My whole body was trembling as I gently sat down on a sturdy cliff, overlooking three major towns in Mountain Province. The thick white clouds hovering over the majestic Mt. Pulag from afar, the curving road leading to Sagada slowly fading away as the fog engulfs it, the rice terraces below me that changes hue every time the sun penetrates the stratosphere. That heart-stopping view at the summit of Mt. Polis, dangling my feet at 1837 meters above sea level, struck me wordless.
It was our first morning in the humble abode of our host in Bagnen Oriente, Bauko. The sky was perfectly clear when we took a short stroll along the grasslands, warming our hands with a firm grip on our cup of hot native coffee. Dew drops latching on to our garments as we crossed over some patches of weed, avoiding the muddy terrain and puddles of murky water. And while passing through a cluster of wild orchids along the trail, I could not resist smelling the fresh earth – that familiar aroma of moistened soil.
I stood beside the bushes, digging my hands deep in my coat, exhaling warm air as the temperature gradually dropped. I just kept on staring at the fields – the trees swaying as the wind swept. The vistas up front are so elegant as its shadows extend further while the sun was rising. Everything around me that moment was full of life.
On that quiet morning, as daylight came, I was very fortunate to wake up in an entirely different world – a different yet fascinating world.
It never occurred to me that we were planning to head up to the peak of Mt. Polis on a Monday. Mondays normally remind me of those tired and apathetic feelings I had experienced in college, returning to school or going to work after a hung-over weekend. Weekly states of being grumpy and disheartened every time the hours of Sunday turn into minutes before the dreaded “school day/workday.”
Those hectic Mondays belong to my past. A world where deadlines kiss your forehead at the brink of dawn instead of the sun. Mondays that worried me instead of showering me with wonderful surprises. But with the plans of traversing through the woods, flexing and dodging on branches in a tiny trail towards a summit, excited me like a child ready to blow a sparkling birthday candle.
As we were walking along the concrete road leading to the point of ascent, I began recalling those episodes I used to watch in Nickelodeon, featuring the ever popular “Dora” the explorer. I was a big fan then, singing together with her talking backpack and her hideous map, feeling so excited for her and her adventures across blue bridges and colorful mountains. Let’s not even forget Swiper.
It was too much cartoons for me. The hike we were about to take was more than just sing-alongs and cute animations. This time, the adventure that I once thought was “super cool” in the television set, was now the real thing. And there I stood with the group, on the starting point, looking around and studying the soil’s inclination, bracing myself for the long journey we were about to take.
One deep breath and we started the climb.
I walked slowly in silence. Both my hands were anchored on the straps of my backpack, my feet alternately stepping onto hardened earth and strong roots, my hat sitting comfortably on my crown as the light of day began to diffuse en route to the woods. At first it was effortless, but as we went by several hectares of pine trees, the terrain mysteriously rose on the 20th minute of our trek. That second, I felt a thump in my chest.
We stopped for a bit just to catch our breath – some sat on a dry mound of red soil, some rested their head on a huge trunk of pine tree, some took the time to converse, and some captured marvelous photos. I was feeling my heart pound some more while I extended my neck up to see the silhouette of the leaves and barks above me. Somehow, it became my therapy. Minutes later, we were all in a relaxed state. And so, we went on.
There was a part of the trail that posed a big challenge for me. The walkway became narrower and I was lifting my leg up to find a stable footrest. My hands were busy grabbing onto long stalks and sturdy branches. Too much of a challenge that I was perspiring nonstop. The more I made an effort to pass through the high natural stairway, the more I felt so uncomfortable with the trickle of sweat gliding through my skin as the cold wind blew on it.
Despite the stress, my eyes swirl with wonderment as I passed through a path hearing only heavenly songs of the birds nearby. I could not spot a single one but the cacophony they produced was enough for me to listen to as I went along. Crickets joined in with the choir as well as the small twigs brushing against one another. The hissing of the tall grass as the wind passed and the sound of my sandals squishing the mud – an orchestra that I alone appreciated.
I kept on moving, ignoring the soreness of my calves, focusing my attention on the single track of earth leading away from the towering trees. From a distance, I could see scattered ant-sized houses, framed like a light at the end of a tunnel. Their steel roofs mirroring the sun’s reflection – an indication that we might be halfway to the top or that we may be nearer than we thought.
A lot of thoughts filled my mind while I diverted my attention from the tired muscles on my back. Yes, I bogged down. My pace decelerated and just as I began seeing twinkling lights around me, I immediately halted, dropped my backpack, and leaned on a tree trunk – a robust barrier against the sloped terrain behind it. All I could hear was the sound of my own heavy breathing.
Momentarily, after rehydrating, I recovered.
The reverberating “Malapit na tayo! (We are near!)” brought back the enthusiasm I had before the adventure began. Finally, we will be able to rest for a few hours before starting to descend from the summit.
At the 45th minute of our trek, the pillars of pine swaying above us started to vanish as the sky over our heads began to show through. The afternoon sun shining brightly on us after the tireless upward thrusts we endured in the heavily forested area. Alas! There were strong winds blowing on our faces. We are indeed very close.
“Derecho na yan sa taas. (It heads straight to the top.)” our host verbalized as he pointed the trail.
Exhausting every tiny energy left, I dashed to the trail, grabbing onto the cogon grass surrounding me, pushing my body to its limits just to feed the curiosity of the child inside. Both my hands working its way to guide me, my feet alternately bending and stretching, carrying all my weight with high hopes of reaching the zenith.
And there I was, gazing at the lush green peak.
Several meters to go and a few steps more in order to see what is up there. I suddenly dragged myself to the apex, craving for that unique perspective, that bird’s eye view of the world below. I could not wait any longer.
And on that final step, where the shadows of the trees could not be seen on the ground, where the gentle cold breeze of the wind brush onto your skin, where you’re at level with the birds gliding through the open air, I was in cloud nine.
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Mount Polis located at Bagnen Oriente, north of Bauko, is one of many trekking sites of the mountainous town of Bauko among others including Mount Nintengley at Bagnen Proper and Mount Bandilaan at Monamon Sur.
The peak reaching 1,837 meters above sea level overlooking the barangays of lower Bauko and municipalities of nearby Sagada, Bontoc, and Sabangan. The towering mountain rewards the trekker with refreshing views of the eastern side of Bontoc and proportional heights of Mt Kalawitan located in Sabangan municipality.