Traveller, Photographer, Mountaineer, Human

C1 – Arayat Traverse: Cramps, Dead Toenails, and Mud

March 5-6, 2011

After deciding to start mountain climbing (see previous post), I searched google for the group Dahong Palay Mountaineers.  I found the group’s multiply account, which is no longer used.  Then I found an event in facebook organized by DPM:  an Arayat Traverse.  I asked if an outsider can join (I knew noone in the group) and the group’s leader, Bong, said that it’s ok to join.

The climb was originally set for last week of February but was moved to the first weekend of March.  Based on the event wall, there were more than 30 attendees to the climb and one of them is an officemate.  (I since learned not to trust the number of attendees based on FB event wall).

Being the eager person that I am, I researched much about mountaineering before my first climb.  I researched on how to pack a bag (something relatively soft and not too heavy at the bottom, heavy stuff in the middle nearer to your back, and lighter stuff at the top.  Those that will be needed first or more frequently should also be on top), what to bring, etc.

I bought a backpack, trekking shoes, tent (the cheap dome type), flashlight and some other stuff a week before the climb.  I also thought of jogging to tone my legs and lessening yosi to improve my lung’s capacity.  A few days before the climb, I decided to buy a trekking pole.  Friday before the climb, I went to Expedition Plus in Amorsolo (in Makati) to buy a trekking pole.  The price surprised me:  one trekking pole costs P2500 (Petzl) and there was nothing cheaper so I decided to bite the bullet and buy it.

Night before the climb, all my gears are packed.  On the morning of the climb, I woke up early since the itinerary specifies 6am meeting time in Victory Pasay for the 630am bus departure for Pampanga.  I still did not know anyone from the climb (other than Bong who I’ve chatted with in facebook) and I didn’t have anyone’s number.

I arrived at the bus station around 6am and nobody for the Arayat climb seems to be there.  I waited, waited but noone’s coming.  I asked an officemate to send me the number of the officemate who was joining the climb (based on the FB event) and texted him.  No answer.  I called, no answer.  I thought that they may have gone before me so I just rode the bus to Pampanga hoping to meet them there.

Upon arriving in SM Pampanga, I looked for the others but noone’s there.  I asked the jeepney barker if anyone going to Arayat has come and gone but he said none.  I waited for an hour.  While waiting, I was thinking whether to just go home or wait.  I then rationalized that I already bought a lot of stuff (which are not cheap) and that if I let that chance pass, I may lose the drive to start again.  Thankfully, the group arrived.

The group apologized for being late as they had a “pre-climb” session the night before and was drunk to wake up early.  He said that some people are coming from Pasig and we had to wait for them.  After the Pasig boys arrived, we still had to wait for SM Supermarket to open to buy butane for the stove.

My first impression of group?  They were rougher (not a bad thing, just that I’ve never interacted with outdoorsy people before) than I anticipated and I was thinking if all of this was a mistake.

And finally…… we’re bound for Magalang, Pampanga for the jumpoff.

In Magalang, we had to stop in the Magalang public market to buy food and eat lunch.  After that, we’re off to the jumpoff point.

Near the jumpoff, we went first to the military camp to register (there is a military installation at the peak and we had to register at the lower camp so that the guys at the peak will know that mountaineers are coming up).

At about 1pm, we started the ascent through rough road.  Fortunately for us, there is a truck carrying hollow blocks going up the road so we hitched a ride and the ride saved about half an hour of trek through a hot rough road.

We started climbing through the forested trails.  Everything’s doing ok so far.  Several rest stops and we reached a small house for additional rest and some light snacks of trail food.

After an hour or so of additional climbing, my pack seemed to be getting heavier and my legs are feeling tired but I must go on.  I started the climb near the front of the group but as the climb went on, I’m getting nearer and nearer the back end of the group.

Just before the main water source is a rather steep climb through boulders.  On reaching the watersource, the first cramp on my leg appeared.  One leg.  After a few more minutes of walk, another cramp appeared on another leg.  A few more minutes and both of my thighs had cramps.  Wow, what pain.  Fortunately, I bought a trekking pole which helped a lot in the ascent.  Instead of putting all my weight on my legs while climbing, I can use my arms and trekking pole to push me higher and higher.

The sun was setting lower and I was seriously looking for a place to camp as I thought I could no longer climb.  Every slightly flat clearing becomes a candidate for an emergency campsite.  But the climb must go on.  I was thankful to Dyumar (the designated sweeper) pushing me on higher and higher.

