I’ve always said I that had a score to settle with Mt. Batulao. This is because the first time I went there a few years back, I wasn’t able to conquer its summit. I was then with a mountaineering group composed of former co-employees. We intended to camp overnight and attack the summit early the next day but the previous night’s stormy conditions made the trail to the summit exceedingly difficult and so the climb was aborted barely halfway through the entire trail.
The chance to settle the score came one weekend when I was given a free day off. As I mentioned previously, I’m going back to Batanes on September and just so I get to do something new, I planned to climb Mt. Iraya. Clearly, I needed to practice and Mt. Batulao provided the perfect opportunity. Located at Nasugbu, Batangas, it’s relatively close to Manila. It’s not too high at approximately 811 meters above sea level and the summit can be reached (and descended) in less than half a day, as most blogger-mountaineers claim.
I originally didn’t intend to climb solo, but the people I invited had other commitments that weekend, and so I prepared for this practice climb alone. Before I left the house, I had a mild case of jitters because although I’ve traveled alone before, this would be the first time I’d be climbing a mountain alone. And so just to inform everyone of where I will be, I tweeted the following just before I left home.
I reached the bus station at Taft Ave. cor. EDSA (the one behind Sogo Hotel) around 4:50 am. By asking around, I found where the buses going to Nasugbu were located and boarded one that would leave at 5:30am. Because of the early hour, the only traffic bottleneck we went through was in Las Piñas. Afterwards, it’s relatively smooth driving all the way to Nasugbu.
I got off at the Evercrest jump-off point at around 7:30 am. Immediately upon alighting, I was approached by 2 boys (were probably in their early teens) who offered to serve as guides for the climb. I really intended to hire one as I didn’t want to get lost so I chose the taller one, who is named Wilson. I figured that if ever I meet an accident or something, a taller and more mature guide would be able to run faster for help or exercise better judgment.
So after a quick trip to the paid restroom (yes, they do have those at the jump-off point), Wilson and I set off towards the mountain. There were actually tricycle drivers who offered a few-minutes drive to bring us up to a point where tricycles can’t go anymore which was supposedly equivalent to 1 hour of walking. I declined for practical purposes, and because I figured that my legs needed some warming up, and this would be best served by a very gradual transition from flat to more difficult terrain.
Speaking of the terrain, the early part was a bit muddy because it rained the day before. I actually prepared for the possibility of rain, keeping in mind that when I visited the first time, it was also the same time of the year. The sky looked clear though at that hour in the morning and the more exposed parts of the trail were quite dry.
For a relatively “easy” mountain to climb, Mt. Batulao sure has a lot of rest areas, and some of these are located at places where the trail has barely started. Appropriately enough, it seems that they are partial to selling Mountain Dew. Aside from Mountain Dew, I saw no trace of any other kind of carbonated drink. One stop though sold buko, and the vendor was kind enough to add shaved ice at my request.
When I noticed the trail becaming more difficult, I found it necessary to take out and use my hiking stick. I’m really not sure how I managed to go without a hiking stick (and carrying a heavier bag at that) the last time I was here, considering that the trail last time was muddier and much more slippery. At some point, the trail diverged into the “old” and the “new” trail.
I opted for the new trail because it was supposedly easier and I had no plans of having an accident or getting injured and I wanted to minimize my chances of that. Plus, I also wanted to get back to Manila earlier. At this point it was already 9 am and we were already feeling the heat of the sun due to the exposed trail. One thing that makes a Mt. Batulao climb harder than it should is the absence of tree cover for most of the trail. That’s why it’s important to have a hat and protect one’s sleeves.
Due to its proximity to Metro Manila, Mt. Batulao is a very popular hiking destination for both expert and novice mountaineers. On any given weekend, more than 100 hikers/mountaineers go on day trips or overnight camps to conquer the summit. As a result, one never really feels alone when climbing this mountain. If one just stands in any spot in the trail, he/she is bound to encounter other groups of climbers every 10 minutes. Also, as a result of the volume of climbers, the paths are rarely overgrown and signages to peaks, camps and trails are frequently seen.
