halfway to halcon

even the most inarticulate of mountaineers return from the summit of mt. halcon with stories reaching epic proportions, and each one is almost always saddled with an overwhelming burden to narrate the details of their fantastic ordeal on the slopes of the country's most physically exacting trail. i must confess, however, that the weather did not permit us to go farther than the banks of the mighty dulangan river, and in order to weave a story as compelling as the ones i have heard, i must rely heavily on my limited eloquence to extend the yarn of my experience.

but my frustration at not being able to reach the summit is no more negligible than the leeches that abound in the perpetually drenched rainforests of his majesty, mt. halcon. i feel no embarrassment whatsoever at being called a halFconeer. the trek to aplaya, which sits at a modest 1400 masl, is beset by a slew of challenges of escalating difficulty. 11 hours on the most unimaginably punishing trail are aptly rewarded: the view of mt. halcon at aplaya is breathtakingly beautiful. each time the sky clears, i gasp at the enormous presence of the mountain, its green cheeks scored by white scars of cascading waterfalls. there were more than twenty, and the number changed with each count.

a journey of a thousand steps

we set out to reach the summit of mt. halcon early friday morning. our group gathered outside the buendia branch of 7-11, which is just beside the tritran bus station in taft. we've become more or less a regular weekend fixture outside the convenience store. i slept through most of the trip, and awoke only in time to disembark. at the port of batangas, we took a fastcraft to the city of calapan and had lunch at chow king. mike, with the help of friends from HALMS, hired a jeepney to ferry us to bgy. lantuyan, in the municipality of baco, the jump off point. we passed by a number of local offices to make sure that our permits were in order. many other groups ignore these requirements altogether, but it has never been our habit to evade the law, regardless of how characteristically bureaucratic it may be, and no matter how immensely corrupt some officials really are.

we arrived at lantuyan long before sunset, with enough time for a quick dip at the river. i prepared dinner for my group, and unloaded the first two of the six kilograms of meat i had stuffed inside my bag (not counting the rice, water, and other food items i was assigned to bring). more than one person had remarked that my bag was extraordinarily heavy. i decided, eventually, to unload much of what i wanted to bring at nanay cherry's house: a windowless squat square structure surrounded by slats of bamboo resembling a chicken coop. there were only 21 persons in our group, but three of us had to make do with the bamboo benches outside the house. jay and i did not sleep well that night because drops of rain fell on our exposed faces.

at 6am, we began our ascent with a prayer. an almost imperceptible drizzle accompanied the start of our hike. for the first few hours, i plowed through mud and puddles with confidence that my gore tex hiking boats -- er, boots -- would keep my feet dry. but no amount of waterproofing can compete with mother nature's devices: streams with knee-deep waters. more than the discomfort of wearing a drenched pair of socks, i worried greatly about the small wound at the edge of my left foot's big toenail. but the fact that my shoes are a size and half bigger than my regular fit helped a lot to ease the pain.

before long, there was traffic on the inhospitable and narrow trail. the members of AMCI were making their way down back to lantuyan. they revealed that they had failed to cross dulangan, which was swelling due to the consistent rains the past two days since their arrival. fab_ab was in the lead pack. there were many familiar faces in AMCI, most of whom i have had the privilege of meeting on the slopes of other mountains. they wished us better luck with the weather. AMCI had a contingent of more than 50 mountaineers.

creative mountaineering

we had lunch under the rain, and some people deal with these obstacles more creatively than others. an emergency poncho is a very useful thing, and it will help to make your meal more edible, unless you fancy an instant soup. i had surrendered to the weather's dictates.

when i had finished eating, i noticed a persistent itch on the inside of my left thigh. i was wearing a pair of rain pants which i secured on the laces of my boots to prevent any part of my skin from being exposed. i had decided against putting on a pair of leggings. this turned out to be a most unwise decision. i discovered that the itching was due to a bite of one of those pesky limatiks. i had fattened quite a few, i eventually realized, even on my way down. a leech bite looks like a pair of small round wounds, much like how one would imagine the scars from an encounter with a vampire. blood would ooze almost continuously for a few minutes, even after the leech had been removed. i am not afraid of the slimy little creatures, but they leave an enduring mark. the bites i have from makiling still itch every now and then, and the scars, though small, are still perceptible. while we rested for lunch, a second group was making its way down. one guy was carrying two backpacks, and before long, a girl came down, limping with each step.

