The Longest Night

It was a stormy night on the 14th of February 2014. Temperature hovered around 4–6 degrees Celsius. The wind howled. Propped against my backpack, I could hear a million drops of rain pounding hard on the tadpole tent’s fly sheet. Moisture, icy cold, dripped into the sleeping bag.

Pressed against me, Lara sobbed and shivered while Oso snored and gnashed teeth.

It was the longest night of my life.

The weather was fine when we reached the Saddle Camp via the Akiki trail early in the day. At noontime, however, the storm hit hard. The three of us retreated into a tadpole tent designed for two.

We had set up two nylon A-frame tarps earlier but both were useless. Or maybe we didn’t choose the right spot?

Weather was bad for the rest of the day so we slept sans dinner. Cooking was impossible; strong winds ushered horizontal rain. We silently munched on cold bread and biscuits in the dark.

At midnight, I dreamed I was struggling against thick snow on the Death Zone, that part of Mt. Everest — stories told — where lack of oxygen sends one’s body to irreversible degeneration.

Call it masochism — mountaineering. I call it passion. Or it can be the dreaded word “love”? For love is the only thing for which one would risk death.

By 3 AM, I could hardly breathe and had to wiggle out of the shelter for fresh air. Outside, still drizzling, vertigo set in: the world swirled. I fell a few times. It took some time for me regain balance.

We spent the rest of the dawn shivering under the guides’ tin hut a hundred meters away together with a dozen hikers who were equally cold and wet.

We had to forego going up the summit early in the morning. The guide said it’s no use summiting Pulag when weather is that bad. The summit was all fogged up. We went up the peak at 9 AM but there was nothing to see. No “sea of clouds.”

But no regrets.

We had endured the “cardiac” trail, passing through beautiful pines, a river, mossy forest and the grasslands. We survived the storm. We had hot sinigang at camp beside Eddet River a day before.

These were enough reasons for us to smile as we hurtled down towards the Ranger Station and the Monster Jeep that will take us back to Baguio City. There will always be another time for the Sea of Clouds, we thought.

I was reminded of Helen Keller’s wise words: “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.”

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