On a cloudless morning, one can see the Kalatungan mountain range while trekking on the open trail of its more famous cousin, Mt. Dulang-Dulang. That was where I first saw it and I made a mental note to climb it one day. Less than a year after my first D2 climb, I was back in Bukidnon with hopes of reaching the summit of the Philippines’ fifth highest mountain (2,880 meters above sea level).
While it is counted among the country’s top five peaks, Mt. Kalatungan is nowhere near as famous as Apo or Pulag. It doesn’t have the badass reputation of Halcon or Guiting-Guiting. What it does have are beautiful, untouched mossy forests, numerous grand waterfalls which have barely been explored, and a bustling wildlife. You can see fresh tracks of the baboy-damo (wild boar) on the trail and hear a cacophony of chirping birds high above the trees. The mountain is said to have the highest diversity of bird species among the mountain forests of Bukidnon.
The jump-off of the Kalatungan climb is in the town of Pangantucan, about five hours by bus from Cagayan De Oro. It used to be in Barangay Miarayon in Talakag but the issuance of climb permits is now done solely by the local government of Pangantucan.
On this climb, I was with two local mountaineers, Ben and Tupe. Ben was our guide during our Dulang-Dulang – Kitanglad traverse in March while Tupe works in the local government of Pangantucan.
We arrived in the town proper at 9pm and spent the night in the tourism guesthouse, which by far was the nicest place I’ve ever slept in on the eve of a climb. I’m more used to dozing off in bus terminals (or in the seedy underbelly of a ship).
Early the next day, we traveled by habal-habal (motorcycle) to Barangay Mendis and brought a live chicken for the Manobo tribal ritual. Kalatungan is home to four indigenous tribes: the Talaandig, Higaonon, Bukidnon and Manobo. A ritual is required to be performed whenever mountaineers attempt a climb.
We started the trek at 8:45am. The sun was out and the skies were clear. It was the first time in days we had good weather. This would not last long as we later found out but it was good to begin with a delusion of a perfect climb.
The hike began on a rolling open trail. We passed by farms and grasslands and crossed a small river on a bamboo bridge. After about an hour and a half, we entered the forest canopy and had a sneak preview of the thick mossy forests and diverse flora that cover the mountain.
At a few minutes past noon, we emerged from the forest and into another open trail known as the buko-buko sa anay (pig’s backbone), a two-kilometer ridge similar to the Knife Edge of Guiting-Guiting. This was where we had lunch and took lots (and I really do mean lots) of pictures. I failed to mention that I was with a couple of DSLR-carrying photoholics.
Buko-buko doesn’t look as daunting as the G2 trail but I had a tougher time crossing this one. The big difference was the weather condition. We did the G2 summit assault on a subdued cloudy day with not even a mild breeze ruffling my hair. On this climb, the weather turned nasty by the time we were on the ridge. Typhoon-strong winds were battering us and the thick fog was hampering visibility. So much for the sunny day and clear skies.
It’s not easy walking upright when you’ve got insane gustiness throwing off your balance. I had to stop several times when the wind got too strong and at some point, I just dropped to my hands and knees and started crawling. Kuya Erio, the porter guide ahead of me, and Ben, the mighty trail runner, also had to crawl their way to the ridge. So I guess it wasn’t just wimpy ol’ me. The horrible weather was taking its toll on all of us.
It was a big relief to get out of that windstorm and enter into another forested trail. The entire Kalatungan climb would turn out to be a long trek on alternating grasslands and forest trails. I imagine the open trails would’ve granted us magnificent views of Bukidnon’s flatlands and mountain ranges but we had the bad luck of seeing only thick fog throughout the climb. Kalatungan’s virgin forests, however, gave us more than enough amazing things to see: gigantic moss-covered trees, wild orchids, colorful mushrooms, succulent berries and a wide variety of plant species that would drive a biologist nuts.
We arrived at the summit at 4pm. The original plan was to set up camp at the bamboo campsite, which is about an hour of descent from the peak. We decided, however, to just stay at the summit so we’d have a great view of the sunrise the next day. This was a big mistake.
As we were pitching our tents and settling in, it started to drizzle, the wind grew stronger and we got colder. Angry gusts thrashed our flimsy shelter while we retreated into our sleeping bags and tried not to smell each other’s farts. There must be a correlation between bad weather and passing copious amounts of gas. The strong winds and pounding rain continued well into the night. We barely got any sleep. (Both guys are claiming I was sound asleep and snoring the whole time. They are lying.)
We got up the next morning to a non-existent sunrise, still shivering and cursing the long, cold and blustery night. But I’ll reserve that story for Day Two.
- The Most Important Lessons I Learned in Mountaineering (misadventuresoftintin.com)
- Mantalingajan Traverse: Day Three (misadventuresoftintin.com)