adventure · Mountaineering

Mt. Kalisungan and the tales of the talahib

It flashed before me, that scene in my mind where I was atop another mountain with a banner that said, “Welcome back, KZ!” More than excitement, I was feeling a sense of appreciation over the fact that my recovery period was faster than expected. There were worries as after all it has only been three months after my surgery. But my body was in a good condition, my incision has healed –at least I feel it has inside, and I haven’t gone far outdoors, which meant I had rested well enough. So when Nathan texted me last, last Sunday that he wanted to go on a hike, and because Keren and Rayjohn were also looking forward to one this coming long weekend, I said yes. I didn’t want to stretch myself too much so we decided to go on a day hike just in Laguna. Originally, I had wanted to go up Cristobal and do an overnight trek. Well, Ofel happened. The storm hit most parts of the country erasing the possibility of an overnight trek and scaring most of those I had invited. Even as we settled for a day trek, the prospect of the storm caused many to be hesitant, so the numbers dwindled until it was just me, Keren, Rayjohn, Nathan, JP and Kuya Joel. It was okay as I’ve said before, I actually prefer a small number when going up the mountain.

Mt. Kalisungan go by many names: Lamot, Nagcarlan, Calauan. It’s a two-hour and a half trip from Manila (LRT Buendia via Greenstar, Php87.00 as of writing) and is considered a minor climb, which in fairly good weather can be trekked for just over an hour. Mountains are usually classified major or minor and easy or difficult on these factors: elevation, level, and days required. The class is also determined by the type of trail, and going by what PinoyMountaineer has set for this mountain, Mt. Kalisungan is a minor climb with a difficulty of 3 on a scale of 9 and with a trail class of 1-2. To my sensibilities and present condition, it presented the perfect climb.

So the trip to Kalisungan went as such: we delayed our original meeting time of 5:30 am because Rayjohn was coming home from Iloilo and will catch up with us in Buendia. I had to make that decision last night despite my initial fears of starting so late we would eventually do a night trek. We left Buendia quarter to 9 and arrived at the Duck Junction at around 10:50. From there, we took a tricycle (10 pesos) to get to the Barangay office (Brgy. Lamot) where we registered and waited on a guide. There were no registration fees, and we were told later on by Gideon who owned the tindahan near our jump-off point, that there were no donations given before. This time, we were asked to “donate” which I considered part of the registration so we gave Php100. This is the type of thing that’s usually ironic in our culture. We say, “donate” when we mean “pay”. If it were donation in its true context, that would mean a voluntary act of giving to charity or free contribution. Their asking for a donation defeats that, doesn’t it? No worries, though. What I just mean is that instead of saying it’s for donation, why don’t they just use registration since that’s a typical practice in most barangay outposts near a mountain and is reasonably accepted by all mountaineers.

Trekker’s Notes: Request for a guide accredited by the barangay, and not some local out to make money from well-meaning climbers. Our request for a guide was important because none of us have been to Kalisungan before. Given we were starting at a much later time than we had originally set, a guide would be our next best option to make sure we don’t get lost in the mountain and therefore waste precious time. Guides usually wait at the Barangay hall but because we had arrived late, we were told the guide went home. We still had the option of getting one on our way to the jump-off point. In came Caloy, a 21-year old, curly-haired guy who carries around a bolo and walks barefoot. He wasn’t a talker. He basically looked at us (hinting that we should start the trek now) and started “hacking” his way with his bolo. When I climbed Mt. Tarak with AMCI for an invitational climb through the Paniquian trail, their trail master Sky Bischoco carried with him a bolo because the vegetations would have already grown so much that the trails would be hidden. I should have taken that as a reminder that a guide with a bolo meant hacking through hidden trails –something which is never, never a good idea. But anyway.

Our jump off point was at Field of Faith prayer house. (New find!) and it set the mood and expectation for the climb: wet and muddy. Of course I had hoped it would not be muddy given that rain has stopped; but it has only been two days since the storm and it did rain in the morning. The trail was muddy and the initial trek resembled much of Maculot: gradual ascent through the forest. We actually looked like fools at the beginning: trying to avoid the mud by clinging on to trees or stepping through visible greens just so our feet won’t get submerged. It was pathetic and futile because the entire trail was muddied and the inevitable happened a few minutes after we started trekking. “Crrrk” went my sandals against the mud, and before me lay my now camouflaged feet.

