Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ANTIQUE TRILOGY: The Toughest in the Philippines

TOUGHEST MOUNTAINS IN THE PHILIPPINES

Push your limits eh?! How about limit your push? This sure would be the case if you were ever in one of the three mighty mountains in Panay!


There's been a lot of hullabaloo on social media as to which mountain's the toughest in the Philippines. Some even have devised a set of standards to qualify and quantify the toughness of mountains and trails in the country. Many say Halcon is the toughest. Quite a few say it's Guiting-Guiting. And still some would insist it's Sicapoo! Whatever it is, I still reiterate “There really ain't any mountain in the Philippines that tough. It is you who make them tough.”

Please don't misunderstand the statement above. I'm saying there isn't any mountain in the country so tough that you won't be able to climb it. 

But there are definitely mountains tougher than the others. There is gradation among mountains...gradation according to toughness. But mountains belonging to one band or grade only differ in difficulty relative to the hiker and his itinerary, among other factors. One hiker may prefer Ambangeg-Akiki as his knees are cut out for walking up rolling terrain and running down steep slopes. Another hiker who is strong enough to climb steep slopes but whose knees aren't built for fast descent would prefer Akiki-Ambangeg route. A rock-lover would say that Madja-as and Halcon are tougher than Guiting-Guiting but a root-lover would say otherwise, if you know what I mean.


With that said, I would like to introduce three mountains that belong in whichever grade Guiting-Guiting belongs in. And these are the three mighty mountains of Antique—Madja-as, Nangtud and Baloy-daku. Geographically, however, only Madja-as has its peak in Antique soil but all three have convenient access points in Antique. If you wish to climb any mountain in Antique you have to coordinate with the office of Mr. Broderick Tra-in. He is the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council head of Antique (at least back in 2010). He has received numerous Kalasag awards for his outstanding performance in rescue and disaster prevention. A mountaineer himself, he is one of the founding members of Antique Mountaineering Society Inc (AMSI), an active mountaineering group in the Visayas. It is a blessing that I had had a lot of experience in the mountains of Luzon and Mindanao before exploring the mountains of Panay Island. The terrain is hostile. Antique offers you the scorching heat of the sun in the lowlands and the really thick, mossy, misty rain forest up in the highlands. Most mountains are prone to landslides and you’ll often have to engage in a very precarious trek on a long open ridge before approaching the summit. So if you want REAL challenge, head for Panay Island.

MT MADJA-AS




This mighty mountain presides over the town of Culasi in Antique. The ideal jump-off is at Flores. Joshue (Oswe) claims to have established the Flores trails so he doesn't allow hikers any entry to Mt Madja-as without him as a guide. But he has grown old now, although still strong enough to lead you. Another entry point is Brgy. Alojipan and the main man there is (Ta)tay Dimas. When I first saw this mountain from sea level back in 2006, I was amazed by its imposing height. I failed to climb it then due to the sudden physical discomfort of my companion. Last March (2010), though, I was lucky to set foot on its summit thanks to the team organized by Haji Tandog of Antique Mountaineering Society Inc! Some claim that Madja-as is the highest mountain in Panay. Some put it in number two, just a few meters under Mt Nangtud. And still quite a few put it in number three after Baloy-daku. This discrepancy may be best resolved by an individual climbing all the three mountains using just one dependable altimeter. Until now, no one has done such a feat.

The horrors of Mt Madja-as

1. The trail
   a. It’s looong
   b. Tinangisan trail (the first phase of the trek) is long and steep and open. Trek it in under the sun and you'll curse the maker of the itinerary.
   c. Deep into the rainforest, the mossy ground is slippery.
   d. If the ground ain't mossy, you're gonna have to deal with loose soil and rolling pebbles.
2. The summit is almost always cloud-capped. When you're up there, there's hardly any visibility. And it's always moist.
3. Unpredictable weather conditions near the summit. They say Madja-as trades heavy rains for your noise.
4. Unfriendly vegetation. The rainforest is thick. You'll have to negotiate the thorns and the roots that block the trail. You'll have to go over, under and through those Jurassic roots. They're really nasty. Trust me.
5. Limatiks. Not so many though
6. Bangin...a lot of these. In some parts, you'll be walking on edges of slippery boulders. At another, you'll be testing your balance on an open, narrow and long ridge. At still another, you'll be forced to trust the flimsy rope that your guide brought with him...the same guide who'll scare you by making you realize how vertiginous the cliff is.


