Climbing Mt. Damas in Tarlac (685+)

I am not even sure if I should still be up and writing this. My shoulders are sore, I am lightheaded, my eyes are refusing to stay open, and my legs are hurting anywhere you touch them.

…were the only sentences I was able to type before I fell asleep on Monday night. I was exhausted. Now, I have a cold, which is making it so hard to focus– I am blowing my nose like an elephant every 2 seconds. I might also be getting a fever. If my mom would get to read this, I bet she would think, what the hell happened to her? Well, Mt. Damas happened.

As I have already mentioned in my previous post, I only get Sundays off from work and have taken the habit of doing something out of the ordinary on this special day. Last week, I took both Sunday and Saturday off– all for the glory of Mt. Damas.

Two months ago, I was bored and lusting for adventure. I needed something unusual to happen, so when my friend asked if I wanted to go mountaineering, I did not hesitate. Aside from that spontaneous dayhike with my family in Taal Volcano 4 years ago, I had never actually climbed a mountain before. This budding obsession for trekking started in August; even before we started for Mt. Tarak’s summit, I already knew I found something interesting enough to shake me from my then frustrating state of weariness. Mt. Tarak was the first mountain I officially climbed, but I will talk about it next week. Today, while my body is still sore, I will tell you a bit about the mountain that almost killed my spirit.

At around 6:30AM, our bus left from Cubao to Tarlac. Roughly 4 hours later, we found ourselves in Chowking in Brgy. Camiling for a nice rowdy lunch– when about a dozen people all carrying heavy bags on their backs enter a restaurant, you would be wrong not to expect at least one interesting thing to happen. (What that is, I will leave to your imagination.)

I was not ready for this climb. I failed to read a single thing about Mt. Damas and only scanned our itinerary. All I knew was that it was going to be a major climb. Despite it being only half of Mt. Tarak’s altitude, the climb was going to take as long– this told me much about how difficult the trail would be.

From Camiling proper, tricycles took us to Brgy. Papaac, a ride which lasted for about 15 minutes via a golden road of rice grains being dried under the sun. The air was itchy and the dust from the rice grains made it hard to breathe– but the scenery was beautiful. The silhouette of the mountains against the bright blue sky reminded me what we were journeying for.

Mt. Damas is approximately 665 MASL. The concrete ended and a stretch of dirt road began. I believe this is one of the most liberating things in any climb: when you set foot on an unpaved trail, and you know exactly why you’re standing there, and where you’re heading; you go on despite the knowledge that anything could happen along the way because the peak is waiting, and it is the reason you have turned your back on your familiar world for the next few hours of your lifetime.

Due to a quite silly reason, we decided not to hire a guide. The guide continued to badger us, telling us that the trail would be difficult and dangerous. But because we are young and fearless (and silly!), we ignored his warnings. He did try to lead us up to the Aeta settlement (which was the regular route) but we ran into two locals who told us about a detour that would take less than 2 hours to the peak! The guide told us (almost mocked us) that we were making the wrong decision because the alternate route had not been used for months. But he was starting to get a little annoying and he did look less trustworthy than the locals, so we decided to deviate.

I think the first 5 minutes into the trail should’ve been ominous enough. A thick stretch of tall thorny grasses welcomed us. I did not pay much attention to the time but we got lost for a good amount. When you’re in the wilderness, the green trees are your walls, the brown soil is your floor, and the blue sky is your ceiling. Wherever you turn, every corner looks almost exactly alike. And if you’re someone with a very poor sense of direction like myself, it would be easier to admit that you’re in the middle of nowhere. But there are also things (which unsurprisingly require no effort to miss) that tell you which direction to go: the lonely tree to the left of the peak is the marker of Damas.

By the time we realized that we should’ve just followed the river, it was already starting to get dark. We couldn’t find the pathway into the next mountain. Some left to look for a good place to camp, and the lot of us took our bags off our backs and sat by the riverbank. The pebbles felt hard under my feet and the river surged loudly down its path, but Ghregg fell asleep on a boulder with her face a feet from the water. We were all tired and dirty.

The Ubod Falls

The Ubod Falls

Everyone agreed to camp beside the Ubod Falls, which is by far the grandest waterfall I’ve seen in the wild. The Ubod Falls is approximately 100 feet tall with a small and shallow catch basin. Beside it was a patch of less rocky earth that was flat enough to set camp on.

River trekking

River trekking

After setting camp, we started to get ready for dinner. And would you ever guess what we had? Pork stew with tamarind soup– yes, of all things that can be prepared in the wilderness, we made Pork Sinigang. This group never fails to amaze me, I tell you. A wide mat was laid open and a lamp was lit in the middle of the camp: dinner was ready. Everyone brought something to share, and someone made sure that these nice bottles of gin and brandy were not forgotten. To make a long story short, we had a wonderful dinner under a moonlit sky with droplets from the waterfall peppering our faces. And with warmth from the alcohol and from everyone’s laughter, the night air was made less cold.

I woke up at around 4 in the morning and was surprised to realize that I had no hangover despite drinking more than I could the previous night. I was inside the tent but could feel and see the moon illuminating everything outside. With my back still on the cold floor, I unzipped the tent’s door to check who were awake and chatting, and how I wish then that everything would remain how they were: the sky was the perfect shade of dark blue with the most vivid map of the constellations. The waterfall continued to cry out with an almost deafening voice but nothing had ever made me feel calmer. I laid still for awhile to stare at the heavens. The rawness of it all was beautiful.

Camping beside Ubod Falls

Camping beside Ubod Falls

We finished breaking camp at almost 8am. The plan was came noon and we still haven’t found the trail to the summit, we would have to admit defeat and just try our luck the next time. Luckily, Ave found the trail with markers that could only mean we were going the right way. We trekked via the river; several minutes into the mountain and I (probably, all of us) realized that it was not going to be easy. It was steep and, as if the grasses were angry, they flicked at us and cut us. I took off my jacket but only ended up wearing it again when my arms started to sting. Again, we were tired and dirty but, this time, we were on the right track. The sun was so high up and it was starting to get really hot. I stopped several times to catch my breath. When I saw we were almost at the peak, there was nothing in the world I could’ve wanted more than to just stand on top of Damas.

The view from the top

The view from the top

The summit is a small patch of earth but wide enough for 14 tired mountaineers. We had wanted to be there early enough for the sea of clouds, which could only be witnessed early in the morning, but it was already time for lunch. I barely had energy to enjoy the landscape but one look at it was enough to convince me that it was worth the climb. To conclude our ascent, we had the most sumptuous boodle fight, which consisted of corned beef, adobong puti, and some leftover sinigang.

Lunch is served

Lunch is served

Just when I thought life has started to get boring again. 🙂

Today’s lesson: STOP, BREATHE and REST, if that will help you get to the top.

(Started writing this about a month ago. Low-res photos taken with my smart phone.)

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