Friends. We all have at least one of them. And as we grow up, we come to accept the fact that we won’t always be able to meet each other every time we want to. Priorities come in and our time is now divided into countless responsibilities, personal goals, and the like. Yet above it all, we still try to find time to slow down a little bit and catch up with our friends. Either if it’s during holidays, scheduled vacations, or any other ordinary day, we make it possible as we don’t want anything go to waste. Now this time, my friend Arlene is set to come home from Singapore to attend her brother’s wedding and have a short vacation as well. With that, she messaged me if I am free by the first few days of June because there is a trail run event in Ifugao. Since it was still a month early, I had no definite plans so I said I am interested in joining the said event. With that, we then synced our calendars. Her only concerns now are having a girl companion and that one big question “Can we do it?” I was being positive so I said to her that we can (even if I too have some doubts :p). The only thing we have to sort out is who will be her companion if we are to camp near the starting point of the trail run upon arriving there a day earlier. So we both messaged our friends who are thrill seekers which are up for this challenge. Unfortunately after days of waiting for response, she decided we should just go camping there in Hungduan.
From Trail Running to Camping
As we settled for the idea of camping, we just have to find ourselves a local guide there who can accompany us in Mt. Napulawan, one of the fabled mountains belonging to the Great Cordillera Traverses together with Mt. Ugo (Nueva Vizcaya-Benguet) and Mt. Amuyao (Ifugao-Mountain Province). Luckily, Arlene found a direct contact through Facebook named Nalyn Dax. She then asked the details of the guided tour considering there would only be two of us. At first we were skeptical of the rate and inclusions but as the date draws near, we accepted the local guide’s offer. During the course of waiting for the scheduled hike, another friend of mine, Carl, learned of it and asked to join as well. Now, expenses will be divided into three I thought :p.
Day 0: June 1, 2018 – Banaue Bound
So let’s go fast forward now and skip the preparation part. Our DIY trip starts with an approximately ten hour trip from Sampaloc, Manila to Banaue, Ifugao through Ohayami Trans. We departed at around half past ten in the evening and arrived there in Banaue at around seven thirty the next day.
From there, we were fetched by Manong Romualdo coming from the tourism office who will take us to Brgy. Hapao in Hungduan by means of tricycle. Before heading there though, we bought some food for lunch and breakfast the next day. Along the way, we took several stops to take pictures of what Ifugao boasts off i.e., the rice terraces that belong to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. (See Other Information for more details about the list)
As we reached Brgy. Bokiawan, one tire has gone flat so we stopped by the side of the road and waited for the driver to replace it. While waiting, we decided to go to the tourism office and register first as we noticed that it is just nearby.
Upon returning, the driver was nearly done fixing the tire so we just waited for a little while and continued with our trip soon after. It took us a total of almost an hour and a half before arriving at our guide’s house. There, we were offered breakfast and so we ate.
After, we made our final preparations and later met Helgie and Koikie, both in their senior years, who are also joining us.
Day 1: June 2, 2018 – Moment of Truth
There are several trails that one can traverse when planning to reach the summit of Mt. Napulawan. One can start in Brgy. Hapao. The trail here is said to be relatively easier and the ascent is gradual but takes a longer time in return. The more usual trail starts in Sitio Tiiwan, Brgy. Poblacion and the exit point is in Sitio Balentimol, Brgy. Abatan. Our guide suggests that we start from Sitio Balentimol. The prime reason for this is that there are two water sources that we will be passing through which are in Balentimol Falls and Munkilat Falls.
From Brgy. Hapao to our suggested jump off point, it took us more than half an hour to reach it. The scorching heat of the sun as it was nearly midday and my fully loaded backpack sure made me feel challenged as we started our trek.
In less than fifteen minutes, we were able to reach our first stop which is the Balentimol Falls. It was originally named as Tobak Falls but since it exists within the area, it was later changed to Balentimol Falls instead. After fifteen minutes or so of taking pictures and refilling our water bottles, we then continued.
As pumped up as I was and so was my friend Carl, we decided to go ahead of our guide with which she agreed as long as we keep ourselves safe. So we took the role as leads and moved forward. At one point, there was a two-way path that we encountered so we waited for the rest of the group. It was here that Manang Nalyn said we would just need to follow the path that has red ribbons tied to the branches of the trees. After giving those details and having enough rest, we went ahead.
