|^^^misinformation there: balagbag is not entirely on SJDM|
Jump-off points: Karahume and Licao-Licao
Estimated elevation: 600-650masl.
Estimated expenses: Around 200-300php if within Manila and EDSA accessible areas. Safe budget is 500php
Bus to Tungko - Php60-70.00
Jeep to either Licao or Karahume - Php28.00
Registration - php5.00
Jeep back to Tungko - P28.00
Bus to EDSA - Php60-70.00
Somewhere in Bulacan and Rizal lies one of the gateway to one of the last Philippine frontier the Sierra Madre range. This open-trailed “more-of-a-hill-than-a-mountain” destination has several entry and exit points. So far I have only tried 4 of these trails which basically traces the road taken by maguulings down to Licao-licao and Karahume area.
HOW TO GET THERE:
From Guadalupe EDSA, a bus with TUNGKO signage will take you around 1-2 hour ride with the fare going between Php50-70. Alight at the gas station terminal. Walk back a few meters to reach the Licao-licao jeep terminal. There’s a nearby market where you can buy things you will need like umbrella and packed food. The jeep ride to Licao-licao terminal is 30-45minutes, costing P25-28. The fare depends on your jumpoff for the ascent, since you can opt to alight to Karahume, a few hundred meters away from the Licao-licao terminal.
There’s also a way from Rizal, as there are trips to Montalban in Licao-licao jeep terminal.
You can take a tricycle ride upto the San Isidro checkpoint for Php70 per trip. This will cut your trek time in half. There are trip schedules here, if you happen to miss the last trip, you can ride a tricycle all the way to the Tungko-Norzagaray highway.
|licao-licao jeep terminal|
|road trail, with mt. bituin grotto at sight|
Licao-licao road trail
From the jeep terminal in Licaolicao, just follow the road trail going to Veterans. Here you will pass by Mt. Bituin grotto and a few houses along the way. This road trail goes all the way to the helipad/campsite. The campsite is very wide and can hold more than 10-15 tents at once.
The first time I went here in March 2009, the road is still intact and a 4X4 truck in good condition can negotiate it to the helipad. Due to the typhoons that ravaged the area, the road is now passable by trucks up to the checkpoint area only.
You can also opt to ride a tricycle to the checkpoint, which will save you around 30minutes to an hour of road trek. The fare is Php70 per trip going there, and it might depend on how heavy your loads are.
At the Veterans, there are mini-grocery stores for your needs. They also sell halo-halo. The cold drinks are only cooler-chilled. You can inquire there on the trail to the waterfalls where you can freshen up a bit after a climb or just enjoy the cool mountain air which is a bit different to the air on the trail to the top which has that warm windy feel.
|from veterans going down:this way to the waterfalls|
The road trek can be really exhausting if undertaken at high noon, and it is advisable to walk this way near sundown or very early morning. Few tree shades are available. Near the summit, there is a rocky view deck which affords you a greater view of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. You will have a clear picture of the majectic Mt. Oriod, Mt. Irid from afar, Mt. Maranat nearby, Mt. Siam which resembles a horse saddle, and Mt. Bituin which reminds me of the ridges of Mt. Batulao.
Total estimated time to campsite: 1-2 hours on full pack
Licao-licao to Veterans: 15-30mins
Veterans to campsite: 1-1.5hrs
The famous landmark of Mt. Balagbag is a longshot view of the waterfall at the end of the rivertrek from Karahume. This waterfall is sometimes referred to as Kaytitinga, and the one more famous with the locals is the Otso-otso falls with a large catchbasin for trickling water from the river/falls.
|Kaytitinga falls:water cascades beautifully during wet season|
To take this trail you have to alight to Sitio Karahume. Follow the wide road towards the mountains, and make a right turn to the second street. You will pass by an elementary school before getting to the entrance marked by “THIS WAY TO THE FALLS”.
|cooling down @ otso-otso catchbasin|
There’s always confusion as to the name of the waterfalls, for the mountain climber who introduced me to Mt. Balagbag (Jan of Layagtrekkers) named it Kaytitinga falls which is unrecognized by locals when queried. They fondly called it Ocho-ocho falls.
