Tuesday, September 9, 2014


I AM ONTO THE FIRST of the many towers located over Tagaytay Ridge of the Babag Mountain Range today, January 26, 2014.  I am with Aljew Frasco and Christopher Maru and we take rest underneath it.  We are training for a climb of Mount Pangasugan which we will take on the last weekend of March.  It is my fifth time here and, for both Aljew and Christopher, their second.

The weather is mild but without the gentle breeze the last time around (NBT 71: Brave New Year).  But it is colder today.  My exhaled breath fogged as I chugged up the route to the lower ridge which I thought, at first, was smoke coming from Aljew’s cigarette.  I take a swallow from my water bottle, quite confident of my two liters I carried.  Up ahead, are five more towers and a dangerous hidden trail.

We pass by a lone local with a dog as we were going up to the second tower.  The sun is rising and give us warmth making us sweat.  We go down a saddle and up again to a third tower.  We take another rest underneath a Mexican lilac tree (Local name: madre de cacao, kakawate) and talk about guns and knives.  We all open carry our knives hanging by our sides. 

The Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are quite proud of their blades and espouses the open-carrying of knives while outdoors.  We do this to encourage other outdoorsmen that it is alright as long as you observe safety carriage and know the only Philippine law governing the possession and carrying of knives – Batas Pambansa Bilang 6, from which you will also base your rights. 

My AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife on my side is a wonderful sight to behold and I am proud of that.  Someday, it may wear a beautiful leather sheath but, for now, it may have to do with plastic.  The combination of polished rosewood (Local: narra) and hambabawod (sp. Neonauclia formicaria) scales gives the knife a character of its own aside from its long length.  It complements perfectly my persona.

We climb up at the place where the fourth tower is found, the lone local we met behind the trail had overtaken us and it might be good to engage in a conversation with him.  He introduce himself as Vicente Bonghanoy and his family owns all the land on Tagaytay Ridge between Sapangdaku Creek and Lanipao Creek.  He is a good source of information and I am happy to have talked with him. 

We part ways with him as he is going up the ridge while we take a different route towards Bocawe.  I follow a thin path down the ridge where another path breaks off from it.  This path is called Liboron Trail and it is a dangerous trail as the ground is soft and it is not wide.  Aside that, the vegetation is thick, hiding a very steep hillside.  When I passed by here the first time (NBT 57: The Last Wild Place), I fell for about six meters and almost repeated it on the same spot three weeks ago (NBT 71: Brave New Year).

When I am about to take on Liboron Trail, I see a common rat snake blocking it.  It is brown colored and it has just recently shed off its skin by the looks of its shiny scales with a rainbow sheen.  So it is starving then.  I approach it slowly until I am one-and-a-half meters close.  It is about three-and-a-half feet in length and about more than an inch wide.  It is not poisonous but I am alert just the same.  I show it to Aljew and Christopher before I take a picture.

I stomp a foot and the snake made a U-turn and hurriedly slither down the hillside to keep as much distance away from us.  I advise Aljew and Christopher not to lower their guards yet as snakes are known to travel in pairs.  That goes also with centipedes.  I push on, taking notice of the details of the trail and the vegetation beside it.  I stoop, once in a while, to touch the surfaces of stones, showing Aljew and Christopher my habits.

I see a crop of bird feathers in the middle of the trail but there is no blood on it nor on the ground so it must have been caught live from another area by a hunter or a predator and it is important that Aljew and Christopher know this.  You have to re-create and tell a story on the circumstances found on any object or anything that do not fall into place based on your observation.  That is the essence of tracking; of Trailcraft.

We arrive at a hidden meadow planted with coconut trees.  I see remains of a small fire.  The ashes are still intact and not scattered by breeze nor trodden by insects.  I touch it lightly with my open palm and I could ascertain that it is just hours old.  The ashes are not warm but, just the same, I could feel minute warmth sucked by my skin.  Whoever made this fire, must have boiled himself or herself water for coffee since he/she did not use a lot of firewood.     

We move on and I watch out the spot where I fell.  A trunk of a jackfruit tree partly blocked it and you have to raise your foot high to go over the next ground which is kind of soft but, this time, I am more careful and concentrate my attention on it instead of catching details of the next fifteen meters ahead.  I paused and looked at the steepness of the terrain and I shudder at the memory of my fall which I halted with a self-arrest procedure based purely on common sense.

We arrive at a saddle and rest for a while to show Aljew the previous route I made through thick  jungle (NBT 70: Manggapares Trail) on the last Sunday of December 2013.  Infront of us is a lone mango guarding the approach of a hill.  We climb that path onto a field of razor grass.  When we are in the midst of it, a big owl burst from the grass five meters away from us.  It flew across us then it circled above twice before diving towards a safe place.

I was shocked at its sudden appearance that I failed to take a photo of it while it was very near.  I did take a shot but it was already far and just a speck on the camera screen.  I cannot forget the owl’s face as it stared at me while it took its sudden flight.  I felt a sort of  kinship with it.  The grass owl (sp. Tytus liberimus) are now a vulnerable species and its habitat are now threatened by human activity and there are now few of this in the wild since it is hunted by wildlife collectors.

