Located between the provinces of Laguna and Quezon, Mt. Cristobal has perhaps an undeserved reputation of being the “Devil’s Mountain”. Supposedly this differentiates it from the neighboring Mt. Banahaw, which is reputedly a sacred mountain to the many local cults inhabiting the environs of both mountains. As it became apparent to me later on, Mt. Cristobal turned out to be a pleasantly charming mountain, and quite possibly my new favorite day hike destination.
My HLGG buddies and I assembled at the JAC Liner bus terminal in the wee hours of the morning, this was the one located near Kamias Road, along EDSA. We were to board a bus going to San Pablo City in Laguna. I was the first one who arrived, Ed was second. Soon after, the others trickled in. A few others led by Fred assembled in JAC’s other terminal in Buendia and would arrive at the destination aboard a different bus. We agreed to meet up with this other group at a certain place in San Pablo. Two of us, Dario and Aleli, were already there and we made arrangements to pick them up on the way to the jump-off point.
The first thing we did upon arriving at San Pablo City and meeting up with the other group was to have breakfast and to buy packed lunch. For some reason, the fast food restaurants near the bus terminal in EDSA were closed so we had no choice but to eat in San Pablo City. Since I already had a can of tuna packed for lunch, I just purchased a cup of cooked rice from a canteen. Before long, we already had hired a jeepney to take us to the jump-off point of the Dolores trail, picking up Dario and Aleli along the way.
Mt. Cristobal affords a slow transition from concrete road to jungle path that would appeal to novice mountaineers like me. It’s only been less than a month since the punishing Mt. Iglit climb and for a while, I had an unmixed disliking for any type of mountaineering activity. Mt. Cristobal made me forget about that.
So the trail from the jump-off point started out as a moderately steep concrete road…
…which later on gave way to a dirt road…
…before finally reaching the jungle.
The trail is generally steep all throughout, making this mountain one of those all-assault types while going up. This made us want to frequently do “take-fives” during the hike.
One thing notable about the trail is its cleanliness. There was no single piece of trash to be spotted anywhere, and this certainly adds to the pleasant experience in climbing this mountain.
Mt. Cristobal is in fact a dead volcano, and like all volcanoes, it has a crater. We had to pass by this crater en route to the summit, and also on the way back. By this point the air was already chilly and it was a pleasant change from the summer weather back at the jump-off point.
Due to the relatively flat ground at the base of the crater, it is an ideal spot for camping. We in fact saw many campers that day. There was also a small crater lake near the camp site. We didn’t stay very long in the crater on the way up because we decided we would have lunch at the saddle instead. But we did return here on the way down and had pictures of us taken with the surroundings.
In mountaineering terms, “saddle” is apparently that part of a mountain with relatively flat ground where climbers can regroup before the final assault to the summit. In the case of Mt. Cristobal, the saddle is called Bulwagan, which translates to “hall” in Tagalog. It’s not hard to imagine why it was called as such. This far up the mountain, is already a mossy forest and the trees beautifully arch over the flat strip of the saddle, making it look like a naturally roofed hallway of sorts.
It was here where we decided to have lunch and it was the perfect place to have it. The air was crisp and cool, the surroundings were lovely and the shade provided by the trees was just perfect – not too dark, yet not too light to let in the heat of the sun.
The trail continues on one end of the saddle and from there, it was a 15- to 20-minute climb towards the summit. Although the trail was still steep, there were a lot of branches and vines to hold on to in order for one to avoid slipping of losing ones balance. Eventually, the mossy forest gave way to the grassland of the summit area.
The trail meandered in the grassland and it seemed like each step we took brought us to successively taller grasses. At one point the grasses just towered over us and if there weren’t any trail, we certainly would have gotten lost or met an accident by falling some hidden crevice or cliff. We were already at the summit, but without a clearing, we couldn’t assess where exactly we were in the summit. There was simply no way to see through the thickness of the vegetation.
Eventually though, we did reach a clearing. At the beginning it was a bit cloudy obscuring the view of the ground, but eventually this cleared up too and we were able to have an unobscured view of the neigboring region. We spent some time looking for the 7 lakes of San Pablo City. Towards the end of our stay at the summit, we had a group prayer like we always do whenever we reach a mountain’s summit.
Here’s a video I took of the summit.
Except for the fact that I slipped once on the way back down to the crater, the descent was pretty uneventful. By this time, my legs were starting to get tired and I was once again relegated to the familiar place of being one of the last persons to reach the jump-off point. Only Grace came after me, but that’s her job being the sweeper.
The others who have gone ahead had a good 20- to 30-minute rest time in the jump off point while waiting for us who were at the tail end. Most of them dozed off in the grass, like Jet over here.
Like most HLGG climbs, we ended the day at Chowking. I was hungry enough to order a full meal and a full-sized Halo-halo. From there, it was just a matter of catching a bus during San Pablo’s “rush hour” to get back to Manila.
Here’s a composite of all our portraits, as constructed by Yan.
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This entry is part of the Midyear Mountain Madness series
1. Preview: Midyear Mountain Madness
2. Midyear Mountain Madness: Mt. Cristobal – 04/29/2012
3. Midyear Mountain Madness: Mt. Arayat – 05/06/2012
4. Midyear Mountain Madness: Mt. Sembrano – 06/23/2012
5. Midyear Mountain Madness: Tarak Ridge – 09/22-23/2012