Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hiking matters #441: Akiki-Ambangeg Dayhike of Mt. Pulag

The Akiki Trail of Mt. Pulag is one of my favourite hikes in the Cordilleras, as it is straightforward, and features three different environments: pine forest, mossy forest, and grassland. With a 1700-meter altitude gain, it is also an excellent training climb. Having done a three-day Akiki-Ambaguio Traverse in 2010 and a two-day Akiki-Tawangan Traverse in 2013, I thought it would be great to do an Akiki-Ambangeg Traverse, this time, a dayhike. In this endeavour I was joined by Koi Grey, Jenny Aggangan, Christine Fernandez, and Vinci Berris: we met at Victory Liner at 0300H.

Three and a half hours later we were having breakfast at the Akiki jumpoff, and after registering at the Ranger Station, we started the hike. Following park rules, we got a guide, Oswald (we would still have to pay him P1800, the guide fee for the Akiki-Ambangeg traverse regardless of how many days it takes). We started trekking at 0707H.

Eddet River, the traditional campsite for Day 1 of three-day Akiki-Ambangeg Traverse, came up not long afterwards - the end of a 'warm-up' hike that features a moderate ascent and a gradual descent to the river. We rested here for a few minutes, before starting the steep ascent through a pine forest that once earned for Akiki the monicker 'Killer Trail'.

It took less than two hours for us to negotiate this trail before arriving at Marlboro Country, the second campsite and water source of the Akiki Trail. We spent the night here during our Akiki-Tawangan last year, and I was glad to see it again: it already has a shelter for guides (and needful hikers).

Past Marlboro, the trail enters a beautiful mossy forest. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle as we commenced the forested trek and I couldn't take pictures. After an hour, we emerged from this mossy forest to reach the grassland of dwarf bamboo: the beautiful and unique environment that earns for Pulag its ancient name, which in the native tongue means 'bald mountain'.

Bereft of the trees, we were exposed to the chilling winds, and the temperature dropped to 10-11 C. There was still a good 250 meters of altitude to gain before reaching the summit, and with the rolling slopes and slightly thinner air, it was still a bit of a challenge. I was delighted to reach the Saddle Campsite at 1140H; we had some snacks there before proceeding to the summit.

The final push took 15 minutes, fortunately by this time the moist fog had cleared, allowing me to take some photos. Even without the sea of clouds or the views of the Cordilleras, it was still a beautiful sight: golden-brown grassland on grey-white sky, and colourful hikers slowly making their way through the slopes.

We were at the summit by 1245H. It felt great to be back. "Been there, done that" is an expression that does not apply to mountains, because every hike is different, and there is always something new that awaits you in every climb. In this case, the novelty was doing it as a dayhike, reaching the summit at noontime, and of course climbing with a different set of people. I've climbed Pulag 11 times now, but I'll keep coming back!

From the summit, though, it was still an 8-kilometer walk to Babadak Ranger Station, and given the temperature and the time pressure (we had to catch the 2210H bus in Baguio) we couldn't really hang out that long, so we started the descent after 15 minutes at the summit. The walk down to Camp 2 was a slog through wide and muddy trails - the unfortunate consequence of too many visitors coming on weekends. The consolation, though, is seeing so many birds and experiencing a peaceful Mt. Pulag, since we were hiking on a weekday.

By 1537H, or exactly 8 hours and 30 minutes since we started the hike, we reached Babadak Ranger Station, concluding what had been an exciting trek. For me it has been a year of great dayhikes - Pantingan-Tarak, G2 Traverse, Apo, to name a few, and I'm glad I will be able to conclude the year on a (literal) high note. Thank you Mt. Pulag for inspiring me once again to keep going further. Until we meet again! 

Hiking matters #440: An easy walk up Mt. Timbak In Atok, Benguet, the third highest mountain in Luzon

