Monday, April 16, 2012

Mt. Makiling Traverse: Sto. Tomas to Los Baños


Mt. Makiling Traverse
Redemption Gained for the BP Lead!





Three years ago, I started an adventure in a mountain that's said to be mystical: Mt. Makiling. Mountaineering, and even backpacking, were not my cup of tea then. The complexities of the sport were more of perplexing to me. Thus, I came in unprepared. I even had jeans on instead of wearing a trek pants. It was a trek to the mountain's peak via traditional UPLB trail. After reaching Station 17, I aborted the expedition because of the ire weather which made the trail implausibly hazardous.



It was during this climb when I first encountered the blood leeches, more popular to the Philippine mountaineering community as limatik. The trauma of removing a fat, aggressive creature from an eye of a fellow climber got inside my mind and I told myself that I might never attempt to complete climbing this colossal Laguna mountain.


Until I got an invitation from some of my climb buddies to conquer Mt. Makiling. And mind you, not just via the traditional UPLB trail which is a literal walk in the park. They were eyeing a more challenging, technical and longer climb - a traverse! The famous Mt. Makiling Traverse from Sto. Tomas, Batangas to Los Banos, Laguna (popularly dubbed as 'Maktrav') is one of the most challenging day hikes near the metropolis. Some of The BACKPACKERS were also conquering this mountain using the traditional trail (for the full article feature, click here). I did not just have second thoughts in joining the friend's invitation. I thought about it a lot. It was already midnight and I was still pondering if I would come or not. Not only was it about the mountain that made me miserable three years ago, but also because I had no preparations whatsoever for this Major Climb.


But eventually, I threw out the sissy thoughts in me and I gave my confirmation to join the climb. Good luck to myself, I said.



Sto. Tomas, Batangas

The small group met at Buendia at around 4:30AM, an ideal time if you would like to finish your day hike earlier. Several blog posts speak of the 10 - 12 hours of trekking, bouldering, and endless tramping for a Maktrav completion.


We arrived at San Bartolome in Sto. Tomas, Batangas with a very promising weather. The sun's rays were majestically highlighting the contours of the mountain. With no rain clouds over its peaks, the mountain seemed calm that day.


I planned on surprising the other BACKPACKERS who were doing the UPLB trail so we headed on early, at 6AM. We did not hire a guide, which made us backtrack at the early phase of the hike. Still, the trail was manageable. But after ten to fifteen minutes of strolling, the trail became steeper.



The view from San Bartolome jumpoff point
























Road still cemented


Start of the hike at the dirt road






















The Trailhead


The steep trailhead of Maktrav zigzagged its way across the green hill. We were already immersed in the forest of the mountain. The crooked uphill was exhausting and we had to do some 'take-fives' because our bodies were just warming up. But after making it through the early steep part, it became moderate as we continued the hike through a private property path. It has fences that create a divide between the so-called 'private property' and the trail for mountaineers. In this section, the burning pursuit to complete the traverse pumped me up. "If the trail continues to be like this, it is going to be a hassle-free, easy climb." or so I thought.

The Sto. Tomas trail sandwiched by the 'private' fences


We missed a very crucial part of the trailhead which lead us to the wrong path! We passed by Palanggana River and from that point, we trailed downwards! "What's wrong! We were supposed to be going up as it is a CLIMB." However, we met a local who told us that we were going the right direction (but we were not!). Thanks to him, we actually almost reached the starting point (traversing in a different trail). It just so happen that we had a map which served as our guide, so when we reached the cross at the base, we turned back. We saw the local again who insisted that we should not be trailing back. Why was he so insistent in making us go back when we clarified that we were going up the mountain? Is this Maria Makiling in disguise who did not want us to push through with the hike? No one can tell.  Besides, he disappeared quickly in a ravine! And that's before we saw him again doing some 'local' thing at the hose in the Palanggana River. The exhausting ascent going back to where we got lost drained our energy as it was another steep assault. But we did not give up even if we lost a couple of hours. So, it is safe to say that we technically started the hike at 9AM, not 6AM.


We finally reached the fork where we got lost, and surely, we missed that crucial turn of the trek and it had trail signs on it! So a piece of advice to fellow climbers: the trailhead of the Sto. Tomas trail should always be uphill, at least until the clearing.


Watch out for the helpful ribbons


We were treated with some great views when we finally reached the clearing or the so-called Talahiban section of the trail. Yes, it is full of 'talahibs' so make sure that your arms are covered with warmers for protection. 


A piece of Mt. Makiling from the Talahiban clearing


When we entered the jungle again, it became a very long and winding journey to reach the trophy of Sto. Tomas trail - Melkas Ridge. I got discombobulated as the path trailed downwards! I did not want to lose precious time again but my instincts told me to carry on. Our group started looking for trail marks and we did found some which somehow appeased our confused state. We had a thirty minute lunch and nap break at the big campsite before we started assaulting again.



Melkas Ridge and Peak 3


After a productive break, and a couple of leg cramps, we finally reached Melkas Ridge. This is the most technical part of the climb, yet the most breathtaking. Your eyes will feast on a 360 degree view of the mountain, the provinces of Laguna and Batangas and the  Laguna and Taal lakes. It is not for the faint of heart because this is where you will start bouldering your way up Haring Bato and there are ravines which is not for the acrophobic. 

