Situated in the middle of the vast plains of Pampanga, Bulacan, and Nueva Ecija, Mt. Arayat stands there proud and inviting.
Every time I pass by the North Luzon Expressway on my way to Bataan, or farther north either westward to Ilocos or Baguio, or eastward to my home province of Isabela, Mt. Arayat seems to speak to me with a jeer. “You claim to love climbing mountains but you haven’t even climbed me, and I’m just here right by your doorstep!” it seems to tell me in my face.
I’ve been wanting to climb Mt. Arayat for at least two years now. There have been several failed plans to climb it, the last one was supposedly set on the last Saturday of November 2010.
So when my friends from the Scout Mountaineers announced that they were proceeding with the erstwhile cancelled Mt. Arayat day hike, I decided to join them. At exactlly 8 o’clock AM on December 4, a Saturday, our party of six, including a 10-year old boy, started our day hike to the summit.
Mt. Arayat looked like an easy climb. It still does. From a distance it looks small and simple. The ascent seems long but gradual.
To be honest I didn’t have much expectations of the mountain. All I wanted was to “get it done and over with” so it will stop jeering at me every time I pass by, and I can move on to climb more challenging mountains.
Fresh from more than 2-weeks of touring four countries in the Middle East, including a hike to the summit of Mt. Sinai in Egypt, I was still sore but unconcerned. After all, I just conquered Mt. Sinai which stands much taller at 2,640+ MASL (according to www.peakware.com) than Mt. Arayat’s measly 1,030+ MASL.
Of course, Mt. Arayat proved me wrong, and the age-old lesson that many mountaineers are wont to forget came back to me like a slap in the face — “Never ever underestimate a mountain, no matter how easy and small it looks.” It took us four hours to hike to the summit, and almost another four hours going back. I ran out of hydration fluid with at least two more hours to complete our descent, and I never ran our of hydration fluid before. My toes were swollen like hell due to the long and steep descent. It was a good thing I was wearing my AirTreks. It could have been much worse.
And we were even lucky. The conditions in Mt. Arayat were perfect for a hike to the summit on December 4. While it was raining continuously for hours in Metro Manila and in other places around Mt. Arayat that Saturday morning, it wasn’t raining at all in Mt. Arayat. In fact the ground was very dry. But the weather was very cool because of the rains all around us. It couldn’t be any better than that.
Well, I lived to tell about our Day Hike of Mt. Arayat. But I now declare with no amount of uncertainty that it is not an easy mountain. It is beautiful, that is a certainty. And like most beautiful things, it can be deceiving and even dangerous.