Category Archives: Luzon

On a high

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I have always been on the prowl for activities that make my head scream of excitement, and my heart pump with exuberance. Free falling from a plane is one of those, and (I would bet) is on any adrenaline junkie’s bucket list. It has been on mine for more than half a decade. With a lot of prodding and a bit of kismet, I booked myself a tandem jump slot last summer with Skydive Legazpi.

The session starts with a brief class on the basics of the activity. The instructor introduces skydiving as a popular high-flying extreme sport. A tandem jump is an easy way to experience skydiving for the first time. Tandem jumps offer the thrill of a free fall while securely harnessed to a professional instructor. The instructor then demonstrates use of the equipment, and completes it with a comprehensive safety instruction. Finally, the support crew fits me with a harness, and ushers me to the tarmac.

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Back to basics

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When investors are faced with volatile market conditions, they are advised to be prudent. In times when both the local and global markets are bleeding, investors revisit their investment strategies. Back to basics. What is the tolerance for risk? How diverse is the allocation of asset classes? Will there be any change in the time horizon? Similar to the business of building wealth, it is back to basics when coming out of commission in the world of climbing mountains. And so as Always Wandering emerges from its shell, it also returns to the most fundamental of hiking – a minor dayhike.

Mt. Mabilog (442 MASL) is an inconspicuous peak that stands in between San Pablo City and Nagcarlan in the province of Laguna. This quick hike is straightforward with mostly covered foot trails lined with the usual forest and fruit trees. The ascent to the summit has portions that are exposed and unforgiving at high noon. Although not prominent compared to its more popular neighbors, it has an unobtrusive view of the three peaks of Mt. Banahaw, and the seven lakes of the province. The local guide patiently shares the surrounding bodies of water as Pandin, Yambo, Palakpakin, Sampaloc, Mojicap, Kalibato, and Bunot.

The view from the summit at 442 MASL.

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A ninja adventure

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On the hunt for a ninja adventure a couple of hours away from the metro? A trip to Cavinti Falls (or Magdapio Falls) in Laguna will satisfy the itch. Previously called Pagsanjan Falls, the mighty cascade actually straddles the river, and cool mountain range of the municipality of Cavinti. While most visitors ply the Pagsanjan route, the entry point via Pueblo El Salvador Nature Park and Picnic Grove (Pueblo) in Cavinti offers more activities.

“Shooting the rapids” from Pagsanjan involves a one-hour banca ride along the Balanac and Bumbungan river. Because of the sheer skills (in maneuvering and in enduring the rapids) required of the boatmen, this costs Php1,350.00 per person. On the other hand, the package offered by Pueblo amounts to Php270.00 only. The package includes the service of a guide, and the use of a harness for the vertical trek. In the first half of 2015, they will start offering a package that includes both the vertical trek going to the falls, and a one-way boat ride to Pagsanjan.

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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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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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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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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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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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