Opinion: Let Mt. Pulag heal

Pinoy Mountaineer is calling for a constructive conversation about what we should do to preserve the beauty of Mt. Pulag and other mountains in light of the problems brought about unregulated ecoutourism. Contributions are welcome at mews@pinoymountaineer.com. 

by Luigi Angelo Bustamante

Mt. Pulag was my first major climb. The mountain was beyond magnificent. It was enchanting and mysterious.

I got into mountaineering from when I was a boyscout. Mt. Makiling was home to me for a couple of years. I still remember the smell of trees and the humid tropical air. I witnessed firsthand how the trails I used to walk on became paved and the trees cut down for easier accessibility. I did my undergrad thesis there as well and saw how the mountain I love lost its rich fauna, flora, and biodiversity. I felt the mountain weeping.

I went up Mt. Pulag via the Ambangeg trail just last January 2013 with my classmates from UP Manila. My classmates were there to take a look at the ferns and mosses for their biology elective. I was there simply to appreciate the mountain. I did not just appreciate it, I was blown away. I was humbled at how a mountain as giant as Mt. Pulag can be full of the delicate lifeforms and at the same time be a force of nature.

It was an incredibly cold day when we went up. Having climbed mountains before, I did not avail of the services of porters to carry my 14kg backpack. Just as about we were to reach the grasslands, I noticed how Mt. Pulag was relatively untouched. I missed how Mt. Makiling used to look. Lush and green. Mt. Pulag’s grassland was a bit different though. Everything was short but still, everything was very much alive. The clouds rolling down, and the sun slowly setting. The trails were established but everything was still relatively untouched.

The sunrise was spectacular. Everything the light touched was alive. Everything was peaceful. Everything was right.

I went back around March 2014. The pine and mossy forests were still alive. However, alot the pine forests were transformed into agricultural land. The colors of the vegetables and fruits with the pine forest backdrop would interest the beginner hiker – but what I was seeing was the slow destruction of the mountain for man’s purpose. We need to live, but in turn, we often overlook the need of the Earth to keep balance as well. The grasslands were the same story. The trail I walked on last 2013 was now just one of the number of trails going to the same spot. When people walk on plants, the dwarf bamboo, they die. That’s why we were told to walk on the established trail to lessen our impacts to the mountain. But what I see now, the mountain is scarred. Excoriations throughout it’s skin were many. Bleeding. I felt the mountain crying, in pain.

Our desire to see the beauty of nature has led to this. Our desire lead to its loss.

It pains me to see the mountains I’ve made connections with get destroyed by irresponsible tourism. I’ve always wanted to keep the beauty of the mountains for everyone else to see. But, our greed got the better of us. No – it got the better of the mountain. It’s not about us. It’s about nature. The dream of giving everyone the chance to see how beautiful it is may never be made real. At this state, I just want to let the mountain rest and heal.

It’s time to close Mt. Pulag. Let the mountain heal.

Luigi Angelo Bustamante is a medical student at the University of Santo Tomas.

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