I knew a day hike of Mt. Balingkilat was going to be a long trek. I didn’t count on having flashbacks of my climb in Guiting-Guiting while scrambling on its rocky trail.
At 1,100 meters above sea level, Mt. Balingkilat is among the highest peaks in the mountain ranges of Subic, Zambales. Its name means bahay ng kidlat (house of lightning) in the native language of the Kulot, the Aeta community in the area. Locals attest that during thunderstorms, lightning always strikes on the mountain, hence the ominous name.
The trailhead to Balingkilat is in Barangay Cawag, a 30-minute ride from the city proper. Our plan was to start the trek before sunrise, descend on the other side of the mountain, and head for Nagsasa Cove, a quiet beach in the town of San Antonio where we’d set up camp. The coastal mountains of Zambales are mostly grasslands and don’t have a thick forest cover. Trekking on the open trail in the midday heat is a surefire way to get roasted alive (pun unintended).
The first hour of our hike was fairly easy. The terrain was flat and the river we crossed only had ankle-deep waters. We reached Kawayanan, a bamboo-covered campsite, just as an early morning drizzle turned into heavy downpour. Based on the weather forecast, we expected a rainy climb but getting cold and drenched was still no fun. Good thing the rain let up as we were about to resume the trek.
Although it had stopped raining, there was still heavy cloud cover throughout the day, which made the heat on the open trail more bearable. The terrain got steeper as we started the four-hour assault to the summit. There were boulders to climb over and sharp slopes to scale.
Mt. Balingkilat revealed its beauty as we went higher. We could see rivers snaking through the valley below, waterfalls gushing down the mountainside, and thick layers of clouds drifting about. When the ascent got too exhausting, all we had to do was turn around and the stunning panorama was enough to keep us going.
Reaching the summit, however, was a bit of an anti-climax. The peak was cloaked in fog so there was no view whatsoever. Also, we were tired from the hike and we didn’t get any sleep the previous night so we all dozed off after a quick lunch.
The summit is spacious enough to accommodate several tents but there’s a much bigger campsite just a few meters below. A nearby stream serves as a safe water source but it sometimes dries up in the summer months.
The traverse trail going to Nagsasa Cove was the toughest part of the climb and it was partly because of our foolish expectations. Our guide said the descent would only take two hours which we took to mean that it would be easy. We ended up trekking for five hours.
There were more boulders on the trail, the slopes were sharper, and the precipitous drops in some parts made my knees weak. The ridges and jagged peaks reminded me of Guiting-Guiting, one of my most challenging climbs to date and the first mountain to make me cry (but that’s another story).
Getting to level ground was a relief but it took a few more river crossings and roundabout routes to avoid wild cows before we finally got to Nagsasa. After a long day on the mountain, I’ve never been happier to see a beach. The waves were too strong for swimming and the sand was neither white nor powdery but the sea is always a beautiful sight.
It wasn’t easy going up and down the house of lightning but the mountain was a gracious host to us. The climb may have been unexpectedly difficult but it was well worth the visit.
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Thanks to our guide and porter, Kuya Binggoy and Jonathan, for getting us through the climb safely. To Jet, Karen, Lee Jay and Inigo: Thanks for the mortifying Happy Birthday song at the bus station and the cupcake with the perfect frosting that survived the traverse. It looked like murder in a box after the climb but I’m sure it had fun along the way.
All photos except for the first one are by Jet Reyes.