A 30-hour executive climb

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The longest I have gone in the belly of the boondocks is three days. Beyond that, I get cranky and itchy with the mere thought of spending another hour without a bath (fortunately, this multi-day climb allowed us an executive experience where we got to bathe every single day). Being the practical innovators of hiking itineraries, our group tried to compress the usual 5-day Mt. Mantalingahan traverse itinerary into just four (including the long bus trip to and from the jumpoff). It came about not to display speed and brawn, but more so for monetary considerations, and to have a longer time to enjoy the islands of El Nido.

A major climb rated a difficulty level of 9 (out of 9 by PinoyMountaineer), Mt. Mantalingahan stands at 2,086 MASL. The jumpoff for a Mantalingahan traverse is Brgy. Ransang in Rizal, Palawan. Leonard Shuttle vans ply the Puerto Princesa – Rizal route regularly. From downtown Rizal, there are Sicud-bound jeepneys that pass Brgy. Ransang. For convenience, take Leonard’s 5:30 AM direct trip to Sicud and get off at Brgy. Ransang.

A climb to Mantalingahan is on every serious enthusiast’s bucket list. Aside from being one of only a few rated 9/9 in the Philippines, the attraction of being located in the country’s last biodiversity frontier presents a naturally rich and culturally indigenous experience. The forested mountain range has varying displays of towering trees and small shrubs like the pungdan and pitcher plants. Birdwatching is also listed as one of the recommended activities in the area. The variety of birds is noticeable given the different bird sounds heard throughout the day (at times taunting but most times amusing). Mt. Mantalingahan is also home to indigenous Palaw’ans like the Tau’t Bato and Tau’t Daram. Small communities of the Tau’t Bato tribe live on the mountain and still lead an olden way of life. More popular in terms of urban myths are the members of the Tau’t Daram tribe. According to the locals, the Tau’t Daram, although no longer in existence, were cannibals. Stories of locals from the lowlands not returning home from the mountain, and being eaten by the tribe abound.

After the registration and a courtesy visit to the community chieftain, hikers walk for 2.5 hours to the next village. Wide open roads lead to Balin-Balin Village where the real trek commences. If arriving from Puerto Princesa late in the afternoon, an option is to stay overnight in the village and start the trek the next day.

© Iniel Caballero

The first night is spent in the Magtangob campsite located 2.5 hours away from Balin-Balin. There is a hut available for overnight use at the campsite and a water source nearby. The following day’s itinerary is a pleasant surprise. Aside from the easy (relative to the other days) trek (and the occasional appearance of the limatiks), it was one of the shortest with a total walking time of five hours only. The trek passes through a small community of the Tau’t Bato tribe whose curious members greet passersby with timid smiles. While the recommended campsite is Kawayanan, it is more convenient to stay at the Kabugan Village because it has a wide camping area and a flowing brook.

The abandoned Kabugan Village (as pictured below) provides shelter for the night. According to the guide’s account, the village was abandoned by the Tau’t Daram when they were unknowingly driven out one night by unexpected visitors (a mountaineering group that went up on an induction climb and that apparently numbered more than 30). This prompted the tribe to flee and go up deeper into the mountains out of fear that the visitors will “conquer” them.
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It’s black and white

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I was selected to do the 5-day black and white (B&W) challenge on Facebook. Simply put, the game forces the nominee to post B&W photos for five (5) consecutive days. For each day, the nominee will then pick someone else to do the same thing. While shooting in color is how most of us in the digital era started and saw images (in print or otherwise), B&W photography is temperamental. Easy on the settings; but difficult on the tone to convey.

Day 1 is portrait photography.

"Audience with a Centenarian"

“Audience with a Centenarian” (Batanes, January 2011)

104 years old at that time, Mang Marcello Hostallero is the oldest resident of Sabtang Island. Here he is whiling the day away, and keeping busy by his lonesome outside his house in Chavayan.

Day 2 is landscape photography.

"A Beautiful Destruction"

“A Beautiful Destruction” (Mt. Pinatubo, March 2012)

Breathtaking and devastating at the same time, Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake is a stark reminder of Mother Nature’s play on turning her powerful fury into a magnificent display of beauty.

Day 3 is nature photography.

"By the Beach"

“By the Beach” (Bali, February 2013)

A banten (traditional Balinese offering) can be seen almost everywhere in the island of the gods. The most unlikely place I have seen one is perched precarioulsy on a cliff face. Its solemn symbolism of worship striking in contrast with the mad beating of the waves below.

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Ambaguio touchdown

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Five years after my first Pulag hike, I have finally completed all of her four (known) trails: Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan, and Ambaguio. The Ambangeg-Ambaguio traverse records a total walking distance of 34.5 kilometers with a trekking time of twelve hours. While most Ambaguio treks commence at Ambaguio and end at either Ambangeg or Akiki, a weekend hike is possible by doing a reverse traverse. Hiking begins at Babadak, progresses to the summit using the Ambangeg trail, and then traverses to Ambaguio via the Lusod trail. This is more manageable as the lengthy portion of the trek (about two thirds of it) involves the descent to Ambaguio.

After summitting Mt. Pulag, hikers enter the Lusod trail. Entry to Lusod is near the first campsite. Unlike Ambangeg’s mostly stoned steps and moderately inclined trails, Lusod is established albeit slippery and steep. The moss-covered trees are reminiscent of those found along the Tawangan trail sans the beloved limatiks. Since the trail is mostly used by locals, a number of resting sheds provide shelter along the way.

The first day ends at Lower Napo, and hikers may settle for the night at the Napo-Tuyak Integrated School. There is a restroom and a water pump within the school compound available for use. The other possible camping area is at Upper Napo’s elementary school which is about one hour away.

The second day is straightforward and covers a very long scenic trek through local villages, rice and corn fields, farmlands, and communities. At the last village, if fortunate, motorbikes are available for rent to take hikers to Ambaguio town and then onwards to Bayombong. Otherwise, the last leg of the trip will be a one- or two-hour walk to the town proper where those motorbikes will take you to the national highway in Bayombong.

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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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QF019

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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