Friday, July 15, 2016

MAN-SIZED HIKE XVI: Gaas to Danasan

AFTER ACCOMPLISHING FIFTY PERCENT of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT last May 2015, the Exploration Team prepares to tackle the second half by taking on the first of the last four parts, which is Segment IV. The route that Segment IV will follow, will be from Mount Manunggal, Balamban, flowing north to Caurasan, Carmen. It will pass by the mountain ranges of Cebu's Midnorth Area and would be one of the hardest yet of the eight segments allotted to the Cebu Highlands Trail Project.

The CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT is a personal undertaking that had has as its beginnings from the passion of hiking and camping among mountains. I realized that the island of Cebu can be walked along its most rugged spine from north to south or reverse. It only takes a steely determination to achieve this to offset what I lacked in funds and sponsors. Later on, people began to appreciate how this project will benefit Cebu and its people. Patterned after the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail of the USA, it will be an attraction soon for foreign and local tourists when completed.

The Exploration Team that I organized is not at its peak for Segment IV and I have only Justin Apurado to accompany me. I do not know how we both would achieve Segment IV but we will follow things according to plan. We will be on a wide stretch of country where, many years ago – and still is – considered too dangerous for mainstream outdoor activities. We do not have the benefit of a guide nor of a local who may well act as liaison. This would be exploration at its best, travelling by traditional means, aided only by a compass and by printed versions of small maps from a website.

I am pressuring myself to end the exploration phase of this ambitious project in 2016 and make the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL available to the public by 2017. I have done this almost singlehandedly and I am determined to finish this to the end even if I am left with rags to wear. What you do not know is that I will leave a legacy of dots in a box – a template – so others who will follow after me would refine the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL into a first-class long trail that would attract international backpackers and encourage local ones to enjoy their own mountains.

Today, October 22, 2015, is the day when Segment IV will finally be walked through. I and Justin had prepared well our stamina, including the basic items that the Team needs. This Team, to include reserves Jonathan Apurado and Jovahn Ybañez, is better prepared and organized than the previous ones I had led so there would be no more waste of time. The sacrifices and preparations during our training had worked so well during Segment III and Segment V where the Team had shaved a day each from its original schedules.

I will lead again my Team into places where many mainstream outdoors people have not been into before. There is more to Cebu and adventure can be most enjoyed here horizontally instead of vertical ascents. This is a four-day hike that will start from the Transcentral Highway in Balamban and, hopefully, would end at Carmen. I will follow a hypothetical route that will surely pass into Danao City and Carmen and, probably, might stray into either Cebu City, Asturias, Compostela or maybe in Tuburan.

After waking up at 04:00, I walk out of my house an hour later to the old Compania Maritima, across the Cebu City Hall, which has been converted into a terminal for passenger vans for hire, and waited for Justin. Confused with their travel schedules, we transferred to another terminal at the Cebu Business Park where we were able to depart at around 06:40.

As in every organized explorations, there is the Base Support Team. It will monitor our progress and will give weather updates to us and then informs the outdoors community in Facebook. Chad Bacolod, a fine communicator from Ham Radio Cebu, will man the desk. We will “ride” on the frequency of the Central Cebu Rescue Emergency Team (CCRET) of Danao City. Another crew, Jhurds Neo, of the Camp Red and Bushcraft and Survival Guild, will be alternate on communications and would be mobilized when in emergencies.

This Team, will carry a banner that describes our activity as well as the logos and names of sponsors. These are GV Hotels, Silangan Outdoor Equipment, Titay’s Lilo-an Rosquillos and Native Delicacies, Tactical Security Agency, Jonathan Blanes, Glen Domingo, Alan Poole, Alvin John Osmeña, Aljew Frasco, Boy Toledo and Glenn Pestaño. Also included are entities who contribute to the Team by other means like Camp Red, Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines, Ham Radio Cebu, Drinox's Kitchen, Quijano Family, PAC Outdoor Gear, the Philippine Mountaineering Blog and the Warrior Pilgrimage Blog.

We are proudly wearing the team uniform jerseys provided for by Silangan with the name of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT emblazoned on the front. Silangan Outdoor Equipment is my official outfitter since I endorse their products through my Warrior Pilgrimage Blog and in fora where the outdoors community interact. I am wearing their Greyman Hiking Pants and are bringing also their blue-colored side pouch and their second generation hammock. Likewise, I will be using a new pair of Merrell Geomorph hike shoes that Mr. Frasco had provided me.

Aside that, the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT is officially sanctioned by the Cebu Provincial Government as a legitimate outdoor activity that would help them identify places where adventure tourism would be developed on the remote mountain areas of the island. This, after my meeting with the Honorable Grecilda Sanchez, board member representing the Third District, and Ms. Mary Grace Paulino, the provincial tourism officer.

The following are the narrative of events in chronological order that tell the whole picture of SEGMENT IV-A, CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT:

DAY 1 – October 22, 2015

  • Leave the Ayala Terminal at 06:40 by passenger van bound for Gaas, Balamban. We were delayed departure by two hours due to confusing travel schedule at the Compania Maritima terminal.
  • Arrive at the corner of Gaas-Sunog Road at 08:00
  • Start of first day hike. Leave road corner at 08:15 for the village of Sunog, Balamban by an alternately paved and unpaved road. Pace: Moderate to fast. Weather: Sunny but cool.
  • Passed by vicinity of Mount Manunggal at 10:00.
  • Arrive at the outskirts of Sunog at 10:25. Change original plan by taking on a newly-created road going to the village of Matun-og. Pace: Slow to moderate. Weather: Partly cloudy and sunny and very warm.
  • Stop at 11:45 for noon break just below the shoulder of Matun-og Peak. Boiled water for coffee and subsist on rosquillos and dehydrated fruit.
  • Resume hike at 13:00 and proceed to the village of Matun-og. Pace: Slow to moderate. Weather: Partly cloudy and sunny and very warm.
  • Arrive at the outskirts of the village of Matun-og at 13:55 and backtracked to the unpaved road that would lead to the next village of Cabasiangan. Pace: Slow to moderate. Weather: Sunny and very warm.
  • Stop by a store on the vicinity of the village of Cabasiangan at 15:45 to rest and rehydrate.
  • Resume walk at 15:50. Pace: Moderate to fast. Weather: Sunny and warm.
  • Arrive at the village center of Cabasiangan at 16:30. Make courtesy call to village officials and ask permission to spend night at their multi-purpose building. Village officials who were under the influence of liquor subjected us to long and repeated questionings. Permission denied. Another official, Mr. Jun Entroliso, suggests that we stay at his place.
  • Leave villlage center of Cabasiangan at 17:15 to a place called Guimatag. Access to there is done negotiating down a very deep valley and then up.
  • Arrive at Guimatag at 18:00. Mr. Entroliso's family offered us free stay at their place and free food of vegetable soup and milled corn and a strong beverage of white coconut (Local name: tuba lina). Dinner at 18:50. Failed to establish radio contact with Eagle Base. Weather: Cool. Taps at 21:30.

DAY 2 – October 23, 2015

  • Wake-up at 05:45. Coffee then breakfast. Food prepared by our host family are free-rein chicken soup and milled corn. Breakfast at 06:30.
  • Start of second day hike. Leave Guimatag at 07:30 for the village center of Cabasiangan going down the same route as yesterday's. Pace: Slow. Weather: Hazy skies and warm.
  • Proceed to the village of Ginatilan. Pace: Slow to moderate.
  • Stop by community of Casili at 09:25 to rest and rehydrate.
  • Resume hike at 09:35. Pace: Moderate to fast. Weather: Hazy skies and very warm.
  • Arrive at village of Ginatilan at 10:45 to rest and rehydrate. Stop for noon break. Offered free lunch by a local official.
  • Resume hike at 12:45 for the Balamban River. Pace: Slow to moderate. Weather: Hazy skies and extremely warm.
  • Cross boundary into Kaluangan, Asturias at 13:15 after crossing the Balamban River.
  • Pass by the community of Uling at 13:30 for the community of Harag Bogo on the other side of a mountain. Pace: Slow. Weather: Hazy skies and extremely warm.
  • Stop by a small stream at 13:45 to rest and rehydrate and to enjoy the spectacle of two Philippine orioles (Local name: antolihaw) fighting over territory. Resume hike at an ascending trail and stop at a nearby homestead at 14:15 to rest and rehydrate.
  • Resume hike at 14:40. Pace: Slow. Weather: Hazy skies and extremely warm.
  • Stop at a ridge above the community of Harag Bogo at 15:30 to rest and rehydrate and to find location on map with compass.
  • Resume hike at 16:00 and arrive at the homestead owned by the couple Candido and Eleuteria Garces at 16:15 to set up bivouac area and coffee break.
  • Dinner at 18:30. Food were beef soup, deep-fried pork and milled corn. Failed to establish radio contact with Eagle Base. Weather: Cool. Taps at 21:30.

DAY 3 – October 24, 2015

  • Wake-up at 05:30. Coffee then breakfast. Breakfast at 06:00. Food were cream of mushroom soup, deep-fried pork with sweetened krill and milled corn.
  • Start of second day hike. Leave Garces Homestead at 07:25 for the community of Harag Bogo going down a very deep valley. Pace: Slow. Weather: Hazy skies and warm.
  • Arrive at the outskirts of the community of Harag Bogo at 08:15 and refilled water bottles full. Cross an unnamed stream, which I believed as the Kaluangan River and cross boundary by climbing a long ridge leading to Cambubho, Danao City. Pace: Very slow. Weather: Hazy skies and extremely warm.
  • Stop at shady part of trail exhausted at 09:10 to rest and rehydrate.
  • Stop at shady part of trail exhausted at 09:45 to rest and rehydrate.
  • Stop at shady part of trail exhausted at 10:45 to rest and rehydrate.
  • Stop at shady part of trail exhausted at 10:55 for a noon break and for coffee.
  • Resume hike at 13:00
  • Arrive at the outskirts of the village of Cambubho at 13:10 to rest and rehydrate on fresh coconuts.
  • Resume hike at 13:30 for the village center of Cambubho. Pace: Moderate. Weather: Hazy skies and extremely warm.
  • Arrive at the village center of Cambubho at 14:15 and proceed without stopping to the village of Danasan.
  • Arrive at the village of Danasan at 16:00. Proceed first to do courtesy call to a detachment of the 79th IB, Philippine Army before finishing our business for the day with another courtesy call to the village head of Danasan to ask permission to spend night at their multi-purpose building. Prepare coffee then supper. Food are seaweed soup, deep-fried pork and milled corn. Dinner at 19:00. Weather: Cool. Taps at 22:00.

DAY 4 – October 25, 2015

  • Wake-up at 05:30. Coffee.
  • Attend a Catholic Mass at the village chapel at 07:00.
  • Leave Danasan for the city center of Danao City at 08:00 by motorcycles.
  • Arrive Danao City at 08:45. Breakfast at market.
  • Leave Danao City for Cebu City at 09:30 by public utility jitney.
  • Arrive Cebu City at 10:30.

The Team officially have logged 38.96 kilometers of walking from Point A to Point B, basing upon the auto computation of Wikiloc, a web-based application which can either be manipulated by uploading GPS waypoints or by manual tracing of the route by a mouse but, I believed, we had logged more than that. We have, for a few times, been forced to backtrack when we believed that we were going the wrong way. We had not reached Caurasan, Carmen as planned but there will be another day for that and that would be designated as Segment IV-B.

We each carried an average of 15+ kilos although we are observing light backpacking. Food, cooking pots and our sleeping equipment had used up much of our cargo space. It is good that water could be had along the route even under this El Niño phenomenon which was made more complex by the presence of a hazy smoke in the atmosphere. This haze originated from the forest fires in Indonesia and carried by the southwest wind. The places where we pass by are still abundant of water but, despite that, there is a need to carry at least two liters of water. Along the route are many clear mountain streams which the locals still use for domestic purposes.

We carried our big knives openly as against the common notion that most outdoors club do on their members not to carry one. I have a custom-made AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife hanging by my side while Justin carries a Seseblade Parang. Aside from that, I have also a Mora Companion, a Buck Classic 112 and a Victorinox SAK Trailmaster with me. These may be extra weight but these are very essential. I also carried my fire kit, my survival kit, my IFAK and an iCom IC-V80 VHF radio with a Modulebox Skyprobe antenna.

On the other hand, folks see our presence on all of the places we passed as very unusual. They have not encountered or have seen hikers, outdoorsmen and urbanites with backpacks before and they viewed us with constant suspicion until you break the ice by giving them a genuine smile and a greeting. Ultimately a conversation begins, explaining your purpose, and would make them see a bit but they cannot comprehend of why we walk when riding motorcycles are more convenient.

The addition of Segment IV-A is but one step closer to my objective. The next routes would be very hard as the other already-finished segments nor would it ensure favorable conditions. Definitely, the next segments will not be a walk in the park and would demand navigation savvy from the Exploration Team, which that responsibility rests squarely on me, as had been tested by this Segment IV-A. The CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT from hereon goes on a high swing of difficulty but the Team accepts that challenge by adapting to what it demands.

I have learned so much from the different segment hikes with different teams. This present Team is so flexible and very much prepared for the physical challenges at hand that it had given me great assurance that we can deliver the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT true to its schedule. Me and my Team had explored, walked and achieved 59 percent of the Project and I am quite elated about this. The next 41 percent would be very demanding also but I and the rest of the Team are undaunted.

Document done in LibreOffice 4.3 Writer

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