Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hiking matters #443: The Ugo Traverse Dayhike from Kayapa to Itogon

Trekking through the pine forests of Mt. Ugo
In a way, I already did a dayhike traverse of Ugo, when we covered most of the trail - on full packs, as some hikers would love to add - during our memorable four-day Ugo-Pulag Traverse in 2013 (see Hiking matters #320). However, Ugo itself is a nice destination, and having done a Pulag dayhike last month (Hiking matters #441), I felt it would be great to complement it with an Ugo Traverse Dayhike from Kayapa to Itogon.

Joining me once again were my good companions Coby Sarreal and Koi Grey, the venerable 18-time Halcon climber Cynthia Sy, and Coby’s SBMS-mate Chito. All of us, sans Koi, took the 2200H bus from Pasay to Santiago, Isabela (360) and we got off at the Aritao Bus Terminal, where we were fetched by a jeepney (2500). We were met by my longtime guide Alex Basilio, and started trekking at 0630H.

We did not have expectations of good weather as Amang had still not dissipated by the time we left Manila, and the blue skies that greeted us at daybreak was a welcome sight.

Coming from Kayapa, the Ugo Traverse has four parts, and music lovers can liken it to the four movements of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. The first part is an allegro con brio - a steep ascent. And then a more relaxed andante con moto that connects Indupit to Dolompos, largely through wide trails that are almost roads. From Domolpos to Mt. Ugo summit is a short section that’s steep and scenic - a scherzo allegro - and finally the finale: another allegro, a long descent through pine forests until Tinongdan.

We reached Indupit (16.346971 N, 120.861089 E, 851 MASL) at 0824H, and after a 20-minute rest stop, commenced the easiest (though longest) part of the trail: a 10-kilometer stretch of wide paths with a few ups and downs, but largely flat, and mostly scenic. It is here where the winged Koi Grey caught up with us, which was a happy reunion. Before long, we could see the school at Domolpos, where I have spent three nights (2008, 2011, 2012). Since we were doing a dayhike, we no longer stopped by Domolpos (which would require a 15-minute descent from the main trial), and instead headed straight to the summit

Up the summit, the slopes were surrounded with pines, which give way to a mini-forest at the very top. There are steep parts: the ascent was still a good 350 meters.
We were at the summit (16º19’9.77”N, 120º48’9.76 E, 2150 MASL) at a good time of 1210H, or after 5 hours and 40 minutes of trekking. We had lunch there, and I happily munched on the milkfish-topped quinoa I had cooked the night before. Koi for his part made sure to bring us strawberries from La Trinidad.
Past the summit and a mini-forest came my favorite part of the trail: The pine forests en route to Lusod village. There’s a landmark here called the “Old Sawmill” and a house still stands in what used to be a logging operation — thankfully this is long gone and the pines are back in their splendour.
To further highlight the beauty of this place. we were enveloped by a fog that endowed the atmosphere with a serene, almost magical feel. Though by then we started feeling the length of the hike -32 kilometres no less - our spirits remained afloat.
We no longer passed by Lusod village, and it was only upon realising that we would reach the end of the trail before nightfall that we took a rest stop, just 4.5 kilometres from the exit point. True enough by 1720H we were at the hanging bridge and by 1730H we were waiting for the jeepney that took us to Baguio, where we spent the night, having our usual post climb dinner at Hill Station in Casa Vallejo.

Endnote: Of late I have enjoyed the major dayhikes greatly, and I will likely attempt to do the same thing for some more Cordillera peaks. Meanwhile, I am off to Palawan for another major climb! And when I get back to Manila in February I will likely explore those rocky peaks in Rodriguez, Rizal that have piqued my interest :)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Open letter to the officials of Cuenca, Batangas: Stop requiring guides in Mt. Maculot

View of Taal Lake at the approach towards the Rockies of Mt. Maculot
Dear Sirs and Madams,

MANY OF YOU grew up in the shadow of Mt. Maculot and I do not have any reason to doubt your best intentions; your love for the mountain. This beautiful landmark at the heart of Batangas deserves its place in your hearts, and ours.

A few months ago, you began implementing a policy to require all mountaineers to get guides. Doubtless, you passed this out of concern for the safety of mountaineers. Still fresh in our memories  is the tragic death of one of our fellow mountaineers, Victor Ayson, and I am sure you were mindful of this tragedy when you enacted this legislation.

Your concerns for mountaineers’ safety are warranted. However, your response to these concerns may not be best solution.

First, Mt. Maculot’s trails are easy to follow, even for beginners. There are only one or two junctions where hikers might be misled, but this is easily solved by putting up some arrows and direction signs. Getting a guide just to lead the way in these rare instances doesn’t make sense. Clearly, preventing hikers from is not a valid reason to get a guide.

Second, only the Rockies actually present with the real threat of people getting serious injuries like falling, but this can be remedied by other ways. For instance, as in mountains like Mt. Kinabalu, ropes and reminders can be installed in the Rockies  to prevent falls. Moreover, proper training and preparation will be a hiker’s best way to prevent an accident, and this is something that a guide cannot match.

Finally, while reacting to a hiker’s death is understandable, please balance that one accident with the thousands of climbs that end up safe and successful, without injury or harm. Consider that Mt. Maculot has been climbed by people for decades without guides, and this has not led to misfortune. Victor Ayson's case has some peculiarities that do not apply to everyone. For one, he was hiking alone.

As for the economics, while it is true that mountaineers will give income to some locals, this will also discourage many of the regular visitors from climbing Maculot. Hikers come from all walks of life, and many of us save up hard-earned money just to climb mountains. For many, especially students, every peso counts. Will you prevent them from enjoying the outdoors just because they cannot afford a guide? And what of a couple of hikers who go to Maculot every weekend for their workout? Will you require them to pay 500 even if they have climbed Maculot countless times?

No mountain is 100% safe but hikers are aware of the risk and we must not attempt to kill the risk at the expense of being impractical in the vast majority of situations. As mountaineers, it is our responsibility to be trained and prepared for various situations, but we are aware that sometimes, accidents do happen, even among the best trained and best prepared among us. Needless to say, even the presence of guides will not ensure that the mountains will be 100% safe. But this is fine. As in many things in life, there are always risks and as long as we have done our best to minimize it, we have to live with it.

To be sure, guides should be made available to those who need or want them. As a compromise, it is reasonable to propose that first-timers should be required to get guides, but those who can demonstrate, through pictures or through their names in your logbooks, that they have already climbed the mountain should be given the choice of not getting guides. In the wake of Victor Ayson’s death, it will even be acceptable for hikers climbing alone to be required to get a guide. Moreover, it is also very understandable to close the mountain during and immediately after a typhoon. But an all-encompassing requirement will be an additional burden that many of us will find hard to bear. What is at stake here is not just the burden of an additional expense, but the freedom of choice, the ability to enjoy the mountain without unnecessary restrictions.

In conclusion, there are many ways for mountaineers and locals to both benefit from hiking activities, but one should not benefit at the expense of the other. The mountain belongs to everyone, and we should work together for its good, for the safety of those wishing to enjoy it, and for the benefit of those who live on its slopes and foothills. By taking into consideration one another’s concerns and viewpoints and by seeking consensus instead of acting unilaterally, we can achieve harmony for the good of everyone concerned.

In behalf of the mountaineers who share the same sentiments, I respectfully appeal to your good offices to stop requiring guides in Mt. Maculot.

Respectfully yours,

Gideon Lasco

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

PinoyMountaineer Shirt no. 15, "Climb with Me", now available!

In the tradition of the PinoyMountaineer shirt series, I am pleased to announce an offering at the start of the year: Shirt no. 15, "Climb with me". Sporting a simple design, this shirt is an invitation to share the outdoor experience. In place of the regular PinoyMountaineer logo, a #pinoymountaineer hashtag is displayed on the back.

