Thursday to Monday
March 30 to April 2, 2018
I recently finished a multi-day hike up the country’s (allegedly) toughest mountain, Mt. Halcon or Sialdang. It was definitely a hike worth remembering, so I’ll be re-telling some events here.
Halcon, or Sialdang, (2,586+ masl) is only open for hiking during the months of February to May. Slots are limited and given to inquirers on a first-come, first-serve basis. Khat was able to secure 20 slots so she hunted for a few more joiners to fill them all.
Baco tourism and the LGU have set a 4-day itinerary as the standard for hiking the mountain. I feel that this is very lenient and that most conditioned hikers will be able to complete it comfortably.
Khat, under the team name Xpedition Battalion (or XB), organized and processed all the requirements for the joiners. She was also able to secure tickets for the fast craft from Batangas port to Calapan port and vice-versa. This hike was very much possible because of all her efforts.
With all the pre-climb matters and documents accounted for, we got ready for Day 0.
Day 0 Welcome to Mindoro
After assembling at the JAM liner terminal in Pasay, we rode the bus to Batangas port. I got less than an hour of sleep before we were offloaded from the fast craft and onto Calapan port, Oriental Mindoro.
Our chartered jeepney, with driver kuya Pando, was already waiting for us there. He dropped us off at Xentro Mall for some last minute shopping before we headed to the Baco tourism office to formally announce our arrival and intent to hike.
We met mam Eva, who coordinated with Khat to process our permits. The good thing in Baco is that all the LGU offices (tourism and PNP) are in one subdivision. It was a swift process and we were able to eat a quick lunch and mingle with the mayor of Baco himself. He wished us luck on our hike as we boarded the jeep and made our way to the Lantuyang community.
There are two communities that serve as the jumpoff to Halcon, Lantuyang and Bayanan. They eventually converge into one trail a few kilometers up the mountain, so there isn’t a big difference.
We spent the night at the evacuation hall of Lantuyang. Here, we prepared ourselves and finalized the things we’re bringing to the hike. Mam Eva was also kind enough to introduce us to our guides and porters for the next few days.
Aside from late night blaring of music and an a capella rendition of Stupid Love late at night, the local mangyans were very accommodating and our stay there was quite pleasant.
Day 1 Lantuyang to Dulangan campsite
Early morning, Khat and I designated ourselves as the sweepers and after some last minute reminders, the group slowly made its way up. The local community gave way to plantations and eventually we entered the forest.
The usual caption for Halcon is “the most beautiful view comes after the most difficult climb.” I beg to differ.
Even with just the trails, the lush forest and rich biodiversity of Halcon is already very enchanting. It really benefits from letting the mountain recover from June to January to let the flora and fauna grow back.
I was able to spot some colorful insects and a pitch black worm with two heads crawling along the ground. In terms of view and diversity, I would liken it to Mt. Napulauan, only very very much steeper.
The beauty of the trail was breathtaking, but so was the ascent. With a full pack on my shoulder, I was panting audibly on some parts. Skipping through mud puddles and dodging vines, the trail was an exciting experience as well as penance.
There were some parts that we had to slink under fallen trees and crawl along the rocky mountain face. One wrong step and it’s a long fall to the trees or on the rocks. The good part was that there were lots of natural water sources and waterfalls along the trail. I was able to get by with just a 600ml container.
We had lunch at a waterfall before proceeding upwards to Aplaya campsite. This was a clearing on the side of the mountain big enough to house around a dozen tents. Some hikers on their way down were already setting up camp. We exchanged greetings before proceeding to our chosen campsite, Dulangan river.
Dulangan is a wide river reminiscent of the Gasgas river in Sicapoo. It rests along a valley so our camp was windproof. The caveat was that the campsite could only support a few tents, so Khat and I had to fit our tent on a rocky base. Good thing that our insulation pads provided some comfort. Here, we made our meals and got some rest before the summit assault of the next day.
Start: Lantuyang, 06:30
End: Dulangan, 17:00
Day 2 Dulangan campsite to Summit
The morning was eventful as one of our porters, Kuya Rene, was injured and was unable to carry our stuff to the targeted summit camp. He opted to stay behind at Dulangan camp.
