Thursday, March 19, 2015

Musing at Bukidnon’s Mt. Musuan

Barely fifteen minutes after I took my first few steps into a dense forest within the sprawling expanse of the Central Mindanao University’s campus, there I was catching my breath. I felt my lungs would burst anytime due to lack of oxygen!  Reaching a clearing, I stopped and took in all the air I could to help bring to fruition my objective that day: to reach the summit of Mt. Musuan in Maramag, Bukidnon.
Mt. Musuan as seen from a rice field in Maramag

It wasn’t even halfway towards my first ascent to Mt. Musuan but I was already so drained. I became desperate especially when I noticed that the group of young climbers I chanced upon at the foot of the volcano at the start of my trek were already several steps ahead of me! I tried to hasten my pace but I couldn’t keep up with them. Before I knew it, they were out of my sight. Such speed demons! 

Located right smack within the sprawling expanse of Mindanao’s leading agricultural school, Mt.  Musuan, a small but active volcano that  last erupted in the 1800s, is one of the most-visited attractions in the province given its accessibility—just a few meters away from the Sayre National Highway. Rising some 646 m (2,119 ft) above sea level, the volcano is also known as Mt. Calayo, whose literal meaning is “Fire Mountain”.

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Mt. Musuan's peak on a clear day

A favorite destination of climbers, hikers, sprinters, eco-adventurers and lovers of the great outdoors, Mt. Musuan offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the sugarcane and rice fields at the lowlands, the mighty Pulangi River and the mountain ranges from afar. It was the rare chance to capture those picturesque sceneries I’ve read about and seen in pictures that inspired me to climb it with hardly any preparation.
I’ve been haunted by the idea of climbing Mt. Musuan since I first caught a glimpse of it aboard a bus on my way to Cagayan de Oro in the early 2000s.  Whenever that happens, I’d quickly brush aside the temptation for I know it would be sheer folly for this bum who’s been experiencing chronic bouts with arthritis. But on a recent visit to Bukidnon, the temptation was just too tough to handle—I finally gave in!
Driving from Malaybalay, I reached the entrance gate to the volcano, where the Mt. Musuan Zoological and Botanical Garden is located, at around 8:00 in the morning. The said complex, which is part of CMU serves as the research facility for the university’s students and researchers. After parking near the gate, I paid my entrance fee (Php10) to the guard on duty and then started my ascent to the peak. 

Halfway through the exhilarating climb to the summit of the volcanono guides, no porters, no companions, no motorbikes, no trucks to take me up—was turning out to be an ordeal, made more burdensome with the stuff I was carrying—my backpack, a tripod and my Nikon. The euphoria that engulfed me earlier was waning. Still, I went on, slowly but surely. I looked around for the other climbers but I couldn’t find one!

The journey to 2,000 feet begins here...

Young climbers on their way to the summit

The decision to scale Bukidnon’s volcano turned out to be such a thoughtless display of conceit on my part. I was ill-prepared for it; I’ve never even scaled a peak in recent years. The last one I had with some coworkers was almost a decade ago—Mt. Apo, the country’s highest peak, no less, via the Kapatagan-Kidapawan route. It was a relatively enjoyable climb simply because I was younger, leaner and quicker that time. 
Silly me, but I made myself believe I could breeze through Mt. Musuan. After all, I’ve heard from fellow bloggers that it would take less than an hour for seasoned climbers to reach its peak and perhaps an hour and a half for neophytes. But I was proven wrong—it took me two excruciating hours—time for selfies and photo ops included. Reality bit me: I’ve aged, gained weight and lacked exercise!

One of the many passes leading to the summit

Coming across a steep and craggy pass with a somewhat 45-degree slope, a twinge of fear suddenly stabbed me, undermining my confidence. At the same time, I felt my left leg starting to ache a little. Uh-oh, am I going to have a bout with arthritis here in the wilderness? Seeing a rock, I ambled my way towards it. I had to take my meds and rest my leg first before dealing with that pass. 

Alone up there, the nagging thought that I won’t be able to make it to my destination kept disturbing me. I began to question myself why I was there in the first place when I could be somewhere else having fun.  It was too late for regrets though. It was sink or swim—I’m left with no choice but to face the music. In silence, I asked for divine intervention. Lord, help me make it through this ordeal.

