Tri-Provincial Traverse: The Kibungan Cross-Country
September 8, 2016
Hi everyone! During the long weekend last August 27-29, 2016, I was up and about trekking what seemed to be the longest hiking trip of my life by far – the Kibungan Cross Country Traverse which is said to be approximately 50+ kilometers with an entry point in Benguet and an exit point in La Union. According to the locals, the complete traverse takes hikers to three provinces (Benguet – Ilocos Sur – La Union) through 15 mountains.
Originally, I was just supposed to do the Kibungan Circuit with my Amuyao team. This only requires summiting three mountains but due to unforeseen circumstances, this did not push through. Luckily, my friend invited me to join her climb in the same area but instead of just the circuit, it was the cross-country traverse.
Elevation: Highest point between 1900MASL – 2000MASL* (the trail is rolling so expect an increase and decrease in elevation)
Location: Sugpon, Benguet – Santol, La Union
Trek Duration: 3D2N (26 – 28 hours)
Personally, I think this is probably the most stressful hike I have done so far because of the rainy weather and the circumstances that resulted from it. Nonetheless, it is also one of the most fulfilling.
It was my first time to join an outdoor group in a climb so I do not have a detailed cost breakdown for this trip. But here are the transportation details:
ESTIMATED TRAVEL TIME
Rented Van or Monster Jeep
Kibungan, Sugpon, Benguet
ESTIMATED TRAVEL TIME
Santol, La Union
Contact Person and Number for the guide and van/jeep from Baguio to Kibungan: Charo (0910-877-1725)
Event Fee: Php3,350
Inclusions: Transportation; Registration, Environmental, Guide and Porter Fees; Event Shirt
Safe Budget: Php3,800
Day 0 (Manila)
We all met at McDonald’s in Greenfield District and ate dinner before we went to our rented van. There were a total of nine participants so seat space was not so much of a problem. As per usual, I slept a couple of minutes after we left for Baguio.
Day 1 (Benguet)
We arrived in Baguio at around 4:40AM. We waited a while for a separate van to take us to Benguet. The path was really bumpy due to road construction but thankfully, I was still able to take quick naps up until we reached Taba-ao where we had to stop and wait for a couple of trucks to finish with some parts of the road construction.
While waiting, everyone took the opportunity to go down the van to feast on the landscape and snap some photos.
When everything was cleared, we went back inside the van and headed to Everman’s Eatery where we had our breakfast.
The jump-off was an hour and a half away from the eatery. Upon arrival, we registered our names and finished repacking our things. When everything was set, we said a quick prayer before finally starting our trek. Unfortunately, just moments before we started, the rain decided to pour down on us making most of us wet almost immediately.
The first part of the trail is open and has gradual assaults. Even though it was raining, we were still able to see the beautiful mountain range surrounding us. Everyone also made sure to observe extra caution while trekking because of the muddy and slippery trail.
After an hour of trekking, we stopped at a resting area to eat “lunch” though most of us just ate trail food because we were still full from our breakfast. The rain momentarily stopped while we were eating but eventually picked its pace up after a while. We resumed our trek after about an hour and personally, I think this was when the challenge of Kibungan began.
We crossed several hanging bridges, rice paddies and scrambled over what seemed to be 80-degree inclines while enduring the heavy rains and strong winds and trying to avoid the swarm of limatiks or blood-sucking leeches that were after each one of us. It was my first time to actually see leeches and their presence throughout the trail made me so uncomfortable and paranoid.
The trail was very deceiving too because the assaults did not seem to end no matter how far we move forward. After a great deal of assaults, we arrived at Buga Campsite which is said to be at 1445MASL. By this time, we were already drenched and fog was starting to cover the view of the mountains. Nonetheless, the fog made the landscape more picturesque.
And then came the part of the trail I see in photos – the narrow path with railings. The latter part of this trail made me cringe a little because I knew that we had to be extra careful in proceeding because one wrong step can make us fall down the cliff.
I am not sure where our group got separated but the four of us in the trail lead tried to wait for them at Tagpaya campsite. It was already dark and still raining hard. I found myself shivering because of my drenched clothes so I decided to wear my thermal jacket to help fight the cold. While waiting, the four of us tried to distract ourselves from feeling cold so we talked about random topics like our favorite food. However, as the rain poured harder and the wind blew stronger, we had to make the decision to stop waiting and move forward because otherwise, we might suffer from hypothermia.
We decided to wait for our groupmates again when we found a shed somewhere along the trail. It proved to be difficult as well because everyone started shivering after a couple of minutes. Again, we decided to keep on moving to avoid feeling cold. During this time, the four of us were already tired and we just wanted to get to the school campsite and change out of our wet clothes and rest.
Because it was really dark already, we had to make sure to stick together and not let anyone get left behind. I remember having a difficult time with my headlight because of the dim light it produced due to weak battery. It was really draining so I was just trying to think of all sorts of happy thoughts to distract me from feeling tired.
