Pinoy Trails Contributor Jes Aranzaso shares his journey to one of the toughest peaks in the country, Mount Halcon. Jes is a mountaineer and also a regular ultra and trail runner. The journey to and the summit destination of Mount Halcon was definitely an exhilarating experience for Jes and the rest of the hikers. Read up and appreciate that long hard journey to the Sialdang Summit.
The Fellowship of Mount Halcon
I am glad that Mount Halcon (known as Sialdang locally) brought us together. Indeed, the mountains have ways of bringing people of different backgrounds together. We formed a bond of friendship or connection for a common goal to reach the summit. Maybe we had various and diverse reasons why we decided to hike or climb Mt. Halcon. But, when we were already together, those did not matter, we were united and as one.
Well, except for one night, specifically the third night. There was a minor mishap, a miscommunication which caused us tired and hungry hikers to vent our opinions and thoughts against our companions. It was unfortunate that we were on separate campsites when it happened.
Hungry and Exhausted Hikers
April 8, 2017, Saturday. It was our third day in Sialdang. It started to rain just when some of us were still pitching tents at Aplaya campsite while others were still trekking between Camp 2 and Dulangan River (where you should not miss swimming!). Did we have lunch? Maybe yes for some, perhaps no for others. We did not have packed lunch when we left Camp 2. We set aside the issue probably because we were still rejoicing from “mountaineer’s high.” It was fantastically hard to put in words the experience of the Summit clearing just that morning.
The group was composed of 19 brave souls, and we were proud that everybody was able to reach the Summit in one piece, which was quite an achievement already. Not every hiker in every group that had climbed Sialdang was able to reach its Summit, as validated by our local guides and porters. We were not at all surprised by this fact.
The “mountaineer’s high” was only sufficient for a time and still no match for hunger and exhaustion. Our guide told us that nine of our companions already set camp after the ascent from Dulangan River. The food to be cooked for dinner would be brought to them while 10 of us had already set e-camp at Aplaya. We were being instructed to go there and transfer camp. Things started going south.
We could not understand why they did not proceed to Aplaya falsely believing that they would not fit there with their tents. Granted that AMCI has secured the larger Aplaya camp, but we also secured the smaller camp which we saw would fit all of us and our tents. Not to mention that at around past 3pm on that day, there was an earthquake, a series of shaking which we felt at least three times. Personally, this was the first time I experienced an earthquake which sounded like a giant monster of some sort was approaching. Trees were swaying and the ground was rumbling, while we were literally being shaken.
Earthquake. Rain. Emergency food. E-camp. Anyways, things became clearer to us during the post-climb meeting and sumptuous dinner at Chipping’s. Everybody spoke, and the ending was a rightful realization. We had so much to be grateful for and be happy about so we easily moved on from the issues of missing meals and separate camps. Of course, there were lessons learned and noted and will surely be applied to our next climbs, regardless of whom we climb with. There were also plenty of positive things worth emulating and replicating. We sang birthday songs and celebrated our safe and successful climb with all smiles and cheers!
The Journey Resumes
Yet, it is said that the journey is just as important as the destination. Furthermore, maybe for some of us, the real answers to the mystery why we climbed Mt. Halcon were found somewhere between its jump-off and its summit. Therefore, at least from my perspective, let me share the story of that somewhere in between.
The Story of Somewhere in Between
Belonging to the MIMAROPA Knife Edge Trilogy of 9/9 mountains along with Romblon’s Mt. Guiting-Guiting and Palawan’s Mt. Mantalingajan, Mt. Halcon is not to be underestimated. After all, it earned the reputation of being one of the country’s toughest mountains to climb. Hiking it is difficult and challenging for most part. Tales of accidents which led to deaths while hiking Mt. Halcon are enough to prove that it is not a walk in the park, especially because a slight change in weather may cause a significant change in the trail conditions.
Pinoy Mountaineer’s “Registry of hiking-related deaths and disappearances in the Philippines” accounted these two incidents: (1) October 1994 – 25-year old Neptali Lazaro died of hypothermia, a fatal condition in which the body temperature drops significantly lower than normal due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures; and (2) October 2004 – 21-year old Prana Escalante hiked solo to follow her friends, was reported as missing, and her body was found dead a week later. The mountain was closed in 2006 and was officially reopened in 2014. In 2015, it was announced that the mountain is seasonally open from February 1 to May 31 every year. It was closed in 2016 and only reopened in 2017.
