Pinoy Trails Contributor Jes Aranzaso tells us the story of climbing Mount Guiting Guiting, which is among the most difficult mountains to climb locally in the Philippines. It’s definitely adding a big check mark on a mountaineers’ bucket list.
Mount Guiting Guiting (G2)
Thursday, April 28, 2016. I started the day unusually early because I had to cram preparing and packing my things for the climb. I was too lazy last night as I also arrived home late and extremely tired from work. “Kaya na yan bukas. Konti lang naman din dadalin kong gamit at ayokong magbuhat nang masyado mabigat sa G2,” I told myself. I managed to finish everything by 8am, just one hour before my planned time to leave home for the Jam Liner terminal in Buendia.
I suggested to Henson and Darryl to meet at 11am to have time for lunch near the bus terminal. Henson and I ate unli-rice meals at Mang Inasal, saying to ourselves “You’re gonna need this carbo-load, anyway.” Darryl came full just when we were done eating so we immediately proceeded to the terminal. Ken already advised that he was on his way and already near. When Ken, Denver and Maria finally arrived, we boarded the bus to Batangas Pier at around 1pm, and mostly slept in transit.
To The Pier
After two and a half hours, I woke up realizing we were near the port, as shown by the cargoes stacked around on both sides of the road. We got off the bus after a few minutes and found Jaypee, Mikee, couple Erwin and Marianne just on the other side of the fence. The other group (organized by Sir Migs) who has the same itinerary with ours was also there. They were 13, and we were 10. Good thing we decided not to bring tents anymore, but only hammocks, sleeping bags, and tarp, since the spaces on the campsite would be limited.
Excitement sank in entering the passenger boarding gate. At the same time, my stomach seemed to feel numb; I couldn’t say if it was hunger or what. Henson surmised that it was nervousness, too. Yeah, after all, this would be my first 9/9 climb. Although I have read about the difficulty and hiking-related deaths in the mountain, I was still clueless how to feel. All I knew was that it would never be an easy feat, otherwise everyone would do it. Mount Guiting Guiting would be just like any other crowded mountain near Manila.
“Life, they say, is not meant to be lived in one place”
The longer we waited boarding the RORO, the more I didn’t know how to feel. Thanks to the random chats I had with the group and their stories of how fun and fulfilling it is to reach different summits and plans to return without definite dates, my thoughts were entertained. This early on our journey and it reminded me already I am indeed living and not just existing. Life, they say, is not meant to be lived in one place. To this, I fully subscribe that’s why I take adventures seriously. Work. Ipon. Climb. Kain. Enjoy. Dare. WICKED!
M/V Reina Del Rosario
At 6pm, we were finally aboard the M/V Reina Del Rosario. Luckily, our beds were near the side of the ship where the occasional flow of air was a blessing as it was too hot and humid even in the evening. We left our beds and backpacks for the sunset viewing on the deck. It was beautiful as always. The sea gave it a different horizon, made it even lovelier to the eyes, and I took it as a sign of a beginning of a good journey. Darkness swallowed the sea eventually. The lights on the lands on both sides of our path shone like stars which fell but didn’t hit the ground. Some of us including me went back to our beds while the others went up to sit around above the piles of rescue boats.
When we decided to have dinner. The cafeteria just announced they ran out of cooked rice. Henson and I just ate the Dunkin Donuts we bought at the bus terminal. This gave us instant sugar rush. We reserved eating cup noodles and drinking coffee in case we woke up in the middle of the night.
Bonding with the Rest of the Crew
We were then called to join the group hanging out at the rescue boat. We found them drinking alcohol and having socials already. What else to do, right? 8pm was too early to sleep. After more than an hour of shared stories, jokes, laughter and a bottle of Jim Beam with Pepsi as chaser, some were still wanting, thus I volunteered to buy cans of beers from kalog-kalog. While they were at their beers, Henson and I were at our ice cream. Dan Eric’s immediately became the best (and only) ice cream in cone on that ship that summer night. Describe simple joys.
