Sunday, March 3, 2013
THERE IS A PLACE on the Babag Mountain Range that have been tingling at the back of my mind for some time ever since I have known of its existence in 2009 through Feleciano Roble. Then on Freedom Climb 2010, I happen to meet five people with hunting rifles along a trail and they were heading to that place. I was totally envious of them.
I have been egging myself to explore that place but each time I entertain thoughts of that it simply gets buried below by my other priorities. I have a day job and I have only three Sundays each month for my family and for my outdoor sorties and lectures which I usually do with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.
That place is simply hidden from your usual view of the landscape if you happen to walk the Napo Trail, the Kahugan Trail, the Babag East Ridge Pass or even from the Babag Ridge itself. Few people go there, even among locals, and it is a wild place, perhaps, the last wild place of the Babag Mountain Range. I will need to be there before it disappears from illegal logging and bush fires.
On January 13, 2012, I decide that this will be the day of visit. I do not know the route in going there but I know it is south of Kahugan. I will have to ask from the residents and, once done, my trail sense would make the best out of everything. Physically, I am out of shape, a condition that have been dictated by the bounties of December parties, but I am fit to meet the challenge.
Tagging along is Ernie Salomon. He have longed to visit this place when he knew also of its existence and he had been pelting me with repetitive questions of when would I decide to explore this place. Today, I will not deny him that chance and he will later do the cooking while I do the thinking once I face the obstacles.
All hikes going to Mount Babag has its place of start at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. On Sundays, when parishioners stream out of the church it is such a colorful and delightful sight. Outside of the church grounds is a streetside market where uplanders sell their vegetables and fruits to the urban dwellers. At the back are small eateries and family businesses that sell grains and day-to-day needs.
I buy a kilo of milled corn to add to my backpack weight which already is crowded with an Apexus tarpaulin sheet, a 25-foot flat rope, cords, extra shirt, my fire kit, tomahawk, machete, extra shirt, camp stove, isobutane can, spoon-fork set, two cook pots, a stainless-steel cup, my EDC kit and a Nalgene bottle full of drinking water.
Ernie may have carried also his gears, especially ropes, but I am pretty sure that he have with him now one-fourth kilo of pork meat and a half-kilo of chopped vegetables of different varieties which he bought from that street market as ingredients for our meal. After a light breakfast of local pasta, we are now ready to start our journey. We leave at 8:00 AM and hop on hired motorcycles for Napo which we reach after ten minutes.
We then follow and hike the Napo Trail which, incidentally, follow the bends and turns of the Sapangdaku Creek. We arrive at Lower Kahugan Spring after thirty minutes and refilled our water bottles. We tarry a while to enjoy the cool ambiance supplied by the shades of fruit-bearing trees. The weather is hot although it had been raining for the past two days.
I have surprised myself by leading a torrid pace from Napo to the watering area but, I believe, the real physical challenge would come ahead. I look at the ascending Kahugan Trail washed by sunlight and dread at its sight, although it rises gently from the creek and most of it are shaded. The sky is a beautiful blue with spots of cumulus clouds floating like soft puffs of cotton.
Gradually, I become aware that I am quite winded this early as the heat bore upon me and I stop at the first shade I found and hide from the sun as well as catching my breath. I need to change pace and tactics to preserve my strength. I carry a good load as well as the excess weights found in my middle torso and thighs. I wear a cycling shorts this time to protect my inner legs from chafing against my Rohan hike pants.
We arrive at the Kahugan community chapel at 9:00 AM and glad to take a rest afforded by shady trees and by long bamboo benches. Also a good time to rehydrate. As we were sitting idly, a local arrive and join us for a chat. He is going to that place where we are also going to collect bamboo poles together with his neighbor. What coincidence and I am now closer to my quest.
All four of us pass by their community and follow a trail towards a thickly-wooded place. We stop to refill at a spring-fed water pipe and I notice that the water is of the finest quality and very cool. The guy told me that this water comes from a source from up a seep across another mountain ridge a kilometer or more away. He introduce himself as Timoteo Gabisan and he is a source of good information.
A mother of one of the recipients of our recent charity climbs chanced upon me and give me three half-ripe soursops. I could not refuse the offer out of local customs but this heavy fruit would surely add to my burgeoning load. Well, I have to treat this fruit as a training weight instead. I still am struggling to reduce my body mass and this is the perfect opportunity to lose some of it. I give my thanks and proceed on.
We cross a tributary of Sapangdaku Creek marked by a big boulder. He said that four foreigners with a guide once walked the creek upstream last year but retraced their route on the same day. Of course, there are four waterfalls downstream from us and one upstream and they were canyoning and I did not know that until Timoteo spoke. He added that an outdoors group tried to find a route from here to the top of the ridge in the ‘90s and in the last decade but failed. They had with them ropes.
Timoteo warned us to be very watchful of plants that stung the skin when accidentally touched and he pointed to a nearby tree whose leaves looked like tobacco. We call this as the alingatong or the stinging tree, a local equivalent of the poison ivy. Alingatongs abound everywhere here and it blended well with the other bushes especially the saplings.
We cross another stream where thick groves of bamboo grow and this is where we are now on our own. Before parting, Timoteo showed me another trail that branch to the left and instructed me that if ever we backtrack we could take that path and it would lead us to Bocawe then on to Napo, Baksan or Babag Ridge, whichever we chose, and then he provided us sturdy staffs to aid us in our journey.
Be reminded that this place is still a dangerous place as it is wild and quite remote and I intentionally withhold the name of this place and designate it instead as the “Valley of Stinging Trees”. There is no such name on any map and it is just a fictitious label to protect any urbanite wishing to visit this place as they may get lost or they may get hurt.
This is a hidden valley choked by indigenous trees and plants that curve inwards into a cul-de-sac. Birds are numerous. You do not see them but you can hear them plainly and that is why this is a favorite hunting ground for Guadalupe and Kalunasan residents. What trails exist have already been obliterated by thick vegetation. Tracking is a skill that is absent to this generation of would-be adventurers but I am fortunate to have been taught by my late grandfather and I will retrieve again this knowledge.
I follow an almost invisible route and I slip and slip again. The soil is loam immersed by rainwater as the thick foliage prevent rapid evaporation. Thin rays of the sun penetrate the ground and it remained wet when everyplace of a kilometer radius is dry. The staff is a worthy weight on my hand as I use it to dig as anchor to help on my ascent.
I trace a set of footprints left by somebody who may have carried weight as the dent on the ground is deep or it may be that the soil is just too soft. It is indeed so soft that I cannot get a toe hold. Everytime I do, it give way. Perhaps, my weight has something to do with that. I am persistent and I perspire a lot. Both body and mind work together. It’s like playing chess and basketball at the same time.
I need to work the ascending route in five-meter bursts and two-minute rests. This reminds me of Ernie’s Trail on the other side of the range but longer and steeper. There are too few hand holds and you have to scrutinize first with which vegetation to hold else it stings at your skin.
We arrive at a rare part where the route becomes horizontal but I spy movement among the grass and see a six-inch part of a tail gradually disappearing. I froze in my tracks when the snake had a light-brown color which, I know, possibly belonged to a Philippine cobra. With my stick, I disturb the grasses to scare it away and alerted Ernie behind me.
The footprints climb again into a very steep field clearing where there were once erect bananas. Trunks of banana along with their frayed leaves are all over the route which hinder your ascents for the trunks would slide down if held as a hand hold and the leaves are not footing friendly. The leaves could also be a possible hiding place of snakes and cobras. I look at these with dismay and rap my staff hard on the dead trunks and leaves to scare away whatever lurking beneath it.
When I got past that field, I got winded. My abdomen sides where hurting from the exertions. Although painful, I welcome it for it is a sign of progress of my war against my weight gain. I look down as Ernie take his turn and followed suit by knocking his stick on the felled bananas. I lend my hand when Ernie reach the ledge of where I stood.
I estimate we are now at the halfway point of this mountainside. Below is the valley of the stinging trees and I look up at this formidable route and, once again, continue with the assault. Five meters on all fours and two minutes recovery over and over again until I see a rare spot between two trees where we could replenish our strength.
I need to have coffee to perk me up and out goes my stove, fuel and cook pot while Ernie boil the water. We shared two cups each from the steaming coffee and how I am glad that something hot keep my sanity. It is 11:30 AM.
The sky darkened and a slight drizzle fell all over us and the mountainside and valley. Good thing it didn’t rain earlier or it would be a very nasty affair and, possibly, would derail this exploration. Providence have provided me good weather and good fortune in meeting Timoteo with his useful conversations. This light rain ended quickly just as it fell five minutes ago.
After a coffee break of fifteen minutes, I continue the ascent and spot a semblance of an abandoned farm field. Purple and white taro and ginger are overwhelmed by wild vegetation and now a trail could be found. It is not so steep anymore but you have to watch where you step else you slip. When I see a line of of Mexican lilac trees and an occasional horse radish, my hopes rise for, I know, there would surely be a farmer’s hut up ahead.
The trail lead into a copse of pomelo trees and onto a hut, now abandoned and disintegrating. A black water pipe passed high among the branches of Mexican lilacs and I follow the pipe’s downward route. I go down another trail and I see the pipe end propped above an empty five-gallon container. This pipe used to provide water for the farmer and his plants but what made him abandon this place is something I cannot comprehend.
We need to prepare our meal but this is not the place. I guess we need to move on and find that elusive ridge, where hints of it are still absent. The trail weave among mango and jackfruit trees and among ferns and wild giant taro. The terrain above are not that challenging anymore but, I just lost trust on my highly-valued Rivers 3514M hiking boots for the debacles I faced earlier.
I strike southeast instead of plunging head-on towards a peak, preferring to follow the contour of the terrain. I consider mountains and peaks as nothing more than just obstacles of a journey and I do not give value to its scaling unlike most people do who says to everyone that they have “conquered” it.
The trail goes to a field of coconut trees and I just follow where common sense would lead me until I come to a ridge and face a crossroads of two branching paths. Across another ridge on my right is a house. I may have to cross a brook to that house to ask for directions and to prepare our meal. It is 1:45 PM when I reach the house and how I am glad to sit again.
The house seem abandoned yet we were famished and proceed to work in the preparation of our meal. I cook the milled corn on my stove while Ernie cook pork adobao and mixed-vegetable soup on his. By 2:30 PM, we have our very late lunch and the homestead owner arrive and provided us bananas that had ripened on its trunk and which taste bittersweet. It is my first time to try a banana which has high citric value and it supplied good electrolytes to my body which I lost through exertions earlier in the day.
After a long conversation with Julio Caburnay, we leave the rest of the uneaten viands and milled corn as well as more than a half-kilo of uncooked milled corn in exchange for the bananas. Julio is another source of good information and he just gave me ten bananas and the weight added to my backpack with which a previous weight I surrendered after a kilo of milled corn got cooked, the rest given away, and the drinking water which I drank.
I lead on and pass by a place called Liboron. It is a saddle that gives me a good view of Sapangdaku Valley, Kalunasan Hills, Metro Cebu, Mt. Babag, Baksan, Lensa and Patay’ng Yuta. A high hill is infront of me but I follow a very narrow trail that traverse by its shoulder. The ground is very soft and many parts of it are disintegrating and falling down a very steep side. One misstep here and you’re done.
I raise a leg over a tree root and I step on a slippery ground and I fall sideways. It is so sudden that I overstretched a leg muscle and so I let myself roll but I still managed a self-arrest procedure that allow me to instantly change position with my head towards from where I fell, legs akimbo and arms spread wide with elbows firmly dug on the very steep hillside. I am about some six meters below the trail.
I loosen a grip to test the stability of my position and it is fine. I move an arm and I am still good so I slowly remove my heavy bag. I push the bag upward but I slid down instead so I reposition myself and strengthen my anchors and tried again. A cramped leg limit my mobility so I try to improvise a bit and drag my heavy body up inch by inch while pushing the heavy bag up. This time I make small but painstaking progress until Ernie is able to grab the bag freeing me of that burden.
I rest for about two minutes to recover my wits then I continue on this narrow path with a slight limp. I come upon a wide meadow where there are coconut trees. Coconut husks and shells are scattered all around while a pointed steel husker is standing dangerously upward. This is a strange place and I remembered that this is the place that Timoteo have pointed to me where they source their drinking water. I saw the rock with a crack that he described where water seeped.
I could feel that this used to be a campsite of a different kind of army. It is almost inaccessible save for that narrow (and dangerous) trail but it is a good camping site, nevertheless. I proceed on and follow again that slender route that pass by a crooked coconut tree. Then I see a clearing and it is a road that has just been opened. Concrete foundations for steel pylons are being constructed on the ridges to support electrical-power grid lines coming from Toledo City.
I also heard that there is a trail on this ridge called Tagaytay but I did not know that this trail is slowly vanishing to give way to earth-moving machines. I see a very beautiful trail where the road works ended and I have misgivings why I didn’t explore this path when I had the chance for, very soon, it will disappear to this road which, I believe, start from Bocawe.
The trail is wide and quite stable and it is marked by construction sites every 100 meters. It goes down to the Napo Trail but I believe that there is a path following the downward ridge to the main community of Napo. I will be back for sure taking this path – reverse – to Liboron then to the Valley of Stinging Trees on another route. We arrive at 5:30 PM and we transfer to Guadalupe on board a motorcycle. We celebrate our feat by finishing three big bottles of San Miguel Beer at the Red Hours Convenience Store.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer