First Trip of 2012: Mt. Batulao (again)

(photo courtesy of Karen Reyes)

Yes, I am blogging about an event 5 months after it had occurred. I’m the type of travel blogger who is both excruciatingly slow and places importance on as many details as possible.  (Another valid excuse – I have a job.)

After the understandably detail-heavy Vietnam-Cambodia series, this next entry on Mt. Batulao is light in comparison.  I’ve already blogged about this mountain a few times before, so there’s really no need to restate what details I’ve already shared.

Unlike last time when I went here alone, this time I would be with my friends in HLGG, whom I last saw in October of the previous year when we had our charity climb in Marinduque.  They actually had a year end climb at Mt. Tagapo last December but I was not able to join them due to my office schedule.  I made sure that for this first climb of the year, I would be able to.

Here’s me and my HLGG “batchmate” Tin. I don’t know why we were posing like this. (photo courtesy of Madz Crisostomo)

For this trip, I decided that I would not bring my DSLR and just take pictures using my BlackBerry.  This is a 2-fold strategy because on one hand, there would be less bulk to carry, and on the other hand, it would be easier for me to be in the photos of other people’s cameras.  I can still remember how I was so engrossed in taking photos in Marinduque that I appeared in so few photographs then.  Well, never again!

So in the morning of January 22, we assembled at the McDonald’s underneath the Pasay MRT station.  When I arrived Madz, Yan and Tin were already there.  Later on, the husband-&-wife team of Dario and Aleli arrived too, and lastly Karen came.  I was kind of expecting Jet (Karen’s brother) to be there too but he apparently had another activity that day.  Joining us for the climb were Jen and her friend Wilma, who were both HLGG newbies and acquainted with Yan and Madz through GIRLTalk.

Dario and I at the Evercrest jump-off point. (photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

So to make a long story short, we rode a bus and a couple of hours later arrived at the Evercrest jump-off point just after sunrise.  Take note that this was in January and at that hour in the morning, the Christmas chill was still there.  We stepped off the bus feeling as if the aircon was still turned on.  I was expecting that young boys would swarm at us to offer their services as guides.  But for some reason, there weren’t any of them that morning.

Here we are at an early part of the trail. (photo courtesy of Madz Crisostomo)

Since I was the person who most recently climbed this mountain, I took the lead in the early part of the hike.  However, once we got to the foot of the mountain, and we began to encounter forks in the road, we then began to ask bystanders for directions.  Eventually, to our good fortune, we encountered a boy named Leo walking in the opposite direction who offered guide services, which we readily accepted.

At one point, before the fork that separated the new and old trails, I came across Wilson, my previous guide during my last climb here.  He’s gotten taller in the 5 months that passed.  Well, at least that tells me he’s not going hungry and is actually doing good in his tour guiding sideline.

THE ORIGIN OF “BIG BOY” and “BRUNO MARS”

Big Boy, Bruno Mars and Derek (photo courtesy of Yan Bagarinao)

At this point, I’d note that there were supposed to be 2 other persons who would join us (one of whom was named Allan.)  Their contact person is Madz or Yan, but at some point they stopped replying to our messages.  What made it difficult is that none of us have seen these guys before.  So we had to start the climb without them.

But then later on, at an early stage of the climb, when we were taking a break, two guys passed by the trail and overtook us.  One of them was wearing the typical day hike outfit with a orange bandana on his head, while the other was wearing jeans and a fedora.  Madz guessed that they were the guys we were waiting for but was too shy to ask, so the ever-reliable Dario took it upon himself to get their attention and shouted “ALLAN!!!”  They were already around 20 meters away when they stopped and someone replied.  That’s when we knew that they were the guys we were waiting for.

This is Allan. (photo courtesy of Allan Jay Becina)

Allan was the one with the orange bandana.  Later on in another climb, the girls would jokingly dub him as “Big Boy” not because of his size (though he’s rather portly) but because he would supposedly complete a rite of passage (and eventually become one of the more hardcore climbers of HLGG).  But that’s still far off in the future.  This day, he was just plain Allan who smiled a lot and was a bit shy.

His companion was named Jhay-Ar.  Actually, I had to message Allan in FB just now for the name of his companion that day because we always referred to him as “Bruno Mars” – we have completely forgotten that he has a real name aside from that.  Here’s why:

(photo courtesy of Madz Crisostomo)

This guy wore a fedora, jacket, jeans and canvas shoes.  Anyone who successfully climbs up and down a mountain in that outfit deserves to be called any cool name he wants.  But since we remember him by his fedora, we called him Bruno Mars.  If Allan was shy, Jhay-Ar was much more.  I don’t recall him ever speaking during the entire climb.

One more thing I remember about them is that they graciously offered to act as the trail sweepers, which I later learned is a big deal.  This Mt. Batulao climb would be Jhay-R’s first and last climb with HLGG.  Allan though would become a well-loved mainstay in future activities.

THE OLD TRAIL

(photo courtesy of Madz Crisostomo)

On my previous climbs in this mountain, I only ever used the new trail.  So we were going to try something new.  We would ascend via the old trail, and descend via the new trail.  This is actually the first time I learned the meaning of the word “traverse” in the context of mountaineering – going down a different trail from the one used going up.

