Thursday, December 1, 2016

MAN-SIZED HIKE XXII: Ilihan to Lake Lanao

I HAVE ACHIEVED SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT after I have walked and finished Segment VI. Segment VI is the one I explored last February 22-25, 2016, starting from Caurasan, Carmen to Ilihan, Tabogon in four days and three nights and on a distance of 56.17 kilometers. I have accumulated a total mileage of 289.16 kilometers since day one of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT and this would increase very soon.

Today, August 17, 2016, I would start from where I left off the last time, which is from Ilihan, and hopefully, finish Segment VII on August 21 at Cebu’s northernmost end, which is at Bulalaqui Point, Daanbantayan. This will be the longest yet at five days and four nights and has a rough length of 65-70 kilometers. To recall, Segment VII had been denied me one time last March when the heat of the election campaign period and of El Niño forbid me to go on after I floundered in Mabuli, Tabogon on the first day due to scarcity of water.

The CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT was, at first, a personal undertaking which first has its beginnings with a dayhike with friends from Lutopan, Toledo City to Guadalupe, Cebu City in February 2011. It metamorphosed into a longer multi-day hike from Lutopan to Mantayupan Falls, Barili in March 2012 which I designated as Segment II. In October 2013, I completed Segment I with a cross-country hike from Mount Manunggal, Balamban to Guadalupe.

I would have finished the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT in two years were it not that I was holding a vital position in the company where I worked. If I would have to realize the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT in 2015, I would have to sacrifice my comfort zone and put all my energies into it. At that time, it was impossible and letting go of my day job would put me and my family in dire straits. So it goes that 2012, 2013 and 2014 passed by with just one or without any exploration hikes.

Realizing the immensity of this endeavour, I decide to form an Exploration Team (Eagle One) and a Base Support Team (Eagle Base) dedicated for the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT starting in 2015 so I could finish it before 2017. I took the XTeam to stressful and difficult day treks, without meals in between, during trainings in traditional navigation. Together with the Base Support Team, I taught them the basics of map reading, putting more emphasis on the more practical military methods.

I have picked my team carefully, after careful considerations of their capability, initiative and ability to accomplish the functions assigned for them like Jose Neo and Chad Bacolod of Eagle Base. Endurance and stability under pressure will be the hallmarks of Eagle One and these are composed of Jonathaniel Apurado, Justin Apurado, Jovahn Ybañez and the new member, Fritz Bustamante. I am the Team Leader, Navigator, Security Officer and Project Director all rolled into one.

I cannot accomplish this project without the logistics and the funds. Answering to my call for support in whatever form it may be, individuals, here and abroad, and businesses responded. Notable among them are Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos and Native Delicacies, Alvin John Osmeña, GV Hotel Philippines, Silangan Outdoor Equipment, Jonathan Blanes, Glen Domingo, Alan Poole, Jose Neo, Tactical Security Agency, App Ops Philippines, Lester Padriga, Harold Butanas, Lavilles of Australia, Bakhawan Beach Home, Glenn Pestaño, Amaya Montecalvo and Markus Immer.

The following also provided the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT, in one way or another, services and goods and acknowledgments which are valuable in accomplishing our goals like Drinox’s Kitchen, the Quijano Family, Melo Sanchez, Jeremiah Dayto, Matthew de Leon, Mountain Stories Blog, Warrior Pilgrimage Blog, Ham Radio Cebu, the Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines, the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, PAC Gear, and the Philippine Mountaineering Blog.

That 2015 produced amazing results which led to the explorations of both Segment III and Segment V and, partly, of Segment IV. Segment III was finished in just three days, instead of four days, in February. The route was Mantalongon, Barili to Mantalongon, Dalaguete. On the other hand, Segment V ran from Mantalongon, Dalaguete to Upper Beceril, Boljoon but the XTeam decide to walk the extra mile to Poblacion, Boljoon. It was done in two days, instead of three, last May.

The extremely-warm conditions of a queer climatic phenomenon in October caused by forest fires in Indonesia slowed down the XTeam and caused them to abort their Segment IV hike at Danasan, Danao City after four days but not after hiking the “no man’s land” coming from Gaas, Balamban. However, Eagle One returned in January 2016 to finish Segment IV, starting from Cambubho, Danao City and ending it, after two days, in another “no man’s land”, to Caurasan, Carmen.

After that, was Segment VI, and, now, this – Segment VII. Composing Eagle One are me, Jonathaniel, Justin and Fritz with Jose Neo at Eagle Base. Eagle One is equipped with dark sunglasses provided by Zue Fashion. Described below are the highlights, weather and other bits of information of the whole itinerary of Segment VII, which was aborted on the last hours of the fourth day:


AUGUST 17, 2016

04:30 – Leave Cebu North Bus Terminal, Mandaue City for Ilihan, Tabogon by bus.
06:45 – Arrive Ilihan. Courtesy call on peace officer, recording our presence and purpose.
07:00 – Leave Ilihan for Labangon, Tabogon. Pace: Moderate to fast. Weather: Warm with cloudy skies.
08:15 – Arrive Labangon. Courtesy call on village head.
08:30 – Leave Labangon for the “Unnamed and Unmarked” Mountain Range.  Pace: Slow.  Weather: Very warm and sunny.
09:40 – Rest and rehydrate on unnamed peak, elevation unknown. Decides to name this    peak as Mount Lo-ong, in reference to its proximity to a small community of same name. Old path vanished due to thick vegetation.
09:55 – Proceed exploration. Pace: Slow. Weather: Extremely warm and sunny.
10:43 – Rest and rehydrate on another unnamed peak, elevation unknown. Decides to name this peak as Mount Lutaw, in reference to its proximity to a small community of same name. Rock surface bounced off heat to us. Found a blooming wild dragonfruit cactus. Collected four specimen samples. Took naps under the shade after a snack of rosquillos and dried fruits.
12:00 – Proceed exploration. Pace: Slow. Weather: Extremely warm and sunny.
13:00 – Rest and rehydrate at a rare habitation. Found trail to here after many tries. Local named Enteng, very helpful. Jonathaniel, Justin and Fritz proceed downhill to  fetch water at a small community of Timbangan.
13:35 – Proceed exploration. Pace: Slow. Weather: Extremely warm and sunny.
14:50 – Arrive at area of sinkholes and abandoned phosphate mines. Thick vegetation    cover many sinkholes. Two big sinkholes recently caved in. Dangerous to explore.  This is the place referred to by the locals as the Doce Cuartos, a cavern system of twelve chambers. Looking for paths on this trackless wilderness for the other side of the limestone cliffs.
15:35 – Rest and rehydrate after path finding.
15:45 – Proceed exploration. Pace: Slow. Weather: Very warm with sparse clouds.
16:00 – Rest and rehydrate on top of peak with a covered sinkhole. A small flat ground is encircled by a rim of dwarf forest and limestone rising ten feet above us.
16:15 – Proceed exploration after finding a notch on the rim. Pace: Slow. Weather: Very warm and sunny with clouds.
16:20 – Propagated VHF signal on top of the highest limestone cliff using a Cignus V85 portable radio with stock antenna at 5 watts power to a repeater tower of Ham Radio Cebu located in the Babag Mountain Range, Cebu City, 89+ kilometers away.  Communicated successfully with amateur station 4F7MHZ.
16:25 – Hereby named the unmarked and unnamed mountain range, not found in any old or current maps, as the Doce Cuartos Mountain Range, in reference to the cavern system of same name which is the most known feature.
16:30 – Proceed exploration and to find a suitable campsite. Stopped along they way to   drink water of an unopened coconut found on the ground.   Pace: Slow to moderate.  Weather: Warm and cloudy.
17:30 – Halt the day’s activity at a covered saddle. Set up hammocks and shelters and  produce campfire to smoke away mosquitoes. Countless cave bats stream out of underground habitats. Limit water use for drinking and cooking only.  Dinner is crab meat soup, rice and egg-chorizo omelet. Enjoyed coffee afterwards.
19:00 – Taps.
Distance Covered: 9.1 Kilometers.

