Author’s note: I should have wrote this piece sometime ago, right after our Mt. Hamiguitan climb last November. Admittingly, I was there for the peak climb, since the previous planned Hamiguitan Trek (my birthday climb, with Onin and Felix) didn’t pushed through after I pulled out for some security reasons. The numerous glitches that rocked this scheduled climb (and forum) overshadowed my eagerness to tell a vivid recollection of what we enjoyed on our way up that mountain. I will deliberately snatch off those “glitches” as they were previously tackled here and concentrate on the climb proper that we enjoyed.
We were a concoction of indomitable but laughter loving mountaineers. The jokes of DAM (Digos Active Mountaineers) zealots , will surely bloat your stomach. Felix‘s antics and Vince‘s unending verbal rampage will blow you wits to no end. Our special child Jaypee and sleepy head Chris always makes up for the TAMAC’s end of the joker’s pitch. The constant wit fencing and “urine tussle” (aka pataasan ihi) will make you cry in laughter. Put in Meryll, Janjan, Titat,Allen, Kidz, John, Jan and Iking to the group and you’re in for a hellfire trek.
Which was exactly why we woke up one morning, in our resting beach, unaware that the first batch of registered climbers went to the jump off already without us.
“We were what? How come? Is it possible for them to just leave without informing us even? We were registered first batch for chrissake!”
Amidst thousands of grumbling and bisdak vindictive, we hurriedly packed our gears and stuff and head on to the highway and decided on our next plan. We we not mountaineers for crying out loud!
We are to rush to the jump site on our own, climb to Mt. Hamiguitan as fast as we can and then come down after an overnight stay in the peak.
Nice plan of course, except that, we barely have any idea how to push through with that plan, at least not yet. So we started pooling our “resourcefulness” and came up with the workable plan. We rushed back to the town’s market, ate our breakfast, bought our supplies, repacked our stuff and rented a jeep to bring us to the jump off site. Well, an hour after we left off for the jump off site some 11 kms from the town proper, with our bags inside the jeep and us, on the jeep’s top loader- a no brainier hikers’ fun.
After about an hour of travel, plus the near lost of Allan‘s spyder sunglasses, we arrived at the jump off, made a courtesy call to the local tourism rep, logged in, looked for a guide and went on a fast trek. I was excited of the trek knowing the beauty ahead of us. I was donning a lightweight hikers shorts, dri fit shirt and sneakers and a day pack. I was geared for a light, fast trekking! “I’m through carrying a 40liter pack! I’ll save those for long days of hike!” Felix, having been in this mountain four times, headed the lead pack with the fast pacers. I joined the middle pack.” I walk like a snail by the way”, I quipped to Allen. He just shrugged me off!
The country side jump off site was a typical Filipino barrio- plains littered with coconut canopies near the center and then a hillside forest occasionally occupied by dwellers. Barely a fifty meters to the trek, we hit the first river crossing. I was told by Felix earlier that this trek will entail river crossing, but nobody told me that the river trek will be a major part on the trail before the high grounds. I lost count of how many times I crossed a stream. Thanks, I wore dri fits and gortex climbing shoes that time. My gears will dry up in time for another soaking on the next river cross.Wet was the norm of the trek!
An hour into the trek, I noticed a local was hiking with the lead pack. I surmised he was someone Felix knew and that he was just joining us on his way home. Little that we knew he was hiding something from us. He was a local anyway, who would suspect? “Kilala ni Felix? O guide? I asked my companion in the mid pack. No one knew. But someone shouted, “he must be some guide”.
I so admired the river crossing and the plentiful water for ordinary use of the community dwellers. I must have drank so many I was perpetually stopping to urinate, somewhere else. But our lead pack treks at a very fast pace. I shouted often, that the group remain close enough visible to each other since we were hiking on our own and without our guide. “Stay within in visible distance!” To these my companions followed albeit grudgingly sometimes. I was scared more of our safety rather than anything else. I hate doing an procedure in the boondocks and so much more seeing me being rescued too. “If you don’t want my scalpel stay on trek course!” was my stern warning!
Just after we ended the river crossing, we came across an abandoned house and rested there. We all agreed to take our lunch a soon as we hit some nice clearing by mid day. Then we started the first brutal 80 degree climb to a forest edge some hundred meters up. We past through landslide destroyed trails of which we barely have foot holds and ravines to hold on to. “Banana trunks will do I guess”. I mumbled. It does actually. And then I started to pant and climbed with my face close to my knees. The sudden change in the terrain exalted a toll on my not so fit climb preparation. Gruesome as it was, I took refuge at the thought that if my friends can do it, so can I. I’ve been to worse trail before but I think the long interval between this climb and my last one made my lung capacity and endurance a bit wanting-thanks to a no fit prep. But we moved on, inching my way to ravines and slippery slopes and went praying more. “Felix, layo pa???” “Not even half as he said.