Aljew was greatly delighted at the unexpected surprises along this trail and he hoped to chance more of these wild creatures here in the Babag Mountain Range.  I need to find where it roosted among the grass so we covered a wide circle going in a spiral pattern when we found it.  The flattened grass is still warm and a tiny feather is snagged on a grass leaf.  It is good to know where it stayed.

We arrive at the place of Julio Caburnay at exactly 11:00.  The place is abandoned.  I looked for him and I found him on a far field and asked permission to stay at his place.  Upon my signal, Aljew and Christopher foraged firewood and kindling and start making a fire.  I intentionally leave my butane stove at home and live off the land today with food cooked by firewood.  We boil water and make coffee.  Stronger coffee, I mean.

Then we retrieve rice and raw vegetables from our bags along with our cooking pots.  We had bought purple yam, red squash, sponge gourd, eggplant, gumbo, green pepper, bell pepper, onion, garlic, upland swamp radish and jute leaves from the streetside market in Guadalupe.  I did not buy some pork meat or dried fish but would use instead the wood mushrooms (Local: kwakdok) that I foraged at Tagaytay Ridge as the flavoring.

The rice and and the mushroom-flavored vegetables are cooked on pots suspended over a blazing fire.  The thick vegetable soup was done with just salt and a spicy powder and it tasted alright.  We all take several refills until we were all filled up.  I leave a kilo of uncooked rice to Julio as well as three sachets of coffee and ten pieces of bread.  We leave at 13:35 for Babag Ridge.

The rest of the trail is thickly vegetated going upwards.  The thickest poles of the crawling bamboo (Local: bokawe) are still found here, sometimes crossing the trail at some point.  I used my AJF Gahum here to cut several red cane grass (Local: bugang) blocking the way.  This is a beautiful trail that connect to an equally impressive Babag Trail.  I do not encounter an off-road biker this time nor I found recent traces of them which is good.  It means, for a good three weeks, wildlife and plant had not been stressed by their noisy and smoky passing.             

A lot of debris and some broken branches had cluttered the trail which I had not noticed the last time but quite perfect if it is just left alone since it will block access on those absent Enduros.  We walk over the ridge trail that goes on a horseshoe bend, passing by above Buwabog and then passing by a small cave that is covered with small logs until I reach a clearing overlooking the Bonbon River Valley.  I mark the connecting trail with my own style of three knife hacks on a mahogany tree and continue on.

We follow the route down to groves of spiny bamboo (Local: kagingkingon) but very wary of the barbed wire fence running along the length of the path.  It crosses a dry stream and climb again until we reach a rarely-used road of what used to be part of the Babag Trail.  We rest inside a fenced property whose gates are opened at this hour.  I could see simultaneously both the lowlands and coastline on the east and the central valley and highlands west.  We stayed for about fifteen minutes.

We reach the vicinity of the towers of Mount Babag and pursue our final journey down the ridge.  We pass by six hikers resting on benches and we startled them with our presence, especially when they noticed knives hanging openly by our sides.  They must have thought us as lawless elements judging by their startled expressions but we ignored them.  We knew better and people with sense ought not to roam mountains without a very important survival tool.

The trail conditions are now better than the last time we go down here or it could be that I wear my Columbia Coremic Ridge 2 shoes.  It is an all downhill route and I feel my knees begin to shake.  I have not had this feeling before but, today, I sense that age has finally come knocking.  Would this condition shorten my time in the mountains or would it limit my presence here to just a few sorties?  I do not know it yet, but that question is still confined to my Creator. 

I notice something wrong in my downward journey.  There are different shoe prints going down and not the other way if I would base my assumption of the six hikers I saw earlier.  Then there must be other hikers just ahead of us as the prints are very fresh?  When I arrive at the Roble homestead, that question is answered.  They belong to the group of Maria Mahinay, Neil Mabini and Jodel Seville, who all were with me recently in a reverse trek to Osmeña Peak.  Their group today number around fifteen.

We take a rest on an empty bench and another two hikers arrive coming from Sapangdaku Creek.  I am not the only one who felt an unsteady pair of knees.  Aljew also felt his quaver.  We remedy this by drinking coconut water; a natural electrolyte.  We stayed for a few more minutes even when all had left.  I presume the group of Maria will take the route passing by a small community, so I take the other route, fondly called as the “Padidit Trail”.

On that route, I see traces of many people passing here instead.  I see many branches broken, the result of inexperienced people walking on difficult terrain or wearing the wrong kind of footwear.  The trail is cluttered with traces of people slipping down and I show it to Aljew and Christopher and both are grinning at what they saw.  Obviously, Maria had played a joke on her group and amused herself when people stumble and slip.

My knees are in pain but my steely resolve to finish this trek is always a great consideration.  My gait betray the pain and I control the pace to lessen its intensity.  We arrive at Napo at 16:30 but Aljew’s pick up is parked at Arko so I have to walk almost a half kilometer of uphill road to reach the site.  It is good to sit down again.  Better still, Aljew treat me and Christopher to a sumptuous dinner and a cold bottle of beer at AA Barbecue Grill in Guadalupe.

                                                                                        Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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