An hour has passed and we can already see our surrounding start to change as we are getting nearer to the mossy forest. It was already way past noon time and we are trying to find a place to stop where we could wait for the others so that we could eat lunch.
Unfortunately, we could not find a good resting place so we continued to walk further. During this time, Carl noticed my right shin is bleeding and there is a blood leech big enough indicating it has already sucked a lot of blood from me. Since climbing Mt. Makiling, I was used to flicking every single blood leech that I can see crawling in my clothes. So I also did it with this one big blood leech sticking to my foot which I shouldn’t have because it could cause more bleeding. But what’s done is done I thought and we just continued for another hour until we reached our second stop which is the Munkilat Falls.
Here, we waited for the others. As the bleeding from the bite of the blood leech still won’t stop, I sat near the water flowing from the falls and submerged my right foot, hoping that the coldness of the water could help with the blood coagulation. Unfortunately, it had no effect and it was here that I noticed that I wasn’t just bitten by one but two blood leeches. After half an hour, the others came so we brought out the food and ate our lunch.
Arlene tried to tend to my bleeding foot but she was as surprised as I am that it is still not stopping after some time. Manang Nalyn then gave a stick of cigarette and instructed me to rub the tobacco on the bitten part. It did stop for a while until it started bleeding again. Though as expected that this could happen when bitten, I just let it off and we just placed a band aid before resuming our trek.
Being the lead, we asked how long it would take from the falls up to the summit. Manang Nalyn said it usually takes around four hours but perhaps we could make it in three hours more or less. So we started with our last leg of our itinerary that day. About an hour has passed and it started to rain. I prayed it won’t get too strong and fortunately after fifteen minutes or so, it has stopped. From this point, the assault was very welcoming (insert sarcasm here :p). The slopes are so steep and never ending. Whenever we are to reach higher ground comes another steep slope in front of us. It was just too tiresome and we can’t help but stop almost every after a few leaps.
What’s more to that? Rain! Yes, it did rain again but this time it was way stronger and more persistent than it was earlier. It was in that moment that I remembered the story of my friend before where she said that it has been continuously raining throughout their climb. At first, I tried not to let it bother me. So Carl and I just continued like it was a normal thing. Yet came another two-way path. It was hard to tell which one is the right trail. From afar we cannot see any red ribbon to tell us. With that, we decided to wait for Manang Nalyn and the others. However, the rain was so strong and we are getting drenched already. By guts alone there is already no guarantee when will it ever stop. We were becoming hopeless. The cold is slowly creeping in to our bodies. And also, the dark is nearly starting to engulf the whole forest. We had to make a decision. So Carl made one more closer peek at one of the paths and affirmed that it is the right way. As we had only one common goal that moment of just reaching the summit, we pushed through and waded in the waterlogged path ahead of us.
Soon after an hour at around six in the evening, we were finally able to reach the top. There, we came to meet a group of locals who were also camping for the night. As the rain continued to pour heavily, we took the liberty of taking shelter by the set camp of one of the groups who arrived there earlier. Not before long though, the rain finally stopped. We then scoured for a good place to pitch our tent. There are two main spots for pitching tent at the summit. The first one can be found and first reached by those coming from Sitio Balentimol like us. The other one is by the viewpoint which can be first reached by those coming from Sitio Tiiwan and is relatively wider than the first spot mentioned. Both are not really far from each other and each offers its own pros and cons. As there is more space by the viewpoint, we decided to pitch our tent there. Right after, we changed our clothes to avoid getting hypothermia. Then, we just brought out those quick bite foods that we have for dinner so that we could eat and sleep earlier.
As soon as we were done, I went out of the tent for a while to go and pee. It was there that I saw the rest of our group who just arrived at around seven. I then helped out Arlene with pitching her tent first. After, Manang Nalyn said she would prepare some hot water so that we could have coffee and dinner. As I and Carl were already able to eat, I just had a cup of coffee before calling it a night.
Day 2: June 3, 2018 – Of Expectations and Reality
Excited I was for the sunrise perhaps, I started waking up at around eleven in the evening and consistently almost every hour until three or four in the morning. As it rained the day before, our chances of witnessing a sea of clouds has gone pretty low. Yet still, I was hopeful.
