Friday, September 14, 2012

Mt. Pico de Loro Traverse


Mt. Pico de Loro has always been special to me. It is the mountain that opened my interest towards mountaineering. Its amazing campsite view deck and breathtaking 360 degree summit view are responsible for inspiring me to explore the beauty of other mountain's summits and peaks. Since then I became an active mountain climber. I have climbed and will be climbing several new mountain peaks but I vowed to visit Mt. Pico de Loro at least once a year. This promise is to remind me of those days when I was just a mere guest who was beginning to appreciate the sport. And being true to the pact I made with Mt. Pico de Loro, to date, I have paid it a visit of six times in four years. Each visit was special.

It was also Mt. Pico de Loro that triggered the passion for mountain climbing in some of The BACKPACKERS. I introduced five friends to this peak in 2010. Soon after, we became a group who vowed to climb at least once a month. The group easily became close and treated each one a family. The family grew bigger. And the rest is history.

September of the year 2012, I invited The BACKPACKERS to conquer the Parrot's Beak again. BPs Tin and Weng easily responded to the invitation for they haven't been to this mountain. Both were actually looking forward in such invitation. We were joined by BP Angel and Wilson, both would be conquering Mt. Pico de Loro for the second time.

This Mt. Pico de Loro trip is unique for three reasons. First, this is the first time I'm trying its traverse trail from Ternate, Cavite to Nasugbu, Batangas. It can be considered as one of the most grueling Mt. Pico de Loro trek for it's the first time I won't be spending a night in its campsite, thus making it a dayhike traverse. The last unexpected reason it's memorable is because of the presence of a dog who voluntarily guided and bonded with us for ten hours during this daytrip.



The Sixth Companion
A Mt. Pico de Loro Dayhike Traverse story

by: Ivan Ignacio

Backpacker Ivan and the unexpected companion



A Prelude To The Journey

I won't let the year pass without going on a hike in my favorite mountain: Mt. Pico de Loro. I invited The BACKPACKERS and some friends but since it was scheduled on a weekday, only a few responded to the invitation. That was fine, I really wanted a smaller group since it was a dayhike. It was my sixth time in Mt. Pico de Loro and we were five in the group. I thought that it could have been a sweet coincidence if one more friend could tag along with us which would parallel my sixth Mt. Pico de Loro climb with six companions (myself included). I also thought of making this climb at the Parrot's beak more unique by conquering its traverse trail. If thousand articles speak of the traditional trail originating from DENR in Cavite, not much was really described about the other side of Mt. Pico de Loro over the internet.

Pico Five: Wilson, Weng, Angel, Tin and Ivan
That day, the bridge connecting Naic and Maragondon was under construction so buses can only ply the Manila-Naic route. From Naic, Cavite we hired two tricycles which took us to the jump off point in Ternate, Cavite. The sight of the familiar Magnetic Hill pumped me up with adrenaline and excitement. Me and my girl Angel waited at the shortcut jump off point while our three companions registered at the DENR office. (The real reason why we did not reach DENR was because our trike's engine overheated. Small vehicles will have a hard time maneuvering through the ascending Magnetic Hill.) When Tin, Weng and Wilson appeared at the jump off point, two canines were with them. I noticed one of the dogs climbing the small hill through the thick bushes and then it started barking as if it wanted us to follow him. It was impossible for us to follow him as we would need to bushwhack there. (It was not even a trail!) It seemed like the dog wanted to voluntarily guide us inside the forest of Mt. Pico de Loro. But we did not really need a guide. I knew Mt. Pico de Loro's trail by heart as it was my sixth time here. And being my favorite mountain, I pretty much have pictures embedded on my mind of landmarks and points in a typical hike in that mountain. But out of courtesy, we just let the dog with its primal instincts tag along.

Prior to starting, we had fun doing some ROADKILL photo ops. Since it's very seldom that a vehicle would pass by, it's very easy to pose for a roadkill photo shoot. Here are some of the pictures:

Roadkill Photo #1: Ivan
Roadkill Photo #2: Angel
Roadkill Group Photo: Tin, Weng and Angel

















Dogging Around


"I spoke to the DENR staff and she said that she had lots of dogs before. But one by one, their dogs start disappearing after joining some mountaineers on their traverse at the other side of the mountain," Wilson narrated. That's when we all realized that we were not really coming back to Cavite, so what if this dog who volunteered itself follow us all throughout the trek?

Spidey at Mt. Pico de Loro
Weng and the DENR dog trailing behind her
At the first stopover, we were already trying to ward the dog off. As if we were talking to another person, we would converse "We are not coming back.", "Thank you but we know the trail.", "You need to go back." But our pleas fell on deaf ears as the stubborn dog continuously followed us.

