Monday, July 7, 2014

Hiking matters #413: Mount Victoria in Narra, Palawan Part 2 - To the summit and back

PUERTO PRINCESA - Continued from Hiking matters #412: After a cold and restful night at the High Camp of Mount Victoria, we woke up early to do the assault up the summit. It was cloudy, but as our guide Julius says, you can never tell the weather at the top, until you're at the top.
As we emerged from the forest to reach the rocky slopes, we were greeted by a Palawan striped babbler (Zosterornis hypogrammicus), and I was blessed to have seen this bird in its two habitats: Mantalingajan and Victoria - in a matter of days. The babblers are unafraid of human beings, probably having never been exposed to those who do them harm. Hopefully, this bird sanctuary stays the same.
Past the forest, we were back in familiar ground: ultramafic rocks, the same ones you would see in Mantalingajan, Thumbpeak, and even Mt. Beaufort. The trail required some scrambling, but freed of our heavy packs it did not present any bigchallenge. Writing this post, I have to admit that I am mixing up memories of Mantalingajan and Victoria, as their summit assaults look similar, especially in the greyish weather we had to content ourselves with on both occasions. 
Still, there was a bit of a cleaning when we were going up, and even at the summit we were able to behold the 'Tooth' - the other peak of Mt. Victoria which can be sidetripped by alloting an extra 3-4 hours return. 
And even without the clearing, the sight of the unique flora, not least of which is the endemic pitcher plant found only in the range - Nepenthes attenboroughii (see the left and center images in the collage) as well as the Palawan-endemic Nepenthes philippinensis (right).
We were back to the High Camp, and from there began the descent back to the river, and then to Narra, and finally to Puerto Princesa. But with Mount Victoria vast and full of promise, not least of which is Sultan Peak as well as the countless waterfalls, I will surely be back. Meanwhile it is time to celebrate what has been an action-packed week with the back-to-back hikes of Palawan's two highest mountains, Mantalingajan and Victoria!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hiking matters #412: Mount Victoria in Narra, Palawan Part 1 - To the high camp

At the beginning of the trail with the twin summits at the far right
PUERTO PRINCESA - After traversing Mt. Mantalingajan, the highest mountain in Palawan (see Hiking matters #408-411), and going on a pitstop at Puerto Princesa, my hiking buddy Coby Sarreal and I proceeded to the municipality of Narra to climb Mt. Victoria - also known as the Victoria Peaks - the second highest mountain in the island. Joining us was young Palaweño hiker Brenton Tan. Arriving mid-afternoon, we didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Estrella Falls, whose clear and cold waters turned out to be a great refreshment.

The next day we were welcomed by Jehson Cervancia, longtime Mt. Victoria advocate with whom I have corresponded in the past. He endorsed us to Kuya Julius who would be our guide for what is usually a three-day hike that would take us to the summit of Mt. Victoria and back.
Estrella Falls, an excellent sidetrip before the Mt. Victoria hike!
We rented a tricycle to Brgy. Princess Urduja - a thirty-minute ride away from the town proper - and started the hike at around 0700H. The weather was not promising to begin with: forecasts were dire and it had rained heavily the previous night, so we expected to get wet as soon as start. We were pleasantly surprised, thus, to see the two-pronged summit of Mt. Victoria ahead of us - among the many peaks in the Mount Victoria Range.

From the onset, the trail environs were impressive. A prairie-like grassland comes first - reminiscent of the trails of Mt. Kilimanjaro - with unique plants and shrubs, including pitcher plants - and butterflies and stick insects hovering. Every forest has its music - of birds, rivers, insects, winds - and that of Victoria is animated, suggesting that it is full of life. Indeed Mt. Victoria's biodiversity attracts scientists from all over the world.
Crossing the Buhawi River
Then, the thirteen crossings of Buhawi River - that limpid stream where we did some unplanned swimming, enthralled by the waters. The traditional way to do the trek is to begin with flip-flops or sandals, then don the hiking shoes after the half-day crossing is done. We did just that, but while that approach was rewarding while crossing the rivers, I found it challenging to trek the slippery, oftentimes overgrown trails along the river with slippers.

