Halcon and its appeal

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I never fully understood the clamor to climb Mt. Halcon. What perplexes me is the desire of most mountaineers to “conquer” it back when government authorities have publicly announced the park is off limits. Ever since the municipality of Baco in Oriental Mindoro declared authority over park management in early 2014, weekends have been booked to the hilt.

The golden peak as seen on the way to the first camp

The first day involves going up limatik-infested trails to the first campsite. Trekking from the jumpoff to the Mangyan villages is scorching at the height of summer. The path is established but there is minimal cover. The forest line is entered after passing through the last village. There are a couple of stream crossings in between the steep trails. This stretches all the way to the hike up to Aplaya Campsite.

The beauty, and difficulty of the revered mountain are fully appreciated on the next day’s hike. The second day is technically a day hike of Mt. Halcon. On top of being laden with limatiks all the way to the summit, it is mostly a cardiac trail. A variety of terrain awaits on the second day. From rainforest to a mighty river; waterfalls to giant roots; mossy forest and a bonsai forest; it adds up to the finale – the knife edge.

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Three days. Two nights. Six life lessons. 3 – 2 – 6. Most trips last for three days and two nights. But the lessons we pick up from each leg of travelling are ingrained for a lifetime.

1. Mind the gap.
Whether traveling alone or with a buddy, there will be considerations and sensitivities. You will consider each other’s preferences in the choice of trips and activities. You will be sensitive to leaving minimum impact and attaining maximum learning on the places visited.

Travel to build bridges between cultures, between interests and between personalities. Mind those simple and daunting differences. And that gap between the platform and the train.

2. Fall in love.
Travel ignites passion; like falling in love. Fall in love – with the place or with the experience. Relish the memories and feel the moment when you hold on to someone while exploring. Like falling in love, do not hold back. Do not be afraid to get hurt. That activity or national treasure other travelers rave about may not be what you expect; be prepared to be disheartened.

Travel to treasure the enjoyment and remember the disappointment.

3. Get lost.
Lose yourself. Break the rhythm. Enjoy the cloak of the unfamiliar and being unknown in a foreign land. Go around the side streets and keep on walking. Losing yourself may be the ticket to enjoying how to wander and explore. Going nowhere will actually lead you to where you are supposed to be. Those unannounced changes in itineraries make magnificent teachers.

Remember: happy accidents make the best trips. Travel to create lots. And begin again.

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Purgatory traverse

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Hitting three mountains in one trip, the Mangisi Traverse goes through Mt. Pack or Mt. Banshila (2,290 MASL), Mt. Purgatory (2,080 MASL) and Mt. Kom-kompol (2,325 MASL). About three hours from Baguio City, the jumpoff point is located at Japas, Bobok-Bisal in Bokod, Benguet. The trek commences with a straightforward ascent on unpaved roads leading to the Mangakew community. All visitors register here and attend an orientation conducted by a local. As mapped by the Association of Bokod Adventure Eco-Guides (ABADEG) and the Bokod Municipal Tourism Office, the entire Mangisi trail covers more than 21 kilometers from the jumpoff point in Japas to the endpoint in Ekip.

The trek continues on open and pine tree-forested trails. After passing the Bangtinen campsite, at the junction of Prospect, climbers enter a mossy forest that goes all the way to Bakian and even past Mt. Kom-kompol. The cool forest and dense greenery counter the continuous ascending trail to Mt. Pack and Mt. Purgatory. The summit of Pack is approximately three hours from Mangakew. It is flat and affords a view of the towns of Benguet on one side and Nueva Viscaya on the other. A marker conveniently distinguishes the two provinces’ boundaries from one another. Entering the mossy forest once again, the viewpoint of Mt. Purgatory is reached after 1.5 hours from Mt. Pack. Wooden railings line the area and a makeshift shelter provides respite to climbers.