I didn’t know until what time they stayed as all I remembered was when I woke up on my bed when many people were leaving the ship, vendors were shouting “Noodles! Itlog! Suman! Kakanin! Kape!” I had noodles and coffee and I knew from Mikee that we were still in Odiongan, a port of Tablas Island, Province of Romblon’s largest. After another quick dreamless sleep, it was daybreak so we hurriedly went to the view deck and waited for the sunrise.
Beautiful Sunset and Sunrise
It looked like an ordinary morning, except it wasn’t. We couldn’t help but stand in awe of the majestic sun showering its light to the earth little by little. Beautiful sunset and sunrise – two in a row. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe just some dolphins. Yes, there were dolphins. When the sun was finally up, we looked down on the waters and they were there, three of them, racing with the ship, in a seemingly choreographed exhibition wherein each one had their moments jumping above the waters. They seemed like showing off, or maybe, they were just doing their morning exercise routine. We couldn’t help but smile and whisper “Woh! Wow! Wuh! Galing!”
Then, next thing I knew, we were in Romblon, Romblon, to transfer to another ship. No doubt about it, seeing the hall named Port of Romblon and the children jumping on the open sea asking for coins to be thrown on the water for them to catch before they sink. Fun to watch, yes, yet it gave me mixed feelings.
That RORO ride took 13 hours instead of 12 hours, longer than we expected, thus, we only had enough time to run and buy breakfast and other food supplies just outside the port, lest we would not be able to catch the only morning RORO trip to Sibuyan Island, where Mount Guiting Guiting is located.
M/V Maria Querubin
M/V Maria Querubin is way smaller since it is only intended for short trips. We actually had nowhere to sit already but the stairs where we ate our well-deserved breakfast. Everyone was quietly satisfied after the meal and started admiring the beauty of the islands and beaches we see from a distance. “This is it. We’re near. Point of no return.” Then someone said, “Gusto n’yo beach na lang tayo? Pwede namang wag na pakahirap umakyat di ba?” It’s a common tempting joke of mountaineers whenever hiking near the sea. But G2 was calling us, and we must go.
Bucket List: Mount Guiting Guiting
Mount Guiting-Guiting, popularly known as G2, must be on every true-blue Pinoy mountaineer’s local bucket list, due to its relative technicality and difficulty. It easily attracts and challenge the dauntless and adventurous. Many years ago (1985), the tragic death of four mountaineers after falling on its rocky cliffs was a very big sad news among the mountaineering community. Posing well-known dangers such as possible harsh weather conditions coupled with the risky trails, safety precautions must be taken seriously in G2.
Magdiwang Port, Sibuyan Island
Two and a half hours passed before we reached Magdiwang Port, Sibuyan Island. Instead of taking several tricycles, Ken and Jaypee had made arrangements with the group of Sir Migs to rent a jeepney instead to take us to the jump-off point, which was cheaper. Mikee, Denver, Henson and I got lost among the crowds and continued walking forward when the group saw us and they were already inside the jeep. We stopped by at a store to have merienda and to get our pre-ordered lunch. How could you resist a P25 halo-halo with ice cream and a P10 pancit canton? We simply couldn’t. After filling our stomachs, we had one last stopover at Tatay Toto’s house to leave the things we wouldn’t need during the climb such as clothes for going home.
Starting our Trek
We reached the DENR at noontime, registered our group and signed our waivers. Of course, we also had our photos taken at the Mt. Guiting Guiting Natural Park signboard. We then ate our lunch and made some last minute preparations. At 1pm, we finally commenced our trek entering into the forested land of what they call the Tampayan Trail. Twenty minutes passed and we were already on the river. First take five, or fifteen. After a few minutes, Sir Migs’ group arrived and also took a rest.
By The River
Water was crystal clear although too shallow for a swim. This is known as a water source where the guides and porters fill the empty water bottles for the climbers. We resumed trek and this was where endless assault began. The trail is very clear and is surrounded by woodlands throughout. The fact that it was the hottest part of the day did not help. Although covered by shades, the trail lacked the cool blowing winds from the trees which made us drenched with sweat in a few minutes.