Bouldering - let's do this!

We were finally outside the forest for a moment. However there were still some interesting flora on the ridge. We saw plenty of pitcher plants along the boulders. It was the first time I saw these bell-shaped carnivorous plant in person. This is the portion of the trail with the most ropes. Not just three or four, but several ropes! Because the weather was perfect that time, there were some portions wherein a rope aid is not necessary. But because Mt. Makiling is a rain forest, which means rain is inevitable, these ropes may really help climbers in fulfilling this technically challenging part of the trail. It is one of the things I enjoyed in the traverse as well! I loved Melkas Ridge. It was long and exhausting getting there but it was worth it.


Pitcher Plant






Climber Shyne standing proud on top of Melkas Ridge

The Melkas Ridge boulders and the helpful ropes



























The Wild Boar Trail


If Melkas Ridge was the most anticipated sight for me in this climb, then the next challenge was the one I dreaded the most. Surely it was an accomplishment after bouldering through the ridge and reaching Peak Three. But reaching Mt. Makiling's second highest peak only means one thing: the challenge of the traverse was next! Thus, the WILD BOAR TRAIL.

This connects Peak 3 and Peak 2, hence the traverse section. Just hearing the term Wild Boar trail invites imagination of some wild and crazy trails. It is where we will be thrown into a trail with thick vegetation and we had to scramble, contort, stretch, lean back, bow down, in order to get through. This section is also said to be abundant in limatiks especially when there is a downpour. The literal definition of a wild hog chase by evading the blood leeches was no fun for me. I clearly did not want to remove another leech from a co climber's eye (much more worried if it's in my eye!)

A weird devilish tree at the Wild Boar trail

The weather was perfect. It was sunny. And ten minutes inside the traverse trail, we haven't encountered any bloodsucker yet. So I became more confident that there won't be any leech obstacle this time. Until I asked a fellow mountaineer (of another climb party), 

"Sir, mukhang wala pong limatik ngayon noh?"

"Kakatanggal ko nga lang nung sa akin eh!," upon hearing those words, our small group of four quickly checked our clothes and any exposed skin for an unwanted visitor. I had none. But one of my fellow climbers, Wilson, had a bite on his foot! The culprit was nowhere to be found but blood was already gushing. "Damn, nakagat na rin ako..." blurted Wilson. 

Limatik or the infamous Blood Leech

The trail was true to its name, we had to pretend we were wild boars crossing a sometimes muddy path. However it was somehow manageable. The obstructions were fine. It was just another part of the adventure. My fun adventure-of-a-boy got cut short when I had to maneuver a sliding mud path. I deviated from it to avoid the mud but what did I get in return? A limatik appearance!!! 

But before I sprinkled it with my anti limatik solution, I took out my camera first and captured a mugshot of the little monster. After spraying my salt solution, it self destructed...and died. Not only was it a Redemption Climb for the mountain, but also a Revenge Climb for the 30 plus limatiks that attacked and bit me three years ago. Redemption is mine!

Get ready to pretend to be wild boars in the Wild Boar trail

I felt a little guilty for killing the bloodsucker, (hey, the creed says Kill Nothing But Time!) because I noticed that the limatiks that time were not aggressive. Well, that was because of the sunny weather. They were not energetic nor enthusiastic in feeding on your exposed skin as compared to a climb during the wet season. So they were practically defenseless. As a matter of fact I killed the three leeches that reached my shirt and pants. Talk about sweet and easy revenge!




Descent via UPLB trail


Finally, after almost two hours in the Wild Boar trail, we saw three crosses on a cleared campsite which marked our arrival at Mt. Makiling's highest peak: Peak Two!

Joining BP Ivan in his redemption quest are Wilson, Sunshine and Louie.

We just rested for a good forty minutes. The view at Peak Two is less magnificent as compared to the astounding sight at Melkas Ridge. But there were parts where you can view the vast plains of Laguna and the other surrounding mountains. 


The third major challenge that I consider in a typical Maktrav is the leg shattering descent in the never ending UPLB trail which is composed of thirty stations. That's one of the reasons I opted to join Maktrav than doing the UPLB-UPLB Mt. Makiling dayhike with the other BACKPACKERS and some UPLB college students. If I were to enter that long and endless rocky road, I might as well do a Maktrav. And seeing the Melkas Ridge and completing the dreaded Wild Boar trail were just my prize.

We caught up with my BACKPACKER family (Clue, Chons, Weng and Heinz) and the UPLB students they assisted in the UPLB trail at its Station 1! It was nice to hear their stories as well, and with the four 'traversers', we wrapped up the day together at a Japanese restaurant just outside UP Los Banos.

BP Ivan catching up with The BACKPACKERS and friends at Station 1, UPLB Trail


I would like to thank my companions Sunshine Caballes, John Louie Baccay and Wilson Galapon for inviting me and completing the great Mt. Makiling Traverse Challenge!

Ivan, Louie, Shyne and Wilson - traverse successful!


Mt. Makiling Traverse
A SWEET SUCCESS!

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