i purchased a new bladder for this hike: an expensive 2 liter platypus. due to some negligence on my part, however, about a liter and a half of the purified water i brought spilled out, and i had to be satisfied with the taste of the mountain stream. we all filled our bottles with river water, and this may have upset some sensitive constitutions. early into the afternoon, edgar started blowing. water has always been his waterloo, and he had to sneak out of the trail several times to address the issues boiling in his stomach. johnbee followed a few hours later. his case was much worse, because he regurgitated the pork asado we had for lunch. the experience had so weakened him that someone had to carry his bag for him. this happened less than an hour away from the first campsite. i myself was feeling a little nauseous and the oppressive forest around me started to spin. i had to pause for a whole 10 minutes. hunger might have been my problem because the dizziness was easily addressed by a bar of snickers.

we had grown so afraid of the water from the river that we started to collect rain to fill our bottles with. we boiled our water and drank warm mango juice and orange juice to accompany the shots of gin we shared. our tents were pitched far apart from each other. beside johnbee's brand new TNF tadpole 23, we planted two trekking poles on which we secured dennis's huge red tarp. during the first night, i could hear the ends of the tarp flapping wildly against the strong winds which attacked our campsite, and i was certain it had been blown away, exposing much of our things to the torments of nature. but i woke up the following morning to find it still standing.


our first morning on the trail, mike decided to abort the trek to the summit. during the previous night, rain was coming down in sheets, and it had continued until the following morning. the position of our tent allowed for water to seep in under the bathtub flooring, and if not for my earthpad and my sleeping bag, i would've ended up lying on a thin sheet of water. jay looked terribly pathetic, curdling up inside his motherbag, trying to find sleep, which was elusive and difficult to capture. while i would wake up every now and then, i was well rested, and was an amazing bundle of energy the entire day that we dreamed about halcon's summit.

after lunch, we decided to descend to the river. without our packs, it was only about 20 minutes away, and for a short while, the sun accompanied us as we frolicked on the banks of dulangan. there was another group a few meters upstream. i wanted to pay them a visit. when we began our trek, a young woman named prana joined us. she was ill-equipped for the hike, and wore only sandals and carried a small daypack with limited provisions. she said her companions had left a day earlier and was eager to follow them. i wanted to ask if this was her group, and if she actually managed to join them. but as i made my way, jumping from rock to rock, rain came pouring again. we decided to return to aplaya.

i ran up the steep trail and reached the campsite with my heart pounding like a crazed marching drum. after i had taken off all my wet clothes, i was immediately seized by a cold embrace, and i started to shiver uncontrollably. i put on every piece of clothing that was dry and zipped myself inside my sleeping bag. the folks just outside my tent started calling for me, but i refused to even look out the tent. pretty soon, mike, probably concerned i might be having early stages of hypothermia, went inside the tent i shared with jr and rubbed efficascent oil on my back and on my chest. it helped a little, and i slept comfortably for a few moments.

when nighttime came, we were asked to prepare for our induction. i was feeling less excited as i should've been, probably because we were only halfway to halcon. the induction ceremony, which was solemn and steeped in ritual, was designed for the summit, and not aplaya. nonetheless, we were inducted amid rain, cheer, and warm hugs. after close to 5 months of training, i now have a dog tag which has my name spelled out correctly. we had my paksiw na pata that evening.

back from the boondocks

on our third day at aplaya, the weather was still a terrible force to challenge. we decided against the assault we had planned the previous day, and decided to descend at around 9am. johnbee and edgar had both regained the strength they lost on our way up, and carried their onerous packs with confidence. the way back to lantuyan is no more easier than the way up, and for my part, i fell several times. sheer exhaustion can make you very careless, and i failed to secure the steps i took, often with embarrassing consequences. jr and dennis were just as unlucky. gravity and fatigue had conspired to pull them close to the earth, humbling them greatly. there were many times when we just wanted to roll down to the hanging bridge.

the descent is usually one of the most difficult parts of the trek, because it can burn your patience with great speed. for a full hour and a half, we caught a glimpse of our destination, but regardless of how much we picked up speed, it appeared no more closer than it was half an hour before. even a person of my loquacious nature may be kept silent for long periods of time. we passed by the mangyan resettlement area and there were kids asking for candies and even adults demanding dole outs. other indigenous groups carry themselves with much more pride than this.

when finally we reached lantuyan, the groups that had gone ahead had already preoccupied themselves with hanging their wet clothes to drip (not to dry, because it rained). we decided to sleep at aling mary's house. little did we realize that her abandoned house was quite a distance away from the banks of the lantuyan river, and we had to cross fields and a coconut plantation to reach it. on our way there, i had a nagging suspicion our guide had purposely wanted us to get lost in the darkness.