At around five, I already went out of the tent. I started walking around. Like a kid who can’t wait for his birthday present was perhaps the feeling I had that time. Eventually after some time, the light broke. The sun has started to make it’s way up in the sky. Happiness there was. Simply, the beauty of nature was beyond words in those moments. Getting bitten by blood leeches, getting drenched in heavy rain, losing my breath to very steep slopes. It was worth it all. Despite not seeing a sea of clouds, I was embraced by a beautiful sunrise that soon lights up a vista of colossal mountains from almost all angles. It was more than I could ever ask for.
As one memorable experience, definitely we can’t miss out not taking a picture of the whole landscape before us. So we took much of our time taking photos from different areas at the summit. Then, we took our breakfast and after some time break camp.
<<Succeeding photos by Arlene>>
The descent as said by our guide is doable in four hours but basing from our pace she said that we could perhaps do it in three hours. So we accepted the challenge. We started going down at around nine. Minutes after, we are able to reach a lovely site of the mossy forest where one could take such great pictures.
Beyond that point, we stayed focus on our way going down. At one point, I felt a stinging sensation on my right foot. Again, a blood leech was starting to feed itself. This time, I asked for some alcohol from Carl to remove it. We continued and soon after, Carl noticed my right foot is bleeding again. Guess what? Another blood leech has bit me. With that, we tried to walk our way out of the mossy forest faster than the usual to avoid being bitten again. After nearly two hours or so, we were already on dry land. Our feet are shaking already but we still have a lot of walking to do. We have ran out of water as well. Fortunately, the water source was already nearby so we stopped there. Since it is summer, the water flowing from the stream is too little that refilling our water bottles took us nearly half an hour. While waiting, I received a message from Arlene that if we are able to reach the exit point, we can go ahead to the pool and wash up. As our bottles got filled up, we now stretched our legs and feet one more time for the final blitz.
Around twenty minutes later, houses are already visible from our standpoint. It gave us then the energy to walk faster and in the next ten minutes, we were able to reach the exit point. As a reward to ourselves, we quenched our thirst with a bottle of soda. We sat for a while and once we got a hold of ourselves, we headed for the pool named Dakitan.
The locals said it is reachable in five minutes. So Carl and I panned over the place ahead of us whether there is a big establishment that can possibly have a pool. With no sign at all, we just continued walking and relied with our other information that the locals said i.e., it is located just by the side of the road. Minutes after, we came across a natural body of water to our left. There are people swimming there and it was then that we realized it was not a man-made pool we are talking about but a natural one! There is no entrance fee here so we went and find ourselves a good spot to place our belongings.
As I can’t wait for the others, I went and took a dip first. Around thirty minutes later, the others came. We took a snack and after refreshing ourselves, we called it a day and went back to Brgy. Hapao to wash up and not miss the van going back to Banaue. #theend
- One can opt to go to Hungduan by riding a bus going to Banaue either through Ohayami Trans or Coda Lines. Both offers online reservation. Ohayami Trans offers excellent customer support based from my experience. As for the ride, they do offer center seats so don’t be surprised (because I was :p). The whole travel time is also quite longer as compared when riding through Coda Lines but I have yet to judge it the next time I will go there.
- From Banaue, there are jeeps going to Hungduan. However, during our time, it was a Saturday and the first jeep is scheduled for 10 AM as it is their market day there. So we opted to rent a tricycle instead.
- Registration for the hike is at the tourism office located in Brgy. Bokiawan which is just near the boundary between the municipalities of Banaue and Hungduan. It costed us a total of 300 pesos for the environmental fee and trek fee.
- There are 5 clusters of Ifugao having rice terraces that belong to the UNESCO World Heritage List:
- Nagacadan Rice Terraces in the municipality of Kiangan
- Central Mayoyao Terraces in the municipality of Mayoyao
- Bangaan and Batad Terraces in the municipality of Banaue
- All rice terraces in the municipality of Hungduan
- Others spell the mountain as Napulauan while some might spell it as Napulawan. To the locals, the latter is commonly used. Now, it’s up to you which one to use.
- It was in the slopes of Mt. Napulawan where General Tomoyuki Yamashita sought refuge during the last stages of World War II.