Coming Home to Ayala Mountaineers with Mt. Manalmon

At the summit, overlooking the Manalmon river.  Partially seen on the left is Mt. Gola.
At the summit, overlooking the Manalmon river.
Partially seen on the left is Mt. Gola.

I’ve long missed hiking the mountain trails.  After my last hospital stay, I was ordered by my doctors to lose weight. I tried, first getting a gym membership (short-lived, as I found it boring, save for the leg presses), and now, walking. But it’s just not the same. There was something missing. I suddenly missed the sea of clouds. Of the dwarf bamboo that serves as the softest grass underfoot. The sky show the good Lord produces so extravagantly, at sunrise, sunset, and in the blazing star showers against the inky backdrop of the night sky.

I missed  the smell of pine, of grass, of the tang of the lake, river, stream. I missed the crunch of a rocky trail against my dusty boots, see the different shades of green in a forest. I missed waking up to the sizzling smell of bacon being cooked by a thoughtful tentmate after a hard day’s trek, or the firm grasp of a helping hand that pulls me up and gets me to the summit together with the rest of the climbers.

Finally, I got off my bum and tried my hand by first going to Pico de Loro with my Beloved, after seeing one of her cousins post an open invitation on his Facebook wall.  Let’s just say it didn’t go too well, as I only got as far as Basecamp 1. Still, it was a good enough work-out; I vowed to go back to my beloved mountains.

Back in Manila, I looked up various sites who’re promoting hiking destinations. One site caught my eye: the Facebook page of AMCI Mountaineering Club.   And, interestingly enough, they just posted an open climb announcement on their page!  Signing up was just as easy as a couple of clicks.

I have fond memories of AMCI, back when it was called Ayala Mountaineers when I first signed up with them in the early 90s. I can remember the training runs twice a week around the Ayala triangle, the gatherings in the old Valero carpark, the BMC lectures on basic skills such as map and compass reading, knot tying, more runs around the Pasig DepEd/ULTRA area (and that dreaded incline) , and the graduated training climbs on various mountains that culminated in my batch graduation on the summit of Pulag one cold, glorious January day.

But more than the skills and the adventures of hiking outside the urban settings I felt I was trapped in, what I remembered the most was the camaraderie and the friendship of the climbing community.  How strangers with backpacks in bus stations can become instant friends, willing to take you in along with their group if you’re traveling alone. How men and women whom you’ve only met on the trail you’re walking on will be more than glad to share food and drink, swap raucous stories and offer the shelter of a tent for that rainy night on the great outdoors.

It was the remembrance of all these that made me confident that I won’t go wrong in choosing AMCI in hiking again. I was that confident, I even roped in my girlfriend, Mars, along for the open climb to Mt. Manalmon in the Biak-na-Bato National Park in Bulacan.

We met the climb organizers for a pre-climb meet at JT’s Manukan in Makati; the climb will be led by TL Angel Ramos, and backstopped by Rlyn “R” Doroteo and Juan Carlos Ferrer Javellana as ATLs, respectively.  The meet was succinct yet comprehensive: an IT on what to expect with Manalmon’s terrain, the proposed activities during the dayhike,  and budget.

Saturday morning found us speeding on our way towards Bulacan. Mars chose to bring the car, while the rest of the trekkers were in two vans.  We registered at the DENR jump-off point in San Miguel, after which we were given a briefing by the guides assigned to us. Then, we were off!

Toti, Bernie, me and Mars on the trail.
Toti, Bernie, me and Mars on the trail.

I already told R about my being out of shape, jokingly telling her that I’m usually the sweeper’s pet.  True enough, I was in the tail end of the hikers on the trail. But the sweepers  — Bernie, Toti and R — were never ruffled by my snail pace, constantly reminding me that we’re on a “chillax climb”. R’s “Steady lang!” was a mantra that kept me going even though it was getting hot on the way up Manalmon.  Did I say hot? The ever-smiling Toti then produced an umbrella, unfurling it over my head with a flourish as we were all reduced to laughter.  He jestingly called that part of the trek the “donya hike” 🙂

After going through the Madlum cave, doing a couple of river crossings (once via a bamboo raft) and a tramp across rolling terrain, we finally got to Manalmon’s flanks.  The trail shifted into an incline, and since the ground was rocky, I had to be careful in finding my footing. Thank goodness for using a pair of trekking poles and having a helpful boost or two from strong guides!

The view from the top afforded me a near-360 degree view of the area. You can see Mt. Gola right next door, and the Manalmon River — dry in spots due to the summer season — snaking its way through the terrain below.  A welcoming breeze blows steadily at the top, even though its almost noon, and a good-sized campsite is just on the shoulder of the mountain.

ATL Rlyn taking a shot of our merry band :)
ATL Rlyn taking a shot of our merry band 🙂

Going down was faster and easier, and we pitched camp by the rocky shore of the river. Here, we ate our packed lunches, rested, swam in the cool water and basically chilled out. Other members went exploring Mt. Gola, then everybody regrouped at around 2:30pm.  Up next was the exploration of the Bayukbuk Caves, but as Mars banged her knee on a rock and I was already played out, we decided to stop while we were ahead.  So we bade farewell to the group, and went home.

Even if we didn’t finish the entire IT, at least I can say, I got to bag the summit on this trek.  And I want to go back, soon.  Me and my dusty boots have heard the call of the outdoors.

*photographs by Rlyn Doroteo