The online portal for hiking in the Philippines, Pinoy Mountaineer has the most comprehensive list of guides for mountains and outdoor destinations in the country, as well as bulletins to keep you updated with the local mountaineering scene. This blog is authored by Gideon Lasco, physician, anthropologist, writer, and environmental advocate.
You used to be the youngest, and perhaps the strongest and fastest in your group. But now, you are not so young anymore, and perhaps not as strong or fast as you used to be.
You used to have all the time in the world. But now, you feel the opportunities to climb mountains are getting fewer and farther between. You used to climb a mountain every weekend, but nowadays there are Saturday mornings when you are too tired from work and all you want is to stay in bed. When you realise how much has changed in your (outdoor) life, you feel dejected. And when you realise how much has changed in your friends’ own lives to a point that you no longer get to climb together, you feel even more so.
Growing old is as inevitable as the sun rising at the summit of Mt. Pulag, or the winds blowing at the campsite of Tarak Ridge. It is part of life. As you age, priorities change, both yours and of the people you hike with. When there’s a conflict between your career and your climbing, the latter will take a back seat, because you have to earn a living. Perhaps when you were a student you used to joke that “hiking shouldn’t get in the way of my schooling”, but you eventually realise that it is easier said than done.
There are two opposite responses to this conundrum. The first is to abandon the outdoors, never to come back . This path is paved by excuses – I’m not prepared; I no longer have hiking shoes; I’m too busy – and these excuses feed into each other: You are not fit because you do not hike; you do not hike because. you are not fit. As people climb higher their so-called ‘career ladders’, they stop climbing mountains. If work is not a problem, then family responsibilities get in the way. And when there is actually an opportunity to climb mountains, the will to wake up and pack one’s bags is nowhere to be found.
The second is embrace the outdoors at the expense of your career. A year off leads to two; an extended leave leads to resignation. For some, the reason to abandon work is spurred by a genuine and understandable distaste for the working’ life, especially when you find yourself in a position where there are limited benefits: very few days of vacation leaves – and very few bosses who understand the need for employees to take a break – and find a life outside of their careers. For others, the will is to work is not simply there; perhaps they have problems in school or work; perhaps there is also the hope that the outdoors can be a source of living. There are many reasons for people to shun employment, and we cannot easily judge them.
The challenge for you, however, is to avoid the extreme of abandoning either your career or the outdoors.
In the first place, don’t romanticise as the outdoors as an escape from your life’s problems. The mountains may be a source of wisdom and inspiration, but they cannot give you the answers to the tests and trials in your life. The mountains may be a worthy pursuit, but they cannot be an excuse to hide from your responsibilties, whether in school, at work, or at home. Yes, we can turn to the outdoors during times of emotional turmoil. And yes, we can draw energy from the trail, inspiration from the summit, and peace from spending a night or two in the campsite. Even so, if you have life problems, confront them as you would a difficult route: Not by running away, but by preparing, analysing, and putting your skill and experience to good use.
But at the same time, don’t sacrifice the outdoors in pursuit of your career. You can always find time for the mountains. Maybe not as much as you used to be. Maybe you have to choose an easy hike instead of a difficult one. But if you have the will, there is always a way. Instead of thinking of the outdoors as an obstacle to your rest, think of it as rest itself, maybe not physically, but certainly mentally. If your work doesn’t allow you to spend even one day in a month to hike, then maybe you need to find another job. Or perhaps you need to improve your skills so you’re more efficient in doing your tasks.
Sometimes, it is also a matter of mindset. Perhaps when you were a student, you thought you can do a lot of ‘extra-curricular activities’, which include going to the outdoors. But somehow when you started working, you took on your job as your sole identity. But please rethink this notion that when you’re an ‘engineer’, you’re just an engineer, or when you’re an analyst, you’re just an analyst. Strive to be singular in your uniqueness, but plural in the things that you do. Don’t let yourself be defined by your work. Remember: A good employer will value the happiness of their employees – and thus allow them to climb mountains. As long as do your best, and show your worth, I’m sure you will find superiors who support your passions.
