Sunday, September 30, 2007

The waterfalls of Laguna

Featured in this article are four waterfalls in the province of Laguna: the famous Pagsanjan Falls and three others: Buntot Palos in Pangil, Bunga Falls in Nagcarlan, and Taytay Falls in Majayjay. These waterfalls are located in the eastern towns of Laguna. The bountiful waters in the area come from Mt. Banahaw, Mt. Cristobal, as well as the Sierra Madre.

Part 2: Pagsanjan (Magdapio) Falls
Part 3: Buntot Palos (Hidden) Falls
Part 4: Bunga (Twin) Falls
Part 5: Taytay (Imelda) Falls

ITINERARY
WATERFALLS OF LAGUNA TOUR
Day 1
0600 Meet up; ETD for Siniloan via Manila East Road (same route as Mt. Romelo)
0900 Take tricycle to jump-off in Balian
0930 ETA jump-off; start trek
1130 ETA Buntot Palos; lunch. Swim and explore.
1230 Head back
1500 Back at jump-off, proceed to Pagsanjan, Laguna (jeepney ride)
1600 ETA Pagsanjan, Laguna; stay at inn (i.e. Pagsanjan Falls Lodge)
1700 Arrange for Pagsanjan Falls tour the next day
1800 Dinner / socials

Day 2
0600 Wake up; breakfast
0700 Proceed with “Shooting the rapids”
0800 ETA Talahib Falls then Magdapio Falls
0900 Back at the
1000 Tidy up; check out of lodging place
1100 Proceed to Majayjay, Laguna via Sta. Cruz (jeepney ride)
1300 ETA Majayjay. Lunch. Rent jeep to jump-off point.
1400 ETA Taytay Falls. Explore the waterfalls system.
1630 Set up camp; prepare for dinner
1800 Dinner / socials

Day 3
0600 Breakfast
0700 One last dip at the pool; decamp
0800 Take tricycle / jeep back to town proper
0830 Take jeepney to Nagcarlan
0900 Take tricycle to Brgy. Bunga , Nagcarlan
0930 ETA Bunga Falls
1030 Early lunch at Bunga Falls
1200 Back to Nagcarlan then San Pablo City
1300 ETA San Pablo City; take bus to Manila
1500 ETA Manila

SPECIAL CONCERNS
These destinations are usually visited separately; you may just take off parts of the suggested itinerary to suit your purpose. The prices of tricycle fares are usually variable; you could haggle. Generally the locals are honest, although you might be frustrated with the ‘extortionist’ attitude of some of the guides in Pagsanjan Falls. In fairness to the municipal government, they are trying their best to curb this practice and win back tourists to Pagsanjan Falls.

Vigilance is expected of campers in waterfall and river systems; sudden upsurges of water can reach the campsites. More rarely, flashfloods could occur. Throughout the year, waterfalls, due to water erosion, make the catchbasin and the vicinity a hazard due to the sharp rocks that may cause cuts and other injuries. Also, the high moisture gives rise to mosses that make the surfaces slippery. Children must be supervised at all times. Otherwise, these are fairly ‘benign’ destinations with beautiful views and minimal effort.

Entrance fees increase every so often; a generous P40 for each waterfalls is sufficient. Most of the expenses would go to travelling from one waterfall to another, as well as the expensive cost of doing the Pagsanjan experience. For the suggested itinerary, P1,400 is the total recommended budget, including food and transportation.

Cellphone signal is present in most of the destinations featured. Useful numbers include that of the Pagsanjan Tourist and Cultural Development Office (+63498083544).

TRIVIA
Other waterfalls in Laguna include the Twin Falls in Cavinti. There are also cascades of water in the Lumot Gorge near Pagsanjan Falls; this requires river crossings beyond the Main Falls but the rewards are said to be great as the place seems to be unimaginably pristine. An alternate trail, by foot, to Pagsanjan Falls is also news in 2007; we will update on this tidbit. In Majayjay and Luisiana towns, there are other waterfalls, which require further research and exploration.

Pasalubong from Laguna include fruits such as lanzones and rambutan; woodcrafts in the nearby town of Paete, sandals in Liliw, sampaloc candy of San Pablo, as well as the buco pies sold in numerous Colette’s and El Mare outlets along the highway.

This article is the second of a series that will feature the waterfalls of provinces near Manila: Rizal, Laguna, Batangas, and Bulacan. Many thanks to Sir Erick Baustista for sharing his pictures. The author did not have a digital camera yet when he visited these waterfalls.

Related articles
Shooting the rapids in Pagsanjan

© Pinoy Mountaineer 2007. All rights reserved.

Pagsanjan Falls

PAGSANJAN (MAGDAPIO) FALLS
Cavinti, Laguna

Height: 90 meters
Jump off point: Pangsanjan, Laguna
Access: Shooting the rapids (1 hr)
Sidetrip destinations: Talahib Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Kaluykuy Falls
Entrance and guide fees: P900

One of the most famous tourist spots in the Philippines is Pagsanjan Falls. Majestically descending in an enchanting place, it is one of the earliest tourist spots in the Philippines, introduced to outside world by an American missionary who visited it in 1902. It was he who first published the name ‘Pagsanjan Falls’, even though its original name was Magdapio Falls. There is a legend that lends credence to this name, recounted by Dr. Gregorio Zaide, about Magdapio who lost his brother Balubad in an ancient drought. Desolate, Magdapio wandered around the forested gorges in search of water. Finding none, he cried out to the gods. Taking pity on him, the gods caused a waterfall to spring forth in what is now the famous waterfall. Meanwhile, the name Pagsanjan comes from the Tagalog word “Pinagsangahan” which means “where it branches”. This refers to the branching off of the two rivers, Bumbungan and Balanac.

Although the waterfalls itself is under the jurisdiction of the adjacent town of Cavinti, the boat trip to the falls – a crucial part of the experience – is in Pagsanjan town. From there, you could arrange your trip in the resorts and inns. As of 2007, the rate has been standardized at P660 owing to intense haggling and ‘extortion’ which has discouraged many a would-be tourist to visit the waterfalls. There is also a toll fee for the town. You would pay an additional P90 for the bamboo raft that will take you to within the falls itself, feeling the descent of the water. Allow a budget of P1,000 for the entire experience, including a tip for the boatman (they expect you to give a ‘voluntary’ tip).

The “shooting the rapids” experience is both an adventure and a visual treat. Decades before the whitewater rafting of Cagayan de Oro and Chico river were developed, boatmen skillfully maneuvered their bancas through the rapids of Bumbungan River. This has become an art, and now a license is even required to certify your skill! Another amazing treat is the Pagsanjan Gorge on both sides of the river. The forests are intact, and monkeys love to hang out across the river. Careful though: As of 2007, tourists have to wear helmets because monkeys are said to pelt humans with rocks and branches! A sidetrip is Talahib Falls may be done before proceeding to the Main Falls. During the rainy season other waterfalls swell and also become noteworthy sights: Wedding Veil Falls, Kalukuy Falls, and other nameless waterfalls.

And then the raft ride to the falls itself commences, as the climax of the trip. A bamboo raft will take you right through the waterfalls to reach the Devil’s cave! This adventure, together with the ‘shooting the rapids’, sets Pagsanjan Falls apart from the other waterfalls to remain the best waterfall experience in Luzon.

Part 1: The waterfalls of Laguna
Part 3: Buntot Palos (Hidden) Falls
Part 4: Bunga (Twin) Falls
Part 5: Taytay (Imelda) Falls


Related articles
Shooting the rapids in Pagsanjan

Buntot Palos Falls

BUNTOT PALOS (HIDDEN) FALLS
Pangil, Laguna

Height: 80 meters
Jump-off point: Brgy. Balian, Pangil, Laguna
Trail length: 2-3 hours
Entrance fee: P30.00

Whereas other waterfalls in this series require no more than a ten minute trek, or a boat ride, Buntot Palos is a level 1 climb, taking 2-3 hours to reach. Because of this fact, it has also been dubbed the “Hidden Falls”. But we prefer original name, which translates as “Eel’s Tail”. The resemblance may be difficult to see, but it nonetheless captures the local imagination.