Mt. Timbak (2717m) in Atok, Benguet is doubtless one of the most important mountains in the Cordilleras, being the highest of the mountains along Halsema Highway and the range that it straddles. It is the third highest mountain in Luzon, next only to Pulag and Tabayoc. These distinctions make a trip to Timbak a worthy excursion, even if the hike itself is very easy, taking just fifteen minutes or so.
Last Saturday I accompanied 18- time Halcon climber Cynthia Sy - a living legend - and my childhood friend Jenny Aggangan, in what turned out to be my third visit to the mountain. My first was on a rainy day in 2007, and my second was in 2013, on the day of Pope Francis' election (we heard the news while at the summit, courtesy of a local farmer's radio). 
To get to Mt. Timbak, one has to take any Halsema-bound jeep, bus, or van from Baguio and get off at the waiting shed at KM. 55 that leads to Timbak Elementary School, then walk up the road. Or, as in our case, rent a vehicle to take you all the way up the road, past the elementary school, and within 15 minutes of the summit. 
We were accompanied by young trail runner Josiah, who lives in Lake Tabeyo. He told me about his father Santiago, the guide up Mt. Tabayoc, and his recollection of my visit to their place in 2008, in what turned out to be one of the inaugural hikes up the true summit of Tabayoc (see Hiking matters #10). 
At the summit of Mt. Timbak stands three crosses and other religious figures. It would have been an excellent viewpoint for Tabayoc, Pulag, Purgatory, and Ugo -- indeed the Central Cordillera spine - but it was a cloudy day and we didn't see them, but the views of the Halsema Highway and occasionally of Mt. Sto. Tomas was still nice. 
Aside from the views, the attraction of Mt. Timbak is seeing a 'slice of life' in the highlands: upland vegetable farming, friendly locals tending to their daily routines, and cool mountain air (it is probably one of the coldest residential areas in the Philippines). Our 'real' hike would have to wait for two more days - an Akiki-Ambangeg Dayhike (see Hiking matters #441) but the visit to Timbak was still well worth it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hiking matters #439: Sultan Peak Traverse to Atong Lake in Nara, Palawan, Day 3: The descent through the rivers

At the lakeshore of Atong Lake, where we camped on our second night
up Sultan Peak (D. Comagon)
Continued from Hiking matters #438. The next morning, the weather was benign, and I was able to swim in Atong Lake again. Once again, we took our time and enjoyed our time with the lake and the mountain.
One of the small creeks along the trial (D. Comagon)
We started descent at 0930H - which actually involves ascending up one of high points around the lake, and then making our way through dense forest to reconnect to the Batang-Batang River, which we would have to cross anew. This forest trek is quite challenging - reminiscent of the Pantingan-Tarak traverse.
Batang-Batang river has very wide portions (D. Comagon)
Back at the rivers, we were thankful that the water level has not gone up, and after more river crossings, we were finally back in the familiar plains of Sitio Mariwara. Thank you again to Jehson Cervancia for arranging the hike, and to Kuya Julius and family for another great adventure in Narra, Palawan!
One final group shot at Atong Lake with Kuya Julius, son John Rey, and
nephew Edgar
PINOYMOUNTAINEER: HIKES IN PALAWAN
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

Hiking matters #438: Sultan Peak Traverse to Atong Lake in Nara, Palawan, Day 2: To the summit and down the lake

PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN - Continued from Hiking matters #437: We started Day 2 of our Sultan Peak hike in relaxed fashion, taking our time to appreciate the views up Sultan Falls, and not breaking camp and starting the ascent until past 0900H. From our 920-meter campsite, we still had 400 meters to gain in order to reach the summit.
The ascent begins with a surprisingly fairly-established forest trail which ends up to the ultramafic peak, very much similar to the summit of Mt. Guiting-Guiting (see Hiking matters #388). As in Romblon's famous peak, the final bit requires delicate footing, as some of the rocks are loose. 
We reached the summit area (9.311985 N, 118216578 E, 1318 MASL) at 1110H. 9 (Note: To be precise, this is not the true summit, which is around 20 meters higher -- but there is not trail going up there.) 
The trade-off of taking it easy in the morning is not having a clearing at the peak (in general, for tropical mountains, the earlier the ascent, the better view at the summit). But the clouds did not dampen our enthusiasm and joy for having reached a major peak in Palawan.
At the summit, we came across three giant pitcher plants belonging to the Nepenthes palawanensis. Jehson, our contact in Narra, is himself a co-discoverer of this rare plant and we were delighted to see the fine, kingly plants perched on a rock, as if they were a welcoming committee to the mountain where they are endemic.
Less than a hundred meters past the pitcher plants, we were surprised at seeing another attraction - the view of Atong Lake, its turquoise waters interrupting the verdant forests of the Mt. Victoria Range. This beautiful view motivated us to keep going, even though the trail itself proved challenging: at times steep, at times slippery, oftentimes both, and never neither. To accomplish the altitude loss of 500 meters, one had to boulder down the slithery, often loose, rocks of a dead creek. It is only after a reaching a plateau that the river becomes flat, until it 'empties' into the lakeshore that counts as our campsite.
Upon arriving at the lake, I went swimming for a good one hour in the lake's tranquil waters. Being there was a wonderful experience - one of many that Palawan has gifted me this year. The bivouac at the lakeshore was equally relaxing, giving us a lot of energy for the final day of the hike. Continued in Hiking matters #439.


PINOYMOUNTAINEER: HIKES IN PALAWAN
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

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