The last stretch of the day’s trek is on the Bakian trail where the beloved limatiks make their presence felt. If camping or staying at the Bakian Primary School, it is another 1.5 hours from the Purgatory viewpoint. Toilets and running water are available in this area. It is highly advised that if a group stays here for the night, a donation be extended to the school (for the use of the facilities). Otherwise, the vast campsite at Mt. Tangbaw is the next option and is only half an hour away.

The second day of trekking commences with a quick ascent to the grassland summit of Tangbaw. Towns of Benguet are also visible at this point. Afterwards, another section of thick vegetation is negotiated to get to Mt. Kom-kompol. It affords a view of the golden peaks of Mt. Pulag on one side. Finally completing the Mangisi trail, the descent brings climbers out of the mossy forest and into a breathtaking pine tree-forested and narrow rocky trail that is characteristic of a typical Benguet hike. The seemingly long descent ends at Ekip proper where climbers can freshen up at one of the local’s houses.

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Throwing glitter in the air

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Throw caution to the wind and live life to the fullest. Embrace what makes you passionate and alive. Appreciate routine’s simplicity and silence; that way, you will be left breathless by unique experiences and grand adventures. Remember that old adage on life beginning at the end of your comfort zone? There is (or at least some) truth in that.

Go on long walks. Take silly pictures. Just take lots of pictures. Sing pop songs. Microwave leftovers. Play ball and blow bubbles. Wake up earlier than usual to see the sunrise. Stay out long enough to see the sun set.

Travel.

It has been said time and again – travel enriches you. Travel, even though you spent for it, makes you richer. Go somewhere new each year; more often if you can afford to. Organize your own trip or join a tour group; whatever floats your boat. No one will judge you for being a backpacker or a poshpacker.

Regrets? No, don’t take back that night. Go out for drinks – or a cup of hot cocoa. Jump. Make friends. Hold hands and hug. Fall in love – with a person, with the place or with the experience.

All the small lights? They make up that bright picture in the horizon. Life is complex enough back home; learn to let go for a while. Be so happy that people around you get infected with your joy.

Carpe diem. There will be remarkable days. There will be low moments. There will be days of sunburn and days when you will miss the sun. There will be days on the road and lots of running around. Or only lazy days at home in the comforts of your couch and bed. There will be glitter in the air and nights that you wish know no end.

Glitter in a Glass

“Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and pulled that rope tight
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself
Will it ever get better than tonight?”

Glitter in the Air by Alecia Moore and Billy Mann

Lucban’s mountain

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Rising 1,875 MASL in the small town of Lucban, Mt. Banahaw de Lucban (BDL) sits within the Mts. Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape. Visible while at any point in Lucban, the rounded peak of BDL is known for not showing itself and is mostly crowned by clouds. The only allowed entry point for a BDL climb is the Ayuti Campus of Southern Luzon State University (SLSU). From there, climbers walk over wide open trails for about an hour to reach the mountain’s ranger station.


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A major double traverse dayhike

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Prior to the exploration and successful ascent of Mt. Sicapoo in 2009, Mounts Timarid and Simagaysay were substantially major climbs by themselves.  Now, they are overshadowed by the popularity of the latter. Albeit impractical to not involve these mountains, most climbs to Mt. Sicapoo make use of the so called rosary trail.  The Mt. Timarid traverse is coupled with a Mt. Simagaysay traverse when completing the Mt. Sicapoo rosary trail.

Behind us are the knife edge from Saulay and, all the way at the back, Mt. Sicapoo with a crown of clouds.

 

Taking off from the descent of Mt. Sicapoo, day three starts at the Saulay junction. Less than thirty minutes from the campsite is the summit of Saulay Peak. From there, climbers make their way to Mt. Timarid (1,527 MASL) through open and rolling trails. The previous two days’ tackling river crossings and hiking four peaks to Sicapoo take its toll on the knees when negotiating the knife edge trail. With the midday heat coming up and the blowing winds, it becomes a dance and a nice balancing act. As one can imagine given the shape of Mt. Timarid, there is a steep ascent prior to reaching the summit in three hours. Timarid’s summit is wide open with a few trees providing cover and respite from the sun.

