Day 1 - January 31, 2014
Gasgas River to Balbalitok Campsite
It was still very dark, and everyone seemed still sleeping when we arrived in Laoag City. Masyado pang tahimik. We were to meet with our hired jeepney somewhere there but we can't get through his phone. Tulog pa ata si kuya. So for the meantime, we had breakfast and bought our packed lunch as well in a well-known fast food chain, bilang siya lang naman ang bukas sa mga oras na iyon.
By 6 o'clock, our jeepney service finally arrived. We're all set and excited. Solsona here we come.
|Welcome to Solsona. Who would've thought that this humble town in the outskirts of Ilocos Norte is the gateway to Mt. Sicapoo, the highest in the whole of Ilocos Region.|
Solsona is just a small quaint town situated at the eastern border of Ilocos Norte, about 1 hour from Laoag City, and already next to the mountainous Cordillera Region, specifically Apayao Province. No one's really visiting the place until One Degree Mountaineers introduced it as the gateway to Mt. Sicapoo, perhaps the province's premiere hiking destination.
As part of the SOP, we dropped by the municipal police headquarters to register before heading to the main jump-off point.
|ang labing-isang indibidwal na sabik na sabik makakita ng penguin.|
|deciding what to pack...|
|and what not to pack.|
|the faces I would be seeing in the next 3 days.|
My life as a passionate hiker has started to slow down as the year 2014 drew near. From almost 3 to 4 mountain adventures every month within the first half of 2013, it slowed down to at least 1 hike per month later that year. And as a result, I was already gasping for air during the first few minutes of our trek here in Sicapoo, at nasa patag pa lang kami sa mga panahon na yun. For sure, things won't go easy for me in this hike. Apart from that, the sun that's shining brightly above us spells nothing but a hellish march to the campsite.
By the way, we followed a 4-day itinerary in this hike. The original plan was to go for just 3 days, but Tatay Emil's words were so convincing that we all yielded to following the old-school 4-day itinerary. Pero walang pagsisisi, that extra day we spent in the mountain was just so worth it.
|kay init ngang tunay|
Later on, as we crossed a bamboo bridge, we started to hear the sound of a gushing river. Ah, must be the famous Gasgas River.
It was around 10 o'clock in the morning (1 hour since we left Tatay Emil's house) when we had our first sight of Gasgas river.
|Gasgas River, it somehow resembles Akiki's Eddet River.|
|first of the many river crossings we did that day|
|Gasgas River. Half of our day would be spent trekking along this river.|
|River crossing pa more.|
|It felt like Balingkilat sa sobrang init. Mapapakanta ka talaga ng "Shet, sobrang init, abot singit!"|
There were no steep ascents (just yet) the entire time we're at Gasgas River. Or if there is, it was too gradual that we hardly noticed we already gained elevation.
By lunchtime, we stopped by a shaded part along the river where a fresh water source can also be found. It's the perfect place to have lunch.
|chow time. Since there's still a long way ahead of us, we resumed trekking after an hour.|
At one point in the entire river trekking, I admit, I felt scared. Nanginig nang sobra ang tuhod ko. Pano ba naman kasi, the guide I was tailing led me to a very steep cliff side. It's not a high cliff, just around 4 feet high, but if you fall, a deep Gasgas river is ready to catch you. As I watch the guide go over it, it looked very easy and manageable. Parang wala lang. But when it was my turn, deym, I felt my knees were shaking. The guide I was following was far ahead of me, and my comrades are still far at the back, and I was like a stunned helpless kid. The cliff rocks were steep and slippery, my shoes can't get a grip and there were no rough edges to hold on to. Para akong nanigas at malapit ko nang gustuhing tumalon na lang, pero hindi naman ako marunong lumangoy kaya hindi ko rin magawang tumalon. Buti na lang, I managed to hop and cling like a boss and saved myself from disgrace. Para akong nasapian ni Edward Kenway nung time na yun.
|I was still catching my breath when sir RJ came and probably undergone the same dilemma I just went through.|
|Everyone else had a hard time passing through that steep, but as you can see, we all made it.|
|And it was hot like hell.|
|The final river crossing, right before we reached "Markang Bato" landmark.|
|Here's our TL Jay. Behind her is the "markang bato", a landmark signifying the end of river crossings and start of the leg-tearing assault to Balbalitok Campsite.|
|One of our guides, Kuya Alwin. The assault was challenging, pero rakenrol pa rin.|
|From a grassy environment, the trail eventually changed to this rocky trail.|
|All of a sudden, napawi lahat ng pagod ko. The mere beauty of nature, and of course, the thought of we're almost finish for the day boosted our morale.|
|One last stop bago ratratin hanggang sa campsite.|
|The seemingly non stop ascent finally ended when we reached the dead tree marker. From that point, Balbalitok Campsite, the day's end point, is just stone's throw away, quite literally.|
|At Balbalitok Campsite. Setting up the camp is my most favorite part in every hike.|
Night time came fast, so as the dinner time. It took us an hour to prepare the meal, and by 7 PM, we're already munching my putanesca. We were all tired and hungry from all the day's activities that's why as soon as we finished dinner and a little chit chatting, everyone entered their respective tents to energize for what awaits for us tomorrow. End of day 1.
Day 2 - February 1, 2014
Balbalitok to Saulay Junction
The chilly mountain air woke us up the following morning. It was 6 AM and I felt my body's aching a bit. Buti na lang, we were served hot coffee, and tuyo with egg and hotdog to jumpstart the day.
We rushed things that morning thinking that we might reach the next campsite late. As soon as we finished breakfast, we broke the camp then quickly packed up our things. And besides, it was very cloudy that morning, an opportune time to sneak away from the burning sun. By 7:30 AM, we're already threading our way to Saulay Junction, the next stop of the day.
|it was again an uphill trek.|
|tall pine trees along the ridge trail we were trekking.|
After 2 hours or so, our guides halted and dropped their bags on the ground and said, "nandito na tayo sir." I thought we're just gonna rendezvous there and wait for the last man to arrive before resuming our hike, but he actually meant, we're done trekking for the day. Akala ko talaga nagbibiro lang sila, but when Tatay Emil came and uttered, "set up na tayo ng camp," napagtanto kong seryoso pala talaga sila. It was only 9:00 in the morning, at hindi pa nga nababanat yung mga hita namin.
At first, I was really confused on why we set up our camp at Balbalitok campsite yesterday when Saulay campsite is just 2 hours away. It seemed really pointless to me. But as time passed by, tinanggap ko na lang ang katotohanan na talagang 2 hours (or less) lang ang trek namin for the day. This is the very reason why it is really possible to cut down the 4-day itinerary to just 3 days.
So now, as we finished day 2's hike, we were left with nothing to do. As in biglang wala kaming walang maisip gawin. It was still too early to prepare lunch, and much much early to set up our tents. Ahh, ano nang gagawin namin ngayon??
|kaya naman, umakyat na lang kami sa puno|
|and then, nagpamasahe kay sir Rey|
|habang ang mga guides naman namin ay kumain na lang ng Pringles|
|that's us slacking at Saulay campsite.|
|We divided our team into several groups para madistribute ang meal planning. At ngayon, naging pabonggahan na ng mga recipe.|
Waking up at around 3:30 PM, the whole team still have nothing to do. And boredom began to struck upon us all. So to kill time, we decided to roam around and take as much pictures as we can.
|when you ran out of things to do,|
|you'll think of doing anything...|
|just to kill time.|
|Thank goodness, we're at the best place at the right time.|
|Lenticular clouds blanketing the summit of Mt. Sicapoo.|
Day 3 - February 2, 2014
Saulay Campsite to Summit, then back to Saulay
Mumbling sounds from the outside woke me up at 2 in the morning. I've only slept for about 6 hours kaya sobrang antok pa rin ako. When I tried to go outside the tent to join these early birds who seemed to be having a good time already, extremely petrifying cold winds pushed me back. So therefore, I joined again my 2 other tentmates who were still asleep that time. Anyway, I have already prepared my daypack before I sleep last night, so I'm all good to go. However, before I even close my eyes to sleep again, the assigned group called everyone up as breakfast is already waiting.
It was around 2:30 AM when we had our very early breakfast. Masarap naman yung pagkain, chicken noodles with egg plus a cup of coffee. However, I can't seem to enjoy my meal as both my hands were were shivering vigorously because of the chilly air. So instead of enjoying my food, I tried my best to finish it as fast as I can. We were a bit on a rush since we wanted to start on time.
When everyone were on their trekking shoes (except for Tatay Emil and another guide who were staying to look over our campsite) and ready to go, the day's adventure began. Of course, we offered a prayer for everyone's safety and success before taking off.
Everything was pitch dark from the time we left our campsite until the break of dawn. During the wee hours, we relied solely on pure instinct and of course, the spotlight provided by our reliable head lamps as we pass by the sharp steep ridge that connects Saulay and Bubuos Campsite and even beyond. [Bubuos Campsite is another popular alternative place to set up camp, aside from Saulay Campsite. Hikers choose this mainly because of its proximity to the summit].
|lakad sa dilim. From 3AM until dawn.|
|What I really like when going outdoors...|
|is when nature flaunts her raw beauty...|
|and all I can do about it, is be thankful to the Creator.|
|Here's us, taking a well-desrved break at a place not too far from Pakpako campsite.|
|just keep walking|
|at some point we would ascend sharply. Hingal to da max!|
Moments later, we arrived on place where we can finally see the very summit we were aiming for. Lalo kaming nabuhayan ng loob. We knew it's just a few more tumblings away.