Of course, if you do go outdoors, make sure you honour your indoor commitments. Don’t skip work just because you saw another mountain to climb – and decided to extend your leave (or, if you’re a student, skip classes). If you say you will be back on Monday morning, be back on Monday morning. Don’t give yourself – and your fellow mountaineers – a bad name by being derelict in your duties.
The middle way is to strive doing your best in both your work and your recreation, that is, by loving what you do, and doing what you love. Put the same passion you have for the peaks to your work, and you will be a good employee. Put the same hardwork and discipline you have for your work to your hikes, and you will be a better climber.
One other thing you may perceive as an obstacle is your family, especially when you have children. But this, too, is not really a problem because you can always bring your family to the outdoors; I can think of no better activity. If you are in a relationship, the mountains shouldn’t get in the way: they can either be venues for togetherness – or giving space to one another’s personal pursuits. And when you do have kids, take them to your first peaks and share with them the gift of adventure, which is one of the best gifts a parent can give their child. Take them camping, make them fall in love with nature and give them memories that will last a lifetime.
Finally, as you grow older, you should also realise that there are many ways to appreciate the mountains. Sometimes, you can climb them, but sometimes you can just admire them from a distance. That’s okay. Sometimes you can climb all the way to the peak, sometimes you can just go part of the way. That, too, is okay: the newbie thinks of nothing but the summit, but the veteran seeks first and foremost the trail. Patience is the virtue that allows you to look at a beautiful peak and say: “There will be a next time”. As a mountaineer, more than speed or strength, you must have patience.
Another way to pursue the outdoors as you grow older is to help the younger ones. Share your knowledge. Share your resources. Share your gear – they are best used, not stored! And yes, share your passion! By mentoring other people to reach for the mountains of their dreams; by inspiring them to protect nature, you are helping make sure that the same mountains that have given you so much joy in your life will still be around for the generations to come.
And so when you feel the years weighing down your spirit like a heavy backpack, my advice is: Never let go of the mountains of your life! Keep going back to them, and I promise you that like the best of friends, they will never let you down.
Two and a half years after doing an Akiki-Ambangeg dayhike of Mt. Pulag (see Hiking matters #441), I returned to do the same thing, this time with a different set of friends and colleagues. The trail has actually been open for several weeks now but no one really goes up because the campsites are still closed in the wake of the recent fire.
We left Baguio City at 0430H, and although we were at the Akiki Ranger Station by 0706H, the formalities and bureaucratic procedures (they are still demanding medical certificates!) took a while; it was already 0752H when we got to finally hike. Fortunately, however, the weather was nice – it had been raining for the previous two days but we had sunshine and an auspicious view of Pulag’s summit!
The Akiki-Ambangeg dayhike, of course, is a formidable trek that involves a good 1700 meters of altitude gain. I recommend training in easier hikes (e.g. MakTrav) and doing equivalent hikes in lower altitudes (e.g Tapulao dayhike) before attempting it.
Our group hiked at a more relaxed pace as compared to my previous team of Koi Grey et al – and it was already 0922H when we reached the Eddet River – or a full 1.5 hours. From Eddet, a steep hike leads to the “Marlboro campsite” (I think we should replace the Marlboro name at some point) at 1200H. We had a quick lunch there. This campsite is the site of many good memories: I camped there during our Akiki-Tawangan Traverse way back in 2013 (see Hiking matters #337-338).
Resuming the trek at 1230H, we emerged from the mossy forest and reached the grassland at 1430H. From here, it was a 75-minute hike up the summit, which we reached at 1545H. Along the way we saw the extent of the grassland fire – and was glad to see that grass, including the dwarf bamboo, are regrowing in those parts.
