Mt. Pulag via Tawangan: 12-hours of romancing with leeches and other gross tales

Yaasss! New year, new climbing season, new swarm of cuss words to learn in place of tangina (transl. sonuvabitch). The last one’s a resolution I made two seconds ago after realizing that I threw enough tanginas in our recent Pulag climb via Tawangan–yeah, enough to last the jail time of someone convicted with homicide.

How many times do we have to say it? Putangina, I’ve had it with mountaineering. *Keeps climbing anyway*

Ang saya pa nila o! Pa-inom inom. Y’all be dead the following day! 😀

Now let’s talk about Tawangan because nobody ever talks about it. No, actually, let’s talk about Gina. Gina is a bloodsucking dirtbag and Gina’s kind is in abundance in this beautiful but infested trail. 

Kung hindi lang sila madami, iaadobo ko ‘tong mga hitad na ‘to.

Tawangan, in summary, is: twelve hours of breathtaking scenery, of canopies that will dwarf people, river trekking, and well, leeches (and rain, and cold air, and suffering that’s sagad sa buto, atay, at obaryo).

To our guy friends, getting bitten by a leech is like having a period. Ayan sya, dugo lang ng dugo. But the period blood, you have to make salo. So swerte pa rin kayo. Lol.

Believe me when I say, this place is so close to magic.


See what I mean? I think it’s ideal for most first timers to use the Ambangeg trail, but I had the misfortune of going with a bunch of mountaineers who are looking for trouble. (Cue: Tangina mo, TL Thet Pajarillo! Hahaha!) 

To the left is Team Leader Thet. Ano bang hugot mo? Ano ba gusto mong patunayan? You know, I barely tasted those Ritz Chips. 😀

The trek started at 5:30 AM in the sleepy village of—you guessed it right—Tawangan. Up to the second hour, it was a steady walk with a few river crossings, until we got deep enough to reach the wet core of the leech kindgom.

We were still doing okay at around 6:30 AM. Natutunaw pa lang ang breakfast, maraming lakas, confident that we can reach the Saddle Camp in 10 hours. We were so wrong, beshiecakes.
Then the trek started getting a bit harder, enough to remind us of the fun fun fun times at Mt. Candalaga late last year.
Action shot! That guy with a white pack is UL legend Cecile Morella. Panis kayong lahat!

Around 1:30 PM, fatigue had set in. We had to do a short meeting to decide whether we’d still gun for the Saddle or just head to the nearer Camp 2 and get some fucking coffee. It rained for the most part of the afternoon and we were wearing some 50-peso ponchos that broke easily, so the prospect of having a roof on our heads seemed super attractive.

We were so drained by the time we reached the grassland. Zombie walk na mga kapatid. Pero may pictures pa rin.

Gwapo pa rin, o ha! That’s Rio Hernandez, certified AMCI Tito, the owner of most of the photos used in this entry.
Love team ng bayan at Junior Pulag!
Pulag via Tawangan
That’s Troy singing Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. Kidding, IDK WTF is happening. Hahaha!

Did we make it to the Saddle? Well, no. We settled at Camp 2 and huddled at the guides’ hut–it was empty on Sunday evening, thank yeezus. At 7-ish we back to being jolly people with rice on our mess kits and vodka + tequila on the side.

In truth, I wanted to go and trek to the summit at 3AM the following day but a super bad hangover (kasalanan ko ‘to, I know haha), a persistent fever, and a swollen right foot kept me from leaving the comfort of my bivy. Gusto ko na lang magpa-stretcher pababa, pero ma-pride ako, so trek poles na lang. Hahaha! 

To the guys who summited, congratulations! Fresh nila o, pero basa medyas ng mga yan! ❤

Mt. Pulag Summit
6/17 with the Pulag first-timers not even here. Wagi! 😀

Meanwhile in camp: fried rice before breaking camp and heading down via Ambangeg. Salamat tito Rio Hernandez for the photos! Sa uulitin. 😀



Mga Kwentong Padulas: Mt. Candalaga, Compostela Valley

Note: All photos are owned by our group’s official outdoor gearhead / photographer Cecil Morella. Cheers to you, Paps! 

