Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kwentong Kaladkarin #09: Over Boulders and into the Bowels of Bulacan

Da Where: Mts. Manalmon and Gola, Biak-na-Bato National Park, Sitio Madlum, San Miguel, Bulacan
Da When: Feb. 20, 2011
Da Who: Jamboree Mountaineers (Team A's Sir Kiko, Isabel, Pia, Hazel, Dora, Raisa, Brianne, Jake, Emma, AnPaul, and Mae)
Da Trivia: Lots of FIRSTs - first time to climb without Vin, first dayhike, first 2 hits, first to go home after a hike without taking a shower. Haha! :D
Da Words for the Day: Team Amazingly Awesome! ;D

Scaling the 'Tower' at Mt. Manalmon's peak

I'm loving my tanned glow now from all the sun I got last Sunday after a dayhike in San Miguel, Bulacan. I got an invite from Sir Bidz dela Cruz, current president of Jamboree Mountaineers, GMA7's mountaineering group. This climb was also recognized as the 2011 kickoff climb for FIMO's annual Climbapalooza event. 

Too bad Marvin didn't get to join me so this was the first hike I've ever done without him. Good thing Isabel also got to join, at least I knew somebody I was comfy hanging around with. Hehe. :)

Coming off a major climb the previous weekend in Mt. Pulag, I knew I was putting up my body to a lot of physical and mental strain. Not to mention that I also have a dayjob that I still need to report to and complete my deliverables. Haha! ;D 

Seeing a full itinerary of two mountains and some spelunking, getting enough sleep for the past week is not my idea of full recovery before another strenous activity but I simply had no choice. Armed only with about 4 hours of sleep, I reported not-so-bright-and-shiny on Sunday at ES Transport terminal in Cubao at around 0545, right on the dot for the call time. 

I saw a few familiar faces from the Tarak charity climb Vin and I joined last November, also organized by Jamboree together with UTrek Mountaineers. I shyly waved hello to them until I spotted Isabel daintily wolfing down on a hotdog, walking towards me with Joey in tow. Hmmm... Kaya pala nagtanong kung anong oras ang call time. Haha! ;D

The sun was a little high in the sky and MRT trains were already whizzing by on the platforms across the street from the terminal before we piled into the bus and started off our trip to Bulacan. I attempted to get a few snores with the bright sunlight streaming and was successful, though it was really short. We got to San Miguel at about 0900 where we'd be taking a 30 minute jeep ride to Sitio Madlum, the jumpoff to Biak-na-Bato National Park. Since we waited for a couple members to arrive at the jeep terminal, we only got to Sitio Madlum at about 1000.

Getting off the jeep, I saw a fantastic view of a calm riverbed, with high rock cliffs and verdant greens. Realizing we'd be crossing shallow waters to get to the other side of the river, I took off my socks and silently thanked that I wore my convertible Lakambini pants, just a zip and viola, I'm wearing shorts! Totally worth the price. :) As soon as I got to the other side of the riverbank, somebody pointed out a moving streak in the water and said that it was a snake, swimming lazily. Sheesh. And to think I just crossed that riverbed. I decided to never set foot in the water again. :D

Isabel crossing the riverbed. Whew, no snakes in sight here. :D
How sweet is this scenery? :)

We regrouped to our assigned teams, did our warm ups and went on to start our hike. We were on a flight of cemented steps and passed by Via Crucis stations and a tiny chapel, most likely used during Holy Week when devotees flock to the place. 

It was very warm that day and not a breeze to behold so I was already starting to pace my breathing so I won't tire easily. We finally went through a short cave tunnel with beautiful rock formations but were sadly ruined by vandalism. The locals were proud to say that several episodes of the local TV show 'Mulawin' were taped there. We did take photos but I couldn't stay long inside the tunnel as it reeked of urine. Sad, sad situation.

We crossed a final stretch of riverbed before hiking for about 15 minutes to get to the river campsite where the Saturday team pitched their tents. We left our bags and only loaded with water, some trail food and a camera, we proceeded to hike up to our first destination, Mt. Manalmon's peak. 

At only 180 MASL, the mountain is actually more of a hill but it was no less easy with the unbearable heat beating down on us. We stepped on parched, loose soil and clambered over some boulders, the vivid blue skies and merciless sun winking at us in between the brownish leaves. 

We finally hit flatland at the summit and half-ran to the jutted boulder which gave us a gorgeous view of Mt. Gola right across and the riverbed below, strewn massive boulders winding through clumps of mango trees and vegetation.

Team A led by Sir Kiko at Mt. Manalmon's peak. Ishmayl! ;D

I did not plan to scale the separate boulder they call 'Aret' or 'Tower' but Isabel had a crazy idea and decided to try it out. Kiko, Pia, Hazel, Dora and Dax were already going down the summit boulder to get to the other side. 

I removed my shoes and socks so I can do it barefoot and slapped some chalk to my now-clammy hands. The way down is very steep, one wrong foot hold and I'm hurtling off down a ravine. The rock face also had some unstable areas so I had to work around finding holds. 

With Dax as my spotter, I hauled myself up the bottom of the 'Tower' and swung my body to the left, all the while putting my weight down, almost hugging the rock for dear life. Going up is a little bit easier as there are several dimples in the rockface, perfect for foot and hand holds. Plus I'm not facing the wide expanse of the ravine below so I was a little fearless. Haha!

