What awaits grizzled and neophyte climbers on a trek to a little-known mountain in the hinterlands of Mindanao? What strange, curious sounds, what tantalising scenery, and what new exhilarating sensations may come to be as one conquers the earth to claim a lofty prize above the clouds? Resurgent contributor Ruell T. Garcia takes us to a captivating visit to a pristine, if wondrously primitive, nature spot.
Standing on top of the summit is a fulfilment of every mountain climber’s dream.
Totoy was not alone. He was one of the many warm bodies who dared one morning to reach the best mountain peak of Compostela Valley. It was not his first time, yet it was better than his first. He was among members of a team organized by the Provincial Tourism Office, at the behest of Compostela Governor Tyron Uy, to trek, document and share the stories behind the majestic mountain peak.
Before rejoining his mother unit, the Information Dissemination Section (IDS) of the Capitol, Totoy was the official photographer of Tyron’s father and former governor, Arturo T. Uy. He was an experienced DSLR camera tactician. This time his skills was necessary for the climb, not to mention his heretofore undiscovered talent of telling stories.
Leaving the station, their first stop was at the foot of the gigantic mountain range, somewhere in Libuton, Barangay Andap in New Bataan. It took them 12 hours, including river crossings, to reach not the summit but the halfway mark to rest and spend the night before continuing the more challenging, rain-drenched trail. It was an exhausting day, thus sleep was necessary, anticipating the double-challenge ahead of them the next day.
Before going for the one-of-a-kind adventure, climbers coordinate first with the New Bataan Tourism Office, which provides basic information of the peak, nearby places, and other circumstances along the way to the top. There are rules and regulations that need to be strictly adhered to to preserve the wholesomeness and integrity of the site. The office recommends guides and porters, competent and able to make the journey satisfaction-guaranteed. Unlike other mountains where the trails are obvious and leading, negotiating this particular peak necessitates the hiring of trailblazers to do the clearing of the uncharted path where climbers pass for the first time.
As the dawn slowly recedes to welcome the morning mist, Totoy and the rest of the pack are already full of their ready-to-eat breakfast. A while later, they proceed to the ultimate stop, the summit. While at the start, it took them half a day to arrive at Camp 1, on the second day the arrival time was lesser by only two hours.
The journey toward the peak was difficult but exhilarating. As Totoy described it, “Lisod, kuyaw, hadlok, kat-kat, kamang, kulba, kapoy, danlog. Grabe, pirting piti-a”. “Piti-a” is a mountain climber’s Bisaya term to describe a challenge to the extreme level. Seasoned mountaineers have branded this trail as the “Horror Train,” that is, should one survive the summit, it would be tantamount to winning a championship ring in mountain climbing.
Because there were no people living in most of the places along the trail, rare plants, animals and other creatures can be seen up the death-defying climb. Various bonsai of endemic trees were all around the path while one smelled the breeze of unusual fauna found only in the place. Walking through a rainforest, featured only in glossy children’s books, was a real experience along the trail. Birds of different shapes and feathers patrolled the skies and perched on tree branches. The atmosphere within the mossy ecosystem was so relaxing and enticing one could forget to check the time on his or her watch.
Nearing the foot of summit doubles the excitement of experiencing the majesty of the pride and well-kept treasure of New Bataan.
Finally, reaching the destination erased all pains. It transformed the fatigue of surviving the challenge of the trail into the sheer joy of experiencing first-hand what it feels to be in the most sough-after White Peak. The summit was a natural view deck of the sea of clouds encircling the mountain range while gazing at the peaks of Mt. Apo in Davao City, Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon and Mt. Matutom in South Cotabato, all visible in clear weather. Everyone, especially the first-timers, were proud of themselves, achieving something out of hard work, dedication and persistency.
Resting at nighttime at the peak was chilly. The touch of dew on the skin was reason enough to tickle the body and soul, ironically warmed by the satisfaction of watching fireflies and other flying creatures silhouetted by the natural light that barely reached the earth’s surface.
The cold and cozy night was entertained by a symphony of sounds only the creatures of White Peak can flawlessly play.
Indeed, in every click of Totoy’s well-love camera are stories only he can ever truly describe.
Long live the White Peak.
(Mr. Garcia is a freelance writer and capacity-building trainer based in Compostela, Compostela Valley. Photos courtesy of Albert Dayao of the Compostela IDS.)