The three-hour trek must not daunt the would-be explorer, as Buntot Palos is really grand, descending from a cliff to fall on a collection of sharp rocks called ‘Kawa-Kawa’. The cascade of water is tall (around 80 meters; almost twice the height of Buruwisan Falls) as it is straight; it further descends to form a catchbasin that is big and deep, perfect for swimmers. The rocks are very slippery though. Beneath the falls, there is a small cave, which can house a tent for the very adventurous! For its part, the trail is a set of a typical rural Filipino setting. Carabaos and horses pass the same trail, and it can get really muddy in the rainy season, much like the trails going to Mt. Romelo the nearby town of Siniloan.

A campsite near the waterfalls is available, although it is small and not an campsite because of its uneven ground. The best time to go to Buntot Palos is summer, although if it gets too dry, the cascade won’t be as strong. The advantage of the rainy season is a strong surge of water although it can get too strong that you can’t even approach Kawa-Kawa. The usual route is similar to that of Mt. Romelo, via the Manila East Road. The usual itinerary takes two days, but the “Waterfalls of Laguna” itinerary below makes it a daytrip.

Part 1: The waterfalls of Laguna
Part 2: Pagsanjan (Magdapio) Falls
Part 4: Bunga (Twin) Falls
Part 5: Taytay (Imelda) Falls

Bunga Falls

BUNGA FALLS (TWIN FALLS)
Nagcarlan, Laguna
Height: 15 meters
Jump-off point: Brgy. Bunga, Nagcarlan, Laguna
Trail length: 5-10 minutes
Entrance fee: P30.00

Although not as high as the first two waterfalls, the unique charm of Bunga Falls is the fact that it is a ‘twin falls’: two waterfalls, almost identical, descending side by side. Named after the Bunga (betel nut) palms that used to grow on the area, this waterfall is just 600 meters away from the jump-off point, and is also near the famed Underground Cemetery of Nagcarlan.

In keeping with the richness of Tagalog culture, Bunga Falls is steeped in the tradition of the locals of Nagcarlan. It used to be a ‘test of manliness’ for boys to jump from the falls down the deep basin. Also, local folklore has it that there is a creature that dwells in the pool of Bunga Falls, snatching unsuspecting dayo (outsiders) into the deep waters. Other locals would swear that they have felt the hand tugging their feet down. Perhaps these tales were inspired by the depth of the pool, said to be around 10 meters. As long as you know how to swim, however, there is no reason not take advantage of the large catchbasin of this waterfall. One resident of Nagcarlan explains that the perception of “being pulled” may be explained by the sudden plunge of the catchbasin into a deep pool.

The town of Nagcarlan is a jeepney ride from either Sta. Cruz or San Pablo in Laguna. There is a Sta. Cruz bus from Buendia or Cubao; The Lucena buses pass by San Pablo. Fares range from P20-30, with a travel time of less than one hour. From the town proper of Nagcarlan, you can hire tricycle/s to take you to the jump-off. Mountaineers visit Nagcarlan to take the alternate routes to Mt. Cristobal (traverse to Dolores, Quezon) and Mt. Kalisungang (traverse to Calauan, Laguna)

Part 1: The waterfalls of Laguna
Part 2: Pagsanjan (Magdapio) Falls
Part 3: Buntot Palos (Hidden) Falls
Part 5: Taytay (Imelda) Falls

Taytay Falls

TAYTAY FALLS (IMELDA FALLS)
Majayjay, Laguna
Height: 12 meters
Jump-off point: Brgy. Gagalot, Majayjay, Laguna
Trail length: 10 minutes (to first waterfall); 30 minutes (to final waterfall)
Entrance fee: P35.00

We conclude our tour of Laguna’s waterfalls with perhaps the waterfalls with the cleanest and clearest water, Taytay Falls in Majayjay. Indeed, the water is so clean that you could still see a one-peso coin if you drop it in the 10-feet pool! This waterfall is actually a series of seven waterfalls – you could scale your way up to reach the seventh waterfall, which has a beautiful and wide pool, even clearer than the pools below. Taytay Falls, also known as Imelda Falls, has become a popular local picnic destination due to the sheer clarity of the water, as well as the large campsite area nearby. Also, the very cold waters of the waterfalls are refreshing. But I repeat: very cold!

The exploration of the waterfalls system adds up to the adventure. In one waterfall, you have to use a vine to rappel your way down; you may also have to use all sorts of ‘maneuvers’ to go all the way up. Each part of the system has its distinct beauty, and since it is at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, the forest is also serene.

To reach Taytay Falls, one can go to San Pablo City then proceed to Nagcarlan. Since the place is generally out-of-the-way, it is best to just charter a jeep from either town (Liliw could also be a staging-off point). Entrance fee is about P35.00 as of 2007. The path from the jump-off to the waterfall passes by a cemented foothpath; water flows in a stream beside you, foreshadowing the clarity of the looming waters.

Camping near Taytay Falls is a pleasant experience, although it could be noisy and crowded as there are many locals who love to spend the night there (and drink) -- this is especially true on weekends. There are sari-sari stores and parking space at the jump-off; and some comfort/ shower rooms in the campsite. Taytay Falls may also be reached by foot from the ranger station at Mt. Banahaw de Lucban in Lucban, Quezon.

Part 1: The waterfalls of Laguna
Part 2: Pagsanjan (Magdapio) Falls
Part 3: Buntot Palos (Hidden) Falls
Part 4: Bunga (Twin) Falls

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The waterfalls of Rizal

Featured in this article are three waterfalls in the province of Rizal: Hinulugang Taktak, Daranak Falls, and Batlag Falls. As a mountainous province, straddled by the Sierra Madre, Rizal is home to many scenic spots and hiking trails which are visited by locals and tourists alike. Mountaineers, for their part, can make these destinations adjuncts to hiking trips to Mt. Sembrano, Mt. Romelo, and other mountains that passes by the Manila East Road. Or they can also visit all three waterfalls as a relaxing daytrip.

Part 2: Hinulugang Taktak
Part 3: Daranak Falls
Part 4: Batlag Falls

OTHER WATERFALLS
Ugong Falls in Sitio Butig, Brgy. Bongbongan, Morong is another possibility; locals tell of yet-unexplored, yet-unpublished waterfalls. Interested groups are encouraged to explore these, and tell us about them.

ITINERARY
0900 Meet up; ETD for Antipolo, Rizal from Manila
1000 ETA Hinulugang Taktak (P8)
1100 ETD for Tanay, Rizal
1200 Lunch at Tanay, Rizal
1300 Proceed to Daranak Falls (P20)
1330 ETA Daranak Falls; picture-taking, swimming
1500 Proceed to Batlag Falls (P20)
1510 ETA Batlag Falls. Explore area; swimming
1600 Return to jump-off
1620 ETA jump-off; head back to Manila
1800 ETA Manila

SPECIAL CONCERNS
Even though this is a Level 0 climb (little or no trekking involved), standard precaution must still be applied. Waterfalls, due to water erosion, make the catchbasin and the vicinity a hazard due to the sharp rocks that may cause cuts and other injuries. Children must be supervised at all times. Otherwise, these are fairly ‘benign’ destinations with beautiful views and minimal effort.

TRIVIA
Other natural wonders in Rizal include the picturesque Talim Island, Calinawan Cave, and Daraitan River (said to be the cleanest river in Region IV). Truly, Rizal is a beautiful land, and its waterfalls highlight this fact in the most dramatic (and wettest) of fashions.

