Sunday, April 19, 2015
IT IS A WARM SUNNY SUNDAY today, August 24, 2014. The fog of the early morning blended with the reddish-brown smoke of burning wood made into charcoal creating an unworldly haze skimming above the Sapangdaku Creek. We just left Napo at 07:45 and I am leading thirteen others on a hard-packed trail that follow the stream.
Feathery clouds displayed a rainbowish spectre in the east. It tells something but I am not a weather forecaster and I focus my observations on the ground and the moisture on the leaves instead. The vegetation are in bloom and the stream is laughing at the fulness of its racing water. I have a plan today. I will go to the Babag Mountain Range, climb Tagaytay Ridge, cross a saddle and explore a route to Lanipao. In one day.
My chest, which had been injured recently, begins to suck in oxygen full as my exertions begins to go full tilt as the terrain starts to get rolling. I felt that walking was not enough. I decide to run on short stretches of ascending trail. My burst of speed had widened the distance between me and my five guests.
Behind them, also in a widening distance, are the stripe of tigers of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild like Jhurds, Jerome, Nelson, Ernie, Dominik, Eli, Justin and Boy O. The first rest stop is at the Lower Kahugan Spring. I begin to top off my bottle from the natural spring when I arrived and only saw Mark, Marisol, Marimar, Junrick and Jayr coming after me.
I begin to worry on the rest. They might break off the main route and assume that I am taking Manggapares Trail directly. Immediately, I set out from Lower Kahugan Spring and sprinted uphill to intercept them. Good thing that they were walking as if they were “strolling in Plaza Independencia under a pale moonlight”. Feeling safe with that, we resumed our foot journey.
The running had expanded my lungs back and the pain had gone away. I am beginning to feel better. I do not even notice anymore the weight of the Silangan Predator Z on my back although the AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife craved for my attention as the PVC sheath slaps, time and time again, against my left leg. I rub and cajole the knife handle when I feel I like it.
I put on my camouflaged mesh shawl when the sun begins to go high as I start the ascending hike of Kahugan Trail. I just walk slow to accommodate the pace of my trail companions. The long line lengthened. The heat of the day and the weight of the backpacks begins to be felt on the rest. The stoutest walkers begins to lag.
This would be the perfect time to show people of the hidden waterfalls of Kahugan. The first group, which consists of the guests and Justin, arrive first at where I stood and I showed them the path down to Busay Lut-od Falls. They could take their fill of the beauty of nature down there while I would wait for the rest of the Camp Red bushmen from above.
Just when the first group climbed up from the waterfalls, the second group arrived winded. The next rest stop would not be far ahead and we will arrive there soon. By now, the route is quite shady and breezy and everybody’s facial appearance returned almost to normal. We arrive at 09:20 and take a rest among bamboo benches. It is a good time to drink water and to open up spirited conversations, lifting up morale.
We go down a forested enclave and cross a crystal-clear stream. We are now near the headwaters of the Sapangdaku Creek but we opt to take a branch of a trail and start to climb Tagaytay Ridge. This is a reverse route of the one I have taken last July 13, 2014 (NBT 81: Exploration Gallery) and would be slightly steep but the shady trees are very welcome since it will shield us from the heat of the day. As we ascend, Jhurds and I forage tinder.
We reach our meal stop at 10:35 and, immediately, the minions at Camp Red began to work on the fire, the coffee, the meat and the rest of the food ingredients. The guests observe first and, when they begin to feel the hang of things, by initiative and with willingness to learn, joined in the fray. Justin worked on a fire with a ferro rod after considering several tinder while Dom and Nelson do the same thing on another fire. A pot of water is boiled and another pot of rice is cooked using the AJF Trivets.
Ernie, Jhurds and Boy O begins to slice the meat and vegetables as the first cups of steaming coffee are being sipped of their goodness. Hot coffee is always superb and had always been a bushman’s companion, no matter what form it is served. Eli, Nelson and I scour for firewood as the famous Camp Red blades begins to appear. The guests eagerly chop firewood with the knives under tests like the prototype Seseblades Combat Bushcraft and the AJF Puygo.
I take time to test the Trailhawk Cleaver that I designed and which was commissioned at the Knifemaker of Mandaue City under the sponsorship of Jerome. The cleaver is made from a 1095 steel with a striped ebony handle and a matching wooden sheath. I am satisfied of the result and I am greatly indebted to Jerome for this. He is a good benefactor, not just to me, but also to everyone else at Camp Red.
When Camp Red prepares its food, it is always a feast. Trust that to Ernie, Jhurds and Dominik. Today we have Bicol Express (a pepper-based soup cooked in coconut milk), pork kilawin (medium rare grilled pork sliced and mixed with spiced vinegar and soy sauce) and sweetened raw cucumber. We finally have our lunch after a prayer before meals lead by Marisol. We shared the meal to our host, Vicente Bonghanoy, and to his nephews.
It was a very filling meal worthy of mention in successive gatherings in the future. Then the young coconuts came, carried by Vicente’s nephews. Everyone is advised to open their own coconuts, self-service, with the knives offered for use. To provide quality time, Justin and Eli demonstrated to the guests, fire-making with ferro rods and flint and steel on different tinder like natural fiber, chaga, cotton gel and charclothe.
When my AJF Gahum, the Trailhawk Cleaver and my William Rodgers bushcraft knife are pierced on a log, everyone with worthy and helpful knives, take the cue. Suddenly a spine of knives erupted from the back of the log in less than 30 seconds. Another great knife porn of local, branded and unusual blades are on display, which is now part and parcel of every Camp Red activity. When you are part of this, your warrior pride just whips off from your breast.
