Purgatory 30: A Hell Of A Run With A Heavenly Sight Of Benguet

Coming straight from the Victory Bus Liner Terminal, I found myself once again walking the cold streets of Baguio going towards Harrison Road. From there, I was to wait for the shuttle van that will take us to Japas, Bokod-Bisal, Benguet, about 65 kilometers from Baguio. At Harrison Road the night market that had occupied the street had just about to close shop in probably about an hour. I noticed a few of the vendors were Muslim traders who, as the boxes of wares states plied all the way from Quiapo, Manila to hawk their wares of vases, second hand clothing and what have you. Japas was the jump off point for the journey to Purgatory. Not Dante’s purgatory though – It’s Front Runner Magazine’s Purgatory 30. The air wasn’t biting cold yet in Baguio but if ever it does become too cold at the race course I was prepared for it from rain ponchos, thick jacket and wind breaker, I bought them all along with a first aid kit, headlamp, whistle, gloves, extra batteries and lots of Nestle Fitbars. The only thing I did not stuffed in my hydration pack was a camera. In spite of assigning my Fuji X10 as my official race camera companion, it won’t be accompanying me in this race for I disposed of it a couple of months ago. I brought along my cellular phone. However, I am not in the habit of shooting with it even in such an important run such as this. You see in spite of my being a photographer myself, I am not really smart with smart phone cameras. Besides, I was reserving its battery for emergency. Jonel C. Mendoza, the race organizer, did a great job of emphasizing self sustain, self sufficient, no frill all thrill run. I don’t want to be caught in the middle of a summit or bottom of a ravine with no other way to communicate my situation if a mishap happens. Being my maiden run for Jonel Mendoza’s mountain trail run franchise and Purgatory 30’s as well, a lot of caution had to be taken. This will somehow be my litmus test if I could in the future be able to try the other mountain trail run events that lined up Front Runner Magazine’s whole year schedule.

At 2:00 am other participants were already converging in front of Baguio Patriotic School. Soon 6 vans arrived and we participants quickly loaded ourselves up in each of the vans. Along the way, I tried to catch a sleep which I did not much had at the bus on the way to Baguio. At 4:00 am we arrived at the darkly lit roadside in Japas where a marker that signifies the jump off point stood and served as the race assembly area. There the race bibs and some trail snacks were distributed. I changed into my running outfit and readied my bulky hydration pack. The air was still not as cold as I feared it might have around this time of the year. I decided to leave my jacket and windbreaker behind with my traveling bag, which contains my changing clothes. Another good news was that in the briefing although it had rain the previous days, there were no bloodsucking limatics present at the mossy forest area. I remember those critters in Mt. Makiling when I was still a student and joined the UST Mountaineers in their initiation climb. But nothing beat the leeches that dined on my feet and legs when I got lost in Balbalasan, Kalinga about 10 years ago.

When the gun start was finally given some 120 plus runners raced uphill heading for Mt. Mangakew which is about 1.8 kilometers away from the starting area and nestling at 1,764 MASL (meters above sea-level). Without trekking poles that encumbered me in the trail run to Mt. Ugo in Akyathlon earlier this year, I found myself at the current race moving a bit faster. However, my running short pants was kind of loose and was slipping down my waist. So, I had to strip it off and ran only in my tights. After reaching the summit of Mt. Mangekew the trail was a bit flatter and descending. At around the 6th kilometers we hit upon a junction with the uphill portion going to Mt. Pack. This was also the entrance to the mossy forest. I noticed the trail was basically overly trotted upon and muddy. Inside the mossy forest the air turned colder. Although I was running wearing my body glove and without shirt over it I welcomed the cold weather better than how I remember it was at Salomon X-trail Run in Pico de Loro where the heat was energy sapping. By this time I was running a bit slower, walking mostly. A lot of other runners had passed me by. I felt I was already, as I had in other races, at the tail end of the queue of runners. Mt. Pack’s summit was at the 8th kilometer and at 2,313 MASL which turned out much higher than Mt. Ugo which has an elevation of 2,150 MASL and probably looming somewhere nearby as with Mt. Pulag and Mt. Timbac the highest burial cave containing Benguet mummies. Mt. Pack according to one of the blog I read was named after Governor Pack. Formerly Mt. Pack was called Mt. Bandila or Banshilla because during the World War II to prevent this area from being bombed a flag was hoisted on top of the summit. As in Mt. Ugo before, I had no camera to preserve the momentous event of me having reached the summit with a picture of me standing beside the marker. According to Mr. Mendoza the first 8 kilometers was the hardest portion of the race. I guess then that it would be smooth sailing from here on. I also predicted wrongly that I would finish the race in 4 or 5 hours. The altitude must be wreaking havoc to my mind when I was thinking about this.

