Friday, May 30, 2014

Mt. Mantalingajan Traverse: A Journey Completed, A Dream Realized

Note: This post, just like the first two parts of my Knife Edge Trilogy climb (Guiting-guiting and Halcon), is quite long. I preferred to diarize every thought and every detail of the experiences I encountered. Only those patient and interested to know the journey I've been with are encouraged to read this. However, I will be disclosing our actual itinerary upon any request and will be sharing the source of info  that made this climb possible.

An opportune time of having a long break plus a great of amount of courage and inner strength, added by a  small amount of craziness– these enkindled me in turning my dream of completing the last leg of my Knife Edge Trilogy target into a reality. The Knife Edge Trilogy climb, as mentioned in my previous posts, is known to Philippine mountaineering as three mountains in the MIMAROPA region (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) in which a treacherous knife edge-like trail are common to each of them, thereby, given a 9/9 difficulty rating. In November 2012, I was able to do the Mt. Guiting-guiting traverse in Romblon and in July 2013, I realized the dream of reaching Mt. Halcon. This year, it’s time for Mt. Mantalingajan in southern Palawan. :)

rocky terrain approaching the summit of Mantalingajan

Mantalingajan was really a target climb of mine this year, but maybe, I am just a woman whose mind is sometimes really hard to read and i am a bit hesitant. Also, I was cornered by some financial constraints. Moreover, another thing that made me forget it was when I heard the news early this year that a group who climbed there was shot by an unknown gunman (I have confirmed it and heard the details personally from Kuya Binoy, the guide in our actual climb). However, as my mandatory leave was fast approaching in May, it was only in the second week of the said month did I finally decide and take the risks. Even if I would go on solo, even if buddy Dennis won’t be able to take a leave and accompany me and even if at the back of mind, I was really scared (of snakes, of malaria, of the fact that it’s difficulty is 9/9, and the like).

I grabbed my PC and booked for a round trip flight. I was firm in this decision. I would be forever regretful if I had this long vacation and a good chance to climb it and I just let the opportunity slip in.

Buddy Dennis,  on the other hand, was also ever supportive of this. He was actually one of the reasons why I was having the strength.    

The unfavorable results? I only got a discounted air fare (not-so-good discounted fare) in my return to Manila. And so, I say “hello and good luck” to my bills for my booked flight going to Palawan. I might add that I had to bear the difficulty in finding for companions because it was a sudden invite for a climb, and take note, it’s not just a simple, but a very serious climb.

Buddy and I still patiently looked for any interested climbers who could join me in such impossible situation. Haha.. There were many of them who were interested but no one was available. A fellow climber who was once a companion in a dayhike back in 2011, in the person of Angelo Cruz,  texted me and expressed an interest to join. He would be there in Palawan on the same dates that I target to climb it. Shoot! I got a buddy to accompany me and to share the climb expenses with. (Anyway, I  was a little bit in folly to push through even if I’d go on solo, ‘sound s exciting actually). But it was truly better, there was Gelo!

>>> After some short planning, fast forward --->

Mount Mantalingajan: A Towering Gem of Palawan


With the height of 2,086+MASL, the summit of Mt. Mountalingajan is the highest point in Palawan.  Situated and surrounded by various towns in southern Palawan, the mountain is a home to a tribe called “Tau’t Bato” and a habitat for many wonderful species.  It is considered as one of the toughest mountains to climb in the Philippines.  As mentioned above, its main feature is the knife edge trail which is really dangerous to walk at.

Talking about trekking in this mountain, the well-known and possible jump-off point is the one in Barangay Ransang, in the town of Rizal. A few years back, some climbers initiated a traverse trail which made the descent to the Barangay Malis (Brooke’s Point town) possible, hence, called the Ransang-Malis traverse. 

Mt. Mantalingajan as tracked by Garmin Oregon 550 showing a 43.6km traverse

During our actual climb, I asked our guide of any other possible trail in Mantalingajan and we learned that another traverse trail has been already doable but according to him, it's more difficult than the trail to Malis, that is, passing through the Kamhantian village, thus, calling it as traverse via Kamhantian trail.