Trying to conquer my acrophobia. :)

Reaching the top of the boulder was pure bliss! The midday sun was brutal but at least there was a little breeze. I shared the small peak space with Kiko, Pia, Hazel, Jake and Isabel. It felt good to be able to do what I thought was impossible. 

Going down was the difficult part as I'm now facing the full view of the ravine below. Slowly inching my way down, I breathed a sigh of relief when my feet finally touched the burning, dry soil below the boulder. :D

Sharing the tiny 'Tower' boulder space with Jake, Pia, Isabel, Hazel and Kiko. :)

We then picked our stuff up and started to descend back to the river, where we'll have our packed lunch. It only took us about 20 minutes to get down, as I was already starving and badly need food. Eating by the river was very refreshing and serene, I felt like taking a nap.

Which is not an option, since we had to start preparing for our next hit: Mt. Gola. This mountain is right across Mt. Manalmon, separated by the river. After slathering on more sunblock (man, the sun's bursting out some serious UV rays), we then crossed the river (I hopped on the dry areas) again to to the other side. 

The trail was a lot more different than Manalmon, which is funny since the two mountains are practically beside each other. While Manalmon has more packed, dry earth and loose soil, Gola's trails consisted of steep, large boulders with spiked surfaces.

It was very difficult to climb as you have to hold on to sharp rocks and balance yourself. That and it was stifling hot, we had to pause for several water breaks and there wasn't much shade from the trees. Reaching the summit, we took quick pictures of a hazy Mt. Arayat from the left and Mt. Mabio on the right, its yellowish cliff face beckoning. Marble is being mined from this mountain, including the expensive and rare tea rose marble but its hardly ever climbed by mountaineers, according to our guide, Kuya Mel.

At Mt. Gola's peak, doing one of our wacky shots. ;D

After a few minutes of rest, we started our descent back to the river. We had to to make haste as we're already behind in our itinerary for the day. After quickly repacking our backpacks, we trekked back to our starting point earlier. 

We wanted to pass by our guide, Kuya Mel's store for quick drink. But since it was almost dark, Kiko decided that we'll just push and continue on Bayokbok Cave, our last stop for the day. We hiked for another 20 minutes over steep cemented stairs leading to the entrance of the cave.

Too bad we didn't get to try crossing the monkey cable going to the caves. :(

Upon getting there, we found out that the rope ladder being used to go down to the mouth of the cave is gone. The last team who went through the cave must've brought it with them. 

We had no choice but to drop our packs down first, handing them to our guides and crawl our way down using the sharp rocks as foot and hand holds. It took us a little longer than necessary for everyone to get down that it was already dark even before we entered the cave.

Scene out of '127 Hours'. Haha! Goofing off while waiting for the rest to get down to the cave entrance.

Having been to Sagada and Banahaw myself, I've seen jaw-droppingly beautiful cave structures that I was already expecting a little less from Bayokbok Cave. But to my surprise, I caught myself staring into milky-white, sparkling stalactites and stalagmites! And when I say sparkling, the cave itself was literally sparkling whenever the lights of our headlamps hit the rock surface. And the formations? Equally magnificent! They looked like giant coral reefs glittering in the sunlight. 

The technical part of the cave system did not disappoint as well. We had to clamber up, jump over, wriggle under and cling to rocks to get to the other side. It was only a little challenging since we had our packs with us and we were already drained after hitting the 2 mountains first.

Climbing up one of the walls inside Bayokobok Cave.

Near the exit of the cave, we got some help when several other guides came to bring ropes that we can use. Kuya Mel and the rest quickly helped us out and we were met by the rest of the Jamboree folks. Sir Budz offered to take my pack from me, which I gratefully handed over. 

Tired and spent, I still couldn't help but appreciate the clear night sky above us, dotted with as many stars as the eye can see, a typical night sky when you're away from the glaring lights of the urban jungle.

We walked back to where the rest and our rented jeep were waiting for us, thankful that we didn't have to cross the river anymore. Too bad we didn't get to try on the monkey cables, I badly wanted to experience that too. :( Oh well, we were just thankful we survived the day, relatively unscathed. 

We stopped by at Kuya Mel's sari-sari store and had the most refreshing bottle of Sparkle soda I ever had in my life. :D We ended up using one of the jeepneys as our dressing area (since we're pressed for time to wash up). Good thing our team were made up mostly of girls, our clothes-changing became a bonding session. Haha.

Best Sparkle ever. LOL. :D

Armed with the famous Bulacan chicharon as pasalubong, our bus ride back to Manila felt like 5 minutes, I dozed off the whole time. I struggled to wake up when we got to Quezon Ave, where we'd have our post-climb meeting at Andok's Lechon Manok. I was so starved, I almost swallowed my porkchop meal whole. Haha!

The post-climb discussion went great, all issues were raised and addressed. I wanted to enjoy some beer with them but my head was already swimming from fatigue so when the group broke up, I quickly jumped into a cab and headed home.

Wow. Tons of first-time experiences in this climb. Lots of memories to keep. And definitely looking forward to the next ones. :)


  1. hi hon,
    sanay na sanay ka na mamundok huh! always be careful. Miss you friend :)

  2. Aw, thanks hon. :) Sama ka minsan, its one of the best feelings in the world, when you're at the summit. :)