The route will be one-half of the Freedom Trail, the full stretch of Kilat Trail, a small part of Lensa Trail and the remaining arc of Bebut's Trail. These trails will conspire today to give optimum adrenaline rush for thirteen members from Tribu Dumagsa led by the couple Randell and Marjorie Savior.
Last Sunday, April 3, two Camp Red volunteers led the Tribu Dumagsa climbers to a gruelling endurance training to Mount Babag via the difficult Ernie's Trail and back to Guadalupe by way of the No-Santol-Tree Trail. This time, I will lead the whole group, including the two volunteers and another two neophytes from Camp Red.
I designed the route and I will lay emphasis today on speed and some bushcraft sense like basic navigation. Two of these trails are incomplete and need some more exploration. It will be as it may – unexplored – to give accent to the activity and to perk up the participants' interest. Along the way, I will explain to the backpackers the origin of such place names and some useful plants.
It is 7:30 AM when we leave the Tisa Public Market for the trailhead at Tisa Hills and some thirty minutes behind schedule on the itinerary which will adjourn at Guadalupe come 6:30 PM. Leading the pack, I study the lay of the terrain in trying to connect Freedom Trail with Kilat Trail. The ground is dry and the traction is good.
Up ahead is a huge mango tree. A rare occurrence among very bald hills. I notice the participants, including my own Camp Red, drinking too much fluid without regard to their water reserve. Although it is hot, but it is still a long way. I reminded them to ration their water intake and teach them how to conserve water by taking a small sip, gurgle just a bit to cool the gums and tongue and then swallow without wasting one drop. Simple.
The trail I followed began to lose itself among thick shrubs and I'm in a quandary of where to find alternate routes to Kilat Spring. After regrouping along the hot spine of Banawa Hills, I move on to the leftmost branch of Freedom Trail and it led to a copse of star apple trees where residents were busy picking the fruits. Up ahead is another lone mango tree, which is my reference of the way to Kilat Spring and so damn near!
I went down to the trail, which is now under forest cover and, finally, reach the natural spring and the participants douse their thirst away and filled up empty water containers. Meanwhile, one Camp Red volunteer and five others failed to see my trail sign and were denied of this opportunity to rehydrate and the generous refills. Aside that, they suffered by walking the whole stretch of the ridge which is exposed to the sun! Lesson: Do not tarry along the trail and take extra-long rests!
By 10:00 AM, we leave Kilat for the Portal, a place that is a hub of seven trails. Already there is the almost-lost group and they were boiling water for coffee. It's good to know that they are alright. After the coffee break, it's time to move again. Our next destination would be Starbucks Hill and I decide we cook lunch there as we are behind schedule already and we have adequate water. I follow, once again, Freedom Trail.
It should be hot in here but the rays of the sun were denied by the forest along the fringes of the Buhisan Watershed Area. We stopped and take a rest on another wide clearing marked by a trio of big boulders stacked on one another. This is another spot where five trails meet. In a little while, we will be moving again.
The route is steep this time until we approach a ridge and, infront of me, is the fabled Starbucks Hill. It used to be just an unnamed hill on the topo map with a number and I named it after we brewed coffee on its peak on a January 24, 2010 exploration. We climb the hill and we have to half-crawl below shrubs whose branches intertwined and form an arch above the route.
Once we reach the peak, debris are found everywhere. We walked down to a ridge where there is a huge tamarind tree offering shade amidst cool breeze. A welcome interlude after a very humid walk along the forest. We set down and retrieved camp stoves, cook sets, meat, milled corn, vegetables, spices and anything worthy for stomach and conversation.
Everyone jostled for prime space but the shade is wide enough to accommodate eighteen souls even with a wide berth given to the “kitchen”. Four pots were dedicated to the cooking of milled corn topped with gumbo; a pot for stir-fried mixed-vegetable soup; another pot for pork adobao; and skillets for chorizo, anchovy paste with tomatoes, dried anchovies fried in oil and sliced raw cucumber.
We eat lunch at 1:00 PM and take a very brief siesta before I proceed again to the rest of the ridge where Freedom Trail pass. Standing on another clearing where four trails meet, I point to the group of a formidable peak two kilometers away and everyone were unsure if they could climb the mountain and finish the activity before dark.