Weng: The Planking Queen at a fallen tree in Mt. Pico de Loro
Angel inside the forest sitting at the natural throne
At the second registration area, we were greeted and approached by several barking dogs. It was a normal sight as these dogs are owned by the person maintaining the area. But this time, the canines were especially agitated at the sight of the DENR dog who was following us. They had a confrontation, and the stubborn dog walked away. We thought that it would go back to DENR in Cavite. We stopped by to register and refill our canteens with fresh running water at the nearby water source. After resting for a good ten minutes, we continued our dayhike looking forward to reach the summit, greet the rock monolith aka Toreng Bato and explore the traverse trail.

The Pico de Loro Five at the second registration area

While we were walking, something was moving perpendicular to us through the thick bushes in the forest! After a couple of minutes, the DENR dog popped out! Apparently, it did not give up in trailing along with us. It managed to stealth around the registration area so as not to be seen by the other dogs there. Since then, I got to appreciate its animalistic intellect and its desire to watch over us while we trek to Mt. Pico de Loro. So out of courtesy, we later did not mind being followed by this dog.




The Forest Bark


Tin at the Pico de Loro signboard
At the clearing, we rested at Alibangbang camp before the summit assault through the forest. We wanted to trick the dog in slowly moving out of Alibangbang camp while it was lying down with his eyes closed. However, it was not asleep! And as soon as it heard us moving, it stood up and followed us again. We had a couple of rests in the assault through the forest. Wilson decided to advance to the campsite in order to prepare our lunch earlier. The dog tagged along with him while me, Angel, Tin and Weng rested.


This sign is almost worn out comparing to the first time I saw it
When we were moving, we heard the dog barking endlessly which made me worried. I thought that something was happening in that advance party (Wilson and the dog). "Why would it bark like that? Did something happen to Wilson?", were my thoughts. We trailed at a faster pace and got relieved when we saw Wilson at the junction where the regular trail will let you descend into the bushes. Apparently, the dog continuously barked at Wilson because it wanted Wilson to follow it through the uphill section which was not really a trail for people. The dog got rejected again in its attempt to make us follow it through the thick shrubs uphill. Maybe in its mind, because we were climbing up a mountain, we were going the wrong direction for the trail that we took was descending. But the dog can not really contest to that for we know that it was the correct trail.

Wilson and the DENR dog




The Summit Goodbye

Finally, we reached the campsite after trekking for three hours and thirty five minutes. Considering our stop at the registration area, it is so far the fastest trek I had from DENR to the campsite atop Mt. Pico de Loro. Most of my Mt. Pico de Loro treks involve at least twenty persons or more. And the more you are in the group, the slower your pace is. The concept is you are only as fast as your slowest member. Since we were only five here, trail pacing was a lot easier. We all rested at the magnificent viewdeck while Wilson cooked our lunch. While bonding at the camp's groundsheet, Weng could not help but befriend the dog. She would share her food to the dog whenever we start munching on something. We were still constantly talking to the dog, reminding that it needed to go home when we start the traverse.

The summit as seen from the viewdeck
The scene from the viewdeck campsite
BP Weng at the viewdeck of Mt. Pico de Loro
Fearless!
After eating a hearty lunch, some photo ops at the viewdeck and at the summit, it was time for the traverse section. And we knew we had to really try hard to ward the dog off. Weng, who basically fell in love with the dog's loyalty and perseverance, was the one who warded him by throwing stones (not towards the dog) near the dog. It went down from the summit and our worries subdued. Tin and Weng could not climb Toreng Bato for we were running out of time. So instead of going to the rock base of the monolith, we turned right and faced the Nasugbu side of the mountain. Weng promised to herself to be back to conquer the infamous Toreng Bato of Mt. Pico de Loro!

Sweethearts at Mt. Pico de Loro
Wilson refilling the canteens at the water source near the viewdeck campsite
Backpackers Tin and Weng's first time at Mt. Pico de Loro



A Surprise At The Traverse


The start of the traverse
The traverse trail of Mt. Pico de Loro is bushier and narrower than the ordinary trail. It is, after all, seldomly used by the several hundreds, if not thousands, who visit this famous mountain in a year. But you get to see your progress in this path because most of the descending portion were not forested. There were steep and slippery portions which made up for a challenging Mt. Pico de Loro dayhike. Overall, the descent was more difficult than the regular trail, but manageable.

The rock monolith as seen from the bushy traverse side
While traversing, we heard a familiar sound: the dog barking from the summit! It seemed like he was looking for us! We were already maneuvering the slippery portion when I smelled a familiar stench: the dog was now behind us! We were all surprised as to how stubborn this dog can be. Although somehow I felt that sense of security when it was with us, it still needed to go back. The dog really did not trail behind us this time. It jumped right in front of me and positioned itself a hundred meters ahead of us. The adamant canine will just bark at us. It wanted us to follow him as if the trail was not obvious. Our energy was really not to be spent warding off the dog as we all focused on the slippery trail. As a matter of fact, Wilson and I slipped two or three times while coursing through that woodland trail.

