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[Travel] Masungi: Where ‘Hanging Out With Friends’ Takes a Whole New Level

The province of Rizal is comparable to that of a sweet uncle who, at first glance, looked downright boring with his tweed pants and shoeshine loafers. But once you get to know him, he can fill your afternoon with great stories and jokes, drawing you in until you can’t get enough. As someone who was born and raised in Marikina, then lived in Taytay, Rizal for a few years, I never thought Rizal as a treasure trove for scenic mountaineering, noteworthy museums for art and history, and thrilling adventures.

One such adventure took us to the Masungi Georeserve Park. Now even before they opened it for the public, Masungi trended in social media because of its famous “Giant Duyan” or hammock (see below)

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But Masungi turned out to be more than that place with a giant Duyan. It will force you to test your guts, your latent fear of heights and maybe your ability to take a selfie with nothing but a network of ropes keeping you from plunging to your death below. That’s why they call the Masungi trek a Discovery Trail in the first place.

 

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The Park has been a center of land-grabbing issues between the owners and the government. Minor skirmishes were common and some soldiers were stationed due to the threat. Otherwise, it was relatively safe. 

 

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Masungi’s name is derived from the word “masungki” which translates to “spiked” – an apt description for the sprawling limestone landscape found within.

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The famous Sapot

 

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Going down the Duyan

 

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Complimentary snacks await you once you overcome the Duyan (100% Organic!)

 

 

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So how will you plan your Masungi Adventure? It’s easy. For one, you don’t have to worry about the terrain that much. Masungi is for regular and beginner hikers, limited to persons 13 years and above.

First thing to do is booking your trip. The last time we went there, it was around April and we heard most of the time slots were fully booked until this coming November.You can check out the dates on this site: http://www.masungigeoreserve.com/  I don’t think they would accept walk-in tours by now. They limit the guests to preserve the area and for security reasons.

I don’t think they would accept walk-in tours by now. They limit the guests to preserve the area and for security reasons. See, even the name of the park has a word ‘reserve’ on it.

Second, plan a trip with more or less thirteen people. If you’re traveling in small numbers, just join the ‘joiners’ package’ on mountaineering groups on Facebook. If you already knew some climbers or avid hikers, you guys can create a tour of your own. You need to have a group of more than 7 hikers and a maximum of 13.

Third, know the rate so you can budget your transportation accordingly. We paid PHP1, 400.00 per head, regardless of how many we were. Since we had no idea how to get there, we decided to rent a van and that’s where the beauty of traveling with a large group comes in. You can save a lot of energy and money, especially when it’s time to go home and your energy is almost depleted with the hiking. Hiring a van or a jeep is not that necessary but it’s a huge relief to do so.

Fourth, plan your timeslot. Most of the timeslots in the mornings are already taken, but traveling around mid-day is not that bad either (that is if you can endure the early afternoon sun) Make sure to consider the places where your fellow hikers would be coming from.

Remember that the trail will take around 3-4 hours, depending on your pace. Some people opt to have side-trips like Daranak waterfalls if they took the early morning slot.

Masungi is really an unforgettable adventure on its own. I don’t think my pictures or my words can encapsulate how awesome the experience was. You have to be there to enjoy it, as cliche as this will sound.

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Locator map from the website

 

 

 

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Traveliries: Being humbled by Mt. Pulag

My philosophy in life is to reward myself in every milestone I gained, big or small. Having your 23rd birthday is a major achievement (since you’re still here and all) and what could be a better way of celebrating one’s 23 years of existence than getting your 23-year-old heart to pump faster and your 23-year-old lungs to wheeze harder as you climb one of the highest peaks of the country?

Mai and I decided to climb Mt. Pulag on September 19-20, with her fresh from her climb on Mt. Daraitan and with me just eager to do something different for my birthday. It took every last ounce of willpower to convince my parents to climb on the day of my birthday, but they gave up in the end (happy birthday to me!), deliriously ignorant of what Mt. Pulag has in store for me.

Day 1, Friday, Mai and I meet up with fellow climbers at Cubao Terminal where we’re going to take a van going to Baguio city. From there, a jeepney will take us to Kabayan, Benguet. I had my dinner at Tropical Hut first, aware that this is going to be my last good dinner before the climb since Mai and I have decided to stick with the good ol’ Century Tuna Paella while hiking.

I remembered Mai asking me if I brought an emergency blanket or a sleeping bag. I said I didn’t, since my bag is heavy and bulky enough. Now this is a lesson we will soon learn: A heavy bag is not a problem, but if you come to Pulag with the mindset of ‘The cold never bothered me anyway’, you’re in for some serious frozen hell.

We slept mostly through the van which took off 10PM in the evening. By about 3AM, we reached Baguio and hopped into the jeepney taking us to Benguet. After 2 hours and a half of travelling, our companions had their breakfast at Jang Jang eatery while Mai and I sauntered off to the famous Jang-jang Bridge located behind the eatery.

