Prelude: Leyte and The Courage That Was

Standing strong at the Red Beach is the tranquil MacArthur Park, too peaceful that one couldn’t probe how such place once transformed into a leviathan and taxed for a huge number of lives. That nightmare of a deluge brought by Yolanda (Haiyan) last November 2013 is one for the books having been one of the worst things to ever hit the Philippines (aside from the outright thievery and trickery in our government that continues to fuck us up). The good thing is, we had that golden chance to go by the place right when Tacloban was starting to bounce back after the said catastrophe, not just to have a good time but to extend our helping hands.

Our Leyte 2014 trip coming up..

Mt. Lubog, Rodriguez, Rizal (In Photos)

As I was saying, the calm and peaceful Mt. Lubog off the Sierra Madre range could sometimes be badass unforgiving and downright sadistic. Especially when the gods of weather came in to picture, slapping us with some rain and a bit dose of wind, last weekend. Hence, like any other mountain there is out there, it really means business and mustn’t be at all underestimated as it require the respect it deserve from its climbers. That if you don’t give the f respect it demands, it could easily snatch it from you. Plus interest. The climb turned out to be as enduring as it could be – long hours of bumpy rides, wet bodies, heavy muds – even forcing me to sit out for two days as it claimed two of my working days for fever. But tagged along with the climb were some hard lessons to keep; and maybe we don’t need much brain cells to learn them, just the mere presence in witnessing the said feat would suffice. So here comes some pieces of evidence that I was really there on those very trails on that stormy day while nature expertly played one of its tricks on me..


Mt. Lubog: The Badass Mountain in Rizal

Due to the academic calendar shift, summer, in my case, is likewise adjusted. And it’s safe to say that summer’s still ongoing, thus, I’ve been and still summer-ing myself for the past few weeks, which include that last weekend misadventure at a portion of the grand slopes of the Sierra Madre mountain range, nestled at the proud and difficult peak called Mt. Lubog in Rodriguez, Rizal. Newly opened for the public some four months ago, we were told that we’re among the first few groups who luckily reached the summit this year so far. It follows that there’s a limited published materials for reference available online yet, and the lack thereof made this climb even more difficult, not to mention the weather factor which has gone really bad during our climb. One of the mandatory prerequisites of the climb is to contact specific people for initial arrangements (see: Pinoy Mountaineer) of the habal-habal type of motorcyle, the most plausible ride to the jumpoff. 

The initial struggle is going to Cubao as early as 4 AM if the group is not based on Manila and the strategic meeting place is at Farmer’s where the van bound to Total gas station in Montalban is situated. If you plan to arrive there at say, 6:30 AM, it’s good to leave at around 5:30 from Cubao as the trip could last for an hour sans the heavy traffic. From there, the never-ending habal-habal ride starts which could last forever up to 3 hours before reaching the registration area. From there, another 2 hour habal-habal-ride-and-walk combo is for the taking before reaching the actual jump-off point.

In our case, the long habal-habal ride commenced at 6:45 AM in a smooth well-polished road cushion before trouncing into a rough road in mixed rocks and muds for the next three hours, a course which is more difficult than the hike itself. In between stops, certain sites are there to behold (or not), overlooking the lush of green range with a growing case of deforestation as evidenced by the dense landslides everywhere. The current situation of the mountains due to illegal logging is quite alarming as the slopes are visibly mostly grassland as tees are almost nowhere to be found. Long after the uncharacteristic ride, we made it through the jagged trails and eventfully reached the scenic registration area, safe and sound.

It was already 9:36 AM and after taking some good rest, we resumed with the ascent with another walk tied up with more habal-habal ride. From there, the entire trail was mostly covered with fog denying us the supposed beauty of the bluish mountains on the background. The rain has started to pour hard causing the trails to go all mud. Goodness gracious, there were those crystal-clear, ice-cold mini-falls to wash-up along the roads compensating for the muddy encounter across those unforgiving slopes. And a handful of more hopes, we reached the trailhead, took a cupful of rest, and went for a lunch. At this point, I already had apprehensions to abort the climb instead as nature clearly denied us the gift of good weather, plus the road trails has insofar been brutal and downright sadistic, and we had to go through that hell of ride later on our way back. However, the occasional ‘brightening’ at the trailhead during the lunch time was enough motivation to proceed. Right then, we were not rained out, and we started with the actual hike to top.

The steep trails and the rich flora and fauna along the terrains to the summit are very reminiscent of the Mt. Makiling final assault and the Mt. Malipunyo jungle being a tropical rainforest in its core. Fifteen minutes off the jumpoff comes the first stop and the Lubog Cave, and from thereon, a series of uphill course awaits up to the rocky summit for the next hour. The trails are very raw (which is a good thing) but according to our guide, who was only on his third time to hike up to the summit, they plan to make it more hiker-friendly when the dry season comes. The trail was actually established by their group composed of at least 50 men who were also the trained guides for the climb.

