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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Day three, as mentioned, is another major climb: the Timarid to Simagaysay dayhike traverse. Prior to Sicapoo’s exploration, this climb stands on its own as a major climb in the region. More information on this climb will be described in a separate entry. As a guide, below is the 3-day Sicapoo, Timarid and Simagaysay itinerary.
22:00 Depart for Laoag City via GV Florida (Php800.00)
06:00 ETA Laoag City; load jeep
06:30 Breakfast; buy packed lunch
07:30 Depart for Solsona, Poblacion
08:30 Register at the Solsona PNP Station and proceed to the jumpoff at Brgy. Manalpac
09:00 ETA Solsona; secure guide (Php500.00 per day) and porter (Php1,000.00 per day); leave some things at Tata Emilio’s place
09:15 Ride jeep or walk to jumpoff
09:30 Start trek
10:30 Start of Gasgas River crossings
12:30 Lunch at Parpar Camp
12:45 Resume trek
14:30 End of river crossings
15:00 Ascend Saulay
17:30 ETA Balbalitok; set up camp (peak 1)
06:00 Breakfast; break camp
07:00 Start trek (steep forest trail with leeches)
08:00 ETA Saulay junction; set up camp
08:45 Start Sicapoo ascent through a pine tree forest trail
09:45 ETA Bubuos Camp (peak 2)
10:30 ETA Balbalite Peak (peak 3)
11:30 ETA Pakpako Camp (peak 4)
12:30 Resume trek; enter mossy forest trail with leeches
14:00 ETA Matalidong Peak (peak 5)
15:00 ETA Sicapoo summit and Penguin Rock (peak 6)
15:15 Start descent
15:45 ETA Matalidong Peak
17:00 ETA Pakpako Camp
17:45 ETA Balbalite Peak
18:30 ETA Bubuos Camp
19:45 ETA Saulay junction; dinner
07:00 Break camp
08:30 Start trek
09:00 ETA Saulay Peak (peak 7)
12:00 ETA Timarid summit; lunch (peak 8)
12:45 Resume trek
14:00 ETA Simagaysay summit (peak 9)
14:30 Resume trek (steep descent through a forest trail then onto rolling cogon trails)
17:30 ETA plateau
18:00 ETA Tata Jun’s place
18:30 ETA Solsona dam
19:00 ETA jumpoff
20:00 Depart for Laoag City
20:30 ETA Laoag City