It rained heavily at that point and we had to do a nonstop march to the Ambangeg Ranger Station, which we reached at 1809H. Total time was 10 hours and 18 minutes – compared to the previous 8 hours 30 minutes. Still, it was thoroughly enjoyable and I’ll gladly do the Akiki-Ambangeg dayhike again! Congrats and thanks to everyone who joined me: my LSHTM colleague Maureen and her husband Roland; Pam, Jon, Ivan, Ed, and my brod John. Till next time!
ILOILO CITY – if a perfect dayhike means a very nice trail and a scenic peak, comfortable to do within a day, but hard enough to provide a worthwhile challenge, then a great candidate is Mt. Agua Colonia in Alimodian, Iloilo. Rising to a respectable elevation of over 1300 MASL east of the same mountain range in Central Panay that features the great mountains of Antique, Agua Colonia boasts of a pinnacle rock that rivals the scenic beauty of Pico de Loro’s Monolith, while its trails are unsurprisingly reminiscent of Madjaas and Nangtud. Yesterday (May 19, 2018) I had the chance to climb this mountain together with my Baloy Dako companions Limuel Lajo, Jonathan Sulit, Kevin Jaoud; Vincent Tambanillo of Talahib ECO Trekkers, and some Alimodidn-based hikers led by Rey Angcahas, who served as our guide.
To get to Mt. Agua Colonia one takes a jeepney from Iloilo to Alimodian (P30), then a habal-habal from Alimodian to Brgy. Lico (P300 roundtrip/person at 2 passengers/habal). From the trailhead, the hike involves entering some woodlands, a very large, sloping campsite with a view of Guimaras, and then a dense jungle that, delightfully, is still teeming with wildlife – cacophony and all! My companions, all of whom have hiked the mountain before, say that hornbills and monkeys have been spotted in the mountain.
After over two hours of hiking – the last kilometre of which involved rock scrambling – we reached Mt. Agua Colonia, the official ‘summit’ of the hiking destination (although technically speaking it’s hard to tell which si the real highest point since it’s part of a range). According to local lore, the flowers atop this mountain once gave off a scent so sweet that it actually reached the surrounding communities. From Agua Colonia, the other mountains in Iloilo could be seen, including Mt. Napulak.
It takes just 10 minutes, in Maktrav-like riding fashion, to reach the ‘Puting Bato’ or the viewpoint overlooking Bato Dungok (slouched rock), the visual highlight of the hike. The hikers say seeing it without fog and clouds is a rarity, but fortune was on our side and we were given a window of opportunity to enjoy the scenery. We also enjoyed the sweet spring water of Agua Colonia from a nearby water source: it is must-try for those hiking up the mountain!
From Bato Dungok, a separate, gentler trail loops back to the original one, and the descent took us just two hours – including a picnic-esque stop at the large campsite. There were numerous small crabs along the trail – another proof of the mountain’s ecological richness. Late lunch of nilagpang na manok greeted us on the trailhead, capping off a wonder day of hiking. Thank you to everyone who joined the hike, and friendly locals at Brgy. Lico! With numerous mountains in Panay, I am already looking forward to the next hike here.
Pinoy Mountaineer strongly discourages hikers from violating pertinent laws and climbing closed or restricted mountains without the necessary permits or consent from the relevant authorities. Organisers are especially called upon to refrain from holding hikes on the above-mentioned venues and in doing so set a very bad example for beginners. Participants are likewise responsible for their decisions, and are also called upon to refrain from joining ‘backdoor’ hikes. Contrary to what some might think, going on ‘backdoor hikes’ is not cool and does not make you a better mountaineer.
Aside from being unlawful which is a reason in itself not to do it, illegal or ‘backdoor’ hikes are detrimental for a number of reasons. First, while we find some closure orders unreasonable, many “closures” are made for safety or security reasons, and to violate them is to go into harm’s way. We saw this in Mayon Volcano several years ago when some hikers died due to a sudden eruption.
