Category Archives: Climbs and adventures

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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Irid and the limatik attacks

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What comes to mind when I am asked about Mt. Irid is not the numerous river crossings nor its monolith summit; rather the infestation of leeches or the local limatiks. These bloodsuckers literally abound and made their presence felt during our trek to the Sitio Sadlac base camp.

An Irid adventure begins with a two-hour jeepney ride from Cogeo, Rizal to Sta. Inez in Tanay. Remote and with really bad roads, the trip to Sta. Inez was mostly bumpy with the jeep rumbling through lots of river crossings. Once there, the jeep will drop you off at the barangay hall where you will register and pay the barangay captain a courtesy visit.

The first day takes mountaineers to Sitio Kinabuan and Sitio Sadlac. The locals in Sitio Kinabuan are more familiar with the trail to Mt. Irid. On top of the guides secured from Sta. Inez, a guide from Sitio Kinabuan will also be hired. The base camp is at Sitio Sadlac. There is a modest bunker in the sitio where mountaineers spend the night before the morning trek to Mt. Irid.

IridThe trek to the sitios begins with an easy walk on wide trails. It has a gradual incline and has more than ten river crossings (I personally stopped counting after 10). Depending on the season, mountaineers may need to go through waist-deep levels. The tributaries are wide and extra caution must be taken in all crossings. During the wet months, limatiks infest the trails. By the riverbed, after going through the river and by the rocky paths, the leeches are likely to be found clinging on your shoes and pant legs.

The next day, the real climb to Mt. Irid begins. The trail was for the most part an ascent. The paths are lined with dense vegetation. The trees were towering with moss, roots and vines hanging off them. Limatiks are not as present in this portion of the climb as it was in the ascent to the base camp. As the summit is approached, there are rock walls and portions where going through and over the big rocks are encountered. At the final section of the assault,  the jagged sharp rocks of the summit is reached. A plastic sign marks the peak of that part of the Sierra Madre range.
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Malindig dayhike

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Mt. MalindigRising at 1,157 MASL, Mt. Malindig is the highest peak in the province of Marinduque. A quick and easy hike, it starts with a level trek through the locals’ backyards and a field of coconut trees. Next is a mild ascent through the pasture lands. Without any tree cover, it becomes cumbersome in the midday to midafternoon heat. Aside from the cows grazing idly by the trail, hikers would also need to watch out for the itchy “lipa” plants (and trees). A little stream is crossed before going up to cogon-lined trails leading to the military outpost.

Hikers enter the forest line after the brief stop and courtesy visit at the outpost. Felled trees and mossy roots adorn most part of the trail. After about a half of an hour ascent, the summit of Malindig is reached. Heavily covered by trees, there is no view of the neighboring towns and islands from the peak. Rather, there is a campsite at the summit where at most ten (10) tents can be set up.

A Malindig dayhike itinerary looks like this:

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Kalanggaman and its sandbars

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Kalanggaman Island | August 2012

A last minute suggestion and insertion in our itinerary, the Kalanggaman Island sidetrip turned out to be the star of our Leyte trip. Located in the municipality of Palompon, it is an hour-long drive from the city of Ormoc (by private car).

Unspoiled and every bit a beach denizen’s paradise, Kalanggaman is pristine and well-kept by the local tourism office. Its powdery white sand compete with those of Boracay’s.  It has two long stretches of sandbars jutting from its eastern and western portions. The sandbars are visible and do not inconveniently (as a whole) disappear with the tide.

Cottages dot one side of the island with bigger huts located in the middle. There are two sets of clean restrooms and grilling areas on either side of the island’s main structure (that I assume houses the office and store of the keepers). They provide the usual beach activities like snorkeling and kayaking. They also have affordable scuba packages for beginners.

As if a good omen, we were treated to the sight of playing dolphins while we were on our hour-long boat ride to the island. The best experience Kalanggaman offers would be its superb sunset and sunrise views. Arriving just in time when the sun set, we dashed to the western side to witness the play of purple, pink and red above our heads. Since we were camping overnight, we pitched our tents near the island’s lone watchtower that was fronting the east. By the break of dawn, we lumbered towards the top of the wooden tower and waited for the sun to rise.

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A double traverse

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Mt. AmpacaoIn slippers and wearing minimal sun protection, we had a quick trek to Lake Danum traversing to a hike to Mt. Ampacao (1,889 MASL) during our Sagada trip. Easily accessible by foot from the town center, we started by registering at the Sagada Municipal Hall and getting a local guide (Php600.00).

The trek to Lake Danum was a breeze. You pass through concrete pavements leading to Besao which eventually becomes a dirt path. Lake Danum is a gem in the middle of the mountain town where picnics and camping overnight are allowed.

The traverse to Mt. Ampacao starts from a partially obscure offshoot from the main trail. The weather is cool and pine trees dot the single path. It winds through the hills and offers a view of the town center along certain portions of the trail. After about half an hour, you reach a grassland called the “ranch”. At the “ranch”, cows graze and you get a panoramic view of Sagada and its neighboring towns. Twenty minutes from the grassland, a cellphone tower marks the summit of Mt. Ampacao. This is the highest point of Sagada, Mt. Province.

