upright as we climbed, and felt the strain of each climb in our calves. And just as you feel like just sliding down from the pain, you get there.
As explained earlier, the name Pico de Loro originated from its beak like form, which means that the mountain has two summits. The one we just climbed and the monolith which is the main attraction of the hiking experience. As per its definition the monolith is the protruding monument-like rock a few meters from the regular summit. And if the climb to the regular summit was treacherous, getting up the monolith is a teeny-tiny bit deadly. Especially the part where you need to use a rope as the only grip while climbing.
JG and I decided to forego the monolith part as we were both really wiped-out, plus we decided that being able to climb up one summit was achievement enough for the two us, who five years ago refused the very safe, very stable stairs of the Eiffle Tower because we thought it to be so dauntingly exhausting. Plus because of the continuous number of hikers that come up, the line up the monolith meant a wait of almost 30 to an hour. And by that time it was around 10:30 in the morning which meant the heat was starting to get scalding.
I wish I can say that this is the part where it’s over but after taking some necessary selfies up the summit, JG and I decided to head down. To which began one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I am usually trooper in a lot of other cases but the climb down felt really perilous. The ideal way would be to climb down like you would facing a wall, but because you would not be able to see ahead where you’re going, you are forced to walk down as upright as you can. And you can’t, because you would surely roll down to your death. And so the safest way was to do it was slowly sitting down, one staggering painful butt crawl at a time. At one really steep break JG, unable to get a good footing, slipped, and had to break his fall by holding onto a tree that was sticking out like a branch on a wall. The fall wasn’t that high, but it wouldn’t have been a very soft landing. The sight of him hanging there for a second seemed funny now, but I remembered my heart stopping at the sight of him woosh out of my sight.
Once we came down to the landing, I remembered JG turning around ahead of me and opening his arms to hug me. I hid my face in his chest as I hugged back, embarrassed the others would see me crying, more than conquering that mountain and getting up the summit, the relief of getting through that was so overwhelming it took a lot to keep the tears from coming.
We took a nap on our jackets under the shade and a couple of hours later started back down. The trek down was as tedious and as careful as the climb, because you had to take the same trail. But this time fatigue has set in so everyone was a bit more quiet and determined to finish. The stream that we saw at the beginning of the climb turned into a rejuvenating final break as well as the perfect opportunity to clean off the mud and dirt we’ve accumulated over the last eight hours.
I was sore everywhere but I really did enjoy climbing Pico de Loro. And as scary and as tiring as it was, it was definitely a good challenging experience, one that I recommend you do at some point in your life. I am not however taking up mountain climbing as a regular hobby, although the husband seemed to be entertaining the thought, Lord forbid…