A shutter-hike towards the peak of Mt. Kalatungan

I will be recounting our Mt. Kalatungan-Wiji Traverse Photo climb in a four part mini series. This is the first part of that series.
“It’s a long drive away from Tacurong City.” I told Sir Joy.  ”Sometimes, dokie, it feels good to get lost in an adventure or forget about time and schedules” said Sir Joy. “Yeah!” I think so too. looking out in the car window contemplating a “Plan B” itinerary if we ever get lost or something…
Sir Joy, Chucks, Gayle and myself arrived in Valencia City around lunchtime, meeting Jo-an for lunch and dropping by a grocery store to buy food. ”We’re running a bit late on our sched” I keep mumbling. I was worried we’re behind a not so final itinerary. Our group is known to have laissez faire attitude when it comes to climb itineraries. Going with the flow is the rule rather than a strict, regimental schedule. The thing is, I essentially made that itinerary myself, the Ob-C that I am. What’s the use of making one if we’re not supposed to follow it? D-R-A-W-I-N-G!

We headed for Pangantucan and arrived at the tourism office where  Mr. Renato Sabado and Engr. Rodel was patiently waiting to orient us about Mt. Kalatungan. We took no time in finishing all our climbing documents (permits, waivers, etc) and was pleasantly surprised at how Pangantucan’s tourism officer handled our orientation- “very professionally”.  It’s my first time to be given climbing permits in triplicate, signed by the town mayor himself and oriented with a google map of the trail!

“That is something, oddly good.”

If you look at the suggested itinerary, it looks simple or manageable to me. There are several notable points, trails, camps and water sources along the trail:

  • Mendis Base Camp 1 -last human settlement with abundant water source nearby.
  • Buko sa Anay /Pig’s backbone Trail/Muleta Trail -open ridge, no known water source, Muleta falls visible
  • Hunter’s Mini Hut – old, mini hut for temporary shelter but with water source nearby, within the forest
  • Sangaya?-Muleta Fork – trail fork with one on left going towards the peak of Mt. Kalatungan and the other, going towards the Dwarf Bamboo Camp and to Lumpanag’s Peak. (also with water source nearby)
  • Mt. Kalatungan’s peak – no water source
  • Dwarf Bamboo camp- a good area to camp with spacious campsite and plenty water source
  • Lumpanag (Wiji) peak – No water source
  • Dead Nails Trail – killer downhill trek almost without end
  • Manobo Community- first human settlement after coming off the forest line of the Dead Nails Trail

Pretty simple, right? The thing is this climb is a photo climb.  We’re half slow, half shooting and that’s going to eat much of our time. I’m already doubting if we ever finish this  climb in two days. The fear of “Kala-tunga”  (the bisaya description for  not being able to summit Mt. Kalatungan’s peak for some reasons,

“Guys, let’s strict with our time sched right?  Or night trekking will be constant feature of this climb! I pleaded my group.

Our main group of six- Me, Sir Joy, Gayle, Chucks, Joan arrived in Pangantucan at around 4 in the afternoon, while Jo Sy and Grace followed at around 8PM, the day before our actual climb. This mean we have time to prepare, get some good night sleep and start the trek early the next day. We decided to camp (and sleep) at the town’s open park, right beside the municipal hall and just head on for Brgy. Mendis the next day. I spent some time shooting at the open park of Pangantucan then went back to our camp for dinner and early sleep. I felt I had the coldest night in Pangantucan already, but I slept soundly despite that.

Panagntucan as seen thru my eyes..

Pangantucan as seen thru my eyes (Click for a larger view)

I woke up early the next morning to a sudden change of plans. Jo Sy will not be joining the climb and has to go back home because her nephew is having a medical emergency. Next, we arrived at Brgy. Mendis 2 hours late from our timed itinerary. We also had replacement guides and porters because the two original guides  also had some sort of family medical emergencies. Ok, now of all climbers, these medical emergencies occurred to my climbmates and I’m not even their family’s attending. Notwithstanding, we started trekking the open field towards the Mendis Base Camp a full two hours late!  To top it all, I didn’t have my sunrise shot that morning! I’m no believer for bad omens but, “are there any other omens to believe?”.