Good thing I was wearing convertible trekking pants so I decided to trek in shorts instead. Still, most of us boys could not resist taking our shirts off whenever we took time to rest. We could squeeze our shirts and towels and our sweat would flow like water from a faucet. It was just too hot.We were still moving on a relatively fast pace, because we wanted to secure a good place at the campsite.
Regrouping at Camp 1
At Camp 1 (380masl), we put down our backpacks and regrouped. Everyone was still in high energy so we moved forward and agreed to just regroup again at Camp 2 (650masl), almost the same elevation as the summit of Pico De Loro. We were saying “Andamot naman nito sa hangin, at wala man lang open space kaya sobrang init.” Even the Gatorade on my hydration bladder was already lukewarm, so water tasted better. Some trail foods were passed around. Again, we were squeezing our shirts and towels. We just entertained ourselves with jokes just to lessen the heat impact. Our guides and porters who were carrying our group backpacks were at the tail. It was okay since they said “Wala pa namang ligaw sa trail.”
Approaching Camp 3
I was with Jaypee, our lead, and we were ahead of the group approaching Camp 3 (1100masl). For most of us, that trek from Camp 2 to Camp 3 was the longest distance we covered in which we did not regroup. The open spaces which we could see were only “paasa” that Camp 3 was near. We would just be surprised that another segment of assault was waiting after those seemingly open spaces. Our goal was to regroup at Camp 3 by 6pm and tackle the last part to Mayo’s Peak (1500masl) together for safety purposes since it would be dark already.
Sunset at Camp 3
We were again blessed with a magnificent sunset just before Camp 3. At 7pm, we reached Mayo’s Peak. We were so delighted because it meant dinner and rest. Ken told the group that we were having Sinigang na Baboy. Groundsheets were laid down and tarp was set-up like a tent for the six of us who did not have our own hammocks. After an hour of rest, we shared the prepared meals and everybody was satisfied. They decided to forego socials since we needed to get up by 4am to start the summit assault by 5am.
Enjoying the Cold Night
I enjoyed the cold temperature that night because I was on my sleeping bag. But beginning at 3am, an alarm already started sounding continuously every 10 minutes, so I was already half-awake since that time. At 4am, another alarm sounded. That was the wake-up call time already, but I could not blame anyone for not getting up since it was cold and dark. Maybe another 30 minutes would not hurt. At 430am, they started preparing our breakfast and lunch. We would only bring drinking water, trail food, packed lunch and our small day pack for the summit assault.
Off to the Summit
Ken decided he would stay at the camp to guard our things, prepare the meals ahead, and be our contact in case of emergency since this would be the most intense part of the trek. He said it would normally take 5 hours to reach the summit, and about the same period of time to go back. We started at 8am from Mayo’s Peak where the view of the trail waiting for us was majestic and at the same time intimidating. The trail actually looks scary from afar, like an obstacle course of cliffs and rocks.They were pointing to us the breath-taking “Knife Edge” trail and the “Camel’s Back” ridge which were exposed to sun and winds and added that the “Kiss The Wall” part and the 90-degree cliff also known as the “Hillary Pass” were also waiting for us.
Peak of Deception
The highest peak we were seeing at the end already deceived me because Ken said that it was only the “Peak of Deception” because the true G2 Summit was still behind it. Ken also warned that at times, clouds or thick fogs would chase you while trekking which could make your climbing buddies invisible or out of sight even when you are really just three meters apart. Lastly, Ken mentioned that our cut-off to reach the summit was 1pm otherwise we would have to turn back already, validated by what I have read online: “By implication, only mountaineers with enough stamina are advised to attempt the G2 climb.
The possibility of failure is always there: if the local guides perceive a dangerous weather change forthcoming, the assault is aborted. Patience and perseverance – virtues of a true mountaineer – are put to the test in Mt. Guiting-Guiting.”
