Monday, June 1, 2009

THE BACON HUNTERS OF MOUNTS DULANGDULANG & KITANGLAD

...Bring home the bacon!”, Dr. Abe Manlawe seemed to scream through a text message in my cell phone screen on the morning of June 5, 2008 goading us to bring the Cebu Mountaineering Society (CeMS) banner to the crowns of Dulangdulang and Kitanglad in a span of three days, a feat unprecedented yet in CeMS history. Officially named The CeMS Memorial Climb and Trek; which is held every June of each year to honor the memories of Sir Joe Avellanosa, Roy Tabanao, Penpen Mitchell, Dodong Polancos and Tio Paeng Tura; the planned activity will traverse the second and fourth highest Philippine mountains and then camp on each of their peaks.

Despite the uncertainties and anxieties that hound our preparations since Day 1 of our training where, in what was originally a 14-climber team composition, it was decimated by injuries and other commitments that left only eight determined souls: Lilibeth Initan, Boy Olmedo, Jon Consunji, Julienne Rosales, Sam Lim, Loklok Caumeran, Aldrich Paypon and Jing de Egurrola.

And so, on the night of June 5, at exactly 8:00 PM, these eight “bacon hunters” in commemorative brown t-shirts left Cebu Harbor for the Port of Cagayan de Oro on board M/V Doña Rita to take on that challenging task. It was not an easy trip for one good reason: it coincided with the opening of classes. Most of us have children and Julienne is a teacher herself. We might be physically present to embark on this trek but our minds are wandering far away to our respective homes!

We arrived at Cagayan de Oro at 6:30 in the morning of June 6 under a sunny sky and proceeded right away to the Agora Bus Terminal and took a bus bound for Malaybalay City in Bukidnon Province and arrived thereat to take lunch and go shopping for other essentials like food. At 2:00 in the afternoon, we took a public utility jitney for the town of Lantapan and then for Barangay Bul-ogan, nestled in the foot of Mount Dulangdulang and within the ancestral domain of the Talaandig tribe.
Our guide, Michael John “Mijan” Pizarro, met us at Cagayan de Oro City to facilitate our meeting with the head of the Talaandig tribe – Datu Boronay – and later, our resting place for the night in the house of our gracious host – Edgar Ladera and family – who accommodated all of us in their humble abode.

Later, we were invited to the house of Datu Boronay to attend a Talaandig tribal ritual of asking for permission to enter the Kitanglad Mountain Range and a blessing from their god Magbabaya to give us a good journey where we provided three live fowls as sacrifice offering, a square meter each of red and white cloth, coins and a bottle of Green Perico Mallorca - a distilled alcoholic drink. After the ritual we were each given strips of white cloth to carry on to Mt. Dulangdulang and ate chicken and rice together with the datu and his tribesmen.

Datu Boronay related to us the special importance of Mounts Dulangdulang and Kitanglad in their folklore when, according to the oral tradition passed on to him thru many generations, there was a great flood where only a man and a woman were the only survivors. The man clung to the top of Kitanglad while the woman at Dulangdulang. When the flood receded the man and the woman, thru Magbabaya's will and design, met and produced offsprings that grew numerous through time, whereby, it became the ancestors of the four original tribes of Mindanao Island: the Talaandig, the Manobo, the Maranao and the Maguindanao. The word “dulangdulang”, according to them, meant “a place of ritual” where, in some instances, they would climb the mountain and ask favors from the gods and spirits that inhabit therein with indigenous rites and sacrifices.

We slept at the house of the Ladera family after consuming three 750 ml. bottles of Tanduay Rum 5 Years chased with powdered juice and tea to combat the night chill brought about by rains. It was very cold and I was having trouble sleeping despite my intoxication with alcohol as winds seeped in through the bamboo floorings!

Early morning of June 7 begun under a shroud of intermittent rains. We began our quest to climb Mt. Dulangdulang at 9:00 AM, following a vegetable road that got higher and higher. The road was boulder-filled and running water left deep and wide furrows along the road which we evaded or leapt over and it took us an hour and forty-five minutes to reach the junction where the trail to Dulangdulang led. We were in high spirits and we walked a good pace in the open terrain which normally would take two hours, at the least.

The trail to Dulangdulang changed abruptly as lush vegetation pervaded the area and the trail became slippery especially when stepping on boulders teeming with moss. Fallen trees blocked the trail on many points that we either stepped over or crawled under or sometimes the next stepping stone were so high that we have to grasp and grab at anything to gain a foothold. We climbed steadily for more than an hour until we went downhill for a short distance and crossed a small mountain stream that refreshed our thirsty throat. Just above the water source there was a small clearing and we took lunch there.

