Hi everyone! Last November 19-20, I went with three of my friends to an overnight hike to Mt. Damas, my 43rd mountain, in San Clemente/Camiling, Tarlac. While this can be done as a day hike, we decided to camp to do stargazing and city light watching.
Location: San Clemente/Camiling, Tarlac
Elevation: 685+ MASL
Difficulty: 6/9 (Major Climb)
Trek to Summit: 6 hours
There are two possible jump-off points going to Mt. Damas, one from Dueg (ideal for those with a private vehicle) and from Papaac. It is said that between the two, the trail from Papaac is longer and more difficult because of the so-called “Cardiac” part which I will discuss in detail later on in this post as our group took on this route.
Even though Mt. Damas is not as high compared to other major mountains, the trail going to the summit offers a challenge to hikers that makes it worthy of its difficulty level.
Below are the transportation details and cost breakdown of this hike:
We all met at Five Star Bus terminal in Cubao and rode the bus with the “San Carlos” signage which left at around 12:35AM. Because we know that the travel time going to Tarlac is just around three to four hours, we decided to immediately get some sleep. True enough, we arrived in Camiling after three hours where we rode the tricycle going to the jump-off. Because it was still very early when we arrived, we decided to get more sleep at the jump-off, after all, we had a lot of time to spare since we were doing an overnight hike. The only downside to sleeping outside is the number of mosquitoes that surrounded (and occasionally bit) us.
We woke up at around 7:00AM, registered our names and fixed our bags. Before starting the trek, we bought canned goods from a nearby sari-sari store and got acquainted with our guide for this trip, kuya Romy.
The rain made its presence felt ten minutes into the trek and we had no choice but to take shelter in one of the huts nearby. The strong rain lasted for more than an hour but we were not worried because after all, we still had a lot of time in our hands. We resumed the trek at around 9:10AM when the rain was more tolerable. The first part of the trail is mostly open and only has gradual assaults and because it was cloudy/rainy, our trek was not as tiring.
The second part of the trail is a bit challenging because it was when we trekked along the river and crossed it several times too. Note; however, that the water level may rise during a storm or when it has been raining hard for several hours. This part is also exhausting because of the uneven terrain caused by the stones that we had to step on.
We passed by a series of “mini” falls along this part of the trail as well and we made sure to take quick hydration and photo breaks for each one.
The main challenge of this part would probably be the three rope segments that we had to go through. We had to climb down the wet and slippery rock face by holding onto a rope which was provided by our guide. The most daunting segment would be the third one because aside from it being the highest among the three, it was also where I had difficulty with my footing because I could not see/reach where I was supposed to step next. In the end, I accidentally hit my knee on one of the rocks which caused it to bruise later on. Oops.
Shortly after the rope segments, we reached the junction between the “Cardiac” (last part to the summit) and the trail going to Ubod falls (further river trekking). Upon seeing the start of the Cardiac trail, I must admit that I was intimidated by how steep it looked. We decided to stop and eat our lunch first to have the energy we needed for the final assault to the summit.
We estimated the the steepness to be around 70-80 degrees because we literally had to tilt our heads up to see where we were going and we also had to use our arms to push ourselves up. We reached a relatively flat surface ten minutes into the cardiac trail and this was probably the longest ten minutes of the whole trek because of how tiring it was.
I was wrong when I thought that the crazy steep assaults would stop there. When we resumed our trek, we again had to put our legs to battle, though this time, I think it was less steep as compared to the first ten minutes (probably lesser by 5 degrees. Lol.). What also made this part of the trail more challenging were the tall grass/weeds that cut through our skin and blocked our view.
Pushing through one step at a time, we reached a beautiful lone tree that caught our attention. And so we put down our bags and climbed it one by one. (Fun fact, it was my first time to climb a tree)
After we were satisfied with the photos, we continued with the assault until we reached a cliff which was another photo-worthy spot. However, because we already wanted to reach the summit, we decided to just take photos at the cliff on the next day during our descend. And finally, after more than two hours of trekking from the junction, we reached the summit of Mt. Damas! The space is relatively small and can only fit about one to two groups and fortunately, we had the mountain all to ourselves that day.
Though the view from the summit is not as spectacular as that of other mountains in the north, Mt. Damas has its own charm to offer as well. From here, one can see the mountains of San Jose Circuit, the nearby landscapes of Tarlac and Pangasinan and Mt. Arayat at the far end of the horizon.
We immediately put down our bags and began pitching our tents and changing our clothes before finally taking our time with photo ops.
It started to drizzle before sunset so we had to place our tents with the doors facing each other and put a big tarpaulin above to serve as the roof for when we prepared dinner. Kudos to my group mates for being ready with the unpredictable weather! Although there were no stars at that time (because it rained), the city lights made up for it. Seeing city lights atop a mountain sure felt different from when you just view them from the city proper.
After a relatively long discussion on life and love (lol), all of us went to sleep to prepare for another day of trekking ahead. We were told that there was a wedding party in Dueg and surprisingly, we heard the music they were playing all the way to the summit. And so we fell asleep to the sound of DayangDayang.
Day 2: Side-trip to Ubod Falls
I woke up twice during the wee hours of the night to check the night sky. Because it has stopped raining, abundant stars twinkled across the sky. I watched them and the faint city lights for a while before going back to sleep.
The sun started to rise at around 5:30AM and without wasting time, I woke all my friends up so we can watch the beautiful view together and while we were at it, we also took a lot of photos. And though we were not fortunate enough to witness the infamous sea of clouds of Mt. Damas, I was mesmerized at the sunrise hues that enveloped Mt. Arayat at the far end of the horizon.
After eating our breakfast, sopas and coffee, we started to fix our things to prepare for the descent. Of course we did not forget to stop and take photos at the cliff from the previous day.
It was not raining anymore but the trail was really slippery that I was not spared from slipping and falling to the ground, twice. It was also hard to depend on the tall grass because most of them are sharp and have hair-like thorns that cut through the skin easily.
Descending the Cardiac trail was a challenge because it was steep and slippery and we had to use kuya Romy’s rope to descend some parts. After the cardiac trail, we were back at the junction point where we now went to the trail going to Ubod Falls. Again, we had to do some more river crossing until we arrived at Si-el Falls. From here, we did a steep rock climbing until we reached the foot of our agenda for that day, Ubod Falls.
When I first glanced at Ubod Falls from afar, I was astounded. The sound of gushing water, the cool breeze and the sight of the falls made me feel all giddy and excited. So all of us put down our bags and trekked closer and closer to the falls. Before taking a quick dip, all of us made sure that we had our individual and group photos. Initially, the plan was to only spend thirty minutes in total here but the thirty minutes ended up being only for photo ops. Oops.
After the photo ops, we then braced ourselves for the cold water. We did not go far from the rocks because the water gets really deep easily. When we could not take the cold anymore, we got out of the water and fixed our things and resumed our descent.
The jump-off was still about two hours away from Ubod Falls but the trail was not as steep and slippery anymore. However, since it was open and the rain has already stopped falling, the heat of the sun made the descent a tad bit difficult.
We arrived at the jump-off around 1:30PM and heard from the locals that there are groups who just hiked that morning to Mt. Semilya and Mt. Damas (via Dueg). Fortunately, we were already done and we had the mountain and falls to ourselves. Wuhoo!
After fixing up, we rode the tricycle back to Camiling town proper where we had our late lunch at Chowking. It took a while before we were able to ride a bus (with vacant seats) because we just waited at one of the bus stops and not at the bus terminal. And as soon as we were comfortable inside the bus, we slept our tired bodies up until we reached Manila.
I had such a great weekend, thank you to my (really strong) friends who made everything possible!
To Rayford, thank you for organizing this and for taking such good care of the three of us, especially for being patient with my pace when descending.
To Jeng, for the tent space, stories and for taking such great photos during the trek. If there is one person who can hike comfortably in short-shorts, that would be you.
To Fran, for the stories and for the extra push when I climbed that tree. Lol. I still cannot believe that you climb mountains in a dress. Lakas!
And to our guide, kuya Romy, for making sure that we were all okay during the hike.
Here are some of the things I learned during our hike:
Gloves would come in handy for holding on to the tall grass. I strongly recommend bringing a pair.
If I am not mistaken, there are only two water sources and the last one (before reaching the summit), is about an thirty to forty minutes away from the summit. Make sure to refill water containers accordingly.
The talahib (tall grass) will surely graze the skin so wear clothes that will cover the arms and legs
The trail is mostly open all throughout the trek, a cap/umbrella would help ease the heat of the sun
Beware of dogs. There are a lot. And while some are scary (because of continuous barking), some are also very friendly!
Trivia: Our guide said that the reason why the mountain is called “Damas” is because of a hunter named Damaso who frequented the mountain
I made a short video of our hike to Mt. Damas and our quick trip to Ubod Falls. Most of the things I mentioned above can be seen here:
12:35AM – ETD Five Star Bus Terminal to Tarlac
3:20AM – ETA Camiling. Ride a tricycle to jump-off
4:30AM – ETA jump-off. Rest.
7:00AM – Register
7:30AM – Start trek
7:40AM – ETA Aeta community
9:10AM – Resume trek
11:50AM – Lunch at junction
3:20PM – ETA summit of Mt. Damas
8:00PM – Lights out
5:00AM – Wake-up call
8:20AM – Start descend
10:00AM – ETA Si-eL falls
10:30AM – ETA Ubod Falls. Swim.
11:15AM – Resume trek
12:30PM – Hut. Rest.
1:30PM – ETA jump-off. Wash up.
2:45PM – ETD jump-off
3:20PM – ETA Chowking town proper. Eat lunch.
5:10PM – Ride bus to Cubao
9:30PM – ETA Cubao
Even though Mt. Damas is not as high as other mountains, it still presents quite a challenge. Some people say that this mountain is not for beginners and I personally agree with this because while they can finish it, they may not like their first hike experience. But then again, I strongly recommend that hikers visit this mountain and Ubod Falls.
It has been a great hiking year for me and I am quite happy with all the mountains I have visited. Indeed, the outdoors has proven to be one of the things that motivate me everyday.