Hiking matters #419: Cleopatra’s Needle in Palawan Day 1 – The endless crossings of Tanabag River

PUERTO PRINCESA – I’m back in Puerto Princesa after a great adventure up Cleopatra’s Needle, the highest mountain in Puerto Princesa and the third highest in Palawan! I’ve always dreamed of climbing this mountain, and when my friends at the Center for Sustainability invited me to tag along one of their documentation hikes, I heartily agreed, accompanied by my good friend Journeying James, who also happened to be in Palawan.

The Center for Sustainability, among other environmental groups, has been pushing for Cleopatra’s Needle to be declared a protected area (see the Inquirer article here). In keeping with the wishes of the Batak tribe – whose population has dwindled to about 200 – they wish to promote ecotourism in the mountain as a way of both raising awareness about the mountain’s beauty and providing an alternative livelihood to the tribesmen. I thought one way I could help was to document the hike and share it with our fellow mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts.

The rest of the group had already gone ahead of us the day before with a more relaxed five-day itinerary; our plan was to catch up with them at the end of our first day or on the second day. James suggested that we just motorbike our way to the trailhead, 64 kilometres north of Puerto Princesa City proper, in Brgy. Tanabag. We left Puerto Princesa at 0715H and arrived at around 0900H. When we reached the “Palay store before the bridge”, our guide Leonardo, a 64-year old Batak, was waiting for us.

The day started with good weather, and the knee-deep rivers were easy to cross. With clear waters and nice stretches of woodland between each crossing, the trek was pleasant: we saw Palawan hornbills and other birds along the way. We reached Kalawkasan, the Batak village, after 80 minutes of trekking. There, we met Kyra Hoenevaars, the executive director of the Center for Sustainability, who was on her way down, having joined the group for only one night. We also had some snacks there while waiting for Tatay Leonardo to get ready with his provisions for the trek.

We resumed the trek at 1100H, and so did the river crossings. One highlight of our day was ‘Pulang Bato‘ – a section of the river where the rocks were all red! At this point, the sun was still up and the waters continued to be pleasant. However, rain showers came past noontime and the river crossings got trickier – still manageable but requiring greater caution in choosing which route to take. Tatay Leonardo, 64 years old, had seen the river in all its faces and we followed his lead.

It came to a point, however, that the raging river got too much for us, even as the rain continued unabated. Confronted with murky, chest-deep waters, we had no choice but to stop the trek, bivouac near the river, and just wait till the next morning, when (hopefully) the waters would have subsided. Meanwhile, I prepared a hearty dinner of salmon and couscous and set the alarm to 0300H. With so many rivers to cross and over a thousand meters of altitude to gain, the next day promised to be tough.

Hiking matters #419: Endless crossings of Tanabag River
Hiking matters #420: Up the summit campsite
Hiking matters #421: The beautiful summit and the long descent
Hiking matters #422: Batak village and back home

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