Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hiking matters #428: The Mt. Magarwak Hiking Trail - a nice and easy hike in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Beholding the islands of Honda Bay atop the viewpoint
in Mt. Magarwak, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN - Palawan continues to amaze me. Today, I discovered yet another gem of a mountain in Puerto Princesa, one that is just 16 kilometres north of the city proper: Mt. Magarwak along the North Road that leads to Sabang and El Nido. Measuring only 301 MASL, Mt. Magarwak is actually a cluster of hills that stand between Honda Bay and the taller peaks of Puerto Princesa.
Jessa Garibay, who had already visited Magarwak, organised the hike, and we were joined by John Yayen, Jared Ignacio, Miguel Ferrer, and Julius de Vera, who were all from Puerto Princesa. We met at San Jose Terminal, but not finding an early-enough northbound bus, we just charted trikes at P200 apiece. By 0635H, just over 30 minutes past our meeting time in San Jose, we were already walking up the rough road in Citramina in Sitio Magarwak. 
The trail was rocky, very much reminiscent of the other ultramafic peaks of Puerto Princesa: Mt. Bahile and Mt. Beaufort. Even though the highway runs through Magarwak, save for its cement, the entire area was green through and through - a distinctive feature of Palawan that heighten the beauty of its mountains and the tranquility they offer. Sunbirds sang their cheery high notes, as if to herald a beautiful day.
The trail was not difficult to follow: there are green electric posts leading to a communications tower  and the trail is just beneath them. The tower  (9°51′29.9′′N 118°43′44.36′′ E 301 MASL) marks the highest point in the area, and in less than an hour we were there. Oblivious to our presence, the tower's lone caretaker sang to his heart's content, as we trooped to the viewpoint (9°52′42.6′′N 118°43′44.8′′ E 282 MASL) just five minutes away. 
At the viewpoint, Honda Bay is the main attraction, along with its islands. Then to the south, Puerto Princesa Bay and the city proper can be seen. On the opposite side, behind the trees, one can have a glimpse of Mts. Tapyas and Bahile, and I can imagine that on a clear day Cleopatra's Needle can be seen as well.
The trail up the Healing Cross is one brief ascent with a view of
the winding North Road that leads to Sabang and El Nido
We took our time to appreciate the scenery, then began the descent, taking a shortcut that ends up closer to KM. 17 (instead of 16). Realising that the 'Healing Cross' - set on a hill which is just below the tower, we decided to do it as a sidetrip. A 10-minute walk, then a 10-minute hike, took us there, and at the Healing Cross (9°52′34.1′′N 118°43′25.8′′E 124 MASL) we once again had the opportunity to enjoy the verdant scenery of Magarwak.
The cross is somewhat reminiscent of the Grotto in Mt. Maculot
The descent was quick; much longer was waiting for transport back to town and we're so thankful to the truck driver who gave us a ride! Following what has become a tradition, we had lunch at our favorite Ka Inato, with its hot and spicy chicken inato. Thanks John for the treat! By 1200H I was back in my place here in Puerto Princesa, with much of the weekend still ahead of me, very much fulfilled by the wonderful hike. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Hiking matters #424: Hiking in Cebu Part 1 - Mt. Manunggal, the crash site of Magsaysay's plane

Since I was very young I've been fond of history, and when I went on to become a mountaineer, I've taken a special interest on the mountains and places that have had a significant in our nation's history. This is the reason why I sought to visit Tirad Pass, the site of the famous battle between the 'boy general' Gregorio del Pilar and the Americans, early in my hiking days (see Hiking matters #36) and later, Mts. Buntis and Nagpatong in Cavite - the execution site of Andres Bonifacio (see Hiking matters #267). 
Plane crashes, too, are historical events, especially in the contemporary period when they rivet our hearts with the sudden and dramatic loss of life. Mountains, too, have figured in these crashes, from Mt. Ugo in Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet (see Hiking matters #242) and Mt. Lumot in Misamis Oriental (see Hiking matters #263). But perhaps the most famous plane crash in the country - one that textbooks never fail to mention - is that which involved one of the nation's beloved presidents, Ramon Magsaysay, in March 17, 1957. And that, too, happened on a mountain: Mt. Manunggal in Cebu. 
This is why when I had the opportunity to revisit Cebu, I wanted to visit Manunggal, and while at it, visit other hiking destinations in the island province aside from the famous Osmeña Peak, which I already did in 2009 (see Hiking matters #52). From Manila, I was joined by the legendary Cynthia Sy, who was part of the Mt. Elbrus team, as well as Ian Tesaluna from Davao. We were accompanied and guided by hikers from Cebu led by the very helpful Scarlet Su-Villamor of Cebu Outdoor Adventure Team.

