Romblon: Conquering Mt. Guiting Guiting

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I had always been curious why, at only about 2000 meters in elevation, Mt. Guiting Guiting is rated as one of the most difficult mountains to climb in the Philippines. It doesn’t have the freezing temperatures of Mt. Pulag, the overgrown and thick vegetation of Mt. Makiling nor the height of Mt. Apo and yet it has gained the respect of many mountaineers.

It has always been on my wish list but I never really thought I would climb it, mostly because it requires at least four days to complete the climb if you’re coming from Manila, it is quite expensive compared to other climbing trips, and I wasn’t really confident I was fit enough to scale its difficult terrain. Stories, write ups and pictures of scary knife edge ridge and rock cliffs didn’t help either.

 

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The view of the summit from Mayo's Peak.

 

Finally an unexpected opportunity came along and I found myself saying yes to the invitation of Sir Jude to join him and other climbing friends to hike up Mt. Guiting Guiting last May. I dragged along Charlie, a self-confessed mountain man and who was even keener than me to do this climb. Our journey started at Batangas Port where we met the rest of the group for the 10 hour ferry ride to the port of Romblon.

We arrived around 4 in the morning and spent a bit of time waiting in the town plaza until daylight. Then we headed to Jude’s friend’s place, who lives near the port. She hosted a free breakfast and kindly allowed us to use her place to shower and change.

 

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A closer look at the steep knife edge on the way the summit.

 

Fresh, excited and all geared up, we again boarded the ferry for another 2 hours ride from Romblon Port to Magdiwang on Sibuyan Island. After disembarking, our group of 11 alpha males and one lakwatsera chartered 3 tricycles and headed straight to the Tourism Office to register, only to find out that we couldn’t start the climb that day. It was already past 10 in the morning and they said we wouldn’t have time to make it to the Mayo’s Peak campsite before dark.

 

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It was quite disappointing. The original plan was to summit Mayo’s Peak on the first day (about 8 hours), hike up the summit and back to Mayo’s Peak on the second day (4-6 hours) and descend from Mayo’s Peak on the third day (8 hours). The glitch meant we would have to do everything in two days instead.

This is difficult but doable except the drought had dried up all the water sources en-route, so we would have to carry all our water for the whole trip, which would further slow us down. Little did we suspect that this would ultimately result in us making an epic 20 hour trek on the second day, battling dehydration and fatigue and resulting in exhaustion, blisters and sore muscles (at least for me!).

 

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After an hour of walk from Sir Toto's house, we reached the only water source on the way that wasn't dry. It saved us all from further dehydration on the way back to our base camp.

 

We began the trek to Mayo’s peak campsite at around 6am the next day. It’s a long, straight-forward, uphill trail to the campsite, starting with pleasant walking through shaded forest and slowly steepening from Camp 1 to Camp 3 all the way to Mayo’s Campsite. Compared to the lengthy steep trail of Mt. Isarog, it is free from big tree trunks obstructing your path and the trail is well-defined and has only a few sections with thick and overgrown vegetation. It was like 7 hours of climbing stairs for me before finally setting up camp at Mayo’s Peak.

 

After pitching tents we went up to the viewpoint where I got my first glimpse of the knife edge ridge and the path to the summit. I had only expletives to utter the first time I saw the trail up close. It looked so steep and scary, to the point where I was considering not completing the climb anymore. But Charlie as usual was very convincing saying that it wouldn’t really be that scary once you’re there. From Mayo’s Peak, I sat for quite a while and gazed at the trail long enough to exorcise my fear and hesitance. I thought that if I looked at it long enough, my usual mantra “You only fear what you don’t know” would come true. But Charlie was right – it isn’t really that scary once you are actually on the trail.

 

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One of the few sections on the trail with overgrown and thick vegetation.

 

We began our summit assault at daybreak the next morning. For me this was more a test of mental strength than physical strength. It is not anymore a question of how strong you are but rather how tough you are in facing your fear. There are no more excuses for heavy backpacks or light packs. It’s just you, a water bottle and the summit. The trail seems really scary from afar, looking like an obstacle course of rocks. There is the knife edge ridge, the camel back, a 90 degree cliff climb and steep and sharp rock cliffs plunging into the valleys below you.

 

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Ready for the summit the next day. Our guide could run back and forth on this trail. (halimaw sa akyatan)

 

Trekking along the knife edge wasn’t scary after all because the narrow trail is bordered by bushes on both sides. We passed the “Kiss the Wall” which I had been nervously anticipating without even noticing it. There are actually more difficult sections along the ridge that we had already surpassed before reaching this. Charlie and I had a good time through the obstacle course, and it was actually quite fun scrambling across the many short rocky sections of the trail.

The only time I almost gave up was when I had used up all my energy to reach the “Peak of Deception” only to know that it was not yet the real summit. It was more a “Peak of Decision” for me where I had to really think hard whether I would still continue after seeing another hour of ascent with a 90 degree climb waiting.

 

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But after one energy bar, prodding from Charlie and sight of Bench and  Reno easily passing the 90 degree, we left the Peak of Deception and pushed onwards for the last time. About three hours after leaving Mayo’s peak we finally reached the summit! It was the first time I was emotionless upon reaching the summit. Perhaps I was just too exhausted and overwhelmed that I actually did it. We spent a while up there enjoying the view and looking back on the challenging trail we had just climbed to reach that point, savoring the sense of accomplishment.

 

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All too soon it was time to head down. Unfortunately most of us did not bring enough water with us on the summit trek. It was a hot day, and in retrospect we should have had a minimum of two liters of water per person for this section. As a result, we were all really dehydrated before we even got back to Mayo’s Peak, and many of us did not have much water reserved for the hike down either. Luckily there was phone signal, and Sir Jude was able to send message to Sir Toto to bring water and soft drink up to us as we made our way down.

 

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Scrambling over Mabel's Spring.

 

Although the liter per person that he brought up for the 8-hour hike down on a hot and mostly exposed trail wasn’t much, it kept us going for the next few hours. Still under-hydrated, it was a slow march back down however. I didn’t arrive back at Sir Toto’s house at the base until 1:00am that night, a full 20 hours after getting up to start the summit attempt! After a hot meal prepared by sir Toto, we crashed into our tents, exhausted after the epic climb.

 

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Looking back on the trail we had just passed.

 

The hike to Mt. Guiting Guiting was physically demanding and mentally challenging especially for me as I had not been actively climbing for quite a while. The only physical preparation I did before the climb was marathon walking between malls looking for some elusive camping gear followed by two days of bumming on Talipanan Beach in Puerto Galera. But I would say every mountaineer who is fairly fit and had done a bit of climbing would be able to reach Mayo’s Peak at least, and probably the summit as well. Just make sure you bring enough water if the springs are dry, at least 4 liters per person per day.

 

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Contemplating at Peak of Deception whether to do the last push to the summit.

 

Despite the ordeal our team had gone through, it was in fact a very satisfying trip for me because I had communed up close and personal with another great work of nature, met new friends, pushed my limits to the next level, and realized that nothing is impossible when you have someone to support you and push you to achieve your goal.

 

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The team at the summit.

 

MT GUITING GUITING ITINERARY

MAY 20-24 2010
Sibuyan Island, Romblon
Major Jump-off: Brgy. Tampayan, Madiwang, Sibuyan
LLA: 12°24’50″N, 122°34’4″E, 2058 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: 3 days / 10-13 hours
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 9/9, Trail Class 5 with rock climbing/scrambling

ITINERARY
Day 0- Thursday (May20)

1200 meet up @ P.Gil bus station

1300 bound bus to Batangas port

1700 Take ferry to Romblon Port

Day 1Friday (May 21)

0700 ETA Romblon Island,have breakfast

0800 ETD Romblon Pier,

1000 ETA Sibuyan,Ambulong port. proceed to town by trike
Head to DENR for registration and secure guide

Buy supplies
1030 Early lunch at DENR
1130 Start trek. Brace for exposed area.
1400 ETA Camp 1
1500 ETA Camp 2
1700 ETA Camp 3
1730 Have guides get water from Bulod’s spring
1800 Arrival at Mayo’s Peak (1550 MASL). Rest.

Day 2 – Saturday (May22)
0500 Breakfast / prepare packed lunch
0600 Commence summit assault
0630 Begin crossing the ‘Knife Edge’
0800 Arrival at “Kiss the Wall”
0930 Arrival at Mabel Spring (water not always available)
1015 ETA Peak of Deception (1959 MASL)
1100 ETA G2 summit (2057 MASL)
1200 Head back
1600 Back at Mayo’s Peak
1800 Dinner / socials

Day 3- Sunday (May 23)
0700 Breakfast
0800 Break camp
0900 Start descent
1400 Back to jump-off; Proceed to sidetrip (i.e. beach)

Day 4 – Monday (May 24)
0900 Take ferry to Romblon or San Agustin, Tablas (en route to Odiongan)

1600 ETA Odiongan

1700 ETD Odiongan pier- Batangas

Day 5 – Tuesday (May25)

0230 –ETA Batangas port

MT. GUITING GUITING EXPENSES AND FEES

P.Gil- Batangas port  (bus) – P 170.00

Batangas –Romblon  (ship) – P 619.00  economy

P 805.00 aircon

Romblon- Sibuyan (ship) – P 220.00

DENR permit (per pax) – P 200.00

Guide -P 500 per day

Porter – P 500

(Basic transportation such as tricycle, jeepney ride and food expenses etc are not included. Transportation fees are one way only.)

Special thanks

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Jude, Chuck and friends for inviting us to join the climb. It was a very memorable and worthwhile adventure with you guys. Thank you. Hope to do another climb with you again.

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Charles the Mule. I know you could have completed this hike easily way ahead of everybody else but you chose to walk behind a turtle who doesn’t rest. Thank you for not listening to me when I said I don’t want to complete the climb anymore. You are one convincing, supportive and caring bloke. Thank you superman!

Sir Toto and family – thank you for letting us stay in your place, bringing water when we badly needed it, cooking delicious dinner and assisting us on this trip.


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