Sunday, July 5, 2015

Is it safe? Hiking-related decisions based on weather

Whenever there’s a storm that’s forecast to hit the country - or whenever it’s raining heavily - I get a lot of questions on whether it is safe to go hiking.

These are questions for which I cannot make specific answers. In the first place, I must state that no mountain is 100% safe at any given time. Accidents happen even in the best weather.

Moreover, the determination of safety, and the decision on whether to continue, must be made by each group, taking into account their capabilities, experience, number of participants, logistics, itinerary, as well as preferences (i.e. is it okay for you to climb without a view?), on top of the circumstances presented by the weather disturbance (i.e. where exactly is it going to hit). The mountain itself must also be considered.

Here are the three dimensions that you must consider when making a hiking-related decision in relation to weather:

Weather-related factors. If there is a storm, how far is it from your destination? What is the storm signal? If it’s a tropical depression in the Visayas and I’m hiking in Luzon, I might still push through. But even if it’s just a low pressure area and it’s making a direct hit in the area I’m planning to visit, I’ll prepare change plans. If there’s forecast of heavy rain and you’re planning a dayhike, exactly when is the rain going to come? If it’s forecast in the afternoon or later in the day then instead of cancelling I will tweak my itinerary a bit for an earlier departure, just to maximise the morning.

Participant-related factors. How experienced are your participants? If you’re doing a multi-day hike, is your team going to comfortable with possibly setting up camp in the rain? Will you be able to manage with cooking? Is your equipment (i.e. tent) in good shape and can withstand an stormy night?

Learn more: Seven pointers for hiking in the rainy season

Are your participants expecting a view? Or are you just going for a regular training or workout hike? If they are expecting a view then going on a stormy day may not be a good idea even if the storm itself will not hit the region you’re hiking in.

Mountain-related factors. Are there river-crossings? Are they known to swell in bad weather? What is the difficulty rating, and what’s the trail like? If it’s a rocky trail that gets very slippery when wet then I’ll think twice. Does the mountain get muddy? These are some questions you need to ask to help you decide.

Oftentimes, you cannot make the decision until you’re already in the trailhead or on the mountain. This is okay. Part of the risk of hiking is having to abort midway, or even before the hike starts. Don't be afraid to do so if it's necessary. Listen to your guide, and consult him or others who recently climbed the mountain.

Moreover, whatever the forecasts are, no matter the mountain, and whoever you’re with, being prepared at all times is very important. Never underestimate the mountain!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hiking and weight loss: How the mountains can make you slim

This is an article belonging to the 'climb health' category in PinoyMountaineer. Information provided in this article are based on research and are not meant as a substitute to actual medical advice and healthcare.

by Gideon Lasco, MD, MSc

Can hiking make you lose weight? The obvious answer is yes. After all, hiking is an aerobic, oftentimes physically demanding activity. Moreover, if you're going for high peaks, being at high altitude alone, even without hiking, can make you lose weight! 

But it's not as straightforward as it seems. The energy demands of hiking are very variable -- it really depends on the slope or inclination of the trail, the length or intensity of the hike, and the amount of weight you're carrying. As many of you may probably notice, not all the hikers you know are losing weight - in fact some of them may be gaining! 

Here are some tips on how to make hiking a weight-loss activity. 

1. Make it regular. For hiking to lead to significant weight loss, one must make it a regular activity - and by regular, I don't mean once a year or even once a month. I mean, once a week. Hiking regularly makes your body's physiology attuned to it, thereby making metabolism - and weight loss - easier.

2. Level up. Since weight loss is related to the intensity of the hike, go for more challenging hikes with longer trails. Increase the amount of weight you're carrying. Going full pack even while doing a dayhike is not  just cool -- it's also healthy. Provided of course that you're carrying your pack properly. If you find Batulao too easy, do it twice or thrice! But going for a tougher hike might be more beneficial: some studies show that you will continue to burn more calories even after an intense activity.

3. Complement it with other aerobic activities. Three is the magic number for the least frequency of aerobic activities every week. So if you're hiking on Saturdays, do that jog or swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Listen to your body -- you should also avoid overworking yourself. 