Before leaving I saw other runners arrived at Mt. Packs summit. With them were the two assigned sweepers who were also champion runners themselves in various race events. This, I feared, confirmed my earlier thought that I must be at the tail end of the race already. However, when I asked one of the sweepers I was told that around 20 more other runners were still far behind and that currently I was at the middle portion of the line of runners. I left the peak with an attempt to quicken my pace but to no avail. I was tiring quickly. I was also kind of disoriented with the distance because I thought then that I had covered so much distance, maybe about halfway of the race already. But when I reached the summit of Mt. Purgatory it was just the 11th kilometer of the race only. Of course, I was not aware then. By that time, to battle my fatigue I was consuming my energy gel at a rate of 1 per 1.5 kilometers thinking the interval of my taking the energy gel was about 5 kilometers. On the other hand because of the cool temperature, I was not drinking much. At about the 13th kilometers I reached Naswak Junction. Mt. Bakian was not farther away the fourth peak in the six peaks to be wrestled with in this race. At 15.5 kilometer I was at the summit of Mt. Tangbaw, which rest at 2,195 MASL. I thought wrongly that there were just about less than 10 kilometers to the finish line but my hope was quickly doused when I was told by one of the sweepers that this was just the 15th kilometer. Even though there was a lovely sight of strings of mountains in front of me, I could not take it in because I could not fathomed how it was that the progress I made was completely opposite of how time quickly got consumed and that not only I might not be able to fulfill my finish time goal, the thought of not making it within the cut off time looms. I completely underestimated Purgatory 30’s 30 kilometers distance. I forgot that it took me 6 hours to get me on top of Mt. Ugo, which was about 16 kilometers from Itogon Municipal Hall.

With my heart fallen lower on my sleeves, I continued with my run. It was comforting to hear though that from henceforth there were no more stiff uphill runs along the way. This may not sound comforting at all when I later found myself running along the downhill portion of the race. Mt. Komkompol was at the 17th kilometer nestling at the elevation of 2,328 MASL. From here about 2-3 kilometers knee-breaking downhill run along lose stony path of Tinengan with a backdrop of lines of pine trees thriving the sloped landscape. I foolishly thought that the finish line was laying just somewhere at the foot of the mountain I was scaling down on for seemingly eternity. But when I reached the town below, Ekip I think it was, and passed over a small hanging bridge, I thought I was ending my travail soon. It turn out the bridge was not the one mentioned in the briefing that we will cross before the finish line. I also heard the marshal waiting there in correctly when he told me of the distance left to run. I thought I heard 10 or a hundred meters left of the race. I was again broken hearted when after passing the town without stopping by in any structure that resembled a municipal hall and again on a path heading to a landscape without houses and people nearby. Worst, due to exhaustion, I got my right foot twisted several times when I kept landing on it badly among loose rock along the way. It was a good thing that after walking it off I was again capable of running with it.

Farther ahead I got glimpsed of two runners. But I made no effort to chase them. Instead, when I saw a label of a soda lying on the road I wanted to go back to the town and drink a cold soda. But I had no money with me. Again I thought maybe the finish line might just be around the corner of the snaking path and that at a little over 6 hours I might finish the race. But I had no idea that this was just probably the 24th kilometer of the race. A passing local told me that the Bokod Municipal Hall was still 6 kilometers away and half way there I will pass by a river with a hanging bridge. I trod on feeling spent and frustrated. I had consumed all my Fitbars and was feeling the pang of hunger. When my feet touched the cold water of the river though, all the weight and weariness was lifted away. From the other side of the bank there were still about 3 kilometers away before I finally putting this race behind me. But this last 3 kilometers as if by special law of relativity or that the event horizon of a Black Hole was resting nearby the distance just kept stretching farther and farther away from me. But this ala Big Bang expansion seem to had reached its threshold or I just simply like Cooper in the movie, “Interstellar” just simply woke up after his episode inside the Black Hole, I eventually saw the finish line and ran to it until I saw myself crossing the finish arch and having photo op with the race organizer himself who handed me my finisher goodies. I finished the race with a time of 8:23:38 97th out of 123 pioneer runners.

Earlier this year I swore never to return to Mt. Ugo again but the experience at Purgatory 30 reawakened my desire for a revenge climb at Akyathlon and probably in the future Mt. Ugo via Kayapa in Front Runner Magazine’s 50k trail run version. I survived Purgatory maybe I can survive other hells as well.

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