Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mt. Mandalagan/Tinagong Dagat, Marapara Peak, Solfatara (1,683+)


MT. MANDALAGAN
Silay City, Negros Occidental
Major jumpoff: 'Hospital', Brgy. Patag, Silay City
Alternate jumpoff: Sitio Campuestohan, Brgy. Cabatangan, Talisay
LLA: 1683 MASL (MP); 1450 MASL (TD)
Hours to destination / Days required: 4-6h (MP), 3-5h (TD) / 1-3d
Specs: Major climb, Difficulty 4/9 (TD), 7/9 (all), Trail class 1-4
Features: Sulfur vents, crater lakes, tropical rainforest
Article history: Created August 21, 2012

BACKGROUND
Completing the trilogy of Negros mountains, alongside Mt. Kanlaon and Mt. Talinis, is the crown jewel of the North Negros Forest Reserve, Mt. Mandalagan in Silay City. Richly forested, with majestic almaciga trees, and replete with rivers, waterfalls, and hidden lakes, Mt. Mandalagan is classified by PHIVOLCS as a 'potentially active volcano', and indeed, its most prominent and unique features are those wrought by volcanic activity.

The 2-km wide plateau and occasional lagoon, Tinagong Dagat, is said to be its main crater; it can be likened to Margaha Valley in Mt. Kanlaon. Its name means 'hidden sea', owing to what locals describe as a seemingly-marine behavior of its waters rising and waning, as if it had high and low tides. During the rainy season, it is possible to see Tinagong Dagat as a lagoon. Set at a respectable altitude of 1450 MASL, this is the major attraction of Mt. Mandalagan, and the main destination in a regular two-day trek up the mountain.

Two hours away from Tinagong Dagat to the east, Solfatara (also called 'Solfotara') is a field of fumaroles and mud pools whose name derives from the Latin 'sulpha terra' which means 'land of sulfur'. It is also known as 'Sulfur dako' (Big Sulfur) to distinguish it from another, smaller field known as 'Sulfur gamay' (Small Sulfur), which is also accessible via a lesser-known trail going to Campuestohan in Talisay, Negros Occidental.

As for peakbaggers, the highest reachable peak in the trail system is the Marapara Peak, 1683 MASL. It is also accessible from Brgy. Patag, requiring 4-6 hours in a southward direction; the final assault is said to involve steep sections through dense forests. From Marapara Peak, a westward descent can lead to Campuestohan, Talisay City, although it is also possible to continue south to connect to Tinagong Dagat (specific details of these trails are still lacking). Marapara Peak has a small flat area where a few tents can fit, but unlike the other major features highlighted above, there are no water sources in Marapara Peak.

The three destinations and the exit points can be combined, creating countless permutations that can require 1-3 days of trekking. Since it is the loveliest campsite of them all, Tinagong Dagat can be the base for exploring Solfatara, then back to Brgy. Patag in a two-day trek. On the other hand, that same trek can end up in Marapara Peak on the second night, allowing for another day to exit to Talisay City in a three-day trek. Finally, guides say that from Tinagong Dagat, there is a long trail that leads to Murcia, which leaves open the possibility of a connection to Kanlaon -- a week-long trek through North to Central Negros! The possibilities are truly endless!

ITINERARIES

Tinagong Dagat Dayhike
(private transpo going up, public going down)

0600 Take bus from Bacolod to Silay
0700 ETA Silay City. Take rented jeep to jumpoff
0815 ETA jumpoff.
0830 Start trekking
1100 ETA 'Alimatok campsite'
1200 ETA Tinagong Dagat (1450m), lunch
1300 Start descent
1600 Back at jumpoff. Take jeep back to Silay
1730 ETA Silay City
1900 ETA Bacolod

Tinagong Dagat and Solfatara (2D/1N)
(public transpo both ways)

Day 1
0730 Take bus from Bacolod to Silay
0830 ETA Silay City
0900 Take first trip to H
1000 ETA Hospital; start trek
1230 ETA Alimatok campsite; Lunch
1430 Arrival at Tinagong Dagat.
1700 ETA Solfatara. Set up camp.
1800 Dinner / socials