3. Eat just enough trail food. I know a lot of hikers are excited about trail food, but if you eat too much, you might even gain weight from hiking! Some trail bars have 300 calories or even more, and if you're eating chocolates, cookies, that's a lot! If you really want to eat while on the trail, go for healthy alternatives, like carrot sticks, celery sticks, and zucchini slices (thanks Tin for this!). Personally, I bring fruits like pears, bananas, grapes, and when in Baguio - strawberries! But even fruits must be eaten in moderation.

5. Avoid drinking in the campsite. Alcohol, aside from being a source of hangovers, is also a source of calories. One bottle of Red Horse, for instance, has 220 calories -- 10% more than one cup of rice! If you can't help it, then at least drink very moderately.

6. Don't undo your calories burned with a heavy post-climb meal. Understandably, there is much reason to celebrate after a hike, especially if you've just come back to Puerto Princesa after hiking Mantalingajan. However, you will be counter-acting the weight loss if you will eat too much. It's okay to eat a bit more -- but focus more on the vegetables and the protein, which you most likely didn't have much of during the hike itself. As for the carbs, if you've been eating a lot of trail food and having heavy camp meals, don't eat too much. Skip the extra rice.

Hiking offers more benefits than just weight loss - it improves overall physical and mental health. You can always run the treadmill with a television screen in front of you. But you can take a hike for a much better view!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Letter to a young mountaineer, VII: The calling

You thought that the mountains will always be there, but slowly, you realise that they are not as changeless as they seem. You were told that one of the mountains you had climbed was going to be mined, and you felt pained and angered. How, you thought, can people do such a thing to a mountain?

On one hand, you say you don't want to be involved. These, you say, are larger issues that are beyond your scope as a mountaineer. But deep within you, there is a voice telling you that you must do something. After having professed your love for the mountains, you also feel that failure to act is to let the mountains down.


Sadly, we live in a troubled world, and our environment is constantly under threat by humanity. The harmony between man and nature - sought by enlightened thinkers throughout the centuries - have eluded us, brought upon by the greed of some, and the inevitable march to "progress". Trails have turned into roads, which have turned into highways. The humble adobe serenaded by birds has grown into a village, then a town, and then a big city: the birds have fled and gone. Change, inexorable, forces us to choose not between good and evil, but between two forms of "good": shall we preserve the trail as it is, or shall we built the road that means jobs, education, and better health for others? To these questions there are no easy answers.

The first thing you need to do is know the facts. What exactly is happening? What do the people most intimately involved with the situation feel about it? An advocate must foremost be a listener. Even if you don't agree with what they say, you must show them respect, for respect is the cornerstone of persuasion.

Second, you need a philosophy to guide your actions. A philosophy not based on emotions alone ("I love the mountains!") but on principles based on evidence and logic. My stand, for instance, is that promoting and protecting the mountains can go hand in hand, because to appreciate the mountains, one must have visited them first, and this appreciation is the beginning of advocacy and action. I also believe that by providing alternative jobs to those who earn their living through destructive forest practices, ecotourism can indirectly aid in the fight against deforestation. These positions inform my view that people should be allowed to enjoy and discover the mountains - provided that they do it in a responsible way.

I also believe that economic development alone is not a convincing argument to justify the destruction of the environment. The mountains are a priceless resource, a sanctuary both to wildlife and the communities that live in their slopes. The poor cannot defined solely by their poverty, but by their freedom to continue their ways of life. You cannot offer them minimum-wage jobs in exchange for their homes. You cannot paint a picture of short-term economic development without showing the long-term consequences.

Do your research. Look to history, because many of the problems we face today are age-old, and we must learn from the wisdom that the past can bring us. The history of mining in the Philippines, for instance, is full of towns made desolate by mining, with perennial floods a result of the degradation of the mountains. Use that to inform your present stands. But be open to other ideas and possibilities. Do not just look to history to prove your point; allow yourself to be proven wrong - and be wiser.

Do not be a blind activist, repeating the refrain of so many without reflection. Be skeptical of people whose agenda is made up of what they oppose, without making clear what exactly they support.

Shout once and people will look at you, but keep shouting and eventually they will cover their ears. Do not diminish your ability to make people listen. Know that you can only fight so many battles at any given time.

Lend your voice to others, and allow others to lend you their voices. There is strength in numbers, and the greatest comfort of an advocate is knowing that he is not alone. Democracy, they say, is a numbers game, but all too often the majority is cowered into silence. By being a leader that represents their sentiments and feelings, you can awaken them into solidarity and action.

Others will be cynical, and say that nothing can be done. Do not mock them, or hate them for their cynicism. They too, were dreamers once, and can be dreamers once again, if you can help them open their eyes to the horizons of possibility.

Then there will be some who will disagree with you in some of your positions. Show respect for their perspectives. You can never persuade everyone to agree with you in everything. But if they truly love the mountains, you will be able to find common ground. Some people will say that only 10 hikers should hike at a time; others might say 30. Surely, both groups will agree that 50 or 100 is too much. Some people will say that "responsible mining" is possible; others say that mining in the country should no longer be allowed. Both groups will agree that irresponsible mining should be stopped, and that environmental and social impacts must be properly assessed. Of course, there will be instances when you will have to disagree with people. Even so, keep showing them respect.

Never underestimate the environmentalism of small things. There are those who heroically stand between the chainsaws and the trees, but it is equally important to spread the consciousness of leaving the environment as pristine as when we arrived. Small things like proper waste disposal - on and off the trail - can make a big difference, not just in itself but in the attitude that they build among the mountaineers, especially the youth. Surely, if you are concerned about a trail that's dirty, then you will be even more concerned with a mountain that's about to be destroyed or deforested.  

In whatever you do, focus on the positive. Base your actions on the hope that things can be better. Look to the mountain for inspiration. Think of the beautiful views and the fascinating wildlife that have filled your heart with happy memories.


It is very easy to a upload a picture of campsite filled with trash, or rant about the state of the mountains today - it will likely gain a lot of attention, and incite people's emotions. But a thousand Facebook posts cannot plant a single tree, or pick up a single piece of trash. To have clean mountains, we need dirty hands. Indeed, taking a leaf from Ross Perot, an activist is not the man who complains that the mountain is dirty, but the man who cleans up the mountain.

There are times when we must act. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the destruction of mountains is for the people who love them to do nothing. The mountaineer who professes his love for the mountains must choose between the easy road of acquiescence, or the difficult trail of defiance.  It is not easy. There will those who will hate you, and even threaten you. Many have died fighting for the trees, for the birds, for the forests, and for the mountains. Many have died fighting for the people who live in the mountains; and many of them who are living in the mountains have been driven away.

Then, there will also be the indifference of those you had expected to be behind you. Vocal as they may be on the Internet, very few people will back their words with actions.

Finally, there will be those who, despite your good intentions, impute in your actions ulterior motives. They will try to find something wrong, something negative, something sinister, even when you are clearly on the same side they profess to belong to. They will expose, and magnify, your imperfections even as you do your best. These are the people who can hurt you the most, and make you disillusioned about the nature of humanity. 

Amid these painful truths, you have to persevere and be brave. Free yourself from the impossible task of trying to please everybody, because as an advocate, your concern is not to be popular, but to be useful.

Just as oxygen is thin on high altitude, so is courage in short supply in lofty endeavours. But just as you, as a mountaineer, have inspired others to climb, surely you will also inspire others to protect the mountains, and they in turn will give you the strength that you need to press on. Remember, no matter how bleak the situation is, there will always be people who will share your cause, and if you join hands, I believe that you will be able to make a difference.

The mountains were calling, and you said you must go. Now the mountains are calling for help, and you must answer.

Gideon Lasco
Los BaƱos, Laguna
July 1, 2015

by Gideon Lasco

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mt. Lubog (955+) in Rodriguez, Rizal

Rodriguez, Rizal
Trailhead: Sitio Lubog, Brgy. Puray, Rodriguez
LLA: 14°50′10.4′′ N, 121°14′12.9′′, 955 MASL (+337)
Specs: Minor, Difficulty 4/9, Trail class 1-4 with rock scrambling
Feautures: Limestone formations, scenic views of the Sierra Madre
Article history: Created June 29, 2015
Author: Gideon Lasco

Mt. Lubog is part of an area that is severely threatened by illegal logging, even as it is precariously close to Ipo Watershed, which supplies the water of Metro Manila. PinoyMountaineer is imploring hikers to help fight illegal logging by spreading awareness and doing what we can do in our respective fields and positions to help address this threat.

