Monday, April 10, 2017
I AM TAKING ANOTHER SHOT OF MOUNT SAMBORYO today – December 11, 2016. I almost went over its top last January in my quest to find another and much-better route for Segment I-A of the Cebu Highlands Trail when I met a local who directed me instead to Cabatbatan and cold refreshments. I was utterly dehydrated then and was following the trail to the peak when that chance encounter convinced me to backtrack and savor that cold drink.
It mystifies me of seeing that mysterious peak everyday from the vantage of my window in downtown Cebu City. It mystifies me remembering the strange reaction of locals whom I talked to when I was going there alone. Perhaps, there may have had been bad memories? I just want to go over what is beyond it. It is part of my beloved Babag Mountain Range which I know so well and exploring beyond Samboryo would be an opportunity to expand my playground.
My plan today is to start from Lutopan, Toledo City and do a cross-country walk to Guadalupe, Cebu City just like the last two episodes I did in January. But, this time, I would climb Mt. Samboryo and find a route to Tagaytay Ridge and go straight down to Napo. I want to evade the road from Cabatbatan to Pamutan Junction and then to the Sapangdaku Spillway. Roads are torture to the soles of feet and shoes going downhill and melt a hiker’s resolve upon facing endless rises.
This is an activity for the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and they came to the 7Eleven outlet across the Cebu South Bus Terminal. Arriving one after the other are Jonathaniel, Justin, Locel, Glynn, Christian, Eli, Abigail, Ariel and Mark with three guests from a freelance outdoors group called BAKTAS. We left the terminal after getting in a Lutopan-bound bus, which I know would be crawling on the highway picking up passengers.
We arrived there at exactly 08:00 and proceed to Camp 7, Minglanilla on board motorcycles for hire after procuring foods that are quick to cook. We must be at Guadalupe in under twelve hours and we have a long way to go, part of it, unfamiliar ground. Being caught at dusk at these places is my main concern. This is an exploration hike after all and maybe this might be a good opportunity to change my already-altered Segment I-A Route of the Cebu Highlands Trail, which project I wrapped up last November 3.
The day is warm but there is cloud cover from time to time. We need to be at Buot-Taup, a rural village of Cebu City located along the Bonbon River, before noon to compensate for the slow bus and so we quickened our pace without stopping until I noticed that our party becomes so stretched out that I could not see the status of some of the guys beyond my view. We rest by a small stream for about five minutes before setting out again.
We arrive at Buot-Taup at 10:40 and the guys deserve their rest under the shade and cold drinks from a store. Across us is Mt. Samboryo. I know how to go there but how I would navigate to Napo via Tagaytay Ridge is a question that is still left hanging. This is my expertise, so to speak, engaging on blank spaces and I am really good at it. The Bonbon River is wide but a hanging bridge, made of steel, spanned river bank to another 120 meters away.
We cross this bridge at 11:10 and it rocked and yawed at the cadence of our feet and shift of weights. We all travelled light for we are in a day hike only. Despite that, some have shelters and hammocks if Doc Murphy decides to rap our heads. For assurance, four of us carried VHF radios since the four are ham radio operators. By my experience, cellular signals always fail and always short on places where it is most needed. For this reason, radios are standard equipment in all Camp Red activities.
After 30 minutes of ascent under the brunt of a noontime sun, we took rest at a place where there is a water source. Here, we retrieved our alcohol burners and start to boil water for coffee and instant noodles. There is a mango tree giving a wide shade and branches to hang three hammocks. Five burners worked simultaneously providing us warm beverage and warm nutrition. A boom box sound off rock music from someone else’s phone by Bluetooth. The guys were all in high spirits.
By 13:00, we are now ready to scale the peak and continue on our cross-country hike. We pass by a farm and reach a ridge. This trail we follow goes down to Cabatbatan but another trail goes up to Mt. Samboryo. The path is a bit steep and we topped it at 13:35 nevertheless. Beyond it are more mountains and more ridges and a free-reined water buffalo with its young are blocking a trail at where it is most tight!
