Tayak Hill The World

It was a super long weekend spent in a not-so-long- hike (if you can even call it one) at Tayak.  My mountaineering group, Guys4Mountains Inc. haven’t climbed much the past two years but we haven’t skipped celebrating our August anniversary as a group.  Our camaraderie is as steadfast as the mountains we climb, landslides withstanding.

We’ve been to Tayak before and the weather was much worse.  We arrived at the jump-off point amidst really heavy rain.  We decided to just do a day hike and check-in at the Tayak Resort.  Dorm beds were available for around Php 200+ person.  Cheap and comfortable. We hiked to the top, took our pics, and spent the rest of the day and the next relaxing at the resort.

Last weekend, the Tayak that greeted us was totally different.  We checked-in at the resort, got our dorm beds, relaxed a bit, then made our way to the hill at around 3 in the afternoon.

The road had been fully sealed except for a few short sections.  It seemed to go on forever.  I remember walking the same road a couple of years ago but it seemed much longer and more tedious.  Pounding on cement is infinitely more tiring to the limbs than treading on earth.  At one point, I joked that perhaps they had leveled the hill and had built at subdivision.  That at the next turn, there would be people handing-out fliers to us.

As we approached a small store where three mountaineers were taking a break traversing Mt. Cristobal, looking to the right,  a small grassy hill with the white cross and the letterings a la Hollywood came into view.  We had seen it from the 3rd floor window of the resort much earlier and wondered which part of Mt. Cristobal it was.  Much nearer, the words came into view — “Tayak Hill The World.”  So that was Tayak!  We all had a good laugh a the ambiguous phrase “Tayak Hill The World.”

Hill The World… make it a better place… for me and for you and the entire human race…

Soon familiar surroundings such as the chapel greeted us.  A large tarpaulin sign read “Tayak Nature and Adventure Camp.”  We knew something different was going to greet us.  A few hundred meters back, we came onto a “Welcome to Landing Point” sign that showed different activities such as para-gliding, wall climbing, and even a cable car ride.  We took the small path on the right and came to the bottom of the hill.

It had had a total make-over.  Where once there was a small trail, there were carved footsteps on the earth and red and yellow banderitas stamped with “San Miguel” and its logo lined the paths.  As we made our way up, stone paths inscribed with sponsors name led all the way to the top.

Want your own stepping stone?

Half-way up, a sign pointed to a small path to the campsite.  We headed all the way to the top where a huge white cross greeted us.  On the left side was a mountain bike that had been mounted on a small cemented platform marking the hill as a “Biker Haven.”  Tayak had become a tourist destination.

It’s a stationary mountain bike!

The view was still magnificent though with Mt.  Cristobal looming large on one side and the plains of San Pablo and the rest of Laguna sprawled below.  Low-lying clouds wrapping the surrounding hills and mountains made it all very picture-pretty.

The campsite as seen from the hill top.

We took our “we were here” pictures then made our way down the hill to the long road back to the resort.  Dusk had fallen and no sooner had we reached the start of the cemented road that the rain fell in torrents.  It was actually quite cool walking under the pelting rain.  Fortunately, there wasn’t any lightning or I would have freaked-out.

Again, the road seemed to go on forever and ever.  Night was falling and I had no clue had near or how far we were. We had become separated with me ahead of everyone else and Edwin and his partner a few meters behind me.  The rain had petered-out into a light shower by then.  A jeep came rumbling up the hill inquiring to the kids and adults that we had met at the hill earlier.  It had come to pick them up.  That meant hope that we could hitch a ride when they returned.  And they did!  It was just in time when the jeep came down the road and plucked us off the long winding road before night completely fell.  As we rode on the back and watched the road go by we realized that it would have taken at least another half hour of walking to reach the resort.

Tayak Hill has been re-imagined as a tourist destination.  It really is a pretty-enough place that doesn’t take much effort to get to.  You can even take a jeep or a trike all the way to the chapel at the base of the hill.  I just hope that they don’t overdo it lest it turns into a carnival of cheap kiosks and stalls.

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Mt. Buntis: On the Trail of Bonifacio

Maragondon, Cavite is enshrined in Philippine history as the place where Andres Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were court-martialed by the government of Emilio Aguinaldo.  Along the road is the bahay na bato that bore witness to this piece of history.  Now converted into a museum, the room where the trial was set has a life-sized re-enactment of the scene.  The place is sparsely filled but the house is beautifully restored.  Nearby is Maragondon Church with its ornately-carved doors and squarish bell-tower.  More interesting are the mountains surrounding the baranggay. Mt. Nagpatong was where Andres and Procopio were shot on the command of Aguinaldo.  Nearby is Mt. Buntis which people say resembles a pregnant woman lying on her back.  Our guide said,  there is a buntis therefore there is nagpatong.

The figures seated are Andres Bonifacio and his wife, Gregoria de Jesus


The hike starts with hanging bridge crossing a really nice and peaceful river.

Mt. Buntis is really more hill than mountain like Bulacan’s Mt. Manalmon.  Rising only 100 meters, the hike to its base along flat open rice fields drying under the intense heat of the sun takes longer than the ascent through a much cooler leafy trail.  It’s hike that’s short and sweet.  However, that wasn’t what happened.


Close to an hour of hiking across the flat plains, as we rested on what seemed to be a dry river bed, our guide suddenly turned to us and asked if we could climb cliffs.  Rowell who had gone to Buntis two years ago had forgotten the trail but had certainly remembered not ever scaling any cliffs.  Jasper who had a better memory of the hike described a trail that ascended gently and where there was a fence to keep animals out.  Our guide, Christian, insisted that Buntis was “that one” pointing to the cliffs rising to the right and what they had gone to wasn’t Buntis.  That drew out jokes from everyone.

Rowell: “Chismis.  Hindi naman pala buntis yun. Ectopic pregnancy.”

Bench: “Babarilin lang pala si Bonifacio pina-akyat pa sa bangin.  Siguro sabi nya, dito nyo na ako barilin tapos palabasin nyo na lang na itinulak ako sa bangin.”

Assuming that locals know best, we headed to the direction the guide pointed out as we assumed that the other guide that would lead Mariano and Edwin who were following later in the afternoon would be taking the same route. So we walked along the dried river bed as the cliffs loomed high on our side.  Christian had said that there would be no trail on the cliffs as no ever really goes up and that we would have to make a trail!

Far away to the front our guide suddenly stopped and conferred with someone.  Then he turned to us and said: “Tama nga.  Balik nga tayo dun sa sinasabi nyo.”

Our hunches were right.  He didn’t really know the way!  He was probably just walking and looking for a way to go up.  We backtracked and a couple of hundred meters, we turned left to a small trail that gradually ascended.  Halfway up, he pointed to a large moss-covered rock and said that it was the one Jasper had spoken about.  A few minutes later, we reached the small campsite.

The surrounding mountains were beautiful while a green valley of banana trees and some palms lay below.  Far off to the east was Cavite City.  A few rock ledges with sheer drops made for great photo-ops.  With only shrubs growing out of the rocky soil there was no cover at all from the cloudless sky.  There wasn’t any wind either so it was really hot.  As the others rapelled on the line that Elf put-up, I looked for a spot to shit which wasn’t easy as there wasn’t much shrubs for cover.  The soil was also kind hard so digging a cat hole was near to impossible.  I had to cover my dump with some loose dry soil and leaves and twigs instead.

I set-up my tent and slept a bit after snacking on the cheese hopia I bought from Sonya’s Garden the weekend before.  A good snack always revives the spirit.

It was much cooler in the evening with a little breeze blowing.  It was a full moon night with the moon glowing orange in the star-lit sky.  All the tiredness from the Zumba workshop and launch party last Thursday and Friday finally caught-up with me. In spite of the really hilarious prom outfits of the guys (the climb was themed JS Prom), I was sleepy during socials. I turned in a little bit early with Rye waking me up and leading me to the tent.

Morning came and the first thing I did was to take a dump again on the same spot as yesterday.  It was only a few minutes after six and the sun was up on the east while the moon was still up on the west.  Unique.

Going down was really easy and we rested a bit on the small community of about five houses surrounding a large tree and dusty basketball court in the middle of the field.  It really looked very rural and quaint with nothing but hills and rice fields.  Except for the a radio blaring, it’s as if time had stood still on the small community.  The houses were built of nipa and wood a pozo was a source of water.   Christian was kind enough to get some ice from one of the houses so we can have cold water to drink.

Back on the main road that wound around the town, I passed by a couple of bahay na bato, one of the few remaining remnants of the colonial times.  Together with the Maragondon Church with its ornate wood carvings, these houses were beautiful examples of Spanish colonial architecture.  One house set amidst a quiet yard with trees and plants beautifully stood out as it was very well-kept.

We took a bath at Eric’s aunt’s house then we headed to a roadside eatery for a late lunch before catching a bus bound for Manila.

Categories: Buntis | 6 Comments

Mt. Maculot

I just came back from my first climb for this year— Mt. Maculot with Guys4Mountains, Inc.  I’ve never really given thought of climbing this mountain given the bad press it has gotten through the years—- damaged trails, rubbish, refreshments stands, etc.  Some have gone to the extent of boycotting the mountain or taking it off their bucket list (such as me).  Whenever someone mentions Maculot, I always say, “I’ve never climbed it,” which results in surprised looks.  So why did I go?  Because any mountain, no matter how “bad” always turns out good with Guys4Mountains, Inc.  More than the mountain, it’s the company that makes any climb worth it.

I was pleasantly surprised that the trails weren’t different from those of other popular mountains such as Manabu, Gulugod Baboy, and Talamitam.  I expected wide trails littered with trash.  About a third-up , there was a refreshment stand and on the campsite, another one.  One kinda expects that already from mountains in the league of Maculot. It would be unbelievable if there was nary a local selling buko juice.  Besides, I think any hardcore mountaineer, would melt at the sight of fresh buko juice.

It was mid-day when we reached the campsite which was good as that left us with one of the better spots.  Towards evening, the main campsite had already looked like there was a jamboree going on.  I slept the rest of the afternoon which meant I skipped the climb to the Rockies. Aaaaarrrggghhhh!

