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Sunday, 4 July 2010

A mountain trek (part 2)

Click here for part 1.

Lost.
I was tracking a mountain trail snaking up to a burnt area but it had now sneaked away and disappeared in the ash and the soot and charcoal. Like an avenging angel, i rushed in where fools fear to tread. But like a bigger fool i stupidly and blindly stumbled through smoke and smoulder. With hardly a prayer i madly trampled on over ember and cinder

Such is the ways of mice and men. Even the sharp eyed eagle is wise not to have ventured in pursuit of the mountain mouse trying to escape - running in circles away from the fire. The mouse too is wise to go in circles as at least it keeps retracing its steps and escapes the fire. (I don’t actually know this about eagles or mice so insert smiley here. I’m just illustrating my idiocy).
The journeying man however had traced out a pattern called chaos and is now lost in the midst of a smoky and dark rainforest. In my mad rush to get through the smoke, i found myself deep in a denser darker gloomier place.

The smoke had cleared, and what I thought was thick dark smoke was, at high noon, actually the gloom from the overshadowing thick leafy cover of the rainforest blocking off the sun. And at high noon in the tropical cordillera mountains, the sun is on its zenith straight up there in the sky. In other words I am lost like a rudderless ship out at sea. Without realising it, the few minutes of blind rush had led me right into the middle of a jungle on a mountain peak of my homeland.

Not even fire can penetrate the deep jungles of the Cordillera. So in that sense, I was at least safe from one danger. But the danger now facing me is how to get out and safely. I estimate that I would have traversed 3- 4 hundred metres in the 15 minutes of wild and blind rushing through the vines, ferns, moss and undergrowth.

I took stock. My watch says the time is around 1:00 pm and i reckon i’m about 3 hours hike from home. It was no use trying to reckon directions from the sun. First because of the time of day, and secondly no sunlight can filter through the canopy hence no shadows.

You know when you get nervous you start humming. I did. I was humming something like.
I offered up my innocence
and got repaid with scorn
"Come in" she said "I’ll give you,
Shelter from the storm."
Unwittingly i was appealing to my mother the mountain for some succor.

Quietly and quite rightly reprimanding me for my foolishness, she whispered in answer to my supplications. 'The hard rain has fallen, but i’ve sheltered you my darling son, go on make back on your way.'

Thus becalmed I looked around, but every which way looked lost. The moaning and creaking of the trees induced some thought. I knew it was bright daylight above the branches and the treetops. And it came to me that i was mostly going uphill and that the gradient had lessened when i was pushing a way through. I then warily picked my way through again trying to find, to feel for the descending slopes. I backtracked a few times along the way. There was a trail through that jungle – i came across bits of its disused parts. But it cannot be tracked. And without landmarks, a first timer to these parts would get lost like I have.
After some time of despondent bumbling, i could smell smoke again. Facing what i reckoned to be a downhill direction, I surveyed in a half circle to try and see smoke. What irony. The trees have thinned out slightly and some sunlight now filter through. In a few minutes i found myself on the verge of the rainforest – coinciding with the edge of the burned area. The tail end of the disappearing trail is back in sight and immediately i gratefully stepped back on it. My watch read 1:45pm. I was lost in the jungle for all of 45 minutes. It felt like 45 hours!
My dilemma now was whether to make my way back home the way i came or try to find another trail in the charred slopes below the jungle on the mountain peak. I resolved to keep going for a bit and to backtrack if i cannot find a way around.

The steep slopes of the eastern edge of the jungle, face the mainit ricefields and the villages of maligcong and  guina-ang.

(A close-up photo of Guina-ang from miles away in the Mainit mountains. That's the recently bulldozed road to Dalican in the background.)

I struck a path through the burnt out grass and loose gravelly ground while keeping some distant hilltop in sight. At the edge of the burning I went up and then down along a draw and found what i was hoping to – a trail. So back on track. One more glance at my watch said 2:15 pm. Plenty of time to get home.
The trail runs easterly and is getting wider as it winds down about 20m parallel to and on the south side of a ridge. It goes steadily downhill for a good 2 or 3km before it merges and is one with the ridgeline. I encounter a few more smouldering/burning areas. The trail is now clearly defined and appears to be used regularly. I am concerned slightly that it keeps heading east instead of south or southwest to where i think Mainit should be beyond the hills on the south. I thought it was simply the zigzagging route.

Flitting in and out through the branches i can see houses on a hill in the far distance in Maligcong.

And so now i know i’m on track. I come across a y-shaped fork in the road where the trail splits into two - one continuing east and the other southwards. This is the main trail between Belwang and Mainit and i strike the trail south resolving to visit Maligcong to the east some other time. I checked my watch 3:00pm so I should be home in an hour or so. A few minutes down i found another gap with views to Maligcong.
I tried zooming in a couple of shots. A bit fuzzy.

Rising a small hill i found yet more smoke and another logging camp. I walked through the burnt area shaking my head at the wasted off-cuts left behind. That much reject timber would be very handy for a shed or a kalapaw shack back in Oz.

If home wasn’t a bit distant over the hills, I could have carried an 8’x6"x3" piece for firewood.

At the other edge of the burning I paused as the trail had disappeared again. It cannot be I thought, as I walked up and down along the edge of browned singed grass and fallen pine needles. I to’d and fro’d a few times, each time getting farther in search for the trail which I thought should be there. After trundling across a couple more times I went downhill on the slope which suddenly steepened into a ravine. It is thus I realised there was not another trail out from there. The trail in had only been for the logging camp, and to nowhere else.


Now I was a little worried. I paused searching for a trail and tried to think. It was the mid-afternoon and I reoriented myself by reckoning from the sun’s location. I backtracked up the hill to the fork in the road. On impulse I backtracked even farther up the way I came and found what I saw earlier – a trail branching to the southeast. It wasn’t very obvious as the recent fires had obscured its edges and some fallen undergrowth had blocked it off in some points. I looked beyond to the hills hiding Mainit from my eyes.

The homestretch.
I started humming the Paul Simon song ‘homeward bound’. I was looking forward to a big mug or takob of fine bayas after my evening bath. That will help me diarise my trek.

Part 3. Conclusion