From the JY Square in Lahug, we rented a jeepney the brought us to the Kuros-Kuros Junction in Balamban, Cebu, north of Cebu City, and from there we took the barangay road to Brgy. Sunog. Though there is a longer trail coming from Tabunan, given the limited time we had to make do with this route, which is now mostly cement roads, rough roads, and cement footpaths, passing through communities. There were even houses and a sari-sari store at the campsite!
Before reaching the campsite, we came across a small pavilion where the engine of Magsaysay's plane can be found, cast in cement, along with a plaque that lists the passengers on the ill-fated flight. The plane, a Douglas C-47, was named Mt. Pinatubo, which we would find ironic in light of 20th century's most powerful eruption. But during Magsaysay's time, nobody ever imagined that the mountain would erupt. To them, it was a forested mountain very much like Mt. Arayat.   
At the campsite, which offers nice views on a clear day, and has a vast area for camping, a small memorial stands, bearing the bust of Magsaysay and a marker that summarises his life and career as one of the country's best-loved presidents. Inhabited by farmers all the way to the campsite (there is no real 'summit' as the mountain is more of a highland area rather than a distinct mountain), its historical significance makes up for its lack of -- and of course, for those seeking a more natural feel the longer Tabunan trail is always a possibility. 
Heavy rains forced us to stay under the roof of one of the houses in the periphery of the campsite, but when it subsided, we descended briskly - albeit cautiously in the cement roads that can become very slippery when wet. And in less than an hour we were back in our jeepney again. Sleepy because I barely slept the night before, I had expected that we would be in Cebu City when I wake up. However, I was happily mistaken, because thankfully our hosts decided to take us to a sidetrip that will be topic of the next narrative: Mt. Kan-irag or Sirao Peak! 

Hiking matters #424: Mt. Manunggal
Hiking matters #425: Mt. Kan-irag (Sirao Peak)
Hiking matters #426: Mt. Lanaya

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hiking matters #421: Cleopatra's Needle Day 3 - The beautiful summit and the long descent

PUERTO PRINCESA - Continued from Hiking matters 420: From the Puyos campsite, we emerged from our hammocks and sleeping pads and proceeded to hike the final 100 meters to reach the summit of Cleopatra's Needle, the highest point in Puerto Princesa and the third highest in Palawan. The short hike up was through beautiful mossy forest, home to pitcher plants (Nepenthes mira) and a wide array of fauna, some yet to be discovered and documented.
But it is the summit that is truly the crowning glory of the hike. The sun had just risen when we arrived, and its rays bathed Palawan with a faint but serene glow, illuminating mountains as far as Mt. Victoria and Sultan Peak in Nauru as well as a distant Mt. Capoas in Taytay, Rizal, its wide frame managing to escape being eclipsed by some of the auxiliary peaks of Cleopatra's Needle. Its faint blue reminds me of Mayon as viewed from Isarog or Bulusan.
Here is a series of illustrated photos depicting all the mountains (and places) that you can see from Cleopatra's Needle - covering over half of Palawan! 
Both coastlines of Palawan can be seen in one view, which is really fantastic. In Mt. Bahile, one has to turn a bit to see the other side, but in Cleopatra, thanks to its lofty elevation, you can behold how slender Palawan island truly is. Honda Bay's islands join Ulugan Bay and Sabang. If one needs further evidence of how pristine Palawan truly is, being at the summit of Cleopatra's Needle on a clear day is definitive, and we could only stare at the views in wonder.
It was hard to move on - and we took the liberty of postponing our descent for over an hour, finally leaving Puyos campsite at 0920H. The initial descent reminded me very much of Mt. Makiling's UPLB side when I was young - steep and muddy - but it went easier than we expected, probably because of improved weather conditions. The rest of the descent through the forest was brisk. 
The day's adventures,  however, were not yet finished. まだまだだね! We still had to do the 51 river crossings, and even though the rains had subsided, the waters were strong -- not strong enough for us to postpone the crossing, but strong enough to require great care. Tatay Leonardo came up with a shortcut that saved us over 10 river crossings - which was a big relief to us - and after more walking through and along rivers, we reached the village by 1845H, amid the return of heavy rains. To be concluded in Hiking matters #422.

Hiking matters #421: The beautiful summit and the long descent
Hiking matters #422: Batak village and back home

Mt. Naguiling (1,007+) in Lobo, Batangas

Lobo, Batangas
Major jumpoff: Brgy. Jaybanga, Lobo
Alternate jumoff: Brgy. Curba (if via Bangkalan)
LLA: 13°39′50.7′′N 121°18′0.5′′ E 1007 MASL (+850)
Days required / Hours to summit: 1-2 days / 4-7 hours
Specs: Major climb, Difficulty 5/9, Trail class 1-3 
Features: Views of Southern Batangas, woodlands, agricultural heartland
Article created: August 17, 2014
Last updated: August 17, 2014

The highest peak in the Lobo-San Juan Mountain Range - and at 1007 MASL, a candidate for Batangas’ tallest mountain, Mt. Naguiling is an impressive peak in Lobo in Batangas’ southern corridor. that sits between the famous Mt. Daguldol in San Juan as well as the emerging destinations in Lobo such as Bangkalan and Nagpatong Peak. Once known only as “Mt. Lobo”, the range is turning out to be more than just a mountain, but a series of contiguous peaks, offering various possibilities.

The regular hike up Mt. Naguiling begins in Brgy. Jaybanga, but the adventure precedes the hike itself. As in the other peaks of Lobo such as Bangkalan or Nagpatong Peak, private vehicles must pass through the river in Curba in order to reach the trailhead. This can be quite a ride, having the potential to delay your trip, and must be taken into consideration especially when doing the hike during the rainy season. 

As the trail gets more established, the hiking time itself gets shorter, and as of August 2014, the mountain is very doable as a dayhike. The hike commences from Brgy. Jaybanga, initially passing through rice fields and, as I described in Hiking matters, "typical agricultural heartland, with coconuts, bananas, other fruit trees, root crops, and and lowland shrubs and trees." A forest then ensues, sharing similar qualities with the mountains in Bataan such as Pantingan and Natib. "Though generally straightforward - you won't use your hands too much - the trail occasionally passes through slanted portions of the slopes, reminiscent of the fragile paths of Pantingan-Tarak. There are no water sources past the communities, but there are a number of rest stops in the forest."

At the summit, the views - though at times requiring a climb up one of the trees - are scenic, feasting the coastline of Southern Batangas, the Verde Island passage, and the northern coast of Mindoro, from which rises a majestic Halcon on a clear day. On the opposite side, Southern Tagalog mountains can be identified, including Maculot, Malipunyo, and Makiling.

On the way down - or up if camping overnight - the  Balatikan campsite (13°40′18.1′′N 121°11′39.4′′ E, 548m) has scenic views of the Southern Tagalog. A waterfalls further down - and closer to the exit point - on the other hand makes for a refreshing dip after the hike. Either as a dayhike or an overnight hike that is more amenable to public transport, Mt. Naguiling is a worthy hike in Southern Batangas.


(Given the difficulty of public transport and the impossibility of riding out from Lobo past 1700H, this itinerary is designed on the assumption of having private transport from Manila, an exception to my policy of writing itineraries based on public transport. Note that in considering the choice of vehicle, have the river in Curba in mind)

0200 ETD private vehicle from Manila
0530 ETA Lobo, Batangas. Register at police station. 
0630 Arrival at trailhead. Register at barangay captain's house
0700 Start trekking
1200 ETA summit (1007 MASL). Lunch
1300 Start descent 
1600 ETA Balatikan campsite 
1730 Mini-falls
1800 Back at trailhead. Tidy up
1830 Take vehicle back to Manila
2300 ETA Manila

For more itineraries, including overnight possibilities, visit the Mt. Naguiling blog of Raymon Gayas, Jr. 

Public, via Rosario (1) Bus, Cubao or Buendia to Lipa City [140 pesos; 2 hours]
(2) Jeep, Lipa to San Juan - get off at Rosario market [25 pesos; 35 minutes]
(3) Jeep, Rosario to Brgy. Jaybanga [80 pesos; >1 hour]

Note: Consider jeepney rental from Rosario or van rental from Manila especially if attempting a dayhike to expedite the trip as public transport is very limited and irregular. Always ask what time the last trip will be for your return (usu. 1700H).

Private, via Lobo Head out to Batangas City via SLEX-Star Tollway then take the road to Lobo, Batangas. From the poblacion, proceed to Brgy. Jaybanga through the rough road and the river crossing. Ask locals for specific directions if in doubt. Approximately 4-4.5 hours travel time.

Note: Private vehicles must be heavy duty enough to brave the river crossing and the rough roads. 
(1) Logbook at Lobo police station (No fee)
(1) Logbook at barangay captain's house (P20/hiker) 
Available: Magnaye brothers (Suggested rate is 500 pesos/guide/day)
 + 639488572737- Magnaye brothers
+ 639293159513 / +639177575186 - Chairman Romeo Delen of Brgy. Jaybanga
+ 639295536232 - Andoy (Jeepney driver)
Campsites and waypoints
Balatikan campsite (13°40′18.1′′N 121°11′39.4′′ E, 548m)
Summit  (13°39′50.7′′N 121°18′0.5′′ E 1007m)
Water sources
(1) At the last community, 1 hour up
(2) Off-trail near Balatikan campsite
Cellphone signal
Absent at the jumpoff 
Present from 300m upwards, including the summit and Balatikan campsite
River crossings
Nothing major
Roped segments
Hiking notes 
This is a very new hiking destination so many changes may still happen in the itinerary and in the process of going up the mountain.
Lobo beach; Mt. Tibig, and other peaks in the range.
Alternate trails
Possible traverse to Mt. Daguldol, or to Bangkalan Peak(see more information in the Mt. Naguiling blog by Ramon Gayas, Jr.)
Yes (4-5.5 hours to summit; 3-4 hours down)

Illustrated map showing Mt. Naguiling with respect to the other
mountains of the Lobo-San Juan Mountain Range
Going up the trail

The view at the summit, featuring Verde Island
and the passage that bears its name

A mini-falls towards the end of the hike makes for a rewarding dip
The word "naguiling" (reclining / grinding) personifies the mountain as one which looks the same from different vantage points.

An account of the Pinoy Mountaineer hike up Mt. Naguiling is narrated in Hiking matters #416.

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