The Opening of Mount Halcon
As soon as the announcement of reopening Mt. Halcon reached social media in late 2016, FB events popped up left and right inviting “qualified” participants to join their climbs. As far as I knew, some of these events were planned and reserved in summer 2016 except Sialdang was closed that season. Since I climbed G2 last year, Halcon became part of my 2017 “to climb” list. After browsing event details of some familiar organizers and checking my summer schedules, I decided to join Lantuag Outdoors since Sir Avel is a friend since 2014.
When the first pre-climb meeting was called in mid-December 2016, I freed up my calendar and showed up. Sadly, only Sir Avel (the organizer) and Sir Eric, a friend since 2015 and an interested participant (who was not able to join the actual event but was successful in his solo hike just after our event), were there to plan and discuss important things about the climb. The three-day itinerary was examined in details along with the meal plans. It was also nice to meet Ma’am Faith that evening when she arrived when we were almost done.
Of the four to five scheduled training climbs, I was only able to join the last two, Irid dayhike and PanTarak dayhike (which coincided with our final pre-climb meeting when it was decided to extend our itinerary to 3.5-4 days). I made up for the climbs I missed by either setting my own training climbs/run or joining ultra trail races and organized climb events. What was great in joining training climbs was that I got to meet and hike with the other participants who eventually became good friends.
I am genuinely and sincerely thankful to this bunch of wonderful people with whom I spent four tough days and all its worthiness, which I will always fondly recall. This sojourn in Sialdang became awesome and more meaningful, thanks to Sir Ado, Sir Avel, Sir Bhong, Sir Chirs, Sir Dan, Sir Dennis, Sir Ed, Ma’am Faith, Sir Glen, Sir Greg, Sir Jeo, Sir Karl, Sir Marvin, Ma’am Nalie, Sir Ron, Sir Ron, Ma’am Xenneth, and Ma’am Youi. I would not ask for another group.
Heading to Mount Halcon
Then fast forward to April 6, 2017, Thursday. The Jam Liner bus left the Buendia Terminal a little past midnight where four of us, Sir Dennis, Sir Glen, Sir Bhong and I were boarded, while 15 of them met in Cubao. Expectedly, we arrived before 2am at the Batangas Pier and tried taking naps while waiting, but to no avail, due to mosquitoes’ persistence to keep us awake and alert. Gladly, their arrival saved us and signaled the start of our humble adventures.
We chose the two-hour 4am RORO trip to Calapan, and who could forget that long way to “boarding” as we did not hold our own tickets so we had to run when finally the ship was almost leaving, only after being told that our companions were just waiting for us in front of the ship!
That two-hour RORO ride gave us the chance to sleep decently more than a one-hour ride could offer. It helped that we occupied the ship’s third level open area and we were the only ones there so the benches were more than enough for us all to lie down. We saw the beginning of a cloudy day as the sun did not show itself to us.
Calapan, Mindoro Oriental
We disembarked at the Port of Calapan, Mindoro Oriental at 6am, had our group photos taken and then boarded our rented jeepney bound to the Municipality of Baco. I forgot the name of the Eatery where we stopped for breakfast, but I could not forget their tapsilog. It felt like pork tapa though I was expecting beef tapa. Sir Dennis supported my suspicion that it might be pork tapa. I have no way of knowing now. The highlight of breakfast, however, was the event shirt distribution by Sir Jeo. The color and design I voted for online won, so I was naturally excited. I actually saw it already on the ship and I liked it. I thought that since our G2 shirt was yellow, and this was blue, my future Manta event shirt must be red.
Baco Tourism Office
We then proceeded to the Baco Tourism Office at the Municipal Hall Complex to process our climb permits. Unlike other mountains wherein climb permits are issued to the group, Halcon climb permits are being issued individually. One must submit a medical fitness certificate, a BMC or major climb certificate, ID photocopy, and have his/her individual photo taken which shall be printed on the climb permit.
While we were processing permits, some of us were tasked to go to the market to buy our group supplies. These were packed to the bags to be used by our porters. For the packed dinner, we had rice and Andok’s Litson Manok. Most of us also revisited their backpacks and geared up for the trek. I decided I would do it at the jump-off instead, since I was still drenched in sweat. When we were done with the Tourism Office, we personally appeared at the Police Station and left our IDs there and were just told to come back intact and complete.