The woodlands
Tin through the woodlands
The fork
After almost an hour of descending while facing the majestic Batangas side of Mt. Pico de Loro, we reached the base! This time, we were confronted by a fork. If you are traversing from Cavite to Batangas, you need to take the right trail. Turning left will actually allow you to circle around the base of Mt. Pico de Loro and will get you back to Alibangbang camp going back to the Cavite side. Surely, the dog wanted us to take the left trail. But we had to take the right trail. Another plea for the dog to go back to the starting point fell on deaf ears as its animal instincts, to mightily guide us, took over and he trailed behind again.





Never Ending Walk In The Park


Walk walk walk
The next section is the trail that I love to call a 'Never Ending Walk In The Park'. It is reminiscent of the never ending traverse trail of Mt. Cristobal and Mt. Arayat, but this was particularly easy and was not steep. Although the trail was a piece of cake, you might still wear out so do not underestimate this portion of the traverse. You will feel like you are walking in the wrong direction, but you are as long as you are following a straight trail. You will pass by greenery of plants and bushes, cross a bridge, hear a river and you'll think that you are near the exit point, but you are not. During this phase, we only had one Take Five. Some sections were muddy and I had a difficult time cleaning my then-slippery sandals. Because of the uneasiness of my footwork, Angel took the lead along with the two girls and the dog. I was proud of the girls for their accomplishment in doing a 'lagare' session at Mt. Pico de Loro. The trail seemed endless but none of the girls complained. Bravo!

We reached another fork, in which the right trail will take you to a hut beside the river. The local who was residing there told us that we were near the road. He asked us if we would like him to fetch us a tricycle. We refused but thanked him for his offer. After all, we had been walking for almost seven + hours on a mountain trail, who are we to lose to the challenge of walking down a paved road. After a couple of minutes, we saw a facility....and finally the cemented road!

The firing range facility
This firing range facility (of the Philippine Marines perhaps?) marks the end of the Mt. Pico de Loro traverse. We maneuvered the traverse trail for three hours and fifteen minutes making our total dayhike to seven hours. But we really spent ten hours inside the inviting forest of Palay Palay mountain range, three hours of which was spent resting and doing some photo ops at the majestic Mt. Pico de Loro.

Wilson kissing civilization



The Real Goodbye

Nice locals boarding motorcycles who were passing by asked if we want them to ask a tricycle to fetch us in this still hilly part of the road. We gladly accepted an offer from a nice local and rested for a bit at the cemented path. There was one thing in mind. Now we really had to say goodbye to the dog. We actually locked it in the facility but he managed to jump right above the fence and caught up on us at the road. I would ward it off by shouting "Shooo! Stay there and don't follow us! Go back!". It will stop but then when we continue walking, it would start trailing again. Talk about a persistent, stubborn dog!

We opened a corned tuna which was set up as a trap. We would feed the dog and while it munched on the food, we would escape and run.. We did that but to no avail did the dog catch up again. It ate the food in just seconds and we can only tramp for a couple of steps before it started to run towards us! Corned Tuna: Epic Fail.
Still trailing huh?
Yes, the dog was stubborn. But it was very tame. It was sweet. It was loyal. It was caring. It was protective. It was everything I wanted for in a dog. Aside from its strong stench, it would have been a perfect pet. We were already talking about who's going to take the dog home. It was impossible to traverse back to Cavite through the forest or even via civilization as we all had our own appointments that night. It soon dawned to us that the dog may be trailing back alone. Weng was already holding back in shedding tears but she was very affected by the situation. Somehow, we already formed a small bond with the dog just like the bonds that we form with local guides on our mountain adventures. We were walking down and it was very insistent in following us and that made me really worried. I looked into its eyes and it was a very sincere, harmless dog. We remembered the remark of the DENR caretaker who mentioned some of her dogs failing to go back when following some mountaineers on a traverse.

Shooing the dog to go back
Our service arrived and we all boarded the tricycle. The dog can only watch and stare as we were putting our packs and ourselves in it. When the vehicle started to move, I saw the helplessness in its eyes. Yes, it may have been successful in catching us through the woods but there was no way that it can jump right in front of our moving vehicle. It ran towards the vehicle, as fast as it could but this time, the goodbye was for real. The tricycle turned right and he was no longer in sight. But after a couple of seconds a black and white thing appeared on the road. It was still chasing our vehicle! It was a very heartbreaking scene for me to see the dog fade away as darkness ate that portion of the road. Earlier that morning I was frustrated because I was looking for Six Friends for my Sixth time in Mt. Pico de Loro. I never thought that  the five of us will be given an unexpected sixth companion - this loyal and tame dog who never gave up until this very end.




Our Mt. Pico de Loro Dayhike Traverse was a success but it ended on a heartbreaking note. And before going to sleep that night, I prayed to God that the stubborn dog may find his way back home in Cavite.





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view our other Mt. Pico de Loro Adventures:





It was November of 2010 when I invited five friends to meet Mt. Pico de Loro. A month after that, The BACKPACKERS was born.
November of 2011, The BACKPACKERS held its first Friendship Climb at no other than the beautiful Mt. Pico de Loro
CLICK HERE




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 PHOTO CREDITS: Tin and Ivan
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