Text and Photo by Euden Valdez
HOW does one prepare for a journey to someplace one has never been before? Often, a traveler relies on research and recommendations.
For us mountaineers involved in community work, communication among locals and leaders are required. It is them whom we based our itinerary and estimations on trek time. Often, if they say it takes them one hour to summit from jump off, then we double it for ourselves.
This was the case for our Kibungan circuit, in which half was to be spent on unfamiliar trails despite RAK Ph Mountaineers’ regular outreach activities in the mountainous province. We were aware that coming from Sitio Lanipew, all of us would technically be “first-timers” going to Barangay Tacadang proper on Day 2.
Thankfully, we were rested, albeit, not fully restored.
Still, we had already accomplished our mission to conduct an ocular and interview with Lanipew locals for our solar project, which had been in the pipeline for over a year already.
Now, we had to continue our journey.
Crying mountains to Tacadang
We allowed ourselves to relax a little because from our talks with our guide and locals, it only took them three hours to reach Tacadang. This was confirmed by a teammate who is an Igorota herself and who has spent her intern days with community work at Tacadang.
As always—and given our tired state—we doubled the estimated trek time. We could reach our next community in five to six hours. Hence, we started trekking at almost 11 a.m. believing we would arrive by 4 p.m. We needed to be there by 5 p.m. because we would still source food for our dinner. Remember that rural dwellers sleep early!
And really, we just didn’t want to be caught by night in the trail again.
We were proven wrong by Mother Nature once more. Despite all the adjustments we made, we managed to bloat our trek time to nine hours—that’s triple the locals’ time.
We basically overestimated ourselves and underestimated Kibungan’s difficulty and most of all, beauty.
Even before leaving Lanipew, we could already see the mountain we were to pass. It didn’t look that high but its trail, we would soon realize, were practically vertical and carved at the very edge. Even steeper—thankfully shorter—than the Almasi trail. The craziest angle we tackled was 85 degrees.
At the top, the advantageous spot opened up to a bird’s eye view of Sitio Lanipew below, the rice plains surrounding it, and the Bakun mountain range across us. Behind these mountains, a glimpse of a river flowing out to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, we were looking at San Fernando, La Union.
This gravity-defying assault was just the start. The next part was a series of rolling hills, in and out of the forest, once in a while, showing the many waterfalls of Kibungan. We could also see on the next mountain the next sitio, Dalipey, where we would have our lunch.
We arrived there at already 2 p.m. Our viand was quickly cooked and we would’ve left immediately after eating if not for the kind host who served us freshly brewed coffee. We couldn’t say no.
And then, the moment of truth. We were still far from Tacadang. It would take us another six hours, which were both glorious and brutal.
Upon continuing our trek, we were thrown into a lost world—like the setting of Jurassic Park or King Kong. Gorges covered in green protruded right before our very eyes, with footpath in between. A passage for us to take. While crossing, we could make up a silhouette of mammoth, seemingly sleeping.
Gaining elevation once more, we could now see rooftops from Tacadang like dots on top of a faraway peak. Why must this always happen to us, to be presented with the impossible?
Because it was possible, with will and perseverance to take one step, and then another step, until the destination was reached.
But first, more trails ahead of us. Another careful and calculated descent with a unique view, a sacred burial ground inside a mountain crevice.
Then, Kibungan cried the most beautiful tears for us. Such beauty that would only show itself to those crazy enough to pass. Pictures wouldn’t compare to Mother’s Nature’s abundance and magnificence in real life.
This gave us a respite from our weariness. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay in that moment forever.
It was time for the day’s final push and we were bordering exhaustion. Worse, it was getting darker and the trails were the usual—full of slippery cliffs.
Just as the night enveloped the mountains, it started raining. The storm wasn’t over. It just gave us a window for awe and wonder.
And as if we missed them, the limatiks were back. I didn’t know you could have deja vu from something that just happened the night before. This was the brutal part: the last two hours.
But trust that there’s an end to our travails. Before we knew it, we were settling inside a house. Across it was an old hut of an old couple, whose son was the former barangay captain. It was the same family that fostered our teammate during her college internship.
That night, they were drinking the traditional tapuy, straight from hundred-year-old clay jars (only the jars were antique, the content wasn’t), and they butchered a pig for a traditional ritual.
You see this was serendipity. Remember we didn’t have food yet for dinner and there we were, being served with hot pork stew without being asked for anything in return.
In the last three years that I had been hiking, this was what I had learned early on. That kindness came in ripples. Show kindness and it would return in multifold.
To be continued…
Part 3: Last push home
is a former dyarista,