I understand why people like Maculot so much. The trail is relatively easy and short and mostly covered.  Since I never made it to the Rockies nor to the summit, I can’t tell what you can see from there but I bet it’s more than spectacular from what you can see from the campsite— Taal Lake and Balayan Bay.


Categories: Maculot | 1 Comment

Mud Mountain

Looking at it from afar, you can be forgiven from thinking that Mt. Kalisungan is an easy mountain to climb. At about 760masl it’s short and again you can be forgiven for classifying its trail difficulty with Gulugod Baboy, Tayak Hill, and even Batulao. After all, one website classifies it as a 3/9.  So with all those expectations of an easy and relaxing climb, we headed to Kalisungan last Saturday for the post-Halloween climb of Guys4Men, Inc. There were just 11 of us.  I tried in vain to get more people to come, especially newbies, but nobody seemed too excited to go hiking at a moment’s notice.

I didn’t get much sleep on the  Sta. Cruz, Laguna-bound bus we rode from the bus station behind  Wendy’s Buendia as the seats didn’t recline.  Maybe because it was only a short trip so the bus wasn’t the 4-seater type.  It  looked just like the newer air-conditioned buses plying the city streets.   We arrived at the duck junction (so-called because there are giant statues of ducks at the center of the road) around 10am.   We had brunch and bought some packed lunch. at a roadside eatery.  The food was good and had generous servings.  The free Batangas bulalo soup which was simmering in a big cauldron by the roadside was hot and tasty but was very very oily.  It was like sipping a bowl of pure oil.  To supplement my packed dinner, I bought an entire kinulob na itik which was fried, chopped, and packed.

The trailhead was about 10 minutes away and loaded ourselves and our packs on tricycles (Php 20 each).  The starting point was right by a house where  we had to wait as Edwin, the EL , had to go to the

baranggay hall to register.  There were a couple of guys there who said they were  still waiting for 15 more people to join them.  Aaaargghh!  That meant we had to make sure we arrived at the campgrounds way ahead of them to secure our space.  I had made up my mind to go at a slow pace and not tax myself.

The trail started  easily enough with me and Ujin leading.   We hiked for about 15 minutes through flat grassy fields planted with banana trees .  We passed 3 young hikers who let us through saying that they were slow.  The trail diverged and we took the one that went straight.  Ujin and I waited several minutes  just to make sure that the others took the same route.  We were surprised when the 3 young hikers arrived. They said that the others had already passed them which meant that they probably took the trail that led left.  I wasn’t sure now if we took the right one but one of the guys said to always keep on the right.  There was also a trail sign (a white ribbon tied to a tree which I didn’t see).  We also remembered the woman at the house saying to just keep going straight ahead.  I called Arni and told her to backtrack.  They arrived  about 10 minutes later and we resumed our hike.  The trail started to gradually ascend as we trekked on slimy mud.   It had been raining incessantly up until yesterday the locals said.    It was bright and sunny so we were optimistic there would be no rain.  The mountain loomed before us as we made our way across the banana fields.  We finally reached the base and from then on the trail just led up and up and up. Mostly banana trees, shrubs, and small plants grew so there was nothing really to hold on to as we negotiated the really slippery trail.  I had already taken-out my trekking pole which I normally use for descents only.    As I made my way up, I was glad for the brunch of 2 cups of rice and a serving of adobo and Bicol express I had at the eatery before starting the climb.  I sure needed it.

As annoying as the mud were the giant mosquitoes and red ants that the trail seemed to be infested with.  By the time we reached the small plateau just an hour away from the summit my legs were covered with giant mosquito bites that were red and swollen. I should have taken better note of the IT which advised bringing mosquito repellent.  The mosquitoes simply bit through the leg tights I pulled on.  We rested a bit for lunch and waited for the others.  I had 3 pieces of tamales and some boiled hotdogs.

About 2:30, Edwin, Ujin, and I took off for the summit as the others rested.  It was the steepest part of the trail and there wasn’t much to hold on to.  As I clambered up I was already thinking how the hell was I gonna get down tomorrow.  I fixed my gaze to the clump of trees, the tall cogon grass, and the bright blue sky that was peeking from the foliage.  “That’s the summit, ” I said aloud.  When I reached the top, my heart sank.  It was just the beginning of the cogon trail.  Well at least it was  not as slippery and as steep plus cogon makes for very good handholds if you don’t mind its roughness.  Finally, about 10 minutes later, I broke thought the tall cogon grass and spied the cross perched on top of the summit.  The trail had leveled a bit and I quickly crossed to the other side and reached the camp grounds.  I dropped my pack, praised God for his Grace and almost wept at the beauty of the 360- degree view.  On one side was the cloud-covered peaks of Mt. Banahaw and Cristobal. Opposite was Talim Island and Tagapo.  On the other side were the lakes of San Pablo and the entire province of Laguna spread out on the valley below.  It was breathtaking.


We made camp at the area where the cross stood and where the ground was flatter.  The others soon arrived and still we were the only group there.  Rex had hired as porter, the Mang Berto who we passed on the way up.  He promised to bring us some fresh coconuts the next day.  That’s when I noticed the waterproof pouch which contained my wallet, headlamp, and rechargeable batteries gone from my pack”s top pouch.  While hiking, a nagging though and hunch came telling me to ensure the zipper was closed as the pouch might fall.  I should have listened. Nobody had seen it along the trail.  I told Mang Berto to keep an eye out for it. The Php 600 bucks in the wallet is no big loss.  It’s my Black Diamond headlamp that’s valuable.  Fortunately, the sky was quite bright that night plus my Nokie E63 had a flashlight.

The campgrounds was kinda small and the cogon grass that surrounded it was pretty tall and we had to flatten some portions just to get more space.  A pretty strong wind was blowing and I had to tie guylines on my tent to keep it stable.  The waterproofing on my fly was all gone and I had just seam sealed it so I was hoping there wouldn’t be any rain.


This is the first climb where I was light on food.  Is it because I’m trying to lose weight?   I didn’t even bother to bring a stove and a cook set as everything was pre-cooked — potato and sausage croquettes and itik for dinner, chicken nuggets for breakfast.  Pesto bread provided the carbohydrates.   I wasn’t really hungry and didn’t even eat much of Arni ‘s angel hair pasta with store-bought and foil-packed carbonara sauce.  I managed to just consume  about 1/4 of the itik as it was greasy and had a really strong smell and taste.  Dessert was some soft cookies.

I was really tired and the cold made me sleepy.  I skipped socials and just snuggled in my tent.  Again, I wished I paid more attention to the IT which advised bringing a jacket.  I only had my wind breaker with me and it didn’t do much to keep the cold out.  I woke up with the sound of people having socials just outside my tent.  They were quite noisy and I was tempted to shoo them away.  It seemed more people had arrived.  A really strong downpour finally put a stop to it.  It was hard to get some sleep as it was really cold.  With the “destroyed” rain-proofing, my fly sheet was also damp but at least didn’t leak. The seam sealer I put on a week ago seemed to have worked.

I woke-up with an overcast sky and the sound of people making breakfast.  I went to bed with only us on the camp grounds.  In the morning there were tents everywhere. There were even people camped out on the other side!  It seemed everyone had gone on a night trek, including the large group we saw at the waiting area near the trailhead.


The lakes of San Pablo

We broke camp at around 8:30 and started the muddy descent down.  It did not help that it was raining intermittently.  It was slow going but not as treacherous as I thought it would be.  I only slipped once!  We kept close to each other as we had received a report from one of the groups that 3 hikers were robbed the night before just a few meters from the trailhead.  The robbers, 3 skinny guys, took off with their entire packs!

It was pouring when we finally reached the trailhead.  For Php 20 we got to use the bathroom at one of the houses to wash-up.  My clothes were a muddy mess and so were my shoes.  It was good to feel all that mud being washed away.  One of the best moments is just sitting on a bench, feeling your body relaxing, after you’ve bathed and sloshed away all that mud off.


Mt. Banahaw

We hired a jeep (Php 50 each for 11 of us) to take us to Calamba where it would  be easier to catch a bus going home. We had lunch at Binalot sa Dahon before getting a Cubao-bound bus.  Thankfully, there were enough seats for us.  It wasn’t traffic at all and I woke-up about 2 hours later when the conducted announced that we were at Magallanes already.

Kalisungan isn’t a particularly hard mountain to climb.  It’s relatively easy if you don’t expect it to be as easy as Gulugod Baboy or Tayak. It really was all in the mind as I had my mind set on a trail that though muddy would be easy to negotiate, and certainly not one that went just straight-to-the top.

Categories: Kalisungan | Leave a comment

Mt. Tapulao — the Ultimate Revenge

After climbing Tapulao last month, I vowed never to climb it again, at least for the next 2 years.  There’s nothing technically difficult about the climb as you don’t even feel like you’re climbing a mountain until you reach the upper slopes where the pine trees are and the scene drastically changes. Loose rocks are replaced by the soft soil and pine needles and the scorching heat of the sun is tempered by the mist.

But like some of the things I say I would never do again, not climbing Tapulao was not to be.  I not only climbed it last weekend, but I was EL, too!

For Guys4Mountains, Inc, it was the ultimate revenge after 4 years as the group hardly made it to the bunkers due to miscalculations on climbing time.  I didn’t join that climb but from the stories I heard, there was more than enough good reasons why the guys wanted to conquer Tapulao once and for all.  For myself, I wanted to better the 6-hour ascent and 5-hour descent record I did.  I’m not really one in timing my climbs but Tapulao, with its notorious trail is one that begs for one.  Oio and I decided on a 5 hour ascent. It was going to be a little easier this time as I had done the trail already and would know how to psyche and pace myself up and I would not be bringing my tent and would only have 2L of water.  The only possible downside would be the lack of sleep I would get on the ride to Palauig.  True enough, in spite of the relative comfort of the coaster (roomier than the van we rode the last time), I could hardly get some shut-eye.  One reason why I hardly took any break during the ascent was I was afraid I’d fall asleep at the trail.  At one point, about half-way to the second water source and not knowing how far Oio was behind me, I was seriously considering sleeping and just waiting for Oio to come and wake me up.

Aaaarrhggghhh! Think of walking this trail for 8-10 hours.

Let the Trail Begin.

I was a little worried when we arrived at almost 7am already way past our expected climb start at 5:30am.  A group had already started earlier and another group was just getting ready to leave.  Possibly about 40 people were heading up and we weren’t sure if they had tents or were gonna use the bunkers like us.  Only Elf, Markiko, and Dan had tents as we were all expecting to stay at the bunkers.  Plan A had to be activated: Oio and I would get to the bunkers as fast as we could to secure our space while the rest would just simply keep going and going.  There would be no re-groupings and as Bench had declared days before, this was a “no e-camp climb.”

After paying the registration (Php 30) at the baranggay hall and a quick prayer from Maning, we were off—Oio,  Arni, and I at the head, Jong’s group at the tail, and the rest of the guys in the middle.

The weather was perfect— clear sky but no direct sunlight and a nice refreshing breeze.  I don’t know what came over me.  Maybe it was the need to secure the bunkers, or my excitement about being in Tapulao again; but I just went relentlessly forward on the trail leaving Oio and Arni behind.  After about 30 minutes, I reached about a dozen climbers resting by the side of the trail.  A couple of hundred meters later, I passed by about a small group then some meters later, a couple or two, until it seemed there was no one else before me. I actually felt like I was in the Amazing Race.  Past the first water source, manong, whose hut stands beside the second water source which marks about two-thirds of the trail, walked past me with his puppy which had grown a bit from last month.  He recognized me from the previous climb and commented that with my pace, I would reach the water source in 30 minutes.  He was right.  It was only around 9:30 so it was still too early for lunch.  Fifteen minutes later, Oio arrived.  We both shared some crackers and rested a bit.  As manong reported, there was no one ahead of us.  We set out for the last and steepest part of the trail at 10:15 and aimed to make it before 12 for lunch.

The trail only starts to get pretty after the water source when pine trees appear and mist envelopes the trail.  It’s a welcome distraction to the relentless steep rock-stone trail.

A couple of  teen-age guys were headed down. I  thought they were climbers on the way down but turns out they were security guards at the bunkers!   They affirmed what manong had said, that the only person up was a guard named Fabian. Near durungawan, two guys with a guide were on their way down.  They started their climb at 3pm the day before and of course were unable to reach even the water source so they set-up an e-camp a hundred meters before it which explains the flattened vegetation and some blankets we passed by.


Bunkers--- a welcome sight after hours of walking

I was getting hungry already and a little impatient especially as it had started to drizzle.  It was raining by the time we reached  the guardhouse.  I sat on the wooden bench outside which promptly broke under my weight.  When the rain subsided, we resumed our trek, this time a little faster.  One more zig-zag and the bunkers came into view.  Fabian, who recognized us from last month, greeted us. “Four point five!”  I shouted to Oio.  We reserved two bunkers and unloaded our packs.  One of the best reasons to arrive ahead of the others is the enjoyment you get from a serene camp.  Tapulao’s wooded slopes are really beautiful especially when clouds start rolling in on the peaks beyond.  It is a sight best enjoyed alone with nothing than the stillness of nature.

I took a quick bath in spite of the cold air and ate part of my chicken nuggets and packed rice for lunch then snuggled in my sleeping bag.  I woke up about half an hour later with the arrival of Arni. The rest of the afternoon, people started coming in and by 5pm only Jong’s group hadn’t arrived. We were confident though of their ability and experience though they were all first-timers at Tapulao.  The other groups were also arriving.  Our Amazing Race went for naught as most of the bunkers stood empty as the large group pitched tents.  We were having our sinigang dinner around 7pm when Jong, Myla, Akoy, Boy, and Reggie finally showed-up.  Boy, who was driving the coaster, needed some sleep so they spent a lot of time resting along the trail.

Let me pause at this moment about sinigang.  Everything you’ve heard about the wonders of   having sinigang for dinner on a mountain is true.   No matter how it tastes, it always tastes good.  This was only my second time to have sinigang and both of them in Tapulao.  If you’ve never had sinigang as camp chow, a cold-weather mountain such as Tapulao would be the perfect setting.  It’s going to be like chicken soup for the soul.  Arni also cooked some angel hair pasta with some bottled sauce from Bravo! and noodle soup.  It was a carbo-loaded dinner.

Socials was a little quiet than usual.  Even the other groups were a little quiet.  Either it was the cold or everyone was just achingly tired. Arni and Rowell were a little wasted so there was a lot of laughter.  Nobody really brought much firewater up so there wasn’t much to pass around.  I think I went to bed a little past 11.  It was really cold and there was a slight wind blowing.

I woke-up around 1:30 in the morning to take a pee.  The entire campsite was bathed in beautiful moonlight with the moon shining brightly above me as I peed. The entire landscape was picture-perfect.   There was no need for a headlamp as it was so bright.

You can tell from the pained look on our faces how difficult it was to get back down the near vertical trail to the bunkers from the summit.

I didn’t summit the first time at Tapulao as I badly needed to go to the toilet and there was quite a wait.  By the time I was over and done with it, the party had already set out and I was too lazy to follow.  Since I was EL  I was determined to summit this time even if it meant waking-up before everyone else just to be first at the toilet.  I woke up at 5:30 as was first at the toilet.  The girls from one of the groups were already at the summit trail as the rest of the camp slowly woke-up.  It was already 7 when we set out for the steep steep trail up.  Near the flat land where the old bunker house was, we met two of the girls who said that they didn’t make it to the summit as they found it far. That explains why less than an hour and a half later, the girls who had set out were returning already.  It takes an hour up and about half of that down so we were wondering why they returned so early.

The most difficult part of the trail really is the near vertical distance that starts from the camp to the old bunk house.  The trail in the mossy forest all the way up isn’t very steep though a little slippery and dense but at least there are lots of trees to hold on to. After nearly an hour, I was getting a little impatient and hungry as we hadn’t had breakfast.  Finally, the darkness of the mossy forest soon gave way to cogon grass brightly lit by a clear cloudless sky.  “This is it?!  This is what we went all the way up for?!” I jokingly shouted. There was no view of the valley below as the entire summit had stunted trees and shrubs. The sight of the surrounding peaks all covered with the same vegetation was stunning, though.  There was a small and shallow crater where some shrubs grew which apparently is the summit’s highlight.

Girl Screaming with Limatik. But the real highlight of the summit was Arni screaming her head off when she saw a limatik sucking on her shin.  We were having our group picture taken by someone from another group that arrived after us.  As Arni hurried to the other side of the crater where we were posing, someone commented that she had a limatik which we thought was a joke.  She stumbled and we all laughed.  Then we saw the limatik which had grown fat from sucking her blood and pointed it to to her. She turned red and totally panicked begging someone to “remove it please! ” while she held on to her leg.  Dan came to her rescue and deftly pulled the blood-sucker off.  It was a youtube moment!  Afraid of more limatiks, Arni hurriedly started down with me and Stan following her.  It was hilarious seeing her running down the trail looking all terrified.  I’ve never seen anyone hurry down as fast as her before. I finally caught up with her at the old bunker house where we both took the wrong trail down to the camp site. Fortunately, we hadn’t gone more than a couple of meters before I realized that we should have descended on the left side.  We went back up again and saw the trail. Stan was already making his way gingerly down.  I just sat down and slid about one-third of the way down.  It took less effort and less chances of losing your foot hold and sliding all the way down to camp.

A breakfast of tocino, bacon, and red eggs and tomatoes awaited courtesy of those who were left at camp.  We broke camp and started off back to the jump-off at almost 11 already.  The other groups had already gone ahead.  Oio started sprinting off again so I waited for Dan so I can have someone to talk to on the trail.  At the water source, I met up with Arni who had gone off earlier.  She was chatting with one of the groups who were all orderly seated on the side of the trail.  Not wanting to take any breather as my aim was to just have lunch at the baranggay hall, I ran past her and said “hi” to everyone.  Arni followed while Dan stayed a bit at the water source.  I was earlier determined to keep pace with either Dan or Arni just to have company on the trail but boredome and the driving need to be back at jump-off as early as possible had me running down and just keep passing everyone who had gone ahead earlier.

The sun was out in full force this time and I could feel the heat bouncing off the rocks especially when I left the forest and was on the open trail.  Little stone kepts getting into my shoes so I had to keep shaking them out  I could also feel hot spots developing on my blister-prone toes.  At the final stretch at the trail where one can see the valley already, my right knee and my side thighs (my ITB) both on the right  (and both related) started nagging me which slowed me down a bit.  The two guys I overtook while they were resting a couple of hundred of meters back soon passed me by.  I finally slowed down to a walk as even a slight run was bothersome.  It was a relief when I finally saw the small house which marked the bend of the trail that led to the village.

As I made my way past the backyard of the house where the trail began, somebody commented, “you’re very tired,” to which I smiled wanly.  It was an understatement.  The last few meters on the cemented road that led to the baranggay hall were excruciating.  I was dragging my feet as my thighs were screaming bloody hell.  A few steps down, and I finally plopped down on the bamboo sofa.  It took me 3.5 hours.  30 minutes less than my previous descent.

I took off my shoes and wiggled my toes—one of the post-climb pleasures.   Believe me.  After having them trapped for hours on end,  setting them free from the constraints of trekking boots, especially water-proof leather ones, are a real treat.  At that moment I wish I had a Chinese servant massage the soles of my feet by lightly pounding them with a little drum like that scene in “Raise the Red Lantern.”  Not one who believes in pasma, I showered and changed into fresh clothes—another pleasure.  The heat had kept my packed lunch of adobo, steamed rice, red eggs, and tomatoes hot and ready.  The adobo was cooked with too much vinegar but I was so hungry I simply gobbled it all up with a cold bottle of Sprite even if it tasted more like kilawin.

Everyone had made it back to the baranggay hall before dusk and at 7:30pm we were well on our way to Subic for dinner at Coffee House  which promised a huge delicious taco.

Star Burger and Tacos. Enroute to Subic, we stopped at a burger stand along the road as we were so hungry.  We descended on the hapless pretty cook-vendor who seemed overwhelmed with all the orders being shouted at her from all sides— star burger with cheese, burger with egg, chili dog with egg, etc.

Rowel:  “Isang star burger pero wag mo na gawin hugis star para mabilis.  Hugis buwan na lang.  Buwan burger.”

At one point, she looked pissed to which Stan named her “Brenda” for imbyerna.

Burger girl: “May pizza ako baka hindi nyo napapansin.”

Everyone looked at the small tarpaulin advertising the pizza.

Me: “Ahhahahaha.  Pizza pala. Akala ko sabi mo may pigsa ako baka hindi nyo pinapansin.”

Stan:  “Ako rin.  Kaya nga hinahanap ko kung saan yun pigsa mo.”

Honestly, I really thought I heard pigsa rather than pizza.  What totally floored burger girl was during payment time when I called her manang. She totally froze (“nag-hang” as Stan described her).  Everyone erupted in laughter.  “Para ka lang na sa palengke ng Iba”, said Rowell.  I corrected myself and called her ate.

We all packed ourselves back to the coaster with quiet stomachs.  Subic was still more than an hour away and it was a little slow going as there were a lot of checkpoints on the road due to the October 24 baranggay elections.  When we finally sighted Coffe House, cheers erupted.  It actually looked more like a diner than a coffee shop.  There was outdoor seating band abrightly-lit air-conditioned eating area where we stayed.   The 24-hour diner had simple chairs and tables and had quite a crowd of people enjoying their meals.   I ordered a soft taco (Php 80), a frozen iced-tea (Php 60) while Bench and I shared a pancit canton (Php 140).  The servings were big and the food was fairly delicious.  The taco was really big and came stuffed with  ground meat, cheese, and cabbage, and tomatoes.  A serving of  sour cream would have helped  offset the meatiness of the filling.  Others ordered the hard shell taco which was a home-made flour shell fried to a crisp.  With happy stomachs, we piled back to the coaster for the final leg back home to Manila.

Road Shit. I woke up past 2 am as we were cruising EDSA near Munoz already where Akoy was dropped off and later Jong and Myla at Quezon Ave.  Enroute to Q Mart where I was to get off, Boy suddenly parked the coaster on the road, rushed to a darkened building and defecated on the corner!  We all looked away horrified!  He was back in less than 5 minutes.

I was home by 3 am exhausted but totally happy.  As I drifted off to sleep, I vowed not to climb Tapulao again at least for the next 4 years.  Promise.

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Fab at Five at Batulao

Anniversary climbs are really fun events—there are people from other mountaineering groups, free food (sometimes), and a general feeling of fun. It was the 5th Anniversary Climb of  Guys4Mountains, Inc, my mountaineering group and we were celebrating it at Mt. Batulao in Batangas.   After Tapulao the previous weekend, Batulao is a respite.  This was my second time in Batulao but my first time to summit.  After succumbing to laziness and not summitting Tapulao the morning after, I was determined to summit this mountain the same day we reach Camp 1.

I met up with the first batch consisting of Rowell, Jasper, Oyo, and Stan at Ali Mall for the bus ride to Batangas.  It was 7:30 when we finally boarded the bus and by the time we arrived at Evercrest, it was past 10 already and Edwin Elf, Markiko, and Maning were already there.  The porters, who were just kids, said that around 20 people were on their way up.  We were supposed to head out early to secure Camp 1 for ourselves as we were expecting almost 30 people.  A quick brunch of menudo, tortang talong

Me and Oyo at the jump-off ready to go

and rice, a toilet break and then we were off to the jump-off point.  Elf brought his Hi-Lux so we clambered aboard the back which saved us the tricycle ride to the jump-off which was about a kilometer away.

Oyo and I sped away and simply followed the trail and asked directions if we were unsure.  You can’t really get lost as you just need to go straight ahead and the mountain just has to be on your left side. We seemed to have taken a different route as the one I took about 2 years ago with Edward leading the trail.  I remember passing through some farmland and cogon fields where the trail gradually wound up the mountain.  The one we took wasn’t really steep but it

This was such a peaceful and quiet scene

was definitely not the one I took before. This was later confirmed when one of the porters told me that there was another easier trail that had a bridge.  Sometimes I would stop and wonder where we were headed to. Oyo kept urging me to just keep going on.  After all there seemed to be only one trail and when it did branch, it always  converged at one point.  After a steep slope,  we finally hit the hut selling halo-halo that marked the junction of the old trail and the new one. Though I did remember that the hut used to be on the right side but now it was on the left.  Rowell also  observed the same thing.   Oyo wanted to take the new one that went straight to the summit  as it looked very near  already then go down to Camp 1.  But no way was I gonna clamber down the steep stone wall with a full pack.  So we turned left to follow the old trail.  For the first timer, the trail is a little deceptive as it leads down rather than up.  The cogon was  very thick and sometimes it was quite hard to see where your were walking as the tall grasses cross each other.  When we emerged at the small stream shaded by guava trees, we passed a small group of climbers which gave us more reason to go full steam so we could secure our space at the campsite.  When we reached Camp 1, two guys had set-up camp there since Tuesday!  Oyo and I set up our tents and waited for the others. I set-up my tent near the socials area which was a big mistake as I hardly got any sleep in the evening, especially when Mimay arrived and took over the roll call of calling everyone for a shot.  Camp 1 is the shadiest of all the camps and there were bamboo poles set on rocks which made for make-shift benches.  Another  thing I like with Batulao is the presence of Mang Joseph who can fetch water for you (Php 10 for a couple of pails depending on what you’re going to use it for) should you be too lazy to go down to the river and of course, the CR with a toilet bowl.

What's a hike in a Batangas mountain without some buko?

The other arrived shortly and close to 4:30pm Oyo and I both headed to steep trail to the summit.

The trail from Camp 1 led all the way up passing through small patches of flat campsites.  The higher the campsite, the nicer the view.  Either the people who use these camps know how to keep it clean and leave very minimal impact or Mang Joseph who collects the Php 20.00 registration fee knows how to manage the sites.  Either way, I hope it stays that way.

When I reached Camp 7, a tall guy who was part of the group we had passed by on our way to the camp was standing at the top of the trail and he blurted out “Nakakatakot. Yun malalaking bato. Pag-dating mo dun sa pangalawang bundok. Natakot ako. Bumalik ako.”  I gazed up at the ominous looking trail and felt the shivers.  I’ve already heard of Batulao’s notoriously  rock scrambling portion of the trail and the guy’s statement didn’t make it any better.  Oyo being with me boosted my confidence a bit.

The peak behind me

Past Camp 9, the trail started to get a little tricky with a lot of rock scrambling.  I like scrambling on rocks  as I find it easier than hiking up steep trails.  But nothing quite prepared me for the sheer wall that had water dripping down.  With my big feet, it was quite difficult looking for some footholds.  I kept thinking “via ferrata..via ferrata” but the rope that was tethered didn’t look too sturdy so I didn’t want to risk hauling myself up with it.  Passed that wall, everything was easy already and we finally made it to the top.  There was a make-shift shelter there with a family selling softdrinks.  I think any mountain in Batangas, no matter how high, would always have someone selling something.

Softdrinks for sale at the peak

The 360 degree view was amazing.  On one side were the flat plains and farmlands of Batangas while on the other were the undulating mountain range.  On the other side, we saw a group making its way up using the new trail.  When they arrived, we started our descent.  The peak, which also happens to be Camp 10  is really small and there isn’t much room.  From above, we could see people pitching tent at all the camps, even the ones higher up like Camp 8.

As always, like an old man stumbling on his cane, I gingerly made my way down using my trusty trekking pole for support amidst the rocks.  If it gets a little tricky, I simply sit down and slide.  When we reached the wall, the group that was at the peak earlier was still there.  One of the girls was too scared to go down and  had to be coached. She kinda looked worried and kept wiping her hand on her thigh.  “Girl, take off your shades,” one advised.  As someone who hates descents, I sympathized with her; but she was taking too much time.  Seeing that we were waiting, they let us skip the line. Oyo as usual, simply scampered down.  I looked back and the girl was making her way down with one of the guys coaching her every move.  We met Markiko and Russel who were making their way up.  Back at the campsite the rest of the G4M guys had already arrived.

No one seemed to have made elaborate camp food preparations this time as all had pre-cooked meals.  Even Rex, who usually whips up something gourmet was eating from a packed dinner.  I re-heated my ground meat and ate them with tortillas drizzled with some cheez whiz and bacon dressing.  Dessert was supposed to be smores but the marshmallows kept getting burned. So I simply sandwhiched a marshmallow and a square of chocolate between two graham crackers.

Ground pork and fried bananas

Other groups arrived later in the evening.  From afar, headlights danced across the dark trails as more people made their way.

I think I slept past 12 already.  I didn’t have too many shots during the socials especially the shots coming from Ben as the chaser was buko juice.  When Mimay arrived, I quietly withdrew from the socials as I knew it was gonna be one hellavu drinking binge.  In my tent, I could hear her calling my new.  Fortunately, she didn’t know my tent.  I didn’t get much sleep as i forgot to bring my tent’s footprint and my sleeping bag so it was kinda cold.  The ground was a little sloped too.  With socials still going-on and Mimay leading the pack, I stealithy stepped out of my tent to pee.  Without any light on and slightly hidden by the mist, I managed to avoid detection else I would have been back at the socials if they had seen me.

The morning dawned brightly and I ate my wraps again.  We made our way down around 10:30, had a buko break at the trail junction and went ahead of the rest.  Back at the store where we had lunch prepared, I had a really really good bath.  Cold water on sun-soaked skin really feels good.  The best baths are really the ones immediately after a climb.  No matter if you’re just in a make-shift shower, it always feels soooo good.

After lunch, a few of us went home ahead and I was home sweet home by 5pm.

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The Long and Winding Road of Mt. Tapulao

After climbing Kinabalu a couple of weeks ago, I thought the challenge of Tapulao will be minimal.  Five hours on steep muddy trails going up on Day 1  and on Day 2  a total 0f 15 hours summitting, doing the Via Ferrata, and going down was no joke of a day.  But as always, every mountain has its own unique challenges.  I thought I had learned my lesson by now.  I had prepared myself psychologically for the supposed 8-10 hour climb of Tapulao.   I had even set a goal of climbing it in less than 8 hours.  I did reach my goal— 6 hours up and 4 hours down.  But nothing quite prepared me for the greatest challenge that Tapulao posed—-the sheer boredom of the trail.

It’s supposedly the third highest mountain in the country but what makes it unique among other summits is the wide trail courtesy of mining operations high up near the summit.  Those who fear narrow ridge trails or vertigo-inducing paths with sheer drops will find Tapulao’s trails sheer pleasure—it’s really wide.  In fact, 4×4 vehicles sometimes make the trip all the way to the bunker.  A thought that more than once crossed-my mind as I steadily made my way up—“What’s the point of doing a 6-hour hike on a trail that 4×4 vehicles pass through? ” Or “Hasn’t anyone made a business of this yet like in Pinatubo?  Hiring out 4x4s?”  Not exactly the thoughts of a mountaineer.  But 3 hours on the winding exposed trail with loose stones and rocks, slippery mud, you begin to beg for a 4×4.  Think of walking through Kennon Road minus the cemented road.  I started out a little slowly as I was carrying a really heavy load.  I had 4.5L of water, a kilo of rice, and a kilo of pork, some vegetables, and my tent.  About an hour later, I was able to catch-up with Oyo who was at the lead and some minutes later, Bench joined us and later, Carlo.  We kept a steady pace, a little slow, but very steady and with minimal rest. The trail is exposed 100% all the way. Fortunately, it was cloudy and we didn’t mind the light rain.  After hours of hiking the relentless trail covered in loose stones, rocks, and red mud, I was getting bored. I had ceased to look ahead of me especially when a steep slope emerges.  I simple stared at the ground underneath my feet and willed it to move move move.

It took me 4 hours to reach the hut where the water source is.    The three others were already there.  It started to rain and I quickly finished my lunch of grilled pork I bought at Andok’s early in the morning.  I lay down on the makeshift bed at the hut and drifted to sleep.  I awoke with the rest of the party arriving.  The rain had ceased and the sun was out.  It was like this all throughout. It would drizzle or rain for a several minutes after which the sun would come out.  It began to rain again, a little strongly and we all packed ourselves in the hut.  When it stopped, Oyo, Bench, Carlo, and I resumed our hike and left the others.  The trail was steeper and muddier.  We reached a flat area called durungawan from where the guide said it would be easy now except for one last steep section.  They all went ahead and I was left behind as I took my poncho out as it had began to rain again.

Hut at the second water source

The surroundings had changed and pine trees lined the mud covered trail covered in pine needles.  At times the mist envelopes the trail and it gets pretty cold.  Mined stones also lined the trail.  It had been an hour already and I was all alone. I shouted Oyo’s name but there was no answer.  I figured he and the others would be at the bunkers already.  That final steep slope was relentlessly steep and slippery.  Finally I reached flat land that wound around a ridge.  It reminded me of Mt. Ugo with its beautiful vistas of mountains and pine trees hiding in the mist.  Rounding the corner, I saw a dilapidated shack which the Rowell would later refer to as “Pocahonta’s hut”  and a sign that read, “Do Not Enter.” For a while, I figured that maybe I was on the wrong trail.  But looking behind me, I saw that another trail was blocked by a large tree.  I also figured that since we were heading for the bunkers, we were supposed to be heading to the mining area.  So I ignored the sign and entered.  Hundreds of meters later, with the trail leading down rather than up, I again began to wonder if I was on the right track.  Finally, I saw the first bunker.  Oyo, Bench, and Carlo had already taken up residence in one of the bunkers.  There was no need for tents.  Besides it would be too cold to set-up camp outside.  It was 3pm and it was such a pleasure to get out of our wet clothes and stretch our feet. The rest arrived past 5pm already. Two others didn’t reach the bunkers but we learned later, set-up camp at Pocahonta’s hut.

Dinner was pork sinigang cooked by our group mates.  The hot soup was perfect for the cold. Even more perfect was we didn’t need to lift a finger to cook as our group mates from the Tarlac Mountaineering Club took charge of doing all the cooking.  We simply gave them the ingredients that were assigned to us and let them cook.

Socials was at our bunker which wasn’t really a good idea as that would mean I wouldn’t be able to sleep early.  Socials ended at almost midnight and that was because I kinda forced the people out and begged them that we needed our sleep.

I skipped the summit assault the next morning as I badly needed to go to the toilet.  Yup!  There is a toilet at the

Toilet time!

campsite. There’s even a mini bathtub. The catch is you have to get your own water and bring it down with you to the toilet area a couple of meters down.  Oyo and I were thinking of following but when the mist rolled in we figured there wouldn’t be any clearing anyway. Big mistake.  The mist didn’t last long and they had a clearing.  Oh well.

After breakfast, we packed our stuff and headed down.  We calculated reaching the jump-off point around 2 pm where we would have our packed lunch rather than taking  a break at the water source.  It wasn’t exactly easier going down as some parts were quite slippery.  Oyo and I walked together but at the last kilometer or so when the sun came out in full force, he sped away.  I had blisters on both feet already which made walking really painful.  I could have gone faster but it was just impossible.  It started to rain again when I reached a tiny cemented unfinished house. I sought refuge and had a chocolate. When I set off again, I was surprised on turning the corner that I was just a few meters from the jump-off point.  I could have simply walked in the rain and been resting my feet at the baranggay hall in less than 10 minutes.

Trails and more trails

First order of the day was to take off shoes, rub my feet, then buy a cold bottle of Sprite to wash down my chicken-pork adobo.  It was a little past 2 pm and there were only 5 of us who had reached the jump-off.  The advantages:  benches to stretch out on, no waiting in line to shower, and a general feeling of “it’s over.”  We headed back home almost eight already as some really took a while to go down plus the long line to the shower.  There was also a post-climb where an issue about someone’s chocolates and personal stuff came-up.

I got home at past 2am already simply dead tired.

Tapulao is a beautiful mountain and the long hike is really well-worth it.    However, it is a mountain that taxes your patience more than your body.  You don’t even really feel like you’re on a mountain as the trail is wide and gradually ascends and winds it way up.






Sorry shoes.

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At the Roof of Borneo: The Climb to Kinabalu

The bus we had taken from the junction coming from the Kinabatangan dropped us off right in front of the entrance to Kinabalu National Park.  It was a three hour trip that took us along winding roads.  There was a brief stop for lunch where Dan and I bought some pineapples cut into squares and a fruit that looked and tasted like macopa. As we stepped off the bus on the curb of the large parking lot and eatery across the road to the park headquarters, the cool air greeted us.  The friendly staff pointed us to the Mountain Resthouse about a hundred meters away.  If it was any indication of what we would do the next day, the resthouse was on top of a low hill with  a few staircases to get to the reception area.  The middle-aged woman who I shall refer to as “manang” brought us to the second deck where I was made to choose between a room with a double bed and a single bed or a room with just a big double bed.  Both had ensuite bathrooms but not hot water.  I chose the latter because it had a balcony which would come in handy if we wanted to dry our stuff.  The resthouse was very basic but clean.   It was only RM30 per night so we couldn’t really ask for more.  We just dropped our stuff then headed to the park to register for the climb.

It was about 2 pm so there were hardly any people around as most are presumably on the way up or down.  First stop was at  the Mountain Torq office to register.  We had already reserved and paid our slots at Whoa Adventures previously. As I filled-up the form, t he girl said to hope for good weather as strong rain would mean that park rangers cancel the summit  climb and the  Via Ferrata.  Apparently, the previous week had had all-day rains and it was only in the recent days that the weather had been merciful.  Saying goodbye to the summit AND to the Via Ferrata would have been a real bummer and waste of a lot of money.  No refunds.  But we were optimistic.  After all, the gods had been blessing us since the trip began.  The weather had been generally cooperative with just brief showers that stop in time for any activity to begin.  We bought some badges for RM12 then went to the headquarters of Sabah Parks to pay the park fees and the guide.  We were told to go back the next morning when the office opens at 7 so we can get our guide.  At the transport office, we paid for our return park headquarters-Timpohon gate shuttle.  The entire registration process was smooth and easy.  The fees were a little hefty though.  RM 107 each for the climbing permit and insurance and RM 85 for the guide for both of us.  The return shuttle was at RM 16.

Since it had began showering, we decided to just head to Balsam for some lunch.  Or maybe because I saw the word “buffet lunch” so I just used the showers as an excuse.  Hehehehe.   It was almost 2pm and there were quite a number of people who had come down from the mountain already.  A group of school-age girls from the UK occupied a table and every time someone arrived, they would clap.  At another table sat a young Japanese couple who looked utterly exhausted.  Perhaps they had just made it down.  The UK girls all seemed cheerful and happy.  Even Kelly, the recently-arrived girl didn’t look too exhausted. We felt like gluttons eating all that food surrounded by people who just summitted and gone down Kinabalu while all we have ever done yet was to register.  The food wasn’t particularly good but it was enough to satisfy.  I had my fill of fried noodles, chicken in sweet chili sauce, sausages, fish fillet, and banana and taro fritters.

The shower had ended by the time we finished lunch so we decided to just walk around the park.  We came upon the entrance of the Pandanus Trail but decided against taking it as I was in sandals and didn’t want to risk slipping. We followed a sign that pointed to the Botanical Gardens instead.  Walking along the road, we passed by a young white boy who suddenly exclaimed, “Watch out!”  We stopped on our tracks and on Dan’s feet lay a squashed centipede. “Aaawww.  I was going to use this (shaking a leaf) so I could bring it to the side of the road, ” his mom tragically said.  “Sorry I didn’t see it,” said Dan and we went on our way while the kid and his mom probably said their eulogies over the dead centipede.  The botanical garden was closed so we instead followed a little overgrown path that led to a mossy bridge and a small stream.  We decided to head back to our lodging to fix our stuff for the climb and rest. We were to leave our main packs at the rest house then check-in again on the 29th when we got down from the mountain.  I had already figured out that doing the Via Ferrata after the summit climb then going down the mountain would have us arriving at park headquarters around 6pm in not very ideal situations for a bus ride to Kota Kinabalu.  Better to stay another night at the rest house to recuperate.

The Climb Up. We were at park headquarters by 7 am to get our guide.  We were assigned Maik (short for Maikin), a young Dusun who apologized that he didn’t speak English very well.  I told him I spoke some Bahasa-Melayu so we would do just fine.  The sky was clear  and the weather seemed perfect for climbing.  People were starting to amass at park headquarters and there was a palpable air of excitement.  The shuttle arrived at 7:30 and we were whisked off to the Timpohon Gate.   Wanting to avoid the crowd, we immediately started out.  The trail deceptively led downhill to Carson’s Falls then along flat wooded pathways. A few meters later, everything started climbing and climbing and climbing.  It was just steps steps steps—steps carved out of the mountain, wooden steps placed over steep surfaces, natural stone steps, steps from the trees of roots— it was like going up and up and up on a broken escalator.

Huts or pondok were laid out every 400 meters where one could rest, go to the toilet, and fill-up on water.  We caught up with a small group of middle-aged Malaysian and Singaporean climbers (4 women and a man) who were resting in one of the pondok. They were all very friendly.  We set out together but soon overtook them.  I was actually climbing quite leisurely as I knew it was going to be a long long hike and I was conscious of the thinning air.  Past the 2.0 kilometer mark, I  started leaving Dan behind with the guide and would instead wait for him at the pondok.  Sometimes, there would be a little traffic jam as groups of climbers going down would meet those going up.  As you can see from the picture below, on reaching the 3.5k mark, I felt accomplished.  After all, that meant I was done with a little more than half the distance.

The Torture Begins. Reaching Pondok Layang-Layang where the Mesilau Trail met up with the Summit Trail, I waited for Dan about 10 minutes, the usual time difference between us.  There was a big group of  whites there which included a 70-year old lady!  It had began to get cold and I put on my jacket as I was only in shorts and shirt.  Wanting to move on, I decided to just continue all the way to the top without waiting for Dan.   At least he had the guide with him.  I was climbing alone most of the time.  The trail had become really steep by now and there were mostly large stones and rocks and stone surfaces to hike on.  I shuddered thinking the difficulty these would pose on the way down especially if it rained.

Can you beat these guys running up and down the mountain?

He has a gas tank on his back

Trees had began to become gnarled and the vegetation stunted, signs that the elevation was very high already.  I felt a little claustrophobic inside the forest especially when the mist came in.  My goal was to reach Panar Laban, 3,000+ meters on the mountain or 6 kilometers up where the accommodations were, by 12:30 to have my packed lunch at the Pendant Hut where we were to stay.  Fatigue had begun to set in and my pace was slowing down.

Me and the Squirrels. At the 5.0 kilometer marked, I decided to take a break at Pondok Villosa. I was hungry by this time and was cursing myself for leaving my packed lunch with Dan.  Fortunately, I had enough trail food with me and water was no problem.  I was alone in the pondok and there was nobody in the trail.  I am used to being alone on the trail when climbing  but for some strange reason, I felt so lonely at the pondok.  With squirrels and a bird watching me, I had my lunch of 2 cereal bars.  I had forgotten that my chocolates were in my bag and not at Dan’s. It would have perked me up.   I continued my walk and finally reached the 5.5 kilometer mark and the last pondok—- Paka.

The Last Push. Reaching Pondok Paka was like reaching the Point of No Return (as if you could simply turn back and return to Timpohon at any time in the earlier part of the climb).  400 meters or so between the pondoks didn’t seem to long.  This one was 550+ meters to Laban Rata.  My mind and body seemed to have been programmed for 400+ meters.  The extra 150+ seemed unacceptable.  Normally the final push would be an energy booster—you walk faster and your all buzzed up.  I sat and stared at the number.  “Stay and rest.  Wait for Dan,” my body seemed to be saying.  “Beyond this point, there will be no more pondok.”  Fatigue and the thin air had probably skewed up my thinking.  Sure. there would be no more pondok, but there would be the Pendant Hut where I can check-in, drop my bag, remove my shoes, and lie down on a bed.  All that didn’t cross my mind.  I simply stared at the sign.  I did not want to leave.  Weirdly, I felt that this was it.  It was the Final Frontier.  The Showdown.  I think I should have felt that when we began at Timpohon Gate.  At least, there’s time to turn back.  I snapped out of my thoughts and continued.

It was sheer torture by now.  I wasn’t walking.  I was trudging very very slowly and I could feel the effects of the thin air. I was really glad we did an acetozolamide prophylaxis or I would have been experiencing acute mountain sickness by now.  I had to catch my breathe every meter or so.  Being alone did not help any.  A family of Europeans went past me and I exclaimed, “how far can 500 meters go?”  “C’mon. You’re almost there. Keep going, ” encouraged the young man as his parents hiked past me and nodded smilingly.  I felt so slow and so weak.

Hauling myself up some steep steps, out of the mist, I glimpsed a hut!  It was like seeing the pearly gates of heaven.  I shook my finger at it and said to myself, “that must be Laban Rata.”  It was the Waras Hut. I went past it and a few meters later, I finally saw the iconic Laban Rata.

Laban Rata

I had seen the promised land!   Laban Rata—the place people fight for just to climb the mountain.  Laban Rata—- its name conjures up frustration and success.  Frustration that it’s almost impossible to book.  Success because you actually got a booking albeit at a hefty price.  The mist had lifted by now and suddenly, it didn’t seem very cold anymore.  I was pointed to Pendant Hut where all those doing the Via Ferrata stay. Following the sign, I came upon the most horrible sight——- stairs! I wanted to scream!  I clutched at the handrails and hauled myself up. stopping every now and then to catch my breathe.  There was absolutely no excitement.  I was heading to Pendant Hut for sheer survival.  I slid the main door open, took off my shoes at the ante room, flung the door to the lobby  and said to the guy at the reception counter, “I’m here!”

Around past 3 am on the way to the summit

I Made It. “You’re the first one to arrive,” he said.  I proudly wrote my name on the register (#1).  It was 1 pm and it had taken me 5 hours.  The hut was clean and the main room had tables and benches presumably for the morning breakfast.  On one side of the wall, a big tarpaulin of the Philippine Everest Team doing the Via Ferrata was displayed.  I did remember reading about the Sabah Tourism Office inviting the team to climb Kinabalu via the mesialu Trail and  the Via Ferrata.  A news clipping was also displayed on the corridor leading to the dorms.  He showed me to the dorm beds where I chose the one farthest from the door.  A short flight of stairs led to the shower areas.  A hot shower and a change of clothes revived me a but and I nuggled in the sleeping bag.

I was awakened at a little past 1:30pm by a young German couple who had arrived.  I said “hello” to the girl and stood up.  Dan hadn’t arrived yet and I was hungry.  I was thinking of heading down to Laban Rata for a meal but the sheer cold and fatigue brought me back to my sleeping bag.  Besides, we were due for the orientation at 3pm.  Finally at about 2pm, I woke-up and saw the familiar face of Maik.  I grabbed my packed lunch from Dan and gobbled it up in less then 10 minutes then went back to sleep.  A few minutes before 3, I woke-up and went to the main room for the briefing.  The German couple had already started theirs and there were three other English-speaking girls (from the UK I think) that had arrived.  During the simulation, the Germans both looked and sounded like experienced climbers as they were even discussing their experiences with rope tying and carabiner clamping in Germany.  We were intently watching them.  Then the staff turned to us and said, “tomorrow you join this team.  He (pointing to the guy) will be team leader, she will be #2 and both of you 3 and 4, ok?”  We were stunned.  The girl looked at us.  I suddenly began to feel very nervous.  We?  Novice Via Ferrata climbers with 2 experience d Germans who looked like they climb up and down mountain cliffs before they head to work?  At 3:30, we had our briefing with the 3 other girls who were all doing the Walk the Torque.  The briefing was very well done and excited us more.  We were shown the route and pictures of some highlights such as the cable bridge and the swinging bridge were shown to us.  Then we were taught to put on our harness and practiced setting the rope and carabiners.  It all seemed very uncomplicated.

More people arrived. I was delighted to see the Malaysians and Singaporean we had encountered on the lower slopes.  After the briefing and the simulation, it was dinner time at Laban Rata. On my way out, I asked the guy who briefed the German couple about my concern of not being able to catch up with them as we were novices on the Via Ferrata. I had done some indoor climbing but it wasn’t much.  He showed me a list of the other group and said, “I put you with the couple because this other group is going to be very slow.”  As he held up the list, I saw the ages of the participants which ranged from 40-52. I understood what he meant.

St. John's Peak

Buffet at 3000masl. Seeing those Kadazan and Dusun guys running up the mountain carrying food supplies and even gas tanks, you just gotta eat and appreciate all that food at the Laban Rata Restaurant.  Actually, the thought of the buffet dinner was one of the things that just kept me going.  It was 5pm and there was a long line at the buffet table.  I had some fried noodles, lamb, fried chicken, and a mini sub.  The restaurant, which was thankfully heated, was quite full but the German couple offered the empty space on their table.  Contrary to what we had expected, they were very very nice and friendly.  When I told our apprehension of slowing them both down at the Via Ferrata, they both laughed.  Karin, for that was the girl’s name, said they were both thinking the same thing. In fact, she was wondering why Andy was made team leader and not one of us as we both looked so experienced.   They’ve done the Via Ferrata in Germany but it was more of a route laid linking trees together with the elevation no higher than 3 meters.  I was so relieved to hear that. They were just as apprehensive as we were.  When they both went back to the hut to rest, I ate some more.  Dan bought some batteries and a head light at the shop as his wasn’t working.  The 2 double AA batteries cost RM50!

When we got back at the Pendant Hut, Karin and Andy were already in bed. I took a quick shower and wore my summit clothes already.  The constant shuffling about of people kept me awake.  I had already taken my medication but still couldn’t  completely sleep.  It was only when the light was finally turned-off around 10pm did I feel myself drift off to sleep.

Walk to the Summit. Dan woke me a few minutes before 2am.  Others were already taking their breakfast.  I had 3 peanut butter toasts and gulped copious amounts of water.  Karin was looking for her guide and couldn’t really remember how he looked like.  She showed me a blurred pic on her camera to check if it was the guy sitting on the bench.  It wasn’t him.  Maik was already there and by 2:30 we were on our way.  There was a long long line up the steep wooden steps.  After what seemed like a hundred steps, we  found ourselves on steep rocks.  I remembered what the Mountain Torque staff told us during our briefing.  “The Summit Trail is just like the last 500 meters on the way to the hut.”   I gotta give it to Maik who paced us very well.  While others rushed, he took leisurely steps which ensured that we were at a steady pace.  It was freezing cold and the steps just went up and up.  Finally, we reached the ledge where we had to cling to a rope as we made our way around the rock face.  It wasn’t as steep nor as scary as everyone made it out to be.  It was certainly not a vertical fall.  The guides were even walking around it.  A few hundred meters more of traversing and some scrambling then finally we reached the Sayat-Sayat hut check-point where we had to show our climbing permits.  It was also the last stop for a toilet break and to fill up on water.  Maik told us to go ahead with instructions to just follow the white rope as he needed to go to the toilet.  About 10 minutes up, I suddenly wished I had also taken a toilet break.  There is something about seeing a toilet in the mountain that triggers a psychological need to go to the toilet.  I almost turned back to to Sayat-Sayat for a toilet break; but the embarrassment of quizzical looks as I make my way down while everyone is making their way up stopped me dead on my tracks.

What Am I Doing? There are some moments in some mountains wherein you ask yourself the sanity of what you’re doing.  This was one of the moments in one of those mountains.  We were now on the sheer granite rock face with the thick white rope leading us to the summit.    I had never ever walked so slow in my entire life.  It was like one step for every two breathes.  I was in automatic pilot and was just trudging and trudging along the rock surface.  I couldn’t imagine how it would be like at Everest.  At the 8.0 kilometer mark, I could finally make out the steep trail to the summit.  Maik had already caught up with us.  People were stopping and drinking coffee or tea.  The sky was slowly turning to violet.  It was past 5 already.  I slowly clambered up the rocks and boulders, and as dawn slowly broke I reached the top of Borneo at 5:30.  It felt great.  The sun finally rose but it was a little cloudy.  We took our mandatory summit pictures and by 6am we started to make our way down in time for the cut-off at the 7.5 kilometer mark for the Via Ferrata.  We were reminded by the staff to make sure we make our guide bring us to the 7.5 k mark and not the Sayat-Sayat as the other day, a Filipino climber, ended up at Sayat-Sayat so he did the Walk the Torque instead rather than the Low’s Peak Circuit.

The descent proved easy. I had no need for my trekking pole as the granite surface wasn’t slippery at all.  We reached the  7.5k mark before 7.  The Malaysian guy was there and said that none of his group was going as they were all sick.  His  sister suddenly walked up which surprised him. We gave them some acetozolamide for their AMS.  Karen and Andy arrived.  Their guide fetched them at 2:45 and they made up to the summit at about the same time us as.  They’re really fast.  They did the Panar Laban the previous day in only 3 hours.  We put on our harnesses and helmets, knotted the ropes that linked us, strapped our carabs on the cables, and started the walk of our lives!

I think the Via Ferrata deserves a blog of its own.  So I’m going to stop here and continue with another blog on the Low’s Peak Circuit and the climb down.

Categories: Kinabalu, Malaysia | Leave a comment

The Roof of Borneo: The Climb to Kinabalu Day 2— Via Ferrata and the Hike Down

Day 2 of a Mt. Kinabalu climb is what separates men from the boys.  It has got to be the longest day of anyone’s climbing life.

Waking-up at 1:30 in the morning is not exactly something I was looking forward to.  After the buffet dinner at Laban Rata, I took a quick shower and fixed my assault pack.  The Germans finished dinner much earlier and were already in their bunk beds.  I aimed to be snuggling in my sleeping bad by 8pm but kept coming and going and the light was turned-on.  I had already taken my dosage of Rivotril but I kep waking-up.  Finally at around 10 when finally the light was turned-off and everyone else in the fully-packed dorm room stopped scurrying, I drifted off to sleep.

Gasping  and Gaping at the Summit. 

Dan woke me up at 2 am. Everyone was awake already.   I had a quick breakfast of pancakes then went  to the toilet.  Our guide, Maik,  was already there waiting.  Karin was still looking for guide.  She showed me a pic on her celphone and asked  me if the guy sitting on the bench  was the one.  The other guides had assured her that he was probably on the way.  Dan and I started off at 2:30 while Karin and Andy waited for their guide.   People had already started out and it was slow going as we were all in a single file, not that you could rush all the way up.  It was bitingly cold and really dark.  We were told yeterday during the Via Ferrata briefing that the trail was similar to the last 500 meters of the trail to Laban Rata.  After the endless wooden steps, we climbed on rocks and boulders which soon gave way to smooth granite.  A thick white rope aided us as we traversed cliff face.  It wasn’t scary as it didn’t drop straight down but rather gradually descended.  In fact, the mountain guides simply walked along the cliff away from the rope.  Nevertheless, it felt good to be hauling yourself up with your arms for a change.  A few meters up and we reached the final check point where we had to show our climb permits.  It was also the last stop for a toilet break and to load-up on water.  Maik went to the toilet and told us he’d just catch-up.  About a hundred meters up I wished I also took a toilet break.  Too late to go back down now.  Past the South Peak, the summit looked deceptively close.  A thick white rope guided everyone to all the way up.  The gradient of the slope was gradual and there was no need to grab onto the rope but we were advised to stay close to it as fog could come and make you lose your way.  Some people were stopping to sip from their flasks of hot drinks.  I simply kept going and going.  I was walking very slowly and had started to resemble a zombie.  Maik had caught up with us and was trudging along.  It was so cold and the air so thin that everyone step seemed to produce a slight gasp.  At this point, I started to cross-out any dreams of climbing Everest or any alpine peak.  I finally reached the end of the granite slope and scrambled my way up to the tiny summit that was the roof of Borneo.  It may no longer be the highest mountain in Southeast Asia but it was still magnificent.  It was 5:30 am and dawn was breaking. Maik pointed to  summit marker so Dan and I squeezed oursleves past the throngs of people and posed.  At about quarter to 6, the sun finally rose.  At 6am, we started our descent to the 7.5k mark for the start of the Via Ferrata.

Via Ferrata

 Descending the granite slope wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  I had no need for my trekking pole.  We quickly made our way down past people who were still on the way up.  The day before, we were told by one of the Mountain Torque staff that we had to be at the 7.5 marker by 7 so we would be the first team to do the Via Ferrata.  The actual cut-off is 7:30 but I guess he wanted us early to avoid a “traffic jam” due to a much slower group.  Dan and I made it to the 7.5k marker before 7.  Maik left us with the Mountain Torque team and said he’s meet us back at Pendant Hut.  There was enough  time to pee behind a large boulder and eat a chocolate bar.  Karin and Andy arrived shortly thereby completing our team.

All geared and ready to go

 The other team was composed of the Malaysians but only the guy and his sister were able to make it as the others were too sick to even try to walk-up.  We gave them some acetozolamide for what was apparently altitude sickness. The third group was composed of some Japanese who looked no older than 25.

We put on our safety gears (harness and helmet),  roped together than were good to go.  We were doing the Low’s Peak Circuit which as estimated to be 4-5 hours.  Team leader was Andy followed by Karin, Dan, me, and then our guide, James.  Listening to the relaxed and encouraging voice of James as he reminded us to unhook and hook the ropes, clamp and unclamp our carabiners, and even where to put our feet, was a big boost to our confidence, not that it ever wavered.

The most difficult of course is the first step especially the descent.  Clinging to the cable, we slowly made our way down the sheer rock face.  It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be.  I actually found it easier to ignore some of the footholds and just lean back and plant my feet on the granite.  It took about half an hour before we reached the ledge and started circling the rock face.

Going down down down

It was exhilarating to have nothing but the sky and the mountain around you.  The scenery was spectacular and we knew we were seeing things that nobody would be able to see from the summit trail.  Looking down from the rock face itself as it dropped vertically thousands of meters down was beautiful in itself already.

Some parts were a little tricky especially in areas where some water was trickling down making it a bit slippery but  Andy, who was such a good leader, would always advise us of those spots.  A couple of hours later, we reached our first bridge—- a suspended wooden plank.  To get to it, we had to stoop a bit underneath the cable which presented a problem to me as my trekking pole jutting out from my bag would always snag.  A more exciting bridge was a single cable line we had to tread on while holding on to two other lines for support.  I never even tried the crossing the cable strung across the river at Manalmon and yet there I was crossing one at 3,000+ meters above sea level!

Kinabalu is tortue on the legs was the Via Ferrata is torture on the arms  as most of the time you had to lean back with the arms extended as you held on to the cable.  Some people make the mistake of staying too close to the cliff face and just inching along which makes for very slow progress.    At one point, I tried leaning back without holding on to the cables with only the lanyard supporting me.  It was a bit scary but fun.  We went all the way down down down until we reached the start of the jungle trail.  It was a bit of a relief to  finally unclamp ourselves and be walking normally.  

Mangled trees and branches covered the jungle. The trail wasn’t very visible but it wasn’t enough  to make you lose your way.  Thankfully, vegetation was thick so there were enough roots, trunks, and branches to hold on to for supports.  It was about 15-20 minute walk and we exited to clearing of granite.  Dan had run out water and I was running low on it.  James pointed to a pool of bubbling water from the mountain.  Without any hesitation, I sat down and scooped the water with my hand.  It was the sweetest and most refreshing water I’ve ever had. 

Our rest stop cost us a little time as the other groups caught up with us.   By the time we hooked-up at the cable for the Walk the Torque part, the Malaysians were the first group and we were last which made it a little slow going.  We kept asking James if we could switch places as it was a little boring to be stopping while waiting for the first group to move on. James simply smiled and told us, “later… you will see…”  The weather also seemed to be changing and it looked like it was going to rain.  At one point, a cloud passed us and we were covered in mist.

At the  junction where the trail diverges, we chose the longer route so we could go at our own pace as the first group was on the shorter one. 

The last stretch of the Walk the Torque route was a little slippery and it didn’t help that there was a light drizzle.  My arms were really tired and my stomach was shouting for food.  5 hours after we started  the circuit ended.  I unclamped myself from the cable and walked to the Summit Trail.  I was weary but elated.  It was the most exhilirating thing I had ever experienced in my life. 

I’m glad we took the Low’s Peak Circuit as the Walk the Torque route wasn’t much.  It was short and the path wasn’t thrilling.  Or maybe it was just an anti-climax after the excitement at the Low’s Peak.  Incidentally, those taking just the Walk the Torque route start from the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint which means that they’re at a lower level and closer to the Summit Trail.

The rain had made the wooden steps slippery and I  slip down a few steps.  Fortunately, I was holding on to the handrails or I would probably have gone all the way down.  I was really really hungry and we tried to rush  Summit Trail as best as we can to the Pendant Hut for breakfast as it was almost 12 noon.    Karin and Andy were already there and so were the others.  Toast and boiled sausages never tasted so good.  One of the Malaysian women didn’t look too good as she could hardly eat.  Dan gave her some medications to tide her over and we assured her that once she starts descending she’s going to feel much better.  The bed was calling me but there really wasn’t much time to rest after breakfast as we had to pack our stuff and descend the mountain.  Yeah!  After 3 hours of summitting, 5 hours of Via Ferrata, there was still the long  hike down.  You could cry just thinking about it.  Karin and Andy bade their goodbyes.  Dan and I were the last ones to leave and at 12:45, we started our descent.

Down the Mountain

At breakfast, peering from the windows, the weather didn’t look too good already.  Mist was coming-in and some gray clouds were hovering.  I was thinking of the stretch to Pondok Layang Layang which was really steep and slippery due to the stones.  About 200 meters from Laban Rata, we met the first group of climbers on their way up.  “You’re almost there!  Keep going!”  we encouraged them.  Slow to descend, Dan soon left me  behind with Maik behind me.  I just kept going and going and going ignoring the pondoks.  Ahead of me were the Japanese which made it a little slow going.  At the 4.0k marker, they paused for pictures which gave me the chance to overtake them.  It had started to rain lightly and I took out my poncho.  The trail was one muddy mess.  I promised myself that I would only stop when I reached the 3.0k mark.  When I got to the pondok, there was nowhere to sit as a big group of Europeans had taken over the entire pondok and didn’t seem to be moving forward anytime soon.  I leaned on my trekking pole to rest a bit and tried to look as weary and exhausted as possible hoping that someone would give me a little space to sit on.  Fat chance.    On the trail to the 2.5k mark, I finally caught up with Dan.  We were able to rest at the next pondok. Steep steps were finally giving way to more flat trails.  Our final rest stop was at the 2.0k mark after which I just kept going and this time left Dan behind.  At each marker, I would shout at the distance “1.5 kilometers. . . 1.0 kilometers . . . 500 meters . . . Carson’s Falls…”  Dan would later say that he could hear me shouting all the way.  The sight of Carson’s Falls meant that I was near the end of the trail.  When I finally reached the wooden steps leading to the checkpoint, I could hardly walk.  I slowly hauled myself up and then finally presented myself to the park attendant.  “Here I am,” I wearily said. It was almost 5 pm.   I slumped on one of the seats and waited for Dan and Maik who both arrived a few minutes later.  The shuttle to park headquarters showed-up around 5:30pm.  Back at park headquarters, we gave Maik a tip then collected our Kinabalu and Via Ferrata certificates.

We still had to haul ourselves to Mountain Resthouse which involved an inclined pathway and some stairs.  “Manang” had our old room ready and we collected our bags from the storage area.  She was kind enough to heat some water for me as I badly needed it for my sore legs.  My body was just shouting for rest and at 6:30pm we were fast asleep.

Searching for Food.  Our stomachs woke-us up at 12 midnight and we went out for food. Dan led the way to a  24-hour eatery just across the D’Villa Lodge about a hundred meters from us where he had late dinner the day we arrived at Kinabalu Park.   We got to the place and it was dark and closed.  I gave Dan the evil eye and I wanted to cry.  I have had enough cereal bars and chocolates.  We just stood by the side of the road as if waiting for it to just magically open.  And it did, at least the attached store.  A van with Wildlife Expeditions painted on its side pulled-up a some men got out and started knocking on the door.  A middle-aged guy opened it and they went in with us following from behind.  Learning that we were from the Philippines, the guys made conversation and were very friendly to us.  “Here in Borneo we have a tradition of alchohol drinking, ” one guy said as he pointed to the bottles they were buying.  “We also eat that,” he pointed to the can of stewed pork we were holding.  We bought some drinks, noodles, and the stewed pork. 

Back at  the resthouse, we heated the food at the kitchen, careful not to wake anyone up, and brought it to the second floor landing where our room was.  Food never tasted as good. 

Climbing Kinabalu in itself was an awesome experience more so with the Via Ferrata.  It was simply spectacular and not to be missed.  Looking at the pictures and the videos on the internet and then going through the orientation, you sometimes wonder why you signed-up for it in the first place.  Climbing the mountain is hard work enough and doing the Via Ferrata was going to make it harder.  But once there and you’re traversing the cliff and looking up at the sky or at the jungle below you, you know you’ve made the right decision.  Life is supposed to be exciting and thrilling.  As you clamber around steep slopes and narrow ledges, you know you are living life the way it was supposed to be.

Postscript:  Climb Cost

Any climb to Kinabalu is inevitably linked to the economics involved.  It is definitely not cheap as the cost is staggering.  A lot of travelers have simply opted not to climb and instead just do the trails around the park.  That was exactly what I had in mind when I first planned the trip.  But you know deep in your mind, you want it and you probably want it bad.  Google turned-up a lot of results but the best that I got was from Whoa Adventures (  Here’s the entire cost of the trip:

Bus from Sandakan junction to KNP – RM 25

2d/1n package with Via Ferrata – RM 850

Sabah Park Fees – RM 107 (Permit – 100, Insurance – 7)

Certificate – RM 10

Guide – RM 42.50 (total is 85 for the 2 days but since there were 2 of us, the cost was split between us)

2n at Mountain Resthouse – RM 60 (pre and post-climb; total cost is RM 120 split between us)

Bus from KNP – Inanam bus station in KK – RM 20

Public bus to KK bus station – RM 2.25

City bus to Jalan Gaya – RM.50

GRAND TOTAL – RM 1,117.00 >>> Still cheap because the lowest total package I got was RM 1800 (and that does not include pre and post- climb accommodations in the vicinity of the KNP)


Categories: Kinabalu, Malaysia | 3 Comments

All Geared Up

I know climbing Kinabalu is expensive that’s why I originally struck it out of my itinerary for my Sabah trip this July and instead just do the trails at KNP after the jungle at Kinabatangan.  But if it remains stuck in my head and I get sleepless nights thinking and googling it, then I know I must climb.  At least I got a really good deal, RM 850 for  a 2d/1n package including the Via Ferrata Low’s Peak Circuit.  Even with the park fees included, it is still waaaayyy cheaper than the other quoted packages raning from RM1,300-1,900.  So I paid the agency through Paypal and thought that was it.

But no.  Booking the climb is one thing. Preparing the gear for it is another.  Rummaging through my closet, I realized I didn’t really have any cold-weather outfit.  I climbed Pulag with with just shorts and a long-sleeved shirt.  Even when summitting at 4 in the morning to catch the sunrise amidst a light rain, I did fine though that was my first lesson in wearing a down jacket— once it gets wait, you end up wearing an armor.  Reading all the reviews of Kinabalu— how the temperature is below zero, how it gets really cold, etc.  I became more concerned with WHAT TO WEAR rather than HOW TO CLIMB it. To top it off, prior to Kinabalu, I will be in the jungle at the Sungai Kinabatangan.   That’s a total of 5 days of outfit.

Thanks to, I got a Mountain Research balaclava for only Php 500 and a TNF woolcap beanie for Php 600 (though this is obviously China Class A made).  As for gloves, I got a second-hand Lafuma for Php 400.  I figured, I cold make do with the bulkiness more than the Php 1,400 I need to shell out for TNF or Columbia’s much sleeker brand new ones.  I also got a pair of used Columbia shorts (Php 400), brand new Black Mountain convertible pants (Php 500) and used Millet Stretch Trekking pants (Php 700).  Unfortunately, the last two don’t fit me unless I’m able to go back to my old weight.  So it depends on how long I’m willing to wait before I think of getting my money back by re-selling them.  So I thought I was all done and ready.

But there was the case of the Nikon camera which I bought second hand at a shop in Phnom Penh when my Canon powershot stopped working due to the sand at Mui Ne.  Php 300 for a replacement lithium ion battery made by Quantaray is still way cheaper than an original one at Php 800.

With the Black Mountain and Millet pants currently unwearable, I had to buy a new pair or rather 3 pairs. (Php 895-1,200)  And while at it, I decided to buy a 2 shirts as well (Php 350).  At least they were quite cheap as I bought local brands.  3K for pants and 2k for a shirt of some famed brand will just have to wait.  Lagablab and Conquer will have to do for now. And since the threat of rain is omnipresent, a poncho had to be bought (Php 550).  To battle away the leeches, I also got some pair and leg warmers.

One of the niftiest stuff I did pick-up was an adjustbale camera pole you screwed on which allowed you to take self-pictures.  Normally, you held the camera in front of you and pressed the button resulting in your entire face covering the frame.  With the pole, you simply had to put the camera on timer and with the pole, it allowed for a wider distance between the camera and your face.  How cool is that!

Lest you think I was shopping like crazy, I wasn’t.  In spite of my trusty Merrell Continuum boots’ soles falling off due to being left to dry in the sun, I stayed put with the Aigle shoes I got about three weeks ago.  I did attempt to buy some boots when I went to R.O.X. last Friday.  The Lafuma discountd boots (Php 2,750) were gone and the available Aigle ones weren’t that good.

It wasn’t all clothing either as I bought my Acetazolamide for altitude sickness  and my stash of trail food (a dozen granola bars and 8 pieces of Goya dark chocolate).

I’m almost done except for some hiking socks.

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