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We proceeded to DENR office to attend a brief orientation about Mt. Pulag. Now for some trivia, Mt. Pulag is the 3rd highest peak in the Philippines and the highest in Luzon. It is world-renowned for its captivating ‘Sea of Clouds’ at its summit. There are four trails to the summit but the two well-known are the Ambangeg trail (for beginners) and the Akiki trail (the killer trail)

Needless to say, we will proceed through the Ambangeg trail. If you’re only interested with the summit, go Ambangeg. If you want to be challenged by the mountain (as if the cold isn’t enough), Akiki is for you.

At the DENR office, we passed by a store selling insulator pads and I thought of buying it just in case. I consulted Mai but in the end, we decided that it will add more bulk to our baggage. Besides, we won’t be using it anymore after the hike. This, kids, is mistake #2.

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Sights we've seen while riding the top load on the jeep

Sights we’ve seen while riding the top load on the jeep

We started our climb roughly around 10AM. The sun is shining bright and it looks it’s going to be a sunny climb for us. We barely passed the Ranger’s station when we experienced Mt. Pulag’s volatile weather. The fog soon engulfs the sun and we prepared our raincoat once the downpour begins.

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This should be the Before photo

This should be the Before photo – before the cold eats her soul away

I lumbered off to a slow start, enjoying the cold and the sights. Mai is haggling me to go faster but I don’t. I think most of our conversations are spent on arguing which is more efficient: climbing and resting at your own pace or climbing faster than you should and taking only minimal breaks. None of us wins since we were both dead tired in the end anyway.

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IMG_0105IMG_0107While climbing, I always have a problem with steep parts of the trail (I mean, who hasn’t, other than Mai and her iron legs) and I would always consider them as a major pain in the neck. Later, the mountain would help me realize that an arduous journey uphill is just a temporary struggle. Later, as you go down the mountain, those steeply-inclined paths will be your source of relief. As the famous line goes, it’s all pretty much downhill from here. Pretty much like life, I guess.

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As you climb further and further, the changes of Mt. Pulag’s topography becomes clearer. Here’s a mountain which can’t decide what it is: Pine trees and mossy forests at the base, grassland on top. One of our companions said that when you take the Akiki trail, the stark contrast of the morphing landscape is more evident.

Somewhere along the trail, I found myself walking alone. I told Mai to go on ahead. The weight of a 15-kg baggage is making my knees tremble. I’m now feeling sharp shots of pain in my shoulder whenever I adjust the weight of the bag. The thinning air of the high altitude is not helping either. I’ve always thought climbing in cool temperature is way easier than hiking under the scorching sun but the cold presents an unlikely adversary. I have to rest every 20 minutes and I swear if there are indeed spirits residing in Mt. Pulag, they would probably be angry at my loud, asthma-like panting.

After about four hours of panting, wheezing and almost dying, with my shoulders crying, we finally reached Camp 2.

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Setting up the tent

Setting up the tent

After setting up camp and resting for a bit, Mai and I decided to explore the sights around Camp 2. Seeing the running hills leading to the summit evokes a certain kind of solitude and renewal that only getting closer to the heavens can bring.


IMG_0125IMG_0146IMG_0136IMG_0142Just after we were having our dinner, it rained. Hard. One of the seasoned climbers said that the rain is actually a good thing. One of the recipes of Sea of Clouds is to rain the night before, but raining till dawn will present a big problem.

Because of the rain, the temperature plunges down. Mai and I settled inside our desolate shelter we call our tent. Without blankets, without sleeping bags, without an insulator pad, we are done for. The cold seeps inside our tent like a Dementor sucking all the warmth in our bones. Mai is already wearing three layers of clothing and still, she feels her feet are frozen inside an ice block. We’ve managed to distract ourselves from the cold by laughing at our own stupidity and making jokes about why our feet is so vulnerable to the cold. Mai, being a professional physical therapist, stated  dead serious that unlike hands, you cannot warm your feet under your armpits. I quipped that we should have conditioned our body through Yoga instead of running to prepare for this trip. We were laughing pretty loud and I’m thankful that the campers near our tent didn’t kill us in our sleep.

Day 2: After sleeping fitfully, we awoke at 3AM for our trek to the summit. The rain had just stopped and the night sky greeted us with a wonderful view of the stars and the faint section of the Milky Way. I swear if my camera was as good as a DSLR, I would run out the space on my card of pictures of the night sky than the sunrise.

The trek to the summit lasted about one hour. As expected, it is a long climb and the only source of light we have is our flashlight. I did some breathing exercises, concentrated on the path I’m walking on, but upon reaching Peak 2, I turned my head to the other side and froze on my tracks. The faint rays of the coming dawn offered me a glimpse of mountains drowning under the sea of clouds. If it wasn’t for Mai calling me from above, I would have stood there, transfixed, and waited for the sunrise there.