Secondly, a mountain’s being closed means that there are no systems in place to attempt rescues, in the event of emergencies. This will further compromise the safety of the participants of such hikes.
Thirdly and crucially, violators carry the name not just of themselves or their group, but of the whole mountaineering community. Backdoor hikers compromise the good name of all mountaineers and are called upon to consider their fellow outdoorsmen in their decision-making.
Some common justifications of backdoor hikes are cynical (i.e. “They’re closing the mountains because they want to hide illegal activities”) or legalistic (i.e. “But we got a permit from the barangay!”). None of these are acceptable. For protected areas, the DENR has jurisdiction, while for certain volcanoes PHIVOLCS’ Alert Level warnings are also considered by the DENR. Consent at the barangay or even municipal level does not remove the legal liabilities of hikers who violate rules.
On a positive note, hikers should bear in mind that there are hundreds of hiking destinations in the Philippines that can be hiked without running afoul of the law. Moreover, there are ways to do hikes legally, including seeking a permit from the park authorities. If your dream mountain is closed at the moment, waiting for it to be opened will require patience – but will also make for a rewarding hike in the end. Always remember that a sense of respect – for the mountains, for the authorities, for community members, and for your fellow hikers: such is the truest mark of a mountaineer.
Mt. Banahaw is a complex volcano with a U-shaped crater that faces south; on the West lies Unang Dungaw which is the terminal point of the Dolores Trail , on the North lies Ikatlong Dungaw of the Nagcarlan Trail, while on the East lies the summit of Mt. Banahaw de Tayabas – which is not currently connected to the rest of the crater rim, being separated by a 150-meter ravine from Ikatlong Dungaw. I first hiked Unang Dungaw in 2003 (see Hiking matters #59) and have come back in 2011 (see Hiking matters #168); I did Mt. Banahaw via the Nagcarlan side with Sky Biscocho in 2013 (see Hiking matters #364 ). Last weekend I was very happy that I had the opportunity to finally complete the rim by going on a two-day hike up Mt. Banahaw de Tayabas.
Mt. Banahaw remains technically closed but the more accurate term is “restricted”; permits can actually availed of from the Protected Area Office of the Mts. Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape. Once a request is made and approved, the permit is directly transmitted to the guides themselves to make sure that no counterfeit permits are honoured (Our hike was issued Permit No. 2018-028 issued May 7, 2018). There is actually a guide association in Tayabas, and this small-scale hiking, with just one group permitted at a time, is a good way to make sure that the ‘Holy Mountain’ is protected from the abuse it endured in the past.
The trailhead of Mt. Banahaw de Tayabas is in Brgy. Lalo, Tayabas which is a little bit off the road from Lucena to Lucban. The barangay hall itself counts as the registration area and starting-off point. A community trail leads to Camp 1, taking about an hour or so; the real hike begins here, with almost a thousand meters of altitude gain required to reach Camp 2, which is around 1400 MASL. Although steep at times, however, the trail was very manageable, with minimal (if any) rattan and limatik; the trees were very typical of Banahaw and nearby mountains- and therefore beautiful; the cicadas had a distinct, engine-like sound. We set up camp in Camp 2, which has a nearby water source (there are no other water sources past Camp 1).
The next day we started the summit assault at 0445H. At times Talomo-like when it comes to its acrobatics-inducing trail, it was actually still a very manageable trail, albeit long: It took us a good three hours to reach the summit (2085 MASL). The highlight of the way up was a view of Mt. Banahaw de Lucban ( 14° 4’33.49″N, 121°30’48.67″E, 1875 MASL) which is actually accessible from the same trail we took to Camp 2 (the saddle between BDL and BDT is 1500 MASL).
The summit was mostly forested, which speaks of the fact that this is really the ‘far side’ of Banahaw. Even so there were some viewpoints where we had a glimpse of the rest of Banahaw’s crater rim: from Unang Dungaw on the left and Ikatlong Dungaw on the right (and in front) of us. What a wonderful sight!
The descent was straightforward, but still long, taking us around five hours from the summit – a descent interrupted by a hearty campsite brunch at Camp 2, and a buko juice stop at Camp 1. Thank you to everyone who joined the trip! Special mention to Kevin for the photos, Pat Labitoria and family for the breakfast in Sariaya, and 18-time Halcon climber Cynthia Sy for the post-climb treat! Thank you also to Vinci, Tin, Coby, Niel for completing the team!
Note: To secure permits contact the the Office of the DENR-PASU (Mts. Banahaw-San Cristobal Protected Landscape) in Pagbilao, Quezon.
As drones become more popular and affordable, expect them to appear in greater frequency in the mountains. While there is nothing wrong in making use of technology, however, we must also be mindful that using them can have negative consequences, especially in relation to other people on the trail. Here are some guidelines for using drones in the mountains:
1. Make sure you know how to operate the drone. For obvious reasons, you should know how to operate your drone before bringing it to the mountains. Bear in mind also the mountains have special conditions (i.e. strong winds, rain) that you must prepare for.
2. Avoid flying over people on the trail. Even if drones are fairly reliable, flying over people on the mountain can still put them in unnecessary risk, especially because weather conditions in the outdoors are not always predictable.
3. Do not use drones to take pictures of other people’s camping areas or private spaces without permission. Drone photography, just like any other photography, must be grounded on respect for the rights of other people, and taking photos/videos of them against their will is considered unethical. (See also: The etiquette of hiking photography )
4. Be considerate of others when documenting scenic spots. Oftentimes, drone photography takes much longer than normal photography, and some drone photographers can seem inconsiderable when they are taking over a scenic spot while others are waiting. This situation can be avoided by selecting times and dates with less people, and ultimately giving way when there are people queuing to take photos in the same spot.
5. Avoid disturbing the peace and the quiet. Drones are noisy, and can be a nuisance to other hikers especially when beyond a few minutes of use. Similar to #4, this can be avoided by using drones during times and dates when there aren’t other people. Remember that many people go to the mountains for peace and quiet and the last thing they want is to have to contend with the buzzing sound of drones.
Blogger’s note: Mountaineer Simon Adriano has worked closely with the visually-impaired community to bring VIs to the mountains, and he most recently organised a hike together with the ‘Adaptive Climbers of the Philippines’ – a group of amputees that summited Mt. Apo recently. Pinoy Mountaineer, which co-organised the First Amputee Climb in 2009, is very pleased to be involved in these efforts. We are committed to make the outdoors an inclusive place.
Climbing a mountain is never easy. It always require sweat (sometimes blood) and sheer determination. It means hours of walking under steep terrain, exposure to various elements and uncertainty. But the reward outweighs the pain and hardship. Most often, pain and hardship becomes most sought pleasure. Not many understand this except those who have tried and succeeded. But it’s also harder to fathom if one is differently abled who tries to follow the same suit. In this case, these guys broke boundaries. They say “Limitations are just a state of mind we let ourselves imprison into.”
It was an exalting journey to Maculot’s Rockies. Excitement and a bit of fear may have set in at the beginning, but it eventually gave way to decisiveness, confidence and fortitude. I’m glad to be part of this great feat. Not only it taught us about resilience in the face of adversity but how meaningful relationships can turn hardships and sacrifices into hope and blessings. Riveting as it was, what fascinates me is what parenting has done to mold these kids to pursue greater heights. I can imagine how triumphant both the kids and parents must have felt.
In the photo above we see visually impaired kids with their newly found amputee friends conquering the rockies of Mt. Maculot. It’s not just about the view but also about what we feel, hear and the experience of getting there that draw us back to the peaks.
Thanks to all the people who were part of this wonderful journey. You brought an unforgettable experience to these amazing bunch.
