Alto Peak is known as the highest peak in Eastern Visayas. But to me, Alto stands beyond its height. The experience we had during our hike and camp on this beautiful sanctuary goes beyond elevation and trail class difficulty. During this hike, I’ve realized how society has fooled us to come up with a very modest description of beauty.
About Alto Peak (Mt. Aminduen)
In case you’re not familiar with Mt. Aminduen, also known as Alto Peak, it is located on the humble island of Leyte. It stands at around 1332+ meters above sea level and can be accessed via Barangay Cabintan in Ormoc City.
Hike to Alto Peak (Mt. Janagdan to Mt. Aminduen Campsite)
Until now I’m not certain if it’s the company or the trail that made the trip to Alto Peak very memorable. Probably both. From the jump-off at Barangay Cabintan, we started the hike past noon to Mt. Janagdan, a dormant volcano with a bewitching lake as its crater. Compared to my other major hikes, the hike to Mt. Aminduen was the least demanding of all. Literally no pressure.
Don’t get me wrong, the trail was both secluded and challenging. But if you are with people who treat hikes (even major climbs) as if it’s a ‘walk-in-the-park’ kind of activity, it’s difficult not to get comfortable.
Too comfortable to the point that our group arrived four hours later than the first group. Yes, that’s how we define chill. Kidding aside, our group was actually composed of mobile photographers. For some, it was their first major hike. So, to make the most of the experience, we hiked at a steady pace, took breaks when necessary, and experimented with different angles to get great photographs of the forest and its splendid flora and fauna.
Probably the only drawback that we were too complacent with our pace is that we forgot that not everyone was comfortable with night treks – that’s why two of our friends didn’t notice that they were already clinging to rattan stems, which were covered with spines. So, imagine us plucking those spines from their hands, in the middle of the forest, late at night. Never thought tweezers could actually come in handy in these situations.
Up to Alto Peak
Obviously, we were too famished and exhausted when we arrived at the campsite. After eating dinner, no socials happened. Everyone retreated to their tents and slept the night away.
The following morning after breakfast, we hit the trails leading to Alto Peak. Our guides told us that the peak can be reached in just an hour or two. True indeed, but what they failed to tell us is that it would require a number of rope courses, bouldering, crawling, and climbing over fallen trees – to mention all the direct assaults needed to reach the peak!
Some were forced to back out for safety while the rest of us pushed to go further until we finally arrived at the summit – and then finally, Alto Peak. We were blessed with very fine weather for that day. Jaro, Leyte was very much visible from the top.
After taking numerous memorial photographs at the summit, we then decided to say our gratitude to the mountains for gifting us with the beautiful experience and weather. We had our lunch back at the campsite before we headed to the jump-off where we spent the second night.
Milky Way Spotted on our Second Night of Camping
Technically, we were not camping on our second night at Alto Peak. Rather, we were sleeping out – like literally outside the house of our guide, Kuya Ramil. As much as he would like to accommodate us in his humble abode, we couldn’t all fit in; hence we improvised.
Instead of pitching our tent, we spread out our sleeping mats and tarps and then squeezed in beside each other. The night was spent recollecting the two days hike, sharing uplifting stories, and engaging in unexpected serious conversations. And in the middle of those late-night talks and jaded bodies, the heavens made itself known and showed us a hazy band of light made up of stars – the Milky Way.
I never thought that the Milky Way can actually be made visible to the naked eye! But because Barangay Cabintan is located away from the city, it was spared from any light pollution; hence, even without the use of telescopes and hardcore cameras, we were able to witness its glory in the dark sky.
Beautiful was an understatement. No wonder many individuals have fallen in love with astronomy, and even dreams of going to outer space – such unworldly exquisiteness. And there I have realized how we have fallen short of our definition of beauty. Of what a fool we have been to associate beauty with tangible materials and social construct.
Beauty was in the tranquility felt while we were in Lake Janagdan. Beauty was in the worried looks and great concern on wounded friends. Beauty was in the acceptance of defeat, of having to back out, but coming back stronger to reach the peak. Beauty was in the absence of sparkles and lights. Beauty was all along within us, waiting to be acknowledged.
I look back on these moments now and see how beautiful life was – despite the struggles, adjustments, and everyday challenges. And I look forward to the days when the heavens will make itself known once again, free us up from all our worries, and allow us to witness the Milky Way once again.
Second to the last month of the year already. How are you? Still fighting? Great. I hope you also look back on those beautiful things that had happened in the past. These will keep you warm even during the coldest, darkest, and most difficult nights of your life. I hope you get the chance to see the Milky Way as well, or Aurora Borealis if it’s not too much to wish.