Monday, March 21, 2011

LUZON 3-2-1 (Three Peaks and One Goodbye)

I first summited Mt Pulag in January, 2006 with All-Terrain Mountaineering Club (ATMC). At that time, Pulag was just a dream for me—a five-month-old mountaineer. It was then when I found two of my best climb buddies—Nixon Olbes and Chuck Miralles. Then in April, 2006, with scant information in hand, I scaled Mt Timbak (aka Mt Singacalsa) via KM 54 with my college friend. And in August, 2006 what should have been a Bakun Trio first anniversary climb for me and the Kuligligs became a whimsical Mt Tabayoc attempt. Without a guide, we tried to penetrate the rain forest in the morning. But the dark, misty, mossy forest of Mt Tabayoc didn’t let us get through its labyrinth of trails and creeks embedded in the moist rain forest trees.

Me and Nixon during our first Luzon 3-2-1 attempt in December 2006
After that failed Mt Tabayoc mission, the idea of stringing together the three highest peaks of Luzon was born. I did a lot of research, planning and correspondences with other climbers notably Sir Erick Bautista. Then in December 26, 2006, my best climb buddy Nixon Olbes and I set out on this unforgettable journey. It was my second time in Mt Timbak and this time, we took the KM55 entry point. It was during this climb that I met Ate Josie. She provided us with lodgings in her cozy cabin! The following day, we took the traverse route and for the first time, set our eyes on the famous Timbak mummies! Then we resumed our trek to Kabayan Barrio. It was during this downhill descent when I got my right knee sprained. We spent our second night at Kabayan Barrio. It was the place which Nixon told me he would want to rest forever. We were there in time for the Scouts Jamboree. And that night, the organizers joined us in our socials and I heard a joke uniquely Bengueteño.

Waking up at Kabayan Barrio on a fair day is like seeing yourself in a place reserved only for postcards. The surrounding mountains slowly getting illuminated by the rising sun makes you feel like you’re witnessing a theatrical surprise of nature in slow motion! We left Kabayan Barrio in the afternoon and went to Ballay by bus. We rested for the night at the solar-powered house beside Tabeo Lake with our guide Santiago. We planned to climb Mt Tabayoc the following day but my knee hurt even more so we just settled for the Four Lakes and Jr Pulag. After arriving at Lake Incolos (the last lake in the itinerary), my left knee also got sprained. It was an ordeal for me to take a single step. And we were soaked in ice-cold rain water! The day passed and we decided to abort our plan to climb Mt Pulag. We went home separately with our hearts defeated but filled with a resolute promise to return for another shot at the expedition. At the same time, we were overwhelmed by the joy over the wonderful experience we had with the place and the people!

with Jessie Laurel and Joshua Calimag
during the first successful Luzon 3-2-1 expedition in April 2008
In April 2008, we were ready again to take on the Luzon 3-2-1 challenge. This time, we included two Kuligligs, Jessie Laurel and Joshua Calimag in the team. A week before the proposed climb date, Nixon called me up for a topak climb in Mt Cristobal. Thursday, after the climb, I got a call from his girlfriend telling me that he passed away the day after our climb in Mt Cristobal! I was still in great disbelief and very depressed that I almost gave up the thought of still pushing on with the journey. But in the end I just prayed that he accompany us on our journey. And that became my strength and determination.

During my treks with him, Nixon was the path-finder. His instincts were very strong. When he felt that one trail is a shortcut, he would take it without scruple and we would always end up saving time and effort. We climbed Mt Marami, Mt Timbak and Mt Cristobal without any guide….just the two of us!

And during that second Luzon 321 attempt, I tripped, on the traverse to Kabayang Barrio, at the points where I had to enter the shortcuts we discovered in 2006. It was obviously him leading the trail! And while I was meditating at the river in Kabayan where we had found a rock embedded with silvery mineral on our previous attempt, there was a black-brown bird that kept hopping (not flying) and led me to that same rock! And at last that week, Jessie, Joshua and I accomplished Luzon 321!

Luzon 321 will probably be my most unforgettable expedition. I was a neophyte when I took on this challenge and I succeeded. I am not sure if somebody else had done it before Nixon and me. But it’s not the record that I am after. I keep track of my own personal records! I just hope that this serves as a testimony that you too can do things that you think are impossible.

Our original itinerary was six days and seven nights. This itinerary has been condensed to four days and three nights or even shorter by new organizers like Sir Melo Sanchez! I have never organized another Luzon 321. This expedition is very fulfilling and rewarding! When someone plugs this event, have no second thoughts! Go for it!

Join me this coming April 21-24, 2018 in celebration of the tenth anniversary of this epic journey. And the twist is, we'll be taking a route to Mt Pulag that has been taken by less than 5 mountaineers so far.


  1. sama aq jan master

  2. para exploratory climb ito? I wish I can still do this...

  3. sir meron po kayo ung updated IT ung 4days 3nights

  4. Your story with your best climbing buddy is very inspiring sir! I know he will always be with you on any path you take.

  5. I cant help thinking about Nixon since I read your post about him on Fb.

    Ps. I dont know him personally


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