Photo courtesy of Wilfredo Garido
Photo courtesy of Wilfredo Garido
National Mountain Cleanup Day in Mt. Yangnbew (Ayan Apilar)
(FIRST UPDATE) – Images and reports indicate a successful 5th National Mountain Cleanup Day, with over 50 hiking destinations serving as sites for the annual cleanup. In addition, hikers are reporting that the mountains are mostly “cleaner than expected”, suggesting that efforts within the mountaineering community to install the Leave No Trace principles are beginning to have impact.
Smart Mountaineering Club at Mt. Balungao, Balungao, Pangasinan (Jessy Ignacio)
Even so, significant amounts of trash were still collected in many mountains, indicating that much work needs to be done in spreading the message. Hopefully all the participants were inspired to keep making a difference, and that in the process of cleaning up the mountains they were also able to inspire others to do so. “If all climbs were clean climbs, there would be no need for cleanup climbs.”
Bayanihan Youth for Peace (BYP) at Mt. Sembrano, Pililia, Rizal (Edmon Pacson)
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On the final day of our four-day Hong Kong itinerary, we headed to Plover Cove Country Park in the New Territories, very close to the border with mainland China, to do a trek to Lai Chi Wo, an ancient village that is home to some of Hong Kong’s Hakka people (客家). Although they belong the Han Chinese ethnic group, they have their distinct culture that have a common language, ancestry, and cultural traditions.
Our guide in the trek was Gabi of Walk Hong Kong – a hiking enthusiast from Switzerland who has lived in Hong Kong for over 20 years. Our trailhead was at the tiny hamlet of Wu Kau Tang and we immediately entered a trail that’s beautifully forested – and having a nice trail.
Unlike in the past days where it was mostly cemented, we were actually trekking on soil and rock which felt better for the feet; the variety of environments was manifest in the fact that there was even some mangrove. The soil in itself was an attraction as it had a reddish hue in parts – owing to the mineral content of the area. Adding another dimension to the trip, we also saw some abandoned Hakka houses along the way, foreshadowing our destination.
After less than two hours of trekking we arrived at Sam A village, where there was also some farming (as with Lantau); we had a very nice lunch of seafood and rice in one of the houses that double as a restaurant on weekends. Continuing on, we reached the shore and even a small hill with a view of China’s Yantian Harbor before finally arriving at Lai Chi Wo.
Lai Chi Wo – the name comes from the fact that there used to be a lot of lychee trees – is like a village lost in time, and must have looked pretty much the same and it was centuries ago. A quiet farming village that dates to the 1670s, it is characterised by the distinctive Hakka layout of houses that look the same – both inside and outside; the only distinct houses are those that serve as ancestral halls for the two (or three, depending on the source) major families. Two small temples, one for Guan Di and another for Guan Yin, mark the entrance. It would have been nice to stay under the big banyan tree in the middle of the village just to meditate.
One final attraction was the Feng Shui wood just behind Lai Chi Wo – a forest that has some pretty amazing (and ancient trees), including camphor, autumn maple, and incense trees. Legend has it that one of them – the “five-finger tree” (see below) was about to be cut off by the invading Japanese troops but the villagers defended it, risking their own lives in the process. Today the Hakka are mostly gone but their legacy remains both in the village and its surrounding woodland.
Overall I really enjoyed this 7-km walk, as well as the entire four-day adventure. On top of the walks we also had a great time sampling Hong Kong cuisine (I always go for roasted goose) and of course, shopping in Nathan Road. I can live without the shopping and to a lesser extent the food, but surely I will go back to Hong Kong to do more hiking in the future!
DISCOVER HONG KONG 2018
Hiking matters #587: Sai Kung’s Global Geopark
Hiking matters #588: Fan Lau to Yi O heritage trek
Hiking matters #589: Sai Kung – Sharp Island
Hiking matters #590: Plover Country Park trek
Disclosure: This hike was part of a media familiarisation trip organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The content and the opinions in this post is solely the author’s.