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Mt. Balagbag on a Monday morning

mt. balagbag

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.

mt. balagbag

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.

mt. balagbag

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.”

mt. balagbag

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.

mt. balagbag

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.

mt. balagbag

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.

 

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Chardy
    December 13, 2016 at 3:13 AM

    Mountain Climbing on a monday? Now that’s a fun thing to do. I have questions though, how was the climb over all? Is it beginner friendly? And is it advisable to eat at the restaurants rather than to bring your own food up? I’d really to also visit this mountain as well. It’s also so near me! ❤️

  • Reply
    Allandale Antenero
    December 7, 2016 at 9:20 AM

    Well-written travel guide to hiking Mt. Balagbag. I can’t help it but to reminisce my experience when we climbed Mt. Balagbag. I still remember when my friend hiked it, she experienced leg muscle cramps because it was her first. She was in pain so I helped her to finish the trail. After all, what I have learnt, it is not about what we started but it is all about what we have accomplished.

  • Reply
    stylewithtina
    December 3, 2016 at 12:48 PM

    Wow! Beautiful nature. You just can’t help but gape at its beauty. :O

    Interesting capture of the bathtub, hehe. Looks like something was used a long time ago! Who wouldn’t want to bathe when they are surrounded by beautiful woods, valleys, and skies? 🙂

    – stylewithtina.com

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM

      Exactly my thoughts, Tina! If the sun weren’t shining so hot, I’d love to bathe and read a book in that same place!

  • Reply
    The Jerny
    December 2, 2016 at 11:37 AM

    This is an easy climb as much as other say but I still can’t get the time and energy to do it. I’ve been to various mountains already. My GF invites me here but there’s always like some force that says I should not go yet, so I’m leaving it to my instincts. Hahaha! Hoping to conquer this mountain though!

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 5, 2016 at 11:45 PM

      Haha! Pagbigyan mo na girlfriend mo! :p I also insist a lot from my boyfriend, which is why we scheduled this in such a weird day. Maipilit lang 🙂

  • Reply
    Ma. Theresa Montino (@jayresa03)
    November 23, 2016 at 8:32 PM

    My friend just recently climbed a mountain and I envy her because she has all the time to do it. After giving birth, I thought I would be able to travel but I’m wrong. Seeing another posts about your climb makes me want to really strive and work hard for my son so that I would be able to climb soon. I would love to visit this place soon.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      November 24, 2016 at 11:00 PM

      Thanks for your insight. True, it really would be a challenge for moms to travel. It’s all part of it, and it’s not for everyone. But I’m looking forward to your next mountain climbing experience — sooner or later 🙂

  • Reply
    Charlotte Anne
    November 22, 2016 at 1:35 PM

    Wow ate Sam! How to be you po? Imagine, you did all that? Naku kapag ako siguro itolog ko po muna Hehehe. Hindi ko kaya. Hehehe. Grabe nakakabilib! Wooohooo!!! Idol talaga. <3 Curious though, paano nagkaroon ng bath tub duon? Hehehe. The views are amazing but i think it would be more amazing if you will actually see it in person.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      November 24, 2016 at 11:01 PM

      Actually naisip ko hindi ata dapat ako umupo dun sa bath tub. God knows anong meron dun!

  • Reply
    Mommy Queenelizabeth
    November 19, 2016 at 11:15 PM

    This is interesting. I didn’t know there’s a mountain with such view that is a few hours away from Manila? Parang ang sarap at ang lamig sa taas. One of the things i wanted to do is hiking. But i never tried it yet.. maybe i need to prepare myself physically first.. that climb looks fun!

  • Reply
    Andrew Pablico
    November 19, 2016 at 2:40 PM

    I love how adventurous and outgoing you are! This article really encouraged me to also visit this place, Mt. Balagbag because it’s very informative. However, would it be advice able for beginners like me to start with this mountain for a first hike?

  • Reply
    Ferna
    November 19, 2016 at 1:50 PM

    Oh Wow! you are such a super woman Sam! I like how you tell all the stories about this Balabag, I thought it would take days to get to this place. But your experience made me more curious especially with the locals there. I’m not a mountain climber or a hardcore mountain climber, I do climb and I love to trek even just myself.. but those views in your photos are just really stunning that made me want to jump in and take a ride going there now. That is nature at its finest!

  • Reply
    Stargazer Writes
    November 19, 2016 at 1:31 PM

    Hey Sam! Gorgeous picture you got there. I personally like the scene of the mountains where the middle one has a visible curvy road. The bath tub is pretty too!

  • Reply
    John Pena
    November 19, 2016 at 12:07 PM

    Wow. I didn’t know this is happening in Mt Balabag, we’ve hiked Batulao before and we didn’t see that kind of issues. But at least it’s safe right? We’ll be hiking here sooon :)) But hearing those illegal logging again just makes me feel sad *sigh*

  • Reply
    Momma Mitch
    November 19, 2016 at 12:48 AM

    Interesting Monday! You’re a one productive person I must say. 🙂 As I read your post, I got a bit sad about the illegal logging issue that Mt. Balagbag’s apparently facing. I fear that the time will come where there will be no more trees in the mountains. Ang pangit kaya ng ibang mountain na kitang kita mo yung parang may “poknat”. Hehe. Anyway, I know that I won’t be doing mountain hiking or trekking anytime soon as I am currently pregnant. But I do dream that someday, I will experience something like this in the future. 🙂

  • Reply
    Carola
    November 17, 2016 at 3:38 AM

    AN interesting Monday morning. Definitely not standard :). A straightforward trail.. Indeed you won’t get lost. But I get why it’s a curse as well. I always love to go around corners and be surprised. Not knowing for sure what’s ahead of you. I had no idea of the stories about illegal logging! Interesting you found a bathtub along the trail haha. Well, you wouldn’t expect that normally. But it’s a nice photo moment!

  • Reply
    Gareth
    November 9, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    A thoroughly entertaining piece and while I I am not well enough versed on the situation there comment on the legal issues, I guess we can only hope that the relevant parties receive justice. Your suggestions for preparing for the hike were extremely thorough and as someone who never fails to underprepare for a hike, really helpful. Just a little heads up – There is a paragraph that is repeated in the section “Scenes en route to Mt Balagbag”

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      November 9, 2016 at 8:05 PM

      Hey, thanks for that! I edited it accordingly. 🙂 Glad you dropped by Gareth!

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