The Sierra Madre mountains of Rizal are revealing a beautiful pattern: Forested hikes that culminate in limestone-decked summits that offer spectacular views of the surrounding blue mountains and verdant forests. Mt. Daraitan, Mts. Pamitinan and Binacayan, and Mt. Irid are part of this cluster of peaks. Another thing they have in common is that they are relatively “new” destinations, owing to previous lack of documentation, difficulty in access, and security issues.

A welcome new addition to this cluster is Mt. Lubog in the town of Rodriguez (formerly Montalban). Near the border with Bulacan, Mt. Lubog in the neighborhood of Mt. Balagbag and Mt. Oriod (a traverse, says Koi Grey, is very possible). With its neighbors it also shares the same predicament of illegal logging - which is manifest in the daily transport of logs through the same rough road that they hikers will pass through via habal-habal-style tricycles. This ride, which can take anywhere between 1-3 hours depending on the weather-dependent road conditions, can be even more challenging the hike itself, as passenger-hikers will be asked to walk through some difficult and slippery “ascents”. Surely this ride will be memorable to all the hikers of Mt. Lubog!

From the trailhead, the hike itself is fairly straightforward. Hikers would very soon enter a tropical rainforest, strewn with limestones that foreshadow the rocky peak. Two flat areas with wooden benches make for comfortable rest stops, and the first one offers a fifteen-minute sidetrip to Lubog Cave. From the second one, the summit is no more than a 10-minute ascent.

 At 955 MASL, the summit is a wonderful haven of rocks, where hikers can feel themselves perched in one of the gateways to the Sierra Madre range. Warning: There are countness photo-ops but hikers should be reminded that dramatic poses also pose a risk to one’s life, as the rocks can be precarious, and a fall fatal. Otherwise, enjoy the well-deserved view! Though the treacherous rough road poses a challenge, Mt. Lubog is a very promising dayhike in Rizal.



0400 ETD Cubao for Brgy. San Rafael, Rodriguez
0500 ETA Brgy. San Rafael. Ta
0600 Take habal-habal to Brgy. Puray
0800 ETA Brgy. Puray. Register, secure guides.
0830 Resume habal-habal ride
0900 ETA trailhead; start trekking
0930 First rest stop. Optional sidetrip to Lubog Cave
1030 Second rest stop
1045 ETA summit (955m)
1200 Start descent
1330 Back at trailhead. Optional trek to Panintingan Falls
1415 Take a dip at the lagoon
1500 Back to rough road; take habal-habal
1630 ETA Brgy. San Rafael. Take van to Mania
1800 ETA Mania

Public (1) Van, Cubao to Montalban, [P50; 1-1.5 hours] (2) Habal-habal to Sitio Lubog [P1000/up to 4 persons/roundtrip]

Alternatively, take any transport to Montalban (i.e. via Marikina) then take (2)
Approximately 3.5-4.5 hours travel time due to the nature of the rough road ride to the trailhead.

Private. Head out to Rodriguez, Rizal via Commonwealth-Payatas then take the habal-habal ride as above. Approximately 3-4 hours travel time due to the nature of the rough road ride to the trailhead.

Note: Prior arrangement is required in order to make arrangements for guides and habal-habal.
(1) Logbook at the barangay hall (P50 registration fee)
(2) Courtesy call with military detachment

Available; assigned at the barangay hall. 400/guide/5 persons
Required? Yes.
Kagawad Peter: +639284647447

Contact Kagawad beforehand to make arrangements for transportation and guides.
Campsites and waypoints
Camping is possible in a view deck near the registration area.

Trailhead 14°49′57′′N 121°13′48′′ E 686 MASL

Water sources
None at the hike proper
Cellphone signal
+/- Not reliable throughout the trail; sporadic in higher reaches 
River crossings
Roped segments
Hiking notes 
As in other limestone mountains be very careful of your holds and footing. Consider wearing gloves.
Lubog Cave (+15 min off first rest stop)
Panintingan Falls (+20-30 min off trailhead)
Alternate trails
Possible traverse to Mt. Balagbag and Mt. Oriod-Maranat via Macabud
(+) Sari-sari store at registration area
(-) Carinderias / paluto
(+) Wash-up / shower places
(+) Habal-habal rental
No facilities at trailhead proper.
600-800 (dayhike)
800-1000 (overnight)

To be added

To be added

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