Text and Photos by Euden Valdez
Additional Photos by Aileen Magalang
INHALE deeply—if not a little sharply—and fill the lungs with much needed air. Panting now, both organs expand and deflate as the heart in between beats faster and wilder. All this in rhythm with the feet that keep stepping forward and upward.
But while we were straining from a challenging trail, we managed to be mindful in both our breathing and our surrounding. We were meeting Mt. Palali truly for the first time, not only physically but also visually and emotionally.
Indeed, this mountain accessible via Quezon town in Nueva Vizcaya lives up to its reputation as the northern counterpart of Mt. Makiling and Mt. Arayat in southern Luzon—especially in terms of difficulty.
But while all three mountains are nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, Mt. Palali is much farther from Metro Manila making it less popular with the ever-booming hiking tours and the new-wave of outdoor enthusiasts.
Endure seven hours of land travel from the capital by night only to hike early in the morning. A sufficient breakfast is a must for what will ensue.
But this was what duly preserved Mt. Palali’s trail to almost pristine, especially when compared to its sisters’ already and heavily impacted trails. So that even after everything, the mountain will prove everything worth it.
Everything included the unforgiving early assault, which went on and on and pretty much for the most of the hike. Four hours since jump-off at Brgy. Maddiangat, we were still climbing natural steps of the earth. We were still clinging at bodies of trees and pushing our own bodies forward, upward.
Every now and then, rest stops were taken to recover. Trail food was consumed to delay hunger, which was always at bay, for the body was burning, consuming energy.
Soon, the forested trail gave way to a portion of “rockies,” boulders implanted along the trail, wondering if they protruded from the ground or fell from the sky. Wherever they came from, they were laid out interestingly so that they became made up tight alleys, or smooth walls, or even a a stage. It was a world of its own.
And then the hunger returns. High noon had come and we still hadn’t reached our chosen spot: a part of the trail dubbed “Haring Bato.” We were nearing it, our local guides told, but exhaustion ruled out endurance. We ate where it was convenient.
Food, glorious food for carbs, proteins and sugars. It was the best decision and soon, we resumed our trek to Haring Bato, which was really less than 30 minutes away.
But glad we’re all lock and loaded. We had the strength to absorb the view that opened up for us thanks to Haring Bato’s layout of boulders, shrubs and cogon grass—pretty much like a bonsai.
There were the plains of surrounding Nueva Vizcaya towns with houses sized as insects from up above, the Magat River encircling them like a worm.
And then on the far west, the Cordillera Mountain Range loomed. Spotted mountains included Ugo, Napulauan, Amuyao and Pulag. On the opposite side, the continuation of Sierra Madre. Everything was glorious as the sun pulsed from up above.
Haring Bato was the halfway mark to summit and another four hours of trekking were consumed. Temperatures started dropping and the trails became even more slippery. Some portions required crossing over rivulets high up in the mountain.
We came into a wider stream at dusk casting shadows over rocks and the riverbed turned green by moss. Everything stood still from enchantment. We refilled our drinking bottles straight from the flowing, cool water. It was refreshing and rewarding for it would be the permanent water source of the camp, which was just nearby.
But Mt. Palali’s hidden surprises did not end there. We summited the next morning after the overnight rest at the camp. And felt even more grateful for we entered a trail that was preserved, prime and pristine. It was a magical, mossy forest of pitcher plants, endemic blooms, clingy ferns, and thick forest cover that altogether locked moisture in the air.
And as we got absorbed in the cacophony of greens always, we found ourselves reaching out, holding, touching and feeling mesmerized.
Traveling Journo Ph climbed Mt. Palali as part of a training and fundraising climb of Random Act of Kindness - RAK Ph Mountaineers.
Cordillera Cross Country: Traversing Mt. Amuyao’s Trail Less Traveled
is a former dyarista,