Climbing the Philippines’ 10th Highest: Mt. Kalawitan
February 11, 2017
Hi everyone! I just came back from my recent hike to the arguably 10th highest mountain in the Philippines* and my 45th mountain – Mt. Kalawitan. Up to the last week of the event proper, I was still unsure if I could join because of personal matters but just a day before the hike took place, I confirmed my attendance and was able to join the group. Talk about cramming, right?
Elevation: 2,714+ MASL
Location: Bontoc, Mountain Province/Sabangan, Mountain Province
Difficulty: 6/9 (Basing this on my experience)
Trek to Summit: 9 hours
There were several things that made me struggle during this hike that took place last January 28-29, 2017.Nonetheless, I do not regret joining because more than the exhaustion and pain, I was also really happy with the people I was with. Read on below for the full story of our weekend.
This was an organized hike by #SOMO so I was not able to keep track of all the expenses but below are some useful details for those planning to go here as well.
Registration and Environmental Fee: Php60
Guide Fee: Php1,500 per guide per day at a ratio of 1:5
Porter Fee: Php1,500 per porter per day
Coda Bus Lines (E. Rodriguez, QC) has a direct trip going to Sagada. Alight at Golden Farm Resort (Php685). For ticket reservation, contact 0927 559 2197
Event Fee: Php2,700 (Inclusions: Van to and from jump-off, Guide Fee, Registration and Environmental Fees, Post-Climb Certificate)
For guide reservation and other details, contact the tourism office at 0929-127-0892
The group met and gathered in McDonald’s Cubao around 7:00PM. After eating dinner and buying groceries, we headed to our chartered van and found comfortable seats for the long journey ahead. Since there were only nine of us, space was not a problem.
Somewhere in Pampanga, our van stopped over at a gasoline station to wait for the other van that was headed to Mountain Province as well. He said that it was better to do convoy since the roads going there are really dark. While waiting, some of my group mates bought snacks from nearby fast food chains and food stalls.
I woke up due to the winding road going to Banaue. It got really difficult to find sleep with all the alternating left and right turns that the van made. Soon enough, we arrived at the entrance to Banaue where we briefly took a couple of photos before heading to View Point Valley and Inn Restaurant for breakfast. After eating and buying our packed lunch for the day, we headed back to the van for another hour of zigzagged roads going to the jump-off – Golden Farm Resort (yes, a resort).
As soon as we arrived, we repacked our things and changed into our hiking clothes. We also registered our names and secured our guides before finally doing some stretching exercises and praying for guidance.
Because of all the things that happened the night before, we were delayed by about two hours from our itinerary. The hike commenced at about 10:40AM and the first part involved a lot of stairs. The weather was also a bit gloomy with mild drizzles that did not stop nor grow stronger which made the surroundings foggy. After the seemingly endless flight of stairs, we then entered the second part of the trail which is the pine forest with a wide and rolling terrain. Because of the rain, the trail was extra muddy that we had to go off-trail on some parts just to avoid getting so much mud stuck on our shoes (though there were also parts with provided wood to step on to avoid the mud). During this part of the trail, we also heard the sound of chainsaws which our guide said is because of loggers nearby.
After about three hours, we arrived at the first campsite where we decided to take our quick lunch.
Note: Here, I already felt my pre-hike injured foot hurt. This was one of my concerns when I joined the hike because I know that my foot has not fully healed and that it may just get in the way of the trek. But being the stubborn girl that I am, I still decided to join the hike because it is not all the time that I get to climb one of the highest mountains in the Philippines. Yup, talk about priorities.
The mixture of rain and intense wind made it difficult for us to remain idle for long. It was very cold and it did not help that our clothes were already somewhat wet and so we immediately resumed our trek to the next part and the most dreaded part of the trail – the mossy forest. I say dreaded because the mossy forest makes up 60% of the trail and maybe about 40% of it is full of limatik/leeches. Yikes!
Our guides warned us that because it was raining, there will probably be more leeches than usual and true enough, they welcomed us just a couple of minutes after entering the mossy forest. We stopped every five minutes to do a quick body check (cue Whisper’s “No, No, No, No, No Check! Lolol.) to remove the leeches that stuck on to us. Unfortunately, some of us got bitten but the good news is that there were no leeches that got in our eyes and/or ears. Good enough! The mossy forest was a mixture of assaults and flat surfaces. It was really exhausting because the assaults are really steep and would require the use of arms every now and then. I was also careful with what I touched because I did not want leeches on my hands (though there was one instance where my friend had to remove one from my hand). Aside from the assaults, I think that the rain was also a factor in making the whole trek much more exhausting than it originally is and of course my injury made it harder for me too.
We arrived at the water source after more than two hours of trekking along the mossy forest. Because this is the only water source throughout the trail, we made sure to refill all our empty bottles for cooking and hydration purposes. According to our guides, we still had two more hours to go before we reach the second campsite and an additional hour from the campsite to the summit. Because of the gloomy weather and the covered trail, it was quick to get dark that we needed to use our headlights as early as 5:00PM. By this time, I was already in so much pain because of my injured foot and I struggled so much with every step that I made. Undeniably, I was just using my willpower to continue the trek. Originally, we wanted to camp at the summit but some of us (including myself) got physically exhausted that we had no choice but to stop at the campsite.
Ahhh it felt so great when the guides said that we have finally arrived at the campsite. We then put down our bags and started pitching our tents. One by one, we changed into dry and warm clothes and this was also when I found out that I was bitten by the leeches on my legs twice (or thrice).
I was really out of it that night and I was more exhausted than hungry so after changing my clothes, I went straight into my sleeping bag to find sleep. My hikemate; however, wanted me to eat dinner first so I had a few spoonfuls of the extremely delicious adobo and sinigang before finally heading to my sleeping bag to rest.
Note: Kudos to my hikemates who were still able to cook dinner despite the really cold temperature at the campsite.
I woke up during the wee hours of the night to strong rain and raging wind. This went on for quite some time until after the sunrise so we were not able to see it from the summit. And although the rain and wind have stopped, the cold temperature remained which was enough to make our breaths turn to fog every time we spoke and enough to challenge us to go out of our tents to prepare breakfast.
Our first round of breakfast to warm our tummies up was instant noodles. And believe me, noodles taste 100 times better in the cold mountains. As we waited for the second round of breakfast of spam and corned beef, some of us already prepared our summit assault packs. According to our guides, it would still take about an hour to reach the summit from the campsite so we had to make sure we had the essentials – water, camera and food.
After eating the second round of breakfast at around 10:00AM, we headed to the summit. This time, the mossy forest had no traces of leeches which was good because then we were all able to trek comfortably. Because the weather was not gloomy anymore and the sun was already up, we were able to see how beautiful the mossy forest is that we could not help but take photos along the trail. However, the trail is also very narrow and is like an obstacle course for it often required us to squeeze, bend and/or jump over the intertwined branches.
There were a lot of assaults during this part as well and as expected, my injured foot struggled with each step until eventually we reached an open area with a lone tree that marks the summit of Mt. Kalawitan. It was a 360-degree view of the Cordillera mountain range with Mt. Amuyao stealing the spotlight among all of them.
Note: Our guide said that it is possible to traverse from Mt. Kalawitan to Mt. Amuyao
Each one of us took turns in climbing the lone tree for a better appreciation of the view around us. At first, the clouds covered most of the mountains giving us no clearing at all but for some strange luck, they eventually cleared out and gave us a clearer view of everything.
Noticeably, there are also bamboo shrubs in the summit which is a bit reminiscent of those in Mt. Pulag. The summit area is also big and has flat surfaces which makes it a good place to camp as well. Because it was already late when we got to the summit, we made sure to descend back to the campsite immediately after being satisfied with the photos that we got.
We got back to the campsite at around lunch time and we took this opportunity to eat lunch already instead of bringing all the food with us and just eating along the trail. This time around, we were given clear skies and a good weather which made moving around much easier.
For the descent, we chose to do a back trail because the traverse would take longer and the group worried about my injured foot. The descent commenced at about 2:00PM and is said to take about 5-6 hours. I decided to be the sweeper because I knew I would move slower due to my injury and I did not want to hold anyone back.
Early onto the descent, I felt a sharp pain on my foot several times and this made trekking much more difficult. It was still a long way down so I really had to convince myself to just keep going no matter how slow I was moving. Luckily there was not much limatiks along the trail because of the good weather so we did not have to stop every five minutes to check on each other.