For some reason, I decide to follow a path but it starts to become difficult to read some signs so I stop and reorient my location with the button compass of my Advanced Fire Starter Pro. Somewhere where the needle point north would be Mount Babag. I cannot see it but I can see a ridge across us and it goes north like. I turn back and go down a saddle and up that ridge and I soon found a good trail. So good that I begun to sense adrenaline pumping my legs.
It is a beaten trail. It traverses on a knife edge-like ridge where, if not for the thick vegetation, that interesting feature can be appreciated very well. The edge is so narrow and steep on both sides but even on the surface where feet tread on. From a distance of ten meters, I see a Philippine bronzeback on a branch that crossed the path. I approached it near enough to catch it unawares and a good shot with my old and dependable Canon IXUS. It melted away to the forest once it notices me.
The ridge joined into a wide meadow that gave a view below of the upper Bonbon River Valley and the twin peaks of distant Pung-ol and Sibugay while on the right of me are higher ridgelines that hosts an impenetrable forest of trees and shrubs. The trail follow north in between meadow and high ridge and we came upon a lonely sight of a small house in the middle of the empty vastness of this unknown part of the Babag Mountain Range. On one window are three small girls looking at our drab outfits.
I feel pity at the children’s remoteness from the nearest community and school which would likely be either at Cabatbatan or Bokawe or down to Buot-Taup and they are deprived of even the most simple happiness that most children take for granted like electricity, running water and decent food. I decide to stop and asked from our party if they have extra food to spare for the small girls. These girls should enjoy the spirit of Christmas and they get to have that at my insistence.
We pass by a farm and I see something colorful and unnatural moving within the forested trail. Then a chance meeting of fellow hikers. The group belonged to the Sugbo Outdoor Club and it is lead by its president, Jude Morales. I have heard a few years ago that the people from SUOC have hiked these parts. They had not expected me and my party to stray here and were surprised at our appearance. Smiles and greetings made this lonely enclave festive for a while.
They go on their way to Camp 4 in Talisay City while we go on our way to Napo. It is 14:30 and a lot of daylight to spare. It was easy to follow the path of where they passed for they left a lot of footprints on soft earth and, I presume, on even hard surface. I followed a trail which had smudges on its surface. I quickened the pace for the path is so beaten and well used that I believed I am on the right path. We pass by a couple of rockslides blocking some of the way and a stream going berserk some few days ago.
We reach a lone house and I picked out a ribbon of concrete down a far valley and then it began to sink in me that I was following the wrong way based on my wrong assumptions of trail prints. I was about to go down to Bokawe. We strayed for 40 minutes on a trail gently going downhill and logic would dictate that it would take us another 50-55 minutes to get back to where we were when I started this mistake. We do not have that luxury of time and so I decided to double the effort and we made it back in 20 minutes!
By now it was already 16:00 and long shadows obliterate the path of any natural light that might help me reading tracks from a host of different trails. Which one? A surge of hope appeared when I saw week-old wheel ruts from off-road motorcycles. You know how I hate these guys running their dirt bikes on pristine forest trails but, today, I thank them for being here last week. It helped me navigate on this unknown stretch. We just left the last house and, in these last hours of daylight, your presence is not so welcoming.
The wheel ruts disappear for a time and found again until it is difficult to assess it in near darkness. The LED torches do not help either while in the hands of everyone. It destroys your natural night vision and gets you distracted. I got my orientation back using the button compass and look for those elusive wheel ruts at dusk. Cold wind begins to claim the ridgetops and on every exposed places where there are no trees. Trails crossed each other and I do not want to make a mistake again.
I come upon a small pond with a tree beside it. Fingers of light probed on the tree and around it completely missing something that moved just a couple of meters infront of me. The thing just ducked the probe lights and looked from side to side, completely ignoring my presence, and stepped into the shelter of the tree trunk. It was dark and hairy and it walked on two legs instead of four. My mind begins to work like a computer retrieving images from memory and begun to reject that do not fit.
