Sunday, July 22, 2012

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XIII: The Search for Camp Damazo

THIS IS AN URGENT outdoors activity: Finding a new route to Camp Damazo.

Camp Damazo is the place where the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp or PIBC will be booked on June 10, 11 and 12, 2012. This Camp Damazo is located somewhere among the most hidden of nooks of the Babag Mountain Range here in Cebu City, Philippines.

In 2011, Camp Damazo was located upon the banks of an unnamed mountain stream where the first PIBC was held. Now it is moved further inland on a high ground. The route to the old Camp Damazo was made possible by following Bebut’s Trail from Guadalupe then taking a switchback to Lensa Trail.

That path demand lots of patience and stamina and exposes people to extreme heat at the dreaded “heartbreak ridge”. For this year’s activity, I may have to reroute the way to Camp Damazo that would be friendly and, at the same time, awesome to the participants of PIBC MMXII.

Coming with me are the “Ramrod” and the “Fixer”. No, they’re not the characters in a Robert Ludlum novel but they are Randell Savior and Ernie Salomon and they are officially appointed as PIBC MMXII staff. Going along to get the early treat of PIBC MMXII as future participants are Silver Cue, Dominikus Sepe and Mr. Bogs.

As Camp Ramrod, Randell will oversee the administration of Camp Damazo like space allocation, hygiene, firewood and water needs. Today, May 20, 2012, I will give Randell the leeway to choose for himself the best route that would suit his idea of optimum adventure. Very well, I will lead him to those places after receiving his gist.

As Camp Fixer, Ernie will do the task of preparing, fixing and cooking for PIBC MMXII participants and staff. Such superb culinary skills done in the setting of the harsh outdoors are rare which Ernie could dish out with competence. Ernie, on loan from the Redtrekkers, will give samples of his menu today.

So, this is an exploration activity and I will lead and go down trails that I have not had the pleasure of walking but had known of its presence. This is traditional land navigation and I will have to utilize a small compass on the handle of my machete which I thought all along as just for display and, therefore, unreliable.

We start from Guadalupe at 7:20 AM climbing over Heartbreak Ridge at a fast pace. It really is fast and unrelenting that I reach the power pylon in just fifteen minutes. It is hot even at that early hour. I pursue the higher ground and stop at the tunnel vent. Somewhere far far behind me is Mr. Bogs who go down on his knees. Dominikus and Silver assisted him.

Meanwhile, we wait for the trio and once we got shade behind our backs, it had made the previous predicament a non-issue. We reach the Portal at 8:30 AM and I am impressed that we really shaved off a lot of time and I am not wrong in choosing the right people with me. We decide to bypass the Portal for that small community where we usually get our water source.

We stay for a half hour making coffee and eating a full plate of ground cassava pudding that a local offered to us. Oh God, it is delicious! It is my first time to eat such native mountain delicacy. We leave for the Portal and follow for a while Freedom Trail before taking that mysterious path that slice down into the jungle fringes of Buhisan.

The path lead to a thick, but very virgin, jungle; a lot of places dark and gloomy populated by huge fig trees, thorny vines, spiny rattan, avian and a few bats that got startled by our passing. This is an environment that I love to study and live off. This is perfect for bushcraft and survival.

I ward off the spiny plants with my wooden staff while I hack at the more threatening ones with my Mantrack machete. It is just a narrow path among a cobweb of thick vegetation that branch into two but I take the rightmost. Following still the path, it turned into a faint parting on the ground that lead into a dry waterway where it follow its course until it ended into a stream.

This stream is so pristine and clear. Moss are all over the stones and on some trunks and branches of trees. This is virgin territory that I could not believe existed in a a fast-developing metro like Cebu. Small fish abound on the stream and, perhaps, fresh-water shrimps and crabs lurking beneath the silt and sandy bottoms.

I look for the continuation of this trail across on the other bank and I do a little exploration while others waited. Randell, on the other hand, with Dominikus, try to look for a way downstream. The path I seek follow another dry waterway that goes uphill but I take a detour and try another faint trail that lead me into a small stream.

