Saturday, February 28, 2015

Call for Volunteers: PinoyMountaineer Web Development Team

I started Pinoy Mountaineer when I was still a medical student and now that I am a medical doctor with various engagements, including my PhD at the University of Amsterdam, I feel that it is time to call for help in maintaining and further developing the PinoyMountaineer website.

Indeed, after eight years of authoring and maintaining PinoyMountaineer by myself, this task is something that I can no longer do alone. In order to fulfil and expand its mission, needs a team of dedicated writers, photographers, programmers, and other volunteers who are interested to be part of the “guide to hiking in the Philippines”. We want to be able to provide more updates and features, as well as a play a stronger role in educating beginners.

Thus I am pleased to announce that I am forming a PinoyMountaineer Web Development Team and am inviting interested parties to apply to join the team.

Responsibilities include helping me maintain and update the Pinoy Mountaineer website, develop new features, create new articles, and social media management.

Just like me, membership in the Web Development Team is voluntary, unpaid position and should not be thought of as a job, but a hobby and applicants should not harbour any expectation of financial gain. However, I will make sure that team members will find being part of the team rewarding.

The application is open to anyone who has skills or experience in writing, programming, computer graphics, social media management, photography, marketing, as well as other skills that you think will be valuable in the growth of the website.

Interested applicants are requested to send the following information to

Place of current residences:
Provincial hometown, if any:
Occupation / Profession:
Educational attainment:
College attended:
Clubs joined:
Hiking experience:
Blogging experience (if any):
Outdoor skills:
Digital media or web skills, if any (i.e. video editing, programming, etc.): :
Other hobbies or interests:
Languages spoken:

Thank you in advance to all the applicants! 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hiking matters #445: Mt. St. Paul in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Day 2-3: The ascent up the summit

At the summit of Mt. St. Paul in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Certainly one of the most rewarding hikes in the island!
Continued from Hiking matters #444: We woke up at 0400H the following day, and started the hike at 0515H. Though night-trekking up the limestone was not very ideal, we had to maximise the day especially since our guide seemed skeptical that our proposed itinerary - going up the summit and back to the basecamp - can be managed.
Still, we persevered and by 0630H we were rewarded with our first viewpoint - which allowed us to see Mt. Bloomfield and Sabang Beach. Moreover, it seemed that, for the second straight day, the weather was on our side!

The limestone, however, seemed endless, and increasingly steep. On the other hand, the views also got more scenic. By 0830 we could already see the contours of St. Paul, including the other dome-shaped peak that locals call the 'nose' of the mountain. The West Coast of Puerto Princesa - from Sabang to Marufinas and beyond greet us to the left, and I could imagine the outline of a distant Mt. Tapyas.

Given our itinerary, we didn't have to time to appreciate the fauna and flora, but we were struck by the aerial plants that lived in symbiosis with ants: their roots have morphed into the shape of ant colony, and we saw ants living inside. I also saw a bug living with a lichen on his back - perhaps as a camouflage. Sadly I didn't bring my binoculars, but I did hear some pretty interesting bird calls.
By 0930H we came face to face with the Pillars of St. Paul - the most prominent rocky structure, between which one must enter. This rock, at 923 MASL, signalled that the summit is just 100 meters and less than an hour away!

Finally, after more scrambling, by 1015H, we reached the summit. What a joy and relief! We spent a whole hour at the peak, basking at the beauty of Palawan. Even though it took just a day and a half to reach the summit, it was an accomplishment comparable to the other great peaks of Palawan, with which the mountain deserves a place. The limestone trek gives it a uniqueness that cannot be matched!
The roots of an aerial plant has been fashioned into an ant colony, while
a bug hosts a lichen on its back. Strange creatures! 
Of course the summit is just the halfway point of every hike, and we had to go back through the same precarious trail. The journey home turned out to be more complicated. We miscalculated the water supply and some of us decided to march all the way back the water source to conserve whatever water was left, just to be on the safe side. So we bivouacked by the brook, while waiting for the rest of the team to get down. Fortunately, everyone made it back in one piece, and by 1020H we set foot on the cement of the highway. Success!
By mid-afternoon we were back in the familiar streets of Puerto Princesa -- and later, I would have my celebratory pandan ice cream at La Terasse. Thank you to everyone who took part in this memorable hike! In the past nine months I have climbed a dozen Palawan mountains but I remain very much enthused to go back for more!