On the bright side, we had someone to watch our belongings. We left behind some resources that we will use only on the way back which took some load off our shoulders. One of the guides, Kuya Eddie, decided to serve as replacement porter so everything was back on track.
We crossed the river and followed it all the way until an opening in the forest and once again, it was back to mossy ascents. This time, the trail was even steeper. We had to scramble up using vines and rocks, anything within reach.
We rested every hour or so until we reached Karawayan campsite. Here, it was already loaded with hikers. Some preparing for their summit assault, others already going back to Aplaya or Dulangan. We had a quick lunch here as it was drizzling before proceeding on to the summit.
Eventually, the forest parted and we entered a beautiful clearing with shrubbery only as tall as me. The cool wind hit me as I burst through the forest canopy.
We proceeded onwards, ducking through the branches until we reached the famous wooden ladder. This was the first picture of Halcon that I saw back in 2015 when I started regularly hiking. I never thought I’d be facing it one day.
With trembling hands, I climbed it and walked until the ridge showed itself to us. It was absolutely astounding. The afternoon fog was there, but it was intimidatingly beautiful. It reminded me of Pinatubo’s crater, only bigger and greener.
We walked the edge until we reached the summit camp where the leadpack of our group was already setting up. Along the way, I paid my respects to the marker of a fallen hiker, Neptali. After setting up camp, we enjoyed the view before the cold made us return to our tents.
I can honestly say that it wasn’t that cold at the summit during the night. I think we had a good place to pitch our tent and the mountain gave us good weather as well. I wasn’t freezing and had a good sleep. Actually better sleep than in my bed in the city.
Start: Dulangan 07:30
End: Summit 16:30
Day 3 Summit campsite to Aplaya
We woke up at 05:30 in the morning to the sea of clouds. Photoshoots commenced and we prepared our breakfast afterwards. Once the other hikers arrived at the summit from Karawayan campsite, the fog rolled in and not much was seen (I blame the noise of their group). We took our turn at the diving board before breaking camp and preparing our descent.
Drama broke through the summit as tensions heated up in the other group of hikers. Apparently their food had spoilt and there was nothing to eat for the guides and the hikers. The noise and the commotion of this #sitawserye only made the fog thicker around the summit. Disrespect the mountain and suffer the consequences.
We descended a bit before 10:00am. The group had decided to separate into two, one will camp at Aplaya campsite as per the standard itinerary, while the other group will push all the way down to Lantuyang. We decided to stay at Aplaya as the organizers should follow the iti.
Reaching Dulangan at around 15:30, we had our lunch there and regrouped. We allocated the guides and porters between the two groups and climbed up to Aplaya.
At Aplaya, the group separated and we set up camp as the others proceeded down. I was already lying down by 19:30 after eating Khat’s delicious dinner.
More hikers reached Aplaya campsite but their socials were cut short by heavy rainfall. Fortunately, our guide had picked a good spot to camp and we were saved from any moisture. Strangely, I felt colder here than at the summit camp.
Start: Summit 09:45
End: Aplaya 16:30
Day 4 Aplaya to Lantuyang
We woke up early but because it was drizzling, we just stayed in our tent, cooking breakfast and packed lunch for the porters and guides.
The morning was broken by screams and shouts from the other group and they started making noise almost immediately. The fog started thickening and the clearing disappeared as the noise became increasingly irritating. You can have all the gears, but a real mountaineer will always be judged on the attitudes they exhibit on the trail. Tsk tsk.
We broke camp as it stopped drizzling and started our descent. It was the usual mossy forest, only this time, it was twice as muddy. I cant even recall how I was able climb up the steep parts. Mud was everywhere. I apologized to my shoes and kept going.
We slipped and slid all the way down. On some parts we saw the skid marks left by the hikers who have gone before us. Both shoe marks and butt marks.
It was amusing and a bit painstaking, but we eventually made it back to Lantuyang. Glad that I finally finished Halcon, I kicked off my muddy shoes, said hello to the group waiting for us, and dived into the natural pool of the nearby resort.