The place is so silent except for the hum of cicadas and bird calls. Among the sounds, I thought I heard a scream of a hawk warning me that I am in her territory. Another scream shatter the silence and it is different from the first one and kind of throaty like that of a mammal’s. My hair rise at the excitement that I have just faced and I aim to mark this place for my second return – preferably alone.

Keeping this place a secret, I follow the way downstream to where Randell and Dominikus are waiting. The stream joined with another one and it gets wider. This bigger stream of the two is the ones that I used to explore two years ago and I know where it will flow.

I pass by the bend where Ernie and I used to do bushcraft cooking sessions. That time the stream was dry but now it is full of water filled by a small brook that flow into it. We follow the stream into what used to be a Gabion dam and onto another long bend where flood water could have flowed into a marshy place. Plant types indicate that this is marshland.

From there, the vegetation parted wide as we trod on the catchment basin. This is the heart of the Buhisan Watershed Area and I could see the sky beginning to go cloudy. I see a fig tree up ahead and beside is another mountain stream, but bigger and wider. By now, slight drops of water begin to fall. So what, we are in a rainforest.

We pass by a deep pool of water where children and adolescents take a bath and it is full today. We arrive at a place on the river where two streams converge like a “Y” and where there is a very small waterfall. We rest for a while on the wide shale headrock and rehydrate.

After several poses before a camera, we proceed by taking a trail between the two streams. The ground is marshy but with a lot of huge mahogany trees choked by a colony of rattan palms. As before, I ward off the stingy spines and leaves with my wood staff while those who failed to notice these get snagged.

On our right is the highest waterfall on this side of the Babag Mountain Range. We push on ahead for about two hundred meters and pass by the creek where it would lead to the old site of Camp Damazo. Randell, suggested that we skip this stream and find the second stream after it; the one where we have taken lunch in October 2011.

We found the stream after a tiring walk of over four hundred meters. We arrive at the place and I feel good because, from now on, there will be no more trekking on streams. I never like the idea of walking on streams because it is time consuming, dangerous and you are easily seen by people. Some people here are armed with rifles.

Anyways, I dig a water hole beside the stream as Ernie begins to work on the preparation of the meal. Food would be mixed-vegetable soup, pork adobao, raw cucumber in vinegar and milled corn. The viands will be prepared free of monosodium glutamate. I foraged wild basil and cayenne pepper along the trail and I mix this with the soup giving it a spicy and sweet scent.

Cooking is done by using three camp stoves and an assortment of cooking pots. When it is through, we start eating at 1:00 PM. Washing of dishes and pots comes after and the water hole supply all the washing water.

At 1:15 PM, we start to ascend the high ground for Camp Damazo. We follow Lensa Trail to get there. This is the trail that I discovered in April 2011 when I find the river trekking too constricting for my comfort and dislodged Ernie and another companion who were getting weak with thirst on a stream bed that has lots of water.

On the way, I rearrange dry wood lying on the ground by propping it beside tree trunks with only one end touching the ground. Moisture will accumulate on wood if left lying on the earth and would not burn when you use it for cooking or for a campfire. I will need a lot of firewood for PIBC MMXII and I need it dry.

The good thing about the present location of Camp Damazo is it has a good supply of firewood, it has good security, it cannot contaminate streams, it is near to a natural spring and it is cooler. We located the exact area and it could accommodate ten to fifteen tents spread out in a wide terrain. We were also able to secure locations for latrine.

That sums up the exploration and survey of the route and exact location of the campsite, so we proceed for the exit route which bring us out to the road that lead either way to Pamutan or Sapangdaku. We decide to follow the trail to Lanipao instead.

What used to be a beautiful trail a month ago is now a newly-graded road that is not only ugly but is also a bane to the knees. That trail was a welcome ground with soft grasses and gentle roll of land that is very friendly with your feet and your pace. Now, it is graded mechanically and is too steep for comfort.