This article is the first of a series that will feature the waterfalls of provinces near Manila: Rizal, Laguna, Batangas, and Bulacan.

Related articles
Hinulugang Taktak, Daranak and Batlag Falls

Hinulugang Taktak

HINULUGANG TAKTAK
Antipolo City
Height: 12 meters
Jump off point: Hinulugang Taktak National Park, Brgy. Dela Paz, Antipolo City
Trail length: 5 minutes
Entrance fee: P8.00

This waterfall is made famous by a folk song that goes: Tayo na sa Antipolo / At doon, maligo tayo / Sa batis na kung tawagin / ... ay... ay... Hinulugang Taktak... tak... tak... tak... At the time this song was composed, the waterfall was an excellent excursion from Manila; the roads leading there were not yet built, and a whole hiking trip was required, very much like the Buruwisan Falls in Mt. Romelo of today. A five-minute walk via cemented paths from the highway will take you this famous waterfall. If you are using public transport, you may hire a tricycle to take you there.

The history of Hinulugang Talktak is as rich and colorful as that of Antipolo itself. Legend has it that sometime during the 16th century, the townsfolk of Antipolo were bothered by a church bell that produced harsh, unbearably loud sounds when rung during Angelus. They demanded that the local priest get rid of the bell . Bowing down to the clamor, the priest had it dropped in a nearby river. This explains the name, “Hinulugang Taktak” which means ‘where the bell was dropped’. As Antipolo became a religious site, the waterfalls also become a prominent destination for bathing and sightseeing. In the 1980s, it was declared a National Park by the government.

Today, unfortunately, the place is poorly maintained. Even as there are cottages and facilities, it is quite far from the distinction of being a National Park. Trash and sods are littered in the park, ruining what would’ve been a fantastic view. A faint smell of detergent permeates the air. Three years ago, the city government declared that a restoration will be done, but until now, the only thing moving in the park is the water. However, in spite of these, Hinulugang Taktak endures. Going there wouldn’t hurt because it is along the way and a visit can take as fast as 30 minutes. Hopefully, however, it would soon get its badly-needed facelift.

Part 1: The waterfalls of Rizal
Part 3: Daranak Falls
Part 4: Batlag Falls

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Hinulugang Taktak, Daranak and Batlag Falls

Daranak Falls

DARANAK FALLS
Tanay, Rizal
Height: 14 meters
Jump off point: Brgy. Plaza Aldea, Municipality of Tanay
Trail length: 5 minutes
Entrance fee: P20.00

Following the Manila East Road, a fork ensues: take the left turn – it is a fast lane to Laguna. From Antipolo, Tanay is a one-hour drive. The turning point is 3 kilometers from the start of Brgy. Plaza Aldea (a sign marks the spot). From there is another 0.5 km of driving; parts of the road are not cemented. There is ample parking space at the park entrance; you may also rent cottages for P150 each. A five-minute walk will take you to the much-cleaner, grander Daranak Falls. Like Hinulugang Taktak, it has a wide cascade, plunging into a catchbasin where you can swim (a rope attempts to create a boundary where to swim and where not to, but it is violated anyway). The waterfall is flanked with beautiful rivers and ponds which add to the paradise-like setting of the place. It has been the site of several TV commercials and pictorials in the past.

If without private transportation, you may hire a tricycle from the Tanay market to take you to Daranak Falls and back. Usual prices play around P300.

Part 1: The waterfalls of Rizal
Part 2: Hinulugang Taktak
Part 4: Batlag Falls

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Hinulugang Taktak, Daranak and Batlag Falls

Batlag Falls

BATLAG FALLS
Tanay, Rizal
Height: 10 meters
Jump off point: Brgy. Plaza Aldea, Municipality of Tanay
Trail length: 10 minutes
Entrance fee: P20.00

Further up from Daranak Falls is its sister upstream, Batlag Falls. Set in a dense forest, with nearby tables and cottages, this waterfall is set on a unique rock formation, with the water following its unpredictable contours. This departure from the conventional picture of a waterfall, coupled with its more serene setting, makes Batlag Falls a sight to behold.

To reach it: There is a sign that says “Batlag Falls” near the Daranak Falls pool. Take the cemented foothpath which will ascend into a makeshift gate, where another P20 will have to be paid. A forest will ensue, and two waterfalls, each with a catchbasin. The smaller one, on the left, has a veil-like cascade whereas the larger one, as mentioned, has an unusual configuration. You may swim in both pools although you have to be careful as the floor of the pool is likewise unusually shaped, with sharp rocks abruptly jutting out.

You can go even further up to the origin of Batlag Falls. Here the stream is clearer. Locals tell of waterfalls deeper in the mountains of Tanay and outlying towns.

Part 1: The waterfalls of Rizal
Part 2: Hinulugang Taktak
Part 3: Daranak Falls

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Hinulugang Taktak, Daranak and Batlag Falls

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mt. Asog (1,140+)

MT. ASOG (MT. IRIGA)
Camarines Sur
Major jump-offs: Sitio Ilian, Brgy. San Nicolas, Iriga City; Brgy. Cabatuan, Buhi
Elevation: 1,140 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: 1-2 days / 4 hours
Specs: Minor Climb, Difficulty 4/9, Trail Class 1-4

BACKGROUND
Mt. Asog, also known as Mt. Iriga, is an old volcano in the Bicol Region. Although it is outshined by the world-famous Mt. Mayon to the south and the higher, grander Mt. Isarog to the north, it possesses its own charms. For one, the views at the peaks (yes, plural) are breathtaking, offering a view of Mt. Mayon, Mt. Malinao, at Mt. Masaraga on the south; and even a distant Catanduanes southeast. Knife-edged slopes characterize the contour of this mountain, especially in the Buhi side.

Mt. Asog has a colorful history. It was named after a ancient datu (chieftain) of the Agtas named Asog, who reigned over the region. Sometimes it is also called Mt. Sumagang, which means "Mountain of the Rising Sun". In some lowland areas, the sun seemingly rises from the mountain itself. Being on the eastern side of Luzon, the sun rises majestically from the Pacific Ocean when viewed from its summit.

A climb to Mt. Asog is usually combined with a Mt. Isarog expedition; this maximizes a mountaineering trip to the Bicol region. From Naga, you can take a bus to Iriga City. Transport options vary depending on the trail you will take. The Ilian trail requires just a tricycle/jeep ride to the jump-off whereas you may proceed to the town of Buhi for the alternative trail via Brgy. Cabatuan. Both trails are suitable although the latter is a more extensive exploration, using the Esplana campsite as a 'base', from which you can explore the Dead Crater on the first day and the summit on the next. On your way down, you can use Brgy. Santiago which is closer to Iriga City; or Brgy. San Roque in Buhi.

The large width of the mountain gave rise to a number of trail variants; however, PinoyMountaineer has yet to hear of a traverse from the two popular jump-offs. An excellent sidetrip to Mt. Asog, especially if you're passing by the Buhi side is nearby Itbog Falls, in Brgy. Sta Cruz. This falls on the distal side of Lake Buhi, which requires minimal (30 minute) trekking, is set on a verdant location, and is a 'twin falls' much like Bunga Falls in Nagcarlan, Laguna.

The famous Lake Buhi is of course also a must-visit. You can take a boat ride around this lake and visit an island within, La Roca Encantada. Meanwhile, in the Iriga, there is Sabang Falls. Also, there is a tribal Aeta village in Ilian Hill i.e. within the jump-off barangay.