First Part of the Trek
The first part of the trek which was a swift descent was not so difficult. The next part—which were flat walls of huge rocks, wherein we have to walk on its ledge of only around 2 feet wide, sometimes narrowing to only 1 foot, and you have no protruding parts of the rock to cling on—was where the challenge began. Along the trail, we saw some pitcher plants, which collect dews/rainwater, albeit they looked almost dried. Ravines were on both sides, rocks and boulders were like puzzles to which our body positions and movements must fit to pass, and the sharp edges of the rocks were our hand support, luckily I always wore my gloves. We were on what they call “four-wheel drive” using both our two feet and two hands trekking.
Trek to Knife Edge and Camel’s Back
To be honest, the trek on the Knife Edge and Camel’s Back was still easier than what I expected. I was telling myself why: maybe because we didn’t swallow it as a whole but just chewed it bite by bite. However, the risk of falling would still get to your nerves as one wrong step and you would be history.
The Kiss the Wall part was just a step or two while facing a large vertical rock, and if not for the mark of plastic straw rope below it, you might not be able to notice it at all. We regrouped at what they call the Mabel’s Spring and rested there for a bit.
Peak of Deception or Decision?
After almost 3.5 hours, we were at the Peak of Deception which according to them was also called the “Peak of Decision” because from here climbers have to decide whether to proceed or not, considering the cut-off time and the energy level of each one. From here, it took us a little past 30 minutes of still rocky and unforgiving trail before we reached the summit, tensely passing through the 90-degree Hillary Pass. They call the last 100 meters to the summit “Walk of Fame” maybe because of the “high” which you would start to feel knowing you’re almost there.
Mount Guiting Guiting Summit
At exactly 12nn, we were at the G2 Summit, thankful to the Creator for the safe and enjoyably challenging ascent, despite the lack of Summit clearing. Aside from the thick clouds surrounding us, our view was that of the vegetation composed mainly of small/bonsai-like trees and flowers, similar to those at the Mt. Tapulao Summit. Personally, my emotions were a mixture of unexplained happiness, natural exhaustion, indescribable overwhelming feeling, and a pure sense of accomplishment.
This was G2, considered as one of the most difficult and challenging mountains to climb in the Philippines, and I was standing on top of it, 2,058masl, tired, but well and alive!!!!
After enough photo-ops, our group decided to take our lunch at the “Secret Garden” just below the Summit. Hungry and weary, my rice with two-piece longganisa, salted red egg and tomato became the best lunch ever! Every drop of water on my mouth was like a slight touch of heaven, too! I looked up drinking water when I felt a sudden raindrop on my face. “Umaambon ba?” “Oo nga, umaambon na, tara na!” Everybody immediately packed their things because we knew it was time to go. It was 12:30pm. And it’s almost raining!
The Descent was Equally Challenging
We knew that the ascent was just half of the adventure, and the descent would be equally challenging, as we would have to pass again the 90-degree cliff, Peak of Deception, Kiss the Wall, Camel’s Back, and the Knife Edge. Due to the light rains, the trail became wet as we were, too. We were a little slower as we had to be more careful about not sliding, falling, and injuring ourselves on the slippery rocks. Rainclouds were chasing us, too. These were true until after one hour and a half when the light rains were gone and the sun appeared again. Then we moved faster. I was with the lead pack with Jaypee, Marya and Mikee. We did not have opportunity to regroup, and the water we were expecting to be waiting for us near the Mabel Spring were not there.
Back at Mayo’s Peak
One of our guides said that they brought up everything instead because somebody might get it if we just left them there. So if we needed water, we could perhaps get it from our guides or porters, if we were with them, and only if there were any left. Since we somehow knew what to expect on the trail back, we were more confident and less nervous, but constantly careful. When we had the clear view of Mayo’s Peak, we already saw Ken and Sir Migs (who also decided to stay at the campsite) waiting there.
The four of us were back at Mayo’s Peak at 4pm, 3.5 hours after our lunch at the Secret Garden. Ken congratulated us and told us that our yellow shirts were easily recognizable even from afar, that was why he was happy seeing us while we tackle the trail moving at a quick, comfortable and confident pace. And we felt the same looking back at the trail we just passed through, seeing our buddies there, moving like yellow ants. Woooh!!!