For what seemed like eternity, I just sat under a tree in silence, allowing the tranquility of the ambience to engulf me. Feeling better, I rose and inched my way up the pass, taking small but determined steps. Before I knew it, I survived the craggy path! Energized by that little triumph, I felt swells of courage penetrate my nerves, reinvigorating my confidence to win the battle against self-doubt.

With quiet determination, I continued my trek, passing several steep passes leading to the summit. As I got higher, the scenery down below started to turn into a visual feast—the picture-perfect vista of Bukidnon’s verdant rice fields, the undulating pine trees adorning the mountain’s slopes, the mighty Pulangi River and the distant mountain ranges. Ah, it was so awe-inspiring to bask in the beauty of God’s creations!

Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice coming from behind me. “Hey, Sir!  Good to see you again!” I turned around and was greeted by the smiling face of one of the young climbers I’ve met earlier. From a distance I saw his companions, taking a break under a pine tree. Grinning, they waved their hands in recognition. I waved back.   

Bukidnon's sprawling plains

“You guys are such speed demons! I thought you’re already up there at the peak.” I kidded the mirthful climber “We’ve done this before that’s why we’re familiar with the path,” he said. “I see. It’s my first time to go up here,” I told him. “Hey, wait, before I lose sight of you once again, can you please take my pics?” I asked him. “With pleasure, Sir!” came the reply.

Climbers on their way back 
to the volcano's foot 
Minutes later, the group called on their companion. It was time to resume their ascent.  “See you later at the summit, Sir!” one of fellows shouted.  “If I can catch up with you!” I yelled back. They laughed in unison and forged ahead. I was left alone once again.  From where I sat, I noticed the panoramic vista spread out just a few steps away from me. I stepped towards the edge of the ravine. Whew, it was such a sight to behold! 

Quickly, I held up my Nikon and started clicking at the marvelous scene.

I broke up my rendezvous with the spectacular view and mustered enough energy to go on with my trek.  Finally, after so many starts and stops, I finally made it to the top of Mt. Musuan. Looking at my watch, roughly two hours had passed since I’ve started my climb. Then I saw the compound where the satellite station is located. Entering the premises, I was ganged up by three white barking dogs at the entrance. 
A portion of Sayre Highway as seen from Mt. Musuan's peak

A man wearing a blue cap looked out of the small window of the guard’s post and shouted. “Come in...they just bark but don’t bite!” I nodded and went inside, ignoring the dogs. Roaming around the premises, I noticed a view deck that provides a sweeping vista of Bukidnon’s landscape. Walking towards it, I saw the young fellow who took my snaps earlier, having lunch with his fellow climbers in one corner. 

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That's Pulangi River!
“You’ve made it, Sir!” he exclaimed. “Finally!” I said, laughing. “Why don’t you join us for lunch?” offered one of the female climbers. “Oh, thank you. It’s OK, I brought some food, too.” I said. “Ah, OK, enjoy your meal, Sir,” she added. “You, too,” I said while settling down in one of the empty tables near the view deck to eat my lunch. 

Later, I saw the group  clean their mess and pack their stuff. “Leaving so soon, guys?”  I asked. “Yes, Sir. we’re on our way back to Valencia. It was nice meeting you,” replied one of them. “So glad to have known you, too, but I’m staying here for a while to take more pictures,” I told them. “We’ll go ahead, Sir,” they chorused as they made their way back to the trail.

The meandering Pulangi River, one of Mindanao's vital sources of hydroelectric power

I was alone once again. Left to my devices, I started shooting at the picture-perfect sceneries surrounding me. An hour passed. I got tired and sank into one of the long benches. There, in the stillness of the volcano’s summit, amidst the howling winds and the swaying pine trees, I spent some time musing about my successful climb to the top and its resemblance to my journey through life’s peaks and troughs. 

The trek to the mountain made me realize several things I’ve been taking for granted all this time—to spend time preparing for my moves, to take quick steps but not too quick or I'll trip, to take it slow but not too slow or I'll be left behind, to trust the innate kindness of strangers I meet along the way, and to rely more on myself and my own resources in dealing with life’s unexpected twists and turns. 

For these and more, I’m grateful to Mt. Musuan for reminding me of the many things about life and survival.  :-D

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