We reach Lanipao and douse our thirst with cold soda drinks and beer but I prefer the latter. Then we walk a concrete road down to Napo and waited for available motorcycles to take us further down the road back to Guadalupe. From the church grounds, we transferred to Red Hours Convenience Store and discussions and ideas flowed along with cold beer with the final conclusion: I and my crew are ready for PIBC MMXII.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3
Photos courtesy of Randell Savior

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


IT IS ONE OF those days when I need to go out from behind my desk and look over the areas where my employer have tasked me to oversee and I choose a Saturday – April 28, 2012. One of the few reasons why I love my day job is I am given the opportunity to travel. Travelling complements my hobby of writing and maintaining a blog.

My blog – WARRIOR PILGRIMAGE – is all about bushcraft and survival; explorations and adventure; home life and parenting; amateur photography; and travel. I love the outdoors so much that, given the opportunity, would shelve the comforts of an airconditioned room for the labors of walking a mountain trail on any day. Yes, the travel is a bonus for my work. Without it, I feel like a zombie stuck to the entrails and detritus of a pressure-laden job that demands so much for (almost) so little. 

My itinerary would be south of Metro Cebu with brief stopovers in Talisay City, Minglanilla and Naga before proceeding for Oslob. I need to distribute two mountain bikes and it is urgent. One bike is in the office in Mandaue City while the other I have to retrieve at Upper Pakigne in Minglanilla. My buddy, Joe Patrick Uy, will drive the Mitsubishi Lite Ace with a cargo of one bike with which tires I fill up with air at a vulcanizing shop.

First destination is in Upper Linao. It is a hilly part of Talisay City where there is a high-end subdivision called The Heights. There is a finished and fully-furnished prototype residential house that is open to prospective customers with lots of wonga. I inspected the three-level house that has a driveway and a wide garage. It consists of a master bedroom with two smaller rooms at the uppermost level offering an unimpeded view of the coastline, the sea and faraway Bohol Island.

After leaving the cargo at The Heights, I proceed to nearby Minglanilla town and direct the Lite Ace to Upper Pakigne where there is a low-end government housing project called Sugbu Gawad Kalinga. I had been here many times and, I believe, the few recipients who were rewarded of this project are most fortunate because Sugbu Gawad Kalinga is on a high location with a good supply of water. 
The vegetated surroundings, fresh air and good view of the sea contributes very well to the health and welfare of residents but I may have to retrieve the idle mountain bike with deflated tires here and transfer it to Oslob. Since it is 30 past twelve noon, I look for something to fill up mine and Joe Patrick’s tummy and found it at the waterfront of Naga. All the tables are vacant and that would help whip up my appetite plus an opportunity of dining by the sea.

The bike from Sugbu Gawad Kalinga got its tires filled up with air by hand pump inside the Lite Ace by a local from Naga. The Lite Ace rock up and down as the man pushed the pump handle down and up vigorously for several countless times until the two tires look stout again. Then Joe Patrick stepped hard on the gas pedal converting the Lite Ace into a light rocket passing by the towns of San Fernando, Carcar, Sibonga, Argao and Dalaguete before taking a brief respite at Tingco Beach in Alcoy to stretch our legs.

I take the time to snap a few shots from my Sony Cybershot camera on the white sands of Tingco which is just below the highway. After that, I stop again at that famous bend of the road which is about 600 meters approach to Boljo-on town. I snap again the seaside strip of road and sea and the landscape of the old town that hosts a very old Roman Catholic church. Beyond Boljo-on is Oslob, which is just nine kilometers away and a half-hour of rest – maybe. It is already four in the afternoon.

We reach Oslob and I unload the bike for use in maintaining order at the place called the Cuartel de Infirmaria. The Cuartel, is a remnant from the Spaniards which have colonized Cebu for 333 years. A hundred meters away on the same beachline, is the Royal Watchtower – one of a series of armed towers erected by Spain to protect the coastline communities from pirate depredations. Both structures have been undergoing repairs and reconstruction.