We got out of the mossy forest and were back at the pine forest after about three hours where we regrouped and took a rest. It was already late in the afternoon and we knew we were going to do a night trek again so we already prepared our headlights before resuming the descent. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the sunset fully because it got covered by the surrounding hills; however, we still stopped to admire the warm sunset hues.
The reduced visibility coupled with the (still) muddy trail made the night trek a tad bit more difficult than how it is supposed to be. I remember making a wrong step causing my shoes to be covered in mud just when the hike was about to end. After the muddy trail, we had to pass through a relatively long stretch of a loose and narrow trail beside a cliff. My companion and I made sure to be extra careful and focused as we trekked this part until finally we reached the final leg of the trail – the cemented stairs! I remember internally rejoicing upon seeing this because that meant that we were only a few minutes away from the jump-off!
And at long last, we arrived at the jump-off after five and a half hours of descent (though this felt extra long because of the night trek and my injury)! The DENR representative then presented us with our climb certificates that signify the completion of the hike. Because it was already late in the evening and we were still ten hours away from Manila, we had to freshen up quickly before going back to our van.
Aside from a relatively fast stopover in Nueva Vizcaya for our (late) dinner, it was a long drive back to Manila.
Even though I struggled during this hike, I am still really grateful that I was able to go and see the mountain and what it had to offer. Thank you to our guides, kuya Noel and kuya M for being with us and making sure that everyone was accounted for. And to my hike mates, #SOMO, thank you for organizing this and for welcoming me warmly!
Rayford, apart from the good food that you made, thank you for inviting and for taking extra good care of the injured me all throughout the hike. From pacing with me to removing all the limatiks to getting me food to sharing your tent to helping me during some parts of the trail because of my relatively short legs, thank you very much! I was so pabebe wasn’t I? Gaahd, I’m sorry. Bawi sa blog post though! Haha.
Jervine, thank you for all the great photos, the dinner treat and for making sure I got back home safely. And thank you in advance for the summary video that you will make. Haha!
Robin, thank you for the treat pre-hike lol and for checking up on my condition every chance you got.
JL and Yhang, thank you for being really kind to me. To JL for the awesome shots and for organizing this and to Yhang for being sweet and for taking my photos at the summit.
Nathan, thanks for bullying me. Haha! I heard you got worried about my 42km race after seeing how bad my condition was during this hike. I was able to finish the full marathon too, thank you for your concern!
Jio and Mark, thank you for being patient with my extra slow pace during the ascent and for the fun company!
The video for this climb is still being processed by one of my hike mates, I shall share it here once it becomes available.
(Temporary insert video here haha)
Tips and Observations
The trail will be 60% mossy forest, 30% pine forest, 10% stairs
40% of the mossy forest trail has limatiks. Brace yourselves and dress accordingly
There are a lot of fallen trees along the trail which you have to go over. (Lucky for those who have long legs lol)
There will only be one water source along the trail. Refill water bottles to have enough for cooking and hydrating
The summit can now serve as campsite
You may ask the personnel at the resort to cook food for the team in advance
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)
9:00PM – ETD Cubao to Mountain Province
7:00AM – ETA Banaue. Breakfast at View Point Valley Inn and Restaurant
9:00AM – ETD restaurant to jump off
10:00AM – ETA Golden Farm Resort (jump-off). Register and repack things.
10:40AM – Start trek
1:10PM – Lunch at first campsite
1:40PM – Resume trek
2:00PM – Start of mossy forest (hello limatiks)
6:00PM – ETA campsite. Set camp.
7:00PM – Dinner
8:00PM – Lights out
8:00AM – Breakfast
10:25AM – Start summit assault
11:25AM – ETA Summit of Mt. Kalawitan. Take photos
12:15PM – Start descent back to campsite
1:10PM – Back at campsite. Eat lunch. Break camp.
2:00PM – Start descent
4:10PM – Arrival at only water source
5:10PM – ETA first campsite
7:30PM – Back at Golden Farm Resort
9:35PM – ETD resort back to Manila
6:00AM – ETA Manila
Again, I have proven that anyone can do anything they set their minds to. And while this hike was physically draining, it was also emotionally fulfilling.
And while we were not able to do the traverse, I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to join the climb to the 10th highest mountain in the Philippines.
Post-climb, I struggled with my injured foot for almost a week and it hindered me from performing at my best during my recent full marathon but this incident also made me realize that I need to slow down a bit sometimes and take care of myself better.