We finished the crossing by 1100H, and had early lunch by the 'Huling Sapa' - the last stream. From that point, it was a forested ascent, a bit steep but happily straightforward - a welcome break from the ups and downs of Mt. Mantalingajan. The trails, too, were surprisingly well established. While we were hiking, we spotted a Palawan blue flycatcher - with its pretty orange neck - perched in one of the trees.
More river trails with the lush jungle up ahead
We arrived at the High Camp - which is around 1400 MASL - at 1500H. The Palawan style of camping is just using a mix of tarpaulins and hammocks - and at the High Camp this approach is understandable, considering that there are no really flat areas, and we had to pitch our tent on a sloped surface.

We still couldn’t believe our good fortune - it didn’t rain the whole day, even as Narra and Puerto Princesa both experienced heavy rains. That night, we prayed that the next day would be as fortuitous. Continued in Hiking matters #413. 
At the High Camp, around 1400 MASL
Hiking matters #412: To the high camp
Hiking matters #413:To the summit and back

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hiking matters #411: Mt. Mantalingajan Traverse Day 4: Crossing the mountain range to Brgy. Malis, Brooke’s Point

The view of Magringgit Peak is a visual souvenir of a challenging day
PUERTO PRINCESA - Continued from Hiking matters #410: After another restful night in Paray-Paray campsite, the time came for us to traverse to Brgy. Malis in Brooke's Point - touted as the most challenging portion of the hike. Since the traverse didn't exist yet when I did Mantalingajan in 2008, I was very excited to try this trail for the first time. As it turns out, my excitement was warranted, for it was truly an exhilarating trail!

It would be a mistake to think of the traverse to Brooke’s Point as a mere ‘descent’, as it is full of ups and downs, with several peaks to be negotiated - so I would characterise it more as a crossing through a good section of the Mantalingajan Range. It is like the traverse from Dulang-Dulang to Kitanglad - but it is longer, and with narrower, more precarious - and indeed fragile trails.

The initial descent, from Paray-Paray to Lapong Campsite, is quite steep, walking through sharp, at times slippery rocks, similar to those at the summit, but this time enmeshed in forest. It is difficult to find trails of that demand this level of sustained agility: Talomo-Apo comes to mind, and Pantingan-Tarak, but coming at the final day of the hike, this leg of the Mantalingajan is a thriller indeed.

From Lapong campsite, a series of peaks have to be negotiated. The hike through (and not up) Magringgit Peak is just the first in the series, and it is notable for its fragile violaceaous rocky trails. The trail literally collapses off your feet, requiring brisk, surefooted steps - else, grasping some grass.

When one writes about an adventure, it is easy to understate its difficulty, while on the other hand there is always the temptation to exaggerate. Hence, I think it would suffice to say that it was really a long and challenging day: to reach Lapong Campsite took us four hours; we were at Magringgit at high noon, and more peaks came, with names like Karim and Kawang-Kawang - the later one a nice viewpoint. The trails were relentless.

By 1500H, we reached the village of Pirataw, which signalled that the end is near - but still with several hundred meters to descend! Here, the weather improved considerably, and we could see Sulu Sea in front of us, as well as the coastline of Brooke's Point and Bataraza: it felt more and more like Sembrano and then Tagapo, as the labyrinthine trails of the mountain proper gave way to more familiar grassy slopes, and bamboo- and coconut-strewn woodland.

Finally, just before 1800H, after almost 11 hours of trekking, we reached the National Highway in Brgy. Malis, south of Brooke’s Point town proper. Fed up with waiting for vans or buses to Puerto Princesa, we instead stayed in the house of one of the villagers, a chicken was hastily prepared for a celebratory feast. The next day, I woke up early to catch the first trip back to Puerto Princesa. The Mantalingajan Range on my left remained until it receded in Española, giving way to Mount Victoria in Narra - the mountain that we would climb next (see Hiking matters #412-413)!