The group at Brgy. Mendis posing for a group shot prior to onset of hike..

The group at Brgy. Mendis posing for a group shot prior to onset of hike..

We started trekking around 9AM passing through a small stream and an open trail towards the Mendis Base Camp. Along the trail, we chanced upon Manobo kids and farmers and my camera went berserk. “Picturesque” I blurted. Then one of the kids asked “Give us candies, please”. I momentarily stopped and collected my shame and told  them back in bisaya “no, I don’t have any”. My trail food was stashed in my other bag with the porter, several meters away. I can hear the kid saying this in my mind- “Shame, a climber without trail food”

The Mendis base camp is the last point along this trail where human settlements could be found. One of our porter lives there. It’s an open grassland on a mountain slope- a good vantage point for taking pictures of Panagantucan below. We stopped for our first break, had merienda and loaded our canteen bottles with water nearby. Then we did hundreds of group shots probably, with the open skies as backdrop. “Profile pics and cover photos, you know the drill”..

Mendis Base Camp 1

Mendis Base Camp 1

We started to trek again at 10:00AM and entered  the first forest line 2 hours after. The diverse flora of Kalatungan’s forest intrigue the vague botanist in me so I just I photographed every plant or insect that pique my interest. Repeat, “every plant I’ve never seen before”. There’s a lot of it here in the forest of Kalatungan. Here’s some of those photos.

Some indigenous species of berries, mushrooms, flowers and a beetle we saw while trekking Mt. Kalatungan

Some indigenous species of berries, mushrooms, flowers and a beetle we saw while trekking Mt. Kalatungan

“It’s an endless trail of mossy trees, hanging plants, cold canopy tree tops with what-have-they dwellers-birds, insects, and probably Avatars. I think. We stopped trekking for a while and ate our lunch inside the forest at around 1:30 PM. It is at this point where I noticed we’re constantly “tailing” our guides and porters, (at several point lost them to the tree line) instead of them tailing or trekking with us. I have no doubts about our capabilities nor that of our guides and porters, but as a surgeon, my mind is programmed to  juggle scenarios and contingency plans during treks. Without the porters or guides near us, our chances of survival on any emergencies is close to nil. That is my worry- the what ifs.

At around two o’clock, we started ascending the “Buko sa Anay ” ridge or some called Muleta Ridge. Like a pig’s backbone or vertebral column, this kilometer-long ridge  is an open trail of grass land and rocks with thick fog cover in the latter half of the steep ascent. (Actually, its more like of a tyrannosaurus’ back judging from it’s size and distance. But this is not Jurassic park, so let’s stick with the Pigs backbone. :))  Views is astounding at the start of the trail and especially towards what I call Km 6.66 (based on my Runkeeper distance readings) where you start to see the Muleta Falls (might be the reason why this ridge is also called Muleta Ridge) sandwich between two peaks on a valley. This is the ridge where I actually had so many group photos and less landscape shots. Why? I’m not fond of heights, cliffs and ridges. Heights shake my legs and makes me nervous. I can hear the “pig” below me snorting this

“what? a photo climber that is afraid of heights? And you’re climbing my backbone?”.

“Shut up pig or ill screw your back bone”..

Buko sa Anay or Muleta Ridge

Buko sa Anay or Muleta Ridge

The ridge view is pretty rewarding nonetheless especially with the plains of Pangantucan Bukidnon sprawling beautifully below it. So, “k-zak”  rattled my camera.