|From Matalidong viewpoint, there's the summit!!!|
|Walang makakapigil samin!|
|Almost there, kita na namin ang penguin|
|After all those pain, sweat, blood and tears (tears talga?), we caught the penguin of Ilocos Norte.|
|Yo, what's up! I have tamed the wild penguin and now sitting on its forehead. Sinubukan kong tumayo pero hindi na kaya ng tuhod ko. Nakakalula.|
|by the way, effort ang pag-akyat sa penguin. climb with extra caution.|
|luncheon at the summit|
It took us a while to descend from the summit and return to our camp at Saulay junction using the same trail we threaded during the ascent. Familiar scenes were encountered but this time, it was misty. Also, the energetic spirit we had earlier seemed to have unfortunately abanoned us.
|Buti pa si sir Rey, may energy pa rin para mag-smile|
|Marami pa ring paakyat kaming nadaanan. My thighs almost ruptured.|
|a little carelessness and you might end up lasog-lasog down below.|
|nakahinga rin sa wakas ang mga paa.|
|soon after, the whole team is complete again.|
Day 4 - February 4, 2014
Saulay Campsite to Mt. Timarid to One Degree Plateau, then finally back to Tatay Emil's place
Although it's fun and exciting to be spending precious days in the mountains, certainly, there will be a point in time where you'll miss your normal life in the city. I somehow felt that on our 4th and last day in Mt. Sicapoo. Bigla kong naalala ang mga mahal sa buhay na nasa syudad, yung mga responsibilidad na naiwan sa trabaho, lalong-lalo na ang kumportableng kama na hinihigaan. Anyway, having this in mind, I became so motivated to finish the so called rosary trail of Mt Sicapoo.
We left Saulay at 6:45 AM, after filling up our tumies with loads of carbs. We all know it's gonna be a long way ahead of us.
Several challenges were met as go in full swing. From engaging ourselves to trekking up and down the steep narrow ridge trails leading to Timarid summit, to wet and cold environment brought about by the drizzly weather that has been going on since the start of the day.
|malayo pa ang tatahakin naming daan. Start of trek, 6:45 AM.|
|kahit mahirap, kakayanin, lalo na't kami ay nasa napakagandang lugar|
|atapang atao! We have nurses sa team kaya no worries.|
|strive hard and you shall succeed. Konti pang tiis.|
|our pace really slowed down during the assault to Timarid, but at least we're not stopping|
|Mt. Timarid, the charred mountain top.|
|too creepy, parang biglang may lilitaw na zombie.|
|past the thick forest, came another ridge trail. Down we go.|
|After hours of walking, we stopped on an open grassy area for lunch. We had soup, carbonara (again), and meat loaf.|
|Meron ding pitcher plant sa Ilocos.|
|steep downward trail. Good thing there are branches to cling on.|
|Thick fog pa rin. Many parts of the mountain were burnt.|
|Sorry we weren't able to help you my friend|
|The descent was long but not really tiring. That's the good side of having a cloudy weather.|
|Along the way, we met a herd of cow, which by the way owned by Tatay Emil.|
|Pulag-like scene in Mt. Sicapoo.|
|at this point, One Degree Plateau came to sight.|
|One degree plateau, at last we meet.|
|Plateau or talampas. A flat elevated land form.|
|chill time at one degree plateau|
|a leaping creature|
|being a grazing field for cows, there were numerous ebak everywhere. Pero hindi yun sapat na rason para pigilan si sir Kevin na maglupasay.|
|konti na lang. wait for it...|
While waiting for our jeepney service, everyone took the opportunity to wash up. And the irrigation system just at the back of Tatay Emil's house is just what we're looking for. Malinis naman at galing sa Mt. Sicapoo ang tubig na yun kaya it's really refreshing.
|ligo ligo din pag may time|
Later that evening, the group had a celebratory dinner somewhere in Laoag City (salamat sa aming sponsor na si Sir Alvin at sir RJ). After that, we parted our ways. Some of us took the next available ride back to Manila, while others opted to stay and tour around Ilocos. Dahil nga masyado pang sariwa sa alaala ko ang mga pinuntahan namin noong nakaraang linggo lang, I decided to head back to Manila.
PS: I would just like to share that we boarded a sleeper bus back to Manila. It was my first time to be inside such thing and I enjoyed it big time. Sarap ng tulog ko, sulit na sulit! Sana maulit muli. hehe.
|Practically one of the most relaxed bus rides I ever experienced|
I'd like to send my many thanks to our Team Leader who made this hike a reality. Salamat Madam Jay, sana mabasa mo ito. And of course, big thanks too to everyone who took part in this memorable epic journey: Sir Rey, Sir Saul, Sir Kevin, Madam Carina, Sir RJ, Madam Joy, Madam Cheng, Sir Alvin, and Sir Justin. And of course to our 4 strong porter/guides, specially Tatay Emil, mabuhay po kayo.