‘Ano bang pinaglalaban mo?’ What are you fighting for? When the excitement subsides and exhaustion takes over, every hiker is doomed to face this daunting question. Why am I doing this to myself? Ako pa nagbayad, ako pa ang nahihirapan! Behind all the smiles and perfectly captured panoramic shots of the summits are struggles made unknown to many. Then, soon enough, the most important question will arise: is this worth it?
These were some of the thoughts that came hovering inside my head as I was trailing behind my comrades on our way to the summit of Mt. Hamiguitan. Compared to other mountains which stood 2,956 masl, Hamiguitan humbles itself with a 1,620. But despite the height difference, it remains a tough climb to both seasoned and novice hikers. For someone who has been discussing UNESCO World Heritage Sites and ASEAN Heritage Parks, Hamiguitan is but a longtime dream. So when a friend tagged me on an event organized by Saka ta Bai!, I crossed my fingers and joined the event even if it’s a journey I had to embark alone.
It was scary. Much more that I have been slacking off for quite some time. When was the last time I went solo backpacking outside Cebu? Two years ago? Obviously, the high dosage of bravery has worn off. So imagine my heart pounding like crazy as I was waiting for my flight to Davao. Panic is an understatement. What if I booked the wrong flight? What if the event was just a scam? What if the weather won’t cooperate? What if my tent won’t be allowed to be hand-carried? What if I run out of money? But fortune always favors the bold. Instead of entertaining all those thoughts, the universe provided me with a seatmate who’s also en route to Davao. For two hours, she openly shared her life story as an OFW, the struggles of LDR with her (cheating) husband, and the adversities faced with working alone in a foreign country. I instantly became a listening ear as she brought a great distraction to my weary thoughts. I arrived in Davao with a little less apprehensions of my upcoming Mt. Hamiguitan climb, thanks to such encounter.
I arrived at 7pm in Davao City, seven hours earlier than the scheduled meet up. I could’ve wandered somewhere else, but I guess I’ve reached the stage wherein I’ve gone tired of always being on the go. That’s why I’ll forever be grateful to a former high school classmate, Kath, who fetched and adopted me in their humble abode. I was able to relax and prepare better for Mt. Hamiguitan climb the following day, thanks to them.
I was able to meet with other hikers for Mt. Hamiguitan by two in the morning. Imagine how alarmed Kath and her husband were when I told them that I knew none of the people I’d be hiking with. HAHA. Nonetheless, upon seeing the getup of the people on the meet up place, I knew I was on the right place. We were asked to comply with the other requirements needed, settle some bills, and sign a lot of documents before we head to San Isidro, Davao Oriental where the jump off was located. My brain was still processing a lot of things at that moment. There I was, in a van full of sleepyheads trying to feign as much sleep as possible. Half of them were from South Cotabato while the rest were from different corners of Davao. And then, this single soul representing Cebu. It was just the break of dawn but such enormity of thoughts were already taunting my head. HAHA.
After we had breakfast and packed for lunch, we went straight to the DENR and PAMB office of San Isidro for an in-depth orientation. Though Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is located within the political boundaries of Mati, San Isidro, and Governor Generoso, all climbs and events are all directed to San Isidro as agreed by all three. We were later informed that there were two other participants who’d be joining us – priests. While waiting for the two of them, the GTKY began. There were few exchange of backgrounds, sharing of mountains hiked, until the discussion arrived to the scams like KAPA and Almamico, then to Apollo Quiboloy. And mind you, that was just the beginning. Later did I found out that the rest of the three days hike to Mt. Hamiguitan would be consumed to such discussions. HAHA.
We were sent by a pickup truck to the jump off point of Mt. Hamiguitan – the endless river trek. Given the 6/9 difficulty, we were all confident that the hike would be less stressful in comparison to all those hikes we had. Even the organizer said that the trail to Camp 1 and 2 would just be a walk in the park. But man, it was Jurassic Park! The water level of the river was quite high and the boulders were too technical to deal with. Add to that the fast pacing of our comrades whom we later found out to be “podium trailrunners”. These were the kind of people who would pause for a minute to rest then would continue the hike nonstop thereafter. The estimated time to reach Camp1 was 12noon, but because of our pace, we arrived an hour earlier. This then encouraged our lead guide and rescuers to push for Camp 2. He said that if we reach Camp 2 before 2pm, we can still head for Camp 3 (which was still scheduled the following day) so that we can maximize the whole day of Day2 for exploration alone. I don’t know how we did it, but we managed to arrive at Camp 2 by one in the afternoon. So, we pushed for Camp 3. And that was when the greatest feat came in. The trails to Camp 3 of Mt. Hamiguitan required steep ascents, more technical boulders, and slippery trails. With the full-packed load at my back (and all the fats I have), I began to regret all the decisions I made. It was literally exhausting. But the rescuers were very attentive to hopeless souls like me. (Mind you, this was the only climb I had wherein rescuers were really asked to accompany climbers.) Instead of forcing the tail of the pack to go faster, they focused our attention on the different species of trees, mushrooms, and animals that are found along the trail. They shared amazing fun facts like how abundant the water is in Hamiguitan and that it’s triple A grade alkaline water! We passed through various cascades until we finally reached the Twin Falls which is only fifteen minutes to the Camp 3! Hallelujah.