Day 2
0500 Wake up call
0600 Breakfast / break camp
0700 Head back to Tinagong Dagat
0930 ETA Tinagong Dagat
1000 Proceed back to jumpoff
1200 Lunch at Alimatok campsite
1430 Back at jumpoff
1500 Swim at 'Hospital' pool / Tidy up
1600 Take jeep back to Silay
1730 ETA Silay City
1900 ETA Bacolod

Tinagong Dagat, Solfatara & Marapara Peak (3D/2N)
(Traverse to Talisay: Note: Day 3 is based on secondary accounts and needs to be verified. It is best to consult with your guides if this is feasible given weather conditions. It is also theoretically possible to compress a MP-TD-ST in two days, if you are able to start early on both days)

Day 1
0730 Take bus from Bacolod to Silay
0830 ETA Silay City
0900 Take first trip to H
1000 ETA Hospital; start trek
1200 ETA Alimatok campsite; Lunch
1430 Arrival at Tinagong Dagat.
1700 ETA Solfatara. Set up camp.
1800 Dinner / socials

Day 2
0500 Wake up call
0600 Breakfast / break camp
0700 Head back to Tinagong Dagat
1000 ETA Tinagong Dagat
1030 Proceed to Marapara Peak
1200 Lunch along the way
1500 ETA Marapara Peak; Set up camp
1800 Dinner / socials

Day 3
0500 Wake up call
0600 Breakfast / break camp
0700 Proceed to Brgy., Talisay City
1000 ETA Sulfur Gamay
1400 ETA Sitio Campuestohan,
1430 Head to Talisay proper
1530 ETA Talisay
1600 Take jeep to Bacolod
1700 ETA Bacolod

PRACTICALITIES
Getting there. The nearest airport is the New Bacolod Silay Airport. Getting to Brgy. Patag is quite challenging. From Silay City, there are jeepneys to go up to the 'Hospital' (P45 as of August 2012) but the trips are irregular, starting at 0900H and terminating at 1500-1600H. For bigger groups, it also possible to charter a jeepney at P1200 one-way from Silay City. Private transportation is a very good option, but take note that the rough roads going up make this attractive only for SUVs and pick-ups.

Permits and guides. Information is conflicting regarding the need to secure a mayor's permit via the Silay City Tourism Office. According to the Tourism Office, it is mandatory, but the same office told me on a separate occasion that the permit is only needed if you are doing an overnight trek. On the other hand, local authorities at Brgy. Patag say that the permit is just needed for groups of 10 or more people. The safest bet is to just secure the permits anyway -- but take note that the Office is closed during weekends and holidays. You can reach them at +63(34)495-5553.

Guides can be secured for P500/day, and I was told that it is their policy that you must get at least two guides for 1-10 hikers, and another guide for every 5 hikers. The guides are very masterful when it comes to Tinagong Dagat, but they may not be that experienced with Marapara Peak and other destinations, so it is best to explain your itinerary in great detail prior to the trek.

Facilities. Contact Ms. Donna (+639091447528) to reserve rooms or dormitory beds at the 'Hospital'. This is a very reasonable option, with price per head ranging from just P100-200. It is also possible to use the swimming pool, showers, and restrooms at the 'Hospital'. Moreover, there are other resorts in the area.

Hiking notes. Alimatok (limatik) are present especially within the Alimatok campsite area (hence the name). There are also many bee hives, and when locals gather honey, beware of hostile bee swarms!

Camping notes. There are campsites in Tinagong Dagat, which in summer can fit 'hundreds of tents' though I shudder at the thought of it! A smaller campsite is available near the Solfatara; Marapara Peak is also a small campsite. Cellphone signal is now available in Tinagong Dagat or Solfatara; but it is available in Alimatok and Marapara campsites, as well as some parts of the trail.

MT. MANDALAGAN PICTURES

At Alimatok campsite, right at the heart of Mt. Mandalagan's tropical rain forests.

Swamplands precede the approach to Tinagong Dagat.

At Tinagong Dagat, one of the highlights of Mt. Mandalagan.

At the highest point in the trail, with mountaineers from Negros.

TRIVIA
Parts of aircraft and other military hardware have been reported within Mt. Mandalagan. These were attributed to the Japanese presence during World War II, and there are rumors that treasure might be hidden in the mountain.

This first article was written in Victorias City, Negros Occidental in August 21, 2012, a day after the blogger's hike up Tinagong Dagat (see Hiking matters #284).

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