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An epic dayhike

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Mt. Guiting-Guiting by katie_buenaobra

At 2,058 MASL, the mighty Guiting-Guiting may not be the highest I have summitted but it is by far the longest I have ever traversed in a “day”.

Usually a 2- to 3-day itinerary (on the climb alone), we opted to do a dayhike as a challenge to ourselves and since primarily, as a prolific mountaineer-friend puts it, we are scrimping on (and we simply cannot afford!) vacation leaves. Throw in the long ferry rides to and from Romblon and your trip easily extends to a week.

If interested in a dayhike traverse of Mt. Guiting-Guiting (G2), the only person to coordinate with is Sir Remy Robiso (+63 921 7322462). He may assist you in securing a climb permit and arranging for a tricycle or jeep to pick you up at the port. The guide fee for a G2 climb is Php1,500.00 (regardless of whether you do a one-, two- or three-day trip).

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Flat tops

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Masungi Rocks by katie_buenaobra

The Pinagpatong Rocks form part of the Masungi Rock Formations which lie along the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Located in Barangay Cuyambay in Tanay, Rizal, the rock formations occupy a vast portion of the barangay’s greenery. Easily seen from the main highway, there are two points to reach the rock formations. The more popular of the two is through the Garden Cottages Subdivision wherein at the jumpoff, 600 concrete steps take visitors to the peak of the rock formations.

Saving that route for another weekend, we ventured through the other entry point. After paying the barangay officials a courtesy visit and securing their clearance, we headed via rented motorbikes towards the jumpoff at Sitio Tablon.

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Above the clouds

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This was where all the madness started. I fell in love with the mountains. And they loved me back.

Mt. Pulag stands at 2,922 MASL and is the highest peak in Luzon. Known for its picturesque cloud formations when atop the summit (dubbed as the “sea of clouds”) and for temperatures dropping to minus 0 degree Celsius, Pulag is by far the most popular hiking destination in the country. It has four (4) known trails: Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan and Ambaguio. The first (of four trails) I have already tried, Ambangeg is definitely for the beginners compared to Akiki’s steep portions and Tawangan’s lengthy trek.

Climbing Pulag requires coordination with the local Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ protected area superintendent (PASU). The DENR Pulag National Park can be reached through PASU Mering Albas at +63 919 6315402. After reserving the entry date of your group, secure a chartered jeepney. Jeepney assignments are now arranged through the DENR-CAR. Our group’s preferred jeepney driver though is Mr. Guillermo “Emong” Cayat. Since Kuya Emong is already overseas, he has recommended a colleague, Mr. Israel Haban. His contact number is +63 930 6031150.

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Ashed yet stoked

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Blessed with fair weather, the weekend trip to Mt. Pinatubo and its famous crater lake was yet another open invitation to sunburn and the occasional heat stroke. Intensified by the desert-like terrain covered in volcanic ash, the heat struck harshly as the sun rose to its midday glory.

The Pinatubo experience starts with a 4×4 jeep ride to the jump off point. After a quick stop at the Philippine Air Force checkpoint, the one-hour ride takes tourists and mountaineers alike through wide expanses of open lands left by the deadly “lahar” or pyroclastic flows of the 90s. There are only a few patches of areas covered in grass (and these were sighted at the start of the ride only). Towering land formations line the paths and provide the much needed shade at some points. The 4×4 skillfully maneuvers its way through portions of the O’Donnell River and over big loose rocks spewed by the volcano.

There used to be two jump off points where the actual trek commences: a 15-minute trail and a 2-hour trail. Since the “Pinatubo skyway” was not passable due to the beating it took during last year’s strong typhoons, all treks take the long route (note: per the local guide’s estimate, the skyway may be opened by April 2012 if and when the workers finish; last 2009, during the author’s first trip to Pinatubo, there is a skyway fee of Php500.00 for each 4×4 jeep). The longer trail follows the course of the O’Donnell River all the way to the crater. The trail has no cover and becomes very hot as the day progresses. Ash, sandy soil and even loose rocks complete the picture. Trekkers go through a lot of stream crossings that provide a contrasting relief to the heat of the trail.

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Assault all the way

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“Difficult Route”: the sign going to the Mt. Pulag National Park Akiki Trail Visitors’ Center forewarns. The third (of four trails) I have tried, Akiki is indeed challenging compared to Ambangeg‘s easy trail and Tawangan’s lengthy trek.

The Akiki trail starts with a 5-minute stair climb from the drop-off point to the ranger station. As with all Pulag climbs, the DENR-CAR (through Pulag park superintendent Mering Albas +63 919 6315402 and Akiki ranger Heron +63 908 7578319) needs to be informed of any group’s entry into the Park. Payment of fees and securing of guides are arranged either at the DENR Office or at the Akiki visitors’ center. Both open at 7:00 AM. Because the group had an early start, the fees were settled at the Akiki visitors’ centre.

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