Thursday, February 15, 2018

Hiking Adventures #41: Mt. Halcon - The Dream Climb

After climbing Mt. Guiting-Guiting last May 2016, our team composed of Eduardo Velasquez, Ken Esguerra, JP Anthony Cunada, Jhed Munoz, Darwin Alcantara, Lei Tabones, Tayn Nivera, Chester Nick Gonzales, Bryan Allayban, Jayson Jogno and Allen Ellana next eyed Mt. Halcon as part of our journey in conquering the Knife Edge Trilogy. This Knife Edge Trilogy (consisting of Mt. Guiting-Guiting, Mt. Mantalingajan, and of course, Mt. Halcon) is one of the goals of every voracious Filipino hiker.

Mt. Halcon Knife Edge

When I started climbing mountains, I never thought of climbing Mt. Halcon. Those were the days I asked myself, how can I take a dump in the mountains, how to take a bath, etc. But as time goes by,  I was thinking for the next level.

Let me share my story about this dream climb. 

 

Day 0


I traveled to Batangas Port from Makati alone because I needed to pass by in San Jose, Batangas, my hometown to get the shovel I borrowed from my batchmate Atty. JP. Since the climb is a multi dayhike, we need it badly. Hahaha! 

Atty. JP and I were part of BMC Program of Metropolitan Mountaineering Society back then. We met in Bakun Trio open climb of MMS last 2016, then we joined the training program. Our batch has its officers and our head is called BC or Batch Coordinator, and it was Atty. JP. I was also elected and I've got the role of being an ABC or Assistant Batch Coordinator.

I left home so early in the morning, I think it was 4:00AM so I can catch the time of our departure from Batangas Port. This trip I did was really a struggle because with me is my trusty tallpack weighing at least 20kg. As I got off the bus from Lipa, I took a jeepney ride to San Jose. I entered the jeepney carrying my tallpack and duck as low as I can and avoid hitting other passenger. It's like a pain in the ass. I met my uncle in the town proper to get the shovel, after that I rode another jeep going to Batangas City. From the Diversion road, I rode a tricycle going to the Pier. Tiring isn't it?

We left from Batangas Port to Calapan around 2:00PM. It took 2 hours boat ride when we reached the port of Calapan. From Calapan, we traveled to Baco, Oriental Mindoro and headed straight to the Municipal Hall to register and to get a climb permit. We bumped with a group of hikers who have just successfully descended Halcon. We interviewed them and they look so tired.







It took a long time to finish all the errands in the Baco Municipal. However, we reached Lantuyan Resort around 6:30PM and we stayed there over the night. We prepared all our stuff before going to sleep, ETD from Lantuyan is 5:00AM.


Baco Municipal Hall
Baco Municipal Hall


Day 1


We wanted to start as early as possible. We started trekking at around 6:00am from Lantuyan Resort, but we needed to stop at the session hall of the Mangyans to meet our guides and porters. We also needed to weigh our loads here. The weighing took around 30 to 40 minutes, causing a slight delay in our itinerary. Despite sharing loads with Sir Bryan’s porter, my tall pack still weighed quite a lot, about 12 to 14 kilos.


Mangyan Kids


Brgy. Lantuyan Session Hall


The first part of the trail is an assault that passes by some Mangyan houses. I needed to stop after only a few minutes of walking because I was already exhausted. Maybe my body was still adjusting. The trail had a rolling quality: you ascend, then descend, then ascend again, descend, and so on. Our target was to reach the Aplaya campsite before dawn. Should we make it earlier, we would proceed to the Dulangan river.




I heard the word “Sialdang” from our guide. It was a cool-sounding name, like it would be the name of a character from Mortal Kombat. I thought then that Sialdang was the mountain we passed before reaching the foot of Mt. Halcon. However, while working on this post, I read an article that said that Mt. Sialdang is actually another name for Mt. Halcon, one given by the locals. You can find the story behind the name here: http://www.thephilippinemountaineering.com/2013/06/mt-halcon.html.

