Walk @ Mt Timbac’s Peak

11 05 2012

4th “Peak Bagging” Experience (April 2, 2012)

A day after the 1st KOTM Trail Marathon in Mt Ugo, Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, I was on my way to Mt Timbac, the 3rd highest mountain peak in Luzon with a registered elevation of 2,717+ meters above sea level coming from Baguio City. Mt Timbac is ranked as the #9 highest peak in the entire country.

Since the mountain is located along the Halsema Highway which is the only paved access road to Bontoc, Mountain Province, I was confident that I could reach the place in a few hours and be back to Baguio City before dinner time. If there such thing as “day hike” for a mountain peak, there is also a “day trip” where you can visit a certain place and be back to where you came from before evening.

As per my research, the intersection that goes to the trailhead towards the peak of Mt Timbac is located near the vicinity of DPWH Kilometer Post #55, which means that one has to travel 55 kilometers north of Baguio City in order to reach the place. I estimated to reach the place in 1 1/2 hours.

I was surprised to notice that there are lots of changes along the road to La Trinidad as compared during those times when I have to attend my ROTC training at the Benguet Agricultural College in La Trinidad, Benguet during the late 60’s (1968-69).

During my early years in the active military service, I had two occassions of travelling along the Halsema Highway aboard a Volkswagen “Sakbayan” with Bontoc, Mountain Province as the place of destination. I could still recall the highway to be very narrow that only single lane for vehicles were used most of the portions of the road. The road was full of sharp rocks and it was too dusty. The trip was very slow and long and our body was being “massaged” throughout the trip.

I am glad that the Halsema Highway is already paved/cemented and with two lanes. Although there are still patches of construction for repairs along the road, the trip was easy and relaxing. However, one has to prepare to see that the road you are looking ahead is getting progressively higher and higher up to the peak of the next mountain! This is where you will appreciate what the DPWH had done to this part of the country.

Two kilometers from Mt Timbac’s foot or road access is the View Deck which is marked as the Highest Point of the Highway System of the Country in an elevation of 7,400 feet above sea level (2,242 meters above sea level). From this view deck, you can see Mt Pulag, Mt Tabayoc, and Mt Ugo.

After almost 1 1/2 hours of easy driving, we reached Km Post #55 and after asking some of the locals along the road, we were able to turn right to a road that leads to the mountain’s peak. The single lane road is concrete and it leads to an elementary school where I parked my vehicle. I was able to meet Alexis Estenor hiking down along the way as he and his friends just came from the peak of the said mountain.

From the school, the walk to the peak was very easy as most of the 1st kilometer is paved and the other half is an uphill trail with rocks used as steps. The hike has a distance of 2.1 kilometers which took me 30 minutes to reach the peak. I was guided by two kids who belong to the families cultivating some of the vegetable gardens along the slopes of the mountain.

After taking some pictures and short conversation with the kids, I was on my way back to my parked vehicle. My GF 305 watch registered 2,737 meters above sea level as its peak elevation.

While driving down to reach the Halsema Highway, I saw a group of farmers harvesting their potato garden and I asked the owner if I can buy some. For a P 50-bill, she gave me an estimated 4-5 kilos of her potato harvest!

My trip would not be complete if I did not stop at the Halsema Highway View Deck where the Highest Point of the Country’s Highway System is located. I took some pictures of the mountain ridges all-around this place and thought of possibilities that the place could offer in terms of tourism, economy and development.

Driving back to Baguio City was an easy one. My “recovery hike” after the 1st Mt Ugo Trail Marathon and 4th “peak bagging” experience were done!

(Note: The 2nd to the last picture is the peak of Mt Timbac as seen from the Halsema Highway View Deck. Tha last picture is the peak of Mt Pulag as seen from the Halsema Highway View Deck)

#2 “Peak Bagging” @ Mt Natib, Bataan (1,287+ MASL)

17 04 2012

March 29, 2012 @ Mt Natib, Barangay Tala, Orani, Bataan

Mt Pulag is more than twice as high as Mt Natib in Barangay Tala, Orani, Bataan.