The shirt is available in four colours: Blue-green on white, dark brown on light brown, grey on blue, and rust brown on light blue.

The shirts are available for P400 at the following stores:

Alabang Town Center (ATC)
Upper Ground Floor, Connector Mall
(in between Hush Puppies and Adidas)
Contact number:
Sun - (0933) 321-3127
Globe - (0917) 398-1570

1st Floor, Glorietta 3
(near McDonald's)
Contact number:
Sun - (0933) 321-3378
Globe - (0927) 264-6154

Market! Market! Outlet Store
2nd Floor, Fashion Market Area
Contact number:
Sun - (0923) 824-1856

Robinson's Manila
Second Floor, Padre Faura Wing
(in between Silverworks and Crabtree & Evelyn)
Contact number:
Sun - (0933) 321-3357
Globe - (0927) 762-6402

2nd Floor Teenzone
(behind Starbucks, in front of Artwork and Converse)
Contact number:
Sun - (0932) 236-1573
Globe - (0927) 869-8285

They are also available for FREE NATIONWIDE DELIVERY for a minimum order of 3 shirt! Contact 027389443 or for more details.

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Top 10 hikes of 2014

Mt. Agung in Bali, Indonesia (May 2014)
Following my tradition for the past seven years, I have selected the top 10 hiking trips that made my 2014 a very memorable year of adventure. My year pretty much turned out to be divided into a "overture" of two exciting traverse dayhikes: Pantingan-Tarak and Guiting-Guiting, followed by a first movement of international climbs from Switzerland to Sydney, and from Taiwan to Indonesia. The second movement covers a fruitful time in Palawan, where I managed to do four major climbs. And finally, as an encore, visits to Apo and Pulag - again as dayhikes!

Note that these hikes are in chronological order and I make no attempt to further rank these hikes:

