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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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 email@example.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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