Oslob is a popular place nowadays due to the sudden appearance of whale sharks attracted by its warm and crystal-clear coastal waters abundant of plankton and krill. I scan the sea hoping to get a glimpse of “toki”, a name used by locals to describe the big fish. Well, of course, I did not see it. 
It is a hot day and Joe Patrick is thirsty so we race back to Tingco Beach and decide to drink cold bottles of beer by a roadside bar offering a good view of the sea with its weekend bathers. The sea is so clear and so inviting but I am sober this late late afternoon despite finishing three small bottles. Water current goes south and, probably, out to the Pacific; a sure sign that it is going low tide any moment.

We move north though, the tide of our focus is Mandaue City, the place from where we start. It is dark by the time we reach Minglanilla and the flow of traffic is getting tighter and tighter as we approach farther north for Metro Cebu. The South Road Properties is a temporary respite from traffic but once we were out of the tunnel, it sticks at you again like a leopard gecko. 

The main roads of the reclaimed areas of the north are filled with all sort of vehicles, moving in driblets until one finds such one rare moment of free space and cover it up in one swift move of locking gears and revving engine and look back no more. The Lite Ace move like an eel slipping out of the constricted channel until the red light put a halt to our momentum and a stop to our crazy notions. We reach at seven in the evening in one piece and it is a nice thought.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3

Monday, July 9, 2012

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LII: Black Saturday Night Training

THERE IS SOMETHING exciting when people hike in the mountains during the night. I know of outdoor clubs or groups of hikers doing that every now and then. They go up – one way - to their campsite destinations in a long chain of lights, a wonderful sight to behold in the woods from the eyes of a startled toad.

The battery-powered flashlight, which have developed from a low-voltage incandescent bulb to halogen to light-emitting diodes (LED), is the standard equipment that you will find inside the hiker’s backpack and a lot of them are known to carry an extra. The LED have multiplied the ordinary bulb’s lumen power a hundred times over and changed the name of the flashlight into a torch. Credit that to technology.

However, when you use a torch, there is one primeval function that you inadvertently choose to ignore and disregard. It is not one’s fault though but this is an instinct that have evolved through constant use in the past by our earliest ancestors and have, likewise, declined through neglect, through our dependence with modern technology and through ignorance.

This natural night vision is developed to great advantage by nocturnal hunters. I am not a hunter but I prefer to use my eyes to work my way in the dark. That is a fact. I have led people on the trails many times and, by situations beyond my control, commit them to walk in the night. Of course, they used lights but I advance my natural sight to good use on myself.

Actually, hiking in the night is strictly prohibited if you jerk yourself hard to read Leave No Trace. That is true. Night has more of its hazards than day. There are only three instances where you could do night navigation in the mountains: (1) When you are caught up with dusk as you try to make it to the campsite or to a pre-defined destination; (2) You rouse early from sleep and start at early dawn; and (3) You are training in a controlled environment.

Night Navigation Training does not come often and when it does I make sure my people at Camp Red is given priority. Actually, NNT is a prescribed skill for bushcraft and survival. However, I am generous enough to welcome members from other outdoor clubs or anyone who is/are willing to learn upon my invitation or through referrals.

Fourteen participants arrive at Guadalupe in the late afternoon of Black Saturday – April 7, 2012. They are Justine, Faith, Bogs, Dominikus, Glenn, Eli, Paul, Edwina, Bette, Ivy, Jessie, Ernie, Boy and James. Seven of them are registered nurses and some are connected with the Philippine National Red Cross as volunteers. I give a short overview of NNT and final briefing.

We start from Napo, Sapangdaku at 6:00 PM. I advised the participants to use their torch when crossing streams and when in doubt of the ground where they are going to tread at. Always fix a certain celestial body as reference when the moon have not yet risen. By the way, the full moon is still a full day old and it may rise any moment.

Our pace is slow, deliberately done to control the brain from sending the wrong signals. We arrive at Lower Kahugan Spring at 7:00 PM and proceed to refill water bottles. Sooner, we will be at the place where we will prepare, cook and eat our dinner. Camp Red prefer to eat their meals fresh from the cooking fire.

By the time we leave the spring, at a rise along the trail, the moon shine its silver sheen. I could see better the path. I lead them to a steep switchback and, at exactly 8:00 PM, we reach the Roble homestead. There is nobody in the house and it is dark. I prepare anyway the ingredients for our meal and started cooking first the milled corn.

I chopped the taro leaf stems, eggplants, gumbos and green peppers while Ernie start to saute garlic and onions in edible oil in a big pot. Water is added and I drop all the chopped green things inside including horse radish leaves I plucked along the trail. Meanwhile, dried fish is cooked in oil by the rest of the guys. Canned tuna are, likewise, reheated.

The cooking took long due to strong headwinds brought about by moonrise that play on the stoves. Mists accumulate and become rain clouds and the night temperature begins to drop. The moon give its full shine on our stay at the Roble place and the participants take advantage of this by talking among themselves, exchanging notes and email ads.

We eat our supper an hour late. We were supposed to leave the place for Babag Ridge at 10:00 PM but it is now 11:00 PM. Nevertheless, NNT should proceed without haste. This day is my last day of fasting. I do this every Holy Week and I should have broke my fast at 6:00 PM but my commitment to teach NNT precedes over my gut.

We follow the East Ridge Pass and a soft shower begins to fall. Even in the middle of summer, this is normal during a full moon. The moon’s gravity carry the mists from the ocean and land, condenses when cooled by the turbulent air that is channeled by the Babag Mountain Range from the sea and accumulates into rain clouds.

The branches and leaves sag as I pass by, brought heavy by water. I could still see clearly the trail. The clouds covered the moon yet it is still bright enough for my eyes to see. Behind me, most of the participants use their headlamps. Their confidence begins to wilt under the pressure of rain and an inner fear of a misstep.

Sooner or later, their brains will play games on them unless I have to stop and reassure everyone that I am in charge of this whole thing. Rest is given to those who toil and everyone give their best to ignore pain, cold and that primeval fear of the dark. Safety in numbers negate that fear and those who paced faster wait for those who lagged.

I arrive at Babag Ridge at 12:30 midnight and everyone take a rest to recover their breath. The fogs are thick and it is around twenty degrees Celsius. Ahead is a store – although closed at this hour - and I may have to boil water for coffee there. Everyone needs something hot inside their tummies. Just a kilometer more and we could have that hot coffee.

After the coffee break, it is time to resume the last half of our journey. This time it is perilous because the path is slippery and it is all downhill. The moon is on the downswing of its orbit and it may disappear anytime behind the mountain range and the rain fell again at 1:30 AM. This time I encourage everyone to use their lights.

This trail to Kalunasan is seldom taken by me and I always have trouble remembering my last route there even during daylight. The night presents a bit of a problem for me this time so I arm myself with a meter-long bamboo stick. I sharpen the end so I could use it as a weapon and as an anchor to stabilize my downward pace.

The No-Santol-Tree Trail is a route that I have discovered three years ago based upon the description of a local about the presence of a santol tree (sp. Sandoticum koetjapi) that marks the trailhead. The moment I looked for that tree, it is nowhere to be found, and I got lost as well, walking in circles obviously wanting to satisfy my exploring spirit never knowing that I found a different path.

I equip the female participants with wooden staffs as an aid to walking and balance. I have limited control this time and this is the most difficult part of the activity and I have to use my small LED light as well. I start at a snail’s pace but I slip and I smack my butt hard on the trail. Vegetation is much thicker here but I am not worried because I have a torch.

The shadows play on my brain and I begin to doubt at myself. The route I followed seems unfamiliar but I persisted until I see a hint of a faintly-familiar bend in the trail that led me to a more common contour. I am the navigator and guide and I use my trailcraft skills to the max to offset the deceptive appearance.

I cross a low saddle that lead into another ridge and, this time, I know where I am going but the going is not easy as I have expected. The path have been obliterated almost by thick growth due to non-use by people and I hack the vegetation with my bamboo sword to part a way. This is a path that is so narrow and where the soil is very soft.

Meanwhile, the peaceful night is shattered by blasts of firecrackers in the distance. A religious activity signifying the Resurrection of Christ has just started. I wait for the slow walkers and give myself a break. The trail is very misleading and I would prefer that those behind me are very visible from those much much behind. I walk as if without purpose just killing time so that those from the tail end could catch up.

Satisfied with the pace, I cross several arroyos – dry waterways – where loose broken rocks and detritus accumulate in an unstable manner. I arrive at the first of the many tamarind trees found along this trail. Four months ago, an unusual bat pestered me here and I wait for its presence. The time is 4:00 AM.

I walk on and rested below another tamarind tree. A bat did appear but it is not the one and I scare its wits by whacking it with my stick almost hitting it save for its timely last-second maneuver. It never returned.

The rain have stopped but it had left a wet and slippery ground. The eastern sky showed traces of light. In a little while the sky will be much brighter and there will be sunrise in an hour or so. Birds in their nests greeted the dawn. The small valley reverberate from the sound of its great number.

The sun did come just in time when I reach a copse of tamarind trees. This is the hub of four trails going east, west, south and north. I rest and waited for the participants to arrive. One by one they came and welcomed the opportunity to sit again after many hours of walk. I ask everyone if they were alright and everyone smiled erasing the tiredness showing in their eyes. 

By 6:00 AM, we were already at Guadalupe sipping hot chocolate drink and pairing it with sticky rice. We have come and walked from the dark mountains of yesterday to greet Easter Sunday. Osiyo!!!


  • Night is different than day, caution should be exercised.
  • The walking stick is very useful in night navigation. Not only it could aid you in your balance and a counter to gravity, it could be used as a probing stick and a weapon.
  • Check night sky fixtures as your reference. It will aid you in your general direction.
  • When using your natural night vision, refrain from switching on your torch. The glare of unnatural light destroys your night vision. If it does, switch off the light and close your eyes for ten seconds and blink several times afterward to fine tune it back.
  • Use your peripheral vision to great advantage. It is that part where you could detect movement and other objects which cannot be detected by a frontal sight.
  • Use your light when crossing a stream or when you are in doubt of the part of the path before you.
  • Do not play in to your brain. The brain receives signal from your eyes and tenses the muscles and release more adrenaline. Heart pumps more blood and would need more oxygene. You hasten your pace and you gasp for air and you become fatigued. Save your energy instead as you are not chasing someone in the dark.
  • Walk very slow. Take your time.
  • Walk during full moon or at least where the moon is not less than half.
  • Wear visible clothing.
  • Prepare a route card and leave it to your base support crew, a friend or to the authorities; and indicate the time when you will arrive or notify them.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3

Sunday, July 1, 2012


ONCE UPON A TIME, I had been a part of a large party of a Cebu-based mountain club trying to climb Mount Pangasugan (5,650 feet) in Baybay, Leyte, Philippines. It was my first time with them and my first and only time to walk this virgin jungle. We were 36 people coming from Cebu plus 14 people from a local outdoors group. 

That was in August 1992 and two weekend days were just allotted for this activity. If it were held today, I would not have went with them. Not because I am a lover of LNT1 (I am not); but because I organize outdoor activities and I know it is a nightmare when the SHTF2 time comes. I will reminisce this event and see it from a bushcrafter's eye.

Okay, we arrive at Baybay in the early morning of the first day and we transfer to the Visayas State College of Agriculture (VISCA)3. There was a low pressure area spotted east of Samar and it made its presence felt in the form of dark overcast clouds at a mountain range where Mt. Pangasugan is located. Everyone were quite alarmed.

We crossed our fingers hoping the rainclouds is just a state of the mind and will dissipate sooner than the time we approach the trailhead leading to Pangasugan. I stand out from the rest of the Cebu-based hikers for I am not attired and equipped like them. They carry branded mountaineering backpacks, boots, clothes and other gears designed for the outdoors.

I have with me a cheap backpack that I refitted with additional body straps and re-stitched at the vulnerable points. I have a pair of work boots re-soled with tire threads, an A-type tent, a sleeping bag with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck prints - all borrowed. A pair of Rayban Wayfarer gives me a sense of genuineness though.

My bag is heavy with eleven canned goods, a kilo of rice, water, a pair of jeans, etc. and I thought the shoulder straps would give way. I am wearing basketball shorts, cotton t-shirt, ballroom-type socks and carry a heavy insulated water bottle that hang in my neck like a pendulum! Carrying of knives were forbidden (crazy idea) but I managed to secretly bring a small folding knife for emergency.

I am in the middle of the party but have overtaken several people when the trail became steep and difficult. A local guide had been hired and I know he is there ahead leading our party through this beautiful wilderness. The jungle is very dense and avian life abound on most branches and trees. Competing space are a few visible snakes and a million leeches.

On a rare clearing, the tail of the advance group rested on logs and rocks and I rest as well. There were about eighteen people here and half of them were balancing on one huge log for picture-taking. Everyone saw something moving below the branches of ancient acacia trees and I turn my head to the direction of their attention.

It is my first time to see a Philippine eagle in the wild and it just floated majestically towards my direction. It is so surreal. The ground where I stood dimmed when the raptor passed overhead and released one tail feather that dropped effortlessly into my right palm. My hair stood on its edge as I try to comprehend the purpose of this chance meeting.

I inserted the feather on my bonnet as if it is a trophy and continued walking. I followed the gist of the direction like a tail following the body and head of a snake. I overtook a trio of resting hikers, already pale and winded, and one pirate had the gall to pass me two flat bottles of Tanduay Rum for safekeeping. No complaints there for the additional weight.

On top of a grassy hill, I ate lunch with the rest of the forward group. This hill is called Guintangisan, according to the guide. The air is filled with the echoes of a multitude number of hornbills croaking one after the other and it sounds like a running chainsaw. Leeches made the urban dwellers shriek and jump but, to me and the local climbers, it is nothing but ordinary and a fact of life.

We stopped by to camp near a stream when darkness almost overtook us. Everyone unfolded their expensive tents while I tried to set up mine in a hidden corner. I switched on my cheap flashlight at the brook and saw a lot of fresh-water shrimps and crabs at its bottom and banks. I even saw some crayfish of some kind. I listened to the night sounds of the campsite and around and it was a pleasant one.

In the early morning of the second day, I heard distant bleats from a deer answered by other deer. We cleared camp and continued for our destination. The terrain became more rugged and the jungle more dense. Worse, the guide lost the trail and was now hacking at the thick foliage. I saw some recent deer and boar droppings along the path.

I took lunch at the trail on a high ridge overlooking a sheer valley. Everyone were exhausted and I was behind the guide now and our pace is slow. I took a chance to conserve my strength and slept beside the path. I noticed people calling me when they pass by me until I ignored them and I book me a time with Lady Dreamland.

When I opened my eyes later, it was so eerily silent except the clash of leaves and branch shaken by the breeze. I tried a shout and a reply came from somewhere far down below me. I studied the terrain and the path everyone took goes winding down on a long loop before going in the opposite direction and passing about 300 meters below me.

I decide to do an Indiana Jones and slid myself off the mountain on the seat of my pants so I would reach the main party come what may. So down I went on an unknown swath of path that I am making, inflicting myself so many cuts from rattan palms. I suffered a slight cut below my right eye and it was such a close call as I landed between two hikers who never knew from Adam where I came from.

I see people on the verge of exhaustion unable to trust their bearings and balance and rely more on their hands and their weight afraid to tumble over the slope and it makes a slow progress. For just a short time, I am able to master the most basic of trailcraft like balance, gait, timing, eye-to-muscle coordination, breathing, observation, improvisation, sense of direction, etc.

By now, everyone where resting more often as their water supply begun running out. I still have a little water in my pendulum jug and a full liter hidden inside my backpack but generous enough to surrender the bottle to a pretty lady. Meanwhile, water could be heard from a distance and it is torture to someone who is water-starved and they stayed where they sat and waited for the night to come.

When I felt I have found the best campsite for me I will stay. I have chosen my den above the trail where a root of a giant tree gently curled itself. It is the best place at that moment while there was still light. I took an early dinner on my last slices of bread, liver spread and canned juice. A little while, the guide came back with bottles of water and I drank about a cup and shared the rest to others.

In the morning of the third day, I see fresh boar droppings on the trail just below my sleeping quarters, probably, attracted by the smell of my last night's meal. I walked just a few meters after I consumed a breakfast of pork and beans and another can of juice and I reached the forward camp. They were eating uncooked noodles. Poor critters!

They showed me the source of last night's water that saved everyone's throat. It was just a small pool of stagnant water that got collected itself from rain runoffs with wrigglers going about among submerged debris! Joe Avellanosa(+) proposed the idea of straining the water through two layers of socks before dropping a chlorine tablet for each bottle. Just about right. Just about right.

Trailblazing a route to the peak would entail a huge amount of time and energy for the whole party, notwithstanding, to the fact, that almost are suffering from dehydration and fatigue. A condition that Joe and the expedition physician - Dr. Abe Manlawe - have foreseen in the event it rained and there would surely be casualties.

Anyway, the guide happily led us to a small valley from whence it led to a dry watercourse and then a small spring. I passed by several of these clear spring pools and they were populated by a number of fresh-water shrimps, fat and unafraid of humans in broad daylight. We follow the creek until it became a river and fell into a high waterfall that became the first obstacle. This waterfall is about 50 to 60 feet high.

We stood at the headrock to find a way down until the guide found it just underneath it. But going in with big backpacks are a bit of a problem so the first backpacks were thrown from above and waterproofing plastic burst during the impact. Joe and the rest devised another way by tying a rope on a backpack and drop it slowly, one by one, but it is time consuming.

I decide to suggest to have the backpacks slide along the rope with carabiners from one high end to another end secured to a tree below. This process made short work at much less time. The second obstacle is another high waterfall almost of the same height. We found the same kind of passage and we repeat the process of hauling backpacks to the next level. Deja vu?

The last three obstacles were three 20-30 foot waterfalls and a petite lady made short work of this by plunging from the headrock of the first waterfall to the water below that set off a stampede of waterfall jumpers. Everyone enjoyed these moments of excitement except one person.

One tried to slid off a rope from above into the pool but the water current below a fall creates a whirlpool that force the rope end to travel with it and it swirled around the calves and legs of the guy almost drowning him. Fortunately for him, me and three others were very near him and we saved him with lots of time to spare.

Recovering our wits, we continued on our river trek. You follow a river and it will lead you to the ocean. That is the standard survival maxim and it remained true to that day as it led us to a coconut tree and more of this kind. Coconuts meant people and people meant a village or a community, then civilization.

Finally, we reached VISCA at 2:30 PM but we do not have enough time to board the boat for Cebu that day. We decide to celebrate our feat with the two bottles of rum that someone gave me at the trail which I carried up and back to where it was bought in the first place. Anyway, my Mickey Mouse sleeping bag became the butt of jokes as it play host to the most piratical individuals of this group.

We stayed the whole day of the fourth day doing nothing preparing for our departure for Cebu that night. My wife got pissed and I got marked absent for two days in my work. But the most painful thing was missing to watch the early games of the US Dream Team in the Barcelona Olympics.


  1. The wilderness of Mt. Pangasugan is best for two to five persons. More than that and it will spook wildlife away.
  2. The knife and other blades are standard equipment for bushcrafters. It is insane to go into the wilds without one.
  3. I didn't know that I had already practiced bushcraft in 1992 when I improvised on cheap equipment and gears to give me optimum performance. Bushcraft is about improvisation and acquiring expensive gears is a distant option and unnecessary.
  4. There are many sources of water in Mt. Pangasugan yet most of those who came were not mentally prepared to accept that drinkable water could be had anytime anywhere aside from what you carry.
  5. The late Joe Avellanosa is really a bushcrafter by heart. I have seen him do things that only bushcrafters would normally do and he shared ideas and things to me that he don't want other people know.
  6. My encounter with a Philippine eagle was a vision quest and has spiritual significance.

Document done in Libre Office 3
1Leave No Trace. It has 7 principles that outdoor clubs and individuals follow by heart.
2Shit Hits The Fan. Standard word acronym used by bushcrafters and survivalists when something goes wrong.
3Now known as the Leyte State University.