Pre Climb Preparations
We had lunch along the way, and by that time, the sun was already up and visible indicating good weather. It was a great time for halo-halo, or cold soda, depending on your craving. Sialdang was already visible as well, albeit we could not see its entirety. It appeared like a gentle green giant sleeping while its top was covered by the clouds. We finally reached Brgy. Bayanan but were told that it was not the jump-off yet.
Someone joked that was how you climb Halcon, you go through the Municipal officials, the Police, now the Barangay Officials and next would be the SK officials! Based on the number of stops we just had, that was how it really seemed. Upon reaching the jump-off point, we began with our final preparations before the trek. A group of hikers who had just finished their hike was there, and they were telling us stories of how hard the climb was, especially that you had to deal with the limatiks every now and then while on the trails. You trek and they would follow you, you take five and they would bother you, you eat trail foods and they would eat you. They said there were just lots of them you could not avoid being sucked by one. So be ready. And we were.
April 6, 2017
At around 2pm, after a brief introduction by Sir Avel with our guides and porters, and a prayer by Sir Glen, and Ma’am Faith, we started our trek originally aiming to reach Aplaya campsite. The estimate was 8-10 hours depending, of course, on each one’s pace. Since it was already late, night trekking would be inevitable. We were encouraged to prepare our headlamps and batteries. I was part of the lead team, tasked to secure the campsite, pitch available tents and ensure meal preparations would commence, and whatever could be done.
Typhoon Devasted Parts of the Trails
During the early part of the trek, we already crossed bridges passing by the rivers. We saw the old residential area of Brgy. Bayanan, ruins of houses, schools, and churches washed away by landslide and covered by rocks when Typhoon Nona hit Mindoro Oriental in December 2015. It was a sad view to behold. Fortunately, nobody lost a life during the typhoon since the landslide happened in broad daylight. I still uttered a prayer in silence though, thanking God for the safety evacuation and relocation of their residents.
After almost an hour of trekking, we reached a village on the hills and rested near a basketball court when we saw a lot of coconuts. We called it the buko station. It was were we regrouped and had fresh buko juice, the healthiest way to rehydrate! Then, we continued trekking and regrouped again at the higher part of the village, reminiscent of Mt. Talamitam where you could see cows and carabaos in the open fields. Kuya Romeo, the lead guide, was asking us a few questions which we assumed were talked about before we started. We told him to clear it up with Sir Avel before we proceeded again.
A New Plan
A new plan was decided. If we reached Unang Dungaw before 8pm, we would proceed to Aplaya, but if we were there later than that, we would camp at Unang Dungaw. We resumed trekking and suddenly the rain started pouring. Kuya Romeo, Sir Dan, Sir Dennis and I were moving at a fast pace because we wanted to reach the campsite already. It was getting dark and cold. The limatiks were becoming active and aggressive due to continuous rains. There was even a part when Kuya Romeo was confused by the paths on the trails so we ended up climbing a slippery tree trunk of around eight feet tall, only to discover when we passed by it during our descent on the last day that there was an established trail on the side.
After around 5 hours, the four of us reached the Unang Dungaw campsite five minutes past 7pm and we were in agreement that we would stay there for the night. Hungry and wet under the rain, we wasted no time and ate our packed dinner. Then, we pitched the tents which were already there. One by one, they arrived, and at around 8:30pm, I already fell asleep into the cold night.
April 7, 2017
April 7, 2017, Friday. The rain was gone but the camp was already wet and muddy. We had an excellent breakfast of coffee, rice, hard-boiled eggs and hotdogs, while we packed salted red eggs, rice and sweet and spicy tocino for our lunch. Everyone was happy after a rainy yet restful night, and the views from our campsite of the land and river below and the river above and on our side were simply mesmerizing. Some refilled their water bottles from the river, others washed their mess kits, and a few had their pictures taken. I heard that network signal was available, but I was too lazy to turn on my phone. I just washed my face and hands on the river and got ready for the day’s trek.
At 9:30 am, the same lead team was given the go signal to start trekking after a prayer. We were already comfortable with Kuya Romeo, and we knew that he felt the same, as he was already cracking jokes with the three of us. We had our lunch at what he called “Balubag Baboy” and rested there for a bit. It was a hot sunny day.
At 2:45pm, to our surprised, we were already at Camp 2. We met the group of hikers from the Visayas and they told us they would camp at what they called “Azotea,” another camp below the Summit camp. Since we got nothing else to do, after a quick trail snack, we just slept there while waiting for the others. When Sir Greg and Sir Ado arrived, they reported to us that our group was determined to proceed to the Summit Camp.
I immediately expressed my reservations on the idea and asked them to consider the alternative idea of spending the night there at Camp 2. My idea was to have a wakeup call of as early as 3am, and proceed to Summit assault with only trail food and water and in time for sunrise. I thought that would be better than pursuing Summit Camp late in the evening bringing everything up, and miss the sunrise while sleeping inside our tents due to exhaustion and lack of sleep. They agreed.
I did not know what happened next except what I heard about the missing “sitaw” for the Sinigang, but Sir Dennis and I missed the late dinner. I missed my favorite Sinigang, the only meal I was actually looking forward to have on a cold mountain evening. For reasons I confessed to the group, I chose to stay inside the tent although I was awake at around 11pm hearing some of them enjoying the late dinner. I distinctively heard Sir Glen asking “Sina Sir Jes, kumain na ba?” and Sir Jeo calling my name “Sir Jes?” yet I did not go out and eat. I just waited until I heard nothing but silence and saw nothing but darkness before I went back to sleep, and maybe, just maybe, in my dreams, I enjoyed a generous hot bowl of Pork Sinigang for dinner…
April 8, 2017
Before 3am the next day, I was automatically awake without the aid of alarm. When Sir Greg called my name at 3am, I responded with “Yes, Sir. Good morning!” which meant it was time to prepare for Summit assault. I switched on my headlamp, woke up Sir Dennis, grabbed my jacket, Snickers, Oreo, and my one-liter Nalgene bottle and put them in my small pack.
My shoes were still wet and muddy compensated only by wearing new and dry socks which I also wore during the night. I put on my shoes and went out of the tent ready to trek. Sir Jeo asked, “Sir Jes, ano’ng oras po tayo aakyat?” to which I replied, “Ngayon na, Sir!” implying “Tara na Sir at magkape muna kung ready na, hehe.” Indeed, coffee was already prepared for takers. I sipped a cup to ease the cold and to somewhat have an instant caffeine boost. Hot coffee on a cold mountain is… love!
Prayers to Start the Ascent
At 4am, we thanked the Lord in prayer and started our ascent. The trails were single track and steep and at times we had to sit or be in crawling position under tree trunks and branches. The morning dew on the leaves, grasses and rocks on the trails made them a bit slippery. Trekking next to our lead guide, I would look behind and below and would see Sir Dan and Sir Dennis next to me while the rest were only unrecognizable moving head lights as it was still too dark and early.
When we reached the Azotea where the Visayas hikers set their camp, we could not help but look up to see the night sky full of stars without clouds to hide their beauty. Wow! If only I had a good camera. If only I knew how to capture its magnificence. I remembered some friends who could, but they were not there, so I just stood still looking up in awe and it felt astonishing.
We continued the ascent on a single track trail, and I forgot which we passed by first, the famous “Ladder” of woods or the “Knife Edge” part of the trail. All I remember was the cold winds blowing on us when we reached the ridge after passing by the mini-forest. We passed by another group camped at the Summit ridge. Shortly after, we saw Neptali Lazaro’s epitaph, which meant we were almost at the highest point.
At 5:18am, we finally reached Sialdang’s Summit! We were standing on the top of Mt. Halcon, 2,582 MASL, alive, well, and exuberant! We shook hands and congratulated each other celebrating that successful moment. The dawn was breaking on a clear sky and there were no sea of clouds yet, but since we were the first to arrive there, we wasted no time and took pictures on the prominent Halcon “diving board.” One by one, our group mates arrived with whom we shared cheerful “congratulations.”
At around 6:30am, it got too cold as clouds began to cover us with drizzles. We were chilling even with our jackets on. We were starting to lose hope of seeing the sunrise and sea of clouds, but when we just thought of going down after 20 minutes, the clouds and the drizzles suddenly vanished and the clear sky above revealed the sun already up, and the sea of clouds below us were just (how do I put it in words?) unbelievable! It was really an extraordinary morning for all of us. Certainly, of all the mountain peaks I had been to, the best by far was this. Without a doubt, it must be the same feeling for most of us. Surely, Sialdang was too kind to us.
Best Breakfast Ever
I would want this to end here save for the “best breakfast ever” that we had the next morning, April 9, 2017, Sunday. Thanks to the McDonald’s garlic powder the A Mountaineers used to make the most delicious fried rice we had tasted and to the small bottle of San Marino Premium Tawilis which I found in the cooking area for sharing! We also had hot coffee and instant noodles. All of us at the Aplaya camp felt satisfied. We were even more thankful when a corned beef pot arrived from the e-camp. But since we were full, we just packed it for our lunch. At 2pm, Kuya Romeo, Sir Dennis and I were back at the jump-off point. It did not take long and they started arriving as well.
The jump-off merienda, ice-cold drinks, ihaw-ihaw, Red Horse beer, laundry sessions, wash-up, good laughs, minor injuries, sore muscles, sunburned skin, “kulay ng balat” jokes, “di na ko uulit” and “miss ko na food sa syudad” hirits, shared congratulations, limatik bites, aching legs and painful feet, and the group photo with our guides and porters before we left were all proofs that we were truly alive! Goodwill, friendships and good memories—these were all priceless takeaways we shall cherish for life.
Mt. Halcon (Bayanan Trail) | April 6-9, 2017| 2,582 MASL | Major climb, Difficulty 9/9, Trail class 2-4
- April 6, 2017, Thursday
- 12am-2am Buendia Bus Terminal to Batangas Pier
- 4am-6am RORO to Port of Calapan, Mindoro Oriental
- 6am-8am Breakfast along the way; Jeepney to Baco
- 9am-11am Process Climb Permits at Baco Tourism Office; Personal appearances at the Baco Police Station
- 11am-1pm Lunch along the way; Proceed to Jump-off point
- 1pm-2pm Final preparations
- 2pm Start Trek
- 2pm-7:05pm Jump-off point to Unang Dungaw (5hrs 5 mins)
- 7pm-8:30pm Dinner; Set camp
- 8:30pm Rest; Lights out
- April 7, 2017, Friday
- 6am-8am Wake-up call; Prepare breakfast
- 8am-9:30am Breakfast; Break camp; Resume Trek
- 9:30am-12nn Unang Dungaw to Balubag Baboy (2 hrs 30 mins)
- 12nn-12:45pm Lunch; Rest (45 mins)
- 2:45pm Balubag Baboy to Camp 2 (2 hrs)
- 2:45pm onwards Set camp; Rest; Lights out
- April 8, 2017, Saturday
- 3am-4am Wake-up call; Prepare for Summit Assault
- 4am-5:18am Summit Assault (1hr 18 mins)
- 5:18am-7:40am Explore Summit; Photo Ops
- 7:40am-8:21am Descent to Camp2 (41 mins)
- 8:21am-9:40am Breakfast; Resume descent
- 9:40am-11:10am Camp 2 to Dulangan River (1 hr 30 mins)
- 11:10am-12:05pm Swimming in the Dulangan River (55 mins)
- 12:05-12:37pm Dulangan River to Aplaya Campsite (32 mins)
- 1:37pm onwards Set camp; Rest; Lights out
- April 9, 2017, Sunday
- 7am-9:15am Breakfast; Break camp; Prepare for final descent
- 9:15am-12:30pm Aplaya Campsite to Basketball Court/Buko Station (3 hrs 15 mins)
- 12:30pm-1:40pm Lunch; Rest (1 hr 10 mins)
- 1:40pm-2pm Buko Station to Jump-off point (20 mins)
- 2pm-7pm Back at Jump-off point; Wash up; Jeepney to Baco; Checkout at the Baco Police Station
- 7pm onwards Dinner at Chipping’s; Proceed to Port of Calapan
- 12mn Board RORO from Calapan, Mindoro Oriental to Batangas Pier
- Ado, Avel, Bhong, Chirs, Dan, Dennis, Ed, Faith, Glen, Greg, Jeo, Jes, Karl, Marvin, Nalie, Ron, Ron, Xenneth, Youi