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Summit to Mount Kinabalu (Day 2: Base Camp to Low’s Peak)

I was supposed to get as much sleep as I can before the morning summit. Unfortunately, I felt the altitude sickness which made it difficult for me to rest. I had no choice but to take some painkillers that night. Just as I am about to fall asleep, it was already our 1:30 am call time. Time for our early breakfast!

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At around 2:30 am, our group gathered outside Laban Rata. There were already a few groups who went ahead before we left.

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The first part of the trek was an incline which is partially made up of wooden steps. The initial assault was a bit tiring because you cannot pace yourself with the long queue ahead. Due to this, our group was separated into two. We skipped a few groups every now and then and waited for the second group to follow. Unfortunately, we could not locate them at some point and decided to go ahead if we wanted to reach the summit before sunrise.

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Upon reaching the checkpoint, your badge will be tagged to check who among the climbers have reached this area. Now is the tricky part of the climb. Coupled by the steepness and the energy exhausted earlier, I found the next part to be daunting at first.

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The trail from the checkpoint to the summit is pretty straightforward. You just follow the thick white rope which will lead you to Low’s Peak. The terrain is made of granodiorite which is the inclined rocky part you see when you search Mount Kinabalu in pictures. For me, this was the more difficult part to climb up. I had to hold on to the rope at times.

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It was very dark and you can barely see the summit which made the trail feel endless. The number of climbers you come across kept dwindling the farther you head up. Most are either at the summit at this point or still below before the checkpoint. Midway through the rocky part, I made occasional stops to take photos of the terrain. I wanted to take some sky shots accompanied by the unearth-like view but I left my tripod at base camp. It made me feel like I was on another planet!

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Out of breath, this was the time I got separated from the first group. I told them to go ahead and I would follow behind at my own pace. My steps became shorter and shorter at this point. I had one last glimpse of the first group as they shouted my name just a few meters ahead.

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Just as I thought I had enough, I made one last push to keep moving forward. I said to myself “This is the reason why I am here and I will not disappoint myself“. Next thing you know, I finally reached Low’s Peak in time! The two others climbers who went ahead from my group even said that I was just 5-10 minutes behind when they reached the summit. I did not expect that I would only be behind by that much. I guess my non-stop small steps with both my hands on the trekking pole worked!

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Reaching the summit is already a feat for me. At 4095.2 MASL (13,436 feet), this is the highest I have been on foot.

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As the sun started to rise, the beauty of Mount Kinabalu is revealed. The view is just awe-inspiring that I will never forget. I can not believe that we actually made it!

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After taking some photos, I rewarded myself with some hot tea. The reason why I bought a thermal mug is for times like these. At around 7:00 am, we were ready to head back to base camp.

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At this point, I stopped taking photos and we reached base camp just before check out time. We grabbed some quick breakfast and headed back to Kinabalu Park Headquarters. It was probably around 2:30 pm when we reached Timpohon Gate.

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We reached the city at around 6 pm and said our goodbyes with the rest of the group. Their flight was scheduled early the next day while me and my brother was just about to start the second leg of our trip. Hanoi!

– The Tourist Pao

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Summit to Mount Kinabalu (Day 1: Timpohon Gate to Base Camp)

Today is the day we have all been waiting for. We woke up early in the morning and the bus picked us up from our hotel to head to Kinabalu Park Headquarters. On our way there, we were briefed by the tour operator on the dos and don’ts before falling asleep. I thought to myself: I probably will not be sleeping for the next 36 hours. For this tour, we booked the 2D/1N package with Amazing Borneo.

As we reach the headquarters, we were met by dozens of other climbers from around the world. We were each given our packed lunch as well as the mandatory ID tag which you had to wear at all times. Mine was tagged 007 for this climb. Pretty neat!

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Just before 10:00 am, we were already at the Timpohon Gate. This is it!

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We were 9 in the group including the 2 guides who also acted as our porters.

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Before the hike, we have been advised by our guides not to walk too fast. The walk will be long and the first day is just for reaching the base camp. There is also the danger of getting altitude sickness if our body does not acclimatize well.

