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Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Friday, March 29, 2013

Post Run Dispatch : Salomon X-Trail 2013 (Hamilo Coast) + Race Results

The sun, the beach and the finish line, an amazing prelude to summer
Last March 23, 2013, I was among the hundreds who  joined  the recently concluded Salomon X-Trail, a trail running event held at Hamilo Coast in Nasugbu, Batangas.

Knowing that one of the  persons behind the scorching race course is Pen Nepumoceno, an ultra runner and mountaineer, I expected it to be grueling. For my sanity's sake and my aching limbs, which have just been subjected to rough terrain for the past two consecutive weekends  hiking in Mt. Palali and Mt. Mayon, I opted to join the 6K.

We arrived in Hamilo Coast at 4:30 AM, 2.5 hours before the gun start for our division. I had plenty of time to chat with friends, wander around, grab a snack and change my mind about running (hehe! It was so humid and the beach, which was just a few meters from where we sat was  too inviting!).  I almost back out of the run, but then I  remembered how amazing it is to eat after a good sweat and so I went on with the race.  

By 7:00 AM,  I was running along with other participants. There was a long uphill on a concrete road ahead, definitely not a favorite but I did just fine.  After the road, we headed towards the rocky section of the beach and entered a small, very steep 115-meter hill.  I heard some runners grumbling that it was not running but mountain climbing. Salomon is actually a mountain running brand and this course truly describes what the brand is all about, a brand you can rely on when breezing through a rough terrain.

The steep trail led to stunning views of islands near Hamilo Coast and the turn-around point where we were given thick black bands. I continued  to move in a quick pace, not because I was aiming for a podium finish but because I was dying for a good meal and  a nice relaxing swim, ah my priorities. :P

The trail down was on a different route which was good because there was congestion on the steep section up.  The exit point from the hill was also along the rocky beach. After that, we had to run on fine sand, just a few inches from the water. At this point, the sun was glaring happily . Thank God, I was only a few meters away from the finish line. 

As I turned on a bend along the road, I saw Jules, a good friend of mine from way way back who ran the 12K, about to cross the finish line too. With  vibrating tonsils, I called out to her and talked energetically the rest of the way. It's been a while since we finished a race together. She had focused on sky running and I remained loyal to hiking mountains on a much slower pace. Still, we remained good friends despite pursuing different passions and that's what matters more.

According to the official race results, I completed the course in 1 hour 11 minutes, with an over-all ranking of #48 out of 206 runners in the 6K division. I'm just pretty psyched that I finished  and that I was able to get a great meal afterwards and swim! The area where we picked to swim had some interesting fishes under it and I was able to do a bit of snorkeling. Yes, I came prepared with my goggles. Priorities!

The 6K experience is challenging  and provided an excellent introduction to trail running. We experienced a bit of various trails - steep concrete road, sharp rocky beach,  mountain trail and fine sand. The hydration stations were adequately placed and I was happy that no disposable cups were given out. We all had to bring our own refillable bottles/hydration packs.

Congratulations to all the participants - whether you received a finisher's medal or not, the organizers and sponsors (big thanks Hamilo Coast!). Special thanks to Laira Legaspi, PR Associate for Primer Group for allowing me and my fellow bloggers to experience the trails of Hamilo Coast.

Official Race Results can be found at here.
Concerns with the results? Email : feedback@salomonxtrailpilipinas.com

I'm also sharing with you the blogs of my companions:
Jazz Runner on his 12K Experience 
Titanium Runner on running 24K 
Running Pinoy who I ran along with the at the 6K division 

Mesmerizing Mt. Mayon

A view of Mt. Mayon from Legazpi City. On its left is Lignon Hill, a popular tourist spot

Five years after my first glimpse of Mt. Mayon, the 23rd highest peak in the Philippines (2,462 MASL) and an active volcano in the province of Albay renowned for its almost perfect conical shape,  I was able to come back along with 2 friends and 4 new ones, not only to relish the view from a distance but to experience its trails within.  
As members of the group were coming from everywhere, our group convened at the Legazpi bus terminal. I got reunited with Kabayan hiking buddies (Read about it here), blogger friend Edgar of EazyTraveler, who's also our trip organizer and Ryan T.  For the  first time, I met avid travelers, Philip, Mikoy, Ann and Ryan D. From here, we took a one hour van ride to Tabaco city (50 Pesos) where we hitched on a vehicle transporting the staff of Mayon Skyline (Formerly Mayon Rest House).

A shot of the whole gang, taken on our arrival at Mayon Skyline. (Photo from Edgar Yap)
By 5:00 PM, we were already settling in at our "base camp", the floor of the cafeteria. As bedtime was several hours away, we wandered around Mayon Skyline which is a destination on its own. There are huts which serves as an excellent view deck where you can see the peaks of Mt. Masaraga,  Mt. Malinao and along with Mayon, it forms what is known to Filipino mountaineers as the Albay Trilogy. A shadow of Mt. Isarog in Camarines Sur can also be seen.

Also a tourist spot, the Mayon Skyline features not only a great view of Mt. Mayon,
but nearby peaks as well. 
We turned in early after bonding over coffee and taking advantage of the unlimited videoke.  In the middle of the night, while cocooned inside our sleeping bags, over the hard, cold tiled floor, the temperature dropped. Suddenly, my jacket and all the protection I wore all became insufficient to battle the cold. I resisted the urge to snuggle to save myself from a black-eye, haha! I couldn't sleep well after and waited until the alarms went off before preparing for the hike.

It drizzled for several minutes just as we were about to walk out. Fortunately, it stopped. By 5:30 AM, we were already making our way to the jump-off which was just a few minutes from where we spent the night.

Power breakfast. We ordered an early breakfast which was served before 5:00 am.
I love the staff here. :)
The first hour of the hike was through a rough section of the forest. A single person, steep, trail made slippery by the light rain and sprawling with plants that can cause severe itching on contact. On some parts, only one foot at a time could fit while some are dangerously located beside deep ravines with only weeds or tree branches to hold on to. It was actually my favorite part as there lots of trees and plants, truly a visual treat.

The next few hours was terrifying as the trail involved walking over wet boulders which reminded me of the conditions when I had a rock climbing accident in 2009. It was also drizzling then. While strapped on a harness, attempting to get to a hard section of a boulder, I slipped and hit my left leg against a jagged rock. It ripped a portion of my skin, blood oozed out and I had to go to the hospital to get 7 painful stitches. I could only drag my left leg to be able to move weeks after that. It was traumatizing and every time the situation is recreated - seeing large rocks, especially wet ones, fear uncontrollably rushes in.

 Fear became easy to ignore as I was with excellent company and despite the difficulty of the trail, we had time to talk and laugh. We were also led by a good group of guides who made sure everyone is able to get through the boulders safely.

Drenched in rain and sweat but still all smiles! (Photo from Ryan Dayrit)
It rained on and off during the entire hike and after 3 hours of ascent at 4.9 km of challenging trails, we aborted  our bid to the summit which was just 1.6 km away. The trail was becoming dangerously slippery and was meant for another day.

An illustration of how far we got courtesy of mr. EazyTraveler.com and Ryan Tan
The wet conditions we encountered during this 7 hour hike has made this my most terrifying mountain adventure, personally, much scarier than crossing the knife-edge trails at Mt. Guiting-Guiting, a mountain in Romblon with a difficulty level of 9/9.  

It was a good decision that we aborted because rained continued even as we left Mayon Skyline. When we got back to Tabaco, everything was dry and it look like it hadn't rained.  

Before we separated, our group had a quick early dinner was at Graziano's, a cozy Italian restaurant, 15 minutes away by tricycle from the Tabaco Bus terminal. But since everyone was in a hurry, we continued our post-climb celebration at Keg at the Fort, when everyone's dressed decently with not a stray hair in sight. :P

Two days after our hike, we continued our celebration. All fresh and clean!  (Photo from Ryan Dayrit)
Though our group failed to make it to the summit, I consider this a successful hike for it isn't always about reaching the summit. What matters most are the relationships we're able to build and keep while in pursuit of our passion.  

Ed, Ryan T., Ryan D, Philip, Ann & Mikoy - til our next adventure! :)

For more information on doing a day hike at Mt. Mayon, check out  Pinoy Mountaineer

Travel Notes : 
1. Legazpi City is the primary jump-off to hiking Mt. Mayon. From here, there are a lot of trails leading to the summit. Some would take two days, while some takes only a few hours. It all depends on your preference and how much time you have. Whatever trail you take, you must have physical preparation as the trails are steep. Try stairs climbing or do some minor hikes. 
2. For a hike to the summit, better coordinate with the tourism office (Albay Tourism Office is +63(52)8206314 or (052)820631). Our friends at Trail Adventours also offer hiking packages at 4,800 Pesos/head (Local Rate) | 5,500 Pesos/head (Foreigner Rate). Visit their website to inquire. Contact Details : info@trailadventours.com ; Contact Numbers : (+632) 6979711and (+63917) 5827517.
3. To get to Legazpi City, you can take a 10-hour bus ride from the Araneta Center Provincial Bus Terminal or take an hour flight from Manila via Cebu Pacific or PAL Express. Going here, I rode a Belleza bus from the Cubao Bus Terminal (Aircon, 500 Pesos only, one way) which departed at 8:40 PM, an hour later than what I was told. It's a good option if you're on a budget (friendly staff) but otherwise, I'd suggest riding the popular ones such as Cagsawa Travel & Tours bus, DLTBCO, Isarog Lines as the Belleza bus has a small leg room. 
4. For this hike, I packed 2.5 Liters of water, 2 Snickers bar, a burger, packs of nuts and raisins, first -aid kit, sealed all belongings inside waterproof bags, waterproof jacket. 
5. Recommended Outfit :  Dir fit shirt, trekking pants, arm sleeves, cap,  Footwear must have strong grip.
6. Bring a gas mask to be used near the crater rim. The ones for filtering inorganic gases, (sold around 300 Pesos at Handyman).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Nueva Vizcaya's Amazing Mt. Palali

Starting our trek at Barangay Madianggat
My strong fascination with heavily forested trails  has brought me and three other friends to  Nueva Vizcaya earlier this month for an extended day hike. Mt. Palali, which I first read about in Tramping Philippinestowers at 1,715 MASL and is emerging as a favored hiking destination to kindred adventurers  who are up for a long and challenging hike on a steep and thick terrain, maneuvering around a thick maze of trees and plants. 

We left Manila at 10:30 PM from the Victory Liner terminal in Kamias. We took a bus bound for Ilagan (338 Pesos) and after 6 hours, got down at Solano, Nueva Vizcaya. (Note : As an alternate, you can also take those buses to Tuguegarao which has more  trips leaving Manila). We were dropped in front of Jollibee where we also had breakfast 

After eating, we flagged a tricycle to Barangay Madianggat, Quezon. (Note : Before you take the trike, ask them if they know the way to avoid wasting time. ). Fee is at 100 Pesos/tricycle and travel time takes roughly 15 minutes. 

We met with our quiet guide, Roldan Mina at Purok 3, a contact I got from Pinoy Mountaineer's blog.  We rode another tricycle to the jump-off where we had to register. There is also a  fee that needs to be paid, however there was no one manning the area so we paid after the hike. (100 Pesos/head). By 6:30 AM, we started our ascent, passing through rice fields, banana trees and small sections of a river. The early part of the trail reminded me of the Magalang trail in Mt. Arayat - mostly uphill and rocky.

After 4 hours, we made it to Haring Bato - sweaty, tired but smiling irresistibly. It's an  enormous boulder that serves as an excellent viewing deck.  Here, you can see Magat river slinking around mountains and the other municipalities of Nueva Vizcaya, some of which are Bayombong, Solano and Quezon. At that very spot where view was amazing, we had a quick lunch.  

Approaching Haring Bato 
View on top of Haring Bato. It's a thousand times more gorgeous when you see it with your own eyes. :P
The next section of the trail involved negotiating our way around a thick mossy forest. Tree branches twirled above us. Several times, we had to either crawl under or go over a fallen tree. I can't stop appreciating what I'm seeing. This is my kind of terrain! 

We reached the  summit at 3:00 PM, which was much later than planned.  Though the views aren't as magnificent as that of Haring Bato as it's encroached with trees,  I was very much pleased that the guides don't dare cut them off as it's part of a protected area. There's a small section where you can get a good view of some portions of Nueva Vizcaya but then again, reaching the summit and seeing various species of plants and tree is an excellent reward on its own. 

Heading back became more grueling as fatigue has taken its toll on our group and it was only at 2:00 AM, when we got back to the jump-off. We were extremely apologetic to our guide who never once complained, acted above and beyond patient and over the top professional. Guide fee is at 500 Pesos/day but we paid extra due to the extended hiking hours. He and his brother even took us back to Solano with their motorbikes so we can get a good night's sleep at one of the lodges. 

A side trip to Senora Falls which is accessible by tricycle can also be done after the hike. We were told by our guide that there is accommodation and food here. 

Mt. Palali is now a favorite mountain of mine, with its challenging trails and entertaining display of natural wonders. I certainly don't mind going back and trying out a day hike traverse trail which is currently being completed. ;)

Shout out to my good friends Henry, Joy and Arisse for joining this adventure! :) Til the next one! :) 

Notes and Lessons Learned:
1. Attempting a Palali day hike is challenging and if hiking with first time hikers, training climbs are a must. The goal is not to discriminate but to make sure everyone is prepared and to avoid putting other members and the guide at risk. I suggest an Arayat Day Hike traverse/Tapulao Day Hike/MAKTRAV as training climbs. Climbing flights of stairs  with a backpack is also great exercise. Hiking should be a fun and safe activity, done out of passion for nature and not as an ego booster.  
2. If pressed for time, you may opt to terminate your hike at Haring Bato. Last bus back to Manila is at 12 MN and it would be coming from Tuguegarao. Please verify again when you come back. Buses back to Manila can be found at the bus stop along the National Highway in Solano. You may also opt to spend the night in Solano which we did. We got a fan room at Lee Garden Lodge (500/night, good for 5 PAX), situated right beside Chowking and also a few blocks from the bus stop. 
3. Guide's contact number : Roldan Mina : +63-935-292-1029. 
4. There are two water sources along the way where you can get a refill. 
5. Bring ample trail food and emergency supplies. Don't forget your flashlights/headlamps! :)
6. Average time to complete a Palali day hike is 10-12 hours if everyone in the group is in good condition. I cannot emphasize enough that you must not underestimate this hike, nor any other mountain. Keep safe everyone! :)

Check out the following detailed accounts of fellow bloggers who have hiked Mt. Palali :
1. Tramping Philippines - Mt. Palali | The Untouched Mountain
2. Pinoy Mountaineer - Hiking matters #281: A dayhike up Mt. Palali in Quezon. Nueva Vizcaya | Overnight Itinerary
2. Journeying James - Mt. Palali Day Hike with Pinoy Mountaineer

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mt. Talamitam Day Hike

"I'm going back to Canada next week."

My good friend Drew's bittersweet announcement gave way to planning his last escapade in the Philippines. Gorging on Chinese food, which we both enjoy, came to mind but for the nth time, we chose the outdoors.

The group  decided on Mt. Talamitam, which is just three hours away by bus from Manila. It's jump-off is 30 minutes from another hiking destination frequented by local hikers, Mt. Batulao. In fact,  some physically prepared hikers  would combine the two in one trip, taking up half a day to complete both to maximize their resources. 

Although I have seen the grand views from its peak too many times, I was still excited at the thought of traveling with friends and going out for a hike, even for just a day. Joining our trip were Kaiz Galang of MissBackpacker.Info, Kirk (a friend of Kaiz' and now,  ours too!) and Jerome of Balintataw.org.

We met at the Crow bus terminal along EDSA-Pasay. It's located beside Hotel Sogo and Mc Donald's (open 24 hours so you can grab breakfast here) , across Metropoint Mall.

View Larger Map 

Travel time took around 3 hours (124 Pesos). 
Note: If the conductor is not familiar with the route marker, KM 83, just tell him you'll be going to Mt. Talamitam. It's at Sitio Bayabasan, Brgy. Aga. 

At a shed a few meters from the highway, we registered and paid 25 pesos/head. There's also a restroom here where you can "unload" before a hike. Although one of our companions, Kaiz, who has also visited the mountain several times is pretty much familiar with the trail, barangay policy mandates that all visitors get one at a rate of 350-400 Pesos/day. We hired one, a young guy no older than 20.  

At a  little past 7:00 AM, we made our way up the mountain and in a few minutes, got down to a river. There used to be a hanging bridge made of bamboo  built over it to get to the trail head, however, only remnants of its structure can be found.  Crossing the river was quick and easy but we still had to slow down to avoid slipping.

The steep but short trail covered by trees was at the early part of the hike. After that, under a nearly cloudless sky, we ascended a massive grassland scattered with cow dungs. As this mountain is across Mt. Batulao, I looked back a few times to be  compensated by the views of the nearby mountain.  

In 2.5 hours, we arrived at the summit (altitude at 630 MASL), rewarding us with views of other peaks such as Mt. Makiling, Mt. Batulao, Pico de Loro - its infamous parrot's beak glared from a distances making it easily identifiable. 

We were sitting down no more than 10 minutes when an ice cream man arrived at the peak to selling us goods. Whoa! Now, that's truly hard-earned money.

The gang - Kaiz, Kirk, Drew & Jerome
Farewell Drew!
We took our sweet time at the peak, chatting and laughing the rest of the morning away. 

As a post hike treat, we traveled by jeepney to Mahogany Market in Tagaytay city where we celebrated over rice, beef bulalo and Tawilis, a small fish, normally served fried which can be consumed in whole. We split the bill and only paid (230+ something each). 