Suddenly the ascent was cut by a narrow ledge or plateau that was filled with the resting mountaineers, the sweepers of the first registered batch! “Wow! we caught up with the first batch climbers who left the jump of as early as 4am! What a feat!” I thought we were very slow and had rested too often.. The group we caught upon where the sweepers (MOSAR) of the first batch together with some remaining mountaineers. We greeted and said hello to them but we decided to push up some more to get a better clearing for our lunch. Then the MOSAR leader told us the guy with us (the one who begged Felix he go along and act as porter to one of our sick companion) was barred from coming along at all as he is suspected to be with some form of epileptic problem. I was suspecting the guy had some weird facie and actuation but I never held on to that idea as I never had the chance to interview or see the guy in person. So we paid him off and let him retrace his tracks back to the community. “Wawa naman. I hopes he gets back to the community safe enough without having seizures!” The MOSAR said it was just a precaution for him.
We pushed up the mountain some more, coming across a rolling hills type of terrain with canopies of large trees and slippery rock side. When we got into a clearing, we camped for our lunch bringing out our packed lunch. It was one hearty meal of fun and laughter. The group never ran out of antics and joke even if our mouths are full.And they never looked tired and exhausted as I see them. Finishing and cleaning our area, we resumed trekking towards the first viewing site along the trail. Lantawan 1.
It was a rocky ledge on the side of a mountain that has contrasting bonsai canopy than the previous area. The stark contrast of the terrain is also fueled by the rust colored; soil; and rocks. We started seeing pitcher plants and bonsai trees and some interesting hanging plants. “Shame on me I am a biologist but I couldn’t identify any of the hanging plants!” We took a coffee break in this area and relished the rest. It was one heating afternoon and the canopy barely covered our backs so we pushed thru again.It was another hour of walking I think when we came another ledge and clearing that has an awesome view of the looming sunset and skyline. We stopped here to relish the view and took some more pictures. The change in the soil type and trees canopies became more apparent as we entered another forested area. The soil was a bit rustic and the trail wide enough for a vehicle. Was this intentional??It looked like a highway to most of us.We wondered why. We then came across a sudden valley drop that led to a scenic waterfall and stream. we temporarily stopped and refilled our canteens with water took some pictures and climbed again up.
Then the wide rust colored soil trail and bonsai canopies resurfaced. I thought I hope the trail will all be the same up to the campsite and we will have no difficulty at all. The trail went wide enough at some point we noted a huge clearing ahead. A mind boggling huge metal bearing that looked like a propeller or something lay on one side of the clearing. A hilarious debate then ensued as we rested in this area as to whether this was a propeller of a crashed plane and some other part littered somewhere or was it just a form of super kalan (thanks to jaypees onerous wits) The funny joust of wits and laughter never ended as no one could conclusively surmise what was the huge metal for. Until we came across camp 4 where a huge number of first batch mountaineers were resting and a staff was with them. The staff told us that metal bearing was once part of a heavy equipment airlifted to that area in the hope of clearing some trees and logging. Loggin the bonsai trees? We all laughed at our debates. More like mining attempts to me. “Who would ever thought of that in the middle of such unique mountain???”
We rested some more and learned from the staff that all first batch climbers will only be allowed up to the base camp(some 300 meters below the peak) but will not be allowed to got to the peak area. They will then retrace their trail back down up to these area here tomorrow and camp till the next day. Looking at the area of the site and the amount of campers it can take, not to mention the dreadful sight, I shrugged in disbelief. “What an IT!” All that 600php for this???”. In disgust, my group continued our push to the next campsite near the peak. Dusk was beginning to set in. A slow drizzle of rain made the trail slippery and submerged the trail like a canal.
