Wednesday, September 25, 2013

San Jose Circuit | My Least Favorites

If there's a mountain (or mountains) which I would consider my least favorite, then definitely it's the mountains of San Jose, Tarlac, namely Mt. Kawayan, Mt. Bungkol Baka and Mt. Tangisan. Our experience there was somewhat unexciting, monotonous and quite unremarkable. Never again shall I repeat that hike. Please don't get me wrong ha, the mountains there are beautiful enough and still worthy of a climb, it's just that we really had a bad experience hiking those mountains. As much as possible, I want to see how each mountain differs from one other. I usually don't climb mountains just to say I climbed that mountain. But sadly, in this hike, oh man, it felt like that.

Warning: If you don't want to read excessive whining and grouchiness about the mountains of San Jose, please leave this page immediately.


Just days after hiking my most favorite mountain, Mt. Kanlaon, I was invited by some friends to join them on a hike in San Jose, Tarlac. They said it's gonna be a triple mountain adventure in a day. Back then, I felt excitement, three mountains from Central Luzon would be a great addition to my Kabundukan collection, so I happily gave them a thumbs up.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not knowing that a hellish hike awaits for us in Tarlac, I joined my friends on a Sunday hike. Aboard a north-bound bus, we left Manila at 2 AM and reached Tarlac City (near Siesta) after about 3 hours. My friend Chris, with the help of GAMENEST, have arranged everything for this hike beforehand (woohoo, salamat senyo) so upon arriving at Siesta, the jeep that brought us (a group of 8) to Sitio San Pedro was already waiting. It still took us probably an hour to finally arrive at the jump-off of our would-be crazy triple mountain hike.

Mang Johnny enthusiastically received us when we arrived at Sitio San Pedro. He quickly brought out a logbook and a map of their mountainous area. There were at least 6 mountains surrounding Sitio San Pedro and we told Mang Johnny that we plan to hike three of these. At first he was surprised as it is usually done in two days or three, but did not turn us down since 2 groups have done this previously.

Mang Johnny showing to us a sketch map of the mountains of San Jose. "Mukhang magkakalapit lang naman, kayang-kaya."
the crazy ones, still full of energy before the hike
Our original plan for our San Jose Circuit was to hike first Mt. Tangisan, followed by Mt. Bungkol Baka, and finally Mt. Kawayan but our guide suggested that doing a reverse would be more convenient. We climb Mt. Kawayan first, then Mt. Bungkol Baka and lastly, being the one closest to Sitio San Pedro, Mt. Tangisan. Hindi na kami nagpa-tumpik-tumpik pa and just agreed on what our guide has suggested. So when all was set for the hike, we began right away.

Mt. Kawayan

It was enjoyable at first. Rural scenes of green rice fields and carabao herds brought good vibes to us as we walk towards the foot of Mt. Kawayan, the first in our trilogy circuit hike. By that time, everyone was still very happy, still smiling and still excited for the hike.

a nice countryside view while trekking towards the foot of Mt. Kawayan. 
petiks walk in the park
The easy stroll to the foot of Mt. Kawayan however, lasted only for about 30 minutes. After that, our agony began. As we started to elevate on Mt. Kawayan, the trail suddenly gained overwhelming steepness. And since it was summer time, the terrain was too dusty, thus very slippery. I heard endless panting from my team as we take this challenging trail.

a very challenging ascent to Mt. Kawayan
Obviously, the mountain got its name from kawayan (bamboo) as it grows abundantly in its forest, but strangely, I did not see an abundance of this plant during the hike. Mostly it was just bananas, bananas and more bananas in the early parts of the trail.
Climbing up the steep and slippery trail of Mt. Kawayan was really a great challenge, especially that there were no stable branch or roots we can cling on (puro puno ng saging kasi ang nasa paligid). Dry air and extreme heat from the sun also made the trek extra difficult.

By 07:45 AM, after hiking for almost 2 hours, the ground leveled again. But still we're not over from the mountain's torment. The trail turned into an open grassland, no tree or anything that would keep us from the sun's torturing heat.

still a long way to the summit
Our guide probably felt our distress, thus led us to a small house found along the trail to take some rest. He also gave us a ripe succulent Guyabano (Annona muricata) which we truly enjoyed (sa totoo lang, sa guyabano lang ako natuwa ng husto sa buong San Jose Circuit). After several minutes of rest, we resumed the trek to the summit.

refreshing trail food.
open trail means extreme heat, and I hate it!
We continued trekking despite the challenge that the sun has bestowed upon us. I have climbed a couple of mountains—Mt. Pundaquit and Mt. Balingkilat in Zambales— before which are notoriously known for scorching temperature. After experiencing Mt. Kawayan, I realized that it belongs to that hellish mountain category.

almost at the summit.
We reached the first peak of our trilogy hike at around 9 AM. At that time, I saw nothing but neighboring mountains. I was not so sure but I probably saw Mt. Tapulao from that area too. No one from us liked to stay long at the summit of Mt. Kawayan, after an obligatory group shot at the peak, we hurriedly descended the mountain to proceed to Mt. Bungkol Baka, the 2nd mountain in our San Jose Circuit.

group shot at the summit of Mt. Kawayan. One down, two to go.

