Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kibungan Circuit

Hey I Went to the Far North!
Mixed feelings. The excitement coupled with slight fear due to the thoughts of the recent fatal bus accident in the north; the complacency and "i'm-used-to-it attitude" in the usual climb participation although certainties of what’s gonna happen were unknown. Oops, don’t be misled on what I just said, I actually hate to say that. I think I still have prepared myself well, perhaps more of spirit and mind, for this climb, admittedly though that I lacked enough training. I got no time! The only climb I had prior to this was that of Mt. Batulao in January as you’ve seen in my earlier post. 

Well, I’ve indeed gone again to the north – Baguio-bound! But wait, it was only half of the trip as from that city, the whole trip entails another long land journey – a bumpy, dusty road trip! Guess what? It was an almost 5-hour trip riding a chartered jeepney passing the towns of La Trinidad and Kapangan (Additional info: there’s a regular ordinary bus trip to Kibungan).

Prior to the climb, I highly anticipated the cold weather. It’s Benguet and it’s in Cordillera region, right? I always  thought that when you say Benguet, no questions asked and the default answer is that “it’s super cold there all the time!” But I was wrong. During our trip, it was not. Although it’s still cold, but we only experienced  the usual chilling. Let me tell you more as I progress with my story.

Way Way Back

I've always wished to climb Kibungan Circuit. They say, it's a place where the so-called the "Switzerland of the Philippines" can be found.  This is because of the wondrous grand mountainous views comprising the town of Kibungan. When I shortlisted my priority/possible travel for 2014, I had a second thought on whether to make it happen as I also wanted to do my annual Mt. Sicapoo climb which is best done in February up to summer season of the year. Anyway, I settled with the former. And there you go! I made it happen.  As usual, the first one I invited was my climbing buddy Dennis. I asked him to organize the event with me which ended up being him to solely arrange the whole climb. Hehe, peace buddy!

The Kibungan Town and Kibungan Circuit

The entire Kibungan, being in the Cordillera, is really comprised of mountainous areas. But what is special about their mountains? This became popular because of the traverse circuit trail known us Kibungan Circuit. One version of it can trek up the three highlight mountains: Mt. Tagpaya, Mt. Oten and Mt. Tagpew which was what we recently did.

I honestly was surprised of the town of Kibungan. Surprised in the sense that I never thought it could be that remote and far from Baguio. Another thing was that despite that it’s in Benguet, it wasn’t that cold. it could be because March is not one of its coolest months making the trip so dry and dusty. Kibungan, by the way, is situated in the northwestern most part of Benguet  which extends to the boundaries of Ilocos Sur. 

"Few residents,  mostly rough roads and kinda remote" – I saw the actual pictureof the town and I kept that to myself. I now understand why some volunteers are doing some outreach activities to this place. "I wanted to join that next time", I said to myself.

The Climb Proper

There are lots of trail possibilities of Kibungan Circuit. There is also a version which can be shortened into an overnight climb but which only settles with Mt. Tagpaya and Lungsad falls.

We took the three days two nights path making us complete the three summits as mentioned earlier but without passing Lungsad falls. They say it can be done overnight too but I think, what we did was a more relaxed climb with lesser time pressure.

The trails of Kibungan, although more difficult, are very much the same of the pine forest of Mt. Ugo and Akiki trail to Mt. Pulag. I might not be able to do the Mt. Sicapoo traverse this year but some features of Kibungan mountains also resemble that of Sicapoo and Timarid.

We started our trek from Sitio Tapna at around 10am. Our first day included rice terraces trail and  assault-type trails which pass through some residential areas and pine forest.

starting up the trek with rice terraces view
Hanging bridge (photo credit: Qitter Vhostek)
enjoying the pine forest after 2 hours
We arrived as early as 3pm in Upper Buga campsite which gave us a good view of the Kibungan Poblacion. We did some socials and managed to take some rest early. There's also enough water source in this camp site.

Breakfast at Upper Buga Campsite
sunrise photo before leaving the Upper Buga

We had a longer trek in our Day 2 as we target to reach the Mt. Tagpaya and Mt. Oten summits (ascending trails with occasional steady trekking).  I noticed that the traiils were established and well-maintained. In fact, we passed through various assault trails with man-made hand rails. If it weren’t for these hand rails, the assault might be harder for us. What became the challenge was the extreme heat of the sun as alomst 80% of the trail was exposed and open. Another thing is the trail of loose rocks. I bet, there had been no rains in the past few days or weeks.

this soil I walk on -- loose and dusty

dwarf by the giant rock :D
We arrived 10am at Mt. Tagpaya summit (1,820MASL) which let us viewed the Kibungan side to the west and the La Union/Ilocos region to the east. It seems like we could almost view the coastal area of it as no more mountains but only plains can be seen farther.

Continuing the trek, we passed by some gradual garden-like trails where we frequently sighted some pitcher plants. We settled on at Tangongtongaw for our lunch where the old pine tree, as the guides said, n is perched.

We continued on and entered a covered forest and refilled our containers before we ascend the Mt. Oten (1,875MASL). We were seemingly prepared for this as we had a preview of its bald, stair-like, assault trail. Actually from that forest, we could actually take the shortcut trail but only if we won’t be passing Mt. Oten.

Ascending to Mt. Oten
This summit (below) should have given us a good view of Bakun Central and Ilocos if it wasn’t this foggy. (Oh, by the way, just a thought. In almost all the mountains that I reached,  it normally gets cloudy and sometimes even rains after lunch time. Same case here, I guess).

Foggy Mt. Oten summit
Thankful that we took the long cut trail after descent from Mt. Oten summit. Otherwise, we won’t have this beautiful scene.

We trekked the covered forest and an occasional mossy forest on our quest to arrive at our last summit, Mt. Tagpew. This Mt. Tagpew is also the highest among the three with the height of 2,105MASL. We encountered a seemingly endless assault. It consumed a lot of our energy. That time, the fog was making our path darker and darker. Five or ten minutes before the campsite, there was a trail which could lead us to a 15-minute ascent to summit but we opted to take the trail to the campsite. We originally planned to set our camp first before going back and taking the trail up to summit.  We arrived there before 5pm. But as we fix our tents, it was still foggy. Apart from this case, perhaps it’s also the tiresome day that prevailed that we decided not to pursue the summit anymore although it's already within our reach.
Tagpew campsite

Cloudy it may be but sunset still seemed to amaze us through its reddish light entering through the woods. It could have been a very good view if it weren’t for the trees covering the campsite.

Lingering sunset
It’s getting colder and we decided to prepare for dinner. We didn’t even bother to have second socials. Besides, our wake up call the following day was 3am. We had to chase for our reserved bus tickets in Baguio the following day.

Everybody was up the next day and as agreed as early as 3am. As we stay for the remaining hours in Mt Tagpew summits, we enjoyed each other’s presence as we prepared our breakfast and respective "tent down." Thank heavens for a very impressive view of the rising sun. Another fine day had been promised.

Group pic at Tagpew campsite(Photo credit: Qitter Vhostek)

A steep descending trail coupled with loose soils challenged us. By that time, I felt the circuit trail.

Good bye, Mt. Tagpew!

We were heading to the poblacion area where the jump off point is. After such great descent, we walked on wide trails which I think even trucks can pass through. Then we passed by a long covered trail until we reached a perfect rock view deck of the huge mountainous and terraces views of Kibungan.  According to the guide, the huge mountain before us is called Mt. Kili-Kili.

After taking some photos, we took another great descending grassland and loose, dry trails under an extreme heat of the sun. That was around 9 or 10am. A lengthy covered forest followed which really took a longer time for us to reach the Mayos River. We rested for a few minutes there and after about 15-minute walk, surprisingly, we arrived at the  road marking the end of our trek. Because it would take another one or two hours to have a side trip at Abas Hot Springs, we agreed not to push through and so our chartered jeepney took us to the Municipal hall where we can wash ourselves up and prepare to go back to Baguio. We were there at around 12:30pm.

By the way, it is great to know that mobile signals for Smart and Globe are stable. We then freely had the chance to post on various social media as 3G is available throughout the trek.

Another note is that, as far I have observed during the trek, there are various possible campsites that can be settled on especially in the event of emergency camp.

Farewell to the Superb Memories of  Kibungan Climb

After almost 5-hour trip, we’re bound to Manila via Victory Liner Baguio bearing in our hearts good memories of laughter, smooth trek and relaxing climb. It is of course still major climb -- tiring and a long trek, but hey, we just had a great climb. Buddy Dennis and I would like to thank our companions in this climb (Rose, Qitter, Albert, Nadia, Sir Ben, James, Mike, Ronski, Philip and Joseph) for bringing on laugh trips, “kulitan” and great exchange of ideas in our conversations.
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