We passed through different kinds of trails, from open trails to mossy ones. We also passed through some wooden bridges and rivers. We had our lunch by a river that also served as a water source. We had many rest stops before continuing, like the one in the photo below.






Jess taking a nap

After we passed through a beautiful forest, I was shocked that we had only just reached the foot of Mt. Halcon.



Approaching Halcon. Long way to go.



We reached the Aplaya campsite earlier than expected, at around 4:00pm. Since we arrived earlier, we pushed onward to Dulangan river. It’s usually not safe to camp there, but the weather was nice, so we thought that it would be fine. It would also mean that we’d have a plentiful water supply.

After pitching my tent on the rocky and sandy riverside, I hurriedly plunged myself into the refreshing river. I had to be careful though, as the water current was quite strong and it was very cold. Some of us were already preparing for dinner so that they could rest early.








During dinner, some of us thought about doing a day hike to the summit from Dulangan river. At first, I didn’t want to do that because I wanted to wake up in the summit of Mt. Halcon. However, a day hike would be easier as we would be carrying a much lighter load, and according to the guides, it would only take more or less seven hours. Our team lead, Ed, decided to do the day hike, which meant that we had to start trekking at 1:00am. It would also cut down the four-day climb to a three-day one.

Day 2


We left our tents at around 1:30am. I brought enough trail food for the day hike, as well as the packed lunch we cooked before lights out. As expected, my pack was now much lighter, but my body was still looking for more rest. I couldn’t imagine that we would be night trekking for five hours, and in Mt. Halcon! I was nervous every time we crossed rivers and wooden bridges. I didn’t worry much about the limatik or blood-sucking leeches, but I’d ask a trail buddy to check on me from time to time. Haha!

Perhaps one benefit of night trekking is that you don’t really see the trail ahead of you. So if the trail turns out to be very steep, you just keep pushing until the steep part is done. Unlike when you’re climbing the same trail in daylight, where you can clearly see how steep it is and you end up wanting to stop more. So here I kept on going, pushing myself, keeping in mind that this was what I wanted.

The team was divided into three by dawn. I belonged to the mid group, along with Jayson, Joe Vic, and Jess. The trail became even steeper before the campsite near the summit. It was a 70 to 80 degree ascend! I dealt with a lot of slips on this trail. We finally reached the campsite at around 7:00am, and we were able to see the summit already. It seemed like there would be a sea of clouds, as well as beautiful sunrise. I spoke with some of the campers there, and they confirmed that there was a sea of clouds, and it was awesome! I was envious, so I hurriedly finished my breakfast so that I could start trekking again. But there was some bad news: it would take two more hours to walking before we would reach the summit.

We were already at the upper part of Mt. Halcon before 9:00am. We were almost at the summit! We were greeted by the sea of clouds, and we shouted for joy and excitement. We only had to deal with the famous wood trail. We passed by the tombstone of Neptali Lazaro, a mountaineer who died due to hypothermia in November of 1994.







Tombstone of Neptali Lazaro

Joevic, Jess and Jayson





Approaching Halcon summit

When we finally reached the summit, there was no clearing. Even the lead team, composed of my MMS batchmate JP, Darwin, Sir Chester and Sir Bryan, didn’t have a clearing when they reached the summit. We waited for the others, with some choosing to sleep while waiting. I immediately looked for the famous diving board.



Group photo



The sweep team arrived at around 10:30am. They were tired, and disappointed because of the lack of a clearing. However, they were proud that they had reached the summit. All of us did.

The lead team started their descent at around 11:00am. The mid team joined them, but I decided to stay and join the sweep team in hopes of a clearing after an hour or two. When they left, those of us who stayed prayed and waited for the clearing. There was another group waiting with us. They gave food to the ladies of our group and chatted with us/them. There was another group who were doing a day hike of Halcon --- yes, a day hike from the jump-off to the summit, and vice versa!

I can’t remember the exact time, but I think it was around 12:00nn when we finally got a clearing. It was really awesome! We were the only group remaining in the summit, so we seized the opportunity to take lots of photos. I hurriedly went to the diving board for a photo. Our guide patiently waited for us, taking our photos as well. We started our descent back to Dulungan river after about 30 minutes. On our way down, I was able to clearly see and appreciate Halcon’s famous knife edge. It was surreal.