We were literally all knocked down when we arrived at the campsite of Mt. Hamiguitan; so, after pitching our tents, we took a power nap before we were awaken for dinner. By nine in the evening, we were all asleep; ready for the early call time for sunrise at the summit the day after. At three, we were all enjoying our cup of coffee, energized for the two hours ascent. One thing I liked about their guides is that they are very accurate in terms of estimating. When they say two hours, it’s really two hours! So after two hours of direct ascent, we reached Peak 1 of Mt. Hamiguitan. Mt. Hamiguitan has three peaks which gave a perfect panoramic view of Mati, its neighboring islands, even Mt. Apo and Talomo is visible on such vantage point. After savoring such magnificence, we proceed to Peak 2, and Peak 3 before we went back to the campsite to have our breakfast and prepare for the exploration of nearby spots: Helipad, Tinagong Dagat, and Hidden Garden.
My favorite part of the Mt. Hamiguitan hike was the Hidden Garden. Who would have thought that such beauty could exist on such secluded part of the mountain range? I was initially adamant to visit the place. I mean, going to Tinagong Dagat entailed almost an hour of downhell then from Tinagong Dagat, Hidden Garden would be around fifteen to thirty minutes downhell again. And we would be backtrailing all of these?! Imagine all the ascents! Then it rained. Hard. However, when we reached the Hidden Garden, all the frustrations felt vanished into thin air. What was left were moments of pure bliss upon witnessing the bewitching beauty of the Hidden Garden – a mystical plot of dwarf sagimsim trees perfectly aligned as if someone has meticulously arranged them.
And just when we thought we’re done for the day’s activity, fate prepared a more challenging twist for us. As if it was not enough, the rain fell harder that the trails going to Camp 3 of Mt. Hamiguitan got flooded! Rivertrekking 2.0. It was even more difficult and technical than the rivertrek the day prior because we can’t see what we were walking on and the current was against us. Sometimes, the water was on waist level! But we made it to the campsite alive and kicking. Had it not rain, we would have witnessed a beautiful sunset at the last spot of our itinerary – the Black Mountain. But it was still raining and we found out that some of our tents were drenched in rain water, including mine. (Sponsor please. HAHA)
We were blessed with a clear night sky by evening – perfect for dinner and socials at night during our stay in Hamiguitan. It was only that time that we got to get to know more about other; the time they found out my real name instead of addressing me with “Taga-Cebu” or “Ceb”; the time when discussions evolved from Ponzi schemes, to Apollo Quiboloy, to Ancient Aliens, and urban legends like snakes being taken care of by mall owners; the time when life once again taught me how universal friendship is despite differences in age, gender, social status, interests, beliefs, and religion.
It was on the third day that we felt our bodies aching with all the things that we’ve done on the previous hike days to Hamiguitan. We would’ve canceled the ascent to Black Mountain. But Sir Ryan and Jenison wanted to make the most of our visit. So we pushed with the final ascent to Black Mountain after breakfast. And we’re glad we did. The Black Mountain gave a perfect vista of the three peaks of Hamiguitan. The dried leaves of plants (even the moss) have literally turn black, so was the name was coined. Aside from this, various species of pitcher plants (Nepenthes justinae – endemic in Hamiguitan), orchids (lady slipper and dendrochilum kopfi), carnivorous plants like Callitriche pulchra, ferns, and century old trees that have shrunk down to an average of 4.5 feet! Our comrades were even lucky to see a Philippine eagle in the area! Not only that, the 1,200 hectares pygmy forest (biggest in the world) is also a home to other species like tarsier, Philippine warty pigs, Philippine deer, and Philippine macaques.
The rest of the day was spent going downhill. We arrived at Camp 4 of Mt. Hamiguitan and met several researchers (both foreign and locals) who would be spending weeks and months in the wildlife range to document and explore more the treasures of Hamiguitan.
Was it worth it? The group dropped me off at Davao Airport after we had our dinner. It was only 10pm and my flight was scheduled at 3am (not to mention the delay). Five hours of recalling all the things that happened; encapsulating all those memories in this single blog post. Was it worth it? Many hikers would back out from hiking Mt. Hamiguitan because of the expenses. Others wouldn’t mind adding it on their bucket list because “it’s not that difficult” and “it’s not that tall”. But what we fail to see is the experience offered by mountains of “low altitude” and “less challenging level of difficulty”. We fail to see the opportunities to experience nature beyond the technicalities – the beautiful sunrise, the vastness of its ecosystem, the interdependence of the plants and animals to each other, the abundance of alkaline water. We fail to see the beauty of hiking with new individuals – people who were raised in different culture, beliefs, and experiences yet share the same compassion with you. We fail to see that there’s something more to mountaineering than the bragging rights of having to conquer the tallest and most difficult mountains. Because in the end, you won’t remember how much you invested, but ultimately, you will remember how much you gained in return – the experiences, knowledge, and friends. And I guess, that’s worth it.
What have you invested so far? Let’s chika on trails?
TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF MT. HAMIGUITAN’S VAST FLORA AND FAUNA, click here.