Group Photo Time
We waited for everyone for a group photo there. One by one they arrived, and stories of how they ran out of water and a few even tried drinking rainwater from the leaves of plants along the trail, became a big deal. There were lessons there. Bring your own water. Expect less. Consume less. Water discipline coupled with contingency planning of bringing your own buffer. Know what and where to drink from. Survive.We survived! Back to our camp, there was a change in plan.
Catching our RORO ride
Because we need to catch the 10am RORO from Sibuyan to Romblon, our guide suggested we descend straight to Tatay Toto’s House before 9pm that day, instead of at 1am. Logic was, 1am would be too cold and we might be in the middle of our deep sleep. It might be harder to get up when rested, and it might still rain during the night. So we prepared our packs and tried to get some rest while they were cooking our dinner. We had special carbonara, rice and fish for dinner. Yes, carbonara. It was the best spicy carbonara there was, I shamelessly asked for a second round. Then a cup of coffee. We also had coffee while taking five at the Peak of Deception. I like coffee. I love coffee when hiking.
Dinner with Civet Cats
After that sumptuous dinner with some civet cats (musang) watching us and finally breaking camp, we were ready to descend at 9pm, as agreed. Sir Migs asked us to bid goodbye before going, they were having socials when we did. We went ahead, before we get tempted to stay for the night. Hehe. We started our descent at 9pm, with the same strategy, we regrouped at the campsites. The trail was wet due to the rains, but no cold winds blowing so we were again soaked in our own sweat. During that descent, everyone felt tired due to lack of rest, and our knees felt heavier and weaker, too. Most of us, including me, slipped and slid not just once, in the dark.
Regrouping at Camp 1
When we regrouped at Camp 1, it was decided to just e-camp near the river instead of trekking straight to Tatay Toto’s House. Anyway, it would be just one hour of trekking left. We reached the river at 1:30am, and the cold water of the river was a relief to our tired and dirty feet and legs. Everyone found his/her own place to sleep, and I found mine near a tree, I wrapped myself on my sleeping bag and I had a comfortable two-hour rest from 2am to 4am.
We resumed our trek right away and reached Tatay Toto’s House at 5am. The house was still closed, thus, we could not take a bath yet because our clothes were inside. We just sat there, turned on our mobile phones, and reported to our loved ones the successful climb we just had. It felt like a real victory, and indeed it was.
We fought the battle against ourselves, and we won, we emerged victorious. It was a labor of love and passion, and we finished it on Labor (Sun)Day. Therefore, we deserved a good bath! “Thursday morning pa pala tayo huling naligo no, Kuya Jes?” Darryl remarked.
When the house was opened and we got our clothes, we hurriedly took a bath like children who could not be stopped. Dipper by dipper of fresh cold water, I was liberated, relieved, and wanting for more. Somehow, on my mind, I still could not believe that the climb was done and we were all okay, glad and fulfilled with this achievement. Without a doubt, this climb’s memories will remain in my heart like words carved in stones…
Mt. Guiting-Guiting (Tampayan Trail)
- April 29-May 1, 2016
- 2,058+ MASL
- Major climb, Difficulty 9/9, Trail Class 5 with rock climbing/scrambling
- Day 0 – April 28, 2016, Thursday
- 1:30pm-3:30pm – Bus to Batangas Port
- 6pm-7am – RORO to Romblon, Romblon
- Day 1 – April 29, 2016, Friday
- 8am-10:30am – RORO to Sibuyan Island
- 11am-12nn – Jeep to DENR
- 1pm-7pm – Trek to Mayo’s Peak
- Day 2 – April 30, 2016, Saturday
- 8am-12nn – Trek to G2 Summit
- 12:30pm-4pm – Trek back to Mayo’s Peak
- 9pm-1:30am – Trek to River
- Day 3 – May 1, Sunday
- 4am-5am – Trek to Tatay Toto’s House
- 7:30am-9am – Tricycle to Sibuyan Port
- 10:30am-1:30pm – RORO to Romblon
- 2:30pm-3:30am – RORO to Batangas Port
Team G2 2016
- Darryl, Denver, Erwin, Henson, Jaypee, Jes, Ken, Maria, Marianne, Mikee