Exactly 14 days after Mt Pulag’s “peak bagging”, I was on my way to Bataan and try find out if I can reach the peak of Mt Natib within half day. It started with a simple Personal Message on Facebook with a “friend” who happens to be the Military Commander of the Northern & Central Luzon Areas and then later with telephone calls to two subordinate commanders whose areas are within Bataan and other provinces in Central Luzon. After 12 hours from the time I sent a PM on Facebook, everything was set and I could run and hike up to the peak of the famous Mt Natib the following day.

Two days before joining the 1st King of the Mountain Mt Ugo Trail Marathon, I was on my way to Balanga, Bataan to visit the Commander of the 7th CMO (GWAPO) Battalion, Colonel Benny Doniego, who gladly received and escorted me to the 73rd DRC Detachment in Barangay Tala, Orani, Bataan where I would start my run & trek to the peak of Mt Natib. I was surprised that he prepared a breakfast for me and my staff! It was nice to see Col Doniego after I’ve retired from the military service for the past almost 5 years. He happens to have served under me when I was assigned at the 7th Infantry Division in Fort Magsaysay.

Not only did Colonel Doniego prepared a breakfast for me, he even went to the extent of providing me with one officer and one team/squad of soldiers (9 soldiers) as my escorts. His parting words for me was that there will be fresh coconut juice and my favorite dish of “sinampalokang native na manok” waiting for me as soon as I arrive running/trekking from Mt Natib for lunch! Wow! What a nice incentive to finish the activity in a faster mode!

With military escorts infront and on my back, I started my run/hike from the Philippine Army Detachment at 9:30 AM. From the starting point, everything was going uphill until I reached the place which they call “Pinagbutasan” which happens to be a wide man-made “pass” or “breakthrough” on a mountain so that a trail was made on the other side of the mountain. There is a steel gate/fence that protects the unnecessary use of the trail from 4-wheeled vehicles. From this point, you could see the nice vista and mountains/ridges overlooking the towns of Morong and parts of the Subic cove.

The trail is wide with hardened soil/earth on the first part of the route from “Pinagbutasan” and then it transforms to a trail that has lots of stones and rocks. I was informed that the trail was made/constructed by PNOC on their digging explorations on the said mountain years ago. It is worthy to note that Mt Natib is considered as a dormant volcano and I have the suspicion that PNOC was looking for a geothermal source on the said mountain due to its nature as a volcano. Geothermal is one of the alternative sources of power energy. Unluckily, PNOC was not able to find any geothermal source in the said mountain as evidenced by their exploration diggings covered with concrete cement. You can ask your guide if you are interested to find out where these diggings are located.

On this rocky & stony portion of the trail, it is mostly covered with trees and plants. The terrain is not steep and I was able to jog on most parts of this shaded portion of the trail.

It was cloudy and cold during the day that I had my trek on this mountain and I could hardly see its peak. What went into my mind was to be able to reach its peak, take some pictures, and then descend from the mountain peak for my warm and tasty lunch!

After the shaded portion of the trail, an opening of two small hills beckons with tall grasses with the trail on the middle. I could only see the clouds that cover the mountain and the tall grasses as I proceeded with my power hike. More tall grasses on both sides of the single-track trail and then I was told by our guide to turn left towards a clearing.

There was a clearing which they call “Area 1”. It is actually a camping site which is good for 3-4 tents and located on the very base of the peak of Mt Natib. There is a number “06” marker on one of the trees around the campsite. This site is the start of the “final assualt” to the peak of the mountain!

Aside from the soldiers as my escorts, I had with me two of my elite runners who were there as my personal photographer and assistant. We started our final climb towards the peak with me located in between my two runners on single file. The runner in front of me would clear the way for branches and twigs/thorny vines and the other on my back was there to make sure that I will not roll down from the mountain if I tripped or slipped on the rocks. It was raining then and the trail was slippery. It was more slippery on the rocks that we have to use extra effort to push our feet up to the trail.

After 50 meters on the trail, the first runner suddenly stopped and started to retrace his footings backwards. He told me that there is a snake infront of us crossing our path. I told him to get nearer to it and find out where the head is located! He hesitated! I was the one that went nearer to the snake and it was really big but we could hardly see its head! I was about to hold its tail and yanked the whole body out of the thick foliage but I thought that it was not my main “mission” to look for snakes. I am not a hunter and I am not looking for food or for a pet! I am after the peak of Mt Natib, stick and stay focus to the very simple mission! In a split of a second, I instructed my runner on my back to give me my camera and I was able to get a close-up picture of its tail portion as the snake went to the thicker foliage part on the side of the trail.

After the snake encounter, we went higher and higher with more caution. Then, we were faced with a “vertical wall” which is about 10 meters! It’s good there is a nylon rope where one could hold for a nice rapelling experience! However, the challenge was for the the foot anchor to be firm on every leg push and strong arms pull on the rope towards the top of the wall so that there would be no slipping or sliding due to the slippery wet rocks brought by the drizzle. Going up on top of the wall was very slow and deliberate. There is no point of making it fast to reach the top of the wall. Patience is needed in this kind of situation.

After the first wall, there are rocks as part of the trail that I had to crawl just to be sure that I would not slip. Patience paid off. But there was another mini-wall (about 5 meters) with a rope (again!) to be climbed to its top. After passing this last wall, everything was a smooth uphill and in about 50 meters, I was greeted with the Peak/Summit Marker of Mt Natib! Finally, I was able to “peak bagged” Mt Natib!

Three of us, my two runners and I, were the only one who reached the peak. Our escorts were not able to make it! We spent our almost 20 minutes taking pictures and trying to survey the whole area of the peak. There was no view to be seen from the top of the mountain as it was raining and we were covered with clouds. However, I was able to take note of the trashes being scattered on the different places on top of the mountain. In my estimate, the peak can acommodate at least 8-10 tents (solo or double) and there seems to be no attempt to clean and maintain the area. I said to myself, I will be back to clean the mess here on the peak of Mt Natib in the days to come!

We reached the peak in 3 hours. And we were all in a hurry to go back to where we started at the Philippine Army Detachment. However, we needed more patience and more deliberate footing as we went down the two “walls” and rope rapelling. We spent more time in going down on the “final assualt” portion of the mountain. As soon as we reached “Area 1”, we started to jog and brisked walked. Since we did more on jogging and power walking as almost parts of the trail were descending, we made our way to the detachment in almost 2 hours. My GF 305 recorded an elevation data of 1,296 meters at the peak of Mt Natib!

The trip was concluded with a sumptous late lunch at the Battalion Headquarters with Colonel Doniego and I told him of my plan of going back to the peak of Mt Natib during a day with a nicer weather in the company of my running friends. I also told him of my plan to conduct Operation Linis on the said mountain with an specificied date. It will be April 15, Sunday! His answer was affirmative!

Well, this proves that I am already addicted to “Peak Bagging”!

Next….Mt Ugo…in the 1st King of the Mountain Trail (42K) Marathon…after two days!

“Peak Bagging” & Mt. Pulag

12 04 2012

March 12, 2012 @ Ambangeg, Bokod, Benguet

On my way to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya along the Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Highway, I saw a directional sign that points to the Mt Pulag National Park. It was at the PNP Station in Barangay Gurel, Bokod, Benguet that changed my intention of going to Mt Ugo in order to recon the Marathon Route of Jonel’s race.

I said to myself, “Mt Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon and I am already here, maybe, I’ll drop by first on this mountan and then proceed later to Mt Ugo!” As I turned left at the intersection, there is no point of turning back. I am back again to my habit of being a “risk-taker”!

The road from the Gurel Junction to Barangay Ambangeg, Bokod is almost completely paved as some parts are still on road cementing construction. The road is winding and uphill and I did not notice that I traveled 9 kilometers up to the DENR Office/Police Detachment.

I am not a trained mountaineer and I am ignorant on the protocol of climbing peaks and mountains in the country. What I needed was the guts to ask questions and have the patience to listen…and listen intently! This thing was entirely new to me but I guess, I quickly learned some of the basic protocol in mountaineering. Everything boils down to “common sense” and respect to the culture and beliefs of the people in the community.