ITINERARIES
VIA THE ILIAN TRAIL
DAY 1
0600 Assembly at Central Bus Terminal; leave for Iriga City (P40)
0730 ETA jump-off point (Sitio Ilian, Brgy. San Nicolas)
0800 Start trek to Campsite (3-4hrs trek)
1100 ETA Campsite
1200 Reach summit (one of the peaks). 1140 MASL. Lunch.
1230 Start descent
1500 Back at jump-off point
1530 At Iriga City; take return bus to Naga / Manila

VIA the ESPLANA TRAIL
DAY 1
0600 Assembly at Central Bus Terminal; leave for Iriga City (P40)
0800 ETA Iriga City; depart for Buhi by jeep
0845 ETA Municipality of Buhi; register. Proceed to Brgy. Cabatuan
0900 Start trek. from Buhi to Esplana Base Camp
1100 ETA Esplana Base Camp
1130 Lunch/Rest/tent pitching
1300 Start of trek from basecamp to Dead Crater
1500 ETA at Dead Crater
1530 Leave Crater to ascend to Esplana Basecamp
1700 Back at the Esplana basecamp
1800 Dinner/socials

DAY 2
0530 Wake up Call / Breakfast
0700 Start Assault to Mt. Asog summit
1000 ETA Summit
1030 Start descent to Esplana Base camp
1200 Lunch at Esplana Base Camp
1300 Head for Brgy. Santiago
1400 Arrival and rest at Brgy Santiago
1630 Leave Brgy Santiago to Iriga City
1700 Return to Naga / Manila or continue to side trips.

SPECIAL CONCERNS
Most parts of Mt. Asog are exposed to the sun, and in the Bicol Region, what's hot is really hot (even in food). Prepare accordingly. Guides may be arranged in the jump-offs. Total trek time on either side is < style="font-weight: bold;">TRIVIA
Mt. Asog is classified as a stratovolcano. The nearby Lake Buhi was formed from Asog's last volcanic eruption on January 4, 1641. This same eruption is responsible for the abrupt, knife-edged landforms that characterize the mountain slopes.

Lake Buhi is famous for its tiny inhabitants, the sinarapan (Mistichtys luzonensis). Contrary to common belief, however, sinarapan is not the smallest fish known. Another goby, Pandaka pygmaea, also found only in the Philippines, is the smallest known vertebrate and, like its cousins in Lake Buhi, are an endangered species.

Thanks to Sir Erick Bautista of OLAY Mountaineers for the picture of Mt. Asog with Lake Buhi.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mt. Marami (405+)

MT. MARAMI
Maragondon, Cavite

Jump-off point: Brgy. Ramirez, Magallanes, Cavite
LLA: 405 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: 1-2 days / 4-6 hours
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-3

BACKGROUND
If Pico de Loro were a blockbuster movie, its sequel would be Mt. Marami, set in the same location and sharing the same characteristics. Matching Pico de Loro's rocky tower are two grand structures, surging up from the slopes: the summit of Mt. Marami, a massive, monumental composite of rocky pillars; and its guardian, the smaller Silyang Bato. The name 'Marami' is of local origin, and is attributed to the 'many rocks' that formed it. Subconsciously, this choice of name is profound, considering the sedimentary nature of the rocks found in Marami. Indeed, in recent geologic past, Mt. Marami below sea level. Silyang Bato, for its part, has a more modern etymology; according to the locals its original name is 'Nagbuo', and was christened with its present name by the earlier mountaineers.

The jump-off point to Mt. Marami is Brgy. Ramirez in Magallanes, Cavite. However, the summit and its environs are under the jurisdiction of Maragondon. It is a 3-hour drive from Manila; passing by the coastal road, onwards to Tanza, then Naic; from Naic a jeepney can take you to Magallanes. Brgy. Ramirez is just 10 minutes away from the town proper. The barangay fits the bill of a classic rural village. At the end of the road, marked with a water tank, is Brgy. Councilor Punongbayan's house. It doubles as the jump-off point. You can arrange for guides here.

The trail begins smoothly; although it poses concerns for both wet and dry seasons. It is severely muddy when wet; whereas sun exposure is notoriously acute when dry. Even so, the views are rewarding. The first landmark is 'Ilog na Kayrayag', a nearby river; next is Bangkaan River, which you have to pass thrice. In both rivers, you have the wade your way -- water is usually knee-deep though with heavy rains, they may swell to forbidding levels. The last river crossing is around 1.5 hr from starting point. A bamboo bridge was in place here, before it was wrecked in April 2007.

The ascent commences after Ilog Bangkaan; and here, there are two variants of the trail. One is the Nuestra Senora dela Paz variant, and the other is the Talahib variant. The former offers frontal views of both monuments (including a close-up of Silyang Bato), and is recommended over the Talahib, even as the latter has a more gradual ascent, and it is the one used by the locals. In both trails, the environment is comprised by woodlands and sections of grasslands.

THE NUESTRA SENORA TRAIL
This trail approaches Marami from the west. Thirty minutes into the Nuestra Senora, you'll encounter a nipa hut, called 'Kapihan' by some. Nearby is the last water source. An hour into the trail is Campsite 1, which offers majestic views of Silyang Bato and Mt. Marami. After one more hour of trekking, the bamboo forest will be reached. After an hour, Campsite 2 appears, in the southern portion of Mataas na Gulod. From here, you will enter another forested part to reach the base of Marami, where a campsite, the one most often used, is located. A ten-minute assault of the summit ensues.

THE TALAHIB TRAIL
This trail approaches Marami from the south. It uses a "saddle peak" - the slopes of Mataas na Gulod peak on the south side - instead of approaching Mt. Marami directly. Hence the ascent is more gradual. Instead of following the river to Nuestra Senora, you go straight, and after 1.5 hours, you'll encounter a nipa hut. Beyond this, you will see the two structures for the first time. The trails from here on are mostly 'talahib' grassland - the talahib can grow very tall and may obscure the trails. You may encounter grazing cows at this point. Then a campsite will be reached after over an hour, just below the 'Mataas na Gulod'. Afterwards, you will approach Mt. Marami via the bamboo forest. The trails here can get very confusing. After the forest, a clear-cut path to Mt. Marami emerges; and just five minutes of bouldering will take you to the summit of Mt. Marami.

At the summit, rocks, patched with unusual mosses, lichens, and ferns, comprise the scene. Winds are strong and weather is cool. Dramatic views ensue, affording a panorama of the Maragondon mountains, including Pico de Loro, Mt. Mariveles, and even Mt. Banahaw. Dramatic rock formations, set in this beautiful background, create an infinite number of photo opportunities.

ITINERARY
VIA THE NUESTRA SENORA TRAIL
Day 1
0500 ETD Manila. Take Saulog bus to Naic (P65)
0700 ETA Naic; take jeep to Magallanes (P30)
0800 ETA Magallanes. Register at police station. Take tricycle to Brgy. Ramirez
0900 ETA Brgy. Ramirez, at Kon. Punongbayan's house. Register. (P20)
0930 Start trek
1000 ETA Ilog na Kayrayag
1100 Cross three segments of Bangkaan River; proceed to Nuestra SeƱora de la Paz
1200 Have lunch at Kapihan Nipa hut. There's a nearby water source.
1300 Resume trek to Campsite 1
1400 ETA Campsite 1
1500 Reach Bamboo Forest
1600 ETA campsite at base of Mt. Marami summit.
1630 Assault the summit; explore
1800 Return to camp.
1830 Dinner / socials

Day 2
0530 Wake up / sunrise viewing
0630 Breakfast
0730 Break camp
0800 Start descent
1030 Back at Kapihan nipa hut
1230 Back at jump-off point at Brgy. Ramirez
1300 Leave for Municipal Hall, then Naic via jeep
1400 ETA Naic. Take bus back to Manila
1700 Back in Manila.

SPECIAL CONCERNS
Mt. Marami is notorious for its labyrinth of trails, waylaying many hikers. Even guides can get lost, as there are no "professional guides" in Brgy. Ramirez; you just ask locals to act as 'guides' for P200-300/day. It would be best to have some experienced hiker to guide your group as the trails are really confusing.