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We weren’t used to this kind of pace which is why we were reminded to walk slower after 30 minutes. The hikes we do locally are usually day trips and the mountains range from 500-700 meters only on the average.

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As we passed each stop, you notice the shift in the terrain and vegetation. Likewise, the weather also becomes more unpredictable. We experienced hot and humid weather as well as the cold and some rain showers throughout the hike.

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Before they re-opened the mountain, due to the earthquake last 2015, they already re-routed and fixed the trail routes.

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The rest stops are quite convenient as they have toilets with running water in every stop. As a pre-cautionary measure, it is highly advised not to drink directly from the tap water. I suggest that you bring enough (at least 2 litres) until you reach base camp. Just to be sure, bring purification tablets or iodine solution in case you have to get from the tap.

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As we got closer to the base camp, the weather was getting colder. I layered up as early as our lunch stop. To keep myself energized the whole trek, I brought a good mix of trail food. I had energy shots and sweets, biscuits and some chocolates.

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With the occasional rest stops and photo ops, we did not notice that it was getting quite late already. Some of us reached base camp earlier while the others were 30-45 minutes behind. I was already exhausted and famished at this point when I managed to reach the base camp before 5 pm.

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My first impression about the base camp was “not bad at all!“.  The rooms consist of 4 double deck beds and food was served buffet style. The only other time I had an overnight hiking experience was back in 2015 when we went to Mount Pulag. We camped out in tents for that one.

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After dinner, everyone decided to freshen up and prepare for next morning’s hike. Our call time was at 1:30 am which was only in a few hours. Before retiring, I went outside to do some astrophotography. The cold got the best of me and the area where I placed my tripod setup was not that stable. Oh well! Better luck next time for me. This was officially my second try on site with this type of photography. The first being in Sagada.

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Tomorrow is the big day!

Summit to Mount Kinabalu (Day 2: Base Camp to Low’s Peak)

– The Tourist Pao

Climbing Mt. Maculot and the Rockies (Philippines)

After climbing both Mt. Pulag and Mt. Pinatubo over the last month, I decided to head to Mt. Maculot with the same group. I had zero information about this mountain up until our actual trip.

Our group met up in a gas station along SLEX (South Luzon Expressway). From there, we headed towards the Alabang exit to pick-up our guide. We then exited back to SLEX towards Batangas. Travel time took around 2 hours to reach our last stop at Cuenca, Batangas.

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We started our hike at around 9:00 AM. The trail is relatively straightforward. The main challenge here is that you will hike uphill around 90% of the time. This was something I underestimated about hiking Mt. Maculot. That’s apart from the scorching heat we encountered since it was the peak of summer when we visited.

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Along the way, you will pass by several drinking stops where you can buy some fresh buko (cocounut) juice. (I only started buying from the stores we passed by when we hiked back to town since I ran out of water)

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When you reach the higher points, you will catch a glimpse of Taal Lake and other provinces surrounding it. Something you might be familiar with if you’ve been to Tagaytay. The view gave us a different perspective of this famous tourist destination.

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After 2 hours of hiking (which included several breaks and photo ops), we finally reached our last stop before heading to the famous Rockies at Mt. Maculot. My first impression about getting to the Rockies was it was quite intimidating. A view from afar made it more steep than it actually was. Climbing should still be approached with great caution though.

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Once we reached the top of the Rockies, I was completely re-energized! But wait, there’s still another challenge ahead. You must head to the tip of the Rockies.

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My brother at the Rockies…

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Hikers are warned to get to this spot only one at a time. I honestly did not want to climb that point at first but then I said, what the heck. This is the reason why we went to Mt. Maculot!

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We spent almost two hours at the Rockies just enjoying the view and taking in as much as we can. Around noon time, we headed back and ate our packed lunch at the camping site. Yes, you can also do overnight camping at Mt. Maculot.

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Heading down was a bit more of a challenge since it took a toll on my knees. That’s apart from the dusty trail from the dry soil. There were certain parts where you have to be more careful or you can easily slid down. I tried to cling onto the branches as much as I can which  was surprisingly effective! Cling like a monkey!

