Sunday, August 24, 2014
I TAKE OFF FROM home at 05:00 for the church in Guadalupe. Today, January 5, 2014, is the start of another season of my outdoor pursuits and of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. The Guild is the only one of its kind in Cebu, in Visayas and in the Philippines. Nowhere else would you find a local outdoors club here whose main existence is primarily focused on primitive-living techniques and wilderness survival skills.
The weather is now colder but it came late. I expected it in December but it never came and it is so unusual. Credit that to climate change. A good scenario to prepare for. I have prepared for any SHTF situation and so do the rest of Camp Red. That gives us advantage over the rest because we are regularly out there to hone our skills while all are beholden to their couch and the electric outlet. Although some come to the mountains, they do nothing but take pictures, kill time and feel good. That’s all. Nada!
Today I will tackle again Manggapares Trail but I will switch to the dangerous Liboron Trail to reach Babag Ridge instead. I came here last week with four others but we did not pass this route and I hope we will finish this activity today before dusk. Coming again with me is Dominic Sepe; and first time for both Aljew Frasco and Christopher Maru. We all leave Guadalupe at 07:00 under a slight drizzle for the trailhead at Napo after securing the ingredients for our noontime meal which we will cook along the route.
I am trying out a newly-bought Blackhawk! Warrior Wear Tactical Pants. It is made of canvas cloth and is well suited for urban use but it might be good to test it on difficult terrain. Taking a cue from last week’s experience with heat, I will don my South African veldt hat because of its wide stiff brim to shield me from the sun and its meshed structure to let air through. I wear my old Rivers 3514M Hike Boots over a newer Columbia. Although the new one gives good traction, the older one is comfortable. I will use my experience instead to compensate what it lacked.
By 07:30, we are now at the branch of the Napo Trail where a connecting route to Manggapares Trail starts. I open carry my big AJF Gahum knife by my side. So is Aljew with his Sycko 911, Christopher with his older AJF prototype and Dominic with his Seseblade NCO knife. It is all uphill now but, thankfully, the weather seem mild. Might be because we start early. The Blackhawk! pants seem to be a drag as I struggle with my breath trying to keep up with the pace that the three had imposed behind me. Nevertheless, we reach the first of a chain of steel power pylons planted above Tagaytay Ridge and I pause for timeout.
I carried two liters of water and that is two kilos. I am not known to use a lot of water to quench thirst but I insist to carry an extra. Another cargo I have is a kilo of rice, fire kit, first aid kit and trauma kit, two cook pots, a skillet, a stainless-steel cup, spoon-fork-knife set, a spare shirt, a kilo of vegetables, a Victorinox SAK Trailmaster, a steel carabiner, a LED torch and a William Rodgers bushcraft knife standing guard above the Sandugo Khumbu 40 liter backpack. This is just routine load yet it is like lead today. I sip a small amount of water hoping that this lessens the weight.
The sun comes out of the clouds but the cool breeze, robust and strong, coax our determination to pursue the upward route until we reach the second steel tower. Along the way, I forage wild pepper leaves to add to our vegetables and show them edible mushrooms that grow on dead wood and pluck out some to make our soon-to-be cooked meal sumptuous. We came to a wide saddle that was converted into a camp by firewood gatherers. It has bamboos and purple taros on each side of the saddle where ravines are located, a sure sign that water could be sourced somewhere along the length of each.
The third tower seems hard to tackle and I begin to notice that my heavy pair of pants is chafing on my inner thighs. The action of walking on steep terrain had caused creases between crotch and knees and these keep on rubbing the skin which is now getting sore. I decide to change gait, if applicable, towards the fourth tower and the unfinished fifth tower. Beyond it are the sixth and seventh steel behemoths but I opt to switch route for Liboron Trail instead with dread.
In my first pass there last year (NBT 57: The Last Wild Place), I fell on a spot where soft ground gave way to my weight and I rolled six meters down. My timely presence of mind prevented my downward plunge with a self-arrest procedure. It was a close call that I do not want to repeat on myself and on my trail mates. I warn them of the trail condition and of my fall before we proceed. This is a slightly better option though than following the back of an exposed ridge, skipping around Mount Liboron, and finding a long-lost trail to a saddle. I do not want to waste time again by blazing a trail.
We stick to the old trail, almost missing it, and come upon a secret meadow where there are lots of coconuts of whose fruits are husked by an upright steel rod pointing to the heavens. It would have been a perfect campsite if there would have been a water source. We did not stay long and follow the path and, when I step over a tree trunk, the ground give way. Deja vu! I almost fell, of all places, on the same spot but on the other side of the trunk! Just when I am being careful. A closer close call.
We reach the saddle and climb up a hill and down into a pass choked by spiny bamboos, that sway and creak to the ever-present breeze. We climb up a steep ground where there is a big mango tree, cross a brook, climb again a steep ground and reach the home of Julio Caburnay and his family at 11:00. On this spot, we will prepare our meal for lunch. But we will boil water first for coffee. This is essential in recouping lost energy. I request Julio of four young coconuts which we will consume as dessert later.