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Amindiwin traverse

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Also known as Alto Peak, Mt. Amindiwin (or Aminduen to locals) stands 1332 MASL at Barangay Cabintan in Ormoc, Leyte. The highest in Eastern Visayas, the Mt. Amindiwin traverse is a refreshing trek through moderately sloped and sometimes flat terrain before the steep ascent to the summit from its foot. A challenge from the usual dayhike itinerary is the inclusion of a traverse to and via Lake Janagdan (1120 MASL). The lake is one of the three Ormoc water bodies frequented by tourists. The others being the bigger Lake Danao (700 MASL) and the less known Lake Kasudsuran (820 MASL).

A dayhike to Amindiwin begins at the town center of Sitio Concepcion. The trek starts on concrete farm roads and progresses to wide open trails with portions of bush-lined paths with dainty flowers. 45 minutes into this and the “junction” is reached. This is where an offshoot of the traverse to Lake Janagdan is taken. Another half an hour of trekking brings one to the campsite that used to be a PNOC old drilling site. The lone water source along the trail is also in this area. Based on the route, habal-habals can actually be taken until this point. This cuts the climb to only three to four hours; from the foot to the summit and back. From the base of Amindiwin, it is mostly a near-vertical assault through dense vegetation, mossy trees and hanging roots. In less than two hours, the tree-covered summit is reached.

The traverse to Lake Janagdan from the “junction” was surprisingly more difficult than the summit trek. The paths are almost not visible and the trees heavily cramp the trails. After a little over an hour of bushwhacking, a portion of the lake peers through a small opening in the trees. Similar to Mt. Apo‘s Lake Venado, the wonder of having a serene body of water more than a thousand meters above sea level is astounding. The traverse back to Sitio Concepcion is straightforward. Frequented by locals and even tourists, the trail from Lake Janagdan back to the town is well-established albeit long and steep.

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Sicapoo amongst the other peaks

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One of the few rated in the Philippines as a level 9 out of 9, successfully summitting Mt. Sicapoo, let alone in only two days, is another feather added to our mountaineering caps. Exploratory climbs to the highest peak of the Ilocos region (2354 MASL) have been pioneered and are presently regulated by the One Degree Mountaineering Group (ODMG). On this note, all climbs are scheduled and cleared with the ODMG through email address onedegreemg@ymail.com. Only one group with a maximum of 12 mountaineers are allowed at a time.

A Sicapoo trek is usually paired with another major climb which is the Mt. Timarid to Mt. Simagaysay traverse. Unlike most mountains where the jumpoff point is almost at the foot of the mountain, Mt. Sicapoo stands deep within the Solsona ranges. Climbs commence either through the Gasgas River (to complete a rosary trail) or via a dry land entry (through Mts. Timarid and Simagaysay). When the Gasgas River swells during the typhoon or rainy season, the traverse is not allowed. Personally, this appears harder as it entails passing the lengthy and rolling trails of Timarid and Simagaysay twice.

When doing the rosary trail, approximately eight river crossings and five peaks will have to be hurdled before reaching the summit and its Penguin Rock. On top of these peaks, three more are passed as mountaineers exit and finish the second leg of the climb. 4- or 5-day climbs are common but a 3-day climb is possible based on our group’s actual itinerary below.

Day one starts with a leisurely walk alongside planting fields and the Solsona dam. After an hour,  the river crossings begin. At the time of our climb (October 2012), approximately eight tributaries were crossed. Depending on the season, these crossings become dangerous, with the raging river known to go above waist-deep levels. Bringing a rope as a precautionary measure is highly advised. Four hours after the start of the first river crossing, a big boulder sitting precariously atop a flat surface marks the next section of the day’s climb. It will now involve an ascent of Balbalitok all the way to Saulay. Rolling and mostly on ridges, it becomes unforgiving under the sun’s heat or the wind’s play. The first night is spent either at Balbalitok or (if time and the group’s energy permit) at the Saulay junction.