And finally, at around 9:10PM, we arrived at Tacadang Elementary School where we were supposed to stay the night. Due to some mix up, the classroom that we were supposed to use was occupied by another group so we had to wait outside for a while before our guides found a room for us to stay in because all the other classrooms were locked. While waiting for our guides to find us a room, we changed out of our dirty and wet clothes. This was the “moment of truth” – I was scared to remove my clothes at first because I did not want to see blood or leeches on my body. When I mustered the courage to remove my clothes, I was both surprised and grateful to find zero traces of blood and leeches. There was an instance; however, when I saw a leech stuck on my right hand but thankfully, the guide of another group saw me panicking and immediately removed the leech. I think it was just about to start feeding when it got removed because my hand did not bleed but it felt a bit itchy after.
After a couple of minutes, our guides led us to the barangay hall which is just a minute away from the school. However, the way going here is full of leeches and I still, miraculously, did not get any on my body. As we settled down, we worried for the three members of our group who still have not reached the campsite. They were moving at a slower pace compared to ours because one of them suffered from cramps on both legs. The three of them arrived at the barangay hall at around 11:00PM and they told us how they had already decided to do an e-camp (emergency camp) somewhere along the trail because it was already getting dangerous due to the rain. Luckily, another group passed by so they were able to go with them to the campsite.
Most of us did not eat dinner and just went straight to rest because of fatigue. Sadly, my sleeping bag got really wet among other things (like most of my spare clothes) so I initially planned to sleep on the chair. But because it was really cold, my kind friend lent me his sleeping bag so I was able to recharge enough to power me for the next day. Really grateful, J! Thanks!
Day 2 (Ilocos Sur)
We got up at around 6:00AM to eat breakfast and repack our bags. We were warned that we would encounter more leeches along the trail and the thought of it made me feel uneasy. At around 8:35AM, we resumed our trek and yes, it was still raining. Our guides were not kidding when they said that we would encounter more leeches because it was still early in the trail when I avoided several leeches and saw three ‘dancing’ or ‘squirming’ on my foot. *cringe*
Again, we had to pass through several rice paddies; some were even beside cliffs so I avoided looking at the side and focused my attention on the trail to avoid getting the cold feet (though my feet were already cold anyway because they were soaked from the puddles we crossed lol).
We arrived at Batangan Elementary school at around 12:40PM. There, we ate our lunch and rested for a bit. The rain was still relentless so most of us were drenched making us shiver after a couple of minutes of being idle. I was so sleepy almost all throughout the trek that I always took the opportunity to grab quick naps every time we stopped to rest (also because I wanted to divert my focus from shivering to sleeping).
We resumed our trek after about an hour and a half. My shoulders were already hurting from carrying my heavy bag so I had to adjust my straps every now and then. The trail this time was more muddy and slippery compared to the first day and it caused some of us to slip. One of my friends even had a bad case because he landed on his elbow making it difficult for him to move one of his arms around. I, on the other hand, slipped and fell but first and slid down a couple of rocks moments after. I also hit my left hand somewhere I do not remember and it felt like it was bruising but other than that I was fine. My fall; however, made me more cautious of the trail during descents and I was moving slower than I intended to. I also remember blurting out, “I could use some assaults now” because the slippery descents just did not seem to end.
And finally, when it did, we were given countless assaults. We had to pass through a rocky terrain where the strong current of water was flowing. But no matter how many times I tried to catch my breath during assaults, I was still smiling because I still prefer ascending more than descending.
The (good) highlight of this day would probably be the beautiful waterfalls we saw. There were several and all were falling from a great height. At first, we were looking at them from afar but eventually as we trekked further, we got closer and closer to them.
The last part of our trek was the steep flight of cemented stairs going to Licunan Elementary School which served as our second campsite. And because we started the trek early, we arrived at the campsite relatively early too, about 6:30PM. And fortunately, we were also able to stay in one of the classrooms for the night. It was not as cold as the previous night so we were all able to sleep well.
Day 3 (La Union)
We woke up to the sound of rain and smell of a good breakfast on a Monday morning. We made sure to eat a lot for the last day of our hike. We resumed the trek earlier than the previous day and I was really glad that the terrain was not as muddy and slippery.
After about an hour and a half, we reached the longest bridge in this whole traverse (I believe we crossed about 13 or 14 hanging bridges all in all?) which is estimated to be about 200m. We decided to go in two’s as to prevent the bridge from swaying too much. Crossing this felt like forever because I remember looking up after some time and seeing that I barely even crossed half of it.
As if the hanging bridge was not enough, we still had to carefully scramble over a boulder, which is beside a cliff, and do a 5-min assault before we reached the store. Here, we re-hydrated and bought snacks while waiting for our other groupmates. And because it was just beside a water source, a groupmate and I took this chance to wash our hair! We spent about two hours in the store before finally resuming our trek (that was a pretty long rest, right?).