MT NANGTUD



The ideal entry point is Barbaza, Antique. In a sitio called Lumboyan, mention the name (Ta)tay Lino and you've got your guide. Just like Brgy. Flores, mobile phone signal is not that good in Lumboyan. The best way to contact these guides is to get your ass out there where they live. They're always there anyway and there are less than 200 voters in these places so everyone knows everybody else. I summited this mountain in October, 2009 alone with two guides. Yes, you’ll need two. You can’t be assisted at river crossings by just one guide. It was the first time I asked myself "Why do I climb mountains?" It was the first time I used a makeshift trekking pole. My thighs failed me. Mt Nangtud is popularly believed to be the highest point in Panay Island. The trail to the summit is very established. Although, unlike Mt Madja-as and Baloy, it has no known established traverse route other than the link to Mt Madja-as. There's plenty of water sources and the guides are really helpful.

The horrors of Mt Nangtud
1. The trail
    a. It’s looooong…longer than that of Madja-as. You start almost at sea level
    b. It has its own version of Tinangisan trail--a long, open cogon trail. But before you get to this cogon ridge, you'll have to take your chances up a steep wall of loose soil.
    c. Talahib. Get your body covered.
2. Bangin. The cogon ridge itself is vertiginous on both sides. I actually slipped. But the guide was quick enough to catch and pull me up. A more dangerous trail is a long, narrow path alongside a steep wall before you get to Camp2.
3. River trekking. Four hours of negotiating the current and rocks will blister your sole and cramp your legs. It is NOT easy to cross a river…not a stream. This is legit river. It's not the depth...it's the intensity of the current and the instability of the stones you're stepping on.
4. Limatik. tolerable


MT BALOY-DAKU



Probably the toughest in the Antique Trilogy, Baloy records the fewest successful summiting. Some sources say IMC conquered the mountain back in 1997 and confirmed the presence of a small lagoon nestled in the highest peak. This information has recently been debunked by locals of Valderrama, Antique who set "mohons" (boundary markers) between Antique, Iloilo and Aklan, saying there is no body of water nor flat land of any kind at the peak. It's purely thick mossy forest.

There are two convenient entry points to Mt Baloy. One is in Calinog, Iloilo via sitio Karatagan. The other is in Valderrama, Antique via Brgy Sn Agustin. I took the Calinog entry point last October (2009) but me and my buddy could only go as far as sitio Karatagan. We couldn't find any guide there. In Calinog, the imposing image of Mt Baloy is clearly visible but it would break any hiker's spirit, as it resembles an immense vertical wall that you would find it difficult to figure out which route to take. I took the Valderrama route in March 2010 but our team still failed to summit due to hostile weather conditions as we approached the summit. If you ever wish to take the Valderrama route, it is best to coordinate with the tourism officer (Chester Regondon) or a local mountaineer Kevin Jauod (0906 262 9321). They have a detailed overview of the trek. They have summited Baloy on separate occasions. However since very few, if any, local guides will be willing to take you up the mountain. Turn instead to a mountaineer from Iloilo Joanathan Sulit (0927 253 8172). He has taken some groups all the way up to the summit. He knows the secret to a successful Mt Baloy summiting. But he’ll check the profiles of the contingents before saying YES. If he suddenly gives excuses that means someone in your group is not fit for a Mt Baloy climb. PICK THE RIGHT BUDDIES.
 



The horrors of Mt Baloy
1. The trail. The trail is almost exactly the same as that of Nangtud. The first phase is a four-hour river trek…then a nearly vertical ascent along the slope of an open ridge then a 3-hour trek on a long, open, narrow cogon ridge. Then you’ll have to camp at a peak (Camp2). Then you’ll have to trek the narrow treacherous ridge that connects Baloy-gamay to the adjoining peaks to Baloy-daku. The only difference is that this is a strenuous CONSTANT ascent. No downward trek before Camp 1 and Camp 2.
you can bypass this uphill area and take the Brgy Busog route.
2.  River trekking. The same as that of Nangtud
3. Snakes. Had three sightings during our trek
4. The summit is very elusive. The summit is always cloud-capped at certain times of the day. Locals say, rain pours when mortals try to approach the summit. The village captain, who joined in the laying of boundary markers a few years back, said that they were pounded by the rain at the summit. Last April (2010), we saw a pile of twigs and leaves that marks the spot where a local fugitive died trying to hide from the authorities. He purportedly murdered someone in the lowlands. The guardian spirits of Baloy don’t admit tainted souls.
5. Bangin. Aside from the ‘Cogon trail’, there is the Bitas trail—a long narrow stretch of open ridge right after Baloy-gamay
6. Limatik. Plenty of them. Chester practically bathed in Off lotion, detergent and bath soap during our climb in 2010.