Pre-climb Preparation

I found a friend‘s (Sha Bedural) blog post on Mantalingajan Traverse very helpful. I got the DENR contacts from her site ( 

We didn’t actually get a hard copy of climb permit. I don’t know if it’s because of an impulsive scheduling of the climb, or it’s just that there was a problem in the communication. We even dropped by at DENR – Quezon office during our trip to Ransang but still we failed to get one as Ms. Clarissa Pador was in a meeting in Brooke’s Point. We really couldn’t get in touch with her thru mobile phone. On the other hand, the guide assured us that as long as it was already advised to the DENR, then it’s enough. It was just uncertain on our part since we wouldn't be able show any proof that we were really authorized to climb if anything goes wrong. Aborting the climb was not an option as the trip is very tiring  and is far away from Puerto Princesa and we were already prepared for the climb.

I was also able to contact Kuya Binoy thru Sha’s blog, too. For us to minimize climb expenses, our initial arrangement was, he would be our porter-guide and as much as possible, not to get another person to be our porter. By the way, they say it is only Kuya Binoy and his uncle, Tatay Dinyo who know the way to traverse the mountain.

Since Palawan is said to be infested by malaria especially in the past, we took some anti-malarial medicines to at least ensure ourselves with prevention of the said probable malady.

The Climb Proper

A day before the target Day1 of the climb, I left for Puerto Princesa and met Gelo. Good thing, he was staying at a relative’s house and so I was also invited to stay there instead of checking in a hostel or a lodge. It was a day of preparation, shopping for the food and camping supplies as well as cooking of some stuff in accordance to our meal plan.

Day 0 – Travel Time to the Town of Rizal

Taking the shuttle in San Jose Terminal going to Rizal town, we were able to ride the 6:30AM trip. However, if only we have known earlier that there was a 4:30AM trip (according to the driver/dispatcher there, that was the first trip), we could have arrived earlier in Rizal. This mistake resulted to accumulating delays in our itinerary. Our next transfer was via jeepney to Sitio Sicud and we should alight at Ransang. Unfortunately, upon our arrival in the Rizal Terminal, the jeepney going to Sicud had just left. We had to wait for one more hour for the next trip so we just used the time to have an express cooking of our rice. We were really behind the itinerary. We planned to start the trek by at least 1PM. Miscommunication on the meet up point with the guide; a rainy, bumpy  jeepney ride; a prolonged travel time due to some business trips of the driver --- I don’t want to state each and every detail of  these but all the worst things that could make us delayed, simply happened.

A road to Sicud: on the left side is the Chairman's house which is the climbers' drop off point for registration

The rain already stopped. We were only able to meet Kuya Binoy, 30 minutes past the hour of two in the afternoon. We were introduced to Kapitana, registered in the logbook and paid for the Visitor’s fee of Php100 each. To re-energize ourselves, we ate lunch first and because of these, we only managed to start the trek  at 3:30PM. Initially, we decided to hit the original target for the day which was Magtangob campsite or Bulldog’s house but on our way to Balin-balin Village (one hour trek  from the starting point), we already encountered two snakes (ulupong) along the trail. I was really scared! It was my first time to see an alive and crawling snake in the trail. Since it would take 4 hours or less from Balin-balin Village to Bulldog’s house, it means we need to do a night trek. We thought it's unsafe so we just settled to stay overnight at Balin-balin where house of Kuya Binoy and his family was also located. 

on our way to Balin-balin Village with Mantalingajan range on the background

the children of Balin-balin Village

Dusk at Balin-balin village

Few of the locals we encountered were wondering what on earth we are doing up in the mountains. They said, “bakit ba kayo umaakyat dyan? Anong ginagawa nyo? Buti nga kayo at nasa bayan na.” (Why are you climbing this mountain? What are you doing there? Don’t you realize you’re fortunate enough that you are residing in downtowns?)

I just smiled. Gelo said, “self-fulfillment”. When only three of us were left (Kuya Binoy, Gelo and I) I told Kuya Binoy, “pag po kasi nasa city kayo, iba yung stress.. nakakapagod yung crowd, yung traffic.. so umaakyat kami, para marelax at makalanghap ng iba naman.. ng kalikasan.” (when you are in the city, crowds and traffic are very stressful. We climb to relax and inhaled  different air.. or encounter the nature)

We slept in an open nipa hut and we’re only covered by our respective sleeping bag. A bunch of annoying mosquitoes had a sumptuous feast on us. I don’t even know if I got a continuous night sleep.

DAY 1 – The Official Start of the Journey

Full-packed with loads, the two of us together with Kuya Binoy began trekking at 6:30AM. And oh, after walking by around two hours in which we also started to encounter assault-type trails, I felt the burden already that these full backpacks of ours bring. Not that I was losing guts in the next three days, but such foretaste of the trail seemed to warn me. To make it short, upon arriving at Bulldog’s house, we decided to get a porter. (yes, I know at first that we would be climbing a 9/9-rated mountain and having no porter is really doubtful, but at least we tried). Kuya Binoy just mentioned that it's supposed to be his first time to guide a group with no porter and so we were already erasing such record. We couldn't stand that claim, hahaha.

getting ready for the first day challenge

at Kuya Bulldog's house

Resuming the trek at around 10am, we were a bit relieved by the lighter load we had after transferring some of the things to the porter bag. We continued on. The other side of the mountain started to get dark. Kuya Binoy said it’s the area of Tau’t Bato tribe.  And there, it started to rain! It rained that hard that we forgot to rest. It was a nonstop trek and we only managed to have a break when it was lunchtime. We ate wet nuggets for lunch. 

Heavy rains lasted until before 3pm. What a discouraging and dreadful trek! Yet, it was still an advantage that we got no time to rest that it compensated our slow but continuous moving. We also got no problem in hydration as the water was right there in our faces and mouth, LOL! Our rainy trek was full of encounter with the locals (I forgot to ask which among of them are of Tau’t Bato tribe). The terrains are combinations of assault, descending and gradual trails but were muddier and more slippery this time.

Gelo lost his eyeglasses and his sprained knee continues to threaten him. It was such a crazy climb with no enough physical preparation, trainings and all. Yeah, it's really not advisable and all we got was determination and a firm mind to finish the traverse. Despite these limitations, we were able to enjoy the trail and continue to move on. Now the next dilemma was, should we just settle for Kabugan campsite where water source is available, we would be really behind the itinerary by 3 or more hours. 

Kabugan Village
My point here was to make up for the time we lost in the previous day. I had a plane to catch on the 28th and any extended day/s would put me to uncertainty. I insisted to push the trekking until Kawayanan campsite. I checked on Gelo first (of course I would not insist if it’s not possible given his situation) According to him, he could do it. The deal: since water would be the problem in Kawayanan, we cooked the rice ahead which should last until tomorrow’s lunch . We refilled our water bottles and began the night trek. Honestly, night trek is not recommended in Mantalingajan because of the possible encounter of the snakes and that the forest is really messy. There are also cliffs along the trail. I was a bit guilty of it. Gelo could not see the trails clearly and I had to guide his steps when the twilight began. Thankfully, after two hours of believing we would safely reach the next campsite with so much caution in trekking, we finally arrived at Kawayanan. The sky was already calm and there seemed to have no threat of bad weather anymore on that fateful night.
beautiful twilight

DAY 2: A Passionate Move to Reach the Summit

We woke up very early the next day and were able to start the trek as early as 6am. It was the usual messy and mossy forest that we encounter, good thing there were no more rains. It was actually a day of a fine weather. We passed by various points and campsites. We started to come across the cliffs and rocky terrains. 

at Kadiklayan View Deck

assault to Tulanggok Peak

at Tulanggok Peak

For all we know, we were already in Paray-paray campsite by 10:55am.

We set the camp and prepared lunch to fill our stomach in before we do the summit ascent.

At exactly 1PM, we began to ascend guided by Kuya Binoy and Kuya Bulldog was the one left at the campsite. Gelo and I were obviously so excited. What was more amusing was that, we didn’t have to carry our backpacks. Water and a few trail food would be enough. Boulders were like a playground to us that are really pleasurable to trek at.

The entirety of the Mantalingajan which is almost comprised of rocks was now facing us with blue sky on the background indicating and promising that a great weather won’t fail us. The other side of the mountain (Ransang side) was still covered by thick clouds and perhaps just like yesterday, it was raining there. 

It was an open trail of continuous assault with a lot of bonsai trees everywhere. It was risky because piles of huge rocks are what the terrains are almost composed of. Just like in Mt. Guiting-guiting in Romblon, in between the rocks are holes and the rocks itself are pointed and sharp. Still, wearing gloves is necessary.

It doesn’t totally resemble that of summit ascent in Mt. Guiting-guiting (G2)  as the said mountain is a total pile of rocks with almost no plants and soil to walk at. Thus, for me, the ascent to G2 is more technical than the summit ascent to Mantalingajan. 

We also trekked a mossy forest in the middle of this summit ascent.

At 2:45PM, we reached the very summit and it was a 360-degree view although only one side was shown to us (Brooke’s Point side) as the Rizal’s side is still covered by clouds. Filled with joy, we decided to stay longer at the summit. It was fulfilling! We could have seen also the Sabah, Malaysia’s side if it weren't for the clouds that enveloped that side.

stepping up the summit of Mantalingajan for the first time

panoramic 360-degree view of the summit

viewing the Brooke's Point 

selfie with kuya Binoy and Gelo
By 3:55PM (yes, we really enjoyed almost one hour of staying there),  we have started our descent to back to Paray-paray campsite. On our way down, we realized how steep and lengthy the trails are so we were wondering how excited we were in our ascent as we didn't mind such a long assault way up. By 5:25PM, we’re back to Paray-paray. Being sweaty and clammy, we eagerly joined Kuya Binoy going to the water source area. Woooh! It was my first time to take a bath in the mountain. The water  is flowing  that much and it was very cold and soothing. Mixed it up with a great view of sunset because it was an open area.. it really felt wonderful.

as viewed from Paray-paray water source

We went back to the campsite and prepared our food. 

We heard some noise and realize the existence of the mountain rats. They would just appear quickly and are really stubborn.

this cute and "makulit" one was named "Hubert" by Gelo..
i actually don't know his reason behind naming Hubert on all of the creatures that captured our attention, haha

Gelo and I laughed out to death when we heard a disturbing noise inside the tent of Kuya Binoy and Kuya Bulldog. OMG! A mouse was able to enter inside their tent as they chase for our food supplies. They were really funny as they strive to make the rat go out of their tent. Every time I remember such funny scene,  I can’t help but  laugh much about it.. sabi namin parang may naghaharutan sa loob ng tent. LOL!  But the truth is, it was only Kuya Binoy  who was in panic as opposed to Kuya Bulldog  who remained calm. I wonder how they looked like inside the tent. LOL.

DAY 3: An Epic Traverse

This was what I thought of our Day1 and Day2: the trails are no way easy, are dangerous and the trek was really tiring. Yet I have also experienced them in the other tough climbs I did. They weren’t new to me. So I was this proud lady for that specific 2 days. Then this Day3 came, my boastfulness to myself was brought to an end. The traverse is like no other: rocks are so slippery, trails are narrow with only one foot fitted on it and are full of holes, soft and loose soil are dangerous to step at (Twice that I slipped off and thankful that it wasn't a cliff where I fell down), presence of thorny plants, descent are steep and the traverse itself is soooooo lengthy that we did it from 7:30AMto 8:50PM. Do the Math and yes, that's only based on our pacing.. I think, we are the second team of climbers who did the one-day descent (next to Sha’s team in January). The normal itinerary that is being followed is to stay in Lapong or Pirataw campsite. One-day descent is doable but unless you started out early, you’ll surely be doing night trek just like what we have experienced.