AUGUST 18, 2016


06:00 – Wake up call. Start cooking fires. Breakfast is seaweed soup, rice and boiled eggs with coffee. Water supply very low. Campsite is among Leichardt pine trees which attract pollinators and a strange hummingbird.
07:55 – Break camp. Proceed exploration for a route to find a community or a habitation.   Pace: Slow. Weather: Extremely warm and sunny. Trackless wilderness, talus rocks, tight valleys and low hills. Conserve energy by following cleavage among hills and long rests under the shade. Forage wild papayas for fluid and electrolytes.
11:00 – Rest and rehydrate on last drops of water. Took naps under the shade after snacks of energy bar and dried fruits.
12:30 – Proceed exploration for a community or a habitation. Pace: Slow. Weather: Extremely warm and sunny.
13:00 – Arrive at small community of Tindog Bato. Rest and rehydrate with water, soda drinks and iced water.
14:00 – Leave for Manlagtang, Tabogon. Pace: Moderate. Weather: Very warm and sunny.
14:30 – Arrive Manlagtang. Rest and rehydrate.
15:15 – Leave Manlagtang for Guadalupe, Bogo City by bus to make up time when I found  we were navigating off-course by forty degrees due to the passage afforded by tight valleys.
15:50 – Arrive Guadalupe and proceed to walk a route towards the Hagnaya Port Road  found in Dakit, Bogo City.
17:00 – Arrive highway. Took early dinner at a small eatery.
17:30 – Leave highway for Malingin, Bogo City.
18:00 – Arrive Malingin. Courtesy call on village officials.  Set up hammocks and shelters.  Enjoyed coffee.
21:00 – Taps.
Distance Covered:  13.6 Kilometers.

AUGUST 19, 2016

06:00 – Wake up call. Start cooking fires.
08:00 – Leave Manlagtang for Don Pedro Rodriguez, Bogo City. Pace: Fast. Weather: Warm with sparse clouds. Followed a route of an old and abandoned railroad line.  Foraged sweetsops along the way.
10:30 – Arrive Don Pedro Rodriguez. Rest and rehydrate.
10:40 – Leave Don Pedro Rodriguez for Curva, Medellin. Pace: Fast. Weather: Very warm  and sunny.
12:15 – Cross Dayhagon Canal Bridge. Rest and rehydrate.
12:25 – Proceed hike. Pace: Fast. Weather: Extremely warm and sunny.
14:05 – Arrive Curva. Rest and rehydrate. Feet soles suffered from walking along treeless and shadeless sidewalks of the highway in Medellin. Prepared late lunch.
14:45 – Leave Curva for Poblacion, Medellin. Pace: Fast. Weather: Very warm with sparse  clouds.
16:50 – Arrive Poblacion. Rest and rehydrate.
17:15 – Leave Poblacion for Bakhawan, Daanbantayan by bus to make up time for my lapse in identifying and finding a suitable direct route to there. (The next morning, I found it.)
17:30 – Arrive Bakhawan Beach Home. Rest and rehydrate. Start cooking fires in makeshift kitchen. Dinner is vegetable in coconut-milk soup and milled corn. First bath after three days. Bakhawan Beach Home is a sponsor of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT.
22:00 – Taps.
Distance Covered:  30.4 Kilometers.

AUGUST 20, 2016

06:00 – Wake up call. The proprietress, Lani Perez, and her staff at Bakhawan Beach Home hosted a breakfast for the XTeam. Food consists of dried fish, organically-grown vegetables, rice and fruit with coffee.
09:05 – Leave Bakhawan Beach Home for Dalingding Hills, Daanbantayan. Pace: Moderate to fast. Weather: Warm with cloudy skies.
11:30 – Arrive at Dalingding Hills. Rest and rehydrate.
11:45 – Leave Dalingding Hills for Libertad, Daanbantayan. Pace: Fast. Weather: Mild and rainy.
12:25 – Arrive Libertad. Rest and rehydrate.
12:40 – Leave Libertad for Lake Lanao, Daanbantayan. Pace: Moderate. Weather: Very warm and sunny.
15:20 – Arrive Lake Lanao. Water shrunk to just a small pond. Most of the lake had been converted into rice fields.
15:30 - Proceed for the village of Lanao. Pace: Slow. Weather: Warm and cloudy.
16:20 - Arrive Lanao. Rest and rehydrate.
16:30 – Elements of Daanbantayan Police Station arrived to respond to an “Armed Person Alarm” which turned out to be the XTeam. XTeam decides to go with the police peacefully, without any protest, so our presence would be recorded officially.
17:30 – I decide to abort the exploration, to include the final 7 kilometers or so for tomorrow, for the safety of the XTeam.
18:00 – Leave Daanbantayan for Mandaue City by bus.
22:30 – Arrive Cebu North Bus Terminal, Mandaue City. Terminate exploration.
Distance Covered:  18.12 Kilometers.


One of the biggest obstacles to the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT is local cooperation or acceptance. Their life-long habits and beliefs, shaped by their isolation to modernization and urban fads (hiking, exploration), placed us in extreme disadvantage. I may have the documents to show the legality of our presence and activity but, still, we are viewed with suspicion. On our side, we interpret it as either indifference, arrogance or ignorance and it is most dangerous when strong spirits are mixed or there is too much politics in a place.

Next are government bureaucrats who are tasked to act on my request contained in my letters addressed to the office of the Provincial Governor and of the Cebu Provincial Police Office. Their ineptness and lack of initiatives have caused me dismay for they failed to disseminate the information contained in my letters that could have explained everything even before I was at these places like Daanbantayan. This is but routine and demands less work and I cannot understand why it cannot be done?

Difficult terrain is nothing, but when an uncooperative weather condition is blended into the fray, it would really really be difficult, like on my first day in an earlier attempt, and on the first and second days, on an unnamed and unmarked mountain range bounded by the villages of Labangon, Mabuli, Manlagtang and Somosa, all in Tabogon. There is no known water source on the range and whatever it had would have immediately wither under the onslaught of warm weather. That condition will bring down your water supply.

There were three highlights in the exploration for the route of Segment VII. First was the exploration of almost the whole mountain range, previously unmarked and unnamed in any map. Nobody goes there except of a few intrepid wood gatherers. It is an uninviting terrain of loose rocks, bare and sharp, which host a forest of unwieldy and spiny bushes and have no known water sources. It is my honor and privilege then to bestow it with a name that is just as enigmatic: Doce Cuartos Mountain Range.

Next is the rediscovery of a long-forgotten relic of an earlier era which was the route of a railroad line that serviced the sugar cane plantations of Bogo City to its destination to a sugar refinery in Medellin. Its presence in old maps gave me the more reason to include this in the route of Segment VII. The route goes straight and seamless until a big house blocked its route in Don Pedro Rodriguez, Bogo City. It would be wise for the city and the Province of Cebu to preserve this old railroad route as a Cebuano heritage.

Last is our privilege to be hosted by Bakhawan Beach Home. It is not everyday that we can enjoy amenities of an exclusive resort yet it is just fortunate that Bakhawan Beach Home is one of our sponsors. The XTeam are used to hard and uncomfortable campsites on all our exploration hikes but the soft beds under the warmth of a roof in close proximity to the lulling sound of surf on shore are just heavenly. It is then my pleasure to thank Ms. Lani Perez and her staff for the warm reception and accommodation given to Eagle One.

After I have parted from my employer in the last days of 2015, I was determined to finish the CEBU HIGHLANDS PROJECT before 2017. I trained with the XTeam when we have no exploration schedule to keep us fit. I refined and re-routed Segment I, especially the Lutopan-Guadalupe route, when the thought of a future dam construction occurred to me, which would surely bury the old route under a man-made lake.

I have, segment by segment, reached the threshold of completing the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT. Although I have aborted Segment VII, I have covered enough ground to consider it a success. The last stretch of untouched territory to Bulalaqui Point is just about seven kilometers long. A mere day hike. An “icing in the cake” when its time to be walked will come. Eagle One have accumulated, after the last segment, 355.33 Kilometers or Eighty-Seven Percent of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

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