When 13:35 came, we ask leave from our host and tackle the trail towards the top of Tagaytay Ridge. The route is surprisingly easy, following along the contours instead of engaging it. It is also very shady, the noontime sun did not bother us below the foliage. I arrive at a saddle and walk a few meters to find the trail which I had noted in the past with several passing through here.
I stood before it and it looked very formidable. The route curved and curled along the side of the mountain until it buried itself into the forest below. I may need a walking staff for this stretch. My feet are now beginning to suffer inside the close confines of my shoes. Pain would intensify when it is downhill. On this downhill route, hell would surely be felt by the toes. The stick will lessen the pain when I grip onto it to stave off gravity.
It is an unknown route to me, a route used by locals, but I will try to unlock the secrets of its existence. I believe the route would sire many branches the moment I reach the lower levels. I will again test my traditional navigation skills for this afternoon of shifting surprises. Everyone knows that we are now in exploration mode and they saw a good challenge coming but very wary of the unknown.
Some terrain (and plants) are slightly similar to those of the No-Santol-Tree Trail in Kalunasan, marked by some very narrow paths, almost obscured by grass, and soft loamy ground that gave in to weight. The upper levels are used for pasture lands as evidenced by cattle droppings and places where cattle are kept during night, especially underneath an old mango tree, of which trunk cannot be hugged by four people.
Blending in amongst vegetation is an abandoned shed. The cant of the trail is tremendous and puts pressure on my toes as I try to get a good grip on the ground aided with the staff. The staff is most helpful as it would arrest my downward acceleration, preventing misplacement of a foot and untoward injury. Behind me are the rest who are in a more difficult bind than me, grabbing handholds, trying to defeat gravity.
I wait for them on a rare flat ground where there is a cornerstone beneath a Java plum tree (Local name: lomboy, duhat). There are also three mango trees that grow in a line and a grove of Chinese bamboos. I noticed tamarind trees along the way. Tamarind trees are used by the older ones to mark a route and I used the trees as landmarks during my past explorations of Baksan, Buhisan, Kalunasan, Arkos, Banika and Patay’ng Yuta.
I push on until I reach a pygmy forest of indigenous trees. This forest is still young. It may be on private land since I do not see evidence of indiscriminate cutting. The path is now pronounced and hard packed, indicating that it had been used extensively, perhaps by cattle and by farmers. I finally met the first of the many branches of the trail that had worried me back on the ridge. Time to do some reconnoitering.
I place my staff to block the left branch of the trail and slip off my backpack. I take the right fork and half-trot downward. The path is in excellent condition but it goes abruptly down to lower ground, most probably to Lanipao Creek. I backtrack and engage the other fork. The route is on rolling terrain. It follows a long ridge. I choose this route over the other and double back to tell the others of my discovery.
We proceed on and pass by a goat shed. There are no goats kept yet but the maker of this shed uses the fork of branches to secure the awning to the mango tree. Quite brainy. A good chap. A sample of local bushcraft which I showed to the guests and to the bushmen. The principles of “blend, adapt and improvise” are used to the hilt. It is woodlore at its best!
I am faced again by three trails: left, middle and right. I opt to scout the right first and, just like the previous search, it probably will go down to Lanipao Creek, although the trail is very inviting. I did not consider the left branch and I push on in the middle but I left three knife hacks on a tree should I tackle this route from the ground up.
The trail pass by a goat shed which has goats in it. I cross the small open ground and proceed down to the rest of the trail. I ignored trails left and right and follow the contour of the ridge until I met a dead end. The trail is blocked by tree nurseries. Although the owners are kind enough to allow us to pass through their properties but that only meant we cannot proceed on our own at another point in time at this same route.
It is an easy invitation and would end our activity in a much easier way but I have other things in mind. I wanted to go back to this beautiful route and I want to go back unimpeded without passing through public properties. I explained my intent to my companions and thanked the owners of their kind gestures. I backtracked instead to higher ground while I keep the rest to stay until I gave a signal.
I found the place where there is a fork. I take off my backpack and I began exploring an almost unused path. Paths like these are hard to find without a trained eye. The path followed the contours easily until I reach a ground blackened by charcoal. The ground begins to go downward but there is a slight parting among thick vegetation and, beyond the greens, I see a glimpse of the presence of a wide hard-packed trail!
I hurriedly returned for my backpack on the trail fork and told them of my find. Again, I am onto the trail leading them until I reach a wide path. From hereon, the stream would just be up ahead. At least, I have the freedom to go as I wish without having to secure permission from people to pass through their properties. Today, I had accomplished a lot. I could return again here in another time and I would now know where I am going.
Besides, there are trails worth looking into. But, honestly, the route from Lanipao to Tagaytay Ridge would be very challenging and difficult which I do not have the temerity to tackle yet. Yes, the reverse might still be out of the question but, if the time is right, I would do that. Even alone.
The trail was unnamed and there was no one to ask from, for I saw no people on our downward walk. For purposes of documentation, being the one who initiated this exploratory hike, this privilege of naming places should be mine alone and, placing this in a proper perspective, I hereby name this as the Lanipao Ridge Trail.
Finally, we reach the community of Lanipao after crossing the stream and reward ourselves with cold soda drinks from a small store. It is 16:10. Napo is just a kilometer ahead but we would be walking on a road and, after that, more cold drinks at Red Hours.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer.