AN UPHILL BATTLE IS A PART OF LIFE: A Pico De Loro Trek

There are times when life seems strenuous, stressful, and difficult to bear. But with focus and fortitude, we can overcome the mountains of life.

Featured Mountain: Pico De Loro, Ternate, Cavite, Philippines

Pre-pandemic, mountain climbing in the Philippines was a mainstream hobby. During weekends and holidays, it was common to see groups of young adults wander to different hiking destinations in Luzon. It was a venturous way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, burn calories, socialize with friends, and breathe afresh.

One of the popular mountains near Metro Manila is Mt. Palay-Palay, a dormant volcano considered as the highest peak in the province of Cavite. It stands 664 meters above sea level and is classified as a minor climb with a 3/9 level of difficulty. 

It is also known as “Pico De Loro” which was named by the Spanish sea-farers centuries ago because of its monolith, a 50-feet single pillar of stone that resembles the shape of a parrot’s beak. Its summit offers a stunning 360-degree view of landscapes, a range of mountains, and the surrounding waters of Batangas.

I have hiked this mountain twice, in 2013 and 2016, and on different trails, the old trail and the new trail. Each climb was a different adventure, with significant insights relevant to life’s experience. 

The old trail hike in 2013 was a significant lesson on preparedness.

Hike duration to the summit: 3.5 hours with a few stops.

The Old Trail at Pico De Loro in 2013 was my first official hike as a curious beginner. The trail is vastly forested, abundant in greens, and has the vibe of the mysteries of nature.

Deep into the forest hides waterfalls and brooks. As you walk along, you will be astonished to see tall century-old trees, rocks, boulders, and entwined tree roots crawling down the path. 

A variety of trees stand together with firmness and fortitude, making you pause to look around in amazement and wonder. The best part is when the glowing ray of light gracefully paints a stroke of vibrancy and warmth in the surrounding.

It is refreshing to see the vivid colors of leaves, resting beautifully on the ground like autumn. The birds echo deep into the wild and the quietude of nature somehow offers soul care and rest to the tired body and mind. 

Despite the beauty it holds, the old trail also offers surprising challenges for new beginners. Although the trail is mostly wide, it has steep ascents and descents. 

To be honest, I was unprepared at that time, lacking the right hiking equipment, skills, and knowledge. I thought that a minor climb would be an easy one for the thrilled first-timers like me. I thought I was physically prepared enough. But nah, I belittled the toughness of the mountain. I learned that a mountain is still a mountain even if the classification states it to be an easy trail.

As a beginner, my body was not ready to hike mountains, even the minor treks. At that time, my limbs got easily exhausted climbing the huge boulders and gigantic tree roots. I lost the appetite to eat during our late lunchtime at the campsite because my stomach felt traumatized by the long and tedious trek. 

My shoes gave up during the descent. I thought wearing any rubber shoes would do. Hahaha! I went home with numb legs and I had difficulty walking as if I had been to a wrestling match. Hahaha!

My friends and I, all first-timers, did not hire a local guide and we got lost somewhere in the forest. We also ran out of water on our way down. Imagine us, panting.

The significant lesson on this first mountain hike is preparedness. A hiker must be fully equipped and prepared enough physically and mentally. The hiking gear, tools, and equipment must be complete. 

Likewise, preparedness is significant when facing a goal or an aspiration in life. Passion is a good driving force but it is not enough for combat. One needs to prepare and invest enough knowledge, skills, patience, determination, and perseverance to be successful in the end. 

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

The new trail hike in 2016 was a significant lesson on healing.

Hike duration to the summit: 2 hours with stops and photo-ops.

After three years, I went back to Mt Palay-Palay (Pico De Loro) with more friends. By this time, I have already climbed other mountains like Mt. Pulag, Mt. Maculot, Mt. Batulao, Mt. Manabu, Mt Buntis, Mt Nagpatong, Mt Marami, and others. 

I was full of excitement to go back to Pico De Loro and compare how I was back, then, as a first-timer. Hahaha! But too bad, the old trail was already closed for trekkers last February 2015 and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) created a new trail.

The new trail is easier and shorter, though. It has similarities with the narrowness and steepness of Mt Maculot in Batangas, except that Maculot is more straightforward in ascent and descent. 

However, I was surprised to see a different kind of vibe at the new trail with its forest looking feeble and washed-out in hue. Its trees, plants, and roots seemed dry and dusty. Greens were not lush enough and there was no warm ray of light to glow the forest.

Since it was a holiday, the mountain was crowded! It was a shock to see several hikers covering the entire trail of Mt. Palay-Palay, the base camp, summit, and monolith!

Perhaps it was the major reason why it was closed to hikers last October 2016 to give it ample time to recover and heal.

Likewise, healing is significant in life. Due to our limited human strength, we are prone to tiredness, exhaustion, and burnout. Sometimes, we need to slow down and take a break to recover and heal from the culture of haste and noise.

Know more about slowing down in another post: Click Here

The uphill battle to the summit was a significant lesson on fortitude.

Duration: The summit climb is 15-20 mins, including the long queue.

Upon reaching the campsite of Mt Palay-Palay, you will be naturally drawn to the highest point of the climb, the summit, and a vertical cliff, the monolith.

This is where you get to see a magnificent 360-degree view of the province of Cavite, Nasugbu, the mountain range, and the north-eastern side of Manila Bay.

During the climb in 2013, there were only two brave hikers who ascended the 50-feet single pillar monolith. In 2016, several hikers flocked to scale it and it took almost two hours to wait in a long queue for someone’s turn. 

To climb the summit and monolith is not a piece of cake. It is steep, dangerous, and exhilarating but worth it once you endure getting to the top.

The summit climb is bare, windy, and powdery, with small, loose rocks, and cliffs on both sides. There is almost nothing to hold onto and balance is important. One wrong move and you will surely fall to death. Perhaps, it is more slippery and dangerous during the rainy season which I have not tried yet. 

Similarly, life is hard sometimes. There are times when life seems strenuous, stressful, and difficult to bear. But with focus and fortitude, we can overcome the mountains of life and get to the top. As a matter of fact, an uphill battle is a part of life. It is inevitable.

“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:3-4, NLT 

#NatureMatters is the most important lesson when hiking.

This mountain has taught me preparedness and fortitude, especially during my first climb in 2013. It gave me the motivation to discover more about hiking and it has led me to several mountains and trails in seven years. The once-fearful lady in me became a risk-taker.

Moreover, it instilled in me a deep concern for the environment that it is infuriating to see irresponsible hikers writing vandalism on tree trunks and leaving trash behind. 

With this, I am glad that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)  closed this mountain in 2016 for planning and rehabilitation. Furthermore, it vastly benefited from the lockdowns and quarantines during the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope that the mountain has fully recovered from careless human activities.

When the pandemic is over and mountain climbing is open again to the public, I hope that hikers will be more prepared and mindful to follow the “leave no trace” practices.

May the visitors be responsible enough to leave a minimal impact on the hiking trails because nature matters.

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