Dom and I begin slicing the vegetables while Aljew and Christopher gather firewood and set up a hearth to cook rice. I soak the mushrooms in water and give instructions to Dom on the finer points of cooking mixed vegetables. We did eat a sumptuous meal of mixed vegetables with mushrooms done without monosodium glutamate. While most wanted an easy way out of their cooking by using MSG or of those “magic mixes”, the Camp Red way is just using the right frame of mind to achieve taste. I give a kilo of rice to Julio before leaving for higher ground at 13:30.
We pause to savor the view above the Caburnay homestead. It is just too awesome and I begin to entertain to set up an “outdoors education center” here. Just like the Roble homestead at Kahugan, the Caburnays could provide coconuts and it would provide them some form of livelihood catering to hikers apart from their farming. When we are now amongst thick vegetation, I hear the distant sound of small engines, unmistakably that of racing motorcycles.
I hasten my pace just in time to see the last two colorful riders astride their Enduro bikes on a trail I hold dear. Julio talked to me last year about motocross riders passing by here and I find it unbelievable until I saw it today. Although they have all the right to be here as much as I do but they leave tire tracks and deep furrows on the path. This is a foot path above Babag Ridge and some people abuse that by using racing motorcycles here and that is why some property owners decide to close some places with fences where this beautiful trail used to thread that greatly altered the route.
A lot of hikers, unable to find their way in the past because of these fences, got discouraged and opt to set up camping sites at a peak above the old Swiss Chalet Restaurant. This trail is really the old Babag Trail that tiptoe its way from Garahe in the north to Bocawe in the south, even farther up to the Mananga River. I used to walk this trail alone in a day in the early to middle ‘90s starting from Buhisan to Upper Busay when preparing myself for big climbs outside Cebu. I thought this trail had been made into a road until I rediscovered it last year that it was not.
Altogether, these fences might have caused a boon to conventional hikers, yet it helped to my own cause, although I will have to grudgingly share this trail to off-road riders. Babag Trail is home to the stoutest poles of crawling bamboos (Local name: bokawe) and rattan palms. These had been fixtures here since I first came here in 1993. This is also home to other indigenous species and is a favorite roosting ground of the rare black shama Local: siloy). The vegetation on both sides of the ridge are thick and I believed that the few outsiders who visit here the better would its condition be. I would utilize the trail and the whole route, for that matter, as a training ground for bushmen.
Babag Ridge had been used by the Japanese Imperial Army during their last stand in Cebu and I showed Aljew, Christopher and Dominic of the places where they used to camp. They converge around cave openings which they developed into a complex system of tunnels that dig into the gamuts of the Babag Mountain Range. I take out my compass to find the north when I see five trees that fell down during Typhoon Yolanda. The trees all fell in one direction – to the east – and the wind that caused it came from the west. This wind is called by the oldtimers as “badlong” and they describe it as the wind that silence all winds.
We reach the part of the trail where it is off limits forever by fences. An alternate route had been made or been developed to through many years of use by locals and we follow it down a dry gully where the route climb up again for the high ground. Along this is the track left by the motorcycles that dislodge soil, rock and debris causing the walking slippery on an almost toothless sole like my Rivers shoes. We reach a part where the ridge is thinnest and this is where the local guerrillas had used as lookout point in World War 2. From here they could observe enemy movement below and send signals to Cantipla, where it is relayed to the headquarters at Tabunan.
We leave at 14:30 after a good rest and go to the trailhead down to Kahugan. We pass by Mount Babag and follow the long trail down, most of it loose soil and some steep. Uncomfortably steep for my soles to grip on but I use both hands to grab for balance and to arrest myself against the pull of gravity. Vision is good and no long shadows to hinder judgment. I walk carefully, sometimes doing a reverse walk down when doing a normal advance seems impossible. I persevered until I reach the Roble homestead and I need a rest especially when one knee goes numb.
Aljew take off his shoes and socks to let his feet breathe after that pounding caused by that difficult downward route. We boil water for tea to replenish our energy as the meal we had eaten during lunch had, somehow, been used up by walking on difficult terrain. It is 15:15 and we could finish this day at 16:00 if we like to but we have a lot of time so we rest long at the Robles. After that, we walk some more downhill stretch until we reach the Sapangdaku Creek and cross it for the trail going to Napo, passing by the route that we used in the morning.
It was a “rosary loop” encrusted with “mysteries” with Napo as the “cross”. Unfortunately, this will be for Camp Red use only. It will remain a mystery to others though. No waypoints would be uploaded in my Wikiloc account although it is openly shared and documented in this blog for your consumption. For that matter, only the bold begets this treasure. If you are bold enough, possessed with a good dose of wit and cunning, you may win this prize and my respect.
Godspeed to you whoever you may be!
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer