This is my go-to answer, if you ask me which mountain I recommend for you to climb.
“What is a good beginner mountain to hike?” Just one of the questions every regular mountain climber frequently hears. Still, it’s a tough question. It’s like being asked to choose a favorite among all the things you loved at some point.
What Exactly is a “Good Beginner Mountain”?
“Good” can mean a lot of things. It can be trails of low difficulty, a sea of clouds view, or having multiple side trips after hiking. Similarly, “beginner mountains” are defined loosely. Since given suffice preparation and will, even first time hikers can take on most mountains.
As with love, you have to experience mountain climbing for yourself to know which one is the best for you. Coming from someone who fell in love with mountains, here is a list to start with. Read it not like you are hounding for adventure suggestions, but the way a woman recalls her past loves:
Beginner Mountain #1 Mt. Pico de Loro
A girl never forgets her first love. I have a lot of sentimental feelings about Mt. Pico de Loro, being my first climb in 2013. I declined my first invite to climb here, remembering an incident back in college that left me wounded on a hike. But would you believe that now, I have climbed Mt. Pico de Loro five times already! I have even been a professional guide here.However, Mt. Pico de Loro isn’t what it used to be. The initiative to create a New Trail for the Old Trail to recover is plausible. But the summit is already badly eroded. There used to be grass and rock crevices for the assault. Now, it’s only loose, slippery soil. Unlike trails you can alter, there’s no substitute for the summit.
Still, the sight of the Mt. Pico de Loro’s summit and the monolith is love at first sight. Even after five climbs. It still reminds me of why I started climbing mountains.
Beginner Mountain #2 Mt. Manalmon
It’s more of a hill than a mountain, but you go to Mt. Manalmon for various other reasons. Here you can go cable crossing, spelunking at Bayukbok Cave, and even twin-hiking Mt. Gola. You can also swim at Madlum River, provided it’s not rainy season where tragic flash floods are common. Mt. Manalmon may not challenge you altitude-wise, but for a location near Manila, there are plenty of activities to do here. It can inspire even the most casual of hikers to commit.
Beginner Mountain #3 Mt. Manabu
What began as a side trip later became a full-blown climb around the rosary-shaped trail of Mt. Manabu. The climb, I can hardly remember. But what’s indelible in my taste buds is the civet coffee brewed at Station 5 of the trail.I cannot say if the civet coffee is 100% authentic. And they perhaps have questionable issues on animal rights for caging civet cats. But the unlimited free-taste coffee in Mt. Manabu is just priceless. The taste and experience of drinking it along the trail is richer than the ones at expensive cafés in the city. Mountains and coffee are truly a lethal combination.
Beginner Mountain #4 Mt. Maculot
Too easy even for a beginner. It’s almost like you are being coddled when climbing Mt. Maculot. There are too many stops, shops, and benches. I’m not saying this because I’m such a good climber that I can do away with comforts. But when I climb mountains, I want to be in the wilderness, not on a road with wayside malls.Still, the view from the rockies, the summit, and the grotto consisting of the clear reflection of the Taal Lake is stunning. It’s almost like cheating, because you get an amazing view at Mt. Maculot for such a sweat-free climb.
Beginner Mountain #5 Mt. Sembrano
A mere hike at the beginning, but a tough half an hour-long assault later on. Once you reach the campsite of Mt. Sembrano where fresh coconuts are served, you will probably be on all fours afterwards.
The summit of Mt. Sembrano is also an open trail. Meaning, it’s best to ascend before noon since no trees will hide you from the scorching sun. But the vantage point at the top is vast. You can see the entire province of Rizal, the Laguna Lake, and the windmills of Pililla. You’ll soon forget about the dirt stuck on your nails and the struggle of your lungs moments before.
Beginner Mountain #6 Mt. Daraitan
Anyone who has climbed Mt. Daraitan will claim this is not a beginner climb.
The perpetual assault at Mt. Daraitan was characterized by steep inclines and sharp rocks. But the iconic limestone summit and the view of Sierra Madre was a breathtaking sight. At that time, I congratulated myself for climbing Mt. Daraitan when most people would head straight to Tinipak River. I soon found it was too early to celebrate.The traverse from the summit to the river was indeed a “downhell” climb. I confess to suppressing bitter tears of hardship. In my mind, it took us four hours with my knees giving away. My ass threatened to hit the ground at every slope (which happened rather often).
It was so comforting that Tinipak River was indeed pristine. What most people say about reaching summits, I said when I plunged into the cold riverbed: it was worth it.
Beginner Mountain #7 Mt. Pamitinan
Another limestone-rich mountain to climb is Mt. Pamitinan. The trail is famous for cliffs that have been the subject of many (rather show-offy) buwis-buhay shots.The highest peak of Mt. Pamitinan is pure solid rock that you have to climb over, making it a challenge. And the view atop are rich greens and peaks of Sierra Made, extending as far as the eyes can see. Indeed you will want to savor the sight. But you will have to leave soon, since the space is small, and the climbers are many.
Mt. Pamitinan is also a part of a famous pentalogy climb. Exhausting as it may seem, some people actually have the stamina to climb five mountains in one day.
Beginner Mountain #8 Mt. Tagapo
This was the site of my first overnight at the mountain. We pitched a tent, cooked at campsite, and got up in the morn bath-free. Mt. Tagapo is the highest point of Talim Island, which is located at the center of Laguna Lake. To put it simply, it is the highest peak within the largest island within the largest lake in the Philippines.
If the location is not interesting enough, Mt. Tagapo also provides a 360 view of Talim Island, named so because of its dagger shape. The mountain affords you of the view of the provinces surrounding Laguna Lake and the glittering skyline of Ortigas from afar. Mountains do look better with bonfire light, and even the simplest of meals on top taste like fine dining.
Beginner Mountain #9 Mt. Batulao
You are allowed to sing that line, “love your curves and all your edges” at Mt. Batulao because of its vertically jagged trails. There are about three rope trails along the way, primarily because the soil has been badly eroded. Traffic is also undeniably heavy especially on weekends. But by the afternoon, the dinosaur back-looking trail will already be empty, left to the beauty of the setting sun.Alas, the splendor of Mt. Batulao has been tainted by the multiple illegal registration booths along the trail. This has spurred the #BoycottBatulao movement. I hope this issue gets addressed soon, but I won’t discourage anyone from climbing. When one finds something very beautiful, no doubt others will take advantage of it. Mountains are no exception.
Beginner Mountain #10 Mt. Pinatubo
Born a year after the tragic eruption, people would often relay stories about Mt. Pinatubo when I was a kid. Adults talked about the rain of ashes, and days thereafter without a streak of sunlight. So naturally, I was always curious about Mt. Pinatubo.Imagine my excitement when I embarked on that trip. The thrill of Mt. Pinatubo trek is riding 4×4 jeeps across ashen deserts. It’s striking to see halved mountains, rocks painted in mineral red, green and yellow, and Aeta kids playing nearby. Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake is a sight to indulge in, and it left me in awe of how something beautiful could come out of something so tragic.
The mountains are the surprise loves I never expected to have. It’s hard to believe that in the course of two years, I have climbed so frequently. And yet I think the passion will not be quenched soon. Hopefully this would inspire you to create love stories of your own — preferably written in short breaths and burning lungs while beholding the view from the mountaintop.
This article was earlier published at Manila Bulletin’s Lifestyle Section on March 6.