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It’s 2018! The mountains are calling! I must heed their call!

Following a very successful climbing year in 2017 which helped me get back in shape, I was looking forward to climbing more mountains in 2018. I planned to climb at least one mountain per month. My first climbing assignment for 2018 was supposed to be Zambales’ newly discovered Mt. Pimmayong. I had to back up at the very last minute, unfortunately. After that, procrastination seized me as I couldn’t commit myself and my body to any climbing expeditions.

Then one day, Joie (the one who invited me for the Mascap Seven Peaks Hike) messaged me, inviting me for a weekend climb at Batangas’ Malipunyo Range. Had I been a solo joiner, I would have been more apprehensive but since a friend invited me, I was all ears. Climbing with friends is always fun. Moreover, Batangas is a territory I am quite familiar with; my last climb, Nalayag Rock, is also in the same province.

The Climb

February 25. February is about to draw to a close and I am yet to stretch my legs and body. To prepare for a long climb, I crashed early. The climb group, comprised of eight individuals, is to gather at around 1:30 AM in Cubao area. I woke up early again to make it to our meeting time (which I was able to do, fortunately). When we were all complete, we departed for Batangas and in less than 2 hours, we reached Brgy. Talisay, Lipa City, Batangas, the jump off for our Sunday excursion.

It was dark and cold outside but we all started preparing. Of the seven other members, it was only Joie that I am familiar with although she introduced me to Cata, her best friend, before we departed for Mascap. It is quite ironic as well that I am in the company of Tim and Chi, the organizers of the Mt. Pimmayong climb I backed out at the last minute. Jessa, Wilma and Marlon rounded out our climb unit. Getting to meet new people and gaining experience while basking in the glory of nature is one of the true joys of climbing.

We started our climb around 4 AM after completing all pre-climb rituals. A couple minutes into our climb, it started to drizzle but it didn’t go full blast. Looking back, it was a kind of a forecast on how our day is going to be as the weather pushed and pulled. The first phase of our climb wasn’t as challenging as we simply followed the dirt road that led to a small community. In the community, we rested for a bit before fully commencing our hiking adventure.

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The forest has its stories to tell.
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From its most minute residents.
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To its most verdant ones.

While the barks of dogs resonated in the background, we departed from the community, turning left into a narrow trail which was damp from the morning dew. The incline was gradual and the trail was straightforward. We stopped every now and then to wait for the others while we catch our breaths; it was doubly hard finding our way in the dark. The real challenge came when we reached the Ampucha Trail *excuse the invective* as the locals refer to it. We had to do some technical climbing as the incline has become steeper. We had to do some minor rock climbing as well.

Past the rock phase, we reached the first water source where water flowed freely from a small waterfall. After refilling our water bottles, we proceeded with our climb. The darkness that once wrapped us slowly disappeared and our surrounding took a more prominent shape. Although a thin fog is enveloping us, the thick and verdant foliage is undeniable. It is quite difficult to imagine that such a place is located within a striking distance of the bustling Metro. The tall trees and the grandeur of nature greeted us once the fogs settled.

We reached the first peak of Mt. Malipunyo at around 6:20 AM. As we were covered by the thick fog and tall trees, there was nothing spectacular to witness in the first peak except for the resounding silence. We took the time to recuperate and have our breakfast. When everyone’s ready, we proceeded with our climb. Shortly after, we reached the second peak and the third peak at around 7 AM and 7:30 AM, respectively.

Disambiguation: Mt. Malipunyo (also called Mt. Malarayat) is one of three mountains in the Malipunyo range.

The best view came at the third peak, which, at 1,005 MASL, is the highest of Mt. Malipunyo’s peaks. Our early morning adventure was rewarded by a wonderful clearing. On the eastern side, we can see the Mt. Banahaw complex, its towering summits still shrouded by early morning. On the southern side, Mt. Maculot can be seen. We used a lot of time snapping pictures because of the idyllic view which was made even more beautiful by the colors of early morning light.

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First group picture with newfound friends!
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The selling point – the profile. Yeah, Mt. Banahaw is kind of groggy in the morning.
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More shots of the idyllic background.
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What can I say, we all like our profiles better than our front views. Haha!
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Mt. Maculot, another popular hiking destination in Batangas, can be seen on the background.
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I’ve always held that mountains are sacred grounds, worthy of our respect.