Wear protective clothing because some of the plants and grasses are irritating to the skin. Also, sun exposure is very strong so be guided accordingly. During the rainy season, the trails are muddy. However, even then the trails are benign. Only standard precautions are needed for most parts. However, Ilog na Kayrayag can swell to a point when it cannot be crossed. This could make you 'stranded' at one side of the river; you would have to wait for level to descend. This happens often during the rainy season; hence PinoyMountaineer recommends Mt. Marami as a summer destination. The views would be much greater then.

Kon. Felicio Punongbayan has an agreement with the municipality of Magallanes; you have to register at the police station first before going to the barangay. You may contact Kon. Punongbayan at +639213627008. Cellphone signal is sporadic, but strong in the summit and campsite areas.

TRIVIA
Wild boar meat is a favorite delicacy of the locals in the vicinity of Mt. Marami; wild boar roam the forests whereas deer have retreated to denser jungles.

Average trek time is 5 hours. Interestingly, the water in the rivers and streams are milky white. However, when the rivers swell, it becomes murky brown. This is also the time when locals would go to the banks and try to catch some fish.

Mataas na Gulod was a more prominent landmark before the "discovery" of Mt. Marami. Its elevation is probably around 300 MASL. Speaking of elevations, the circulating elevation of Mt. Marami at 840 MASL is a gross overestimate. It might probably be referring to feet instead of meters, as 280 MASL would be a valid estimate using satelite data. The 405 MASL used in this IT is from the author's own measurement.

WEATHER OUTLOOK: MAGALLANES, CAVITE



Many thanks to Sir Erick Bautista of OLAY Mountaineers for the pictures and the advice, When the author of this IT climbed Mt. Marami, the views were covered with fog.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mt. Cristobal (1,470+)

MT. CRISTOBAL
Dolores, Quezon; San Pablo and Nagcarlan, Laguna
Major jump-off: Brgy. Sta. Lucia, Dolores, Quezon
LLA: 14.064° N 121.428° E, 1470 MASL (600m gain)
Days required / Hours to summit: 1-2 days / 4-5 hours
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 4/9, Trail class 3

BACKGROUND
Countless legends surround Mt. Cristobal. With its summit taking on a characteristic 'W' shape, like that of stealth bomber, it is flanked by the grander Mt. Banahaw to its northeast, and together, they figure prominently in folklore. For instance, it is said that while Mt. Banahaw is a holy mountain, Mt. Cristobal is the "Devil's mountain", and the two mountains possess good and evil energies that cancel out. The primeval forests of Cristobal, decked with ferns and thorny plants, culminating in its ancient crater, seem to fit the bill of an eerie mountain. Furthermore, there are tales of voices or apparitions, such as the creature called 'Tumao', waylaying mountain climbers; many hiking groups have their own "ghost stories" to tell. Even locals believe these stories; some guides say they have amulets to counteract the negative energy.

These legends notwithstanding, there is no reason to be afraid of Mt. Cristobal. Its forests are pristine, with a splendid array of flora that include giant pakpaklawin, varicolored flowering plants, rattan, etc. Two types of civet cats, the musang and the animus, roam freely in the forests. There are also reptile species, including those locally known as the bubuli and the balikakas.

THE DOLORES TRAIL
The Dolores trail is by far the most common trail used to climb Mt. Cristobal. This trail commences just before you enter Brgy. Kinabuhayan (the jump-off to Mt. Banahaw). To your left, there is trail; you could see the range-like Mt. Cristobal looming to the west. A thirty-minute walk, through on-and-off cemented paths, would take you to house of the psychic, Montelibano. There are citrus fruits (dalanghita) along the way. From the Montelibano house, the forest ensues, taking 2-3 hours to cross. Take note of the ferns that demarcate the trail all throughout. Occasionally, there would be views of Tayabas Bay, with Mt. Daguldul to the west and, on a very clear day, Marinduque to the south. Due to the dense forest, however, panoramic views are rare. Further up the jungle, the western portion of the crater rim would have a striking resemblance with the Rockies of Mt. Maculot. The trail is pretty straightforward; there's only one confusing fork, marked by a big rock. Go straight to the right trail. At 1130 MASL, you will cross the cogon line.

At 1380 MASL, a small campsite will be found. From here the path leads to the crater, taking around 20 minutes. At the crater, the land is flat; oftentimes it has a misty appearance. A "Cristobal Lake" may be formed in the crater after heavy rains, creating a swamp-like appearance. There are at campsites here; able to accommodate several tents.

OTHER TRAILS
A traverse of Mt. Cristobal entails crossing over to the Nagcarlan side, north of the crater. You will reach a high point at the crater rim, and from there, it will be a descent through similar forested environs. The entire trail takes 3-4 hours to negotiate. It would be best to get a guide though, as the trail here is not that established.

Mt. Cristobal may also be accessed by Brgy. San Cristobal in San Pablo, forming the third and longest route to Cristobal. Be warned that the hunter trails here are quite confusing. The first parts would be grasslands or woodlands with sampinit (wild berries) growing; a dense forest follows - perhaps the densest in the whole mountain. There is an area called "Koronang Tinik" in which the whole place is surrounded by thorny trees, palms, and vines; branches of thorns stick out of the trail, and can only be removed by moving one step backward. Katmon trees, bearing edible fruits, also grow here. Ultimately, you will reach the crater rim at 1400 MASL.

Between the San. Cristobal (west) and Dolores (southeast) sides of the mountain is a wide cogon grassland; for many reasons, avoid this area when you are trailblazing/exploring Mt. Cristobal.

ITINERARY
DOLORES (STA. LUCIA) TRAIL

0500 ETD Manila
0700 ETA San Pablo City (bus:P120). Rent jeep to Brgy. Kinabuhayan
0800 ETA jump-off at Brgy. Kinabuhayan. Start trek
0840 ETA Montelibano house
1100 ETA crater rim; descend to crater
1130 ETA Crater.
1200 ETA Jones' Peak (highest point in trail)
1230 Start descent
1530 Back at the jump-off
1600 Head back to San Pablo
1700 ETA San Pablo
2000 ETA Manila

*take note that the normal IT for Cristobal takes 2 days; give allowances accordingly. this was an actual IT for a Cristobal daytrip the author did on Sept. 15, 2007

SPECIAL CONCERNS
The transportation to San Pablo City is serviced by Lucena-bound buses e.g. Green Star, JAM, Lucena Lines. There are stations in Buendia and Cubao. From San Pablo City, best options are private vehicles or a rented jeep, since public transport is irregular. There is no registration to Cristobal. In the main street of Brgy. Kinabuhayan, the same Banahaw guides can guide you to Mt. Cristobal, at P200~P300 per day. A contact number is +639152409138.

Cellphone signal is sporadic throughout the Cristobal trail in the Dolores and Nagcarlan sides; it is more stable in the San Pablo side. Take note that the crater can become a swamp in the rainy season; if so, two nearby small campsites can accommodate tents. Strong winds plus high elevation equals a cold and windy night when camping, so prepare accordingly.

Useful numbers include those of the Quezon Provincial Police Office, +63427102351, +63427103101. A nearby hospital is San Pablo City Doctors' Hospital, +63495627992.

TRIVIA
During coffee season, around January, the civet cats feed on coffee beans and excrete them undigested. These excreted beans litter the trails and are a sought-after delicacy, fetching thousands per kilo in Europe. The explanation is, because of the cats' acute sense of smell, they are able to select the best beans.

The Cristobal trails are one of the cleanest mountain trails. When asked why, our local guide said: "Because only mountaineers climb here." His words are a shining testimony of hikers' reputation; hopefully we will be able to live up to this name in the future, in Cristobal and elsewhere.

On a humorous endnote: The author first climbed Mt. Cristobal via Brgy. San Cristobal. What was supposed to be a daytrip become an overnight adventure. We spent the night in the inclined cogon slopes, 1275 MASL. When our companion woke up, his sandals were gone! The malignant spirits of Cristobal at play? Lacking provisions, he had to descent through the dense forests and woodlands – all the way to his home in San Pablo – barefoot!

