ANTIPOLO, RIZAL – After spending the morning hiking up Mt. Tagapo (see Hiking matters #126) and taking the pumpboat to and from Talim Island, we proceeded to Brgy. Malaya, Pililla, Rizal to do a late afternoon ascent of Mt. Sembrano. My first and last time in Sembrano was with the UP Med Outdoor Society way back in March 2007. My memories of the mountain were marred by the extreme heat on its exposed grassland slopes.
Since then, I have avoided the mountain, out of security concerns enunciated in a series of “Hiking advisories” that we have issued from 2009 onwards. Mt. Sembrano has gained notoriety for the numerous reports of theft and holdups that have taken place on its campsites and trails. One of my objectives in the trip was to see for myself what the present situation is.
From Binangonan to the the Brgy. Hall of Malaya, Pililla Rizal took less than an hour; we simply passed by the Manila East Road, and then turned right after the Flying V gas station past the town proper of Pililla. At the barangay hall where we paid P20 each, the tanods confidently asserted that it is now safe to hike up Sembrano, they dismissed the security concerns as slander even though they conceded that several incidents did happen in the past.
We started trekking at 1610H – a very late hour to commence a dayhike, but a very reasonable time considering how we were ‘oven-baked’ by the Tagapo hike. My experiences with mountains that are notorious for being scorching hot tell me that they are best hiked early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. With this strategy, we saw Cinco Picos in entirely new light, literally.
By 1650H we were at the Manggahan campsite, where we met some hikers who were about to finish their dayhike. There, Melvin and wife – the caretakers in the area – are now collecting a P10 ‘entrance fee’ from hikers; I guess we have no choice but to pay, since the area is private property. I have mixed feelings about locals collecting fees without any receipts, but the reality in the Philippines is that mountains are unregulated, and ‘fees’, unofficial or official, do not necessarily translate to environmental conservation or improved security.
Talking to the locals, I have the sense that they did not enjoy the talk about thieves and holduppers lurking around; they seem quite confident in the fact that the juvenile thief has already been caught, and the trail is now very safe. I would have wanted to probe deeper into the issue, but we were pressed for time; Neither did we have time for buko juice or refreshments; nor for a sidetrip to the waterfalls, as we wanted to be at the summit while the sun was still up.
Fortunately, by 1740H we were already at the grassland. Instead of the scorching hot, windless atmosphere in Tagapo several hours before, we enjoyed refreshing winds there, and I basked at the sight of Mt. Tagapo itself, and Mt. Makiling, Mt. Malipunyo, as well as the peaks of the Sierra Madre. Upon arrival at the grassland, hikers usually conclude that the trek is almost finished, but actually, the trek up to the ‘true summit’ can still be taxing. The heat of the sun can make this almost unbearable, but in our case, the breezes practically kept me going.
By 1805H, almost two hours after we started trekking, we were at the summit of Mt. Sembrano! There was a sense of fulfillment in having hurdled both the physical challenge of hiking up two mountains in one day amid the heat, as well as the logistical challenge of driving across Rizal and even taking two boat rides. Thank you to the youths from Taguig I met at the summit, who kindly took our summit photos!
The night trek back to the trailhead was pleasant; by the time we had left the grassland, the city lights of Metro Manila had been turned on, creating a spectacular scene. We did not encounter any security problems, even if we nighttrekked. I would still advise hikers to be careful, but I think the situation has improved. I can also say that having done this climb, I now have a better appreciation of Sembrano. By 2030H we were heading back to Manila and I am now on our van as we eagerly await a stop for dinner. Surely, a good meal is awaiting us!
PS: This is the third ‘twin dayhike’ that I have done and documented in the past several months, the first two being Talamitam and Batulao and Maculot Manabu Peak. What’s next?
TWIN DAYHIKES: TWO CLIMBS IN ONE DAY
Maculot and Manabu Peak (June 30, 2012) 279
Tagapo and Sembrano (September 1, 2012) 285 286