Sunday, May 6, 2018

Hermit Atop Mt Pulag

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog

 Before I reached forty, and they say life begins at forty, I dared the challenge to conquer Mt Pulag, the third  highest mountain in the Philippines.  Which I did, but in a most unusual way.

The truth is, I got lost before reaching its summit, so that I would rather say, Mt Pulag conquered me. And this is the story.

It was a long trek from the dead end of a logging trail where we parked our Land Cruiser. Up we climbed, with backpacks full, twenty degrees at first, and increasing to something like forty. It was the growing fatigue that made the slope steeper. 

“It’s a long way to go,” our guide, a native of the place said, pointing up ahead. Our path was barely visible because of overgrown vegetation and low clouds that began to settle into fog.  He would walk ahead, trace the path and signal us to proceed. With a bolo he hacked through our way and warned us not to lose our foothold. It was a precipitous climb. I did not look down.   

Soon we were in the thickest part of the forest. The rays of the setting sun peeped through the foliage and trunks creating three dimensional effects on the closely growing large pine trees. The forest floor was covered with thick litter of needle leaves that slowly fell off, a characteristic of evergreen.  It was so inviting, I thought we would be spending the night here.

But our mentor and team leader Dr Rudy del Rosario assured us there is a hut by the lake just before reaching the summit. This spurred us to get a second wind.

We emerged from the forest and found a clearing, actually the lower grassland of the mountain, the transition zone.  It is likened to the tree line as you go up to the North Pole.  

It is not that worst on Mt Pulag though.  But some similar ecological patterns are found here. For example, the trees growing just below the grassy summit make a grotesque scene appropriate for a horror movie or an alien landscape. Here the wind howls and momentarily silence reigns.  It is eerie and deafening. Then suddenly it comes again bringing in rain. I can only imagine what it must be during a typhoon.

We pitched our tent beside the hut of a hermit, an old man who has secluded himself for the last twenty years. It reminded me of old Rip Van Winkle who slept for twenty long years on the Catskill Mountain somewhere in old New York, a short story written by Washington Irving in the 18th century.

Lakay Indo is different.  He was like Henry David Thoreau who secluded himself by the Walden Pond, in a clearing in the middle of a forest.  Here Thoreau the philosopher wrote a treatise between man and society, that he concluded ultimately, man cannot live alone.  He cannot detach himself from his community. Although Thoreau abandoned his dwelling by the Walden Pond after a year of isolation, he was able to produce one of the greatest treatises ever written about man’s relationship with his fellowmen, with nature, and above all, with himself..

Lakay Indo is not a writer like Thoreau. He is not idle like Rip. Now and then he would go down to the nearest village to sell anything he hunted or gathered from the forest in exchange for his provisions. If he wrote like Irving and Thoreau, or the monks in Tibet and by the Red Sea, what would be have written?   

We pitched our tent on the shore of the lake near the hut of Lakay Indo.  We ate supper just before it was dark. Here you could see more stars than in any other place.  You can draw the waning face of the moon.      

Evening settled down gently. 

“You brought the good weather.” He said after greeting us. Then he turned religious, “And God is happy for all of you.”  He gazed at the starry sky and the cloud below.  We were nearly three kilometers above the sea, higher than the clouds.

“And He must be very happy for you in all these years.” Complimented Jun a teacher who, like the four of us, was taking up graduate studies. 

The kindly old man shifted his position to face us seated on the grassy slope of the lake in flickering light of a small bonfire.

I imagined a most beautiful scenario on the shores of Galilee more than two centuries ago.~

Mount Pulag (Filipino: Bundok Pulag) is Luzon's highest peak at 2,926 metres (9,600 ft) above sea level. The borders between the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya meet at the mountain's peak. It is the third highest mountain in the Philippines, next to Mount Apo and Mount Dulang-dulang.

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