We were welcomed with lots and lots of assaults made even more difficult because of the humidity. And when we got to a relatively flat surface, we decided to take a quick break and eat some snacks/lunch. There were no more descents after this and we had to convince ourselves to endure for just a little more.
And finally, we reached the last part of the trail – the steep and cemented road to the waiting shed which is estimated to be about 3-kilometers. I know I like assaults but it is a different story when the trail is cemented. I kept looking for flat surfaces but to no avail. The long stretch of cemented road was just inclined all throughout.
After about eight hours of trekking, we reached the jeepney waiting shed which marks the end of the Kibungan Cross Country! While waiting for our chartered jeepney to arrive, we had to bear with the strong rain that suddenly poured down as if to congratulate us on finishing the traverse.
The jeepney took us to a resort in La Union where we washed up. It felt really nice to be able to take a bath and remove all the unexplainable scent that we got after three days. After fixing up, we moved our bags to our van that was waiting for us outside and left to eat dinner at a nearby Jollibee before eventually heading back to Manila.
Really grateful that I was able to finish the whole cross-country traverse! I would not have done it if not for my groupmates and our guides slash porters:
Kuya Tonton and kuya Roland – Thank you for taking care of us and for always giving us a heads-up on what to expect on the trail each day.
Reggie / Pathfinders Outdoor Club – Thank you for organizing this and for taking good care of us from cooking the meals do doing first-aid.
Rowe – Thank you for inviting me. We were not able to talk much on the trail so let us catch up again next climb.
Noah – Thanks for the photos and for the stories you shared along the trail (yes, ako si heycamae lol)
Jason – From the trail food to the sleeping bag to everything else in between and for pacing with me all throughout the trek, thanks, J!
Bern, Jun, Bella, Carol – Thank you for the good company and I hope your limatik bites are all gone now.
*Credits to Reggie, Noah and J for some of the photos!
Things I learned during the climb:
Water-proof the inside of your bag when hiking on a rainy season. Water-resistant gear can only protect your things so much.
There was a bit of a language barrier between us and our guides.
Expect stronger currents during rainy season and tread with extra care.
There are several schools along the trail which made me think how diligent the students must be to have to go through ascending and descending the mountain everyday
Make sure to ask the guides to reserve the school campsites ahead of time. The keys to the classrooms are usually with the class advisers.
Watch out for a lot of cliffs along the trail
Make sure to know how to read trail signs as there are a lot of forks along the trail
They say limatiks are more attracted to people with blood type O. Not sure how true this is but my groupmates who had the most bites are type O. At the early signs of limatiks, make sure to spray them with alcohol or water with detergent.
Lunch, dinner and breakfast food (talk to your group about the arrangement)
Bag Rain Cover
Salt (to prevent muscle cramps/spasms)
Mess Kit (Plate, Spoon, Fork, Cup)
11:30PM – ETD Manila
4:40 – ETA Baguio
6:00 – ETD Baguio
7:40 – ETA Taba-ao
8:00 – Resume travel
8:15 – ETA Everman’s Restaurant Benguet. Eat breakfast
9:20 – ETD Everman’s Restaurant
10:40AM – ETA Kibungan (Benguet) jump-off
11:30AM – Start trek
3:20PM – ETA Buga Campsite
5:30PM – ETA Tacadang
9:10PM – ETA Tacadang Elementary School campsite. Dinner. Socials. Lights off.
6:00AM – Wake up call. Breakfast. Break camp.
8:35AM – Resume trek
10:30AM – Water source
12:40PM – ETA Batangan School. Lunch.
2:15PM – Resume trek
6:30PM – ETA Licunan Elementary School (Ilocos). Dinner. Socials. Lights off.
5:00AM – Wake up call. Breakfast. Break camp.
8:05AM – Resume trek
10:05AM – Arrival at store (La Union). Rest. Lunch.
1:00PM – Resume trek
3:50PM – ETA jeepney waiting shed
5:10PM – ETD jeepney waiting shed
6:10PM – ETA Sambay Resort La Union. Wash up.
8:10PM – ETD Resort
9:00PM – Dinner at Jollibee San Fernando La Union
10:05PM – ETD Jollibee
3:00AM – ETA Manila
The cross-country is something that I would like to do again given the weather circumstances that we had during our climb. I believe that I would appreciate it even more on a clear day. Nonetheless, I am really proud of myself and the whole team for enduring and finishing the climb safely. And while my friend and I constantly compared the trail of KCC to that of Mt. Amuyao’s, I think it is safe to say that Mt. Amuyao’s is more difficult and KCC’s is more stressful. Lol.
I remember saying that this year will be my #CordilleraSeries and I have been doing my best to hike up Cordillera mountains whenever presented with an opportunity because I know that hikes up these mountains will always be worth it.