Soon enough, we set foot to the knife-edge-rocky summit intricately carved with pointy rocks, deadly upon faulty fall. I couldn’t just imagine how pretty the scene at the peak could be given a nice weather, but then, this climb wouldn’t be a legit deadly one without all those struggles we had to face. After taking a few moments at the summit, we started with the descent amidst the threat posed by the heavy rain and slight brush of winds. With my usual knee problems, I decided to walk down ahead, and there I was again, occasionally questioning myself about why I climb mountains and then blankly proceed walking down the terrains instead after then, keeping in mind the fact how such a charming piece could turnout badass, big time.. 


The #13PeaksFor2013 Project

Obviously, this one’s long been an overdue. But the pleasure of that thought of finally writing about it never ceased to excite me all these years. All those spontaneous climbs and risky moves during hikes that I did with friends and alone were an evidence of how 2013 turned out to be big time in the realization of my huge fascination for discovery and thrill of adventures, with all those grains of sweats, aching knees, and gasping breaths, all the more. And as I look back at those days on beguilingly elevated lands across the clouds, I’m doing this countdown of my best mountain-y encounters one by one.

13.Mt. Maculot (January 13). They say nothing beats the first time. But then, the seemingly unending treat with every trail I walked from then on makes this at the bottom. Surely the intricate rock formations at the Rockies and the glorious view of a piece of Taal Lake on the sidelines were a win, but then, way to go. There were more of these on the latter climbs.

12. Tayak Hill (May 8). Long walk and a minor climb if you wish. And the deafening silence up there was more than perfect for those who seek peace or solitude in the midst of an open air way above the nearby Laguna towns. The adventure’s still there, minus a huge chunk of that element called danger which probably made the climb less exciting. Nevertheless, the 360 degree view on top with the gloomy view of the devil's mountain in the background is still no less than exceptional.

11. Mt. Manabu (February 16). After that record-breaking 54 minutes to reach the summit with minimal breaks along the trails, this turned out to be one of the most tiring ones I did thus far... which greatly reminds me of how healthy my knees once were and how much weight I have gained from then on. Mountain climbing is a test of mental strength. The first thing that needs to be done is believing that you could be up there. And it’s another thing to be there with that time pressure challenge and yet still with your eyes not missing the grandiose feast. 

10. Jubilee Hill (February 2). Fifteen minutes was all we needed to complete the course. But the whole thing was still memorable in many sorts. In case you’re wondering where it’s located, it’s that hill with bright cross when you happen to see yourself in a night at UPLB.

9. Mt. Romelo (April 11). ..and Buruwisan Falls of course! There is this great deal of pride about trekking at least a portion of the infamous Sierra Madre range and visiting the painfully beautiful but deadly-once-you-come-closer Buruwisan Falls. Though the place has been heavily visited nowadays, it's still a great feeling in knowing that as natural wanderers, we place that flag of pride of being into some place most people do not have a chance of seeing at all.

8. Mt. Kalisungan (January 26). This hike would never be complete without Mang Bino, my all-time favorite guide as of this date. His meekness with each of his tales related to the mountain – from Agot Isidro to Yamashita treasures were one for the books. The last time I heard, his house at the foot of the mountain was burned. Hope he’s fine.

7. Mt. Mabilog (February 23). Getting lost is more fun in Mt. Mabilog, and there were just too many lessons I learned out of this hike – in between those trials in the trails and the joys in very step. Needless to say, getting lost, sometimes mostly define my experience of the outdoors. And there's nothing more surprising than that feeling of refreshment made possible by Lake Pandin, after all those uncharacteristic events that happened that day.

6. Mt. Batulao (November 2). There are basically 7 things I like the most about this mountain. I’ve said it before and I won’t say it again.

5. Mt. Malipunyo (August 21). Honestly, I think I technically failed the #13PeaksFor2013 project because of this failed climb. If my knowledge serves me right, we were only able to reach the first of the mountain’s 3 peaks due to a terrible encounter: stormy howling winds, heavy-pouring rains, thunderbolt and lightning (very very frightening me!) – name it. Indeed, it’s not always a sunny day as we climb, and no matter how much we think and prepared we are, there will come a time when we are faced with so much of what we can take that the best thing to do is to just walk away, for the mean time. After all, getting to the peak is optional, but going home is mandatory. Plus, the mountain will not go anywhere, and there will always be a next time.

And talking about next time..

4. Pico De Loro (January 18). Well this could easily climb the list if we were able to successfully conquer the Monolith. But as they say, there’s always that right time for everything. And trust me, there really is.

3. Mt. Balungao (December 30). The last one I had that year. Dramatically on my very own province. With my beloved high school friends.

2. Mt.Zion (December 26). Just because I climbed it alone. I knew the risk but I had to take it. Because ultimately, the greatest risk is not taking the risk at all.

1. Mt.Makiling (November 16). I was able to climb this mountain twice that year but the second time’s definitely the sweeter. It was a climb with a cause – a climb I’d be glad to do all over again for a cause I wish would never ever happen again.

