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In the past year or so, mountain hiking has gained popularity among thrill seekers and fitness junkies. Aside from the physically challenging trails that make for good, heart-pumping exercise, the experience of being “one with the nature” make all the effort worthwhile.

Over the weekend, however, breaths were taken away not because of the stunning sunrise or sunset view, but because almost six hectares of grassland at the summit of famous hike spot Mount Pulag was torched. According to initial investigation, a butane gas stove mishandled by a group of hikers allegedly exploded. Fire quickly spread through the grassland. Hiking and trekking at the affected Akiki Trail and Tawangan along the summit has since been suspended “until further notice.”

As soon as the news of the fire broke out, many took to twitter to express sadness over the damage and disappointment at the hikers.

Nakakainis. Napaka-iresponsable ng mga hikers dun sa Mt. Pulag! ‘Di ba may seminar ‘yan about LNT principles???” one netizen tweeted, referring to the “Leave No Trace” reminder for hikers.

“Mt. Pulag did not deserve such kind of thing,” another netizen tweeted.

In case you are planning to go on a mountain trek or hike, here are some tips you can follow to be a responsible hiker:

1. Carry in, carry out.

It should be common sense to carry out whatever you brought into the hike area. Bring your own garbage bags and bring all the trash from food package and leftovers you’ve brought with you. If you will wash yourself or your dishes, do it 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use biodegradable soap. You can also respond to the “call of nature” by digging catholes 6-8 inches deep, at least 200 feet away from bodies of water, camp, and trails. Cover up the cathole and pack out your toilet paper and hygiene products.

2. Be in-the-know.

Before you even step foot at the trail’s starting point, environmental protection officers will require that climbers be informed on the dos and don’ts before, during, and after the hike. Mount Pulag, in particular, is part of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) National Integrated Protected Areas Program, so everyone who takes on the climb to the summit undergoes orientation and surrender visitor information to authorities.

Here are some of the rules from DENR for hikers in Mount Pulag and other government-protected areas:

  • No fires, camping, swimming, or bathing near lake or streams.
  • Wash away from the water sources.
  • Minimize use of soap.
  • Do not dispose waste near water sources.
  • No spitting.
  • Pack out all garbage and food waste.
  • Remove all traces of group and personal presence
  • Leave what you find.
  • Uphold the sanctity of Mount Pulag.

Other reminders from DENR include:

  • Visitors are required to register and secure a permit at the visitor’s information center before proceeding up the mountain.
  • All drivers ferrying tourists must have their vehicles inspected before entering and exiting the protected area premises.
  • Collecting of plants and other types of wildlife is strictly prohibited.
  • Check drinking water and food packs.
  • Camping in the grassland is strictly prohibited.

3. Follow the rules.

It is not enough that you know the hike regulations. It’s more important that you follow them. Stick to the trails because these are paths deemed safe by authorities. Don’t be unruly and follow the guide’s direction at all times. They know the place better than anyone.

4. Leave what you find.

Whether it’s a small, seemingly insignificant piece of rock or beautiful wildflowers, it’s the best to leave them alone for the admiration of other hikers. The same is true for animals. It’s one way of respecting the area that welcomed you. However, if you still want a token you can take home, bring a good zoom lens for your camera and start taking pictures from the trail. The win-win situation now looks like this: you get to preserve your memory of the visit while protecting the environment.

5. Remain fire smart.

If bringing flammable equipment like a portable stove cannot be avoided, the least you can do is to be extra careful. You should have another person or two in your group master the use of the stove days or even weeks before the hike. Prepare the group to respond just in case fire breaks out. Due to the recent grassfire in Mt. Pulag, its management announced that the next time hikers will be allowed back to the mountain, they will be required to bring at least two five-pound fire extinguishers to use in case of fire.

Remember that hiking is more than just a journey to thousands of likes on Facebook or a game-changing aesthetic addition to your Instagram feed. It’s meant to be an experience in the real world, where damage cannot be undone by a simple click.

Featured image by Madel Crudo

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