A thick fog is slowly draping the latter portions of the ridge up to the forest line after it. Cool winds began to hover over the ridge with gustiness way beyond my skin’s tolerance.  This made visibility difficult and the environment, chilly cold. Then the rain fell down as we neared the forest line. We had to up our pace and find shelter inside forest. I actually almost ran to the forest line, putting all my camera gears inside my emergency all weather protector- the garbage bag. So that ended my photo sojourn during this day trek.  I was concerned more of warming myself and my camera than taking pictures. “Better luck next time” if ever there wil be such next time. Our guide and porters found a make shift miniature “hut” where hunters rest, temporarily stopped there and wait for us. We decided to settle here for a while because of the rain and that we are all very hungry. I guess the long trek plus the cold wind drained us all of our energy. My hands are beginning to get numb from this biting cold. We cooked and ate our dinner here then continued our push to a camp near the peak. Again, we were 2 hours behind schedule and we aren’t even in the peak as our itinerary planned.

We night trekked  and camped at a forked path, probably the Sangaya?-Muleta Fork, with one path leading to either one of  the two summits. We were planning to camp at the peak for the elusive sunrise photos but the weather and our slow pace became our drawbacks (and incidentally, an advantage, as I will relate later). We pitched our tent in that “forked path”and immediately dozed off to our tired feet and bone biting cold night.

“Good night everyone!”. Then I (allegedly) snored to dreamland,  said my tent mates. I don’t believe them. :)

We woke up the next day to a beautiful fine sunny weather. “So this is the advantage after all”. “I heard the winds howled like hell in the peak and fogs can be as thick as a black drape that sunrise shots is almost non existent at the peak”. At least this placated my sour feeling of not having to camp at the peak.

What’s with sunrise shot anyway? Huh, photographers?

So I settled for a sunrise shot in our camp. ”Hopefully, there will be one, like what I’ve experienced in my Mt. Apo photo climb”. And waited… Dang! I couldn’t get a sunrise shot! (face palm) I realized late our camp is located in a valley, sandwiched in between the two peaks- Kalatungan and Lumpanag,  that no sunrise can be seen until probably ten o’clock in the morning. Frak, I felt terribly foolish. So much for sunrise shots.

I took a few candid shots around the camp, ate our breakfast, packed our things hurriedly (which we left with the porters at the fork camp) and raced to the peak for the astounding view at around 8AM. The Kalatungan peak, is just 45 minutes of trek from our fork camp. “We were that near” I mumbled, nursing that sour feeling of not having to sleep at the peak. We reached Mt. Kalatungan’s summit by nine AM and viola!. We were rewarded – for being such a whinny climber, a good weather and an astounding peak view. Thank you, mother earth :)

I have no delusions about conquering peaks and mountains, but Kalatungan’s peak is awesomely self gratifying. Especially with a beautiful, sunny weather  you’ll have an almost 360 view of the nearby mountains and peaks. The Kitanglad Range, with its towering peaks, beacons majestically on the north side There’s plenty more peaks around I couldn’t identify.  Okay, forget naming the nameless peaks. “Alas!” We’re pretty much happy we reached this far. Now, we are not just buch of “Kalatunga” climbers, right Onin?  So, just envy these photos.

Peak views was way better than expected with the good weather!

Peak views was way better than expected with the good weather!

By 9:30 and after tons of photo shoot at Mt. Kalatungan’s peak, we started back trailing down and picked our bags at the Sangaya?-Muleta fork camp. From there we head on to Lumpanag’s (Wiji) peak. We arrived at the Dwarf Bamboo camp at around 11:30 PM and ate our lunch there. There’s plenty of tea colored water here, but no dwarf bamboos I can see around. Or was this another naming the nameless camp game? I might as well name it “Tea Camp” after the tea colored water source near the camp. But that just me. :)

Next: Dead Nail’s Trail-From Wiji with Love!

About the Author

I am Bundok. When I'm not mending bones for living, I go hike, travel and then rant about my outdoor adventures. I consider my life outdoors as a fitness essential. For more updates, consider subscribing to this blog and to my twitter and Facebook fan page