© PinoyMountaineer 2007. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

About the author

Gideon Lasco MD is the sole author and writer of PinoyMountaineer. He is medical doctor, graduating from the INTARMED program of the UP College of Medicine in 2010. He is also currently taking up medical anthropology at the University of the Philippines and is an advocate with the Universal Health Care Study Group of the National Institutes of Health.

He grew up in Laguna, and graduated from the UP Rural High School in UP Los Banos.

He started climbing at a young age, with Mt. Makiling in his hometown of Los Banos as his first climb at age 8. His first major climbs were Mt. Banahaw and Mt. Pulag (2003) and at age of 19 Gideon did a solo expedition to climb Mt. Apo (2005). He joined the now-defunct UP Remondatos hiking club in 2005. He has climbed over 110 mountains in the Philippines, many of which he climbed from 2007-2012. In 2007, he became founding president of the UP Med Outdoor Society and launched PinoyMountaineer.com with the help of Ivan Henares of Ivan About Town.

View Gideon Lasco's list of Philippine mountains climbed

From 2008-2010, Gideon Lasco was contributor and later, columnist, in Manila Bulletin Travel which came out every fourth Thursday of each month. An avid traveller, he has visited most of the Philippines from Tawi-Tawi (2006) to Batanes (2008-09). He has also climbed over 30 mountains in 14 countries and four continents, including Mt. Fuji, Asahi-dake, and Yotei-zan in Japan, Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia, Jiri-san and Halla-san in South Korea, Gunung Lawu in Indonesia, Shivapuri in Nepal, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in Massachusetts, United States. He has scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa and one of the Seven Summits of the world. His current altitude record is Stok Kangri in the Indian Himalayas, at 6153 meters above sea level.


Aside from mountaineering and travel, Gideon loves to read world literature and considers National Artist F. Sionil Jose as his mentor. He was editor-in-chief of UP Rural High School's The Ruralite, associate editor of the UP Medics, and has written essays and articles that have been published in Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star. He was featured in Sunday Inquirer Magazine on March 2008 and has appeared in ANC's Shop Talk. In 2010, both Lonely Planet Philippines and Lonely Planet Southeast Asia guidebooks recommended PinoyMountaineer as the guide to trekking in the Philippines. As PinoyMountaineer, he was won awards or finalists' citations in the Philippines Blog Awards (2008-2009) and the Globe Tatt Awards (2011).

A former assistant scoutmaster, he is an Eagle Scout of the Laguna Council of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines. He was an officer of the Mu Sigma Phi, the multi-awarded, service-oriented fraternity in the UP College of Medicine of which he is a alumnus.

You may email Gideon at gideon@pinoymountaineer.com or visit his Facebook page.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mt. Parker/Lake Holon (1,400+)

LAKE HOLON (MT. PARKER)
T'boli, South Cotabato

Jump-off point: T’boli
LLA: 1400 MASL
Days required / Hours to Lake Holon: 1-2 days / 3-4 hours
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 4/9, Trail class 1-3

BACKGROUND
The most idyllic of lakes in the Philippines is Lake Holon (Lake Maughan) in T'boli, South Cotabato. Nestled on the mountains of South Cotabato, as the caldera lake of the famed Mt. Parker, it is so clean that you can drink water from it while swimming. At 1400 MASL, the water is also so cold, but even then, you will desire to swim for that rare moment when you will feel as if you were in some scene in “Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon”. Surrounded by mountaintops and a virgin forest, it is so secluded and peaceful. Occasionally, a T’boli boy would pass by, paddling his canoe which his father must have made from one of the wide tree trunks in the deep forest. He would try to catch the aquarium fish that dwell in the lake. Lake Holon is so secluded that you will not be surprised if a dinosaur sprung out of the forests.

Sacred to the T'boli tribe, there is a legend surrounding this lake. Once, a T’boli witch named Unsak led a band of followers deep in the highlands – she had prophesied that the end is near and they were chosen to ascend to Heaven. They came upon a lake and Unsak led them there – they jumped into it upon the promise of eternal life. No one has heard of them since. Some say they perished – and their cries are still heard every day, very early in the morning. Others say they indeed went straight to Heaven – and they named the lake ‘Holon’, which means ‘portal to heaven’. It is further asserted that the cleanliness of the lake is due to its magic – all the dirt and garbage are transported by the portal in the middle of the lake.

From the jump-off, the trails are wide and the soil is at times colored beige, perhaps due to the volcanic nature of Mt. Parker. You will pass by T’boli villages, and some of them will kindly offer you tuba (sugar cane) which you can nibble for its sucrose. After two hours you will enter the virgin forest (at 1280 MASL), with its resplendent array of lichens, mosses, ferns, trees, some over a hundred years old. You will trek through the forest until you reach its highest point, around 1540 MASL. There, you can already see Lake Holon. The descent takes around 20 minutes, and once there, you will behold the tranquil lake. It is a profound and wonderful experience.

ITINERARY
Only a special circumstance permitted the author’s visit to Lake Holon; PinoyMountaineer has yet to receive updates on how, if ever, this place can be accessed. Here was our itinerary:

0600 Assembly at Brgy. Edwards, T’boli. Arrange for habal-habal.
0630 ETD for jump-off point
0900 ETA jump-off point near elementary school
0930 Start trek
1100 Arrive at the forest (1280 MASL)
1200 Reach highest point (1540 MASL). Start descent to Lake Holon
1230 ETA Lake Holon; lunch. You may swim in the lake.
1430 Start return trip
1630 ETA jump-off point; start road
2000 ETA T’boli, South Cotabato (you may then proceed to Koronadal)

SPECIAL CONCERNS
The road to the jump-off is no longer being maintained, and as of the moment Lake Holon is virtually inaccessible. Armed groups are said to have returned there; indeed when the author visited Lake Holon in 2005, armed escorts were necessary, and only powerful motorcycles were able to bring us up to the jump-off. This trip, lasting two hours, is quite a challenge in itself! Riding motorcycles in Mindanao highlands is a memorable experience.

During the late 1990s up to 2003, there was an attempt to develop the site. Unfortunately, political strife doomed the establishment of Lake Holon as an ecotourism destination. To date, it remains a dream.

TRIVIA
T’boli comes from “Tao Bilil” which means “people of the hills”. The culture of the T’boli is so rich they have their own language, musical instruments, and way of life. They’ve also developed their art of weaving a cloth called T’nalak. The artists are called dreamweavers because they weave patterns which they dream about the night before. Slowly, the potential for ecotourism is being recognized by the people, and hopefully, the leaders would act and literally pave the way for people to reach the lake. It will be worth it: Lake Holon is truly one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines.

Rumored sightings of the Philippine tarsier around the area of Mt. Parker have recently been confirmed. Furthermore, two new species have been idenfitied in the site, further adding to the richness of the fauna and flora of T'boli ancestral lands.

Lake Holon was said to have been formed by a volcanic eruption on Jan. 4, 1641. At this time, the mountain was called Melibongoy. Centuries later, a n American surveyor pilot named Parker crashed in the mountain, and since then, the mountain has been named in his honor.

WEATHER OUTLOOK: KORONADAL, SOUTH COTABATO


The author would like to thank Dr. and Dra. Dagang, of T’boli, South Cotabato, for facilitating his trip to Lake Holon.

© PinoyMountaineer 2007. All rights reserved.

Mt. Sembrano (745+)

MT. SEMBRANO
Pililia, Rizal

Major jump-off: Brgy. Hall of Malaya, Pililla
LLA: 14°23'10"N; 121°21'57" E; 745 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: 1 day / 3-4 hours
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-3
Features: Views of Laguna Lake and Southern Tagalog mountains


The hiking advisory for Mt. Sembrano has been lifted as of August 2012.