Although it was already almost 4:30 PM when I was given the usual briefing presentation by the DENR about the mountain I am going to visit, the sun was still shining brightly and I have to deal with the fact that I am taking my time from taking one step of the process at a time. There is no point to worry if my trek to Mt Pulag’s peak will be realized the following day.

After the usual briefing and payment of permit fee, additional information was provided by the people assigned in the said office. Permit fee per person is P 200.00 but you will be issued two receipts from the Bureau of Treasury. Since I am not with a group of mountaineers on a group tour, the office personnel advised me to contact a certain “Julius” to bring me to the Ranger Station in Ambangeg aboard a motorcycle. The fee for one-way is P 300.00 per person.

I was also advised to get a guide at the Badadak Ranger Station, the place where I am going to start my trek to the peak of Mt Pulag. The guide’s fee at the Ambangeg Trail is P 500.00. I found out later that the guide’s fee is more expensive if the entry point is from the Akiki Trail which is obviously a longer route to the peak. It can cost you P 1,800.00 but one guide may be good for a group of 6-7 hikers. It is a “must” to get a guide in trekking in most of our mountains in order to avoid of being lost.

The problem with Barangay Ambangeg is that there is no place to stay for the night! The nearest place where there is a dormitory-type of accommodation is at the Poblacion of Kabayan—a good 1 1/2 to 2 hours drive of unpaved road! There was no other choice but to go to Kabayan. The adventure continues and it is a part of touring and knowing the place for the first time.

It was already nighttime when I entered the quiet town of Kabayan. Only one establishment was still open with food to be cooked and ordered at 7:00 PM. Our overnight stay in the one and only dormitory in town cost us P 200.00 per person! One has to sleep on two-deck beds with basic mattress and pillow. The dormitory has a communal bathroom and toilet with separate bathroom for the ladies. There was no hot water or shower but the ever-reliable pail and “tabo” were there!

On that night that we stayed in the said dormitory, two European couples were with us and four males working with a company that delivers and sells bulbs and lighting fixtures to every barangay in the towns of Benguet. A simple greetings and smile was enough for the foreiners but for the people I’ve met along the trip, being an Ilocano was already an  asset during my trip as the people in every place in Benguet could easily understand my dialect. I could easily communicate with them!

We left Kabayan after a simple breakfast and we arrived in Ambangeg, Bokod after almost 2 hours of slow driving and taking pictures along the way. I saw the entrance to the Akiki Trail along the road and I found out that this is the harder entry towards the peak of Mt Pulag. I took some pictures of the place and promised myself to be back and make an assault to the peak using this entry.

“One-time deal” parking fee in Ambangeg cost me P 100.00 from 10:00 AM up to the time we left the place. I think, it was already 7:00 PM. I left my car and I was in tandem with Julius on his motorcycle on our way going higher to the foot of Mt Pulag. It was my first time to be riding in tandem on a motorcycle ride and Julius was complaining that I was doing some unnnecessary movements with my butt. He didn’t know that the bumpy road made me fly a few inches from the saddle/seat and the continous butt-jumps made me nervous that I might fall off from the motorcycle! My light weight made me unstable riding on a motorcycle on rocky/bumpy road!

Wow! That was the most horrible ride I’ve experienced! The 9+ kilometers with rocks and slippery mud on the uphill path could be the longest 40 minutes of my life! Finally, we arrived at the Ranger Station in Sitio Badadak, Ambangeg. The Ranger assigned in the station was having his Lunch Break at 11:30 AM and there was no person to whom I would show the receipt that I paid as my permit fee. I just thought that I would see the Ranger once I’ll be back from the peak of the mountain.

After 15 minutes of waiting for a guide, Edgar came forward and signed up to guide me in my trek to the peak of Mt Pulag. I told Julius and company to return to the Ranger Station to pick us and bring us to where my car was parked at exactly 5:30 PM. Julius was surprised and made a statement that with the limited time, I might not be able to reach the peak of the mountain with such time. I just smiled at him and told him that I’ll be waiting for him at the Ranger Station on the said time.

