Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mt. Batulao Traverse

I was not able to join the Group when they climbed it for the first time in 2011. Because of that, and though I was aware of an accident that happened to a first-time hiker, who fell to her death attributed to human error, I was very excited and was looking forward to a memorable year-ender climb in a mountain where scenic views of Batangas could be seen - Mt. Batulao.

And yes, with The BACKPACKERS' Way in mind, that is individual sense of responsibility to personal and co-members' safety, we were able to seal the Group's mountaineering activities for 2012 safely and with pride.

The BACKPACKERS Year-Ender Climb
Mt. Batulao Traverse

By Heinz Lopez Alvarez, Jr.

December 29, 2012 - It was an intermittently gloomy Saturday past noon in Metro Manila and it actually drizzled when the Group was waiting to be boarded on a bus bound for Nasugbu, Batangas. Because it was two days before the new year's eve, that terminal along Taft Avenue in Pasay City, for Genesis and BSC buses and jeepneys, was crowded and lines of passengers hurrying to go home to the South were literally lengthy. As a matter of fact, it took almost an hour before we found ourselves finally climbing a BSC bus! But it was totally fine because our Lead, Ivan Ignacio, had already briefed us ahead of time that it was going to be a night trek for us. We were eight in the group namely BPs Liz, Chons, Heinz, York, Resty and Ivan; and guests Wilson Galapon and Alva Zarte Nombrado.

To date, it was the climb with the least number of BPs because the rest had prior commitments to attend to due to the holiday season; but, it was certainly a pleasure climbing with a new guest in addition to the very supportive and caring Daddy Wilson, who has been  climbing with the Group regularly since the birth of The BACKPACKERS.

Alva Zarte Nobrado is part of ACCENTURE's
Shared Enablement Services (SES) - Programme Control Services (PCS)
Past 2:00 PM and we were already heading to our destination. The dark skies I saw when I looked out through the window while our bus was struggling its way out of the Metro made me think that it could possibly rain. The good news was that Batangas is far from Manila and as per weather forecasts, it would be sunny and clear over Mt. Batulao. 

It took us three hours to reach Evercrest Golf Course in Nasugbu, the jump-off point, where stepping out of the bus was a delight because of the cool temperature. That is perhaps one of the reasons Mt. Batulao is a favorite near-the-city mountain climbing target - it does not mean exhaustion. 

From there we hired two tricycles, four passengers for each at P20.00 per head. Those three-wheeled tatak pinoy vehicles brought us to where we would start the trek.

From left: BP Resty, guest Alva, BPs Ivan, Heinz, Chons, Liz, guest Wilson, and BP York
My jaw dropped upon seeing Mt. Batulao from afar. I even told myself that my friends were not telling a lie at all when they said that it is a beautiful mountain. Its shapes and structure are unique. From an angle you would see a row of triangle-shaped mountains. Its color is very pleasant to the eyes, a hue where green and brown compliment and behind it is a visually dramatic backdrop created by the skies.

The Roller Coaster-Like Trail

We started trekking at 05:40 PM. I noticed that the starter narrow trail we took by the cemented road was a shortcut to a primary rough road leading to a village. The locals there  were so nice and greeted us "Merry Christmas po!". That initial part of the course was, therefore, a treat - no sweat and it was like we were just surveying a small community.

Beyond the village was the start of an up-and-down trail adventure... gradual up-and-down paths that reminded me of a childhood memory.

I grew up in Naga City. And, whenever it's Christmas and Pena Francia we would always go to the amusement center to have some fun with the rides... like the roller coaster. Then, when it's summertime, I would go with my grandma for a vacation in Caramoan. That place, during those years, was still undeveloped, almost unknown. One summer afternoon, as an innocent boy, i boasted to my playmates and told them stories about my roller coaster adventures... only to find out that they could not relate with what I was sharing at all. So kids in there, during those times, did not experience fun with the roller coaster and the like. And I felt the need to be kind and understanding - I brought them to a hill where there were up-and-down slopes, made them running with me back and forth, we shouted and laugh, and laugh and shouted, and stopped when we were tired like a horse. 

Then I told them "that's how it's like... riding a roller coaster..."

After some 30-45 minutes of walking, we found ourselves by a hut, where fresh buko (young coconut) were being sold at P25. It was already dark at this point. And, though we preferred a night trek, we still wanted to reach the campsite as quickly as we can; so we just passed by it after Ivan and Wilson's small chitchat with the locals.

We took the downward trail to the left when we reached the fork to summit. It would be a Mt. Batulao Traverse for us - reaching the summit by the old trail and to descend by the new trail.