the creepy-looking old house has two stories, and we slept in one of the 3 rooms. dennis, jay and myself shared a huge bed while johnbee settled for the floor. the following morning, we waited for nanay cherry to arrive so we could collect our things. a jeepney ferried us to the port, and before long, we were onboard a RORO vessel back to the batangas port. i reached home at around 7pm, and after taking out all the dirty things i had stuffed in my bag, i struggled long with my iBook. i had this desire to report the details of my climb, but could not find a single appropriate word to express the flurry of emotions that accompanied my experience.

thinking about my failed attempt at reaching the summit of halcon, i managed to reach at least one conclusion: halcon will always be there, and this only means that he is inviting me to go back when the weather is much better.
too bad the weather didn't clear up! should strengthen our resolve to summit, if ever, this summer. :) B2k4's revenge
yup. there will be a next time, and if the climb you're planning isn't too exclusive, do invite us at batch pasaway! we'd love to climb with you guys. summer in halcon is also part of our plan. :D

so i guess i'll see you at the new balance run on the 21st.
yes most likely
wanted to run just the 5k, but my friends insist the 10. oh well.

we'll see about summer. plans are still up in the air, but if it's an open climb, will let u know for sure. :)

Re: yes most likely
i'll be running the 5k. sort of a recovery run i guess. my right knee is black and blue after a bad fall on the way up to aplaya and it still hurts.

well good luck in your climbs, open or otherwise (better if open, hehe). we've got quite a lot lined up for ourselves. one of your batchmates (raymond yap) is also a good friend of another member of sierra (johnbee sioson) and they're planning a climb sometime in the future. for sure, our paths will cross in one mountain trail or another. cheers! :D
again I would like to congratulate all of you for finishing the PSI Training, the induction climb was again another memorable climb even though we did not reach the summit. but as we all say HALCON is always there, and there will be lots of opportunities to CONQUER the summit..... MORE POWER TO BATCH PASAWAY!
again I would like to congratulate all of you for finishing the PSI Training, the induction climb was again another memorable climb even though we did not reach the summit. but as we all say HALCON is always there, and there will be lots of opportunities to CONQUER the summit..... MORE POWER TO BATCH PASAWAY! - ogz's
a report of a missing mountaineer, Prana Escalante,came out today in the PDI.Could she be the lone girl you met on your way up? I hope not..
just read your latest entry. I hope they find the girl.
Re: okay,
i actually posted some info in another yahoogroup about the circumstances leading to prana's disappearance. we can only hope this won't be a search and retrieval operation.
kasama nyo ba yung reported na babae na missing daw? just heard from the news a few minutes ago.
sumama lang siya sa amin nung simula, pero nilampasan kami kasi mas magaan yung dala nya. kaunti lang kasi. sinabihan namin na wag mauna, pero ayaw magpasaway. taga UST yun eh. hanggang ngayon, nawawala pa rin.
Celebrity you
I saw you, I say you on TV last night.
Magkatabi pa kayo ni Bespren. :-) J.
Re: Celebrity you
haha. i'm like, famous, you know. so jong, you have to decide finally when we can drink, because my schedule's going to be really tight after this. hehehe. you have to book a month in advance. haha. siyempre si bespren jay andyan lang lagi. dapat nga ako lang yung tatanungin, nakisingit pa.
Glug, glug, glug na!!
Ala e, kahit kelan e pupuwede. Mangyari'y kayo po ang magsabi kung kelan at kung saan. At mangyari'y dito lamang po sana sa Makati at nang di ako maligaw. :-) J.
I know this is a necro post but
After Prana was recovered, we came in. The Mangyan tribe didn't allow us to climb because their faery goddesses were already angry.

It was a good decision you didn't push for the summit. I was a split second early for my death on my second attempt there. Dulangan river and other bodies of water are the only obstacles to reaching Halcon's summit, IMO. A Mangyan taught us how to determine whether you can summit or not: If you see Halcon from Aplaya, you'll notice there're waterfalls on its walls. if you count more than 4, you can't cross Dulangan so it's really a must to stay at Aplaya on day 1 to assess the success of your climb. Normally, people push for Dulangan camp on day 1 to gain more but it's not advisable.

Re: I know this is a necro post but
i don't remember how many waterfalls there were when i returned to halcon the following year, but i did manage to summit it then. this entry brings back many memories about the circumstances of prana's disappearance.