Monday, August 31, 2015

Mountain News: 5 hikers dead in river crossing incident in San Jose, Tarlac; one missing

FILE PHOTO: The river in Brgy. Iba, San Jose, Tarlac
We have received reports, both from media and from hikers familiar with the ongoing developments, that a group of hikers got caught in a flashflood on August 30 while crossing a river in Sitio Baag, Brgy. Iba, San Jose, Tarlac. Sitio Baag is home to the "San Jose Circuit" - a trail that runs through three mountains: Mts. Tangisan, Kawayan, and Bungkol Baka. The hikers, who were joining an outreach to the Aeta community in the area  were reported to be descending from Mt. Kawayan when a flashflood swept them from the river they were trying to cross. One source told us that they were using a rope.

Five hikers were reported dead and one is still missing. An Inquirer report identified the victims as Mark Raven Villanueva, Rocky Sumalinog, Jose Bernadette Ramirez, Jo Marie San Diego and Dooren Adriano (as put forward by their friends the correct names are: Mark Reyvin Villanueva, Rocky Sumalinog, Bernadette Ramirez, Jo Marie San Diego and Doreen Adriano.) Several others were reported injured. Contrary to an earlier report by ABS-CBN (which has since been amended), none of the victims belonged to the UP Mountaineers, who took part in the search and rescue operations.

The river in question - Pangasahan River in some accounts - is known to swell during the rainy season.

Flashfloods are the leading cause of hiking-related deaths in the Philippines. In September 2011, hiker Adrian Alba was swept by strong currents in Rodriguez, Rizal. In 2008 and 2009, two incidents in Anawangin Cove in Zambales also involving river crossings, also claimed the lives of several hikers.

The mountaineering community has taken to social media to express sympathies over this tragic accident. We are praying for the safety/rescue of missing hiker, speedy recovery for those who were injured, and comfort for the families of the victims.

For updates and/or feedback please contact gideon@pinoymountaineer.com.

Mt. Sipit Ulang (252+) in Rodriguez, Rizal

MT. SIPIT ULANG
Rodriguez, Rizal
Major jumpoff: Brgy. Mascap, Rodriguez, Rizal
LLA: 14°45′20.7′′ N, 121°10′38.2′ 252 MASL (+210m)
Days required / Hours to summit: 1 day / 2-3.5 hours
Specs: Minor, Difficulty 3/9 (Paniki Trail), Trail class 1-4 with limestone scrambling
Features: Limestone formations, scenic views of Wawa
Article history: Created August 31, 2015
Author: Gideon Lasco

BACKGROUND
Yet another hiking destination in Rodriguez, Rizal is Mt. Sipit Ulang in Brgy. Mascap. This mountain, which literally means "crab's claw", is named after the claw-like rock formation at its pinnacle. Like many of the newly-discovered mountains in Rizal, Mt. Sipit Ulang features limestone trails and spectacular scenery at the top.

The mountain has two trails. The premiere - and relatively new - trail is called the Paniki Trail, named after the bats that dwell inside the cavernous structures under its rock formations. This very rocky trail features cave-like passages which require a bit of scrambling and some acrobatics on the part of the hiker, but is surprisingly well-conceived, with a ladder in tow in one of its most exciting parts. This is our recommended ascending trail, taking 2-3 hours to reach the top.

At the summit, the highlight is a view of the three rocky mountains of Wawa: Hapunang Banoi, Pamitinan, and Binacayan. Mt. Ayaas looks more proximate - there is actually a trail from Brgy. Mascap that goes to Mt. Ayaas! So it is very possible to do Sipit Ulang first, Ayaas next, then traverse to Wawa to do its three mountains the next day for a five-mountain weekend!

A much easier trail is the Banayad (Easy) Trail, a shorter route which avoids the rocky parts and goes straight to the summit. A traverse, going up Paniki and descending down the Banayad Trail, is recommended. Sidetrip possibilities include a visit to the multi-level Payaran Falls, while guides speak of many other outdoor destinations waiting to be discovered.

ITINERARY

MT. SIPIT ULANG DAYHIKE

0400 Take van from Cubao to Eastwood, Rodriguez, Rizal
0530 ETA Rodriguez, Rizal; take trike to Brgy. Mascap
0630 Arrival at Brgy. Mascap. Register at barangay hall
0700 Start trek up Hapunang Banoi via Paniki Trail
0930 ETA summit. Explore rock formations
1000 Retreat to the benches - possible lunch stop*
1030 Start descent via the Banayad Trail
1200 Back at Brgy. Mascap. Tidy up.
1300 Head back to Rodriguez town (or proceed to Mt. Ayaas)
1400 Back in Eastwood, Rodriguez. Take van back to Manila
1530 Back in Manila.

