Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hiking matters #437: Sultan Peak Traverse to Atong Lake in Nara, Palawan, Day 1: Up the Sultan Falls campsite

Atop Sultan Falls in Sultan Peak, Mt. Victoria Range in Narra, Palawan
PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN - Five months after climbing Mt. Victoria, the second highest mountain in Palawan, I returned to Narra, Palawan to do the Sultan Peak to Atong Lake Traverse - a climb that was highly recommended by local explorer and botanist Jehson Cervancia. Taking three days, the hike - my 11th in Palawan - turned out to be a wonderful, multi-faceted, and challenging trek, worthy to be mentioned in the same breathe as Cleopatra's Needle or Mantalingajan.
Joining our original Mt. Victoria crew of myself, my hiking partner Coby Sarreal, young Palawe├▒o hiker Brenton Tan, and our guide Julius were our good friend Daryl Comagon and Davao-based Ian Tesaluna, as well as Kuya Julius' 11-year old son John Rey and nephew Elmer. Just like what we did for Mt. Victoria, we arrived in Narra the day prior, spending the night in Gorayon Lodge along the national highway, and taking tricycles to Sitio Mariwara, Brgy. Princess Urduja - the same jumpoff as Mt. Victoria.
We started trekking at around 0830H, spending our first morning crossing the Batang-Batang River. Five big river crossings comprised the initial challenge - fortunately it hadn't rained too hard in the past few days and the water was just waist-deep at most. We took a nice dip on the last major river crossing, taking our lunch there as well, before doing more crossings but this time in smaller streams.
Past the streams, we entered a forest typical of Palawan mountains, with majestic almaciga trees - and some limatik and rattan. The altitude gain was rapid, and by 1600H we arrived at the High Camp (9°18′57.2′′N 118°13′30.2′′ E 930m) - where we spent the first night. It was raining when we pitched our tent but fortunately the rains subsided a bit before dusk, allowing us to explore the area.
Less than five minutes away from the camp, one can reach the very top of Sultan Falls, one of the major attractions of the hike. Peering down from the precarious rocks atop falls is a breathtaking experience, especially since we could also see, beyond the verdant forests of Mt. Victoria Range, Sulu Sea and Rasa Island. Back at the campsite, we wondered what else lay ahead of us in what was turning to be a beautiful hike.

Mt. Mantalingajan (2008, 2014) 408 409 410 411
Mt. Thumbpeak (2011) 180
Mt. Beaufort (2014) 405
Mt. Bloomfield (2014, 2014) 406 427
Jungle Trail to Underground River (2014) 407
Mt. Victoria (2014) 412 413
Mt. Bahile (2014) 417
Mt. Salakot (2014) 418
Cleopatra's Needle (2014) 419 420 421 422
Mt. Magarwak (2014) 428
Mt. Kalbo (2014) 429 
Sultan Peak (2014) 437 438 439

Friday, November 28, 2014

Announcing the 2015 Mt. Kerinci (3805m) Expedition in Sumatra, Indonesia on April 29 to May 5, 2015

Exactly a year after our successful trip to Mt. Rinjani, the highest mountain in Lombok, Indonesia, I will be organising a trip to Mt. Kerinci, at an impressive 3805 MASL the highest mountain in Sumutra, Indonesia and one of the country's great volcanoes. As part of the  Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Mt. Kerinci is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to various tropical species including the Sumatran tiger and 375 bird species.


Day 0 (April 29)
Arrival in Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta en route to Sumatra
Early arrival in Padang*

Day 1 (April 30)
Arrival in Padang - Must arrive by 0800H*
Proceed to Kersik Tuo Village

Day 2 (May 1)
Trek to Mt. Kerinci Base camp

Day 3 (May 2)
Summit assault
Descent to village

Day 4 (May 3)
Sidetrip/hike: Lake Gunung Tujuh 

Day 5 (May 4)
Travel back to Padang

Day 6 (May 5)
Head back to KL or Jakarta then Manila 

For inquiries, contact Daniel at Please send the following information:

Hiking experience:
Contact number: 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hiking matters #434: Mt. Mayo, a major forest climb in Tarragona, Davao Oriental

When one thinks of hiking in Mindanao, Mt. Apo and the now-famous mountains in Bukidnon come to mind. But I have always been attracted with the idea of pursuing lesser-known destinations, which provide me the opportunity to learn more about our country by allowing me visit other places. And of course, there is always the curiosity in what lays within those distant peaks.

The Davao Oriental - Compostela Valley area has always been on my mind, and truth be told we have attempted to visit several times, only to be thwarted by landslides, impassable rivers, and mountain closures. For instance, in 2011 we were already in Davao City preparing for a White Peak hike when we were told by the tourism officer than the rains have all but shut down the roads, and we instead headed to Mt. Matutum - on the other side of Davao.

High in the pantheon of southeastern Mindanao are Mt. Candalaga, White Peak, and the newly-minted World Heritage Site, Mt. Hamiguitan. But there's more to this trilogy in the region. Mt. Mayo, for instance, has long been famous among local hikers, taller than Mt. Hamiguitan and home to a nice mossy forest. Fresh from our successful Mt. Candalaga hike, we decided to do it - but still hoping to maximise the trip further, we decided to attempt a dayhike. We were guided and accompanied by local explorer Alex Paguyan,

The habal-habal ride from Mati was arduous - and oftentimes downright scary. Ian said it best when he quipped that his soul must have fallen off the motorbike in the rugged, often precarious ascent! It was already 0830H when we finally managed to start trekking from the village (7.04864 N, 126.28274 E, 395 MASL) - way behind schedule in what would turn out to be a long day ahead.

