By JUDE BAGGO
For us, the mountains are the best playgrounds, a large library of knowledge waiting to be learned, a pharmacy of a myriad of medicinal herbs and plants, a market full of fresh food supplies for the taking, and where friendships are strengthened.
Mountain stories are also the first folktales we heard as children. Some were good but most were scary. As children, we spent much time in the wild, absorbing the dynamics of the natural world, building and storing knowledge without really trying but nevertheless filling up our senses with tools we never thought we could use in life.
Growing up and going to school for so long, makes one feel alienated from the mountains. Sometimes, it even becomes burdensome to set a schedule to re-explore the mountains of our youth.
But in Hungduan, there are still mountain folktales for us to experience first-hand. Last weekend With some friends, we set our feet to Mt. Napulawan, the highest mountain in the municipality. As locals and since we were born, the towering Napulawan never gets off our sight and the desire to reach its peak now is more compelling.
Long time ago, our elders told us that Napulawan is home to the mountain cloud spirits. According to the story, these spirits use clouds to transport them to the rice terraces and rivers at the base of the mountains for their recreation and return to the summit to rest. It is said that the mountain cloud spirits are used to the tranquil environment at the summit. Once disturbed, the resting spirits can bring thick clouds to the mountain and even heavy rain.
We were also told of optical illusions at the summit where things can become bigger and the small yet old trees that cover most the summit of the mountain.
Adding to the old tales is the alleged Yamashita gold deposited in the bottom of the mountain lake. Whether it is true or a made up story of the Japanese during World War II, some locals conducted some “treasure hunting” that had resulted to the drying of the lake.
But more than these tales, Napulawan is also home to the one of the remaining mossy forest covers in Ifugao. It contributes to the headwaters that fill the Magat Dam and community irrigation systems down to Isabela province.
There are three entry and exit points to or from Napulawan. Depending on the entry point, the difficulty of ascending and descending from the summit varies. But generally, according to an assessment by mountaineering groups, its difficulty is 7 over 9.
It took us more than five hours to reach the summit. We started 6:34 in the morning for our trek. We reached the peak by 12:05 noon. According to our tracker, we hiked at least 6.5 kilometers or more than 11,000 steps. The trek was exhausting but the beauty of the mountain eases the tired soul.
After some minutes of resting, we made our tents then started cooking using a butane portable cooking set since using wood is now prohibited at the summit to avoid causing forest fires. Some cooked rice paired with chicken mixed with hopal (an herb known to ease gastro pain) leaves was so inviting that we consumed the food to the last morsel.
With renewed energy, we explored the summit. We went first to the spring where we fetched water. The water was so cold that it was like cleaning fish fresh from the freezer. Taking a bath would need some super powers.
We then proceeded to the dead lake. It is a 15-minute hike from the summit. The scenery at the lake was simply amazing. Fallen dead trees, moss hanging like curtains and the green moss spread like a thick carpet all over. It was like stepping into a time machine and taking you back some decades in time. Originally, the lake was full of water but due to the “treasure-hunting activities,” they made a canal to release the water, the lake did not recover since then.
We went back to the summit and tried some optical illusion tricks. Indeed, the eyes can be tricked. Standing on opposite directions with the other person in front of the forest of dwarf trees and bamboos makes the other person look like a giant above a thick forest.
In the evening, we gathered to share stories of struggles in life. We laughed hard and in some minutes, the clouds engulfed the whole view. Then came the strong rain that flooded our tents and supplies. It may be a coincidence but our noise must have disturbed the spirits and made them angry that they brought dark skies and the strong rain. We will never know. We prepared to retire when the stars appeared in the horizon and the sky was clear and all is well.
At 4.30 in the morning, we moved out of our tents to wait for the sun to rise. It is said that under perfect conditions, one may see two layers of sea of clouds, changing colors and patterns in the sunrise. But we did not see the sea of clouds. We only saw the amazing changing of colors and patterns. As the sun rises, the entire summit goes from hues of green to hazy blue.
After breakfast, we prepared for our descent toward a second exit to visit two waterfalls along the way. We also brought down our garbage of used plastics and bottles.
Napulawan is a witness and the keeper of the secrets of our people. It should be protected from the encroachment of commercial gardening and excessive hunting activities. After all, Napulawan is one of the last frontiers of its kind.
To Dehon, Kevin, Aron, David, John and Kweh, you are all amazing. The trek was bearable because of your jokes, baon, and all. Let us climb more peaks. Next shall be Mt. Amuyao. # nordis.net