After a quick bath, I downed a bottle of Red Horse and went to the river to wash all my gear. While we waited for the rest of the group to arrive, i hung my tarp out to dry as well as the tents we used. We also had our first meal not cooked along the trail (Pork Adobo).
When everyone was accounted for, we waited for our chartered jeepney to take us to Baco. There, mam Eva was waiting for us with our climb certificates. We officially logged our exit and had another picture with the mayor. After that, we headed to Calapan port to board our fast craft back to Batangas. Once we arrived in Batanagas, it was a bus ride back to the Metro. And that officially ended the adventure.
Start: Aplaya 08:30
End: Lantuyang 13:00
With the hike done, I would like to congratulate everyone who was with me in this ascent on the hardest mountain in the country.
Thank you first and foremost to Khat, for organizing this event. Thank you for making everything possible and for making sure everything is in order. Even if you almost got left behind by the bus because you had to buy everyone burgers. Congratulations on your first Xpedition! Thank you for also preparing the most delicious food in the mountains. From spaghetti to samyang to sinigang, you never fail to impress me. I’m proud to be your partner.
To Noel and the Petrikors, thank you for the camaraderie and the entertainment along the trails. It’s a pleasure hiking with you guys. Until next time.
To Fre for the hugot lines. To the solo joiners Bryan, Carl, Jim, Fred, and John; thank you for putting your trust in us.
To Sir Wacky and Mam April, for the ultra light learnings and for sharing the sweep.
To the other groups that we have encountered along the trail. Thank you for the entertainment and the greetings.
To our guides and porters, Kuya Eddie, Rene, Jonathan, Alex, and the others whom I can’t remember. Thank you for keeping us safe and on the right track. Thank you for the mangyan strength to haul our food up and shelter up and down Halcon.
To Mayor Reynaldo, Mam Eva, Kuya Pando, and the rest of the people in Baco tourism and PNP for accommodating us and processing our documents very quickly. It was a pleasure to visit.
And lastly, to the Big Guy. Thank you for allowing Sialdang to bless us with a wonderful experience and a memorable view. Even if it’s Holy Week and we wanted a different kind of suffering, thank You for the favorable conditions and for keeping everyone safe and accounted for. For Your greater glory.
Let it be known that the only group without a hitch on the mountain from March 30 to April 2 was organized by a first timer. No spoiled bangus, no noisy participants, no #Sitawserye here with Team XB!
But seriously, Mt. Halcon is definitely a climb that you should train for. If you are new to the trails, then it is advisable to start exercising if you wish to climb this mountain. Can you reach the summit without proper training? Of course you can, but I doubt that you would enjoy the experience.
Here are some tips that I thought of during the climb.
- Train for this mountain. It is not a walk in the park. 4 days of at least 8 hours of trekking each.
- Do limatik checks with a buddy every 15-20 minutes. The attacks are random, but they can get really bloody.
- Bring lots of powdered juice. Water sources are abundant. Sweetness can raise your morale.
- Acclimatize. It gets cold from the afternoon to the early morning. Embrace the cold. Cover your extremities at night.
- Wet is wild. Prepare for the rain. The mountain has bizaare and unpredictable weather.
- Love your locals. Bring food and shelter for your porters and guides. And they LOVE coffee. Bring mountains of 3 in 1. They will ask for it consistently.
- Be quiet. The local guides will be too embarrassed to correct you, but please respect the silence of the mountain. If you want to do a team building or a sing along, there are other mountains you can do that in. I recommend Mt. Balagbag.
- Prioritize dry clothes and dry shelter. These will help you avoid hypothermia.
- Salt and electrolytes are needed to fight against cramps. We used himalayan rock salt. Powdered gatorade or ORS is fine.
- Patience on the trail. Enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the most biodiverse mountains open to the public.
I think that’s about it. The safest budget for this climb is P3,500. Although you might find organizers charging P4,000 per head. DIY is the cheapest way, costing around P2,500+.
I’m glad that I’ve finished Halcon. It was earlier than I expected, but now I can look forward to the next difficult mountain!
Train hard, climb easy!