BACKGROUND
At the helm of Jalajala peninsula, jutting into Laguna Lake like a frigate, is Mt. Sembrano in Pililla, Rizal. Once a haven of NPA insurgents, it is now a popular hiking destination. The trails are challenging for a daytrip, and takes 3-4 hours to climb. First there’ll be a wide rough road which leads to a rocky path. Locals, if you encounter them, would offer to get fresh coconut juice for P10. Characteristic of the earlier portions of the trail are the numerous mango trees; it is like an orchard. If it is mango season, you might just be tempted to pick a fruit or two. Thus the area is called Manggahan – and there is a campsite here, before the trails become moderately steep (~45 degrees).

Fiery red flowers bloom from the trees, and the view, facing Laguna Lake, emerges. Finally after 1.5-2 hours in the woodland there will be the grassland. North Peak, the first high point, will be reached in 10 minutes, and some hikers prefer to camp here. From North Peak, the South Peak (summit) is still 30 minutes away, but you can already see the outline of the trail.

There are no markers in the summit, and sometimes grass overgrowth may obstruct the view. Although the heat can overwhelm the senses, the view at the peak is scenic, and is best appreciated in the late afternoon. Laguna Lake, Talim Island, the Sierra Madre, the Banahaw Trilogy, Mt. Makiling, and even a distant Mt. Arayat comprise its illustrious list of sights.

On the way down, you may visit the Manggahan Falls. It is just a small falls but it is a welcome sight after a long trek. The five-minute trail going there is right of the campsite if you’re going down. Here you can shower at the lower parts, or get water in the higher sections of the falls. At the Brgy. Hall of Malaya, you may tidy up before going back to Manila. There and within the vicinity, you can ask around for shower rooms. On your trip back, the sun sets in Laguna Lake, and on clear days it is a nice sight to behold.

ITINERARY
0500 Assembly at EDSA Crossing. Take jeep to Tanay, Rizal
0700 ETA Tanay Rizal; take jeep to Pililla (there’s a queue of jeeps in the terminal)
0800 ETA Brgy. Malaya, Pililla (jump-off). Register.
0830 Start trek
0930 ETA Manggahan
1045 ETA North Peak
1130 ETA South Peak (summit). Lunch.
1230 Start descent.
1400 ETA Manggahan Falls.
1600 Back at jump-off, tidy up then take jeep back Tanay (or Manila)
2000 ETA Manila

SPECIAL CONCERNS
EDSA Crossing is a good meeting place because from there, you can take a jeepney to Tanay, or rent a jeepney to take you straight to the jump-off. Expect to pay P70~P85 for the entire one-way trip (August 2012). Registration is done at the Brgy. Hall of Malaya; there’s a fee of P20, and they give their cellphone number so that you may contact them in case of emergency. The Manggahan campsite caretakers collect an additional P10.

Sembrano, especially the summit area, is fully exposed to the sun; be advised that daytrips require extra energy. If climbing during the summer months, bring more water. If camping overnight, you may use Manggahan Falls as a water source. Cellphone signal is strong throughout the trail.

The absence of cover makes Sembrano, especially its summit, very hot at high noon, especially during summer months. Be advised accordingly. Also, be warned of kaingin activity during March-April. These human-caused brushfires pose a danger to hikers because they can engulf entire portions of the slopes in flames. Thus be extra cautious when climbing on these months.

MT. SEMBRANO PICTURES
The trail is lush with shrubs and forest trees - the vegetation is thinner than those of Makiling and Cristobal, but thicker than those of Mt. Maculot.

v
The beautiful grassy slopes of Mt. Sembrano with Laguna de Bay at the background.

Mt. Makiling is one of the prominent mountains visible from Mt. Sembrano. Note the beautiful colors at dusk.

At the summit (South Peak) of Mt. Sembrano, 745 MASL.

TRIVIA
Hunters used to frequent Mt. Sembrano but now their numbers dwindle. In Pakil, Laguna there is a trail that leads to Sembrano also, however, this is hardly documented and rarely used.

Although logistically difficult, a 'twin dayhikes' of Mt. Tagapo and Mt. Sembrano is possible. The blogger has done it twice - see Hiking matters #257 and #286.

Ownership of parts of Mt. Sembrano, it is said, belongs to a Fil-Chinese businessman. The etymology of “Sembrano” is unknown. If anyone knows where this name originated, kindly inform PinoyMountaineer.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mt. Pulag/ Ambangeg Trail (2,922+)


MT. PULAG (AMBANGEG TRAIL)
Bokod, Benguet
Major jump-off: Ambangeg Ranger Stn, Bokod, Benguet
LLA: 16°34'58"N 120°53'15"E, 2922 MASL (#3)
Days required / Hours to summit: 4-5 hours / 1-2 days
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-2
Trail system: Grand Cordillera Trail, Section 3
Features: Sea of clouds, dwarf bamboo slopes, pine forests
Last updated: February 25, 2014

BACKGROUND
Majestic Mt. Pulag is highest peak in Luzon and one of the most beautiful mountains in the Philippines. Its fabled views, of winding slopes of dwarf bamboo, and distant peaks surging like islets in the ocean of lofty clouds, comprise perhaps the most breathtaking sights in Philippine mountaineering. The native tribes say that Mt. Pulag is the "playground of the gods". In Luzon,
it is literally the closest to heaven that mountaineers can get!


The enchantment of Pulag, however, is much greater than just the clouds and dwarf bamboo. The entire experience is a great treat that makes the long travel time (10 hours from Manila to Baguio then Baguio to the jump-off) worth it. Whichever trail you choose - the easy Ambangeg, the challenging Akiki, the arduous Vizcaya trail, or the various traverse climbs - Pulag is a great adventure. Of course, many would opt to do different trails in one climb, the most common of which is the Akiki-Ambangeg combination.

When you climb Mt. Pulag, you would already start off on a high altitude. The cool weather is refreshing, but if you are not prepared the weather will become a great burden because temperatures have been recorded to reach zero or subzero levels. But with proper preparation, the cold weather is quite an experience. Pine trees are everywhere, and you will encounter villages of the Kankaney, Kalanguya, and Ibaloi tribes. Their children are very cute, and bear a resemblance to the other mountain peoples of the world. Their main livelihood is agriculture; you will pass through sloped plots of cabbages, lettuce, potataos, and other crops that ultimately find their way in Baguio's famed markets. Bear in mind that the region is the 'Salad Bowl' of the Philippines.

THE TRAILS OF MT. PULAG
The map illustrates the approximate locations of each trail, as well as its path, in relation with the summit of Mt. Pulag. The Ambangeg Trail is discussed in this main article. Visit also the Akiki Trail and the Tawangan Trail.

THE AMBANGEG TRAIL
It is very convenient to make arrangements for jeepneys from Baguio to take you directly to the Badabak Ranger Station. This significantly cuts climbing time, and it makes possible a 2-day Pulag climb. If you arrive early in the morning in Baguio, you can take the jeep and be at the Ranger Station by lunchtime.

From the Ranger Station to the summit is around 8 kms. First you will pass by wide trails, surrounded by pine trees and picturesque landscape. After awhile, you will enter the montane forest, with its grand spectrum of flora - from the pink flowers known locally as ayusep (see photo) and various mosses to the archaic, bonsai-shaped trees. The next landmark in the middle of the mossy forest is Camp 1, marked by a hut.

In the entirety of the trek to the grassland, there's only one moderately steep part, taking just a few hundred steps. Actually the trail is very relaxing and enjoyable, with the cool weather and the encounter of various faces of the mountain (pine trees, montane forest, grassland). At the montane forest, you will catch the first glimpse of the Pulag summit, which has a hue of golden brown.