1. Pantingan-Tarak Traverse - To start off the year my good friends Coby, Koi, Jeshua, Daryl and I went on a "dayhike" of Pantingan to Tarak, going up and down - and up and down again - the caldera rim of the great Mt. Mariveles in Bataan. We started at 0400H from the jumpoff of Pantingan and we saw the sun setting in Tarak Ridge. Injury and rest time included, the hike took 20 hours - a very long dayhike indeed. Narrated in Hiking matters #386: Up to Pantingan Peak and the crater rim and 
2. Guiting-Guiting Traverse - It's been several years since my first G2 and since I hadn't done the traverse yet, I decided to do it in February, also as a dayhike. Sadly, I failed to see Mt. Mayon from the summit as we were hiking at the tailend of storm. Still it was a great hike, and I relished every moment of the Knife Edge crossing. Thanks Dandan, Martin, and of course Tatay Remy for this adventure!  Narrated in Hiking matters #388: Olango to G2 summit and Hiking matters #389: Knife Edge to Mayo's Peak and down.
3. Mont Noble, Switzerland - I spent a month in Europe for my studies and one weekend I returned to the Swiss mountains, hosted once again by my good friend and mountain mentor Leo Oracion. We snowshoed our way up the worthy Mont Noble. Despite the biting cold, we managed quite well and had a great French dinner after, courtesy of Leo's wife Vanessa. Narrated in Hiking matters #393.
4. Jade Mountain, Taiwan - The odds were 1 in 10 that time, but our team got lucky: our permit got picked in the raffle drawn to decide who gets to climb Taiwan's highest peak! My sixth hiking trip in Taiwan turned out to be another fantastic one, as we had a great view at the summit. Narrated in Hiking matters #394: From Tataka trailhead to Paiyun LodgeHiking matters #395: Ascent to Yushan Main Peak, and Hiking matters #396: Back to Tataka trailhead
5. Mt. Kosciuszko and Blue Mountains, Australia - a very easy hike but a symbolic victory was our reaching Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in the Australian continent and one of the Seven Summits according to the Bass List. Of course we didn't go all the way Down Under just to do a dayhike so we headed to the Blue Mountains, caught a glimpse of the visiting Prince William and Duchess Kate, and had a great time bushwalking. Narrated in Hiking matters #397: The hike up Mt. KosciuszckoHiking matters #398: Blue Mountains 1 - Katoomba, and Hiking matters #399: Blue Mountains 2 - Wentworth Falls.
6. Mt. Rinjani with Mts. Batur and Agung, Indonesia. I celebrated my birthday with three Indonesian volcanoes, starting from Gunung Batur - my first international hike way back in 2005 - culminating in the fantastic Mt. Rinjani - and ending in another Bali hike, Mt. Agung. Narrated in Hiking matters #400: Gunung Batur, BaliHiking matters #401: Gunung Rinjani, Lombok Day 1,
Hiking matters #402: Gunung Rinjani Lombok Day 2, and Hiking matters #403: Gunung Agung, Bali
7. Mt. Mantalingahan Traverse - Six years after I first documented this great mountain, it's not become a mecca for serious hikers and as in G2, I wanted to experience the traverse. With my hiking buddy Coby and guided by the cheerful Kuya Binoy, we did the traverse and had four wonderful days in Palawan jungle. Narrated in Hiking matters #408: Brgy. Ransang to Cabugan campsiteHiking matters #409: Cabugan to Paray-Paray campsiteHiking matters #410: Mt. Mantalingajan summit assault, and Hiking matters #411: Traverse to Brooke's Point 
8. Mt. Victoria - After climbing Mantalingajan, we decided that we still have enough time and energy to do another mountain and fortunately Jehson Cervancia helped us decide a guide for Mt. Victoria, the second highest in Palawan. An additional two days in Palawan jungle - and two dozen river crossings to boot! Narrated in Hiking matters #412: To the high camp and Hiking matters #413:To the summit and back.
9. Cleopatra's Needle - Two months after Mantalingajan and Victoria, I completed the "Palawan Trilogy" by climbing Cleopatra's Needle, the third highest in Palawan and the highest north of Puerto Princesa. It was fantastic: 51 River crossings, forests with majestic almacigas, and a stunning summit view featuring all of Puerto Princesa's mountains, and a wide section of Palawan itself from Mt. Victoria to Mt. Capoas. Narrated in Hiking matters #419: Endless crossings of Tanabag River,  Hiking matters #420: Up the summit campsite and Hiking matters #421: The beautiful summit and the long descent
10. Sultan Peak - A few years ago, I thought all I needed to hike were Mantalingajan, Victoria, and Cleopatra. But Palawan continues to amaze, and Sultan Peak. The grandness of the hike is comparable to a Kanlaon traverse and the biodiversity is stunning. Sultan Falls was the first reward, and at the summit, three giant pitcher plants were waiting for us! And after that, mystical Atong Lake where I swam to my heart's content. Narrated in Hiking matters #437, Hiking matters #438, and Hiking matters #439
Honorable mention: Mt. Apo (Kapatagan) dayhike and Mt. Pulag (Akiki-Ambangeg) dayhike. It was great to revisit the highest peaks of the country's two biggest islands one month apart from each other- with the latter turning out to be my yearend major hike. Reminds me that you can't really climb a mountain twice, there are many ways to experience a mountain!
Thank you Coby Sarreal for joining me in five of my top 10 hikes: Pantingan-Tarak, Rinjani, Mantalingajan, Victoria, Sultan Peak.Also acknowledging Daryl Comagon, Brenton Tan, Ian Tesaluna, Dada de Silva, Foncy Conanan, Cynthia Sy for joining in two of these. And of course my gratitude goes to everyone who made these possible! Looking forward to another exciting year of climbing mountains!

Top 10 Hikes of 2014
Top 10 Hikes of 2013
Top 10 Hikes of 2012
Top 10 Hikes of 2011 (PH) | International
Top 10 Hikes of 2010
Top 10 Hikes of 2009
Top 10 Hikes of 2008

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