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The last step to the summit is always a memorable one for me. It felt like I overcome something I never thought I could, but it’s far from triumph. It’s more of submission, a tranquil sense of fulfillment and gratitude to the mountain and heavens above for allowing you to glimpse this wonderful view, infusing you with warmth that rivals that of Pulag’s relentless cold, and keeping this memory for you to remember as many sunrises go by.

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Mai turned to me and grinned, ‘Happy Birthday!’ I smiled. As far as birthday goes, this is certainly going to be one of the best I’ll ever have.

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Our trip is organized by a cool Facebook page called Happy Trail. Check it out here: Happy Trail

What to expect on your first climb?

I was never athletic. Never has and never will be. I like the great outdoors and I enjoy nature more than I enjoy most people. Sometimes though, I do wish that my body would keep up with my soul’s wanton desire to be one with nature.

And what amazing work of nature to get lost in than a mountain? I hold an almost reverent, romantic view for these hulking mass of the earth. I am simply enthralled with their hugeness, their constrained power, the mystery they hide beneath the carpet of green. Ever since I graduated from school, one of the things I must do in my list is to climb a mountain. But for reasons of the other, I wasn’t able to.

So when my bestfriend casually invited me for a dayhike at a nearby mountain in Bulacan, who was I to pass up the chance? It’s time to get up close and personal.

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Mt. Balagbag in Bulacan is a minor climb, just right enough for a climber newbie like me. Eme told me that in a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest, it scored a 2. But believe me if I tell you that when you’re done with this mountain, you would think that someone has done this mountain a great injustice by giving it a measly 2.

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The difficulty 2 mountain will never give you the luxury of a flat, even ground. Mt. Balagbag has a steep terrain, riddled with sharp, huge rocks. It will provoke you with 45° steepness which often bends in a narrow curve. The climbers we are with, who are far more experienced than us, has to stop in every big lonesome tree they come across with just to breathe normally again.

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Another thing you should remember in facing Balagbag is the lack of protection from the sun. The climb would have been a hundred times easier if we hike at night or at dawn. I swear it seems like the mountain is frying you like a good sunny-side egg before it can eat you alive. Good thing the wind picks up every once in a while and it’s more than enough to keep us going.

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Reaching the top is a bit anticlimactic but still memorable. One of my friends, Crisel, kept on saying: “Shit, I can’t believe I made it!” and it’s wonderful how our “I’m dying. Just leave me be..” exhaustion minutes earlier is suddenly wiped out by “Yeah, we can take on everything!” elation.

From the experience as someone who is “devirginized” by a mountain, here are some of the musings I can share on what to expect on your first climb:

* Before anything else, condition your body. Before Balagbag, I jog about two times a week to pump up my cardio. I’m still a little sore two days after the climb but I hate to think what it would be like if I sit on my ass all week, thinking it will be a piece of cake.

* Choose comfortable clothes. If you’re in a dayhike climb, wear shorts with leggings underneath. Stretchable armbands are your bestfriend because you can take them off after the climb. Don’t dress to impress. No matter how good you look, the climb will change your appearance so much, you wouldn’t recognize yourself anymore. Do not wear extra clothings as possible, unless you’re about to climb the likes of Mt. Pulag.

* Rubber shoes may be too hot to wear but you will be thankful with them when the trail before you is a steep slide with sharp rocks at the bottom.

* Bring at least two 500ml of water and/or electrolytes. 80% of your bag is for water bottles.

* In a dayhike, travel light. Your backpack should be smaller than usual. In a major climb, make sure to choose a bag with comfortable shoulder straps.

* Bring caps, sun shades, visor or anything thag will protect your head and eyes from the sun.

* Hike in your own pace, especially if it’s your first time. So what if your hike buddies are far ahead of you? Give your poor body a chance to get in grips with that awful decision you made in climbing a damn mountain in the first place! (You’re not the first person who asked yourself: “What did I get myself into?”)

* If you feel like resting, do so. If you’re breathing hard and your heart feels like it’s about to burst on your chest, DO NOT sit down right away. Lean unto something or continue to stand until it finally subsided to a normal pace.

* On the middle of a steep climb, don’t spend most of your time looking far ahead. It will make you think of how high it is or how difficult it will be to make the turn or reach a point. It will make you tired more than you already are. Focus on your pace and at your progress. Before you know it, you’ve reached the top.

* Going down is just as hard as climbing up. But arguably, more fun!

* The view at the top is always worth the sweat.

* No matter how tired you get, or the regrets you thought while climbing, trust me if I say you will be addicted. The fever you will catch in climbing is no ordinary bug. You’ll experience some feverish desire to climb a mountain if you saw one.

Some geological trivia: Dead/dormant volcanoes are mountains without any neighbors. Usually, ordinary mountains are part of a mountain range or a cluster.

Now excuse me while I plan my next climb for the month of April. Pico de Loro, here I come!

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