The One with the Mountain of Firsts

I therefore conclude I am insane.

One of my bosses recently posted a note in our board that says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results”. I realized, there are many areas in my life where I can declare that I’m insane. And the large part of it is that if I apply his piece of wisdom to my addiction to mountain climbing, the results at the end of it are always sore legs and hunger the size of Asia, then I guess I am definitely, no doubt about it, insane.

Last Saturday, I went to Mt. Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas for the third time this year (and the fourth time in my life). Maculot holds so many memories for me, including it being the first mountain I have climbed, first mountain I have traversed and the first mountain where I experienced climbing during a typhoon (see, insane right?). This time, I wanted to add a memory to it of being my first dayhike and my first climb as a team lead/ guide.

6:30 am and there we were still having breakfast at Jollibee, Buendia-LRT. By we, I meant my cousin Mark (whom I asked for support to be our little team’s sweeper) and wanted to test out his new cardio exercise if its working and my friend Abby, her third mountain who wanted to work out some sweat and my new friend Rubeth, the mountain virgin/newbie who wanted to make friends (later in the climb while she’s almost crawling, she’ll wonder if she really is making friends or making enemies). During breakfast, I had my mountaineering buddies calling me all the way from Tugegarao who reminded me to get my butt moving because it’s getting late (and also to make me envious of their major 8-hour climb on that side of the Philippines).

Lemery, Batangas- bound buses are available in Buendia which will pass by Cuenca. By 7 am we were on our way, the weather looked promising as it’s sunny but not too bright. Around 9:30 am, the bus dropped us off at Cuenca Market. It’s drizzling, but as mountainous areas go, it’s the type of drizzle that just comes from fog so I wasn’t too worried about heavy rains. We bought some supplies and lunch at the market and rode a tricycle to Ka Manuel. On the way, we stopped by to do the customary barangay registration.

Ka Manuel’s house is the original pit stop of mountaineers going up Maculot. I said original because there are several houses that have sprouted to offer the same services (bath, toilet, sari-sari store, even internet). But like the Granddaddy of Maculot, I’m used to Ka Manuel’s familiar warm welcome so we often choose to make our jump off from there.

By 10 am, we started our trek. It started with a cemented road which turned into a rocky road (yes, I’m writing this while having dessert). It’s a gradual uphill climb to which our mountain virgin famously quoted “Kailangan bang laging paaakyat?!” It was a good weather for trekking and a happy one except for one wrong turn where we ended up in a coconut field (and yes, did cost us about 20 minutes of walking). Thankfully, one of the locals guided us to the correct turn. After this turn, the trail became a bit steeper and the trail more forested.

On the way up we passed by several refreshing buko stops manned by local kids (ranging from 4 to 14 years old). We found out they were either siblings or cousins. They man the stops during weekends when they’re not in school and that their parents bring them there. After a 20-minute lunch stop, we reached the saddle at 12:30 pm.

The saddle is Maculot’s campsite. It’s like a turning point where when you go to the left, there’s a trail leading to the Rockies, the most famous viewing part of the mountain where amazing Taal Lake views can be seen. To the right of the saddle, there’s a trail leading to the summit (no amazing views here) but which will then lead you to the other side of the mountain, if you’re doing a traverse via the Grotto trail. The saddle campsite also has, what they call 7-11, where local people sell drinks, water, soft drinks, hard drinks etc..of course for double the price.

Back in January this year, there were several stories going around (each person/ authority has a different story from the Cuenca Barangay, to Ka Manuel to the locals manning the 7-11 at the campsite to the Barangay Post on the other side of Maculot, Brgy. Pinagkaisahan- Grotto), according to the numerous stories going around, there had been an accident when a group of people did a traverse (the traverse consisted of rappelling to get to the other side down to the Grotto), some said it was a group of rowdy mountaineers who stubbornly refused to use the rope, some said the rope itself was not sturdy, some said it was a family and the Dad was trying to boast and again didn’t use the rope. Whatever it was, the bottom line is that the other side is not open for a traverse and can only be used as an exit point, in short: traverse at your own risk. This September, I found out the situation remains the same.

We met several hikers, most of them also doing a dayhike like us. One group from Ayala Land said they were doing a traverse dayhike. There was also another group headed to the 2nd of the twin dayhikes- Mt. Manabu (about an hour ride away). Though most are like us, just climbing up to the Rockies and back. On the way down, we only met one group who will be camping in for the night. Compared to other weekends, there were relatively few hikers last Saturday.

It drizzled while we were climbing up to the Rockies. But after a few minutes, the sky cleared and we were rewarded with the famous and amazing views of Taal Lake, Taal Volcano and the plains of Batangas. This view of the Rockies makes Maculot a very popular destination for mountaineers. It’s also a great climb for first timers as the trail is not too difficult but the view is already great. We spent an hour at the Rockies taking pictures and generally just took in the view. It wasn’t too windy and the sun not too hot. I’ve spent a couple of sunsets at the Rockies and I would say, even the non-sunset views are equally amazing, if not, too dramatic.

By 4 pm we were back at the foot of the mountain enjoying halo-halo to cap off and celebrate our dayhike.

Whenever I climb and however difficult a mountain or trail is, there are certain things that remain the same. It’s the humbling feeling when I’m at the top looking at the vast expanse of nature. It’s all the soreness and tiredness being washed away every time I get to see the view that makes it all worth it. It’s the camaraderie of mountaineers who, even though strangers, feel very familiar just by the simple thought of sharing the same passion. It’s the happiness that comes back to me double the amount as I get to share it to excited newbies who often remind me and bring me back as to why I climb in the first place: to experience nature and enjoy each other’s company. It’s how you learn to just “charge it to experience” even as you take a wrong turn and somehow feel that the minutes lost were never really a waste. And lastly, it’s always the wonder every time I finish any climb, realize and tell myself, “Wow, I made it??!!”  I love what Jon Krakauer from his book, Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains said, “Most climbers aren’t in fact deranged, they’re just infected with a particularly virulent strain of the Human Condition.” Deranged?Insane? Unhinged? Yes, no matter what you call the condition,  ask any mountaineer, it really is incurable.

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