Monday, August 21, 2017

Hiking Mt. Pigingan in Dalupirip, Itogon, Benguet

It was already pitch black when we reached the rather quiet and secluded barangay of Dalupirip. Situated in the outskirts of Itogon in Benguet, the place has a certain kind of charm to it. Maybe it’s the stillness in the air. Maybe it’s the clear sky bursting with stars. Maybe it’s the sound of rushing waters at the mighty Agno River. The place reminded me of home – Besao, Mt. Province. The magic of rural living was everywhere.

I was in the company of new friends who, just a few hours ago, were nothing short of strangers: Edu, Ivan, Junie, Ana Fe, Shin Joy, Natazzia, and Angelique. They were a team of photographers, videographers, guides, and travellers bent on documenting the beauty of Dalupirip through an initiative by the Itogon Tourism Office. In a nutshell, we were there to help spread the word about the place.

Driving the white truck we were riding was no other than Mr. Joel Bauzon, the barangay captain of Dalupirip. He picked us up earlier at the Dangwa Station in Baguio City. The plan was to spend the night at a house near the magnificent Agno River then climb Mt. Pigingan before dawn breaks. Trekking early will make sure that we reach the summit in time to catch the sun as it rises out from the east.

The truck slowly swerved its way through the rugged road as we got closer to base camp. Every now and then we have to stop to open road gates. These are gates that prevent cattle (mostly cows and horses) from venturing into areas where they can inflict damage on properties and crops.

At around 9:00 in the evening, we reached the home where we’ll stay the night. Serving as our base camp was the house of manong Cruzaldo Atos. Manong Zaldo prepared for us a sumptuous meal of pinikpikan, brewed coffee, malunggay leaves, and a few other vegetables the names of which I can’t fully recall.

When the clock struck 11:00, we called it a night. Two of our companions retired inside the house. The rest of us preferred to sleep at the makeshift kubo outside. The kubo has open sides so we were at the mercy of mosquitoes and nasty small insects locally referred to by the Ibalois as sepsep. Our plan was to start the climb at 1:00 in the morning which means we only had two hours left for restful sleep.

We started the trek to Mt. Pigingan at exactly 1:30 in the morning. The first section of the trail isn’t that difficult as it follows a road currently under construction. The final trail to the summit is a bit more difficult but very manageable, even for beginners. It’s the rainy season so huge sections of the trail are wet and muddy. The trails are also often used by cows so the wet mud can be several inches deep.

Fortunately, Mt. Pigingan doesn’t have a leech (lamatik) problem. Dealing with leeches is a real struggle. I am reminded of the time we climbed Mt. Lubo in Bakun a few months ago. We had to stop every few minutes on the trail to pick off the leeches that latched onto our clothes.

After several hours of arduous climbing, we reached the summit of Mt. Pigingan. We were there moments before the sun peeked from the distant mountains. The summit is a thin grassy ridge punctuated by a few pine trees. When moving through the peak, you have to be very careful because the east side has a vertical drop which is dozens of meters high.

Suffice it to say that the views from the summit were magnificent. You have to be there to truly appreciate the beauty of the place. It’s highly recommended that you climb the mountain early in the morning, like we did. You’ll be treated with a fiery sunrise and a great view of the hills, mountains, rivers, and meadows below. If you climb too late, there’d be nothing to see but clouds and thick mists. The choice is yours: climb early or climb late.

And here are a few teaser photos from the trip. I say it again, you have to be there to truly appreciate the beauty of the place. These photos don't do justice to the wonders of nature that surround you once you step foot on the summit ridge.