Trekker’s notes: If you must climb Kalisungan on rainy days, please do not wear sandals. Take it from someone who experienced first hand the dangers of doing so. Initially, and yes I would admit, it was just for vanity’s sake. But when we were on our way down and my feet were no longer visible because of the mud (which eats the entire feet all the way up the ankle), I had the most difficult time making sure my feet don’t slip off the sandals, and avoiding certain accidents like tripping or falling. It can get serious. We were running out of time because we had gone down around 3:30, and my slow and cautious descent meant longer time for us in the mountains. I was basically causing the team delay, and if it weren’t for Anno’s bright idea to swap shoes (Keren to me, him to Keren, and Kuya Joel to him), it would have taken me forever to go down. Basically, since the mud was slippery against my feet and sandals, and the trek was also slippery, it presented a potential accident —something I determined early on should NOT happen to me in the mountain because I had just come from a surgery.

We were still halfway up the summit when it was already lunch time. We decided to wait until we get to the summit to eat, but the ascent to the summit was already lunch in itself. We were literally served with talahib as tall as Kuya Joel (who was 6 ft high) and they were bountiful. A day before the climb, Keren, Kay and I went swimming to get more conditioning for our body. That was 12 lapses. We didn’t know we would also practice our breaststroke up here in Kalisungan. Yes, we were swimming our way through talahib —and I have NEVER, NEVER seen nor gone through so much talahib in my entire life! Trekker’s notes: make sure you are covered (arm warmers, leg warmers, socks) and this may sound ridiculous, but you know those masks robbers wear? haha. Wear them here! :D I was so glad I was fully covered, but my hands bore the ire of the talahib. So you can add gloves to your pack to be sure.

And when we were finally near the summit, a good three hours later, I felt I entered a new civilization. Like I had come out of the Amazon. I was telling Nathan how the entire talahib invasion felt like. In my head this scene played: There were terrorists behind us, a plane waiting to pick us up the summit. I had better run the fastest I can to get there or else. Yes, we were all desperate. The ascent was SOMETHING we didn’t expect —not from all the researches we’ve done. Basically, our guide Caloy led us through some lush vegetation, with fallen banana leaves and bananas (the best bananas I’ve tasted so far!), coconut shells, and through what we thought was a non-existent trail. I was upset at this point, telling him “hindi dapat tayo bumubutas ng bagong trail“, because I was certain there was an established trail, and because I was also certain he brought us to the wrong one. Mountaineering is also mental toughness, and maybe because I was reminded of my time in Mt. Kanlaon and getting lost in Margaha Valley, that I began to “shut down”. Emotionally, I was almost about to run over. The bananas (thank God!) were probably my balance pill, and when I had quietly settled in my heart to just trust the guide, I asked him gently if we could go by another trail on our way down. The ascent was no joke; going down that way would be a killer.

The summit gives us a 360 degree view of most mountain ranges in Batangas, Laguna and Quezon. We saw Mt. Makiling, Banahaw and Cristobal, Sembrano and Malipunyo range. We also saw 5 of the 7 lakes of San Pablo and then I was happy. We might have gone through a tough, tough time on our ascent —but the cliche has always held true: It’s all worth it in the end and you forget your momentary troubles. You forget the mud and the talahib you had for lunch, the insects you didn’t mind coming across anymore because you just wanted to go up. You forget them all at the sight all around you. And then, Kalisungan is vindicated.

Trekker’s Notes: Always bring a headlamp with you even if it’s just a day trek. It did us good that we had those because the dark reached us on our way down and we were scrambling to get down as soon as possible. Make sure that you carry 2 liters of water and enough emergency food IN CASE you have to bivouac.

Over all, I enjoyed this welcome-back climb. I would have done things differently —left Manila earlier, brought enough water, bought a new pair of shoes (all my climbing gears had already been shipped to Palawan so I settled with my sandals). That said, Mt. Kalisungan taught me some invaluable lessons about life. I realized that it’s good to be with a group who knows the value of team work. Rayjohn had that mindset. He knew I had to change my shoes or I would drag the whole team down. He made that decision which proved essential on our descent. I also learned that sometimes, or a lot of times, people really just lead us to the wrong path. Our guide, God bless him. He might not have wanted to guide for us initially —so he led us to paths which were dangerous. He even charged us 100/person when according to the barangay, it was only 300. Also, we have to bear with pride our wounds, our battle wounds. I have countless scratches and cuts from the talahib in my hand—visible proofs of the battle that was Kalisungan. But we all charge these to experience. Thinking about it now, Mt. Kalisungan, my first mountain climb post-surgery, seemed to tell me that things will not always be easy and the climb up is full of challenges. Where I stand now, that’s pretty prophetic. And exciting. And scary.

But God, the creator of Mt. Kalisungan, He is my perfect Guide, the one I follow. :)

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

Trekker’s Notes: Expenses

Bus from Manila to Duck Junction (via Sta. Cruz) – Php87.00

Trike to Barangay Lamot – Php10
Barangay donation – Php18 each
Trike to Guide’s house – Php10
Guide – Php100
Trike to Calauan – Php20
Bus (Calauan to Buendia) – Php73
Shower at Mang Gideon – Php20
Total expenses without food: Php333

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