Unknown to them, the target hill is well camouflaged by an optical illusion and have blended well with the background which is the high peak. We cross the man-made forest of teak trees of Baksan and climbed unto the low hill then cross a saddle before stopping at another much-higher hill. The party came to a standstill as the trail ended abruptly. A hundred-fifty meters below us is a creek singing its song and I need to go down there.
Using my bushcraft sense, I reconnoiter down the hill following the only gentle slope that protrude like a tongue into a small valley. A safe landing for me on the creek bed and for others too, twenty minutes later. By now, we are on an unnamed creek and I am now looking for a trailsign on a big tree which I last saw on May 27. Failing there, I reminded the participants to walk carefully along the creek to prevent injury and to observe environmental ethics as we are now on a vital watershed.
Buhisan is where part of Metropolitan Cebu Water District's supply of drinkable water is sourced at. I led the way weaving among boulders and stepping on stones on the creekbed and exiting a waterfall that led into another big branch of the creek. Another waterfall up ahead and we bypass it through a route in between two creeks that joined in a Y shape to become a bigger creek. Going down to the catchment basin, we pass by a mixed-gender group of teenagers taking a bath at a small pool.
Along the way, I picked up and carried broken pieces of glass and some whole bottles and plastic bags into my backpack. What I cannot carry, I place these in deep cracks on inaccessible rocks. As a youth, I once stepped on a glass jar hidden in grass lacerating three large arteries inside my ankle and almost claimed my life through loss of blood. Broken-glass retrieval and removal anywhere is an advocacy of mine.
Up ahead some boys were splitting dry logs with just wood adzes and stone. Very primitive and very bushcrafty. The ladies in our group gifted them with biscuits and some left-over food.
Somewhere far, seven pieces of tree trunks where hastily abandoned by two adults upon seeing our coming. Illegal logging is rampant here despite its being tagged as a protected watershed area and the MCWD, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Cebu City government and the Philippine National Police could do nothing. Nothing have happened ever since I began to blog and upload pictures of cut trees in Buhisan.
I skirted the catchment basin and reminded everyone to be on visible distance with each other as the day already catch long shadows in the forest and I don't want to be encumbered by long delays brought on by missing people. We followed Kilat Creek upstream and almost missed my natural landmark of a huge stone split in half. Actually, I missed the stone and was in the middle of hacking a route among impenetrable bamboo groves until a quick glimpse from behind made me backtrack from that tiresome activity.
From the stone, I follow the now dimly-lit trail, striking straight to higher ground in lesser time as possible as it is now 5:00 PM. Exhausted, I waited for one volunteer and tasked him to take care of the rest of the group while I continued on my way in looking for a path that would take us to Freedom Trail. After 15 minutes, I found it and I followed this route to the Portal and consumed my last drop of water and waited for the others.
After thirty minutes, they came. From hereon, we will be walking to Guadalupe via Bebut's Trail. I pass by low hanging branches of star apple trees with some ripe fruits. I helped myself with three and it filled my now-empty stomach giving me electrolytes and nutrients to finish the journey in full steam. I pass by the tunnel vent and showed some Tribu Dumagsa people why there is a hole on the ground.
Heartbreak Ridge at a late hour is peopled by youths of all ages and gender. Some are playing basketball or volleyball; five boys climb a steel electric pylon; two sets of boys were trying hard to raise their kites above ground while the girls were sitting on the ground eating snack food and chatting. The grass have withered to brown color and most of it got engulfed by brush fire of yesterday.
A few more steps and I would be on hard ground again. I reach the south gate of the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Cebu Parish at exactly 6:20 PM and doused my thirst with one cold bottle of softdrink from a bakery and others did likewise. One CR volunteer come last at 6:38 and that closes the training session. A moment later, we transfer to our favorite place near Villa Fatima and eat dinner, drink cold beer and talk of our recent activity.
The training sessions would, hopefully, help Tribu Dumagsa attain their objective at Mt. Pulag. Two straight weekends of training on pure mountain trails have elevated their endurance and their resistance to heat and fatigue. Their leg ligaments and sense of balance and outdoors awareness have also been strengthened and boosted. Most of all, they are wiser now about water conservation and that would be tested on the bald ridges of Mt. Pulag
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