TIRAD PASS TRAVERSE – SAGADA
Gregorio del Pilar, Ilocos Sur
Entry point: Poblacion, Gregorio del Pilar
Exit point: Polacion, Quirino, Ilocos Sur
LLA: N 17.08.43.5; E 120.38.02.4; 1312 MASL (HP)
Days / hours required: 2 days / 2 hours (shrine); 8 hours (traverse)
Specs: Major climb, Difficulty 5/9, Trail class 1-2, Historical trail
Tirad Pass is one of the most memorable places in Philippine history. The year was 1899. In just over a year – the First Philippine Republic was established and independence proclaimed against the Spanish Empire against all odds – only to be confronted by another colonial power – the United States of America.
With just a month bfore the turn of the century, Aguinaldo and his men were in retreat. They had gone northward, and finding themselves in Ilocos Sur, they had no choice but to escape to the mountainous Cordilleras for refuge. However, with the Americans fast gaining on them, the heavy task of repulsing the “Texas Regiment” fell upon one of the youngest generals of the Philippine Republic, Gregorio del Pilar. His mission was not victory; it was enough that he would buy enough time for Aguinaldo to escape — at the price of his own life.
Historians and locals alike recall the heroic: On the fateful day of December 2nd, 1899; the five-hour melee took place in the lonely mountain pass, described by American war correspondents as the “battle above the clouds”. In a twist of events reminiscent of the Spartan defense of Thermopylae, a local named Januario Galut betrayed the defenders and showed to the enemy an alternative trail – enabling the Americans to circumvent the Filipino defenses. At the end of this “Lonely Trail”, a sniper perched himself on a hill (now known as the Sniper’s Knoll) and from there, he shot the 24-year old del Pilar, killing him. All but eight of his sixty men suffered the same fate – death – but Aguinaldo and the hope of freedom has been saved.
The marauding Americans looted the personal effects, leaving all “but his glory” . In his diary was found these words: “I am overwhelmed by the fate that awaits me and my men, but I am honored to wdie for my country.” Thus were the words in the final night of the general’s life; and he wrote thus in Illengan Cave – “the cave of rest” – until now still offering refuge to passing travellers and mountaineers.
The Tirad Pass Traverse – Sagada cross country Trail is one of the “Great Cordillera Traverses”; and it was a favorite by the earlier generations of mountaineers. During the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of mountaineers took the full trail, and different clubs had their own itineraries. However, for unknown reasons the trail has lost its popularity. Yet, because the trail is continually used by the locals, it is still surprisingly well-established, and as of Dec. 2008 when the blogger took the Tirad Pass trail, it is still in excellent condition.
Tirad Pass Traverse – Sagada
Day 1: GDP -> Marker
0300 From Pasay or Cubao, take bus to Candon, Ilocos Sur
1030 ETA Candon. Lunch, purchase supplies
1300 Take jeep to Gregorio del Pilar (P75)
1500 ETA GDP; courtesy call, register
1530 Start ascent via Tirad Pass
1730 Arrival at Gregorio del Pilar Shrine; set up camp
1800 Sunset viewing
1900 Dinner / socials
Day 2: Shrine -> Quirino
0700 Breakfast / Break camp
0800 Start traverse to Quirino
1000 ETA Long’s campsite (boundary between Quirino and GDP)
1500 Arrival at Quirino Poblacion
1600 Set up camp at elementary school
1800 Dinner / socials
Day 3: Quirino -> Besao -> Sagada
0700 Breakfast / Break camp
0800 Head to Besao
1300 ETA Besao; lunch; take jeep to Sagada
1500 ETA Sagada; take lodging
1800 Dinner in any of Sagada’s restaurants
Day 4: Sagada Exploration
0800 Explore Bomod-ok Waterfalls
1300 Explore Sumaguing Cave
Day 5: Mt. Ampacao
0700 Head early for Mt. Ampacao
0900 ETA Mt. Ampacao summit
1200 Final lunch in Sagada
1300 Take jeep to Bontoc
1400 ETA Bontoc
1600 Take Cable Bus Tours to Manila
0200 ETA Manila
*This is an interruptible itinerary; you may choose to terminate the trek in any day with the following entry points: Day 2 (1600 Take rented jeepney to Candon 1900 ETA Candon; head back to Manila); Day 3 (0700 Take regular jeepney to San Fernando, La Union 1100 ETA La Union; lunch; head back to Manila) Day 4 (1300 Take bus to Bontoc or Banaue; 1600; From Bontoc or Banaue; take bus to Manila)
Transportation. It is possible to rent a jeepney from Candon to GDP or vice versa, but the rental cost is quite expensive (P1800/way); it is even more expensive to rent a jeepney from Quirino to Candon. The much cheaper alternative, especially for small groups, is to adjust the itinerary according to the regular jeepney trips. Jeepneys leave Candon to GDP at around 1300H daily, and they return to GDP at 0700H, daily as well (P75 either way). From Quirino, there are trips to San Fernando, La Union; Candon; and nearby towns: they likewise leave early in the morning.
Logistics. It is best to coordinate your trip first with the tourism officer of GDP, Mr. Macario Burgos. He may be contacted at +639265331076. There is a registration fee of P25/person for the park. Guides may be offered to you but they are actually not needed as the Tirad Pass trail is very easy to follow.
Cellphone signal is present in most parts of the trail. The last water source in GDP is just 15 minutes upstream from the shrine – there is a waterless hiatus of 4-5 hours before reaching the first water source in Quirino
The blogger’s climb in Tirad Pass is narrated in Hiking Matters #36.