It was very clear that, despite the cold brought forth by the rain, we were sweating hard and we were gasping for breath. We pushed on following Mijan the guide and the trail led to more crawling under felled trees. It twisted and bended and twirled, up and down; then more ups and downs and more twisting and bending and twirling until we could not sweat anymore as the cold ruled the higher altitude. Here, I could hear the howling winds racing above in jetstreams hastening our decreasing resistance to the cold.
As we pushed on higher, moss as thick as a carpet clung to branches and trunks of young and old trees alike, logs, boulders, even on the soil. Tree branches and twigs hung low making navigation along the trail a nasty undertaking. This part of Dulangdulang is a trail full of backpack snatchers; a certified shoulder-strap buster!

Many times I would find myself crawling on all fours and never have I seen myself bowing before the will of nature except here in these trails of Dulangdulang! Once, I found myself slithering forward on my belly to evade a fallen log that blocked the way, my heavy Habagat Venado II scraping hard the undersides of the dead tree and fully documented by Julienne with clicks from her digicam.

I have been on a similar terrain and like difficulty before afforded by blocking tree trunks and snarling branches and twigs and bouncy hanging trails in the slopes of Mount Talinis in Negros Oriental, but it seemed, the number of times I struggled myself crawling and and evading overhead obstacles are ten times more in consistency here in Mt. Dulangdulang than in Talinis and the vegetation here are much wilder and the trail longer. Mount Apo was very cold but, here, I lose almost all resistance to it and I barely survived!

The rains never abated and I never saw nor seen signs of animal or bird life in this part of Dulangdulang except, perhaps, by one Mindanao robin which fluttered and suspended in the air inches away from my face for about eight seconds or more, who seemed unperturbed and unafraid by my uninvited presence.

Two in the afternoon here without naked sunlight made us thought it was almost sundown thus we sped up our pace and, without our knowing, drained us of strength as we found ourselves gasping for air and resting often. An hour later, I came into a rare clearing and here visibility was greater as more light could penetrate through the foliage. It was amazingly green here as moss grew thick and covered whatever bare spaces afforded by wood, stone or soil. This is my first time to see a great moss forest and it was partly shrouded in mist. This is where the Talaandigs make their rituals.

Along these trails were many old trees where their trunks and branches twisted in different grotesque forms and it was so eerie and strange. Here, I began to notice strange white things lurking nearby which got caught in my peripheral vision as I passed along. I ignored these. Also here, my Breitling wristwatch began to behave strangely as I registered dial readings of 3:20 PM, then 3:00 PM, and then 6:00 PM in a span of forty-five minutes! As I related these events later to all, Aldrich thought he noticed something on that place that made his hair stand while Mijan confirmed my observations that there indeed are spirits lurking there which bothered many climbing parties before us.

At 4:00 PM, a very big boulder seemed to block the trail but we overcame it by climbing over the obstacle and behind it where broken tree limbs and branches and other debris which we slowly negotiated fearing accidents. Then we climbed up a very steep trail before reaching our campsite for the night – Manny's Garden1.
Under the howling winds that are still racing above us and rains that seemed to fall without end, we set up our tents, six in all. I pitched mine, a borrowed Apexus Halcon, and shared space with Loklok, my neighbor. It was very very cold and windy making preparation of our food very difficult as the winds, time and again, would snuff the stove flames cold. I ate only a fourth of my normal load of dinner. Again, as at the Talaandig village, I was having trouble sleeping.

In the morning of June 8, the winds never stilled and so were the rains. Everybody were so timid and would rather stay inside the comforts of their tents away from the elements. I tried to rally everyone by clearing my tent at 7:45 AM, but to no avail. Everyone suffered from the cold; even I, who tried to hide the discomfort by going half-naked for thirty minutes for acclimatization, shook hard and my teeth chattered.

When, finally, the last tent had been stowed, we moved from Manny's Garden at 10:45 AM towards the peak of Mount Dulangdulang, still shrouded in fog despite near noon. We tied the strips of white cloth in the branches of stunted tinikaran trees that towered over makeshift little shrines like those we saw practiced in the Himalayas. Coins were offered to the mountain gods on the makeshift shrines covered with red and white cloths.

At 11:00 AM, we started downhill for the next objective – Mount Kitanglad. It was dangerously steep and very very slippery and then we came upon a rock face where a small brook ran below it and we negotiated down from there by sliding from a rope. It was slow painstaking work. We went down and down and would have been glad to be in a much lower altitude but, it seemed, the winds kept following us. The rains made slippery work on the trail and I found myself falling face flat on three separate occasions (which no one saw) grasping on roots and young limbs to prevent myself from falling from a sheer height – three close calls which drained me of strength!

Along the jagged trails I began to feel dizzy and tried to remedy it by eating trail snacks, but as I traveled some more it became apparent that I have to eat my pack lunch of omelet and half-cooked rice ASAP! At 1:30 PM, I ate my meal by my lonesome self beside the trail and took only four spoonfuls of the half-cooked rice with the aid of water while discarding the rest of the rice away, except the omelet. My hand shook as I ate and I have to stabilize the hand with the other in order to put the spoon in my chattering mouth!

I followed the trail that Mijan marked and it twisted and bended and twirled its way through the same mossy forest of low hanging branches and twigs, fallen logs, thorny thickets and vines and it was so dizzying and draining as I have to crawl, stoop and fought to wriggle my unwieldy backpack through these obstacles that are somewhat endless. God knows of how many branches and twigs I snapped to break myself free from their grasp and that struggle left me scratched and bleeding in my arms and legs! Not to mention, the volume of body heat that I surrendered on that stretch.

I finally caught up with Mijan, who was in a bind of what trail to follow as he surmised and shared to me that he lost the trail and was beginning to grew more worried when he learned that Sam was not with me and might be lost himself. He backtracked and I followed likewise.

It was already 4:30 PM and still a lot of dangerous ground to cover under a failing light to reach Mt. Kitanglad, so we decided to bivouac and pitched four tents on a small clearing while Mijan retraced his trail to look for the correct direction and for Sam.

Everybody were drenched wet and shaking from the cold, despite several layers of dry clothing beneath raincoats or jackets; fingers numb and cold in spite being covered by mittens and gloves; teeth chattering as wisps of cold air stabbed through protective layers. Nobody gave a damn to venture outside the tents once we settled in and, by good fortune, the ever industrious Aldrich (may the Lord increase his tribe) gave me a cup of hot chicken noodle soup as our dinner which Loklok and I sipped with gusto! It was the third straight night that I missed that elusive sleep as it was so very cold – the coldest I have ever experienced yet.

We decided to rise early and braved the cold, this time without the rain. There were no hot coffee servings and steaming meals and we all ate a cold and dry breakfast of a handful of cereals without milk. At 8:00 AM of June 10, we broke camp and proceeded to follow the faint trail marked by Mijan for us. Forty-five minutes later, we finally found Mijan's and Sam's campsite on a large clearing and it was a welcoming site. We celebrated our reunion with Sam by sharing more of these cereals which we have reserved on the trail. Sam, actually, was not lost, and was following the correct trail after all. It was only Mijan, then me, who got lost! After a short prayer from Jon invoking the Lord for guidance and protection we continued our journey for Mt. Kitanglad.

We walked in an improved speed and pace under a rainless sky and coupled by the blessing of the sun's heat, even though how slight, that broke through from small gaps of the thick clouds and mists on that high altitude and, despite the surge of wind speed in open and exposed areas, we were very determined to reach Mt. Kitanglad at noon and be off for Cagayan de Oro City to board a boat for Cebu at 8:00 PM.
But, it was not to be. We still struggled on the same terrain just like the ones we passed by before. There were still the pesky thorns and low hanging branches, as well as old trees that blocked the way, but it created less and less problems as we climbed on higher, until cane grass or bugang grew in abundance along the shoulders of Kitanglad. There were now lesser sturdy handholds like tree roots and branches and the trail became deceptively dangerous as it is now very precipitous and exposed to the racing winds with only the cane grass as your only option to grab as your anchors for your ascent.

At this juncture, the last obstacle towards Kitanglad stared down from us. It was an 87-degree slope with scant handholds save for those unreliable cane grass and it was 35 to 40 feet high! Mijan went first and rigged our 17-meter dynamic rope from above a ledge where a lone stunted tree provided as anchor. We decided to add and tied an 8-meter twilled nylon rope so it could reach the staging area. It was slow progress as eight of us took turns following the first man. An hour and a half later, I closed the gap and unrigged the ropes from the precipice.

At exactly 12:00 noon, we took our lunch at the peak of Mount Kitanglad amid the imposing relay and repeater towers of commercial telecommunication firms. A detachment from the Philippine Army were so kind enough to loan us their supply of rice, a big cooking pot and cooking fires that Mijan, Julienne and Aldrich prepared and cooked. We appreciatively repaid those with our own supply of rice that were stowed deep in the bowels of our backpacks of whose weight we were glad to part with.