There are a few campsites to choose from: Camp 1 is still within the mossy forest area; in Camp 2 the grassland is just beginning (2600+ MASL). There is also another campsite which goes beyond the summit, on the way to the Akiki trail. This is the saddle campsite (Camp 3) and is preferred by those who want close proximity to the summit. Camp 2 is the most advisable campsite, with a close water source, latrines, nice views, and more manageable weather conditions. However, the saddle campsite, being very the near the summit, takes you as close to the sky as possible. Either way, brace yourself! Temperatures can really plummet to near-freezing levels.

Ranger Station to Campsite 2 takes around 3 hours. From this camp, the summit assault is typically done either late afternoon (for the sunset) and very early morning (for the sunrise). The trail beyond this point is offers unparalleled grassland landscapes, with the grand array of the Cordillera mountains as backdrop. The dwarf bamboo grass that envelope the slopes is a wondrous presence. After an hour of trekking, you will finally reach the summit, that is, the highest point in Luzon.

The summit views of Pulag are fabled and legendary. On a blessed time, seas of clouds form beneath, covering everything but the highest points in the Cordilleras: Mt. Amuyao rises very distinctly northeast, then the twin Mts. Kapiligan and Napulauan (NNE). The picture on the left shows the blogger's hands at Amuyao (L) and Napulauan (R). Mt. Tabayoc (N) and Pulag is separated by Mt. Panotoan (N). Then moving your eyes westward, you will see the the mountains of Tenglawan and Kibungan (NW), and you will also appreciate Mt. Timbak (WNW), said to be the Luzon's third highest point. The range from which Mt. Timbak rises is one where the Halsema highroad, the Philippines' highest highway, passes. In this range one can also see Mt. Pawoi (W). Beyond this, further west, is already the Ilocos region. Baguio City and Mt. Sto. Tomas continue the visual circle (WSW) and if the sea of clouds is lower than 2100 MASL, you can also see Mt. Ugu (S). These are objective sights to see, but the subjective feeling of being there, above the clouds, is hard to put in words. How beautiful exactly? One has to go to Pulag in order to find out.

MT.  PULAG VIA AMBANGEG ITINERARY

Note: It is also possible to take regular public transport to the Visitors' Center but it will be difficult to manage a two-day itinerary since the bus would arrive in the afternoon and this would still necessitate taking a motorcycle to the Ranger Station. However, this is very possible with a three-day itinerary.

Day 0
2300 Take bus to Baguio City

Day 1
0500 ETA Baguio City. Breakfast then proceed to jeepney terminal/chartered jeep.
0700 Take chartered jeepney to Ambangeg.
1000 ETA Visitors' Center. Registration / Orientation
1130 Set out for Ranger Station
1230 ETA and lunch at Ranger.
1300 Start trek
1430 ETA Camp 1
1600 ETA Camp 2. Set up camp
1800 Dinner at campsite; socials

Day 2
0430 Early morning trek to summit for sunrise
0545 Arrival at summit just in time for sunrise
0700 Start descent from summit
0800 Back at Camp 2; heavy breakfast
0900 Decamp; start descent to Ranger Station
1130 Back at Ranger; Settle guide fees; jeepney descent
1230 Back at Visitors' Center; tidy up and log out
1400 Head back to Baguio City
1700 ETA Baguio City. Dinner.
1900 Head back to Manila
0200 Back in Manila

PRACTICALITIES: MT. PULAG VIA AMBANGEG TRAIL
General
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Transportation

Public (1) Bus, Cubao or Pasay to Baguio City [P460, 6-7 hours]
(2) Rented jeep to Ranger Station [P8000 for up to 18 persons, 3-4 hours] or public bus in Dangwa, Baguio City i.e. A-Liner [P120/person, 4-5 hours] then habal-habal to Ranger Stn.
Private: NLEX>SCTEX>TPLEX>Marcos Highway or Kennon Road>Baguio City then take road to Kabayan via Itogon. For 4x4 vehicles it may be possible to take vehicle up to Ranger Station but sometimes road conditions make the Visitors Center inaccessible. Check with DENR first.   
Registration
Mandatory orientation and registration at the Visitor's Center, total fees P225/person.
Guides are secured at the Ranger Station; a system is in place and no prior communication is required. The rate is P500/guide for 1-5 persons, and P100 for each addition person thereafter. The maximum number of persons/guide is 10 (P1000) but with 11 persons, the cost is just (P1100). Porters may also be secured at P300/day.
DENR-PASU (Mereng) - 09196315402
Note: The DENR-PASU has requested PinoyMountaineer not to post numbers of transportation contacts that are not accredited with them.
Disclaimer: contact numbers are listed for information purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement of any services. 
Campsites
Grassland campsite (Camp II) and Saddle campsite (Camp III)
Water sources
About 100 meters from Camp II; none in Camp III
Cellphone signal
May be weak in Camp II, sporadic but present in summit
River crossings
None
Roped segments
None
None
None
Rattan
None
Hiking notes 
The temperature in Mt. Pulag can reach zero or subzero levels especially from December to February; hikers should be prepared for cold weather throughout the year. 
Sidetrips
Mt. Tabayoc and the Four Lakes in the far side of the park, other Cordillera peaks. 
Alternate trails
To avoid the crowds, check out the Akiki,  TawanganAmbaguio or the Ugo-Pulag trails of Mt. Pulag.
Theoretically yes (3-5 hours to summit; 2-3 hours down) but logistically difficult if coming from Baguio. 
DIY 2000-3000
Guided tours 3800 and up
Note: For more information about small groups and solo hikes to Mt. Pulag, visit the Mt. Pulag Do-It-Yourself Guide in PinoyMountaineer

ADDITIONAL NOTES
Scheduling. Mt. Pulag is accessible throughout the year, but it is much more advisable to climb it during the early months of the year, for many reasons. Bad weather, for instance, may not allow the jeep to reach the Ranger Station. Also, clouds may very well obscure the fabled Pulag views, which may lead to disappointment. Moreover, rainy conditions would make it even colder. Thus the advisable time frame for Pulag is between December-early May. However, Pulag may be climbed year round and if you're lucky you can have nice weather even in the so-called typhoon months of June to September.

Facilities. You can take a bath or rinse either at the Ranger Station or the Visitors' Center. There are latrines in Camp 2, and a water source is also present in the mossy forest just before the grassland. Cellphone signal exists in many parts of the trail, including the ranger station, the campsite, and the summit. Tents (limited availability) may also be rented from the park.

Environmental concerns. There are growing concerns about the sustainability of the ecotourism activities in Mt. Pulag, with many pointing out that the current influx of weekend hikers exceed the carrying capacity of the mountain. To reduce impact on Mt. Pulag, PinoyMountaineer suggests avoiding camping in the weekends or peak seasons such as the Holy Week, or minimizing group number to 15 or fewer (with 30 as upper limit). This suggestion is also for the hikers' sake: you may not enjoy a campsite full of people. For serious hikers, the less-trodden Akiki, Tawangan, Ambaguio trail, or the Ugo-Pulag Traverse (as part of the proposed Grand Cordillera Trail) may be more rewarding encounters with the outdoors. Moreover, PinoyMountaineer does not advice would-be visitors of Mt. Pulag to patronize organizers who do not regulate their number of participants.

TRIVIA
There used to be a dog named Chica which guides mountaineers up the mountain. In 2003, when the blogger first climbed Mt. Pulag, Chica followed all the way to the summit. It was a chillingly cold November. For full story, see the feature on Chica.

Parts of Mt. Pulag are claimed as "ancestral domains" of the different tribes, such as the Kankaney, Ibaloi, and Kalanguya tribes. The guides and porters belong to these indigenous communities.

MT. PULAG WEATHER FORECAST


MT. PULAG TRAILS AND ITINERARIES
Ambangeg | Akiki | Tawangan | Ambaguio | Ugo-Pulag (Kayapa) | Luzon 3-2-1

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