Hiked to: Mt. Sicapoo

Saturday to Sunday
February 11-12, 2017

Sicapoo: not a mountain I was expecting to climb but it turned out to be my first 9/9 adventure. I guess when the mountain demands to be climbed, you just have to answer the call.

I’ve always thought of Gideon’s rankings to be arbitrary and more on his individual experience, but Sicapoo does have its share of hardships. The fact that you have to climb 4 other minor mountains before reaching the famed penguin could be one. Nevertheless, if one has enough experience with ascents, this monster of a mountain is very doable.

The way to the jumpoff is a long bus ride to Solsona, Ilocos Norte. After which we had our guide, the wonderful kuya Cito, fetch us. We left some clothes at his house before heading to the starting point near the Solsona dam.

The hike brought us to the long and winding Gasgas river, whose waters run strong and one had to have good footing to not be swept away. Some say at certain parts of the year, the water can reach chest-deep. Fortunately, my experience had the river go only a bit past the knees.

The beautiful Gasgas river

The view along the river was lovely. It was simply breathtaking and if I only had enough time, I’d love to explore more of Gasgas river and even take some time to swim in its clear, frigid waters. I mentioned that just the river was already sufficient for a daytrip for people searching for an adventure. The pools were oh-so-tempting but we had an itinerary to keep to.

Crossing the knee-deep waters
What a gorgeous view

We took a breather once we reached Markang Bato and refilled our water from the river. After that it was all knee-numbing ascents through switchbacks and ridges up until the Saulay junction. For 3-day itineraries, this would be the campsite, but we were feeling a little confident so our overnight itinerary required us to reach Pakpako peak first.

Descending to Markang Bato, our first rest stop
Breathtaking ridges we had to cross

After an initial descent through dry and loose soil, it was another series of ascents through pine forests until we reached the prominent tree arch that marked the Pakpako campsite. Here we set up our tents and hammocks.

Pakpako campsite is marked by this tree
Sunset of Day 1 from within our tent
Sunset of Day 1 from within our tent

With our pace, a summit assault was still possible. But being comfortable in the tent, we decided to postpone that for tomorrow. After making coffee, we and Kuya Cito retired to our respective shelters. Dinner and sleep was wonderful that night, despite the occasional chill.

Our initial plan to start the summit trek at 04:30 turned into 07:30 because sleep was too comfortable. Even kuya Cito failed to wake up early. It was a cool and windy ascent, first through pine forests and finally into the thick mossy forest.

Even the mossy forest was enchanting with its beauty
Even the mossy forest was enchanting with its beauty

The morning dew made the ground soft, mushy, and nice to the feet. Although there were some parts where I had to crouch to squeeze in, I found myself having fun. Thank goodness for the cold and it made me forget how tiring the assaults were. Every now and then the vegetation would clear and we would be treated to the views of the surrounding ridges and peaks. Mt. Timarid was pointed out to me, a mountain that I had the displeasure of meeting later.

What a view of the surrounding landscape
What a view of the surrounding landscape

The penguin rock is hidden right until you’re in front of it. You’d be a bit surprised that there it is. Finally, I reached the summit of Mt. Sicapoo. We had a few pictures while catching our breaths. Sadly, there was no clearing as the morning fog enveloped everything around us. Now I know why a 3-day itinerary is recommended. You have to spend the whole 2nd day waiting at the summit for the rare clearing. Tip: it usually happens at around 10:00 to 11:00.

Finally within sight of the Penguin
Finally within sight of the Penguin

We started the descent back to Pakpako and fortunately, it only took us a fraction of the time going up. You just have to sorta fall and grab on to trees to save yourself. Back at camp we had a quick breakfast before packing up.

Can't get enough of the beautiful trails
Can’t get enough of the beautiful trails

If you think the way up Sicapoo is a hard, then I have more bad news for you. The descent for the traverse is just as mind-breaking. From Pakpako we descended back to Saulay and from there, it was more steep descents until we reached the side of Mt. Timarid.

Mt. Timarid looming from a distance
Mt. Timarid looming from a distance

Remember Mt. Timarid? Ohhhh well fuck you Mt. Timarid. This was the real 9/9 mountain for me. Almost 90 degree assauts that never seem to end, and false peaks that make you think you’ve reached the top already. Tangina this peak talaga. And once you reach the top, you are treated to the view of what you still have to endure before reaching the end of the trail: Mt. Simagaysay, The duhat ridge, and finally, the one degree plateau.

So pleased at myself upon reaching Mt. Timarid's summit
So pleased with myself upon reaching Mt. Timarid’s summit

The good thing is, after Timarid, there are no more hellish ascents. It’s all pretty much rolling through Simagaysay and its jungle up until the ridge. The ridge is a very long walk where the strong winds blow at you from all directions, aside from the knee-breaking descents.

Walking up and down ridges as the sun sets
Walking up and down ridges as the sun sets

We reached the one degree plateau just as the last light of day died. We walked through the flatness in the dark right until the trail gave way to paved roads and finally, the long suffering was over. Sicapoo rosary trail, done!

The sun's final rays of light saying goodbye to the day
The sun preparing to call it a day

Itinerary:

Day 1

  • 06:00 Start Trek
  • 08:15 Markang Bato
  • 10:45 Saulay junction
  • 14:30 Pakpako campsite, Set up camp and socials
  • 16:00 Lights off

Day 2

  • 07:30 Start Summit assault
  • 09:00 Mt. Matalidong
  • 09:30 ETA Summit, Picture picture with Penguin
  • 09:40 ETD Summit
  • 10:45 Pakpako Campsite, breakfast and break camp
  • 11:30 Start descent
  • 14:00 Saulay junction
  • 15:30 Mt. Timarid summit
  • 16:30 Mt. Simagaysay summit
  • 17:00 Duhat ridge
  • 19:00 One Degree Plateau
  • 19:30 Exit point bridge

Safe Budget: Php3,500


So that’s what a 9/9 climb feels like. It was long and I had a couple of blisters on my feet, but I came out of it alive and I am thankful for the experience.

Thanks to harkor hiker Khat for organizing this climb. Even if you already climbed this mountain a month ago, thank you for taking me and accompanying me throughout the whole climb. Looking forward to more climbs like this with you. Special shoutout to Dencio as well for the climb information.

To our guide, Kuya Cito, who was very patient with us. Thank you very much! I recommend Kuya Cito because he never left us behind and was always watching out for us especially in the climb up Timarid. Thank you also to your family for the kind welcome to your home. Because we ended up finishing late, there was no more transpo going to Laoag from Solsona. Kuya Cito offered to let us sleep in his room for the night. Very big thanks! If you plan to hike Sicapoo, you can contact him at 0908 985 4041

To my family for allowing me to go to these lengthy trips and for not forgetting who I am when I return. Thank you.

And of course, AMDG. Without Your blessing we wouldn’t have made this climb happen. Thank you.

Mt. Sicapoo is a beautiful mountain. I agree with what Khat told me when she invited me to this hike: this mountain has almost all the terrains I’m looking for. Wide open trails, river crossings, mossy forests, pine forests, rainforests, ridges, what-have-you, Sicapoo does not disappoint. From gradual ascents to almost-vertical assaults, I assure you that you won’t get bored with this mountain.

Will I return? Hmmmm… :)

Finally met the infamous Penguin!
Finally met the infamous Penguin!

-jgzn

P.S. Some other pictures of this beautiful climb:

Can't resist taking pictures on top of rocks
Can’t resist taking pictures on top of rocks
Mt. Matalidong with its dwarf bamboo clearing
Mt. Matalidong with its dwarf bamboo clearing
My source of strength for the hike
My source of strength for the hike
Taking a breather in the middle of assaulting Mt. Timarid
Taking a breather in the middle of assaulting Mt. Timarid
After Mt. Simagaysay is very long and very challenging Duhat ridge
After Mt. Simagaysay is the very long and very challenging Duhat ridge
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