This update means I’m finally out of Kansai (missed the earthquake by a few hours, thank yeezuuus) and I’m trading some precious snooze time to write what’s been due since early November. Delayed report: we are finally done with the induction climb at Mt. Candalaga. I have no words for this mountain.

No–actually, I have a lot. There’s a famous Bukowski quote that says: Find what you love and let it kill you. It’s obviously figurative, unless you love guns, cigarettes, or a psychopathic ex-neurosurgeon who likes experimenting on people.

But Candalaga, my goodness, it will kill you.


See what I mean?

The summit elevation is only at 2,116 MASL, the trail distance a measly 8.25 kilometers, and the trekking type, according to our itinerary, is 30% upstream river crossing, 30% ascent, 40% descent, 0% chill. On a normal day, you would cover this distance by just walking around The Fort or Makati–but by Maragusan, Compostela Valley standards, three whole days.


Looking back, the only painless time we probably had was the scenic walk from New Albay Elementary School to the trailhead. After that, it was @$C@Q_*&%^ &^@!!!!


Day 1 is an 80% river trek and the few short breaks I got from it were wicked roped verticals, including one instance when I just held my breath and dangled from a tree. There are two ways to picture the situation: 1. just hanging on for your own dear life, no biggie, or 2. like holding the world in its entirety. Cup is half full or half empty. Choose na lang. 

Two seconds from tree-assisted airwalk and I found a nice little root to clip my foot on and then pulled myself up. I have no idea why I found it appropriate and so completely necessary to look down right after, but the whole act did send a nice chill up my spine. Had my arms failed me and the scenario would’ve been similar to an ugly piece of pakwan.

Broken watermelon on ground

Get it?

The 8-hour ordeal included having to throw my pack off several times to get across some boulders, because there are things I have to live with like short legs and poor genes. All in all, we passed by 15 waterfalls beginning with Marangig and ending in Tagbibinta (end of trek). 

In several occasions, I stopped at dead ends–thought I’ve gone off trail–only to realize that the dirt wall in front of me is the trail. Really—I mean reaaaaallyyy, how many times did we have to say ‘Bahala na si Batman’ in our short, inconsequential lives and there I was trying to Spiderman-the-shit out of a mountain. Kaya nag homo sapien ‘di ba? Bipedal. Kailangan pa ba magpa-tubo ng extrang paa sa ilalim ng boobs? 


Down from the summit on the second day and we had a taste of rain, mud, and a night trek that spared some from the ghastly view of deep ravines. I learned not to trust rocks too much after Day 1, but on Day 2, my goodness, I learned that logs are no better. No matter how solid they look, logs can collapse faster than your heart post-break-up and they be as soft as motherfucking cotton candies from Dante’s hell. Excuse the mixed-metaphors. I can’t help it. 

By then end of Day 2, my limbs felt like jello, my trail food was almost out—even a double serving of rice didn’t do the magic. I was fucking done. 

And then, there was Day 3. Still. More. Rope. Work. 


These fuckers burned my hands so bad, I couldn’t use them to write, or shampoo, or do laundry for a good two days. I always say, what’s done is done, but up to this day, I regret not learning how to use gloves even after three training climbs.

What the hell was this for, anyway. 

Let’s try to do a bit of accounting. Mt. Candalaga earned me: multiple scratches, sore legs and shoulders, two deep cuts—one each hand—three bruises the size of a fake Fuji apple, and a deep, deep, deep hole in my pocket. Hahaha!  


And a dog tag. To those who would ask: Nakakain ba yan? I tried. That shit needs more time inside a pressure cooker. 

* * *

P.S. Ganda ng summit view. Hehe.