After a confusing debacle with my ISP, I can blog again, hooray! Although I’m not really certain that they were the ones who fixed it because they sure as hell didn’t do anything during the site visit but anyhoo…
I finally got the chance to climb Mt. Balingkilat! I said I would when we climbed Tapulao last year and I guess the odds were ever in our favour. Despite the dreary forecast that week, we still managed to complete the traverse safely. Well, okay, not really. 😀
I’ve always wanted to climb Mt. Balingkilat ever since I hiked up the slopes of its neighbor – Mt. Cinco Picos – way back in 2010, just when I was starting to dive into this whole mountaineering thing. It looked daunting when seen from the campsite of Cinco Picos so it turned out to be one of those aspirational climbs for me. It was the highest peak in the mountain range which lined Subic and San Antonio which of course included Cinco Picos and Dayungan. Apparently, its name was derived from being a notorious place for lightning strikes. Balingkilat actually meant ‘bahay ng kidlat’ (house of lightning). Given the open-field characteristic of the mountain (devoid of towering trees), it was not hard to imagine why the locals named it so.
In any case, we met up at Victory Liner Cubao in order to catch the last trip heading to Olongapo. Being paranoid as we were to not repeat what happened when we dayhiked Tapulao, we opted to arrive early to have our tickets reserved. I got there first seeing as my co-climbers were stuck in varying degrees of traffic conditions so I decided to buy for our group. I found out that for Olongapo trips, they did not accept reservations and was told to just return a little later when the counter for the 11:30 trip would be open. I guess our preparations were a little premature. But then again, at the end of the day, I would rather be prepared than disappointed so it was still good. 😀
By 10 o’clock, most of the group was already complete including my sister, sir Inigo and Lee Jay. As usual (oh there were numerous preceding cases :D), our TL Tintin was running late. I think she arrived about 30 minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart. And mind you, we agreed to meet by 8. And since she was late, we did not spare her the humiliation of having to blow a birthday cupcake candle inside a crowded bus station! Happy birthday again Tin! (I know this post would surface about 85 years after the actual date so just bear with me on this okay? :D)
We soon left Manila and after about 2 ½ hours, we alighted at Olongapo station. We went to buy our packed lunches and have breakfast at Jollibee, bought some booze then caught a jeepney that would take us to Subic. Our first order of business was to report to the police station to have our names logged in and leave a copy of our letter of intent. The officers manning the stations were actually quite accommodating despite the ungodly hour. This was a welcome relief because we initially feared that we were not going to be allowed to continue since our letter of intent was handwritten on scratch paper. Wahahaha! In any case, they were quite helpful and advised us to let them know if any problems arose and even haggled the tricycle drivers that would take us to Sitio Cawag for us. I think we paid 200 per trike. I honestly did not remember.
Our guide, Kuya Binggoy, met us at the checkpoint, right before the jumpoff. We registered there once again and paid a fee of 60 pesos per head. We also decided to hire one porter for our food since we would be camping at Nagsasa, so we were joined by Kuya Jonathan as well. After getting everything in order, we resumed the trike ride to the actual jumpoff (which included one amusing engine malfunction because the trike we were riding wasn’t able to handle the slope given the load it was carrying…).
It was about 4:30 in the morning when we finally started our dayhike. Our plan was to hike up Mt. Balingkilat then descend to Nagsasa Cove and spend the night there. So even if it was only a dayhike, we were still going to lug full packs around. Thank heavens for Kuya Jonathan for lightening our load.
Since it was still dark, we were not able to enjoy much of the view from the jumpoff. Also, after just about 10 minutes into the trek, we were already at our first river crossing. Even though it has been raining for the past week, the cross was still manageable. We even heard a funny admonition from another group who was planning to go to Nagsasa via Cawag right at the river. After we crossed the river, one woman shrilled, “Ano ba to sa simula pa lang basa na ako? Magpapalit ako!” (“What the hell, we’re just at the start and I’m already wet! I’m going to go change!”). Oh if she only knew. 😀
Not soon after we cleared the river, rain started pouring. And boy did it pour! Most of my co-climbers began donning their raingear while I opted for the cheaper garbage bag version (because I can…) as we trudged along the muddy trail. This continued on for the better part of the hour until we reached Kawayanan. Good thing that the trail up to Kawayanan was still flat and relatively easy to navigate albeit a little slippery. And because the rain was still pouring heavily, we decided to take a long break at Kawayanan, hoping to wait out. Kuya Binggoy and Jonathan even set up the tarp in order to protect us from the downfall. We ate our packed breakfast at Kawayanan while we waited for the rains to let up. At about 6 in the morning, it finally did and we were able to resume our trek.
Starting from Kawayanan, the trail drastically changed into very steep and challenging slopes. But since the rains already stopped, we were also treated to the breath-taking landscape surrounding Balingkilat. We quickly got excited since we did not realize how amazing the views were and even though sometimes the clouds would obscure them, it did not stop us from going trigger happy with the camera. Okay, so maybe Jay and I.
Mt. Balingkilat was characterized by very steep cliffs that if you were not careful enough, you’d have the misfortune of unwittingly falling into. The cliffs were also quite precariously formed because it was evident that landslides were dominant in the area. Despite that, it was still quite easy to appreciate the beauty of Balingkilat. You could see the river and the resulting waterfalls cascading down its sides and we were even treated to a pseudo sea of clouds formation!