Thirty minutes later, we descended downhill for the lowlands and warmer air. The trail were devoid of thick vegetation unlike those that were found on Dulangdulang but is deceptively dangerous as well for there were smooth boulders, some with moss on it that, failure to step squarely on those would result to grave consequences like bumps and sprains, or worse, a broken bone. All told there were twelve steel staircases installed all along the different points of the trail giving easy access to and fro.

It was a long downhill trek that ended at a farm-to-market road strewn with big boulders and great depressions on the soil caused by running water that left navigation by motorized vehicle a dangerous occupation. We walked on for several kilometers intending to reach Barangay Intavas of Impasud-ong Municipality by 4:00 PM, but sadly though, we could not muster enough energy to put up a torrid pace and so, the last man reached Intavas at 6:00 PM and too little time. Time was not on our side there and we accepted the fact that we cannot board the boat that would take us to Cebu that night.

We decided instead to celebrate our successful adventure with a hearty meal of three lechon manok in Malaybalay City. Later, we checked in at the Plaza View Tourist Inn near the city square and a stone's throw away from St. Ignatius Cathedral and finally slept soundly for the first time in four days! Wow...

We left Malaybalay City after lunch for Cagayan de Oro City on board an aircon bus and arrived at 3:00 in the afternoon at the Agora Bus Terminal and, later, we decided to while away our time window shopping at Limketkai Shopping Mall where Ferdie Sogoc, a former CeMS mountaineer now based there, invited us to a meal at KIS Restaurant. We hungrily splurged on everything that were placed on the dining table and they were a delightful array of broiled squid and boneless bangus, raw fish in seasoned vinegar mixed with chopped grilled pork and a soup of goat innards. My appetite returned to give me back the energy (and the weight) that I lost on the trails of Mounts Dulangdulang and Kitanglad.
By 7:50 PM, we raced to the wharf and boarded M/V Cagayan Princess for Cebu in the nick of time as the gangplank were about to be removed. That settled now our certain departure from Cagayan de Oro and we settled in our cots and celebrated again with sips from miniature Johnnie Walker Red Label bottles that Jon kept and carried around the trails which he reserved for this occasion.

Cheers to the “bacon hunters” for that safe and bountiful hunt!!!

Another cheer to CeMS for another impressive milestone in its history as it approached its 20th founding anniversary!!!

Observations and Recommendations:

THAT RECENT TRAVERSE climb to Mount Dulangdulang and Mount Kitanglad had exposed us to many shortcomings which we have not foreseen or have ignored during our careful preparations on the weeks before. We also were able to recognize some advantages which we have never considered during the many brainstorming meetings before this climb.

One of these that we gave emphasis and careful study is allotting only THREE days for the whole stretch of the trek from Bul-ogan, Lantapan to Intavas, Impasud-ong traversing Mounts Dulangdulang and Kitanglad thinking that our good physical preparations and conditioning would make things possible to our advantage. We discovered otherwise that 3 days is not enough for these traverse trek and have pressured us to speed up our pace the more thus exposing our party to grave consequences that almost negated the safety requirements that we painstakingly planned and prepared.

We ignored the change in weather conditions. Most of us summited Mt. Kitanglad before and have recognized and accepted her whims and mentally calculated that the extreme conditions experienced at Kitanglad is also acceptable at Mt. Dulangdulang at any given time. We were wrong there!

The above conditions have conspired together creating difficulties and near havoc upon our small party. Humble aside, we were composed of the best pacers and the strongest climbers of CeMS yet the small time frame demanded that we give more effort to achieve our goal. Goaded by the extreme cold we doubled our usual pace reaching our first campsite with plenty of time to spare!

That burst of speed in a lengthened stretch have unconsciously sapped away our energy reserves giving us little chance to resist the cold the following days ahead. Clearly, we were not using our heads when we generously gave our body heat away to speed.

Without a clear mind you miscalculate everything, even the capacity to think coherently! The extreme cold, fatigue, semi-starvation, anxiety and fear caused us to drain our strength and our body heat quickly even our mental functions were affected without our knowing!

A 30-minute miscalculation borne out of following a false trail would result to a two-and-a-half-hour time delay for a group of 4 to 9 individuals and longer still for a bunch of 10 to 15 hikers or more. Precious little time that would spell delayed schedules or worse, disaster! We have not foreseen this although two of us have experienced this kind of problem in Mount Pangasugan (Leyte) in 1992! We were fortunate enough to have only suffered a slight disruption of our ETD.

Only Sam stuck to the trail because he was thinking clearly. You know what? Among ourselves he was the only one who carried or wore an ordinary rain coat. A simple item that we ignored in our checklists! Sam preserved his body heat, his strength and his capacity to think all because of one ordinary rain coat. We could have preserved all what we have lost if we remembered that some of us have an extra big black garbage bag which we could easily fashion into an improvised rain coat!

Store only the essentials like several layers of protective clothings, enough food and trail snacks and drinking water. Group equipment like tents, cook sets, stoves and fuel whose load and weight are better shared and assigned among the group members. Travel and pack it light but never sacrifice the necessary items.

Bring a tarpaulin, if possible. It would be wise to protect your tent, even with a flysheet, from the elements. A stand alone tent could not preserve and will release your body heat eventually nor it could prevent the cold to seep into the insides of your tent. With a tarp above the tent, at least, what warm air trapped between will not escape right away and your body heat is preserved longer while denying the cold air the chance to breathe into the warm space of your tent quickly. This, we have not anticipated well.

A 30- to 40-liter backpack capacity would do well in tropical terrain and conditions, especially those found in the Kitanglad Mountain Range. A climber with a backpack of 50 liters and above of storage capacity would find great difficulty in inching his way among thorny shrubs, blocking tree trunks, felled logs, low-hanging branches and snarling tendrils. I used a 90-liter Habagat Venado II which caused me many encumbrances while Mijan the guide, who is familiar with this route, uses a 30-liter Habagat Carrera and breezed beyond my vision. A Conquer Tuko and a Habagat Sigbin would do well also here.

It is best that not more than 10 trekkers, including the guide, should negotiate the trails of Mt. Dulangdulang to Mt. Kitanglad. Although the DENR recommended at least 15 people, experience dictate that it should not be more than ten for the simple reason: that Dulangdulang is not an ordinary mountain to climb at. Few people would cause a lesser impact upon its lush vegetation and the lesser people to manage the better is the visual coordination between guide and sweeper. The fewer climbers the faster the pace be.

I recommend that you give four to five days for this trek, to exclude a day of paying respect to the Talaandig tribe. Three days is good enough for climbing either Mt. Kitanglad or Mt. Dulangdulang only.
Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer, Trebuchet MS font, size 12.
1Named after an intrepid Mindanao mountaineer, the late Manny Soroño.

9 comments:

myorthodoc said...

Yay!PinoyApache, I should have warn you of Mijan- a good friend and frequent climb buddy. He tends to over estimate your mountaineering endurance.

And yes, that traverse is indeed grueling. On paper it may seem so easy for a trek, but lo, I sweat blood and my yagballs where somewhere near my throat back then!

I can truly relate to your fun/ordeals.

By the way, did you see the former airplane crash site there? I was looking for that when we started but was overwhelmed by surviving the trek myself!

Keep climbing and writing!

PinoyApache said...

It rained for the whole three days and this is my first "real" climb after hibernating for nine years.

I can still dish out a pint more of my endurance at that time were it not for Mijan losing the trail and I was the only one who travelled far enough following him. Anyway, I survived that traverse climb. Good enough for an "old man" in his mid-40s leading an expedition.

I am planning a comeback. I have trained seriously after that and I am confident that it would be a breeze even if those cnditions are the same. I will find your plane wreck. Ciao...

Maldz said...

Its nice seeing this blog and pics of your climb at D2-kitanglad traverse, now have an idea and visual of that "most talk" trail- the steep descent, and the rope ascend...hoping to climb that too this year.BTW sir,any info regarding securing guide(fee) and other requirments of that particular climb?im from manila...thank you

BLUE_ICE said...

Nice trek sir nakapag traverse kayo from D2 - Kitanglad. We were there but sa Kitanglad lang po via Intavas hopefully we can do that too. - Bohol Eagles Mountaineering Society(BEMS)

PinoyApache said...

I hope this article will help and guide you in your preparations. Godspeed to BEMS!

BLUE_ICE said...

Yeah sir it really help us a lot from your experience soon when we will go back there..... thanks for the tips :)

Drich Paypon said...

This traverse Mt. Dulang2-Mt.Kitanglad Memorial Climb was one of my Best and Challenging Climb after joining CeMS in 2006. Aside from physical preparation you should be mentally prepared also. Enjoying the hike and the mystical garden in both mountains but keeping in mind that weather is unpredictable and may cause problems in visibility of the trail. The campsite in Manny's Garden was superb..its like we are in other dimension. If given a chance I would love to traverse again in both mountains with my CeMS family. See u on October/November 2010

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