November 18, 2018
Since I have no more races for the rest of the year, I decided to go back to my roots; hiking. It’s been a while since I hiked a new mountain. The last one was Mt. Halcon (Sialdang) back in holy week. So for this weekend, while Khat was training in Kibungan, I searched for an organized hike in the FB group CLIMBER. I finally decided on the semi-major hike in Tarlac, Mt. Damas.
After posting in CLIMBER, I was flooded with invites from the usual hikes like Daraitan, Ulap, and Maculot. I was torn between a new mountain or one I had climbed before. In the end, I picked a new one so I can write a blog post and have a fresh experience as well.
Initially, I was stuck choosing between Mt. Damas and Mt. 387. Both were mountain dayhikes with a side trip to waterfalls; and both also had meet ups at Cubao, so they were pretty convenient. I chose the more difficult climb because I was looking to burn all the food I ate for the past week. Khat had already climbed it before and she told me of the rolling terrain with the only hard part being the assault to the summit. Out of condition, I prayed for a hiking group with a moderate pace so I don’t get left behind.
The first Mt. Damas hike I talked to had cancelled their trip, but finally I secured a slot on an organized hike by Alpha Trailblazer a few hours before the assembly time. Thank you to Ms. Bbie for arranging and making room for me. I met the group at McDo Kia Theater, the standard meet up place for hikers. We rode our van toward the jumpoff in Camiling, Tarlac. The ride took around 4 hours. When we got down, we registered ourselves and waited for our local Aeta guides.
When our guides were accounted for, we had a short briefing and a prayer before starting out. The first part of the hike was a wide dirt road that gradually sloped upwards. It was more of a walk for the first few kilometers. As the sun rose, so did my heart rate as the terrain became even steeper. But the trail was well manicured and I would even say that it was runnable.
We rested at a local house that also served drinks. We were still fresh and it was early on so we moved onto the next part of the trail which was a very long game of follow the river. The trail reminded me of the Paniquian trail in Tarak because of the many rocks we had to climb and skip through. Internally, I was also playing a game called “how long can I keep my feet dry?”
This was also the part where we had to use the guides’ rope to rappel down some steep parts. We had to climb down beside small waterfalls and it was actually pretty cool. What’s amazing was that the guides had to climb up and get the rope and go down without it! We used the rope a couple more times along the route until we reached the junction between the summit and Ubod falls.
The junction was a bit hidden because it consisted of a trail filled with loose dry soil, akin to that of a landslide. Some of us didnt believe that that was the actual trail. But the guide led the way and here was the start of our suffering.
This part of the trail was a delicious ascent all the way to the summit. It was around 75 degrees of steepness and some parts were loose and had no trees or roots to serve as handholds. It reminded me of Mt. Parawagan’s “VK” route. We slowly made our way up and taking the time to rest and admire the view as we struggled to catch our breath. The view reminded me of the Mariveles ridge. I wondered if Mt. Damas was also an old volcano rim 🤔.
We reached a small clearing right below the summit and here we had a quick photoshoot while resting before the final assault. I also had a quick nap as all the climbing really wore me out.
Then we continued the climb up and eventually we burst through the summit. It was actually quite anti-climactic. There wasn’t much of a view, but it was obviously the highest peak in the area. I preferred the view from the clearing below so we just took some quick shots and returned down. It reminded me of the summit of Mt. Maculot before the locals razed the trees down.
After another breather at the clearing, we started our descent. I missed running down the mountain so this put a smile on my face. I was one of the first to arrive so I took a short nap while waiting for the others.
When everyone had returned to the junction, we proceeded to follow the river straight towards Ubod falls. There was one more rappelling part just beside a beautiful J-shaped waterfall. Finally, after some more rappelling and walking, we reached the dead end with the big waterfall right in the middle.
Ubod falls was beautiful. Being one of the first groups to arrive, we had our photoshoot before we had our lunch. It was still early, so we had a lot of time to burn. After a meal, I had a short nap before my hikemates invited me to dip in the waters. Unfortunately, the basin of the falls wasn’t as deep as I thought. It only went up to my thighs at most. And the water was freezing! It was very refreshing and I even tried to stand under the falling water but the pressure was too strong. After a quick dip, I dried myself under the noontime sun. After some more pictures, the group decided that it was time to go.
The way back was surprisingly another challenge. We had to bypass the rappelling parts we went through earlier this morning and so we had to take a shortcut. The problem was, the shortcut required us to cross a ridge. A ridge whose trail was just as steep as the way to the summit. And with the noontime sun bearing down on us, it was even more of a challenge. After reaching the top, it immediately led to a descent that was just as steep. It reminded me of the descent from the north peak of Arayat. Slipping and sliding our way down, we emerged back on the familiar trail back to the local house we passed in the morning. Here, we took one last rest and bought some softdrinks.
The last part back to the jump-off was familiar already so I led the way. It was around 3 kilometers of runnable trail so I decided to do some jogging. We passed this part of the trail in the darkness during the morning so seeing it under the sun was a new experience. It was similar to the twisting trails of Tarak right after nanay Cording’s house (Rest in peace, nanay).
Finally, I reached the concrete road and then the barangay. I waited for the others before taking a bath and fixing up for the travel back to Manila. Before we went home, we had the locals cook chicken tinola for us. I devoured my portion so fast.
It was time to go home. We said our goodbyes to the locals and returned to our van. Before the engine even started, I was already asleep and the next thing I knew, we were already back in Manila. And so ends my Sunday adventure.
- 05:00 Start trek
- 07:00 Junction, start climb to summit
- 08:45 ETA Summit, Photo ops
- 09:15 ETD Summit
- 09:55 Junction, start trek to Ubod falls
- 10:55 ETA Ubod falls, Lunch and Photo ops
- 12:15 ETD Ubod falls, use shortcut route
- 14:30 End of trek
- P25/head registration
- P500 guide fee, 1 guide per 7 hikers
Safe Budget: P750
I would like to give my thanks to this group that welcomed me. Thank you Alpha Trailblazer: Ms. Bbie and Ryan, who coordinated us during the hike. Also to the new friends I made: Arjhay, Almay, Aries, Marvin, and the rest. Also to our local guides who took care of us and offered us shots. See you on the trails!
This hike was very refreshing. After months of running, it was good to go back to basics and be a facebook mountaineer again. It’s a good thing I was in good company and that we finished the hike with no issues. Mt. Damas is a beautiful mountain and the trails are good for beginners who want a taste of a lung-busting vertical ascent.
Keep our mountains clean!