featured Mountain Climbing
Playing Catcher in the Rye in Mt. BatulaoSaturday, March 01, 2014Ryan Mach
"COME ON, MACH, YOU CAN DO IT!" They cheered, all nine of them, my friends and camp mates - my companions on this fun weekend climb. They were encouraging me to go on. I was sitting on a rather comfortable rock jutting conveniently beside the trail (a deus ex machina!), eyeing the summit from afar, silently cursing myself for being a wimp.
"We're almost there!" They shouted back again, their voices sounded shrill amidst the strong gusts of wind that teased, flapped and threatened to uproot me from my spot. I watched Jhyng, Kathy, Kat,
Nitch, Ton and the three guys whose names have now escaped me as they slowly but surely crawled up the aggressively uphill trail. I heard one of them ask if something's wrong with me. I flashed them an OK sign and a fake smile, which I was sure they didn't buy. I knew I was going to be labelled with a thousand different names, all because I was too coward to climb the summit. But what could I do? The peak looked daunting from where I was sitting. I'm afraid of heights. My nerves got the better of me. I was a hopeless case.
|The peak as seen from my post.|
I remained seated on the same spot for as long as I can remember, barely moving, both hands firmly planted on the rock. I watched my friends grow smaller and smaller until they disappeared from my sight. In between questioning my confidence and doubting my sense of adventure, a fog rolled in and an unwanted rain shower rendered everything in a panoramic haze. Whether the heaven was playing along with my melodramatic reflection or it was simply raining on my parade, I couldn't really tell for sure. Regardless, the raindrops seemed to have washed away the insistent feeling of insecurity albeit momentarily. That, and the stubborn dust caked all over my arms and legs. The trail in Mt. Batulao is a thin tongue of powder and dust which twirls and spins in the slightest wind blow or foot stamp.
Feeling displaced and embarrassed, I amused myself by playing Holden Caufield, a catcher in the rye. The setting couldn't be more perfect. There's a cliff and a precipice. But I was merely a sentinel silently watching trekkers go past my post, bearing witness to young men and women who almost backed out after seeing the intimidating way to the peak (I feel for you, people). None of them did though. Unlike me, they were gutsy enough to reach the top. I was willing to wait there till my friends had all come down but with every stranger passing by (some had bothered to ask what I was doing there), I finally came to a painful realization that made me crawl down: I was a namby-pamby who didn't have business there.
Thinking about it now, I don't really quite understand why I wimped out scaling the summit. It's not even difficult to begin with. At least when you ask the people who have gone to Batulao. Three of our companions were first-time hikers who breezed it. I kept thinking about the hapless girl who lost her life in the same mountain. Although the accident didn't exactly happen at the trail I was dreading, the mere thought that someone did actually fall scared the hell out of me.
That fear could have bottled up mid-way, when we passed by at some seriously narrow pathway with a vertigo-inducing view several feet below. One simple misstep and you could find yourself rolling down. I pathetically groped for every stronghold (mainly grass) I could grab on to, and walked sideways, like a crab. Clutching my chest while breathing heavily, I emerged at a safe intersection with a view that was excitingly uniform: oceanic fields of waving grass that cascaded down a deep ravine.
I glanced at my friends who were trailing behind me. They were sunstruck and chatty. Overhead, against the cerulean sky, an egret (or was it an eagle) soared gracefully, inviting me to drift into a pastoral trance. The failed assault will probably be the first thing that would come to mind when I'd think about Mt. Batulao, but I'd also remember it as a trek that was pleasant in a narcoleptic, summery kind of way.
FROM A DISTANCE, THE RIDGE OF MT. BATULAO was a noticeably irregular contour that arched across the horizon. It jagged randomly but fitfully, reminiscent of Mt. Guiting-Guiting, as if built by someone with a tremulously indecisive hand — a waver of adventure and risk.
|Mt. Batulao as seen from the jump-off point|
It is one of those mountains that's ideal for first-time hikers. For a majority of its length, the trail is just wide enough for one person to pass through but overall, it's safe and easy. From the jump-off point, the summit can be reached in less than three hours. 30 minutes if you're determined.
|That's our guide, Ton, leading the pre-climb warm-up|
But our unofficial guide, Ton who has gone there a couple of times, tricked us into believing that the hike would take several hours. Apparently, he was just trolling. At first, it didn't make sense why we were making a few stops considering it was already close to dusk. He was too generous to give us the break we needed - never urging us to hurry. The unhurried pace provided us time to relish the beauty of the slopes. He revealed his little secret to me when we reached Peak 4. "It's not true we still have 26 peaks to go," he grinned and sniggered, pointing stealthily at the camp site a few meters away.
We were at the camp site just before dusk, much to everyone's relief. Ton surveyed the area and decided which surface was suitable for camping. When the moon appeared, we were already making supper. The cold breeze was mildly blowing across our faces. We scurried inside our tents to grab the best clothing to shield us from the chill as it whipped at us there on the exposed slopes of Batulao. It was already past midnight when we finally crawled to our temporary abode. We were drunk and happy. It was a wintry night, I was alone inside the tent. I barely had any sleep but I dreamed about a bariton sax stand at WWBW.
"THIS MOUNTAIN IS NOT IDEAL FOR BEGINNERS," Ton commented in an undertone as we were huddled in a small sari-sari store beside the trail halfway to the camp site. The owners of the store offered us refreshments - halo-halo and buko - which we politely declined. It was beginning to get cold. My friends fancied a cup of coffee.
"Hikers get spoiled by these stores. You'd be surprised to see Mountain Dews sold at the peak," he continued, adding that trekkers should bring their own drink, not buy them at the summit. The unavailability of such treats creates a much sweeter experience, is what he meant. I could only nod in agreement, but I silently longed for that cold Mountain Dew waiting on top of the mountain.
A store that sells liquor just within reach sounds ridiculous but when you've forgotten your bottles of Emperador or Red Horse, it comes very handy. I'm sure Ton understands that locals earn a living by selling those little treats and comforts. They're also responsible for disposing the trash that campers produce in the mountain. And them, guides readily help first-time hikers who have hard time carrying their own bags. Too bad they couldn't help me overcome my fear of heights.
|The slope looked moon-washed during dusk|
|Taking an alternative route to the peak|
HOW TO GET TO MT. BATULAO
If you're planning to commute, you can get on a bus bound for Nasugbu or Lemery (Buendia or Taft-EDSA). Tell the driver to drop you off in Evercrest Golf Course in Lemery, Batangas. Or you can simply let the conductor know that you're hiking Mt. Batulao. He'll know where to drop you. Travel time is approximately 2 to 3 hours.
In Evercrest, there are trikes that can take you to the jump-off point. Fare should be PHP 20.00 per head. If you feel like walking, you can also do so.