My First Climbathon: Mt. Napulawan Traverse Race

    Before the Akyathlon, there was the Hungduan Climbathon: Mt. Napulawan Traverse Race. In our first-ever member’s story, we look back at Philsky’s beginnings. We’re publishing Philsky member Charina Javier’s recounting of her experience from over a decade ago, when she joined a race that Philsky co-organized with the Municipality of Hungduan, the Philippine Sports Commission, and Green Hills Running Club. The race was held on April 18, 2010. The piece was originally published on Facebook in April 2010.

    The words ‘run’ and ‘climb’ thrill me when I hear them. Ever since I got into running, it became a habit. Being with nature has always recharged me. Thus, imagine my excitement when I heard the combination of these two in a single event.

    The Hungduan Climbathon, the Mt. Napulawan (sometimes spelled as Napulauan) Traverse Race, is part of the Tungo Ad Hungduan Festival. I searched the Internet about the climbathon and the mountain where it will be held for initial information. To my surprise, what I read was not even a bird’s eye view of the event. It was like a dot in a piece of paper. I thought it was like any other trail runs like that of Mt. Makiling. But it was not quite like that at all.

    Winning the race was not my goal. I wanted to test myself, reach the summit by cut-off time, which is five hours after the start, and get into the finish line without any injuries. Besides, visiting Ifugao and witnessing an ethnic festival for the first time was already a reward for me.

    A day before the run, Ma’am Weng of Hungduan Tourism Office told us that it was the first time they are opening the event to non-local participants, though the climbathon has been going for eight years now. Also, we were told that Kat and I were the only women who dared to join the race. I learned just a few minutes before the climbathon started that skyrunning, by definition, is a race in a mountain at least 2,000 meters above sea level. So it was not just an ordinary trail run.

    I borrowed my cousin’s hydration bag but intentionally left it in Manila because I thought I will not need that much hydration. But as the saying goes, “Nasa huli ang pagsisisi” (Regret comes too late). Armed with a 500ml hydration bottle and an energy bar, we started the climbathon at 6am. The local participants ran. The three of us—Kat, sir Emer and I—jogged the first 1.26km rough road to the foot of Mt. Napulawan.

    The first 3.5km or until station 1 was the easiest part of the trail going up. We passed along the rice paddies. A little higher and the beautiful view of the Hungduan Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is best seen at this point of the mountain. We even took time to take pictures since we estimated that if we maintained our pace, then we can reach the summit by cut-off time.

    But behold the long, thick, mossy forest all the way up the summit after station 1. At this point, the three of us—Kat, sir Emer and I—were far from each other. We had to walk along the creepy forest by ourselves, relying on our instincts. While the trail was obvious, it was so scary to be walking alone in the forest, not hearing anything but the rustling of whatever animals living in the dark forest or the sudden flight of birds while passing. We had to climb over or crawl below fallen trunks. While I wanted to take pictures or take a break to catch my breath, I was afraid of staying too long in the forest. I was praying the whole time to my guardian angel to keep me safe and lead me to the right path.

    At 7.35km, my hydration bottle was already empty and I had eaten my trail food. At that time, my only wish was to reach the summit because that was the only point where I am sure that I can drink and eat something. But the last 2km to the summit seemed to be the farthest, exhausting my energy just to reach it.

    At about 8km, the fog began to cover the forest, which I took as a good thing because I didn’t feel much thirst although it made me shiver in the coldness.

    My fear even became greater when I couldn’t see any markers to show that I was near the summit. There was no mobile signal in most parts of the mountain. Thus, I felt so blessed when I found a clearing and got a signal at about less than a kilometer away from the summit. I called JC to ask how far the summit is. During that time, I felt I was lost already. After walking a few more meters, I heard the local guides making sound signals and I rushed as I knew I’m almost there.

    Yes, at cut-off time, I reached the summit. Honestly, I wanted to jump for joy at that time but couldn’t because I was so thirsty, hungry and exhausted. I took a break for less than 30 minutes to stretch my legs, quench my thirst, feed my rumbling stomach (thanks to the local marshals for the water and JC and Chester for the trail food), and take pictures at the summit.

    At a little past 11:30, JC, Chester, I and Joel, our guide, started descending the mountain. Just when I thought that I had passed the hardest part, I was wrong. The trail all the way down at the other side of Mt. Napulawan was the most difficult of all, passing through the steep mossy forest and human-high grasses, which we had to sweep to the side to see the trail. I stumbled and slid ten times or so, because my knees and ankles can no longer support and balance my body. I engaged my 5×5 getting down. I got a lot of bruises in my hands because I was not aware that my gloves fell along the trail going up; thus, I did not have protection.

    From station 3 down at the foot of the mountain, I was walking slower and slower. As I was getting up to the municipal hall, which was at the top of a hill, my knees were aching terribly but the cheer from Nina and the rest of the PSA and PSC team gave me a boost to reach the finish line. I completed the race in 8+ hours.

    I was stunned at the announcement and to walk in front of the many audience watching the sports events also happening at the municipal plaza. I felt shy while everyone was congratulating me. I feel I have not given them the reaction they were expecting for a person who was first to achieve such an event.

    But I want everyone to know that I am proud and especially thankful that I joined and experienced the Hungduan Climbathon. I thanked Katie for forwarding the invitation. I’m happy to have met people from the PSA, PSC and Hungduan who took care of us and shared us a good time and for the people who have prayed for me. And of course, I am thankful to Kat, who is as crazy as I am in joining the climbathon and who shares the same glory.

    It is true, getting into sports, is not only a physical thing. When you are physically exhausted, a lot of mind conditioning is needed. All throughout the race—before the start, after you finish and when you are scared—you have to pray to God to give you grace.

    My prize? A deer hunter trophy, a certificate, Salomon shoes, Salomon shirt, and, most importantly, new friends and a lot of unforgettable memories!