Our last stop was at the family rest house of Drew, where we cleaned up before taking the bus back to Manila (104 Pesos).

A copy of an itinerary to Mt. Talamitam can be found at PinoyMountaineer.

Please also check out Jerome's post about our hike - Enjoying ice cream atop Mt. Talamitam.

To Drew, wishing you more fun and jaw-dropping adventures in Canada. See you again soon! :)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Hiking in Tarlac : Tangisan-Bungkol Baka & Kawayan {San Jose Circuit}

Searing heat welcomed our group  as we started our hike to Mt. Tangisan
After a month of rest from the outdoors to focus on other things, I got back into hiking with friends JZ, Gideon of PinoyMountaineer, Martin and Tarlac-based outdoor group, GAME-NEST  (Ivan, we miss you! :P). Their group also hosted us when we did a grueling and painfully long day hike at Mt. Damas last year. (Blog here)

In a day, we finished what is now commonly known as the San Jose Circuit, named after the municipality where trail starts and ends. This 17.7 KM long trail passes the peaks of Tangisan, Bungkol Baka and Kawayan. It starts at Sitio San Pedro, Barangay Iba, a community that can be reached on foot by crossing a river. 

We trekked at a moderate pace - slow enough for us to take photos but quick enough to make it back down before we needed any headlamps.  We started at 9:00 AM and took 10 hours to complete, including lunch, pictorials and joking around. 

Our first peak was Tangisan  (491 MASL). The trail was steep on most parts which wouldn't have been a problem if not for the merciless heat of the sun. The slim trees we passed could barely provide some cover and it felt as though there wasn't enough air. I doubted myself if I could complete the hike at this  point. The energy drink which I consumed before we started was threatening to exit my mouth but it was pride that held it in until we stopped to rest. It was a few meters from one of Tangisan's peaks which has a nice view of valleys resembling an airport runway. 
Tarlac's prominent massive flat lands and rice fields. Photo taken by JZ.
From here, we continued to a nearby peak which was about 10 minutes away. A huge boulder serves as its viewing deck showed a different angle of the flat lands of Tarlac.

Long time mountaineer friend JZ in one of the view decks in Mt. Tangisan
From Tangisan, we followed an exposed trail at the side of a hill with remarkable views of nearby peaks. At this time, our bodies had adjusted to the sun's heat and the hike became more manageable. I no longer felt the need to go back down. Hehe!

Our group heading down to the trail to Bungkol Baka
After  lunch beside a stream where we were able to freshen up and get some drinking water, we continued a path filled with banana trees. My feet was already on "auto-pilot" mode due to fatigue but I was intrigued with what we were about to see. 

By 3:00 PM, we finally reached Bungkol Baka (617 Meters). Its view on one side features the contours of a mountain while another side shows hills and valleys. 

Our last peak, Kawayan, seduced us relentlessly from a distance. It was just across us! Though everyone was tired, its proximity, an hour hike away was just too tempting to resist. 

As I was lagging behind, I was amused to see my companions running in full speed away from an herd of cows. :P

By past 4:00 PM, we made it to our last peak! As with all mountain hikes, the fatigue is forgotten at the summit as soon as you see the views. :)

Other than the plains of Tarlac,  one can find views of Mt. Arayat from Kawayan  (595 Meters)
It was 7:00 PM when we reached a store in the village where we feasted on biscuits and softdrinks. We were later picked up by a dump truck which allowed us to enjoy a view of a dark sky scattered with stars.

Dinner was served at Vice Mayor Capitulo's place in Barangay Iba and their family generously allowed us to use their bathrooms to freshen up before our travel back to Manila. Thanks to Gid for the ride home! :) 

Tips on how to do an extended day hike:
1. Keep hydrated.
2. Minimize sun exposure by wearing cap/hat/bandana, arm sleeves/long sleeves, whichever you’re comfortable with. 
3. Maintain a moderate and steady pace. Minimize breaks.

Check out Gideon's blog about our climb at Pinoy Mountaineer.
Itinerary here. 
Additional travel information on Tarlac can also be found at Visit Tarlac

Victory Liner Cubao to Tarlac (We got down at Victory Liner's new bus stop in Tarlac behind Mc Donald's, just across Siesta Bus Terminal) - 201 Pesos/each
Payment for Guide & Gasoline for the Dump Truck to Brgy. Iba - 500 Pesos/each

Water Load : 2.5 Liters

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