Mt. Bungkol Baka

Mt. Bungkol Baka (Mt BB) rests not too far from Mt. Kawayan hence, getting there from the summit of the latter mountain took less than an hour through the ridge that connects the two. 

on the way to the second mountain.
It was during our trek to Mt. Bungkol Baka that I started to lose motivation to continue this hot circuit hike. To me, it is becoming pointless. What we saw and experienced in Mt. Kawayan is exactly the same thing we faced in Mt. BB. Nothing but a series of scorching open trails. That's the reason why I almost did not brought out my camera to take pictures in this leg of our hike.

obligatory group shot at the peak of Mt. Bungkol Baka. Nagsisimula na kaming manlumo.

Mt. Tangisan

As our hike continued onto the third and last mountain, Mt. Tangisan, challenges we met from the previous two intensified three-folds. First, we had to descend or rather slide down through the long, steep, dusty trail of Mt. BB. It was slippery, and again, no stable branch or root to cling on. Second, our hike caught up with the midday sun, thus, the heat was at its peak. Third, we were starting to ran out of hydration, the next available water source is located at the foot of Mt. BB. Fourth, unlike Mt. Kawayan and Mt. BB which are connected by a ridge, Mt. Tangisan is a free standing mountain, therefore, we had to trek down back to the ground, walk a distance towards the foot of Mt. Tangisan, then climb up again for its summit.

descending another steep and slippery trail.
lunch break along the trail. Our spirits slowly being torn apart by the challenges these mountains of San Jose were giving us.
Before I exploded due to overheat, we reached the only water source just right in time (oh thank God). All the bottles were quickly replenished. I even poured a bottle of water onto myself just so to relieve myself from extreme heat.

There's probably only one water source throughout the circuit hike. Kaya binuhusan ko ang buong sarili ko, binasa pati ang damit para lang mag-cool down. Pero after several minutes, tuyo na ulit ako. Ganon kainit sa San Jose Circuit.
Although walking pretty slow and demoralized, we still carried on with the challenging hike. At around 1:30 PM, we reached the ground again, passed by fields of rice and a huge mango tree where we rested for some time. Honestly, at that point, I was already thinking not to pursue for the third mountain anymore, but my hiking spirit motivated me to do otherwise.

sugod sa puno! We want Shade!
Just like an oasis in the middle of Sahara, this huge tree is a gift from above.
Hiking up Mt. Tangisan, although lasted only for 2 hours (actually it should just be an hour up on an average pace) seemed like forever. In my eyes by that time, Mt. Tangisan was the worst, most unremarkable mountain I've ever climbed. I kept on telling myself and my team, "you will want to climb the mountains of San Jose just to say you're able to reach their summits".        

the not-so-motivated hikers.
Many times we had a Take-5s (which were often extending up to Take-10s or even Take-20s), and some of us were sleeping everytime. Even our guide was not so motivated to complete the triple hike, kept on saying that it's really a very difficult hike.

almost at the summit (or was it even the summit?)
At 3:30 PM, at long last, we arrived at the peak of Mt. Tangisan. Actually, hindi talaga ako sure kung yun na yung summit, I'm really doubtful.  But since our guide insisted that it is already the summit, I just agreed.

summit at last.
the plains and river as seen from the summit of Mt. Tangisan
And of course, the obligatory group shot at the summit of our third mountain
We descended Mt. Tangisan as soon as we're done taking photos. And we've done it quickly, in less than an hour, we're back on the ground. Somehow, we still enjoyed the trilogy, although definitely, these mountains are now my least favorites.

Done with San Jose Circuit after 10.5 hours
After the hike, we washed up ourselves at Mang Johnny's place, he's a good man and very welcoming so we thanked him very much. Soon after that, we left the place and headed back to Tarlac City, filled our tummies on a carinderia nearby before catching up a trip back to Manila. What an exhausting but still very fun day.
A few days after doing the San Jose Circuit, I realized that climbing the three peaks in a day is a crazy idea, especially if it's summertime. I'm not saying that the mountains of San Jose are ugly or not worthy of a climb, it's just that these mountains has no special distinction from each other. It's like eating three different pies but all has a taste that's pretty much the same. Eventually, you'll get fed up even before consuming the first two completely. Perhaps doing just one mountain or two in a day would be good enough. That's just my two cents. 

 And might I add, these mountains are a big no no as a summer destination.  


  1. walang sinabi siguro yan sa mt. dayungan kung init ang paguusapan at least diyan may mga puno pa masisilungan eh sa dayungan bilang mo yung puno na masisilungan niyo tapos iilan lang kayong magkakasya sa lilim ng puno... baka dun mapamura ka sa obrang init.. nasunog balat ko nun.. punta kami niyan diyan ngayong sunday. mga 50+ kami

  2. gud pm, baka may contact po kayo ng gude na pwede mag assist samin, planning to challenge San Jose Circuit on November. Thakns in Advance



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