This is a series. Check out the other parts below:

Cawag Pentalogy: The Ultimate Open Trail Challenge (Part I)

Mt. Balingkilat, The Home of the Thunder God

Before proceeding with our hike, all joiners performed their respective pre-hike routines. When everyone was ready, we gathered around for the orientation and the pre-climb prayer. After doing away with all the pre-climb rituals, we finally embarked on our hike at around 4 AM, three hours later than our planned time. It was still dark so we had to rely on our flashlights. The first part of the hike is relatively easy as we navigated through flat grasslands. There were a couple of creeks along the way to the base of Mt. Balingkilat, the first of five mountains we are going to scale for the day. It is also the highest, the most difficult and the most technical.

Morning Colors. The purple colored skies greeted us on our ascent to Mt. Balingkilat’s summit.

After an hour and thirty minutes of walking through a maze of grasslands, we reached the first water source located at the base of Mt. Balingkilat. The early morning light has broken through the darkness. Our surroundings have begun to take shape. We are surrounded by towering mountains on one side and bounded by the sea on the other side. Although we were not that high up yet, we can already see glimpses of Subic Bea and the sea of clouds that is blanketing Mt. Samat and the Death March Shrine.

Past the first water source, the trail drastically transformed from a flat and more gradual incline to a steeper one. Owing to my lack of preparation, I was already gasping for breath even though we barely made any progress on our climb. The slippery trail was not helping our cause either as we had to be more cautious to avoid slipping. After a couple more minutes of assertion, we reached the first view point. It offered a great view of our environs. But after a brief respite, we pursued our climb and eventually reached the second view point.

At the second view point, we waited for the rest of the group so that we can regroup. While waiting, we took pictures of the view that is before us. The sun has risen over the eastern horizon, its rays striking the cerulean waters, creating a wonderful spectrum of colors that is a feast for the eyes. However, as I turned towards the towering mountain that is before us, my mouth gaped wide open because what is before me is not a mountain but rather, a wall. The trail, from my vantage point, looked like a straight line that is reminiscent of Mt. Batulao’s old trail. I was immediately comforted because it looked quite easy. Or so I thought.

Morning Light. The sun peeking over the horizon is always a sight to behold.

After the early rest, we finally resumed our challenge. the beginning was fine, probably because we are rested. However, as I climbed higher, my legs begin to tremble – it is beginning to feel the pull of gravity. The only thing that I could wish for is that the trail would end soon. From my first peek of the trail, the climb seemed easy. However, the mountain proved me wrong. Mahdi, on the other hand, was just gliding through the trail. Cognizant that I could not let myself drag him off of his pace, I just let him go ahead of me. This seemed a great decision because I got to meet the other members of the lead group. This socialization at these heights is one of the reasons why I enjoy scaling mountains.

But the heart of the competitor is within me. I began to chase Mahdi. I tried my best to keep up with him but he is just unstoppable. In between my short breaks, I got to witness the beauty of my surroundings. It was nothing short of captivating. But beyond these brief intakes of fresh air, I had to push my limits so that I can complete the first of five mountains. In spite of my shaky legs, I scampered forward, believing that every step I take is a step closer to my goal.

And my patience finally paid off. At around 8:10 AM, I finally reached Mt. Balingkilat’s campsite. It is not yet the summit but nonetheless it is within a striking distance. As agreed, we are to wait for the rest of the group. While waiting for them, the lead group took pictures, basking in the opportunity of having the mountain just to ourselves. The view, I have to reiterate, is breathtaking. The morning sun provided a wonderful glow to the sea and to the surrounding mountains. It was awe-inspiring and easily one of the best views I’ve ever had since I began climbing mountains.

Grand. This kind of view is what makes me climb mountains over and over again.
Worthwhile. It was challenging but it was worth the while.
Lofty. It was a tall task but it wasn’t impossible.
Flow. Be as unstoppable as the water that streams down the mountains to join the sea.

While taking pictures, I took a peek on the trail that we had just completed. And I was filled with surprise because what I saw is an abyss. I was amazed that we were able to navigate this wall of a mountain. Someone could have pushed me there and then and I would have fallen to an instantaneous death – it was that deep and flat. To revive ourselves, we had our first meal of the day. Some of us took short naps while I went ahead and explored the campsite. Located near the campsite is the second water source. However, during the summer seasons, this water source dries up.

Impatient and bored, I explored further and climbed to the summit unassisted. Mahdi was quick to follow and for a couple of minutes, we had the summit to ourselves. There is no word to describe the view. To say it is rewarding after the challenging climb is an understatement. From the summit, we saw the vast expanse of the West Philippine Sea, the idyllic Anawangin cove, the solitary Capones Island and its light house, and the towering Mt. Pundaquit. There is a small hill beside the summit that reminded me of Mt. Ulap’s rolling hills.

Taking advantage of our solitude and the early morning clearing, Mahdi and I snapped as many pictures as we could. Unfortunately for the rest of our group, the early morning fog immediately obscured the majestic view Mahdi and I witnessed earlier. Oh well, some guys just have all the luck, they say. This will be recurring theme of the day for Mahdi and I.

Clearing Alert! Indeed we are both lucky to have been afforded such jaw-dropping scenery.
Cerulean. This is where the mountains meet the sky.

After a couple of group pictures at the summit, we went back to the campsite to retriever our things and so that we can resume with our journey. The climb down, unlike the climb up, is more precarious because of the slippery trail. The slippery trail will be one of our biggest challenges for the day. When we were up and running, we continued with our climb. We exited Mt. Balingkilat on the other side of the mountain. This trail is easier compared to the trail climbing up.

A couple of minutes of traversing the wet grasslands, we reached the other side of Mt. Balingkilat. We also gained a better perspective on how our climb down is going to be. The trail is narrow and rocky, however, the view more than made up for the challenge. While climbing down, we can see the other mountains that are going to make up our pentalogy. Just beside these mountains is an absorbing view, that of the coast and the various coves that these mountains are protecting from the prying public. Nagsasa and Talisayin Coves can be seen on the climb down to Mt. Bira-bira.

Reward. The treacherous climb is rewarded by this amazing view at the top.

The next part will be published in the coming days! Happy climbing!