Our strong girls




Going down from Summit to Dulungan River is a challenge because of its steepness. I had a lot of slips once again and there was a point that I slipped knee first then it bumped into a root, it was painful but I was able to continue. We were passing through a trail where we just have to slide down through our feet while the guide was waiting to reach our hands because that part wasn't established anymore, it's looks like a landslide already.







After nearly eight hours of trekking down, the sweep team finally reached the Dulungan river. I was tired, extremely exhausted and all out. I felt the body pain kick in immediately when I finally had the chance to sit down. The lead and mid team were already able to rest since they reached Dulungan river before dusk. JP, my batchmate, took care of me as I rested. He served me food, coffee, and whatever else I needed. It’s my fondest memory of my batch coordinator.

After dinner, we all shared stories of our struggles and awesome experiences over a cup of coffee. We shared our pictures of the clearing to the lead team. At that moment, I already felt triumphant, but knowing that we still had to trek for nine more hours, I couldn’t quite say that I’ve already conquered Mt. Halcon.

Day 3


The next morning, it rained. I woke up to moisture inside my tent, my feet damp. I wanted to sleep some more due to the severe body pain that was already making itself felt, but I needed to get up for breakfast and prepare for our descent.

The rain stopped as we had our breakfast. We set our descent to begin at 8:00am, so we had a bit more time to prepare. It was a good that that, despite last night’s rain, the river remained calm.

My things had been packed and I was ready to go. Before we left, JP took a video of the two of us telling our batchmates that we were now leaving Halcon, and encouraging them to climb it soon. That’s my batchmate and coordinator right there, inspiring his batchmates to climb one of the toughest mountains in the country!

We departed Dulungan river at around 8:00am, hoping to reach the Lantuyan jump-off by 4:00pm. It was still a long trek despite all the walking we’ve already done for two days. I was already so exhausted, but I really needed to push myself and finish the journey. The first part was still manageable, but soon I was already feeling drained. I felt like I was just wandering, and I let my mind wander too: it helps me carry on and endure the pain.








Before we reached the Mangyan houses, I started conversing with our guide. I asked him so many questions as I was already tired of daydreaming. He was around 26 years old, already a husband and father. When he isn’t guiding mountaineers, he makes his living as a farmer. He told me the difficulties of being a guide: they didn’t have the proper gear such as shoes, bags, and protection from the cold. Cigarettes and booze had to do. I also asked him the meaning of the term “Mangyan.” In their language, Mangyan meant tao or human. He used it in a sentence: “Apo, mangyan?” or “Tao po?” in Tagalog, meaning “is anyone there?”

I didn’t realize how near we were already during our conversation. It was a great relief to have finally caught sight of Lantuyan Resort. I passed by the Lantuyan river first so I could clean my shoes and pants. The lead team welcomed and congratulated us upon our arrival. Finally, I can say that I have conquered Mt. Halcon. A dream come true!

We stayed for another night, planning to leave the following morning. It was going to be a long night, so we celebrated with some beers before bed. We also took a dip in the pool whose water came from the river. The water was cold and very refreshing. I didn’t drink as much as I wanted to since I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up on time due to tipsiness and exhaustion.


Day 4


I woke up refreshed that morning, after finally being able to rest well in a soft bed. I can say that it’s one of the rewards of climbing a tough mountain: the harder you work, the better the reward. Great sleep is definitely one of them. This also goes hand-in-hand with “the harder the climb, the better the view.”

We left Lantuyan Resort by 8:00am. We are extremely thankful to the caretakers of the resort for all their assistance. I highly recommend them!





I can’t quite remember what time I arrived home. All I can remember was that I went home proud, so proud of myself and the team I shared the experience with. I exceeded myself, pushed myself to the limit. I didn’t give up and chose to fight through the struggles. One of the things that this climb made me realize is that in life, pain is worth the sacrifice.


Mt. Halcon
Baco, Occidental Mindoro
Difficulty: 9/9
March 17-20, 2017


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