On reaching the part where we had to turn left (right goes to Haring Bato), we rested and I took some painkillers to ease the pain in my legs.  After that, more ascent through steeper trails.  Fortunately this time, there are many roots to hold onto putting less strain on my legs and more on my arms.  As before, I am second to the last in group with only the sweeper behind me.  It started to rain!

It was getting dark until finally……. we reached the summit (Peak 1) and campsite!  My first summit (or what I considered to be my first summit)!

We pitched our tent.  It was again fortunate that I bought a tent as the group forgot the big tent and two other climbers had to share the tent with me.

They cooked food while some of us rested.  Rest did I do to those sore legs and a slightly throbbing head.

Mealtime was spent standing up, eating on plastic with bare hands (no plates, no utensils) while the wind blew and the rain fell.  Nevermind that our hands maybe dirty from all the mud and nevermind that all of us were eating while shaking from the cold.

After dinner is the time for socials but I did not join as my head was now throbbing harder.

Sleep was not restful.  My cheap dome tent was leaking and a puddle was forming on my side of tent.  It was cold even inside the tent and my clothes were wet.  The blanket that my tentmate brought was soaking wet but a wet blanket is a better protection from the cold wind than bare skin.

Finally… morning!

The view at the summit is beautiful but only for a few seconds as the fog covers much of it.

After breakfast, it is now time to break camp and pack our things for the second and more difficult part of the trail – the traverse part.  The police at the summit station warned us that there is a landslide going up the next peak.

The traverse to peak 2 started on a very steep descent through slippery mud.  I asked if this is really the way and yes that was the correct trail.  (In my two other climbs in Arayat, others also asked if that was really the trail).

The traverse trail was easier for me since there were less ascents and there are many roots, branches, trees, grasses to hang onto (just had to be careful as there are the dreaded teka-teka plant full of thorns).

We reached White Rock and they climb to the top to take some pictures while I was so tired that I just rested.  The descent from White Rock is another difficult part as it was almost 90 degree descent through a rock wall and just holding while hanging on to a few roots and some cracks in the rock.

An hour or so of walking through more densely forested area and we rested before the start of another difficult assault.  There was indeed a landslide, there were few plants to hang onto, and I had to rest standing while hugging the muddy slope.  Patrick almost fell and Noy had to take his backpack so he can get to safety.

An assault which seemed to last a very very long time and we reached a rather flat area on the way to peak 2.  At this point, I was very very dirty – mud on my shoes, mud on my legs, mud on my shirt, mud on my arms, mud on my face, mud on hands, mud on my backpack, mud, mud, mud, mud everywhere!

We are lunch in Peak 2 and a short trip to the viewdeck and we’re going down.

I thought finally descent.  How much harder can it be?  Apparently, it was still hard.  If the ascent was very hard on my legs, the descent was punishment for my knees.  The rather steep descent through rocky soil and the heavy pack on my back makes each step more and more difficult for my knees.  My toes were also getting squished inside my shoes and they were hurting.

Two or three hours of descent and we’re out of the forest!  I again thought that it was the end of the trail but noooo!  We spent an hour or more walking through flat but rough trail before reaching Baño (Arayat National Park) where the locals are not very friendly (earning the Arayat side of the mountain the name Magulang as opposed to Magalang on the other side).

Some swimming, cooking and eating and then we rode a tricycle to Arayat poblacion where we rode a jeepney back to SM Pampanga.

The Pasig boys went home on the bus bound for Cubao but the rest of us went in to do some window shopping and for some reason, we were always taking stairs instead of escalators compounding the pain in my already protesting legs.

Finally we boarded a bus bound for Pasay and home!

* * * * *

I realized that mountaineers are kind (my belief of which was further strengthened in my succeeding climbs).

For a week, my legs hurt and I walked like an old man with arthritis on his legs.  My knees hurt for two weeks.  The toenail on my right foot completely died and came off (the whole nail – which is my first ever souvenir of a climb and is still here at home).  It was all worth it!

Thank you to Bong, Dyumar, Dan, Noy, Buboy, Mira, Topet, Jayjay, and Joseph for this wonderful journey, the first of many.

Conquering Arayat brought a new confidence to me.  If I could conquer Arayat on my first try, I certainly could do more!

For additional pictures, please see:


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