I eventually reached the spot where I camped and was battered by a storm a few years back with my former office mates. The area looked smaller than I remember it, and I was surprised how near it was to the summit. I asked Wilson how many more hours it would take to reach the summit from that point and he claimed it would take just 30 minutes. I assumed that he was talking about his pace, so I with me in tow, it would probably take us 3x or 4x that number of minutes.
Shortly after the leaving that camp for a brief rest stop (and to pay the day hike fee), we continued on our way. However, the heat became too unbearable for Wilson (he was wearing very little protection from the sun. He then led me to a forest trail as an alternative to the more exposed one. According to him, this trail that goes through the forest is part of the original “new” trail that somehow got forgotten because there were mountaineers who blazed a new and more exposed path that was in full view of the summit, and this latter one eventually became more popular.
The detour was very much welcome because it offered cool shade. It would have been exceedingly unbearable had we continued to climb along the more exposed trail. But even with the shade, the effort to climb was becoming more difficult as the path was becoming more steep as it got closer to the summit. At one point, my legs seemingly didn’t want to move anymore even though I still wanted to continue. I just had to remark the following:
It was good that when we finally emerged from the forest detour, coincidentally the sun temporarily hid behind some clouds, making the job of reaching the summit a bit easier. By this time, the summit was really close and mountaineers who were already there can clearly be seen.
There was a crowd of about 20 people in the summit when we got there at around 10:58 am. From what I gathered, they also were day hikers, but they intended to move on to nearby Mt. Talamitam and spend the night there camping. It’s a friendly group and I encountered them a few more times on the way down.
The summit is a small elongated strip of mostly flat surface with an area of about 45 square meters. At the very center is a bunch of rocks that has an image of the Madonna and Child in the middle of it. One end of the strip leads to the new trail (where I entered) and the other one leads to the old trail.
There was a man and his son who were actually selling Mountain Dew at the summit. While I admire his enterprising spirit, I did hate the way he sold me the drinks. I inquired first by asking “Magkano? Merong malamig?” To which he immediately responded, “Oo. P25 isa. Ilan?” After I said I wanted to buy 2, he immediately opened them and to my chagrin, I was given 2 bottles of Mountain Dew that were slightly above room temperature. When I said, “Hindi pala malamig eh.”, he replied, “Eh walang yelo eh.”
So I guess it’s true: Douchebaggery is a universal phenomenon. Just deal with it and move on.
I spent around 1 hour on the summit taking pictures and just admiring the view before finally deciding to descend and eat my packed lunch at one of the camps. Obviously, descending the mountain took less time but it was not necessarily less difficult. For one thing, descending a steep trail with sometimes loose soil while carrying a loaded backpack is more dangerous than ascending it.
We caught up with the group at the camp where I paid the day hike fee to eat my packed lunch of rice and luncheon meat. Thankfully, it has not spoiled yet. I learned from my father that to avoid spoilage for as long as possible, the newly cooked rice should be cooled to room temperature prior to packing. A packed lunch that has the rice still steaming will build up moisture inside, and it is this moisture that hastens spoilage.
Again, I was on the beneficial end of coincidence when, just after eating and resting, it began to drizzle. While the absence of the sun made a more comfortable climb, the rain that it brought would have certainly made the paths more slippery. In addition, the rainy clouds intended to obscure the magnificent view at the summit.
While on the way down, I had one last scare when a lightning struck very close to where we were walking. It was scary because it was a relatively open area and Wilson and I were the tallest ones around. And I was holding a hiking stick. A metallic hiking stick. I quickly adjusted the stick to shorten it in order to not attract any stray lightning.
It was early afternoon by the time I reached the village at the foothills and at that hour, there were still a lot of mountaineers who were arriving. I must have exchanged greetings with around 75 people whom I met on the trail going the opposite direction.
Finally nearing Evercrest, Wilson asked me if he can stay around the village because he was needed there. I figured that I won’t get lost anymore so I paid him with a little tip and we separated ways. It was already moderately raining when I reaching the store at the Evercrest entrance. I immediately lined up at the paid shower booths to clean up because I didn’t want to get back to Manila in dirty and sweaty clothes. Since there were no lockers and barely enough places to put one’s dry clothes, I maximized the use of 2 dry sacks to keep my stuff dry. After more than 30 minutes, I was done and was ready to catch a bus going back to Manila.
(Next, Mt. Batulao travel guide.)