How do you turn Monday blues to green? For us, all it took was two rides, two backpacks, and two hours to the summit of Mt. Balagbag.
It was an iconic Monday. An unbelievable one.
I climbed Mt. Balagbag in the morning, finished a group paper in the afternoon, went to MBA evening class, and went to work half-night. Exciting as it may seem, it’s not all glamorous. I had to sleep in between commutes and stay caffeinated within 24 hours.
Still, it was the perfect way to start the week.
Scenes en route to Mt. Balagbag
The road to Mt. Balagbag is a relief to the soul dreading another work week. The jeepney ride from Tungko to Licao-Licao highlights the idyllic provincial life.
Because it was Monday, we shared the jeep with teachers, students, and street vendors doing their version of a weekly grind. People knew and greeted each other as the jeep pulled over several times. Everyone seem to recognize at least one soul from the beginning to the end of the ride.
I watched them, amused. It was a far cry from the city where you see young professionals carrying coffee, looking at watches, and rushing from one place to another. Barely pausing to observe each other. This scene in Rodriguez, Rizal was equally buzzing but welcoming.
Activists at jump-off point
As we got down from the jeep in Licao-Licao, we saw red-painted banners and neighboring activists megaphones playing country music. We wondered what was happening and if it was safe for two people — too small a number to feel safe — to push through climbing Mt. Balagbag. The mountains of the Philippines happened to be known for a nestling spot for revolutionary work.
“They are trying to build a subdivision on our land,” the elder woman said as she explained why they are asking for our IDs and asked us to log in. Because of past experiences with mountaineers taken advantage of (such as in Mt. Batulao), we were hesitant to give anything to unofficial groups. “Don’t worry about your IDs,” she said, sensing our apprehension. “I was born here, so you will always find me here.”
She said it with such confidence referring to their kampuhan (camping out as a form of protest). As if to say, “I will never be driven away from our land”. But several kilometers from the camping activists, we hear a different story.
Issues of the land
It took us about half an hour of trudging through rocky inclined paths to get to Sitio Balagbag. The trail was wide and extremely well-established. In fact, off-road jeeps, motorcycles, and mountain bikes frequently pass the trail making it slightly sandy and eroded. Still, the majority of the trail was composed of rocks that made it hard on the knees and feet.
By the time we made a turn to the paved roads, we knew the barangay hall was nearby. This is where mountaineers will register for the climb. I asked about the camps set up at the jump-off point. “Oh, did you give your IDs?” the person we’re talking to, apparently a barangay official, said almost sarcastically.
He proceeds to tell us another version of the story. The so-called land grabbers, he said, are the real owners of the land. “I’m not sure about what you think, but to me, being paid caretakers doesn’t imply that you will get a chunk of the land.”
We refused to comment, but instead, laughed. He lightheartedly dismissed us and said, “So, will you need a guide? I don’t think so. Just follow the path to the summit straight ahead.”
Issues of illegal logging
The straightforward trail of Mt. Balagbag is both a blessing and a curse for mountaineers. A blessing because you are almost sure you won’t get lost. It has allowed many outdoor lovers to brave the trail on foot, on their bike, and on their off-road vehicles without much trouble.
Most of the trail is also open, with very little trees and more grass. This makes the climb sweltering hot on summer days but also less humid. The only refuge available is the wayside sari-sari stores owned by the villagers living along the trail.
However, Mt. Balagbag is riddled with stories of illegal logging. This together with illegal mining and kaingin activities (slash-and-burn farming) are unfortunately the common issues that befall Philippine mountains. The soil is also eroded, spare for the rocky trails which somehow have held it together. There are portions of eroded cliffs and trails that have widened more than necessary.
Bathtub in the mountains
“Are we there yet?” I asked, thinking we were near the summit 20 minutes ago. “Well, I see a grotto,” my companion said, the other half of the two backpacks. He was referring to a tall wooden cross that often marked the summit. I laughed and joked, “Are you sure that’s not our grave?”
With the height of 777+ MASL and a high jump-off point, our two pairs of legs reached Mt. Balagbag’s summit in less than two hours. We found interesting sights, such as the livestock along the trail and even a bathtub along the trail! We were also trying to mark out the suspected hidden trail where illegal loggers pass through.
The climax of the mountain can be considered anti-climactic in the sense that it is characterized by wide plains similar to Mt. Sembrano. This makes for a great campsite where tents are pitched for overnight stays.
From the edge of the summit, we can see mountain ranges as far as the eyes can see. On the other side, we saw small towns and the distant skyline of the city. Without the skyline view, I felt that this is the same view on the other side of Mt. Pamitinan, a mountain also in Rodriguez Rizal.
Our maps revealed not just one, but several mountain peaks that have been identified. We wonder how much more are left unexplored. We may have climbed one mountain at a time, but we felt deeply connected with every other terrain we stepped foot on.
Preparing for your Mt. Balagbag trip
- How to commute to Mt. Balagbag. From Philcoa or Commonwealth, take a bus going to Tungko (PHP 40). You can also ride this bus from MOA and along EDSA. Get down at Tungko with a Jollibee branch and walk to the wet market near the gasoline station. Ride the jeep going to Licao-Licao (PHP 27). This might take time as drivers wait for the jeepney to be full and usually leaves at around 5:30 AM. From Licao-Licao, get down and walk towards the jump-off point to Mt. Balagbag.
- Fees. The registration (PHP 10) is far from the jump-off point. Getting a guide costs around PHP 300-400 depending on group size. We recommend not getting a guide since the trail is wide and straightforward. Even off-road vehicles and mountain bikes pass through the trail.
- Food. There are many 24/7 fast food restaurants in Tungko and sari-sari stores along the trail to Mt. Balagbag since it passes through the local village.
- Best time to visit. The most important must-do is a weather check prior to your trip because the rainy weather can make the climb riskier and more difficult. The months of November to April may be a good time. Climb before the crack of dawn to avoid excessive heat.
- What to bring. Bring enough water, a minimum of 1 Liter depending on how you consume. Bring a trash bag and avoid leaving anything at the campsite. Don’t forget your camera!
- What to wear. Because it is an open trail, the heat can be harsh by noontime at the summit of Mt. Balagbag. Cover your skin, and wear sturdy shoes with good traction because the terrain is sandy and rocky.
- Mt. Balagbag contact number. Reach the barangay hall via mobile numbers (+63) 930-235-5562 or (+63) 919-326-5454
It was Monday morning and I’m on a mountain. But instead of being tired of the long day that’s ahead of me, the Mt. Balagbag climb lifted my spirits. The mountains always have that effect on me.