What amazed me about Malipunyo is its thick foliage of mossy forest, although not as creepy as that of Mt. Pulag. The range’s teeming flora and fauna is fascinating. Our guide was patient enough to introduce us to the new things we encountered along the way. We saw huge shells (I forgot what it is called) which locals cook as a delicacy. Civet cats thrive in the area as well. The locals collect their discards to sell to coffee manufacturers. If you haven’t known it yet, the tastiest coffee in the world came from a civet cat’s discard. And it comes at a very hefty price.

Cognizant that a long day is ahead of us, we immediately set on returning to the junction after a brief rest. At the junction, we commenced our trek to the other side of the Malipunyo range. We descended to the fourth peak locals refer to as the Balete Peak because of the presence of a big balete tree in the area. The beauty of the forest is ethereal and it transported us to a new dimension. Once again, thick fogs started to envelop us and a slight drizzle began falling. Unperturbed, we took the moment to rest and snap even more pictures.

Once our energy levels are up, we proceeded with our climb. The trail has become more daunting as there were stretches we had to climb up then climb down. The assaults were mostly gradual, but at times technical. The thick foliage assured us that we the scorching heat won’t zap what little energy we have in store; we only took breathers to recover but because our adrenaline is overflowing, we kept on going.

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A typical take-five scene… here’s a jelly ace!
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Who says climbing weakens the knee? We can even afford some jump shots.
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The verdant forest was replaced by rolling hills and grasslands.
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And no, this is no effect. Half of the picture was blocked by the dark clouds, which also shrouded Mt. Susong Dalaga’s peak.

Nearly two hours after departing from Balete Peak, we reached the fifth peak, Biak-na-Bato Peak. To recharge, we had our early lunch here (it was still 10:15 AM). At Biak-na-Bato Peak, we can view both sides. On the eastern side, we can see the famed Mt. Susong Dalaga (one of three mountains with the same name, all located in CaLaBaRZon Region) while on the western side we can peek the flat planes of Batangas province. Mt. Susong Dalaga, however, was obscured by the clouds.

We departed after about an hour’s rest. The trail drastically changed at this section as the verdant forests of Malipunyo was replaced by a vast grassland. There were still plenty of shades; it was a gloomy day and the sun is not presenting itself as another challenge. The traverse to Mt. Manabu from Biak-na-Bato is a breeze as there were very few technical challenges. However, one must still not veer away from the main trail to avoid any mishaps. Our guide related how one climber went off-trail and got caught in one of the animal traps placed by the locals. It took about three days to locate and rescue him; by God’s grace, he is still alive.

At 12:15 PM, we summited Mt. Manabu. Because of the gloomy weather, we didn’t get any decent clearing. We simply took pictures with the cross (Mt. Manabu, like Mt. Maculot, is a popular pilgrimage site during Lenten season) before starting our descent. Like daredevils, we blazed through the trail of Mt. Manabu but with caution as it was still damp and slippery. At quarter to one, we reached Station 5 where a sari-sari store is setup to cater the climbers and pilgrims.

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Indeed, the mountains are teeming with activity, only naked to the eye.
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A last group picture at the summit of Mt. Manabu before descending.
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My heart literally bleeds for this tiny creature. I hope someday, he gets the opportunity to spread his wings and fly.
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Before going, let me drink in this rural atmosphere.
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Woah! The sky was literally on fire once we reached the big city.

After another brief rest, we continued our climb down. Unlike the trails of Malipunyo, which could be confusing, the trail going down Mt. Manabu is straightforward and was fixed to aid Pilgrims. Like seasoned climbers, we blazed past the trail and once at the base, a small local community greeted us. The rural atmosphere is very refreshing. We slowed down to appreciate our surrounding, something that we rarely get to witness. Our climbing excursion officially ended a couple minutes after 2 PM. That is a ten-hour traverse climb on a 20-kilometer trail. It was physically taxing but nonetheless, rejuvenating.

Because Malipunyo is such an otherworldly place, here are more pictures from our amazing and hugely successful Malipunyo-Manabu traverse.

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Mushrooms abound in the place. This is just one of them.
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Wild berries, our energy pack in the mountains.
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Here’s another mushroom…
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And another one.
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A very cute creature, but it can cause itch when it comes in contact with the exposed skin.
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Wildflowers flourish in places far from human intervention.
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A fist-sized shell, just one of many remarkable things one can see in Malipunyo Mountain Range.

Malipunyo mountain range is a memorable experience for me because I got to meet and gain new friends. Moreover, I also got to appreciate the beauty of mossy forests and its teeming flora and fauna. I truly in awe because it has shown me that I have yet a lot more to learn and understand about the life under the bush. It was an enlightening and memorable experience, one that I wouldn’t mind repeating. And that concludes my first climbing adventure for the year! Happy and safe climbing mountain friends!

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