Farewell, Mantalingajan! Six years ago, leaving Rizal for Puerto Princesa, I had no idea that I would one day be coming back, and today is no different. As the van from Brooke's Point headed north I kept looking at the peaks to the west: Maruyog, Gantung, and many others, nameless but no less beautiful.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hiking matters #410: Mt. Mantalingajan Traverse Day 3 - Paray-Paray campsite and the summit assault up Palawan's highest peak

PUERTO PRINCESA - Continued from Hiking matters #409: At Paray-Paray campsite (In 2008 I used ‘Palay-Palay’, which was how my Tau’t Bato guide pronounced it), we waited for the weather to improve: We didn’t want to do the summit assault covered with fog and clouds. But when we woke up the next day, it was raining heavily, pounding on our tents. We decided to wait until the afternoon.

What to do inside a tent while waiting? I used to always bring a book - usually from world literature or fantasy - and read it while in camp. Yasunari Kawabata, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, V.S. Naipul, and even Hemingway have joined some of my hikes. When hiking in Japan, I always bring a Murakami book with me. Tolkien would make me want to leave the tent and keep hiking through the night, just the Fellowship through the Misty Mountains, while the Japanese authors always make me reflect on the ephemeral nature of life.

I also used to always bring a notebook which counts as my journal. The National Artist F. Sionil Jose gave me a pen that I used - with great care - to scribble my thoughts while traveling. Before I began Pinoy Mountaineer, I kept a journal, and some of them I posted in this website.

Technology - for better or for worse - has changed all that. Now, I make do with an iPhone - which counts as my book, notebook, and many more. Alongside a powerbank that packs thousands of maH and a surprisingly brisk 3G signal, I was emailing and chatting with people: a sure way of killing time - though for my next hike I realise that I should restore my old habit of having a book at hand.

We started trekking at 1330H, after lunch. “Let’s not wait any further - I don’t think a couple of hours can make a difference,” I told them. And so we headed for the summit. A short way up from Paray-Paray campsite the 'Knife Edge' begins - it is not really a 'knife edge' in the sense of having distinct razor-thin ridges. The rocks, however, are quite sharp-edged, and there are portions where there's nothing to hold on to, save for the rocks themselves. This is the reason why I suggested that Mantalingajan, Halcon, and G2 can be conceived as a 'Knife Edge Trilogy'.

There is a forested intermission between the knife-edged rocky slopes, which I enjoyed: I see this as having a bit of a parallel in Mt. Halcon, where there is a bit of a forest between the ‘Azalea’ and the final leg prefaced by the wooden ladder.

Because there weren't any views and thus no opportunity to take pictures, it took us just an hour to reach the summit. It was raining very hard when we arrived, the rain like pellets pounding on our jackets. My Nikon D3000 had conked out the day before and I only had my phone, protected by a small Ziplock - to take some photos - and videos - during the summit assault. Fortunately, it sufficed.

When you hike up the summit, you do so with the expectation that there would be nice views up there. But when you reach the summit, the absence of views does not diminish the joy and triumph of having reached it. We were relieved that we had accomplished our goal, even as the traverse to Brooke's Point loomed as a final challenge.
We were expecting an quick and unremarkable descent to Paray-Paray, and we were almost there when suddenly the skies cleared up, revealing the views that were long denied us. Thrilled with this good fortune, we lost no time in taking pictures, making the most of that ephemeral glimpse of the beautiful terrain: - from the summits to the seas in a narrow sliver of an island called Palawan. Continued in Hiking matters #411.

Hiking matters #408: Day 1 - Brgy. Ransang to Cabugan campsite
Hiking matters #409: Day 2 - Cabugan to Paray-Paray campsite
Hiking matters #410: Day 3 - Mt. Mantalingajan summit assault
Hiking matters #411: Day 4 - Traverse to Brooke's Point 

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