Greasy hair, scum underneath my fingernails, the smell of dried sweat on my clothes, insect bites, sleeping on uneven ground, cramped tent space, and holding in my bodily wastes for hours until I find a cleaner throne. As much as I like busting out a sweat outdoors and pretending to be a forest nymph tramping in the woods of a mountainside, the physical discomforts of camping is the main reason I prefer day hikes than staying for the night.
We received an email from Smart Mountaineering Club, the official outdoor adventure club of Smart Communications, to join them for a fun climb at Mt. Batulao. For us daily grinders that work for a subsidiary of Smart, it served as an invitation to be part of their elite mountaineering group whose weekly training means taking the stairs to their office at the 32nd floor of Smart Tower. #Intense
But it was more than another opportunity to climb. Given the chance to have proper outdoor survival training and be a part of a group whose idea of fun involves reaching a stunning view at the end of the day is something I’d take in a heartbeat. Suddenly, almost 30 of my colleagues at work signed up and we were divided into three groups where I was voted one of the Team Leaders because they thought I had the most “experience” in the mountains. Had they known about my misadventures I’m pretty sure none of them would trust me with any important decisions.
The last time I climbed the muddy trails of Batulao I was wearing slip-on shoes that made the trek twice as troublesome as my footwear kept getting stuck on the mushy earth with every step. But that was me circa 2013. Now, I’m glad I invested on decent equipment and apparel after several trial and errors outdoors. One time, instead of a backpack, I brought a tote back on a hike and one can imagine just how inconvenient that was.
Anyway, by the time we reached the campsite, after a little over an hour of trekking the dry trails that were occasionally dotted with horse shit and cow dung, our team immediately prepared camp after lunch. Since we were there for a traverse, we knew that we were only halfway done for the day. We were back on our feet a couple of hours later as we headed for the final assault to the summit which was mostly composed of steep ascents that pushed our calves to breaking point.
I panted and gasped for air. My legs screamed for a break every 5 minutes. This last stretch was the toughest challenge in the entire traverse and I was clearly out of shape for it.
This old trail was much more challenging than the one I took a year before. Steeper slopes and rope-assisted ascents included. Good thing the gloomy skies loomed over our heads with clouds that saved us from the potential heat of the sun and stayed that way until we got back to the campsite before dusk. Having the presence of guides from SMC also made the experience more amazing and less strenuous than it should. They were able to motivate everyone in the group, which were mostly first-time climbers.
My strong team of 9, plus 2 SMCnoys FM and Kris, arrived first on the summit and we were welcomed by thick white mist that surrounded the entire peak. We were enveloped in clouds, it seemed. In a matter of minutes the rocky peaks of Batulao appeared as the fog moved on to another place in the sky. Strips of sunlight peeked through the sea of clouds above us, giving emphasis to the contours of this mountain’s famous peaks. Soon enough, we were no longer alone at the mountain top. One by one the rest of our party emerged from the tall grass that fenced the summit and everyone was able to share the view of Batangas’s scenic landscapes.
We all had to go down eventually. It took a few bottles of Mountain Dew, a dozen of halo-halos, a plateful of turons, and several more minor peaks at the new trail before we ended back at camp.
We dined underneath the stars. Dinner was made up of chicken adobo, quinoa, pesto pasta, and plenty of hot coffee to go around. The night was filled with conversations and alcohol (or just more coffee on my part). The full moon watched over our heads until each one fell into slumber inside their respective tents. The uneven ground was not enough to keep my tired body from succumbing to the solitude the night offered. The kind of atmosphere you only get hundreds of meters above sea level.
The next morning, I woke up with my hair all entangled and greasy. The ends of my fingernails still black from all the dirt stuck underneath them. The clothes on my back smelled like yesterday’s adventures and I haven’t taken a dump since I left Manila 24 hours ago. But I’d do it all over again.