The up-and-down path continued and there were curves snaking through a young forest. Then the slopes became more detailed until we got to the campsite at around 7:30 PM.

At The Campsite

The caretaker welcomed us with his logbook so we could register and pay P20 per head. Noticeably, it was an organized campsite - a hut, a comfort room (with water available upon request at P10 per pail), and a mini store were available. After scanning the area and a short rest, Resty, Chons, York, and I faced the cooking for the Group while the rest helped each other in pitching our tents building the camp.

Being at the campsite of Mt. Batulao on that night was a nice experience for all of us. Aside from the given fact that it was cold, so our tired bodies were relaxed in no time, it was a full moon. So imagine a camp that's properly lit while everyone is enjoying dinner and from time to time glancing at Mt. Batulao's summit as it appears like shining at night because of the moonlight...

Suddenly while we were eating, a mountaineer whose camp was next to ours approached us and borrowed our casserole's cover. We wondered what he was going to use it for because their group looked prepared and all. But, in no time, he returned handing us with the cover full of pasta, hot dogs, and lumpia rolls!

More and more groups emerged and passed by Camp 1 while our quiet Group was having dinner. Yes, it was a quiet group this time. Unplanned and co-incidentally, the 5 quieter souls of The BPs were the ones present here, plus two quiet guests Wilson and Alva. Hahaha! But don't get me wrong (!)... we all enjoyed the climb, the dinner, and the socials. It was a night so nice indeed.

An Encounter with U.F.O.C. (Unified Freelance Outdoor Club)

When our Group's socials was over, Alva, Wilson, Resty, Chons, and Liz went inside their tents to sleep. Ivan, York, and I preferred to talk about things important to the Group while we were trying to finish a bottle of mixkila. Then a mountaineer coming from the same camp that gave us food approach us again and invited us to join with them in their socials. We favored their invitation for a good chitchat, a couple of shots each, and we learned that their group's name is Unified Freelance Outdoor Club.

For me, more than the talking and more than the comparison on the number of mountains climbed or what-have-you, is the thought that you get a chance to meet and socialize with other people who also preferred to be in that mountain that day to appreciate nature. And that's one of the reasons I climb.

December 30, 2012 - Our Lead's sources of weather forecast seemed reliable. It was another clear and sunny day in Mt. Batulao. And the view looked even more beautiful.

As usual, thanks to Wilson who woke up earlier than the rest of the Group to heat water so we could have coffee. After a light breakfast composed of bread and coffee, we broke camp and pushed our assault to the summit. It was 9:00 AM.

 Assault to Summit
It could have been a continuous exacting steep assault to the summit if not because of the small campsites, marked 1 - 10, that somehow chopped it almost evenly. We actually prayed before we started the assault (another The BACKPACKERS' WAY), but upon reaching Camp 8, when I saw that the path had become way steeper and noticed the cliffs left and right, i stopped for a moment and raised a prayer for myself, my friends, and guest's safety. 

Aside from the cliffs were a rock climb (where a rope served its purpose for us) and the blowing wind (which we needed to anticipate to avoid losing balance). All of us took extra precaution while we tried to surpass those difficult and dangerous parts of the trail to the summit, marked as Camp 10. At exactly 10:30 AM, we were all standing at the topmost part of Mt. Batulao with other climbers.

The scenery seen from the summit was a priceless Christmas gift for all of us who were there. Dramatic. Breathtaking. Captivating.

The Descent 

After a wonderful half of an hour time spent enjoying the 360-degree magnificent views from Mt. Batulao's summit, the Group decided to start the descent. As we were in a traverse course, we faced the east and went down to the new trail. It was again an up-and-down track adventure only more challenging because it included climbing Mt. Batulao's peaks! We continued to be very careful with each step we made and checked on each other all the way through.

The great views of Batangas also continued for as long as we were still in the mountain's elevation. Then, reaching the new trail's less dangerous part, where the path was on grassland slopes already, triggered us to increase our pace. We had a couple stopovers to rest and to get off the then stronger heat from the sun. Thanks for some halo-halo and then lugaw at itlog, which quenched our thirst and relieved our need for some solid intake.

We found ourselves passing through the same village at around 1:30 PM. We made it safely!

This Mt. Batulao Traverse was another successful activity by The BACKPACKERS. And, it will be recalled as the climb that sealed our Group's mountaineering activities for 2012. We will continue to climb local mountains this Year 2013. We will continue to share Philippines' beautiful landscapes with the rest of the world.

A Side Trip After A Successful Yead-Ender Climb

Photos by: Liezel Honrade
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