First thing that came into my mind was the image of a palm civet which are common here. Belonging to the lemur family, no palm civet walked erect on two hind legs. Next thing is the monkey. Although almost of the same size and posture as that of an alpha male but our monkeys here have tails. The thing has no tail and there are no other monkeys here except the Philippine macaque. Surely it was not wildlife and I begun to entertain of a creature which is popular in folk tales – the wood imp or what we locals heard as the “tambaloslos”.
I was just amused at its human-like reaction to evade light and quite amazed that this creature failed to notice me. It did not move fast but was in a motion akin to tiptoeing. I retrieve my own LED and approach the back of the tree and it just disappeared. Could I have just been imagining things? No I was not. I did not feel something weird about that chance encounter. I do not entertain such superstitious thoughts even though I had encountered many in different forms and circumstance nor I am inclined to believe those “third eye” power.
What I see is bound only for the scientific parcel of my mind to digest on and if ever it spills over to fantasy, well, I am a creature of my own Christian faith. My God is greater than all these creatures of the dark. So I dismissed it outright and pushed on down the trail. I walked and studied the trail in darkness, lighted by swarming and moving beams of light, and at the same time, in the back of my mind, I kept remembering the imp’s human-like character. It begun to fog as the temperature went down by a degree.
Annoying sounds from competing videoke machines, carried by the breeze from a distant Bonbon River Valley, begins to get on my nerves, slowly disorienting me. I was now almost at the bottom of a steep ravine following a trail that somehow was impossible for a rider on a motorcycle to get out of. There was no other way this time except to backtrack. I was not exhausted but I can feel its telltale signs that I am but a few minutes to it which is safe for me but I cannot know the physical conditions right now of those who are with me, especially the guests.
We need to go back to where we were near Bokawe. When I got out of that steep ravine, I start to assess our situation. We do not have food and that is a fact. Another fact is that the guys have day jobs even though they are prepared to bivouac for the night. Eli has a GPS and it shows our location to that of Mt. Babag and it looks easy on that small monitor but quite difficult to accomplish in darkness if we intend to push on our original plan of reaching Napo. It is now 19:00 and an hour of walk to Bokawe would be safe enough to accomplish.
I designate Jon to lead while I decide to stay at the back. Too much of thinking to find the right path and adapting to the glare of LED lights have left my brain slightly exhausted and I need to rest from those. We went over humps and hills and one guest begun to experience cramps. We have to rest to make the injured recover before pushing onward. It was while going down a trail that I begin to notice that we were going the wrong way. The injured guy seems to notice that too. We have to backtrack again with long rests to give a break to the injured.
Then we have to stop and take a much longer break. At this juncture, I announced to everyone what I saw a few hours ago. They were astonished and almost in panicky mode. It is 20:30 and we had been walking in circles. They believed we were hexed and this can be upturned by wearing our clothes inside out which would increase their fear and make me a laughing stock instead for believing such things. I need to break this impasse by remaining calm. I would outsmart this creature by using instead a female member to lead us out of it. I did not even have to explain long but the reluctant girls bravely obeyed this task and we were able to find the true path back to Bokawe which we reach at 21:30.
Everyone, except I, were physically exhausted, not because they were walking for more than twelve hours, a good part of that in darkness, but because they were playing to the whims of their mind and unknowingly released adrenaline for no apparent reason except by their fear of the unknown. I have come to understand such fears long ago and I have developed the inner strength to tame my mind. My mind though was tired from the thinking and so was exceptionally alert for the good part of the day.
We took that opportunity of rest at Bokawe by indulging ourselves to the simple joys of cold soda drinks, replenishing lost electrolytes. Here, where we were in a secluded valley and surrounded by peaks, we were able to send text messages and propagate VHF radio signals which failed us all the time while we were on those high places between Mt. Samboryo and Mt. Babag. A lot of us do not want to walk anymore which helped to my cause for it prevented injuries and we stayed until our rescue transport came at ten to eleven.
Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer