This was the day hell (and tear ducts) broke loose. But first let me tell you about The Tale of The Amazing Corned Beef Guisado otherwise known as Fred’s comeback moment. We had a little campsite drama on Day Two which involved my temper, his ego and a 24-minute delay that was made a bigger deal than it should’ve been.
0330H Wake-up call
I was still coaxing myself out of sleep when I heard pots and pans clanging outside. Fred was the assigned cook for breakfast that day and he obviously took this duty seriously by sautéing garlic in the dead of night. In no time at all, the corned beef guisado was done and breakfast was ready. We didn’t have the best morning the previous day and this was his way of redeeming himself. I was amused and grateful to have someone who would make breakfast at 3am just to make things right. Who would’ve thought a pan of sautéed corned beef could restore order in the universe.
0520H Start summit assault
We wanted to do the summit assault early to get better chance of a clearing and to have a good head start for the traverse trek later that day. We succeeded in the latter but failed miserably in the former. Tropical Depression Crising was about to hit southern Palawan and the weather was dreadful. It was drizzling the whole night and the winds were getting stronger.
If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t risk going on a summit assault in the dark especially in such an awful weather condition.
The trek started with a tough ascent on slippery boulders and bonsai trees. We passed by open trails that, we didn’t realize until later, were actually steep ravines. It was nerve-wracking to watch Fred struggling to keep his balance. He lent his headlamp to Binoy, our guide, so he was mostly scrambling in the dark. Whenever Jet fell behind, I’d get paranoid that he might’ve been devoured by a snake (he was mostly taking photos or adjusting the knot on his water bottle). I hate doing night treks and on a trail like this, trekking in the dark was maddening. I was such a nervous wreck that I came very close to calling it off and making everyone head back to the campsite.
We got a break from bouldering when we entered a dense mossy forest. It looked a little like the forests of Kalatungan but the trees here were much smaller and the ground was made up of moss-covered rocks.
By daybreak, we emerged from the forest and into a stunning landscape of bonsai trees. It was beautiful; overcast skies and bad weather notwithstanding.
Viewed from afar, the terrain looked flat and deceptively easy. In reality, the summit trek was all bouldering and walking on a canopy of stunted trees while carefully avoiding deep cavities in between rocks. There was no trail whatsoever so you’d have to figure out where to place your foot with each step.
After more than two hours of scrambling on rocks in the middle of a storm, we reached the summit of Mt. Mantalingajan.
And then we all cried. (The guys would probably forgive me for disclosing this, right?)
This climb meant so much to us. We never saw ourselves as the “hardcore” types. It was not too long ago when all we ever wanted was to climb the Parrot’s Beak of Pico De Loro or bask in the view on the Rockies of Mt. Maculot (we still love doing those things, by the way). I couldn’t even keep a straight face whenever I’d try to call myself a “mountaineer.” I felt it was a title reserved for those who actually know what they’re doing when climbing a mountain. Most of the time, I was just blundering my way on the trail, surviving on sheer chutzpah and a whole lot of luck.
And then here we were, on the summit of one of the toughest mountains in the country. It was so amazing and surreal and overwhelming that I broke down and bawled my eyes out. Fred and Jet were more discreet with their tears because, you know, they were guys being guys.
This was by far our most fulfilling climb, never mind that we didn’t get to see any breathtaking views. A clearing would’ve been nice but even without it, we were beyond ecstatic just to reach the peak of Mantalingajan.
We couldn’t stay long on the summit though. The gusts were getting stronger, we were drenched and shivering, and there was nothing to see. Everything was covered in thick fog.
We caught glimpses of what would’ve been a picturesque panorama as we made our way down but Manta’s gorgeous views remained largely hidden from us.
1010H Paray-Paray campsite, lunch, break camp
Rest was not an option when we got back to Paray-Paray. We had lunch, cooked rice for dinner (cooking rice one meal in advance turned out to be an effective time-saving practice), and packed up. It was a long and difficult trek to the next campsite.
1154H Start trek
From here on out, we have no more photos. So we could just be making it all up and you’d be none the wiser. We also wish we just made it up but unfortunately, we really did go through with this hell of a trek.
The trail, and I use this term very loosely, to Lapong started with a steep descent on rocky terrain. The forest became denser as we went further, and then we got to this mossy, all-boulders-and-no-soil underworld that was completely devoid of stable ground.
For more than an hour, we balanced precariously on moss-covered logs and boulders. In between those logs and boulders were deep chasms which could either be snake dens or entry points into Hades. Every step was a painful puzzle to solve and every move was a calculated risk. There were tree branches to hold on to in some parts while at other times, we only had flimsy (and mostly thorny) vines and shrubs for handholds. When we got really unlucky, the branch we clung to or stepped on turned out to be dead and broke off without warning, which was not good.
1310H Tabud River
Our bad luck continued when we got to Tabud River. This was supposed to be the last reliable water source on the traverse trail. We were banking on replenishing our supply here after the Paray-Paray water source was a bust. There was not a drop of water in Tabud, and it had been raining all day!
We shifted to full-on survival mode, calculating whether our water supply could last us until the next day and if we had enough ready-to-eat carbs since we may not be able to cook rice anymore. We also collected rainwater while on the trail, thankful for once for the rainy weather that day.
We passed by three or four dry riverbeds after Tabud and had a providential Moses-struck-a-rock-and-there-was-water moment in one of them.
Tatay Dinio announced that there was water in one of the riverbeds and we would’ve somersaulted for joy if we weren’t so damn tired (and if we knew how to do a somersault). We hoarded water like we were about to cross a desert, knowing there won’t be another water source until we got to the highway.
This was the most difficult leg of the climb and we were carrying our heaviest loads ever. I’m a short girl with negligible upper body strength; the most I could comfortably carry on my pack for the long haul was about eight kilograms. I was carrying around 10-11kg at the time, including 4.5 liters of water and a liter of Gatorade. The guys lugged heavier loads since the tents they packed were all wet.
Scrambling on slippery rocks was hard enough; doing it with a full pack weighing you down was torture. I was wishing then with all my heart that we hired another porter (or three, one for each of us).
1815H Lapong campsite
I still don’t know how we survived that hellish trail, and on full packs no less. At some point, I just wanted to give up and cry right there in the middle of a creepy forest. It took every last bit of motivation to keep myself going. When I thought I was all emptied out and done, there was still a long way to go and I had to take one more step, and another one, and another one.
As the last ray of daylight was fading, we reached Lapong campsite. We were cold and exhausted and the only thing I wanted was to lie on the ground and sleep for the next 48 hours.
Photo credit: Most of the photos were taken by Jet Reyes.
- Mantalingajan Traverse: Prologue (nagbabasangpinoy.wordpress.com)
- Mantalingajan Traverse: Day One (nagbabasangpinoy.wordpress.com)
- Mantalingajan Traverse: Day Two (nagbabasangpinoy.wordpress.com)
- Mantalingajan Traverse: Day Four (nagbabasangpinoy.wordpress.com)
- Flora and Fauna of Mt. Mantalingajan (nagbabasangpinoy.wordpress.com)
- Mantalingajan Traverse: Holy Crap, We Did It! (nagbabasangpinoy.wordpress.com)