After that area, the trail turned even steeper and began to be littered with huge boulders as well. I realized that Mt. Balingkilat was not as easy as I thought it would be. I guess I had this expectation that it was going to be like Cinco Picos since it was in the same area but the trail proved me wrong. It was still manageable but sometimes you’d have to haul yourself up an almost 80 degree rock ladder. By this time, the cloud cover that was steadily following us has already caught up so we did not get any clearing as we were navigating the trail up. It even diminished our visibility somewhat as well. And even though it was cloudy, there was still a notable lack of wind so we were still left perspiring from the heat. Good thing that the air turned a crisp colder as we gained elevations so all in all, the hike up was pretty bearable. At about half past 9, we reached the campsite on the Cawag side of Mt. Balingkilat.
We rested for a bit and fetched water from the nearby river. The campsite actually reminded me of Paray-Paray in Mantalingajan a little since the water source was located the same way it was relative to the campsite. Unlike in Paray-Paray however, the water flow in this river was way stronger. We did not stay long since we were just about 10 minutes from the summit and soon enough, at about 10 in the morning, we finally arrived at the summit of Mt. Balingkilat.
Unfortunately, the clouds were still around so all we ever saw from the top was a full blast of white. Sometimes, the amazing view would peek behind the clouds but it only ever served as teasers. We would see these more clearly as we descended but for the two hours that we spend at the peak, the view was a no-show.
Yes, we spent 2 hours at the peak because we all decided that we could do with a bit of a nap while we were there. So after having lunch, we decided to just slump there and rest our tired bodies until noon time. The clouds were a boon by this point because had there been no clouds that day, well… the heat would have been scorching!
We resumed trekking at noon so we could arrive at Nagsasa with plenty of light left. The trail on the other side was easy enough at the beginning (you could basically play tag, roll around and ride a bike along the place…) but as soon as we passed by the river and arrived at the ridge, it was a different story altogether.
The ridge was characterized by boulders that were barely there and steep inclines that you could easily fall into. Like the campsite, the ridge actually reminded me of Manta a little and even Tin conceded that this would be a great training climb for those attempting to climb G2. But of course, with the increased danger came increased rewards as well. The views that were eluding us from the peak slowly showed themselves and as a result, we were awed with every few steps we took. We also got slightly overwhelmed at the fact that we were supposed to head for the beach when we were still so high up.
Our pace slowed considerably since my sister ended up with feet blisters and sir Inigo could not really push himself too hard because of a knee surgery. It was about 3 o’clock when we finally cleared the ridge and arrived at the dry riverbed. From the point on, the trail became flat once more but now, it involved several river crossings until we reached the seashore. It was also around this area that we were warned about wild cows grazing around (one of which we actually encountered) so we were advised to take caution. Since they’d probably chase us to our doom. 😀 In any case, we finally arrived at Kamp Bira Bira in Nagsasa at exactly 10 minutes before 5. We decided to stay there since Kuya Binggoy was the resident caretaker of the place.
Almost serendipitously, it started raining heavily as soon as we pitched our tents and this continued on for the better part of the night. We had dinner of Tin’s pininyahang manok, temper flared (another story :D), shared a round of gin and stories with our guides then went to sleep. All while thunder and lightning blared in the background, mind you. Kuya Jonathan said that in Cawag, they had a superstition of throwing a bit of food away if lightning and thunder strikes while you’re eating. He said that it was to appease the gods and quell their anger. We would have done so if we had known but we were already done eating when he told us the story and we were, well, quite famished to be wasting any more food to be honest. 😀
Kuya Binggoy declined our offer of alcohol because he claimed that while he was our guide, he was responsible for our safety and should therefore be always alert. But he did welcome our invite to share stories with him so by the end of the evening, we had our fill of tales about climbers getting lost in the mountains never to be found again, carabaos chasing them as they were hiking, relatives asking for their help in locating missing hikers and late night swimmers getting lost at sea. Uhhmm…the evening was more jolly than I’m making it sound I assure you. 😀
By the time we turned in, the rains have – thankfully – already stopped. I actually ended up just sleeping outside since it was so humid inside the tent. I set up my alarm to wake up before 5 since I was in charge of breakfast and after a good night sleep, I awoke to a beautiful morning in Nagsasa Cove. This feeling would not last because as I was preparing food, I had the worst of luck to have boiling oil pour over my left hand. Oh yes, the genius of me – clap clap. It was pain like I never felt before and before I knew it, I was crying in agony. I did not tear up, I frakin’ cried. I ended up biting down a handkerchief just to keep from screaming. That’s how bad it was. My climbmates administered first aid but by that time, I was honestly so delirious with pain that I couldn’t remember what they actually did. Lee Jay finished preparing breakfast while I resigned to bawl over inside my tent and sleep it off.
The pain subsided to tolerable levels by early morning although I still felt slightly numb. My hand started developing boils as burns tended to do and while it did not hurt as much, it still stung whenever it made contact with something. But of course, it did not stop me from enjoying the time we had remaining at the beach. We lounged around, enjoyed crashing against the waves, had a sumptuous lunch of porkchops then at about 2PM, we were on a boat heading to San Antonio where we would be catching our ride home. Despite the painful wound that would remain with me for the next week (even up to the slopes of Mt. Thumbpeak in Palawan), I would still look back fondly at climbing Balingkilat and would definitely go back there if I get the chance.
*Lee Jay Balongoy