(To keep the sequence in their proper chronological order, I should really be blogging about my Taiwan trip right now. But since I’ve been writing about mountains for the past few entries, I thought I’d stay on that trend and write about another climb that happened in the middle of the year. And besides, I haven’t yet decided how I’d blog about my Taiwan trip so allow me to dilly-dally a bit while I’m taking some ideas into consideration.)
Like the past 3 mountains I’ve been to, this climb to Tarak Ridge in Bataan was unplanned. The way we in HLGG schedule our minor climbs is like this:
1. Someone thinks it’s a good idea to climb some mountain outside Metro Manila
2. S/he creates a thread in the HLGG page in Facebook to see if anyone is available for a climb in a given weekend. (Usually the next nearest weekend.)
3. If enough people confirm participation, then it’s a go.
So that’s basically how it went. Yan posted a thread on who wants to go for a Tarak climb and overnight camp. I haven’t gotten out of town since I returned from Taiwan a couple of months back so I eagerly signed up for this chance to explore a new place. (HLGG actually went up the Mt. Apo in Davao the previous August, but my Taiwan trip drained me of my travel funds so I wasn’t able to join them anymore.)
For this overnight camp, there were only a few of us who signed up. Joining me were Yan, Des and Vernz, and the husband-and-wife team of Dario and Aleli. These five are more seasoned mountaineers than I am so I felt comfortable in their company despite our small number. Plus, Dario is a skilled mountaineer cook, so I’m assured that at least for that night, we would have a nice dinner to look forward to.
There were a few others who were supposed to join, like Jet and Fred, but they had to beg off for various reasons.
FIRST TIME IN BATAAN
For a place that’s relatively close to Metro Manila, Bataan is a province that for some reason I’ve never strayed into. But it’s perhaps understandable because the main highway that goes to the northern Luzon provinces completely bypasses Bataan. Today I was about to discover what Batan had to offer aside from World War II heroes, and I was a bit excited.
It was an unexpectedly long ride going to Barangay Alasasin, which was our jump-off point. Along the way I got to see for myself that Bataan is actually a mountainous province. We even got to pass by the famous Mt. Samat, with the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) visible from the highway.
And since we were passing through a mountainous region, the road eventually meandered and zig-zagged as we neared our destination. When we finally got off the bus it was warm as summer, but rain clouds ominously loomed in one side of the sky over the mountains.
The five of them had brunch by a roadside eatery. I wasn’t feeling hungry yet so I just waited until they were finished. Then we trooped to the barangay hall to register and pay the applicable fees.
Once again, we didn’t have a guide in climbing this mountain. Apparently the trail is relatively easy to follow (but not easy per se) so it’s almost impossible to get lost. Tarak Ridge is also a favorite weekend destination by mountaineers so you’re likely to meet fellow climbers along the trail if you stand in the same spot long enough. In addition, Des was with us, and this was probably the third time she’s been here.
We started the hike in sweltering heat. But the rain clouds we saw earlier began to actually precipitate and so we quickly took out our rain coats to protect ourselves. This rain proved to be of the start-stop variety as it stopped barely a minute after it began, and began again later on.
The thing about rain coats is that if it’s not raining hard enough, it makes you feel a lot warmer due to the fact that it’s not porous, so you have no choice but to take it off again. This can be an annoying situation if you are in an environment where rain starts and stops repeatedly. At some point, I just refused to wear it anymore. Anyway, my hiking outfit was meant to be wet, and my backpack has its own adequate rain cover.
Later, it did rain hard – the kind that leaves puddles and makes a trail muddy enough for a foot to sink in. This would be the first real test of my New Balance hiking shoes. Prior to this, it has only ever climbed the trails of Mt. Sembrano and walked the well-paved streets of Taiwan. This time, it’s going to get a full dose of the elements. Hopefully it survives and passes the test.
There turned out to be many people on the trail that day, both going up and going down. When we set off at the jump-off point, there was a group twice our size (who were also with us in the bus from Manila). On the way up, we encountered a group of local government employees (they had matching T-shirts) who were just doing their descent. I had to marvel at how some of their group, who are middle-aged, got to the ridge. We met them under heavy rain at a particularly steep and muddy path. It caused some traffic on the trail because we all had to be very careful. Thankfully, I had a hiking pole to help me avoid slipping.
At some point after that, I found myself wondering if the rain would ever stop. It caused me some apprehension because I’ve never set up my tent under falling rain before and I imagined how hard that task would be. Thankfully, it did stop later on, but the sun just hid behind the clouds and didn’t show itself anymore for the rest of the day.
The trail of Tarak Ridge is not a consistent upward slope like Mt. Cristobal or Mt. Malindig. For quite a long time it seemed like we just went up and down gentle slopes with no net gain in altitude. Every now and then, the trail was punctuated by some small gorges and ravines that we had to cross. We didn’t worry about getting lost. Stone markers and small ribbons tied to branches left by other hikers can be seen every 20 meters or so to remind us that we’re on the right track.
Personally, I prefer the stone markers as they’re more natural-looking, unlike the brightly colored ribbons which are made of plastic and brightly colored at that. It somehow just ruins the appearance of the trail for me.
THE PAPAYA RIVER
We made it to the Papaya River at lunch time. This is a major stopover before proceeding to the ridge because it has wide open spaces where people could have their meals or camp, and it’s the only source of fresh, potable water in the entire trail.
It’s not known why it’s called the Papaya River given that there were no Papaya trees to be seen in its vicinity, and I don’t think the rocky terrain would support the growth of such trees. But anyway, the river is quite useful to hikers who are both going up and coming down from the ridge. It’s a place where one can clean up, take a dip, and replenish one’s water supply. For the last one, one has to go way upstream to be sure that one gets the cleanest water possible.
As I had a full supply of drinking water, I didn’t need just yet to replenish my supply. But I did take advantage of the chance to wash off the mud from my shoes and the lower half of my pants after we had lunch.
I imagine that this place never really gets vacant during the daytime. There’s a steady stream of hikers that come and go. When we arrived, there were already people there, and more arrived while we were having lunch, and still more when we were about to leave. The bad thing about it is that there’s trash that dot the surroundings left by some irresponsible hikers.
AND ON TO THE RIDGE
The trail began to be progressively steeper after we left the Papaya River. The hike went on for another hour or so before we broke through the grassland line near the area of the ridge, which signaled to us that we were already near the campsite.
There were already a number of campers who have pitched tents at the ridge. For our part, we were able to set up camp in a tree-covered area that was seemingly reserved for us by another group of campers who have already set up camp there. The ground was rocky and uneven, and I had to hope that my earth pad would somehow make things less uncomfortable for my back when I pitch my own tent there.
So tent #1 was occupied by Dario and Aleli; tent #2 had Vernz, Des and Yan; while I was the sole occupant of my tent, which wasn’t really sizable enough for two people, assuming that one of them was someone my size. So we rested for a bit and ate some snacks, before venturing outside our camp to appreciate the surrounding view at the exposed part of the ridge.
The ridge was steep on both sides, but the edge itself was wide enough to easily contain a crowd. As the day ended we just enjoyed the fresh breeze and took a lot of photos of ourselves and our surroundings. Due to the irregular shape of the ridge, it was a different view wherever you look. One side showed the steep slope leading to the nearest peak, another side showed a cliff and the lush greenery of the mountainside, and still another side afforded one a view of the Manila Bay in the distance and the island of Corregidor.
We returned to our camp just before sunset to prepare ourselves for the night. I’d note that as it was getting dark, there were still campers arriving at the ridge. As we each made our own arrangements and preparations for the night, Dario was cooking dinner for all of us. We were apparently having Sinigang na Baboy that night. We also gave him our assigned 2 cups of rice each.
Now, since I’m not really a seasoned mountaineer, I didn’t even bring a reliable source of light that day. I just grabbed whatever flashlight that was at home that morning and brought it with me. That night, the flashlight turned on and off on its own and it was pretty much useless. There were moments when I had to borrow one of the girls’ LED headlamps just so I would be able to see what I’m doing. I’ve got to buy myself one of these. (I can assure you that eating Sinigang in the dark is an unnecessary difficulty.)
Anyway, dinner promised to be as good as advertised. As far as I can remember, Dario has never cooked a dish that my palate did not agree with. Being able to sip hot Sinigang soup at a mountain night is always a welcome comfort. Now, being the doofus that I am, I set up my tent in such a way that it faced away from the other two, so I had to stand up and walk a few meters if I wanted to get more food, instead of just sitting at the entrance of my tent and ask the others to pass some to me.
Dinner was a quick affair and we entered each of our respective tents to retire for the night. The girls’ tent turned out to be the noisiest as they seemed to have a lot of stories to tell, and it took a while for things to quiet down. (Seriously, if you have a tent with both Des and Vernz in it, you can be sure that there’s no dull moment, to say the least.) I even jokingly admonished them because the people from the other group seemed to be sleeping already.
My phone still had a few bars of battery life left so I used it to check my social networking accounts, text people, and to read up on the news before the power finally drained and I had nothing else to do but to try to sleep. Outside, we began to hear the wind howling through the trees and I remember thinking we were well-protected in our camp from both the rain and the wind. I’d imagine that the campers at the exposed area of the ridge would have an unsettling night as their tents are battered by the strong gusts of wind for the rest of the night.
Thankfully, it did not rain overnight, but I wasn’t expecting the temperature to drop as much as it did that morning. I thought that since we were well-protected from the winds that it wouldn’t get really cold. I was only partly right because while it wasn’t an uncomfortable kind of cold, I still saw the need to wear my jacket as I slept that night. (And I recall stumbling in the darkness around midnight as I had to exit my tent to pee.)
The three girls woke up and left very early to catch the sunrise at the peak. I felt sluggish that morning so I stayed at the camp for a longer while after waking up. Dario, Aleli and I had breakfast at a leisurely pace before deciding to join the girls at the peak.
It was well after sunrise when we began our own hike, and by that time, the chill of the morning had already dissipated. I had some apprehensions about leaving our tents and bags without anyone standing guard on them, but I haven’t come across reports of theft in Tarak Ridge, so I chose to trust the honor code of mountaineers.
Climbing the nearby peak served as good exercise that morning. Certainly took away all sluggishness from me. En route to the peak, the trail transitioned into a jungle, and while this made things a bit difficult, it nevertheless gave much-needed shade from the sun that was beginning to warm up the morning temperature.
We eventually reached the summit of the peak and found there a small crowd which, of course, included Yan, Vernz and Des. Honestly, the views were much better at the area near our camp site, but I guess there’s always something that makes the view at the top much more satisfying. As usual, we took a lot of pictures there. Dario even had his trademark Tarsier pose in a particularly dangerous spot.
Before long, it was time to get back to the camp and prepare for the descent. The ridge area was buzzing with activity as everybody seemed to be awake already and were either having breakfast or breaking camp.
I’m tempted to just breeze through this section because in truth, it was almost exactly what we underwent on the way up, only in reverse. The only difference is that I somehow felt we did so at a faster pace, which is interesting because I mentioned before that the trail in this mountain isn’t exactly a consistent slope. I guess it was just a matter of me getting used to the trail.
Along the way, we encountered a number of hikers on the way up. The three girls even met a few hikers that they personally know from Climb Against Cancer (CAC – a group that some HLGG members are also part of).
Before long, we reached Papaya River to stop over and rest a bit before continuing on. We’d be having lunch at the jump-off point back at Barangay Alasasin, so we didn’t spend too much time at the river. Through the trees, we could see that it was beginning to look like a very sunny day, which was good news because that means the trail at the final stretch of the trek back would not be as muddy as the day before.
When we finally reached the area where campers stop over to re-sign the logbook (and place their various banners), we knew that it was just a matter of time before we find ourselves at the jump-off point. The day was getting hotter by this time and the trail is a lot wider so a lot more of it is exposed under the sum.
We took a break here mostly for the shade it affords us, and also the ice-cold buko juice being sold there, as well as the newly fried turon. Later, after we left, we saw another stall selling much of the same thing. We felt sorry for the proprietors who were trying to entice us to buy from them because it seems that they haven’t had anything sold yet.
We made arrangements for 2 tricycles to pick us up at the jump-off point and bring us to this house where we could clean up, take a shower and change into clean clothes. There was only one shower room, so while one of us was taking a shower, everyone else is either rearranging the contents of their backpack, or washing off the mud from their shoes. It was while doing the latter task with some of the others that I learned of the tip never to use soap when cleaning hiking shoes. Apparently, some chemical in soap disintegrates the adhesive that keeps the shoes together. (And this is explains why the front tip of my old Nike hiking shoes is now “smiling”. I washed it with soap a few times in the past.)
After everyone has showered and cleaned up, we gave our thanks to our hosts, and gave them a fair amount of cash for all their trouble as well. We then walked towards the main highway to look for a place to eat. It was already early afternoon at that time, and it seemed like every roadside eatery we spotted was in siesta mode. We did find one that was spacious enough for the 6 of us and our sizable backpacks and we had the entire place to ourselves. It was a happy time as it was probably the only time throughout the trip that we were able to be all together and dine in a comfortable setting
Getting back to Manila was just as easy as crossing the street and waiting for an aircon bus to pass by. We only waited less than 10 minutes before one showed up. Thankfully, there were still a lot of seats vacant so we were able to escape the unbearable prospect of staning inside the bus while wearing our heavy backpacks all the way to Manila. We were comfortably seated and the bus DVD player was showing a nice B movie.
Our last view of Bataan was during dusk, when the sky was changing into softer colors while we passed by the ricefields. It turned out to be a rather nice weekend.
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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