It is my most hated trail environment at all, dark almost zero visibility and swamps. Minus the trunk ledge over the swamp train, your feet could slip and submerged down all the way to your groins. I believe soon my face or my butt will hit the trail in one slip. Donning on our head lamps and stabilizing our gears, we pushed through with the trail, a bit faster, like hoppers on logs. I couldn’t remember where was I walking or where my foot landed to get on. All i remember I was walking through a swamped canal, with occasional bonsai logs to hop, often with both my knees in deep water. I can only outline the pygmy forest in the the dark skyline. It was drizzling also that time so visibility is limited to a few yards.”Kablag!” and “Syettttttttt!” was all too easily heared loud. I remember stumbling butt first first several times. But I had to push on with the lead pack, as they were moving fast towards a lighted clearing somewhere forward. The swamp trail ended in the campsite, near a water source. Thanks it was one hell of a swamp trek. It was my first time to get into such trail and I think my feet froze cold that time. I shiver at the thought I will be back trailing there tomorrow. “Not again please…”
We met some previously acquainted mountaineers in the camp, who were already warming themselves in their tents. To our luck, the camp is filled up to the brim with tents. Our group decided to camp at the “Helipad”, a clearing farther up according to Felix huge enough for a helicopter to land . I looked baffled but nevertheless urged everyone to push through now as the cold breeze is picking our flesh. It took us another 30 minutes of trek inside the bonsai forest and into the helipad. True enough but minus the water source, the helipad was a magnificent site for camping, The place is is strategically located in the heart of the bonsai forest with an astounding view of the peak, Lantawan 2 and other peaks in the area. “This place on our own Felix???”
We hurriedly camped, pitched our tents and changed our wet clothes. The cool breeze is chilling everyone, so layering and jackets were needed so badly that night. Our master chefs scurried their cooking skills for our dinner. Nilagang baboy and chicken soup was our meal for dinner. I have nothing but praises for our chefs. The hot broth countered the chilling temp and breeze at the campsite. I don’t know but each time I went on climb, the food always taste good in the boondocks.
The sweepers of the first batch also camped and joined us at the helipad. This made the groupeven rowdier. Jan turned on his IPOD and boosters. Someone brought a rum to perk our blood.The reggae party ensued. I but danced along side the cajoling mountaineers. The breeze is increasingly chilling and dancing and laughter seem to counter the freezing. Antics and stage shows poured in. Storytelling of past climbs and missteps stirred a flurry of laughter. I was amazed at the personalities of my climbing buddies. With such different backgrounds and interest, the one commonality that bound us in is our love for the outdoors. And each one is unique and funny in one way or another. With antics and snickers that other people may take to the duel and kill each other, these mountaineers will take in stride and laughter. To make everyone laugh and happy, is all that matters to them.
I liked this company. I mean really.
With the breeze increasingly cold, one by one the campers crawled into their tents and slept. Inside the tent you can still hear the breeze whipping onto your tent fly. “I think I heard Chris snoring.But so do I)” Shut up dokie! came Jaypee. I told him to “make sure that leg cramps of yours heal easily or I’ll cut in half myself!” We dozed off easily.
It was already morning when I woke up though the sun cannot be seen as it was covered by thick rain clouds. The breeze is still freezing cold. My buddies are happily sipping hot coffee. I went out and joined them. I was astonished by how our camp was situated in the middle of bonsai forest. “OO nga anu?” Antics and talk resumed as well as the clicking of cameras. I talked with the group and came up with a unanimous plan for our IT that day.
We were planning to go down that day all the way to the beach and time is lacking according to our estimates. Some of us wanted to visit the peak and Tinagong dagat (a lake up near the peak purpotedly having high and low tides, hence the name), but it will take another 3-4 hours off our schedule. Also, the host didn’t allowed us to, and Felix told us what can be seen in the peaks and Lantawan were neither a sight to behold. We decide to just go back trail now, eat our breakfast at the camp down and then marathon trek through the back trail. We were already in the forest were the first batch should be exploring by now. That will be enough for out Mt. Hamiguitan climb this time.
I went out and marveled at the view, the flora and the weird forest. Somehow I knew this type of terrestrial environment, rustic soil, Pygmy trees and so many other unusual stuff is because of the soil that is rich with metallic content. No wonder why miners wanted to destroy this site.I also learned that helipad was a clearing made for the chopper of then beat anchor- reporter Noli De Castro as he covered and featured the Pygmy forest in his Magandang Gabi Bayan program before.It remained a clearing since then and I don’t know, why it was still cleared until now.”Hmm… they must be waiting for another helicopter I guess! I hope not by miners!”
We packed our our stuff and gears and cleaned our camp. After some more pictures and a prayer, we headed back towards the base camp, marveling at the pygmy forest and the flora alongside the trail. Pitcher plants and berries are all over. Hanging plants littered all over bonsai trees. “This forest is so unique and majestic!”.
At the campsite we cooked our breakfast and then chatted with some acquaintances there. Ploy, Mayette, Ailet was there.Tatay Haron was also there and was joining us on our way down. After we ate our breakfast, we went adrift for a while to the famous Twin falls of this peak.
