The Hike for Light (H4L) project is being undertaken by the Philippine Solar Foundation to provide solar lamps to those communities living near the mountains that has no access to electricity. In cooperation with Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation and the 1st Philippine Mt. Everest Team, the project aims to summit 6 of the country’s highest peaks with 200 climbers and distribute 500 solar lamps to change the lives of those communities.
Darkness surrounds us, the temperature at a chilling 12 degrees Celsius as we woke up that morning ready for the final trek towards the summit of Mt. Pulag, the third highest mountain in the Philippines. With no time for breakfast and together with some 200 climbers, our group started the slow ascent in a bid to catch the sunrise atop Luzon’s tallest peak.
Towering at 2922 MASL (meters above sea level), Mt. Pulag, or Pulog as it was originally named (meaning bare due to grow of low grasses and shrubs on its slopes), borders between the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya. Considered sacred by many tribes that live in its vicinity, the mountain host a wide variety of flora and fauna, some endemic while others endangered, and is regarded as one of the most bio-diversed in the Philippines.
The jump-off point for Mt. Pulag is via Baguio, about 6 hours ride north of Manila; one typically takes an overnight bus service at 11pm to arrive at daybreak the following day. From the bus terminal in Baguio, chartered jeeps toke our group to the Babalak Ranger Station, passing through picturesque roads, including a brief stopover at Ambuklao Dam, the country’s first hydroelectric plant.
Being a protected landscape and declared as a National Park under Proclamation No. 75 on February 20, 1987; a permit is needed to summit Mt. Pulag. On way to the ranger station, a mandatory briefing stop is also required at the DENR station wherein climbers are shown a short video about the mountain and the dos and don’ts during camping.
From the DENR station, be prepare for a butt-breaking 1.5 hours of rough jeep ride along alternating paved and rugged roads. While it is not exactly recommended due to safety reasons, you can choose to sit atop the jeeps for a more adrenaline-rush ride.
Babalak Ranger Station is host to the last community and starting point of the trek via the Ambangeg Trail; this was also the chosen site of the Hike 4 Light Project turnover of the solar lamps to its beneficiaries.
A short ceremony preceded the actual turnover by StS Solar Foundation Chairman Jim Ayala, Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation Chairman Art Valdez, mountaineering legend Fred Jamili, first Filipino and Filipina Mt. Everest summiteers Leo Oracion and Janet Belarmino, and together with local village leaders, barangay officials and local partners of the foundation.
The community in turn, rendered a sacred “kanyaw” ritual wherein a black pig was sacrificed to give thanks to the gods for the gifts and to invoke successful ascent and safe return for the climbers. Sweet rice wine called “tapuy” was served, community elders dance to the beat of the gongs, and the priest gave blessings.
We spent the night at the ranger station with a big bonfire to keep us warm as the meat of the sacrificed pig was offered to us to partake, it being the final part of the ritual.
The following morning, after final preparations, our 60-plus-man-team began the trek. We reached Camp 2 in only 2 hours along gentle sloping terrain, the typical characteristics of Mt. Pulag.
Upon reaching the camp, rain started to drizzle, and it continues until the late evening, drenching us in hopelessness of summiting the next day as we all stayed in our individual tents.
By about 9PM, the rain suddenly stopped, the sky cleared, and stars came out, true to what the kanyaw predicted; we shall not be denied.
It was 4:15 in the morning when we started our final ascent; pinpoints of light from our headlamps and flashlights curved along the long mountain path like some ancient religious pilgrimage. The waning Moon was still high in the sky; over the eastern horizon, darkness prevails, then it begun.
Wisp of crimson reds, followed by shades of orange and yellows, the Sun slowly rose from a sea of clouds against a velvet blue sky, “Let there be light” He says; as cameras clicked like crazy around me in perhaps was one of nature’s most spectacular show on Earth; a fitting tribute to the project’s core intention, of bringing social change thru the illumination of light.
All VRs taken from January 13-15, 2012. Reference: The author can be reached at: email@example.com