The following are my personal suggestions if you want to experience “peak bagging” in any of our mountain peaks. It is assumed that you are already a seasoned runner, being a trail runner is one of the qualifications for such an experience, and it is better if you are a marathon runner. However, it is best if you are already a seasoned mountain trekker, hiker or camper.
1. Have a Plan. If you have a steady job or work where you earn a living, planning for a “peak bagging” experience takes a lot of consideration. You need ample time, scheduling, financial support and lots of positive motivation to push through with your plan. Once a quarter (every 3 months) would be a nice schedule or every time there is a long weekend (3-day vacation). The location of target mountain should also be considered in terms of its accessability from your place of origin. Of course, it will be more expensive if the location is farther from your place.
If you have a family, bring your family with you and share your passion to your wife and to your kids. If they are not interested with your outdoor activity, you can bring them with you to your destination and have them stay in a resort or place where there are other alternative outdoor activities to be experienced.
If you are a retiree, like me, enjoying your time and have a love for sports and outdoor adventures, then going out of the city and looking for different places, “peak bagging” is better than reading the news dailies, watching the TV or letting the days passed by in shopping malls/coffee shops or spending a lot of time in your car due to traffic in the metropolis.
2. Make your own research. There are lots of mountaineering resources in the Internet for your mountain destination. There are also mountaineering groups on Facebook where one can get information direct from the person you want to contact. At least, you must have a FB account to have access on these groups.
My favorite mountaineering resource in the Internet is our very own Gideon Lasco at http://pinoymountaineer.comas he categorized each mountain peak by regions and he recommends an ITINERARY for each mountain visit. However, other important data for a runner to know are not stated in his description of each mountain. Mountaineers don’t usually measure their trek to the mountain peak in terms of distance (number of kilometers/miles) but in the number of hours it would take the hikers to reach the summit. So, if they say that a hiker/camper could reach a certain peak in 5-6 hours, an average trail runner could run to the peak in 2.5-3 hours, one-half less the time for a camper/hiker to reach his destination. Faster runners could do it 1/3 of the time a hiker can do to reach the summit. However, other detailed data and information can be gathered from the comments of the his readers in every post in his website.
3. Train for Hill Running. In “peak bagging”, you need to run when the trail is flat or when you are descending along the trail and brisk walk when the trail is uphill or steep incline. For you to be consistent and faster in reaching the summit, your legs must be strong. Strong legs are developed by hill repeats as it mimics your leg turn-over during trail running. As an alternative to hill repeats, one can do strengthening exercises in the gym or at home. One can do some leg squats, lunges, stair walking and core exercises anytime of the day!
4. Prepare your apparel & equipment. Your normal running kit would suffice but as you go higher in elevation, the temperature would become colder. It is a must that you bring a light jacket stowed on your backpack/camelbak which you can use when you are freezing cold. Hand gloves are also advisable as the temperature would be freezing on top of the mountain. If your hands are starting to be numb and cold, it is a signal that you must start your descent from the mountain. Water-proof jacket is also helpful as most of the higher mountains would receive some rains usually when they are covered with clouds. Runners cap is also mandatory as it keeps the escape of heat from your body and at the same time protect your head from accidental “head-butts” from fallen trees and some branches as you pass underneath them. Hydration pack is a must! If you want to stay longer in higher summits, prepare to bring a bonnet that would cover your head and ears.
5. Prepare For Your Hydration/Nutrition. I usually bring water only in my hydration system. I was surprised that my Nathan bottle filled with water was the only water supply that I brought when I “peak bagged” Mt Pulag for a distance of 15 kilometers. Maybe its the cold weather on the higher altitude and the raining prevented my body from losing more perspiration. I usually bring “power bars” and gels in my “peak bagging” activities. They are lighter and my stomach is already used to them. At the Mt Ugo Trail Marathon, I brought my Nathan “Sprint” Handheld Bottle for my Gatorade Mix even if I was holding trekking poles. Gatorade was my extra source of electrolyte if my “peak bagging” activity is a race/competition.
6. Travel Light. I use racing flats/minimalist shoes (NB MT 101) and compression shorts & shirts on my mountain running. If I use Camelbak Hydration Pack, I only fill 1/2 up to 3/4 full of water in its bladder. I only carry minimal number of gels, power bars and Gatorade mix in my pack. Sometimes, I would pack the lightest windbreaker to my pack instead of those heavier outdoor technical jackets. My ASICS Windbreaker which I bought in Jeju, South Korea could be the lightest windbreaker that I have among my running kit. Hopefully, I would be able to buy the Patagonia Nano Jacket, my “dream jacket” for higher altitude “peak bagging”, in the near future. It can be folded and stowed in your packet.
The cheapest version of a jacket/windbreaker/poncho which you can bring is the black commercial trash bags that are available in the supermarket. Get the largest size of trash bags in the market. Simply make a hole on the closed end of the bag where you can insert you head, thus, you have a raincoat for your body and backpack. It is a must to carry at least 2-3 pieces of these black trash bags in your daypack as they serve also as trash bags for the litter you could see along the trail, camping areas or at the peak of the mountain.
7. Trekking Poles. A pair of trekking pole is an invaluable equipment for an old trekker/hiker like me. They are useful in crossing streams and rivers; keep you balanced on uneven and slippery grounds; provide anchor and support for stronger lifting of the body on steep ascending parts of the mountain; and lessen the impact of ones feet on the ground. It takes a simple time to practice to use these trekking poles. It is advisable to use those “bike gloves” (half of the fingers are exposed) when using trekking poles to avoid blisters on your hands. On descending and flat parts of the trail route, I would carry them as if they are my batons in a running relay.
8. Prepare For Contingencies. In trekking/peak bagging, you should always “respect the weather”. If the weather would not allow you to reach the peak, it is best to retreat and make another attempt on a day with good weather. The mountain will always be there, it will never leave from his location. In a good weather, if you start your “peak bagging” in the morning, expect to reach the peak when the sun is already on top of you which means that it is already noon time. The heat of the sun would make you perspire some more and you must be able to hydrate yourself regularly. In case of any encounter with the wildlife, like snakes, deer, wild pigs, cows, or bats, just ignore them and don’t disturb them. Your main mission is to reach the peak of the mountain and not as a hunter.
9. Invest On A Light & Reliable DayPack. A DayPack can store your hydration needs (water bottles + 1.5-liter bladder), additional clothing apparel, first aid kit, food, electrolyte tabs/mix, lighting equipment, and trekking poles.
10. Know Some Protocols/Etiquette/Culture of the People
a. In popular mountains which are being visited by most campers/mountaineers, you need to pay a permit fee and attend an orientation lecture from the personnel of DENR. It is best to register yourself to the barangay hall/barangay officials where the mountain/trailhead is located or to the nearest police or military unit/detatchment in the area before pursuing your activity. On the same manner, inform them on your departure from the place. There are some barangays that would ask P 20.00-P 40.00 as permit fee per person in lower elevation mountains.
b. Be prepared to get a “guide” for a fee. The guide must be requested from the Barangay Officials so that there is accountability in case of any complaints from the hikers. In Mt Apo, I paid P 350.00 for my guide but I paid him an extra tip of P 150.00. In the Ambangeg-Pulag Trail, I paid P 500.00 for my guide which is good up to 5 persons. But for the longer and harder Akiki-Pulag Trail, a guide will cost you P 1,800.00. Even if I don’t need the services of a porter, it is worthy to note that each porter is being paid a minimum of P 500.00 for every 15 kilos of weight. I always see to it that I have a guide in all my “peak bagging” feats.
c. LNT or Leave No Trace. This is the number ONE Rule in any outdoor activity which is “common sense”. Except for Mt Pulag, all the other mountain trails and peaks that I bagged have trashes. I really don’t know if the locals are the one’s littering their trash along the trails and on the peaks or the visitors.
d. Silence Means Good Weather. There is no point why hikers/trekkers would shout on the top of their voice if they see nice scenery and vistas along the mountain trail or while they are at the peak of the mountain. There are also groups of campers that would bring intoxicating liqour on the peak of the mountain and drink to their hearts content and noisy as a result before retiring to their respective tents. Other would mimic or answer the sounds from the birds through their loud voices or involve themselves in loud conversations and laughter while hiking along the mountain trail. All of these are “toxic or pollutants” on the peaceful environment of the forests and the mountains. Local people would predict unfavorabe weather a day or two after such “noise” are done in the mountain!
e. Smile & Greet Everybody you meet along the trail. Find time to talk to them even for a few seconds. Your message should be clear that you are there to simply have a quick look of the place or just passing through. Always be positive on your comments and observation of the place.
f. Most of the mountains in the Cordillera Region & along the Bansalan Trail to Mt Apo have vegetable farms on the foot and slopes of the mountain. You should not mess up or step on the growing plants on these garden/vegetable farms. Never try to harvest or pick any of the vegetables or root crops as you pass by these farms. Most of the farms have cabbage, carrots and potatoes.
11. As much as possible, make a journal or document of your peak bagging activity in every mountain that you visit or attempt to make in reaching a summit. There is no shame if you could not make the grabbing in your first attempt as the mountain will always be there waiting for you. If you have a Garmin/GPS Watch, it would be nice to get the following data: Duration of Peak Bagging Activity from your specific Starting Point to the Peak and back; Distance recorded; Altitude of the Peak; Profile Elevation; Average HR; and other data taken from the equipment. Your personal experience will somehow inspire others to go to the outdoors and be interested in “peak bagging” activity.
(Note: Pictures from Mt Pulag, Mt Natib, Mt Ugo, and Mt Timbac)