I thought it was an easy trek downhill. The 80 -90 degree down slope made me curse in between panting spells. We were actually going down and parallel to the falls, some 80 feet below to its catching basin. It was an awesome sight down below, the twin falls running parallel to each other is as magnificent as its height. The rocky basin that receives the water from the falls runs into another spectacular stream, fit for some idyllic bathing. Felix did just that but most of us stayed in the basin and took as many pictures as we can. There is a mini podium that looked liked the foot rest of the oblation of UP, so I made that pose for posterity ala oblation style but with my clothes of course.
After drowning ourselves in the spectacular nature that lay in front of us, we started going up and back to the campsite as fast as we could. As expected, this was a laborious trek up on all fours, and in between pants and teardrop perspiration. It was one hell of a climb up and the traffic of mountaineers going up and down seem to bottleneck often. It was “hallelujah!!!” when we reached the camp site up. I thought I lost a thousand calories in that climb up.
At the campsite, we cleaned our area, repacked our gears and then prepared to back trail. After we prayed, we bade goodbye to our friends who chose to stay for the later batch. Our plan was to cover as much distance down as possible since we were running out of time. We plan to get back to the jump off by afternoon so we won’t be night trekking again. With the fast paced lead pack headed by Felix trekking like winds hopping on trail logs, our climb tempo went up. Noting the slippery swamp just below the site, I became overly cautious. It was the same trail I cursed last night. A swampy canal littered with floating logs that will served as foot holds for the trekkers to hop without dipping much into the swamp. I never imagined I passed through this swamp the last night. There were no trail at all but a wedge filled with water to knee level. Our group went hopping from one foot log to another, and hoping we’ll not slip and fall in the swamp. At the pace we were going, I couldn’t count how many times I slipped and my legs stuck in the canal.. Insane as this might be, we don’t have a choice. We’d have to pass through this swamp.”Slowly Felixxxxxx!!!!!”
As if cursing was not enough, the swampy end only made the trail worse. A wet, slippery loose soil lay some 40 meters after. A single misstep and you’ll see your self rolling down in the slippery hill. No amount of shoe traction will hold an entire body against a soft, slippery mud. I heard several thunderous butt slams during our traverse in that area. I slowed a bit since I know I would be damned if I slip in this area. I already had a blister in my foot and walking in balance along this slippery trail is as difficult as walking above water. The lead pack went ahead of me and I joined the mid pack. We closely maneuvered that slippery trail and luckily nobody slipped in the mid pack. At camp 3 we regrouped and heard stories of the the lead pack. All of them except Felix has had abrasions and cuts all over their body after slipping several times with thunderous kablags! I told them to be extra cautious next time, clean their wounds with water and we’ll treat them downhill. Then we continued our trek, and met another group of mountaineers going up. Marimax, a familiar face to all of us was with them near the waterfall. As I was maneuvering down the waterfall, we were talking. He was waiting for his companion, and is now with the MOSAR sweepers. Told him our group was heading down as fast as we could so we can be at the jump off before sunsets. “Direstso mi bai, kay gukud mig oras!“I stopped at a rocky portion of the stream knowing it was the bottom already was standing on level ground. Then I lost hold of the rock I’m holding and my balance swayed to the left . I almost fell to the ground have I not broke the fall with my my elbow leaning on another rock. I got abrasions instead. “Thank God, this was one saving moment!” An almost repeat of my Penek Busay accident.
I cleaned my wound, finished the chat with Marimax and then pushed on. From there it was all the same trail as before, only this time, it was mostly downhill. Limping and being extra cautious some more, I mustered the fastest stride I could and ever on the look out for lurking dangers and obstacle that might push me into accidents just like a while ago. By around 3 00 pm we were already at the abandoned house that signaled the entry to the river trek. When we got to the first stream, we all took a refreshing bath for some 15 minutes. We ripped off mud and dirt all over our body. I don’t remember how many times we crossed a river but I do remember that each time, I dipped my body to take a bath. At one point, we even stayed longer and frolicked a a gushing downstream river relishing every cold water that splashed in it. It was one hell of a bath indeed. We were nearing the jump off and to many that was a big sigh of relief. The sun was still up and we all got into the jump off safe and happy. At the jump off we were met by the lead pack who were there already an hour earlier ahead of us. They told me they caught of with the dump truck driver that was suppose to haul climbers back to the beach but they were promised instead that he’ll be back to fetch us all. That driver didn’t showed up at all, no thanks to a lousy hosting. But that’s another story anyway.
In a way we were all happy and fulfilled. We made it up there and down, safe, happy and fulfilled on our own and discovered that our resourcefulness surpass all our expectations.We all got our goals in that climb.
And what an experience!
(Pictures were taken from the point and shoot camera photos of the author and that of Chris Bautista. All rights are reserved)