I must confess that I unload some of the heavy stuff in my backpack and transferred them to the porter. I know myself for being weak in terms of descending with heavy loads. 

One of the struggles that we endured during this descent was that, we needed to save water. The next water source after Paray-paray is two hours away which is Tabud river and the next stop which we could avail hydration is already in Kupang which is 5 or 6 hours after.

at Tabud river

Kuya Binoy told me before the start of our descent that we need to arrive before 11AM at Lapong campsite, or else we will be staying one more night at Pirataw. Gelo and I tried to beat it although we were about 30-minute late or more as we only managed to start that day at 7:30AM. So I appealed if we could still push through even if we arrived there at 11:30AM.. and the guide agreed. Leaving Tabud river at 9:45AM, I experienced the longest non-stop trekking so far (with only 2-minute water break)... We arrived at Lapong at 11:35AM. It was a zombie trek! Haha.. (walang usap-usap, galit-galit muna).

We stopped at Lapong for lunch. I was a bit nervous at this area owing from the story of Kuya Binoy that it was where the shooting attempt happened when he was guiding a group of climbers sometime in the first quarter of this year. He told me that for a while, after that incident, he was thinking to stop guiding. Now I understand him why during our initial guideship arrangement, he offered us to avail one porter. I think it was really appropriate that we get Kuya Bulldog as our porter, at least Kuya Binoy wasn’t alone especially in this threat of being shot again.

Lapong campsite

on our way down from Lapong campsite

It was truly a long journey passing the Mt. Magringgit and Karim peak. Cliffs and  narrow side trails with only one sole fitted on it never ceased. 

Before nightfall at around 6:38PM, we arrived at a residential area where sari-sari store landmark can be found. We moved on, but this time the trail is much tolerable and night trek is doable. The main difficulty is the steep descent but the trail is already wide and open and is no longer technical. But the fact that our bodies especially our knees are already weakened and tired for the whole day descent, it was apparently a greater effort for us. That point is still more than 500 MASL  I guess, so I was expecting that we still need to endure a longer walking time or worse, a continuous steep descent. 

Gelo was also struggling as it was already dark and again, he couldn't see the trail clearly.

As we move on, I was controlling myself from insanity --- hahaha, I told myself that if this kind of trekking in a dusty, rough road persists in the next two hours, I should start talking to Kuya Bulldog or Gelo. Nakakabaliw ang haba seeing only the light coming from the lamp and anything else is all dark and yet you keep on walking and walking and walking without knowing if we’re already close to the end point. When we spotted a passing bus from afar, it felt like it’s getting normal and we’re close to the civilization hahaha.. We're almost close to National Highway and with much patience to keep on keeping on, we finally arrived at the exit point in Barangay Malis.

Wow, it felt weird walking at a non-rough, concrete road. We were really back to life! :D

And this marks the completion of the much awaited Mantalingajan Traverse which was once a dream. Hurrah, we just made it in three days! Well, I got a big hole in my pockets; I got lots of bruises in my legs, I got muscle pains… but nothing beats the memories created, laughters and joys of the trek, the new experiences encountered, new lessons in camping and the fulfillment of finishing the traverse of this prominent mountain, alive, kicking and strong.

I thank Gelo for joining me in this climb. I wouldn't be able to do this without him especially during camping (hey, I don’t know much about cooking and honestly, this was my first time being not a “senorita” in camping LOL! ). This was my first time to really wake up as early as 3am in the morning and do the cooking tasks.  I experienced being hands on in this climb – deciding for the climb, pitching the tent, and all the practical preparations before, during and after the climb. Now I realized how spoiled brat I am to Buddy Dennis, hahaha. I would like thank him for his all-out support in this Mantalingajan climb.

Other Information:
> Mobile signal (especially Smart) is highly available at Paray-paray campsite and summit but there are also some parts of the trail throughout the traverse where there's a strong signal.
> Presence of limatik in the descent/traverse part

 *Credits to some of the photos captured by Gelo

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