September 16, 2017

The advent of the rainy season has hampered some of my climbing plans. The last “real” hike I had was Cawag Pentalogy back in August. The rainy season made me laze around. Instead of looking for more mountains to climb, I have preferred the comforts of my bed. Until one of my climbing buddies, Joie, invited me to an event she joined – Mascap Seven Peaks – which is yet another major hike. Apparently, she only wants to invite me on major climbs! Because it was already long overdue, I decided to take on the challenge and on one Saturday evening, I found myself on one of the favorite haunts of climbers – McDonalds Greenfield.

Joie, a seasoned climb organizer herself, has gathered around some of her perennial climbing buddies. Of the group she has gathered, it was only Joie and Jonas who I had experience climbing with (Mt. Ugo). They are no jokes when it comes to climbing. I was looking forward to the day’s challenge and to the opportunity of meeting and gaining new friends in the hinterlands of Rizal province. As it is going to be a long day, our meeting time was earlier than usual. Nevertheless, I am well-rested and ready to tackle the challenge ahead of me.

Rizal Province, adjacent to Manila, is a climber’s paradise.

The Climb

Mascap, one of the barangays of Rodriguez, Rizal is strategically located at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains, making it an ideal mecca for climbing. Compared to the neighboring Rizal mountains, the mountains we are going to climb are largely uncharted. We reached Barangay Mascap at around 4 AM; most of the community was still in deep slumber.

Before the climb proper, our organizer arranged everything with the barangay and hired our guides. When everything has arranged and when everyone was prepared, our climbing group gathered around for the orientation and the requisite pre-climb rituals. After praying for a safe climb, we proceeded with the climb. A competitive climber, I wanted to position myself as a pacer. Unfortunately, the presence of trail runners on our ranks made me reconsider my original plan. In the end, I became part of the middle group, which is the second-best thing to being part of the pacer group.

In the early darkness, we made our way through to the trailhead. The first part of the climb is simply following the concrete road. It was still dark but I felt the tranquility of the environment. At the trailhead we met my first challenge – a small river crossing, something that I did not anticipate. It was shallow and narrow, thankfully. From the creek, we climbed a slippery a minor assault. After about 30 minutes, the trail transformed into a flatter trail-cum-pathway which we simply followed.

Sea of clouds – one of the reasons many test their limits. And who wouldn’t want to catch one of these idyllic scenes?

Light has broken out, making it easier finding the trail. Unconsciously, I was memorizing the trail, something that came in handy during our descent. Past the winding pathway, the trail again transformed into a muddy one, reminiscent of the trails of Mt. Tapulao, sans the rocks. At the end of this part is a junction where we turned right to the area with an electric line tower. It was there that we took a break while waiting for our companions. We explored the area, a grazing place for cows and carabaos. On the side, I can make out a sea of clouds, but it was quite far from where we were.

We then entered a bamboo forest. This part of the climb is easier because of the flat trail. The thick foliage ensured shade against the slowly rising sun. For about an hour, we kept on walking with our guide at the helm. Remnants of the past rainy season were palpable on the trail. Some of the old trail eroded, hence, we had to try the newer trail. As I had fresh legs, the walking did not distress me as much until we reached our major river crossing. I do dislike river crossings especially as I was using my climbing shoes. Unfortunately, we must follow the river track to go up the trail going to the ridge.

We climbed up a rock-faced waterfall, dealing with this part for almost thirty minutes before reaching the “hut” where we had our breakfast. I don’t eat much during climbs, usually relying on bread and some sweets to energize me during the climb. When everyone is ready again, we resumed our climb, simply following the river track before turning right into the thick foliage – the real challenge is about to start. The winding tracks led to a vast grassland, a welcome development as we are nearing our first of seven summits.

Before assaulting Mt. Rayak, we took a break to drink in our environment. It was, again, a tranquil sight. Except for the chirping of the birds and the gust created by the wind hitting the tall grasses, we were surrounding by a deafening silence which appealed to the exhausted soul. The assault to Mt. Rayak was more challenging than I expected. The trail was obscured by the tall grasses. Moreover, the morning heat was draining me of every bit of energy I had in store. Nevertheless, after almost four hours since starting our trek, we finally reached our first summit. The sun was mercilessly torturing us with its scorching rays. Thankfully I got myself fully covered this time around; I did learn my lesson from that Cawag Pentalogy.

All these difficulties are well-compensated by scenes like this.
It seemed near, but it was a challenge climbing it.
Waahhhh. It is the tranquility that makes me go back.

After snapping pictures, we started our descent. My companions opted not to climb the summit and I reached them relaxing where we left them. As the rest of our climbing group are still making their way to the first summit, my companions and I simply sat down and relaxed. Joie, the only female in our group was instantly the center of jokes by her four male companions. These subtle moments remind me why I kept on climbing mountains despite the difficulties. Being with people who barely know me yet engage me in out-of-the blue topics is an enriching experience. When everyone was around, we resumed our climb to the second summit.

The open trail and the scorching sun hampered our climb. It was torturous to say the least. For someone who gets easily thirsty, it was triply hard for me because I am forced to economize my water; the water source is quite far. When we reached Mt. Tinampuan, the second summit, we were already beyond exhausted. Although the four mountains looked near to each other, the heat and exhaustion made them feel farther apart than they are. This is Cawag Pentalogy all over again. By the third mountain, Mt. Tuay, we were all ready to give up. To revive our waning spirits, we had our second meal there.

After lunch, we resumed our excursion. Our meal barely helped us, however, as we were still slowed down by the heat. We were basically crawling when we reached Mt. Kapanan and finally, Mt. Payasin. Our enthusiasm was drained out of our system and we are all longing for a cool relief. From. Mt. Payasin, we turned back to Mt. Kapananan as the trail going back to the “hut” is midway between these two mountains. We are happy because we are going away from the open trail and the sun. The sight of the second water source also made us drool. The cold water streaming down the mountain was refreshing.

I am a creature of the open skies and of open spaces.
An afternoon dip to cool down the stifling heat.
The greenery is always pleasant.

While resting, my companions and I contemplated on whether we should complete all seven mountains. After consulting with Ate Melba, our guide, we learned can complete it, but it might be very late considering our slow pace. For us not to pressure ourselves, my companions and I agreed to skip the last two mountains even though the other members of our climbing group wanted to do so. With refreshed manna, we continued our descent. When we reached the river junction where we had our breakfast, my companions took a dip to wash off the heat and the exhaustion.

As it was getting deeper in to the afternoon, we headed back to the jump-off point. Because of my desire to finish the climb as soon as I can, I went ahead unguided. Thankfully, I was still able to make out the correct turns of the confusing trail. Restlessly, and soon joined by my companions, I trudged on as though I was a local guide. I was very surprised at myself because I was able to correctly trace the trail. As we were nearing the first river crossing, the dark clouds started to send gloomy signals. Out of the blue, with the crackling sound of thunder, the rain begun to fall in a heavy rhythm. We rushed down because we fear the stream might swell.

At around 4 PM, we finally found ourselves back where we began our adventure. The rain started to slow down and to cap a long and exhausting day, we washed up. Mascap was one helluva adventure, and I want to return, someday, for a revenge hike.

Happy and safe climbing!

Do watch out for where my itchy feet are going to take me next!