MT. SIPIT ULANG +PAYARAN FALLS DAYHIKE

0400 Take van from Cubao to Eastwood, Rodriguez, Rizal
0530 ETA Rodriguez, Rizal; take trike to Brgy. Mascap
0630 Arrival at Brgy. Mascap. Register at barangay hall
0700 Start trek up Hapunang Banoi via Paniki Trail
0930 ETA summit. Explore rock formations
1000 Retreat to the benches - possible lunch stop*
1030 Start descent via the Banayad Trail
1200 Back at Brgy. Mascap. Lunch
1300 Explore Payaran Falls (~45 min. trekking time)
1600 Back again at Mascap. Tidy up.
1630 Head back to Rodriguez town (or proceed to Mt. Ayaas)
1730 Back in Eastwood, Rodriguez. Take van back to Manila
1900 Back in Manila.

PRACTICALITIES: MT. SIPIT ULANG
Transportation
Public (1) Van, Cubao to Montalban (Eastwood) [P50; 1-1.5 hours]
(2) trike, Montalban (Eastwood) to Brgy. Mascap [Fare to be verified; 30 mins]

Alternatively, take any transport to Montalban (i.e. via Marikina) then take (2)
Approximately 2-2.5 hours travel time because of various stops and delays. 

Private. Head out to Rodriguez, Rizal via Marikina and San Mateo, then follow the road to Wawa Dam. From the bridge in Marikina River, turn right and ask around for the Mascap-Puray Road which leads to the barangay. Approximately 1.5-2.5 hours travel time.
Registration
(1) Logbook at the barangay hall
No fixed fees at the moment, a donation of P20 is suggested.
Available; assigned at the barangay hall. No fixed rates but P400/day is suggested (add more if doing a twin dayhike with Mt. Ayaas. 
(0998) 346 0676- Mascap tourism
Campsites and waypoints
Camping is possible in some of the desginated areas. Be mindful though that there are no water sources beyond the brooks. Check with guides.

Waypoints
(1) Mt. Sipit Ulang Summit 14°45′20.7′′ N, 121°10′38.2′ 252 MASL
Water sources
None past the brooks
Cellphone signal
Strong at the summit (+LTE) but not consistent throughout the trail 
River crossings
One crossing in the Paniki Trail
A few at the Banayad Trail
Roped segments
None but some hikers may require assistance in some of the rocky formations. 
None
None
Rattan
Some
Hiking notes 
Be very cautious when hiking during the rainy season or during/after heavy rains 
Sidetrips
Mt. Ayaas then traverse to Wawa
Rock climbing in Mt. Pamitinan
Swimming by Wawa Dam
Alternate trails
See above for the two trails. Those who want an easier ascent may opt to take the Banayad Trail up and down. 
Yes
Facilities at jumpoff
(+) Sari-sari stores
(+) Free parking
(+) Wash-up / shower places (pakiusap w/ private houses)
500-700 (dayhike)
800-1000 (overnight)

MT. SIPIT ULANG PICTURES
The limestone formations at the onset of the trail
There are a handful of small brook crossings
Some parts of the trail are very narrow
The "Paniki" Trail offers challenging sections above and beneath rock
At the summit of Mt. Sipit Ulang with the three Wawa mountains,
Hapunang Banoi, Pamitinan, and Binacayan at the background


At the summit of Mt. Sipit Ulang

TRIVIA 
According to local guides, there are over a hundred caves in the area, some of which have historical value as hiding places of rebels. Mt. Sipit Ulang is the seventh mountain of Rodriguez, Rizal to have an itinerary in Pinoy Mountaineer (after Pamitinan, Binacayan, Lubog, Ayaas, and Hapunang Banoi).

The thrust towards documenting and featuring mountains in the near-Sierra Madre is in line with our thrust of combating destructive mountain practices through ecotourism.

The blogger hiked Mt. Sipit Ulang in August 29, 2015. Credits to Jacob Sarreal for organising this hike and to Ram Ng for some of the photos.

