They were a bunch of scrawny young boys, some of them just nearing the age of eighteen. Most of them have not seen a mountain as big or as high.
What lies in front of them looked imposing, forbidding, mysterious, and to some extent, inviting. The Patag Daku rain forest and mountain range in Libagon, Southern Leyte is home to some of the tallest peaks in the province.
And because of its inherent inaccessibility, Patag Daku remains one of the least explored, and possibly, least disturbed and least exploited, forest ecosystem in the province today.
What started out as part of a casual conversation turned out to become an arduous climb into unfamiliar natural environment found just over a hour and a half drive from Maasin City to the small and peaceful town of Libagon.
Nothing could have prepared these teenagers for what they are about to see or experience at Patag Daku. Most of them were first timers, when it came to trekking and camping into a real jungle.
But for Ian Degamo, the expedition leader, and vice chairman of the Maasin Youth Organization (MAAYO) to where these boys belong, the expedition is an opportunity to test their wills resilience, and strength of both body and spirit. Ian is an accomplished trekker, mountaineer and adventurer. He had climbed the 13,000-foot Mt. Apo in Davao, the Philippine's highest mountain, probably the only Maasinhon to do so.
But even Ian never thought that the climb would be as hard as he thought. It did not take long for him to know that this is a major climb in the making.
The group started out in Maasin at the Layawan, Tindahan sa Surojan, a shop that sells accessories for camping, hiking, skim boarding and other outdoor activities.
Arriving in Libagon early on the evening of October 28, the group was cordially welcomed by the young and energetic Libagon SB Member "Bong" Mantilla, the tourism committee chairman. They promptly camped near the beach and prepared themselves for the big day ahead.
They woke up the next morning and prepared their meals for the long trek. Just before leaving the town proper, the group found time to pose with Libagon Mayor Rizalina Espina.
Their nervous giggles punctuated the air as they started the trek for their first activity. Part of the group's mission is to plant tree seedlings on a designated area along the trail as a gesture of goodwill, and send across a message for the conservation and protection of our forest.
To get to Patag Daku is not a leisurely walk in the park after all, as most of them would soon realize. Earlier into the trek, many of them thought of giving up. But Ian's expert persuasion and encouragement propelled them to conquer their own tentativeness.
They soon found themselves negotiating a very steep trail, freshly cut by their lead guide, Makrino and his son, using their reliable jungle bolos. Makrino is a veteran of this terrain, and knows the area like the palm of his hand.
After hours of trekking, the boys began to slow down, and have to get some rest, every now and then. The slope gets steeper. They grapple their way up by grasping grasses, branches and exposed roots of the trees and ferns along the trail.
Their first objective is to reach the top of Yamog's Peak. At 3000 feet, Yamog's Peak overlooks their camping area at Patag Daku.
But to get to Yamog's Peak, they have to pass through Dino's Ridge, a treacherous and precarious stretch measuring more than a thousand feet on both sides. They have to stay close to each other, as the fog engulfs the group.
Having made it through the ridge, the group had to contend with a much steeper, and almost vertical, climb as they neared the summit.
They noticed wild ferns growing on tree branches and the temperature is noticeably beginning to get cooler. Some trekkers saw wild monkeys, snakes, and amused themselves with wild flowers they haven't seen before.
After a few more hours of trekking, shouts of excitement filled the air as the group finally made it to the summit. The site is unusually beautiful. Prehistoric rocks covered with moss mostly made up the summit.
Directly below them is Patag Daku. A few kilometers away across loomed "Bod Lingin" (Round Mountain), another summit even much higher than Yamog's Peak. According to local anecdotes, Bod Lingin was the hideout of guerrilla leader Col. Ruperto Kangleon during World War II.
From their vantage point, Sogod Bay looked even more fantastic with the silhouette of Limasawa Island from afar.
To the south, the twin islands of San Pedro and San Pablo in Hinunangan Bay looked like jewels tossed over the aqua blue waters of Hinunangan Bay.
Many of them can only gasp with awe and delight for reaching such a height that offers a panoramic view Yamog’s Peak of Southern Leyte only a few could ever witness.
As they savor the moment for a few more minutes, the guide told them that it is time for them to descend to Patag Daku. Going thru Wawu’s Slide, a steep, slippery fern-covered trail, they hope to reach the camping area and a watering hole before darkness sets in.
As they descended, a fog slowly engulfs the forest. The guide told them to keep quite as it will rain if they make any unnecessary noises. Whether it was pure superstition or experience on the part of the guide, it did rain as the boys were negotiating the trail covered with such dense vegetation, inhabited by species of birds, plants and flowers not found in the lowlands. They are inside Jurassic park sans the dinosaurs.
At 5:00 in the afternoon, just as darkness sets in, they set up camp and prepare themselves for a very cold evening at Patag Daku.
A cacophony of sounds woke them up the next morning. They even managed to record into their digital recorders such uniquely natural sound of the forest. Horn bills and other tropical birds provided these morning entertainment to the delight of the boys.
It is time to go back to civilization. With one more back-breaking climb to Yamog's Peak, the group finally made their way back to Libagon proper as people looked at them with great amazement.
“They made it back --- all in one piece, despite the scratches on their arms and legs" was all the locals could think of them.
“We will be back", the boys calmly said, as they already had another objective in mind. This time, Bod Lingin, is etched in their minds.