**The #13PeaksFor2013 Project is a concept I promised to fulfill by conquering 13 mountains in one year, given a limited resources as an inexperienced hiker. 

Davao in 24 Hours

Over the start of this week, I was grateful enough to experience twenty four hours of delight of how Davao is doing – from the clean and peaceful roads, courteous people, and a handful options of healthy foods. The trip was intended purely for business so there was very little time to explore the city. The visit was rather short to at least experience the minimum of what Davao has to offer but for a first-timer in Mindanao, I had to spare a few moments every now and then just to savor every little thing that cascaded my way.

Been to Aldevinco, Ciudades, and Tiny Kitchen to name a few, but will definitely be back to Davao for more, soon enough – Samal Island, durian ice cream, Mt. Apo, and a whole lot of more hidden gems there. Way to go! 


Mt. Makiling: Flora and Fauna

Mt. Makiling’s been known as a home of diverse biological species, some of which are endemic to the Philippines. Reports have it that the Philippine eagle, Rafflesia, and even cobras peacefully thrive at the vastness of the rainforest. And while I have not seen any of these yet along the trails during any of my Mt. Makiling hikes, I’m still lucky to have a glimpse of the rich and appalling flora and fauna the forest offers. Though the subsequent set of photos will not do any justice, here’s the photo dump anyway--


Mt. Makiling Diaries

Extremely enchanted by the multitude versions of Maria Makiling tales during my early years in grade school, it was but a huge personal dream to climb Mt. Makiling ever since UPLB happened to me, way back 2007 – that time when everything I see were vividly technicolored contrast to how the current hues turned out. 

Then there were my late grandfather’s repetitive stories and myths about the mountain every single summer or semestral breaks I spent at home while having grandfatherly chats with him (that which I sorely miss right now), but I never managed to climb the peak until after I graduated from the university. But as they say, there’s always a right time for everything, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 it is – I eventually hiked Peak 2 up, not once nor twice but four times! And still am expecting more climbs soon enough.

May 15, 2011. My first official Mt. Makiling encounter was actually at 6 months BTE (before thesis existence), or I prefer to call it – end of my happy outdoor days. We were a group of 6 brods and sisses from UPLB Chemokinesis, who hiked up to the famed Flat Rocks and Mudspring, inexperienced in climbing mountains as we used to be. It was relatively an easy trek with us finishing both courses in half a day. This was also my first encounter with Mt. Makiling’s notorious limatiks drawing the first runs of blood out of my skin. After that, there were other spontaneous follow-up hikes to Flat Rocks and Mudspring since then including that terrible Flat Rocks encounter with the rain pouring down so hard that it was almost impossible trek back to the jump-off. Happiness, just like most other things sometimes comes with a price. And it’s the price of risk we should not always be willing to pay. #SafetyFirst

October 28, 2013. The tenth mountain off my #13PeaksFor2013 Project was fortunately realized through my first Mt. Makiling-Peak 2 climb. I have been climbing mountains around Laguna and Batangas for the past months that year so I knew I had the best pair of knees to fruitfully surmount the third highest peak in Luzon, at last. However, it wasn’t the perfect weather there is to begin with as the trails were dark with occasional thunderstorms and rain showers evidently casting off the skies. While we clearly understood that Makiling was just normal like that being a true tropical rainforest in its very essence, the clouds were just too heavy enough to condense every time. And as expected we were rain-soaked for most parts of the trail. The climb was not entirely easy, but it’s not difficult either. The view on top wasn’t something that would melt your face away from the skull, though the entire climb was enough to set a heart on fire. Another classic example of ‘the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

November 16, 2013. My then next Mt. Makiling encounter is probably the most memorable hike I did thus far, which happened shortly after my first Peak 2 experience, few weeks after the onslaught of the Super-typhoon Yolanda which set Tacloban into a looming pit. Together with that bunch of 22 other tired but determined climbers, we climbed to extend our helping hands through our own simple and unselfish ways. Read: this. A part of me was glad upon reaching the peak for the second time – a place where all of us were exhausted, but definitely not unhappy.

January 31, 2014. Sometime during this date, I was uncertainly crawling at probably some of the lowest points in my life. Course we have those moments of when-you-have-nothing-left-to-burn-you-have-to-set-yourself-on-fire kind of shit. And luckily, Mt. Makiling served to be a temporary escape from that crappy trap for me at that time. 

October 26, 2014. While it’s true that I have different motivations (be it to dust off anxiety attacks or simply celebrate small joys) on climbing Mt. Makiling (or every other mountain, in general) over and over again, it still boils down to the mountain’s densely canopied charm that draws my feet to it every single time. It might be a mostly long boring stride for some, and the idea of forever-ly walking those same long muddy and rocky trails under those same shady boring trees, for the second or third time is kind of redundant. But as they say, one can’t climb the same mountain twice. And unless you try to climb a mountain more than once, you’ll never understand that sweet and compelling truth for such. 


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