THE MOUNTAINS OF RODRIGUEZ, RIZAL
Mt. Ayaas
Mt. Hapunang Banoi
Mt. Sipit Ulang

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hiking matters #477: Big Bend National Park, Texas Part 2 - Lost Mine Trail

At one of the viewpoints in the Lost Mine Trail
with the East Rim of the Chisos Mountains at the background
AUSTIN, TX - A day after our quick Chisos Basin hike, my sister and I proceeded to do a hike up the Lost Mine Trail. Described by the guidebooks as a "moderate hike", it is also one of the most popular hikes in Big Bend National Park, and we decided to go for it. The trail is named after a nearby peak, which is supposed to have a "lost mine", which, in Lord of the Rings fashion, is supposed to have a secret entrance illuminated only by a certain time of the year by the rising sun.
The trailhead is 5 miles away from the Chisos Mountain Lodge, where we spent the night. We started trekking at 0820H, following the well-established path to the left of the parking lot. I would consider 0820H a bit late if I were hiking in the Philippines, but the sun rose at 0725H, so it still had an early morning feel. Moreover, we were actually the first of several groups to hit the trail!

With many switchbacks, the trail was very gentle - and shaded too unlike the surroundings of the Chisos Basin. As the sun was rising behind the mountains we were also given a good few hours of shade, making it a really pleasant hike.

The trail is scenic from the very beginning, but gets more spectacular as it gets higher. The pinyon pines and junipers made for a nice environment, too, plus occasional century plants (Agave americana). Sadly, no mountain lion or Mexican black bear sightings!

After just an hour of hiking we were on a relaively-exposed ridge, where the view starts from the scenic Juniper Canyon and extends all the way to the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico, as well as the East Rim of the Chisos Mountains. The summit is marked by a rocky pinnacle, and we rested under the shade of a stunted oak before making a straightforward descent. What a nice hike!

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK | SUMMER 2015 
Hiking matters #476: Chisos Basin and Window View Sunset
Hiking matters #477: The Lost Mine Trail
Hiking matters #478: Hike to the famed 'Window' 

Hiking matters #476: Big Bend National Park, Texas Part 1 - Chisos Basin Trail

With the Prickly Pear cacti (Opuntia sp.)
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK - For the second time this year I find myself in the US - this time in Texas as part of a family trip - and I am glad to have found the opportunity to go hiking, even if only for a short while. (I haven't even written about my hikes in Arizona and the Massachusetts - but that will be forthcoming.)

Though Big Bend isn't particularly famous (I myself have not heard of it until very recently), it has a lot of merits, especially if you're already in Texas. It offers a unique ecology, as one of the largest protected area within the great Chihuahuan Desert, which spans parts of US and Mexico, and is distinct from the Sonoran Desert in California and Arizona, where I have dome a handful of hikes.
Second, it has a great array of fauna, with over 70 species of mammals, including mountain lions, bears, cougars, javelinas - not to mention over 400 species of birds, and equally impressive diversity of plants and insects. Finally, it offers various hiking opportunities - from scenic mountains to canyons. It is not a summer destination - summers in Texas are very hot -

We spent an entire day driving from Austin - covering a distance of 430 miles. Even just the approach to the park was scenic, with the mountains unfolding before us, chief of which was Casa Grande, with its imposing, quadrilateral appearance, somewhat reminiscent of the helm of those those gigantic starships on Star Wars.

Fortunately, the sun sets late, and we managed to do a first hike - a loop around Chisos Basin. Starting at 1830H, it was more of to get a feel of the terrain and acclimatize a bit (we were lodging at over 1600 MASL). I was joined by my sister Christine, in what would be our first hike together in the US!
 The hike was a nice introduction to the desert flora: we encountered lots of Prickly pear cacti (Opuntia sp.) as well as different kinds of agaves. There were also numerous insects, some making interesting sounds, and thankfully none of which were aggressive. The terrain was rocky and sandy, as expected from a desert landscape. The temperature was a bit hot to my liking, but my feet were just excited to hit the trails!
At the end of the hike, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset as viewed from the Chisos Mountain Lodge, as it descended behind the famed 'Window'. It was a very promising sight for the hikes to come! To be continued in Hiking matters #477.


BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK | SUMMER 2015 
Hiking matters #476: Chisos Basin and Window View Sunset
Hiking matters #477: The Lost Mine Trail
Hiking matters #478: Hike to the famed 'Window' 

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