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) 428 446
Mt. Kalbo (2014) 429 
Sultan Peak (2014) 437 438 439
Mt. St. Paul (2015) 444 445

Hiking matters #444: Mt. St. Paul in Puerto Princesa, Palawan Day 1 - Limestone trek to the basecamp

Mt. St. Paul as viewed from Mt. Magarwak
PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN - For my twelfth mountain and sixth major climb in Palawan, I climbed Mt. St. Paul, also known as the St. Paul Mountain Range, the karst mountain atop the Puerto Princesa Underground River, a World Heritage Site. Though rising only to 1028 MASL, this mountain is comprised of knife-edged limestone cliffs, and there has been little documentation about climbing this mountain in the past.

From Puerto Princesa, we took a van and got off at the Water District Station along the highway to Sabang, just a few kilometres away from the beach (10.18500 N, 118.8964 E, 5 MASL). This counted as the trailhead for the trek.

What followed was an initial hour of trekking through jungle that was reminiscent of the Jungle Trail to the Underground River - a trail that is actually within the same environs of Mt. St. Paul.

That initial hour, however, turned out to be a mere warmup to the actual hike - or climb - which involved scrambling our way through sharp and fragile limestone for two days! Because of the nature of the terrain (or lack of it, since it was mostly rock), there were no water sources beyond the first hour of the hike.
The intimacy with limestone was be very enjoyable, but also very dangerous. We donned gloves to protect ourselves from the jagged edges of the rocks. Sometimes, the formations were several meters high, forming multiple ravines.

Slipping or falling was not an option. Progress was slow, and the trail did not really exist in some parts. Instead, you can choose your own route through the rocks.

We had lunch on the rocks - a brisk affair, then continued with the trek. My altimeter wasn't registering much progress, but in the afternoon we reached past 300 meters. By 0430H, we reached the Base Camp (10.170642 N, 118.911230 E, 386 MASL) where we spent the night. The plan was to do an assault of the mountain the next day - in what turned out to be a very long and exciting adventure. Continued in Hiking matters #445.

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
Mt. St. Paul (2015) 444 445

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hiking matters #448: The New DENR Trail up Pico de Loro

At the summit of Pico de Loro
The other day I passed through  regular "Old" trail going up and the DENR "New" trail going down Pico de Loro on a hike with Agot Isidro - her second on the mountain (see Hiking matters #179 for the first one). It was a very nice trek; we started trekking just before 0800H and 0945H we were at the summit. Agot finally went up the 'Monolith'. By 1230H we were having lunch in Lolo Claro's in Maragondon. It was very nice to be back in Pico after one and a half years!
At the Monolith
Since I've blogged extensively about the mountain, let me focus on my preliminary opinions about the New Trail. I'm sure the DENR Protected Area Management Board has its reasons for making a new trail and I will not wade into the debate on whether it was necessary to make a new trail in the first place. 
The 'New' Trail starts from the DENR itself
The trail begins from the DENR itself. From the parking area following the trail on the right that leads to a small cement bridge, some gazebos, and a brook. The trail starts from the brook. Initially the forests are have a spacious feel, akin to the lower reaches of Manabu Peak. 
The initial part looks a bit like Manabu  
As goes higher, however, it feels like Mt. Maculot's New Trail. It is narrow, its surface undifferentiated from the rest of the ground, its environs lacking the depth of the forests in the Old Trail. Because it is still new, there are a lot of loose roots and ground vines that may cause you to trip.
Further up trails are narrower and has less forest cover than the Old Trail
After a mostly continuous ascent, It reaches a height of 596 meters (14°13'7.57" N, 120°30'9.62" E) on a peak that offers a view of Mt. Marami and the Maragondon Range. At this point the trail is mostly bamboo;  a bit further from the viewpoint you can see the summit area ahead. However, you have to make a descent into a junction that is 15 minutes away from the campsite, which is in turn 15 minutes before the summit.
Scenic view of Maragondon Range at the highest point in the New Trail
In Batulao, I quickly fell in love with the New Trail when it opened way back in 2009. In Pico de Loro, however, it's a different story. Personally, I still like the Old Trail more because I generally like old trails: they have a character molded through time and you can see it in the smoothness of the roots and the branches, the logics of the trail itself, and its peaceful co-existence with the forest. On the other hand the New Trail offers a faster, more straightforward ascent or descent - though if you have a fast pace the difference is marginal. 
The summit and the 'Monolith' as viewed from the New Trail
Time will tell what will happen to the New Trail -and the Old. At the moment the policies have not yet been clarified. Already, there are signs of trash in the New Trail and I do hope that the DENR, having created it, will be proactive in maintaining its cleanliness - but of course this also largely depends on the hikers themselves. 
With its beautiful forests and more 'mature' trails, I still like the Old Trail more

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