Here's the deal! 
I have done Luzon 3-2-1 and Mindanao1-2-3. I've climbed Guiting-Guiting overnight. I’ve (traverse) run Kanlaon, Pulag and Apo within 10 hours on separate occasions. But I’m telling you, none of them can compare to a trek in even just two of the three mighty mountains of Panay taken as a combo, let alone all three of them at the same time. There was a recent Madja-as – Nangtud combo. And the participants cannot exaggerate the ordeals they had to deal with. Nangtud and Baloy are the real deal! You start at sea level and you negotiate all the kinds of terrain a tropical country could have.

TEST YOUR LIMITS: Trek Antique!

Jonathan Sulit (Talahib Eco-Trekkers; Iloilo): 0927 253 8172
Kevin Jauod (Valderrama, Antique): 0906 262 9321
Paulino Fano (AMSI): 0909 324 1431

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mt Baloy-daku: The Fourth Attempt

The foreboding cloud-capped summit of Mt-Baloy-Daku (Baloy-Bahul) as seen from Baloy-gamay during my second attempt in 2010

Like I said in my earlier post, for a very long time, I really thought that everything I did in the past was mountaineering, as long as there was ‘Mt’ or ‘Mountain’ in the name of the destination. This month I have finally come to terms with the fact that mountaineering doesn't seem that appealing to me anymore as it used to. Or maybe, I am no longer fit to be a mountaineer.


Y'see about three months ago, I had booked my round trip plane ticket to Panay Island. I was set to climb Mt Baloy-daku in Valderrama, Antique from Sept 14 to Sept 18. All the logistics had been set and my guide was all prepared. But at the last minute I called it off. Mt Baloy has been my long-time mountaineering nemesis. I had failed in my first three attempts to get to its summit. This time, I failed to even get to the jump-off point. Two days before my flight to Boracay, I resolved to just relax at the beach and not proceed to Antique.



The thought of the ordeals that I have to go through in Mt Baloy was enough to deter me. I could no longer see the point in negotiating the mighty Dalanas River countless times; or bear the heat of the sun while being flagellated by the blades of cogon and the spikes of rattan; and taking chances with the snakes, the vertiginous cliffs, the sudden hostile weather condition, and depletion of water--all for the single mission to get to the summit. And I realized this is probably the meaning of mountaineering. You STRUGGLE just to get to the SUMMIT. This time, I said NO to the summit and yes to the beach. But in the end, I didn’t go to the beach either. I decided to stick to my weight-loss training regimen for my upcoming trail race. I chose rock climbing instead. And boy did I sweat hard!

the limestone walls of Cantabaco in Cebu

Perhaps I’ve been pampered by the scenic trails of Benguet. They require endurance and strength but unlike mountaineering, they won’t subject you to a lot of physical and psychological torture. Instead, they provide tantalizing vistas for your eyes to feast on. The difference between trekking and mountaineering has become clearer to me.


But why have I been putting a lot of placemarks on the uncharted regions of Kalinga on my Google Earth lately?!



Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ultralight Backpacking and Minimalism


We’ve been hearing a lot of fuss about ultralight backpacking lately. And I am a bit annoyed when the weight of each item in your pack is detailed to the last 0.001 gram. But that’s just me.


However, I just want to point out that I am concerned that the focus of the naive audience may be confined in the issue of weight alone. It’s not totally bad. I go for minimum weight myself. But minimal weight is not really an end in itself. In my case, it is just a by-product of an ultimate goal. And my ultimate goal is MINIMALISM. Minimalism should not be confused with ultralight backpacking. Minimalism is the pursuit of achieving something with minimum or zero aid. The ultimate goal really is to rely on your body alone. It wouldn’t be minimalism to carry a proud 5-kg load that includes an ultralight sleeping pad, an ultralight camping chair, and an ultralight power bank.


Some say I was irresponsible trekking for ninety days on my own without safety equipment such as a rope, a first-aid kit, or even a compass. But I was just being me. And [ME]= [my body, wits and spirit] not my compass and other gear. 



This recent fuss about ultralight backpacking seems to be shifting the goal to how smart you could get at improvising stuff or how rich you are by being able to buy expensive ultralight gear. I'm sure this is not the intention of the proponents of ultralight backpacking but the admonition to be FIT and EXPERIENCED has been accidentally relegated.