The trek on the second day commences with a 45-minute steep ascent through a forest trail going to the Saulay junction. The bloodsucking limatiks make their first appearance in this portion. At the junction, the group sets up camp and prepares for the day’s lengthy trek to Mt. Sicapoo. Unlike most itineraries that recommend pushing with full packs to a campsite that is three peaks away, camping at Saulay junction cuts trekking time by a day. The Saulay junction sits strategically and literally at a crossroad between the trek to Sicapoo and the traverse to Timarid-Simagaysay. For almost 11 hours, the peaks of Bubuos (1251 MASL), Balbalite (1292 MASL), Pakpako (1620 MASL) and Matalidong (1685 MASL) are passed going to and from the Sicapoo summit. It starts with a careful descent at the mostly narrow trails of Saulay. The trek then goes through a scenic pine tree forest trail with magnificent landscape views on both sides of the ridge. After the Pakpako campsite, mountaineers enter a heavily vegetated and mossy forest with limatiks. There is a brief respite at Matalidong’s peak before a final push through more dense vegetation. Finally, the Penguin Rock peeks through a small opening in the trees and marks the group’s arrival at the mighty Sicapoo summit.

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Irid and the limatik attacks

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What comes to mind when I am asked about Mt. Irid is not the numerous river crossings nor its monolith summit; rather the infestation of leeches or the local limatiks. These bloodsuckers literally abound and made their presence felt during our trek to the Sitio Sadlac base camp.

An Irid adventure begins with a two-hour jeepney ride from Cogeo, Rizal to Sta. Inez in Tanay. Remote and with really bad roads, the trip to Sta. Inez was mostly bumpy with the jeep rumbling through lots of river crossings. Once there, the jeep will drop you off at the barangay hall where you will register and pay the barangay captain a courtesy visit.

The first day takes mountaineers to Sitio Kinabuan and Sitio Sadlac. The locals in Sitio Kinabuan are more familiar with the trail to Mt. Irid. On top of the guides secured from Sta. Inez, a guide from Sitio Kinabuan will also be hired. The base camp is at Sitio Sadlac. There is a modest bunker in the sitio where mountaineers spend the night before the morning trek to Mt. Irid.

IridThe trek to the sitios begins with an easy walk on wide trails. It has a gradual incline and has more than ten river crossings (I personally stopped counting after 10). Depending on the season, mountaineers may need to go through waist-deep levels. The tributaries are wide and extra caution must be taken in all crossings. During the wet months, limatiks infest the trails. By the riverbed, after going through the river and by the rocky paths, the leeches are likely to be found clinging on your shoes and pant legs.

The next day, the real climb to Mt. Irid begins. The trail was for the most part an ascent. The paths are lined with dense vegetation. The trees were towering with moss, roots and vines hanging off them. Limatiks are not as present in this portion of the climb as it was in the ascent to the base camp. As the summit is approached, there are rock walls and portions where going through and over the big rocks are encountered. At the final section of the assault,  the jagged sharp rocks of the summit is reached. A plastic sign marks the peak of that part of the Sierra Madre range.
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Malindig dayhike

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Mt. MalindigRising at 1,157 MASL, Mt. Malindig is the highest peak in the province of Marinduque. A quick and easy hike, it starts with a level trek through the locals’ backyards and a field of coconut trees. Next is a mild ascent through the pasture lands. Without any tree cover, it becomes cumbersome in the midday to midafternoon heat. Aside from the cows grazing idly by the trail, hikers would also need to watch out for the itchy “lipa” plants (and trees). A little stream is crossed before going up to cogon-lined trails leading to the military outpost.

Hikers enter the forest line after the brief stop and courtesy visit at the outpost. Felled trees and mossy roots adorn most part of the trail. After about a half of an hour ascent, the summit of Malindig is reached. Heavily covered by trees, there is no view of the neighboring towns and islands from the peak. Rather, there is a campsite at the summit where at most ten (10) tents can be set up.

A Malindig dayhike itinerary looks like this:

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