Life in the Fast Lane


A Downhill Battle

By 7:53 AM , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Over the weekend, my siblings and I did something different to our usual Baguio routine. Instead of our typical agenda that would usually consist of vegetating, eating, and occasionally working out in the gym, we added a hiking day trip to our schedule.

My sister was the one who initiated this trip to Mt. Ulap since: 1) she has recently taken up hiking (and had gone on a hike in Mt. Hugom, Batangas just 2 weeks ago); and 2) she found out that Mt. Ulap is just 40 minutes away from Baguio. We decided that the five of us siblings (including our sister-in-law) would go, and our parents would stay behind in Baguio to babysit our 2-year-old nephew.

On Saturday, before most of us could even process the fact that it was morning, we drove 40 minutes out of Baguio and into Benguet and registered for the hike in the district of Itogon. It cost about P250 per head for the registration fee, including the fee for our guide. After paying and signing up, we started the trek.

There were several groups doing the same thing we were doing, but thankfully it wasn't a crowded hike. We were able to space things out in such a way that groups weren't overtaking each other. And except for one long wait to take pictures (particularly in the second summit), the number of people didn't deter us from enjoying the experience.

Anyway, I digress. Going back to the actual hike!

Let me begin with a disclaimer. None of us are actual hikers. My sister has recently turned into a hiking enthusiast after 5+ hikes, including a weekend in Anawangin, Zambales. But the rest of us had minimal to zero hiking experiences prior to this trip.

Mt. Ulap, we were told, would be a 9.8 kilometer hike. Initially, when I learned about this, I thought that it wouldn't be too difficult (at least for me, since I was already an endurance athlete). Our guide said that we could finish the entire hike within 5 to 6 hours, but my competitive nature was targetting sub-5.

I know, right.

Well, let's just say that things weren't exactly off to a wonderful start.

After the first 1.5 kilometers of climbing.

As soon as we entered the trail, it was an uphill hike. I wasn't able to measure the grade with my Garmin, but it was pretty darn steep. I could hear huffing and puffing behind and around me, and even my own lungs started to do their own wheezing dance. My calf muscles were activated (and I thanked the Lord that I decided to wear compression sleeves that day) and I knew my body was in for some serious pain the following day.

Mt. Ulap has a total of three summits, which are more or less divided equally into three kilometers (of uphills and downhills) per summit. For newbies like us, we struggled initially with the inclines. We would take 2-3 minute breaks every now and then to catch our breaths.

We made sure to pack the essentials for the trip: several bottles of water, food (energy bars and trail mixes), an extra shirt, a jacket (when we started the hike, the temperature was 19ÂșC), our phones, and in my case, different cameras.

My sister and I also tested our new shoes. She got herself a pair of Merrell Capra Rapids and I got a pair of Merrell Waterpro Maipos. My sister chose hers because she foresees a lot of different hikes and terrains (including passing through bodies of water) in the near future; I chose mine because I can also do trail runs with them.

Reaching all three summits — at least for me — was challenging, but not impossible to do. What made the hike bearable were the company, the wonderful views, and the thought of what we would be able to accomplish.

Decked in my Poveda Tri Team singlet, of course!

The second summit was the most photogenic, if you could call it that. It reminded us of Pride Rock (from The Lion King, in case you were wondering). Except that everyone else seemed to think the same thing; there was actually a line, just to take photos. It took about 40 minutes before it was our turn.

At this point, we had already gotten used to the elevation and the distances between summits. Reaching the third summit, coming from the second, was the easiest.

And of course, the scenery was awesome. Also, I definitely enjoyed being able to bond with my siblings.

Tip: These P20 hiking sticks can be life-changing. My brother named his "Sticko".

Now, leaving the third summit was a different story. I didn't realize that the downhill trek would be the trickiest of all. Perhaps it's because of a lack of confidence in finding my footing, and not knowing the right landing angle, but I really had to make sure that I was stepping on something stable for the last 2.5 kilometers.

With my dancer-turned-hiker sister.

Sisters x 3 (and we were all born in February)!

Magnificent views everywhere we looked! Thank You, Lord!

Towards the end of the hike, we saw some stalls selling food and souvenirs (tip: buy food or water if you're already hungry or starting to get dehydrated at this point), and several footbridges leading to Sta. Fe, where the trail would eventually end.

Now, here are some tips for amateur or even first-timer hikers, and my realizations from this hike:

  1. Pack enough food and water, but pack light. Remember that you'll most likely be carrying several pounds on your back for several hours.
  2. Apply sunblock every few hours. Even if you'll be hiking in a cool place, like Mt. Ulap (or nearby Benguet hiking trails), the sun will still get to you. And sunburn is never a pleasant experience — which my siblings will attest to.
  3. Just because you have a GPS watch, it may not necessarily translate your hiking data accurately. Let's just say that my Garmin's data (thinking that I was running) was messed up. I don't have the more advanced watches, like the 920XT onwards, so maybe that was also a factor. Lesson learned!
  4. You might not have enough time and energy to use different kinds of cameras. For this trip, I packed my Canon SX160 IS, my sister's SJ 4000 (my GoPro's housing got broken, so I couldn't bring it), and my iPhone. At some point, depending on how technical the trail can be, the last thing you're thinking of is being able to take a picture. Be realistic about what photography gear you should be bringing. (At the end of the day, you'll most likely rely on your smartphone alone.)
  5. If you're prone to dehydration, bring at least 2 x 24oz water bottles. Because after several climbs — trust me — you're going to want to keep sipping.
  6. Test any new pairs of shoes before the climb. I was able to break in my Merrells with a 7K run several days before the actual hike. Thankfully, my feet didn't hurt at all during and after the hike.
  7. Going downhill is actually harder and more taxing on the body. I thought that the uphills would kill me, but they were actually easier; the descent was much, much tougher. Even if I'm already an endurance athlete, I still felt some soreness on my left knee and right quad muscles the following day.
  8. Land on your heel when going downhill. Your body will absorb 7-8 times its bodyweight when descending. According to our guide, the trick is to land on the heel for better weight distribution and better shock absorption by the body.
  9. Manage your expectations. According to my sister, Mt. Ulap had a 3 out of 9 rating among climbers and hiking enthusiasts. Naturally, we thought that it would be a fairly easy climb. Wrong! Among more experienced hikers, for sure they would think that this is easy; but for us newbies and amateurs, it wasn't exactly a walk in the park.
  10. Enjoy the view! You may complain of painful quads, hamstrings, and knees. You may break out into a Miley Cyrus song, or channel Maria from The Sound of Music at one point. You may not be a good climber. You may even decide that you've had it with hiking for good. But seeing the world from a different perspective, admiring God's creation, being able to take in fresh air, and enjoying the company of the people you're with — those moments are priceless.
Thank you, Mt. Ulap, for a memorable hike (it took us six hours to finish, which was pretty good, actually). I don't know if I'll be going on another one anytime soon (since I have to focus on my triathlon training for two upcoming races), but I'm glad to see that my sister has been enjoying it immensely, and that it has given her confidence and something to look forward to on weekends.

Peace out, from the Araneta siblings!

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