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.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hiking matters #423: Mt. Bandilaan and other outdoor attractions of Siquijor

The century-old tree in Campalanas, Lazi, Siquijor
DUMAGUETE CITY - Today I visited the island province of Siquijor, and was greatly rewarded with some interesting outdoor attractions, together with my fraternity brother, Puerto Princesa-based orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Arnaldo Favila Jr.. As a medical anthropologist, my fascination in the island lay in its rich tradition of folk medicine, but there was little I could do in a day, so we were more of tourists, allowing a tricycle driver to take us through the usual stuff.
I just came from a four-day Cleopatra's Needle in Palawan (see Hiking matters #419-422) and am about to head to Cebu for a weekend of hiking (hopefully). So this is more of a filler episode - and as filler episodes in anime series go, it can be really fun.
We first went up Mt. Bandilaan, which is really just a fifteen-minute walk up - maybe even less. Though only 632 meters above sea level and a not-too-prominent peak, this mountain is culturally significant, being  the sacred place where healers and sorcerers take their herbs and perform their rituals during Holy Week - in the same vein as Mt. Banahaw. 

After the hike, we went to the Century-Old Tree in Campalanas, which reminded me of a similar tree in saw in Aurora in 2010. Ancient and giant trees are always a fascinating sight for mountaineers. I am also reminded of the gigantic trees in Mt. Talinis. Indeed they are a reminder that left alone, many trees will for hundreds of years.
Then there was Cambugahay Falls, one of my favourites - even though I lost my goggles there after a 'Tarzan jump'. With its nice woodlands and even coastal forests, like the one in Maria, Siquijor definitely has some things to offer the outdoor enthusiast, and even though I was just there for a day, I was well rewarded. Thank you, Siquijor, for the wonderful experience!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hiking matters #420: Cleopatra's Needle Day 2 - Through the jungle to Puyos (summit) campsite

Continued from Hiking matters #419: Very early the next day, we broke camp and by 0340H we were starting the trek again. For a good three hours, we were still crossing more than a dozen sections of river, and though the waters have subsided, it was still trickier and at times I would go tandem walking with James. By 0640H, Tatay Leonardo declared: "Tapos na ang ilog!" (Done with the rivers!) and we rewarded ourselves with breakfast of fish and bread.
We entered the jungle at 0700H. Starting at only 300 MASL, we had over a thousand meters to gain to even reach the summit campsite so I knew that it will not be an easy task. However, the fact the trail was relatively straightforward (though there are some ups-and-downs too) and relatively well-established (though sometimes it feels like Mantalingajan) reassured me. So too did the sight of woodpeckers, Palawan tits, and other fascinating fauna, not to mention the majestic almaciga (Agathis philippinensis) trees.
We reached Solpan campsite (10°6′13.4′′N, 118°59′37.3′′E, 808 MASL) at 1000H. This was where the rest of the group had camped, and we knew we weren't that far away from them if they had started at 0800H. Past the campsite, the trail was still straightforward but beyond 1200 MASL, it becomes very steep, and narrow like an inclined tunnel - one has to grasp onto bamboo and grass to go up - reminiscent of the assault of Mt. Masaraga in Albay or Mt. Manaphag in Iloilo. With rain and mud, the challenge becomes greater. But the my altimeter - which showed signs of rapid altitude gain - reassured me.
At 1230H, we reached the Puyos (summit) campsite (10°7′15.3′′N, 118°59′41.2′′E, 1474 MASL). Puyos is a Batak word for 'highest peak' and short of naming the mountain itself after this more original term, I am using it at least for the campsite. I was happily reunited with my good friends Jessa, Karina, Edgar, and kindred spirits who share the same passion for the environment and the outdoors - as well as a merry company of Batak guides.
Until that point I was still harbouring thoughts of descending back to at least Solpan, for a headstart the next day. However, I also felt that it would be a pity if I were to go back to Puerto Princesa without seeing the fabled views from atop Cleopatra's Needle. Sometimes, waiting for a day doesn't really help (as in our Mantalingajan hike) but with optimism - and egged on by our friends - we decided to stay with the rest of the team and go up the summit at sunrise the next day. A clearing just before nightfall, revealing the peak, and the mountains and lights of Puerto Princesa, raised our hopes. Continued in Hiking matters #421.
Hiking matters #421: The beautiful summit and the long descent
Hiking matters #422: Batak village and back home

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