Mountaineers (with packs) usually reach the peak in 4-5 hours from the Badadak/Ambangeg Ranger Station. Well, Julius and the rest of the people at the Ranger Station didn’t know that I will be running, jogging, trotting and brisk walking to and from the peak of the mountain! And so I did!

At 4:30 PM, I was back at the Ranger Station! I was able to reach the peak of Mt Pulag by “assualting” it through its steepest approach trail (last 50 meters) in 2 hours! Spent 15-20 minutes on the peak for picture taking and moving around the topmost portion and admiring the damp brown dwarf bamboos. The temperature at the peak was freezing as it was raining and the peak was covered with clouds! In a few minutes, my fingers were numb and my body started to feel the cold temperature. I kept on walking on the open space of the peak but the freezing temperature would make my body shiver.

On my way to the peak after passing Camp 1 and before entering to the “Mossy Part”, I was able to meet a couple, a male foreigner and a Filipina, and I greeted them while I was jogging. As soon as I reached the place they call “Grassland”, I met a group of 18 campers/mountaineers with their guide and porter. This is the same group that I would catch up at Camp 1 on my way back to the Badadak Ranger Station. This group is from Lufthansa Airline Company. I would found out later that these campers whom I met along the Ambangeg Trail had been on the trail for 2 days as they have started their climb from the Akiki Trail and they had camped at a placed called “Saddle or Camp 3” before reaching the peak of Mt Pulag.

While waiting for Julius and his motorbiking friends to arrive at the Badadak Ranger Station, I asked Edgar, my guide, where I could buy some snacks—native hot coffee and some local bread. Edgar invited me to his parent’s house and I enjoyed sitting at a place where it is near their stove. Julius and company arrived with a delay of almost one hour. It was okey with me since I had a nice time talking to Edgar’s folks and brothers. The 30-minute downhill ride to the center of Ambangeg took a longer time due to faulty brakes on the motorcycle I was riding. After some stops and quick-repair/disassembly & assembly of rear brakes & tire, I was able to reach my parked vehicle. It was already nighttime.

My trip to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya has to be postponed and I decided to do my “peak bagging” to Mt Ugo on Race Day itself for the 1st King of the Mountain Mt Ugo Trail Marathon. I was already tired. I need the comfort of a nice bed in Baguio City. After a 2 1/2 drive to Baguio City, I was able to take my late dinner and I was in my favorite hotel room in Baguio City—taking an ice-cooled bath and sleeping under soft and clean linens!

This was my first experience of “peak bagging” on the highest mountain peak in Luzon and 3rd highest in the country! For the round-trip distance of 15K from the Badadak Ranger Station to the peak of Mt Pulag and back, I was able to register a time of 5 hours to include my stay at the peak and “pit stops” in every Camp that I reached. I started from an estimated elevation of 2,400 meters and was able to reach the peak of the mountain where my GF 305 registered an elevation of 2,940 meters!

After some research in the Internet and other blogs, I found out that there are events in Europe, particularly in England where mountain trail runs are called “fell running”. And there are also trail running events that would last for 24 hours or more where the number of mountain peaks are considered and counted to be reached as part of the route. Reaching those peaks is called “Peak Bagging”!

This is my own way of applying such event that I’ve learned from “fell running”. The procedure is so simple. Target one mountain peak at a time, run and walk through it, take some pictures at the peak, and run/jog downhill to where one has started. This is the “travel lite” of mountain trekking or climbing without the intention of camping overnight on each mountain. With my first experience of “peak bagging” at the highest mountain peak of Luzon, I guess, a new frontier and form of trail/road running is born!

Now, if you ask me if I enjoyed my experience? You bet! “Peak Bagging” is addictive!!!

Surprisingly, the road distance from the Gurel Junction along the Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Highway up to the peak of Mt Pulag through the Ambangeg Trail is exactly 25 kilometers! And if you double the distance by going back from the peak of Mt Pulag to the Gurel Junction, the total distance would be a good 50 kilometers!

This could be the most challenging 50-Kilometer Ultra Run in the country!

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