View of the summit from the old trail.

I like the old trail.  There’s a lot more areas that had tree cover, unlike the very exposed new trail.  However, the second half of the old trail was also a lot steeper.  It’s a good thing that it was sunny because I believe it would be a harder and more dangerous climb if the ground was wet and muddy.  The old trail also offers a more majestic view of the summit.

Here we are exiting one of the camps. (photo courtesy of Yan Bagarinao)

Along the way, we passed by a couple of camps where a lot of mountaineers were hanging out beside their pitched tents.  I think I mentioned before the Mt. Batulao is the Divisoria of mountains.  At that time, I had no clue how accurate that was because these people we encountered along the old trail were a lot more that I’ve seen than during my previous climbs.

This is Jen. (photo courtesy of Jen Santos.)

On the way up, we always had to keep an eye on Jen, who said she attempted to climb Mt. Batulao before but didn’t reach the summit.  As we were doing a traverse, we had to make sure she reaches the summit this time, if we wanted to descend via the new trail.  She was actually at the tail end of our group during the ascent, but she just kept going and going and ultimately made it to the top.

Speaking of making it to the top, this is probably the first and last time that I would lead the pack, scouting the trail ahead and make it to the summit ahead of all the others.  In all subsequent climbs with HLGG, I would always be one of the last to make it to the top.  I wonder what I did right this one time?

That blue dot is me, ahead of all the others in the trail – a very rare event in HLGG terms. (photo courtesy of Karen Reyes)

THE ROCK WALL

(photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

As steep as the old trail is, one section close to the summit is steeper still than any other.  It’s a 70-degree rock wall that thankfully had a rope that dangled from the top so those who have no rock-climbing experience can actually climb it.  Here’s a video of Yan climbing that rock wall.

As I was the first one who climbed, I had no picture or video of myself in the act of climbing.  Everybody else did.  But that’s fine.  There’s always next time.

THE SUMMIT

Group picture at the summit with Leo, our guide. (photo courtesy of Madz Crisostomo)

After taking that video, I went ahead to scout the remaining section of the trail.  From that point, the summit still was a building’s height away so I just kept climbing.  I was a bit surprised when out of nowhere, I suddenly found myself at the summit.  I really thought it would take longer.  Later on, as Yan and Madz reached the summit I remember them asking me, “eto na ba yun?”, seemingly also disbelieving that they got there ahead of time.

Here’s the most antisocial kid in Mt. Batulao being showered with affection by Yan. (photo courtesy of Yan Bagarinao.)

Then from that point, all the members of our group reached the top one by one.  What greeted us at the summit was a sizable crowd that included entire families.  The sun was high up at this time and whatever morning chill we experienced back in the jump-off point was already completely gone.  Those of us who had hats kept them on and the time was spent resting, and taking photos.

Before descending the mountain via the new trail, we all gathered to say a prayer for a number of cancer patients who were fighting the disease, especially Brigette Pilar ✝ (who at that time has not succumbed yet.)  After a few final photos, we were on our way down.

DESCENT VIA NEW TRAIL

Karen doesn’t take too many pictures, but she always comes up with really nice-looking ones.

Going down using the new trail on this particular day is a bit harder than I remember, and everybody seems to feel the same way.  I would have thought that the dry ground would make it easier for us, but as it turns out, a completely parched trail is not exactly helpful.

Too much wetness would make the trail muddy and hence very slippery.  On the other hand, if the trail is too dry, the trail just crumbles under a person’s weight and would be just as prone to slips and falls.  The ideal mix would be just the right amount of dampness to hold the soil together.

Traffic along the new trail. (photo courtesy of Allan Jay Becina)

That day, the trail was so dry that the soil crumbled to dust every time someone slipped or slid.  For the most part, we used the sitting position to move from one point to another.  This as a very slow process, exacerbated by the fact that in some parts the trail was too narrow and there were people who were going the opposite way.

Resting before lunch. (photo courtesy of Madz Crisostomo)

Eventually though we reached the camp at just about noontime where we had lunch.  While everyone else took out their fast food meals and canned goods, it took out my danggit, which I’m pleased to note, was still crunchy.  Also at this point, people’s drinking water were already running out so the store at the camp made a killing selling us cold Mountain Dew.  We hung out for a bit to let the food digest.  Before long, we were on our Way back to the Evercrest jump-off point.

(photo courtesy of Aleli Umagat)

There were still a few minor peaks to go before leaving the mountain entirely and along the way, the trail was full of people hiking in the same direction.  At one point there was even a “traffic jam” because because the trail was especially narrow and there were three horses going in the opposite direction.  We all had to stop and let them pass first.  We also came across this Japanese mother who had a very unique backpack:

I previously posted the video here.

NEXT STOP: CALERUEGA

When we were already close to the jump-off point, we paid our guide for his services and got in touch with a jeepney driver to bring us to Caleruega.  This will be the subject of the next blog.

= = = = = = = = = =

This entry is part of the Mt. Batulao III series dated January 22, 2012:

1. Preview: A different kind of backpack
2. First Trip of 2012: Mt. Batulao (again)
3. Side trip to Caleruega

6 thoughts on “First Trip of 2012: Mt. Batulao (again)

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