Continued from Hiking matters #419: Very early the next day, we broke camp and by 0340H we were starting the trek again. For a good three hours, we were still crossing more than a dozen sections of river, and though the waters have subsided, it was still trickier and at times I would go tandem walking with James. By 0640H, Tatay Leonardo declared: “Tapos na ang ilog!” (Done with the rivers!) and we rewarded ourselves with breakfast of fish and bread.
We entered the jungle at 0700H. Starting at only 300 MASL, we had over a thousand meters to gain to even reach the summit campsite so I knew that it will not be an easy task. However, the fact the trail was relatively straightforward (though there are some ups-and-downs too) and relatively well-established (though sometimes it feels like Mantalingajan) reassured me. So too did the sight of woodpeckers, Palawan tits, and other fascinating fauna, not to mention the majestic almaciga (Agathis philippinensis) trees.
We reached Solpan campsite (10°6′13.4′′N, 118°59′37.3′′E, 808 MASL) at 1000H. This was where the rest of the group had camped, and we knew we weren’t that far away from them if they had started at 0800H. Past the campsite, the trail was still straightforward but beyond 1200 MASL, it becomes very steep, and narrow like an inclined tunnel – one has to grasp onto bamboo and grass to go up – reminiscent of the assault of Mt. Masaraga in Albay or Mt. Manaphag in Iloilo. With rain and mud, the challenge becomes greater. But the my altimeter – which showed signs of rapid altitude gain – reassured me.
At 1230H, we reached the Puyos (summit) campsite (10°7′15.3′′N, 118°59′41.2′′E, 1474 MASL). Puyos is a Batak word for ‘highest peak’ and short of naming the mountain itself after this more original term, I am using it at least for the campsite. I was happily reunited with my good friends Jessa, Karina, Edgar, and kindred spirits who share the same passion for the environment and the outdoors – as well as a merry company of Batak guides.
Until that point I was still harbouring thoughts of descending back to at least Solpan, for a headstart the next day. However, I also felt that it would be a pity if I were to go back to Puerto Princesa without seeing the fabled views from atop Cleopatra’s Needle. Sometimes, waiting for a day doesn’t really help (as in our Mantalingajan hike) but with optimism – and egged on by our friends – we decided to stay with the rest of the team and go up the summit at sunrise the next day. A clearing just before nightfall, revealing the peak, and the mountains and lights of Puerto Princesa, raised our hopes. Continued in Hiking matters #421.