Around 15 minutes from the jump-off, you will start your trek on the sides of a mini-river. In this area, locals bathing and washing clothes are a familiar sight. Don’t forget to extend a warm greeting, as the ground you are treading is part of their domain. You can hop on steady rocks along the side, or you can choose to plough the waters. There are parts were the water can go as shallow as the ankle, and there were parts where they are almost knee-deep to waist-high. At times of dry season, there are just few mini pools of water on the trail instead.
|dried out river|
|river trekking can be stressful at times|
After half an hour of river trekking, you will encounter your first sets of high rocks. This is part of the numerous water cascades of the Kaytitinga Falls. The 1st water falls that you will see along the way is just a mini-water fall drop. The most famous amongst them is the 2nd water falls, which is almost half an hour away from the first water falls. In here, there is a strong current, and a pool of water where you can have a nice cool dip. In taking the 2-day Mt. Balagbag Traverse itinerary, it is advisable to have your lunch here, and you can stay till 2pm for a more relaxing climb. Not far is the 3rd, 4th, and 5th water falls which is merely a long stretch of running water over slanted rocks. In this part, you have to struggle your way up the high rocks of the falls itself. Be careful though as the rocks were slippery. At the last water fall, you will see a trail on the right leading up. This is the part where you will merge with the traditional rough road trail of Mt. Balagbag.
You will exit on the Veterans from the falls trail, ending your river trek and giving way to a grueling rough road hike.
Total estimated hours to campsite on full pack: 3-4 hours
River trekking + waterfalls climbing = 2.5hrs
Veterans to campsite = 1-1.5hrs
Karahume is a small sitio nested at the western foot of the mountain range that cradles Mt. Balagbag. It is home to several of the traverse trails including the so-named Rotary trail. It is the same way going to the water falls, but you will not descend to the “falls marker”. Instead, you will continue farther until you reach a small water dam. Make a left turn from the wide trail towards that water dam. From there, the path up is visible, and there are locals you can inquire with since this is also being used by the “mag-uuling”s.
The path here will give you that familiar mountain feel in contrast to the rough road trail. Such is the name of the trail because of a rotary marker early on the hike. The soil is also characterized with a reddish brown hue, which varies depending on season. After one or two hours of assault you will reach the flatland with houses and fences and a diverting pathway. Don’t take the left path for it will lead you deeper into the forest. Instead, follow the trail which will lead you up to the clearing/farm with several houses. Remember, there’s no way but up!
|clearing/grassland: on descent either to rotary or carabao trail|
After negotiating the grassland for about 15-30mins, you will reach several trails going up to the rough road. One of them is an earthen stairway with wooden handles. Mt. Balagbag is a private land and inhabited almost to the campsite so don’t worry about getting lost in the clearing, there are lots of locals you can ask for directions. Just tell them you are going to the helipad.
|red earth flatland|
Total estimated time to campsite: 2-3 hours on fullpack.
Assault to flatland: 1.5-2hrs
Clearing/farm to campsite: 30mins-1hr
Horse trail/Carabao trail
Another forested path to Mt. Balagbag is a hike through the carabao trail. In contrast with the rotary trail, the path here is more gradual and rolling, for it is used by grazing bovines and workload equines.
Instead of going right on the second turn in Karahume, walk straight the wide rough road. There are fewer houses here than with the falls and rotary trail. There’s also a military detachment when we descended from our exploration back in May 2009.
The trail is well established, on higher ground you will encounter a diversion where you need to take the right turn towards the flatland and eventually to the clearing. The trail here is infested with mosquitoes as compared to the others, so be prepared with anti-mosquito lotions. Also, the last time I passed by here (May2009), the vegetations here are still thick and some of the itch-inducing ones got in contact with my skin. This is also the trail we used in our exploration.
Total estimated time to summit: 3-4 hours on full pack
Rolling trail to diversion= 1-1.5hours
Diversion to flatland/clearing = 30minutes
Flatland/clearing to Campsite = 1-1.5hrs
The campsite is dubbed as the helipad by the locals, maybe because of the wide expanse of the area which is capable of holding around 15-20 tents or more to my estimate. This is a few minutes trek from Biak na Mukha diversion, but this is going to be the most grueling 15 minutes of your trek. It was also rumored (as relayed by a local) that the ground is magnetic (maybe the magnetic attribute affects all those that have iron components in the body, including humans). Maybe it is the reason why the trail is relatively flat and just slightly slanted but trekking it is way harder than most of the assault hikes that I have encountered.
|a copter can literally land here|
|several houses few meters away from campsite|
Campsite is an open-area, with a small shed on the side with the trees. Watersource is just a few minutes away, there are houses not far. I was told that the city lights is amazing to marvel at here at the helipad during a fine night, sad but I never had the chance to experience it.
|just for fun:witty personal illustration of the trails|
MORE OF SIERRA MADRE (Bulacan side)
A small falls with just trickling water during the dry season. This is about 15-30 minutes trek into the forest using the carabao trail. You will pass the path going down to the falls along the way, just spot the steep trail used by mag-uulings to go down. This used to be a cherry to our ice cream during our exploration climb, thinking we can camp here and have a great time enjoying the cascading waters but turns out that it is only a small one and so very far to what I had imagined.
|going down the galas falls from carabao trail|
From Galas Falls, disappointed with the trickling water, we bushwacked our way to a large river, with the help of a local kid in the ulingan.
I didn’t know the name of the river, and neither did the locals. They just call it the Ilog. But remembering our location, I ascertained that we are on the direction of the Ipo Watershed and I concluded that this is the Ipo River. I have never seen such a big river as this, and it made me giddy.
|May 2009:on our way to the Ipo River|
From the Galas Falls we made our way northward, traversing the trails used by the maguulings. Of course their trails are relatively hard for easy going trekker like me. So after hopping and trekking on giant boulders the trail opened up to a wide river surrounded with lush vegetation and cool air. I heard cascading waters like music to my tired body and soul.
|enan cooling down the river|
Several destinations I have yet to visit:
1. Mt. Maranat and the Maranat Falls
2. Sitio Inuman
3. Mt. Oriod
4. Mt. Bituin grotto
|gate of grotto (open on Sat to Sun 8am-4pm)|
Actual Itineraries of my Mt. Balagbag climbs:
Mt. Balagbag 1st time – March 28, 2009
0700 Board ordinary bus in Guadalupe EDSA going to Tungko (P45)
0830 ETA Jollibee Tungko; buy provisions
0930 ETD Tungko, board jeep for Licao Licao (P22)
1000 ETA jumpoff
1010 Start trek
1055 ETA 1st water falls of Kaytitinga
1125 ETA 2nd water falls of Kaytitinga
1200 ETA rough road trail
1320 ETA view deck, near the trail going to Mt. Maranat
1350 ETA Mt. Balagbag Summit
1520 Start traverse descent
1620 ETA Galas Falls entrance (we didn’t pursue the descent)
1725 ETA Sitio Karahume store, rest, and washup
1755 Start trek to main road,
1805 ETA main road, wait for jeep
1850 Ride jeep to Tungko
1920 ETA Tungko, board aircon bus to Guadalupe EDSA (P75)
|@biak na mukha diversion: road to pulang lupa|
Mt.Balagbag 2nd time – April 30 to May 3, 2009
|from a single-room school we found during our explo|
Mt. Balagbag 3rd time – November 7, 2009
0630 Meetup Jollibee Guadalupe, bus to Tungko
0800 ETA Tungko, buy provisions, jeep to Licao Licao
0855 ETA Karahume, start trek
1230 ETA Rough road trail
1430 ETA Helipad
1630 Start descent
1900 ETA jumpoff, washup
2000 ETD Karahume
|panorama view of the sierra madre range|
For more information you can visit the site http://layagtrekkers.multiply.com