Again, it’s not wrong to pursue minimal weight on the load you carry. I just suggest that on top of your mission to keep the weight of your load to the minimum, it would be great to keep training—to keep honing your skills—to reach the maximum potential of your body—so that ultimately, you won’t have to rely on a lot of gear, so that in the end you can rightfully say ‘I did it!’ and not ‘My ultralight gear did it!’



Yuji Hirayama, a three-time record holder for the fastest ascent on El Capitan's The Nose, echoes two of my main guiding principles in trekking:


1. Rely on your body more than your gear.
2. Travel only with thy betters or thy equals. If there are none, travel alone.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

MOUNTAINEERING, HIKING and TREKKING



Many of us have been wondering what the difference is among the terms HIKING, MOUNTAINEERING and TREKKING. I was in the dark for quite a while. I simplistically thought that because the name of the destination has the word 'Mount / Mt' in it, then it is already mountaineering. I later realized that many of the journeys we consider as 'mountaineering' in the Philippines are hikes. Many alpinists might probably not consider any journey in the Philippines as 'mountaineering'.


Many have wanted to establish the delineation among these terms but decided not to put it in writing either for fear of criticism or because of the confusing nature of some journeys that could be considered both mountaineering and hiking; or trekking and mountaineering; or all three of them.

The eagerness to criticize a certain set of standards or definitions usually springs from ego. Many Filipino outdoor enthusiasts have come to regard mountaineering as a superior activity to hiking and trekking (even before knowing the meaning of the terms). So when someone tells us that our 'Mt Maculot climb is a hike and not mountaineering', we often volunteer to hear 'It's JUST a hike' and we feel less 'astig'.  The truth is, they are apples and oranges. Would you think basketball is superior to baseball?


With that note, I hope the readers keep both a critical and an open mind, when reading my own definitions of HIKING, MOUNTAINEERING and TREKKING.


All three (HIKING, TREKKING and MOUNTAINEERING) are done outdoors and all three are done as a sport or a recreation. This means that a local, even if he traverses three peaks just to get to his home, is still not trekking or doing mountaineering. He's just going home or he has just bought some soy sauce.


Hiking is a journey amid beautiful scenery.
Trekking is a long* journey amid beautiful scenery.
Mountaineering is a quest for the summit.

*One may ask 'How long is long?'. Well, that would be at least 2 days under normal conditions.
** One might say, 'I struggled at the roped segment in Mt Batulao, is that a quest?' NO. Try Mt Halcon or Mt Baloy, you'll know what I mean by 'quest'. A quest for the summit (in the Philippines) should involve extreme physical struggle. You may be journeying for days in rugged conditions, with occasional rock scrambling, bush whacking, roped ascent/descent, river crossings, rattan spikes, and no guarantee for beautiful scenery or abundant water. The summit itself doesn't have to be picturesque. What's to be photographed at the summit of Mt Baloy or Alto Peak? All you have in mind is to get to the summit.


In both trekking and hiking, the goal is beautiful scenery. In mountaineering, the goal is the summit. With this difference, we can easily remove those journeys that don't involve the quest for the summit from the 'mountaineering' list.


Be warned, however, that not all journeys that involve summits are mountaineering. Treks and hikes can include summits as long as there is beautiful scenery in the journey.
In like manner, a mountaineering activity can also include beautiful scenery but it is not the goal, it is just a bonus.

Immersion is typically involved in a trek

While hiking and trekking seem similar, they differ in some elements other than the distance and the physical demand of the activity (which are vague parameters). One of these elements is that trekking typically involves immersion in remote communities and learning about their culture and practices. Another factor is that if the journey can be done comfortably within a day, it is not a trek, it is a hike. But a hike can also be a two-day journey. It just doesn't have to involve immersion.


With this simplistic set of definitions and differentiation, we can now classify many popular journeys accordingly. But, of course, there are still gray areas.

The list will always be subjective. You can make the list longer.


HIKES
Pulag (Amba-Amba)
Ulap
Osmena Peak
Mt Batulao
Mt Maculot
Pico de Loro
Mt Romelo 
Basically all climbable hills in the Calabarzon and Bulacan area except, Banahaw, Makiling and Cristobal

TREKS
Batad-Pula-Cambulo-Banaue
Kibungan Cross-country
Amburayan to Camp Utopia

MOUNTAINEERING
Mt Guiting-Guiting
Mt Mantalingajan
Mt Halcon
Mt Apo
Mt Namandiraan
Mt Sicapoo
Mt Baloy
Mt Madja-as
Mt Mt Nangtud


GRAY AREA
Mt Makiling
Mt Mariveles
Mt Tapulao
Mt Cristobal
Mt Ugo


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