Palawan Discovery: Mt. Thumbpeak

When I landed in Palawan on a Wednesday afternoon, I had no idea that a mountain called Thumb Peak (1,296 meters above sea level) exists. The only mountain I’ve heard about in the province is Mt. Mantalingajan, the holy grail I wasn’t meant to reach on this trip.

Later that evening, Sir Mayo, my local contact in Puerto Princesa, invited me to a birthday party of his friend. There I met Japong, a chatty mountaineer who could pass for the archetypal boy-next-door with his easy smile, reckless schoolboy laugh and impulsive, let’s-do-something-crazy-so-we’ll-have-something-to-laugh-about attitude. Upon learning I had so much free time in Palawan, he started rattling on about all the things I should do: kayaking, island hopping, climbing this and that mountain.

Then he blurted “Let’s climb Thumb Peak on Monday!” as if he was just inviting me to catch spiders in the backyard. I wasn’t sure if he was serious or if it was a spur-of-the-moment idea he’d forget on his next shot of Tanduay.

Come Monday afternoon, I was in his car with William, another local mountaineer, and we were on our way to Iwahig Penal Colony, the jump-off of the Thumb Peak climb. I guess this is really happening, I thought. I had a vague idea of the terrain; all I knew was there would be river crossings and lots of limatik (leeches).

We started the trek at 2:30pm. From the Balsahan River picnic area, it was a two-hour hike of mostly flat terrain and about 10 river crossings before reaching the campsite. The water only reached up to the knee at its deepest so crossing the river was manageable. Being the clumsy wimp that I am though, I still slipped a couple of times and got myself and my backpack wet. Kuya Bert, our guide, said it would be impossible to cross the river during heavy rains due to the high water level and raging current.

The campsite was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. It’s known to local mountaineers as the cave but it turned out to be a small space underneath a giant rock beside the river. There was no need for tents, just a couple of groundsheets and sleeping bags.

Underneath this rock was our cozy home for the night.

Camping by the river was a treat. There was easy access to a water source and at night, hordes of fireflies were lighting up on the rocks, nearby trees and even on the ceiling right above our heads. It was like a scene straight out of a Disney movie. Of course, fireflies weren’t our only neighbors. There were lots of limatik which had no qualms latching on to our hands, legs and whatever inch of skin they could find. There were also big brown cockroaches that randomly dive into our sleeping bags, and a smattering of bugs, beetles and other neighborhood members of Class Insecta.

Dinner was another treat, thanks to Japong’s legendary cooking skills. We feasted on seafood kare-kare and swapped stories until the last drop of Tanduay was gulped down.

We started the summit ascent the next day at 7am. If the trek to the campsite was an easy breezy walk in the park, the climb to the summit was a three-hour, constant uphill hike. The slopes were fairly steep but still heavily forested.

For some reason, this tree is shooting up in a spiral direction, thus stripping off its bark in the process. And it also looks a little like the Statue of Liberty.

The resin of this tree is locally known as bagtik, which is processed and used as wood varnish. Collecting bagtik in the forests of Thumb Peak is a common source of income among the locals.

Towards the final leg of the climb, we had to work our way through huge mossy rocks, much like the summit assault of Dulang-Dulang in Bukidnon although the Thumb Peak trail was shorter and less difficult. The flora was also similar to that of D2: moss-covered trees, wild orchids and pitcher plants.

On the trail with William.

Mossy trees along the trail.

Hanging pitcher plant the length of Japong’s arm.

Another variety of pitcher plant that rests on the forest floor.

A beetle with a metallic gold and green color. This one I didn’t see on D2.

The summit of Thumb Peak was very different from most mountains I’ve been to. There was practically no flat surface; just huge rocks, thick shrubs and dwarf trees. We were blessed with a clearing so we got to see the flatlands of Puerto Princesa and the neighboring mountain ranges. Another amazing thing about this summit view: you’d see both the eastern and western coasts of Palawan.

Summit!

Perched on a rock while waiting for a clearing.

Mt. Beaufort and the islands of Honda Bay behind it.

Eastern coast of Palawan.

The western coast partially hidden by mountains.

Palawan’s barely explored mountain ranges.

We stayed at the summit for an hour and were treated to a spectacular sight of two hawks doing exhibition flights right above us. They would soar up high and then do a rapid freefall dive. It was like watching those fighter jet air shows except the hawks did it better.

Before going back down to the campsite, we did the customary summit group photo and got this:

William, Japong and Kuya Bert

I placed the camera on a rock, set the 10-second timer, ran to where they were posing and fell right into a messy tangle of shrubs. Just look at that gleeful smile on Japong’s face that reeks of schadenfreude.

On the second attempt, I was more successful in getting myself included in the frame.

I was the only happy face while the three of them looked miserable. Thanks, guys.

We saw some more interesting stuff on the way down such as other varieties of pitcher plants, blue and yellow wild mushrooms (which I wasn’t able to take pictures of) and a couple of creepy crawlies.

The largest centipede I’ve ever seen.

A black-and-white segmented worm

Aside from the thick forest cover and rich flora and fauna, what’s impressive about Thumb Peak is the total absence of trash. I did not see a single piece of garbage, not even a candy wrapper, during the entire trek. It is by far the most pristine mountain I’ve ever climbed. Kudos to the local mountaineers and guides for doing a fantastic job of protecting it.

Even the trails are narrow and not very defined because the clearing of vegetation was kept to a minimum. Local mountaineers also have a good practice of bringing only hammocks and flysheets instead of tents so trees and vegetation won’t have to be cut down to make room for a campsite. If only other mountains, some of which are even declared protected areas on paper, could be as well-preserved as this.

Here’s our itinerary for the Thumb Peak climb. It can obviously be done as a day hike but then you’d miss out on camping by the river and watching fireflies at night.

Day 1
1230 ETD Puerto Princesa city center
1330 ETA Iwahig Penal Colony, final prep
1430 Start trek at Balsahan River picnic area
1630 ETA “Cave” campsite by the river

Day 2
0700 Start trek to summit
1000 ETA summit
1100 Start descent
1300 ETA campsite, lunch
1400 Start trek back to jump-off (Take a break and swim in the river. I promise you the water feels so good.)
1630 ETA Balsahan River picnic area

Much thanks to Japong, William and Kuya Bert for a great time on Thumb Peak. This also happened to be my birthday climb and it was amazing.

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38 thoughts on “Palawan Discovery: Mt. Thumbpeak

  1. worddruid

    I think Erwin’s targetting that for next year kaya mapupuntahan ko rin ito. hehehehe pero it would be inadvisable for a large group ano? Dapat small group lang. If only may kilala akong kaladkarin na may balak bumalik hmmmm…hahaha

    Reply
    1. nagbabasang pinoy Post author

      Same trip as his Manta plan? Ang adik naman nun, sidetrip na lang bundok pa rin. Haha! Pwede ang medyo malaking group pero day hike lang (pero ayoko nun kasi walang fireflies hehe). Hindi kasya sa “cave” pag big group. May isa pang campsite sa mas mataas na area on the way to the summit pero medyo malayo na sa water source at maliit lang din. Mga dalawang tents lang daw ang kasya. Unless willing matulog sa duyan ang mga tao. Hehe.

      Reply
    1. nagbabasang pinoy Post author

      Thanks for dropping by! Best of luck on your plan to move to Palawan. I’ve also dreamed of living there since I went to visit for the first time two years ago. But then I also want to live in Batanes, Bukidnon and Sibuyan Island in Romblon. I have yet to make up my mind.

      Reply
  2. Naldy

    Hey Tin, sad to hear your Manta climb was aborted. But I salute you for having the courage to cancel a long planned climb, its something all mountaineers have to faced from time to time.
    Mayo was also our contact for Manta. Hes very kind a took good care of us.

    With regards to Palawan mountains, in case your not familiar there are two more popular popular mountains in that area known as part of the Palawan 3-2-1(three highest in Palawan) Mt. Victoria, Cleopatras needle and of course Mantalingajan.

    I read also your blog on the outreach, Raymond is also one of my climb buddy from PALMC.

    Cheers,
    Naldy

    Reply
    1. nagbabasang pinoy Post author

      Thanks Naldy! It’s not so much courage as the fear that my friends would skin me alive if I went ahead with the climb. Hehe. It was also a good lesson on humility and listening to reason.

      Yep, Sir Mayo and his friends were very kind and generous to me while I was there. They made sure that I still had a great time even if I missed out on Manta. They also told me about Victoria, Cleopatra’s Needle, St. Paul and a bunch of other mountains they’ve explored. But they were adamant that it’s Manta or nothing on my next Palawan trip. Kahit daw solo ako pa rin akong pumunta dun ayos lang, may sasama sakin na local mountaineer para lang makapag-Manta ako. Hehe. Grabe, sobrang nakakatuwa ang kabaitan nila.

      Wow, small world! The CAC outreach was a blast. It was great hanging out with them.

      Reply
  3. ctvrtlik

    Thank you for the post and the pix. Made me recollect old memories of the mountains in Palawan.. just fyi- the “bagtik” or resin you mentioned is from the Almaciga Tree (Agathis philippinensis) one of the vulnerable species of aromatic trees which is endemic to the Palawan.
    Nice shots by the way.. Metamang Salamat.

    Reply
    1. nagbabasang pinoy Post author

      Thank you! I remember they called the tree Almaciga but I didn’t know it’s endemic to Palawan. You must’ve had an amazing time exploring the mountains in the province. I hope I could go back there and do that, too.

      Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      Huy Tupe/Bobby! Buti you found my blog. Kinukulit ko si Ben sa number mo pero wala pa daw mo nagkita. Anyhoo, email taka. Will post more on Kalatungan soon pero nia pa ko Davao. Di pa ko kasulat tarong. Maas sad imong blog dah. 😀

      Reply
  4. Mandaragat

    Hello!
    Your blog is definitely addicting! 😉 Would you happen to be Ate Tin who used to go to the DCBC Sunset Service? You looked uncanningly familar.. 😀 Anyway, if you’re attempting another Manta climb for your birthday next year, can I tag along? Manta is also one of my *DREAM* climbs.

    Cheers,
    Jenny

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      Hi Jenny! Yes, that would be me and this is my crazy, semi-coherent online hideout. 😀 I’d definitely go for another try at Manta but I don’t have a schedule yet. I’ll let you know. 🙂 Thanks for visiting my blog!

      Reply
  5. angela blanca j. decena

    hi tin.. i organized mt manta trav climb last aug.. with jappong mayo and soren.. and peepz from manila and iloilo jayz jorge, chill, rex, onin me and my bf leo.. dami mo ng akyat, balikan mo manta ha at ng ma-include mo sa blogs mo.. thanks and again congrats po.. ^_^

    angela blanca j. decena
    G2 Society

    Reply
    1. Tintin Post author

      Hi Angela! Yeah, Japong and Mayo mentioned it. They actually invited me to come along but I was climbing Mt. Kalatungan around that time. Yep, balikan talaga namin yan. Sana talaga matuloy na. Hehe. Salamat and congrats on your climbs too!

      Reply
  6. yajmhillz

    Hi maam Tin, this will be a great climb for us this december. Do you have any contact info for guides? Thanks so much. – galing ng site mo. more adventures po =) – Jay (09183566404)

    Reply
        1. Tintin Post author

          Ok lang yun sir. Di naman ganun kahirap ang trail. Medyo malimatik lang tsaka maraming river crossing. Pwede kayo mag-training climb ng MakTrav para masanay na sila sa limatik at di na masyadong mapraning. Hehe. Good luck sir!

          Reply
  7. KZ

    Hi Tin!

    I’m KZ. I just wandered through your blog by accident. But this is very useful. You posted this 2012 so I guess the contacts are also recent.

    I moved in to Palawan two weeks ago and I’m still just settling down. Like you, I’ve been climbing mountains for a while now and since I’m in this new home in Palawan, I figured I might as well climb the mountains (if possible).

    Would you mind if you can connect me to your friends here? I’d like to meet a mountaineering group sana. 🙂

    Hope it’s not much trouble! –KZ

    Reply
      1. KZ

        Hi Jay!

        Sayang. I’m in El Nido 20th onwards so I won’t be able to join. I hope there are more climbs in the future, just let me know in advance and maybe I can tag along. Thanks for the invite! 🙂

        Reply
        1. Jay Millare

          Hi KZ!

          Thats a WOW. I love El Nido. Enjoy your trip there! I am based here in Manila now so i dont know when i can climb a Palawan peak again. Ang dami mo na experience on mountains just like Tin. Cheers for that ma’am. More summit! =)

          God bless.

          Reply
  8. Josh

    Loved the Post! Very inspiring. I am in puerto princessa now and I am looking to do some hiking over the next week. I was wondering if you could put me in touch with the guides that you went with and roughly how much the hike Cost? Thank you

    Reply

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