With its overgrown rough roads that gradually wind into even-more-overgrown forested trails, Mt. Mayo reminded us of Mt. Labo, which we also did as a (very long) dayhike a year ago. Abaca workers and hunters passed through the trails, giving us a slice of life in a mountain that has been inhabited by the local Mansaka tribe for centuries. The trail tot he summit, however, is barely trodden, and we were told that we were only the third party to visit in as many years.

As we went higher, the trails became denser, with the forest maintaining cover throughout. Fortunately and crucially, we reached the campsite (7.0930 N, 126.30658 E, 1372 MASL) by 1130H - which suggested that it might be doable to reach the summit before our cut-off time of 1400H.

Past the campsite, however, en route to the ridge that ultimately connects to the summit, the trails have all but disappeared. We had to descend through three creeks, with the trail fragile and badly eroded, necessitating the application of climbing skills. I began to wonder if we would reach the summit at all!

Fortunately, the trails cleared a bit once we were up the ridge. The forest has turned mossy - not as mossy as the primeval jungle of Kalatungan or Dulang-Dulang - but still lush and charming. By 1401H, or just one minute past our scheduled time, we reached the summit (7.0885 N, 126.31719 E, 1761 MASL) It was already raining at the time and we just rushed some photos and after a few minutes began our descent.

With the adrenaline gone, the descent seemed even longer than the ascent and the thick rainclouds plummeted us into darkness as early as 1500H. The rains seemed to have animated the limatik, which came upon my feet with a vengeance. The limatiks (or, in Cebuano, alimatok) in Halcon are still more aggressive, but the ones in Mayo are close enough. Mud, leeches, thorns, rain, darkness: these are not nice things, but they are the stuff that jungle adventures are made of. As 18-time Halcon climber Cynthia Sy later told me: "You cannot imagine how many nights I have spent without sleep, walking in the mud and the rain."

Finally, by 1900H we found ourselves being warmly welcomed in this house of our Mansaka guide. We didn't want to risk riding a habal-habal at night - and under such muddy conditions - so we gladly accepted the invitation to spend the night there.

The limatik wounds would linger for a while, but I was thankful that we managed to climb Mt. Mayo, truly a major climb, and a worthy challenge in Davao Oriental. En route to Mati the next day, I had a habal-habal injury which forced us to return to Davao. Fortunately, my condition improved and we still managed to climb Mt. Apo. Sadly, we couldn't explore the still-inaccessible Mt. Kampalili and the more manageable Mt. Puting Bato but that would be for another time. Thank you Alex for guiding us - and a big thanks too to our Mansaka guides for finding our way through the dense jungle, and for the hospitality. The native chicken cooked in bamboo was unforgettable!

Hiking matters #432: Mt. Candalaga, Day 1: To the campsite
Hiking matters #433: Mt. Candalaga, Day 2: To the summit and back
Hiking matters #434: Mt. Mayo in Tarragona, Davao Oriental
Hiking matters #435: Mt. Apo via Kapatagan dayhike

Hiking matters #433: Mt. Candalaga, Compostela Valley Day 2: Up the summit

Walking through fallen tree trunks en route to the summit of Mt. Candalaga
Continued from Hiking matters #432: From Camp 2, we woke up early, hoping to reach the summit in time for an early morning clearing. It was estimated to be a 2-3 hour hike, but given the fact that the mountain hasn't been climbed in over two years, we took that estimate cautiously, hoping that there weren't fallen trees obstructing the trail.
Starting early for the summit
Our fears were realised, with some landslides and eroded sections, some of which render the trail practically impassable, save for tree trunks that act as 'bridges'! Fortunately, the trunks were still large enough to be comfortably crossed by all of us - but I have to admit that it did raise my heart beat a bit!
At the summit of Mt. Candalaga (around 1761 MASL)
We reached the summit at 0615H, after 1.5 hours of trekking. The summit was surrounded by a nice mossy forest. There used to be a stone that served as a landmark but it has been completely buried by fallen trees! We hung around for a while, hoping that the clouds would clear, and when it didn't we decided to head back.
Majestic Mt. Apo as viewed from Mt. Candalaga
On the way back, however, we were treated to a view of Mt. Apo, across the Davao Gulf! I immediately recognised the massif on the right as well as Mt. Talomo on the left - truly the grandfather of Philippine mountains. For the first time, I am seeing its eastern face - and has a fan of how the mountains stand in relation to each other, I was thrilled.
Tagbibinta Falls: the reward at the end of the trail
By 1130H we were back at the trailhead, and Tagbibinta Falls awaited us as our postclimb reward. On the same time, we made our way back to Mati, where we prepared for our next climb.  Thank you to the Maragusan Tourism Office for accommodating us! And to Sir Ian for driving us all the way to Compostela Valley. With White Peak still closed at the moment, there's still at least one more reason for me to go back in this beautiful place.
At the summit of Mt. Candalaga with Coby Sarreal (L) and Ian Tesaluna (R)

Hiking matters #432: Mt. Candalaga, Day 1: To the campsite
Hiking matters #433: Mt. Candalaga, Day 2: To the summit and back
Hiking matters #434: Mt. Mayo in Tarragona, Davao Oriental
Hiking matters #435: Mt. Apo via Kapatagan dayhike

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