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.
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.
A long trek and the summit assault await the next day. From Kabugan Village, hikers enter the forest where balatik markers dot the trail. Balatiks are a type of animal trap with poisoned spears. The small Kawayanan campsite is reached after 1.5 hours. From there, the next stop is the Kadiklayan viewdeck where a pleasant landscape provides a relaxing feast to the eyes. Ganub campsite serves as a convenient meal stop before navigating the rocks (masquerading as a trail) that lead to Pulanggok and Tuka-Pungdan peaks. Reminiscent of Mt. Guiting-Guiting, the short knife edge provides a preview of the summit trail. 45 minutes away from the Tuka-Pungdan Peak is Paray-Paray campsite where hikers spend the night. Paray-Paray is akin to a poster child in that it has the features of an ideal camping ground. The ground is level and soft. The tall trees engulf the campsite, and a flowing water source is nearby. The area going to the water source has a magnificent view of the mountains, and a premium seat to one of the most beautiful spots to view a sunset.
After setting camp and a quick rest, the ascent to the summit caps the day. The trail to the summit is a mix of rock climbing and “tree” walking. Aside from going through dense vegetation, there is a section that passes through a mossy forest. While there is a 360-degree view of the neighboring landscape at the top, instead of an erected post, a hole marks the summit of Mantalingahan. According to local stories, a Japanese went up the mountain and planted a flag in the spot. Locals dug up the spot thinking the Japanese hid his treasure there.
The final day is spent on the most difficult leg of the climb. If the previous day’s trek is a test of endurance; the third day throws into the mix the following requirements: balance, flexibility, and patience. The traverse to Malis Village starts with an intense descent through a mossy, dense and a barely-there trail. There are crumbling soil, falling rocks, slippery roots, and thick moss. There are portions with missing trails, and sections of walking on uprooted trees. A particular segment involves a trail that is as wide as literally one foot measured across, not lengthwise. Hikers also go over and under trees, and a landslide.
An hour into the trek from Paray-Paray is the Tabud River, then Lapong campsite in time for lunch, and three hours away is Karim’s campsite (there are limatiks here). Kawang-Kawang Peak is reached after more than an hour of ascending. Hikers go through more rolling terrain, crossing multiple fields (cogon and rice) and patches of vegetable gardens before arriving at Kupang Village. Finally, the last two hours of the Mantalingahan traverse is the descent through the roads of the local sitios that ultimately stops at the national highway.
A protected area since 2009, the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL) is under the jurisdiction of Palawan’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office. To prepare for a climb, a visitor’s permit is secured from the Protected Area Superintendent, Ms. Clarissa Pador. She can be reached via email address firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile number +63 909 331 4473. A conservation fee of Php100.00 for locals and Php200.00 for foreigners is collected for mountaineering, birdwatching, and other outdoor activities that are less than five days in duration. Activities that take more than five days will require a special permit from the MMPL Executive Committee. PASU Pador will send the approved permit and official receipt through electronic correspondence. The Mantalingahan traverse guide is Mr. Binoy Lumpon. He can be reached at mobile number +63 930 862 4828. Guide and porter fees are PHp500.00 per day. If doing the traverse, the guide and porter’s fare back to Sicud is added. Hikers are also recommended to prepare accordingly for malaria prevention. Depending on the drug, malaria prophylaxis is commenced one week before the trip, and will continue to be taken once a day until after one month from returning.
The hike’s detailed itinerary is as follows. While the group aimed to finish the trek on day 4 (with only a solid two hours left to reach the highway), our gracious guide’s elderly father (who accompanied him in the trip as a “porter”) refused to take one more step out of sheer exhaustion. For the record, the father and son tandem had an amusing argument about this before the son begrudgingly told us his predicament.
Day 1 (hiking time: 3 hours and 45 minutes)
04:00 Take tricycle from Puerto Princesa city proper to San Jose (New Market) Terminal
05:30 ETD terminal via Leonard Shuttle (+63 929 780 0880, +63 921 961 2339, or +63 909 913 0604) going to Sicud
07:00 ETA Narra; breakfast at stopover
11:15 ETA Rizal; lunch at stopover
11:45 Resume trip
13:00 ETA Brgy. Ransang; register and courtesy visit to chieftain
13:30 Start trek
15:00 Balin-Balin Village
15:45 Resume trek
18:00 Magtangob campsite (Bulldog’s house); camp overnight at shelter
Day 2 (hiking time: 5 hours)
07:15 Start trek
08:15 Magamot; rest
08:30 Resume trek
10:30 Baluin campsite; lunch
11:30 Resume trek
13:30 Kabugan Village; camp overnight at shelter
Day 3 (hiking time: 8 hours and 45 minutes)
07:00 Start trek
08:30 Kawayanan campsite
10:30 Kadiklayan viewdeck
11:00 Ganub campsite; lunch
11:45 Resume trek
12:00 Pulanggok Peak
12:15 Tuka-Pungdan Peak
13:00 Paray-Paray campsite; pitch tent and set camp
14:00 Summit assault
16:00 Summit (2,086 MASL)
16:30 Descend to campsite
18:00 Back at campsite
Day 4 (hiking time: 11 hours)
04:30 Breakfast and break camp
07:00 Start traverse
08:00 Tabud River
11:30 Lapong campsite; lunch
12:30 Resume trek
15:30 Karim’s campsite
16:45 Kawang-Kawang Peak
19:00 End of trek at Kupang Village
Day 5 (hiking time: 2 hours)
03:00 Start descent to national highway
05:00 National Road at Malis Village; wash up
07:00 Ride bus going to Puerto Princesa
13:00 Arrive at San Jose (New Market) Terminal