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Once we reached town, we cleaned up and headed back to Metro Manila. We made a detour and passed by Paranaque for some coffee and early dinner.

That’s it for my 3rd hike this year! So far, so good!

– The Tourist Pao

Trekking Mt. Pinatubo (Philippines)

A week after I went to Mount Pulag, I decided to join the same group and head to Mount Pinatubo. After our gruesome 26 km total hike in Pulag, I thought to myself: “Pinatubo should be smooth sailing. No sweat…” . Well, it’s true for the most part of this trip.

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Our trip starts at our meeting point in Metro Manila around 3 am. From there, we hit the road and headed to CapasTarlac. After our orientation with the travel organizer, we headed towards the entry point to Mount Pinatubo. It was already sunrise when we reached our final stop. From here, we would be riding 4x4s to reach the foot of the mountain.

(Mount Pinatubo is actually an active volcano. The indigenous people who live around the mountain were unaware that this was a volcano up until it erupted in 1991.)

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The most tiresome part of the trip was the 4×4 ride. While some rode an open top 4×4 jeep, we were assigned to an enclosed one. Both have pros and cons. Riding the open top gives you more leeway in terms of space. You can also hold on to the roll cage or even stand up if you get too tired of sitting down (and of course the photo ops). On the downside, you are more prone to be exposed from the lahar. As for our enclosed ride, there wasn’t really any option to hold on to anything. There were no handlebars to cling on so the bumpy ride can really get messy. Did I also mention that the ride takes around 2-3 hours. Part of the experience for me!

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As we were getting deeper, you can see the sudden shift in the landscape. Can you imagine something beautiful resulted from a vicious volcanic eruption? For some reason, it made me feel like I was in the Land Before Time minus the dinosaurs of course.

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Along the way, you will see several local Aetas. The children are very friendly and enjoy being taken photos.

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Once we reach the foot, it was now time to hike up the trail. Contrary to the old set-up, the most convenient trail to reach the crater only takes 15-30 minutes depending on your pace. There are longer trails which just meant that you get dropped off earlier and start walking from that point. I was initially expecting to hike between 1-2 hours per way so I was surprised that the trail was way shorter than I expected.

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The trail is very easy and anyone should be able to manage it. As a tip, I suggest that you wear quick dry shoes as you will be passing by certain areas that has shallow running water. Also, refrain from wearing open shoes if you are prone to sunburn. Temperatures can get really hot in Pinatubo during the summer time.

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Behold… The Mount Pinatubo crater…

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You can also camp within the crater as I’ve seen some photos online. However, swimming has been prohibited already. For me, a day trip is already enough to enjoy what this place has to offer.

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Before heading back, we decided to take a side trip to a nearby waterfall. I decided to take a plunge to refresh my body from the hot summer heat. The water is so cool and clear! You can ask your guide to bring you there as they’re probably familiar with the spot. It’s just a few minutes from the 4×4 drop off point before the short trek.

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By the time our trip has officially ended, it was almost sundown. Our group then headed straight to Pampanga to grab some dinner before parting ways.

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I would recommend everyone to head to Pinatubo if they want to be more adventurous with their travels. This is definitely a good starting point! It’s also just a stone’s throw away from the country’s capital.

– The Tourist Pao

Baguio Revisited (2013)

Last 2013, we went to Baguio for the second straight year. I am writing this post since we were not able to pass by Baguio last 2014. Hopefully, we get to return again and keep visiting on a yearly basis. New traditions so to speak for our family.

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After spending time in Manaoag for prayer and devotion, we reached Baguio just in time for dinner. We first checked-in at The Manor located in Camp John Hay. The rooms were very cozy and has a family vibe to it.

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For dinner, we wanted to try Forest House Bistro & Cafe.

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Our table was located at the veranda. The cool weather was just right during the time we visited Baguio. Food was just okay.

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After dinner, we were lucky enough to get a tour of their bed & breakfast rooms. Another place to consider when we return to Baguio.

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We then headed back to Camp John Hay. Before going to bed, we had some hot chocolate and played a bit of board games. Family bonding time!

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During the next morning, I cannot wait to load up on the breakfast buffet at The Manor. I’ve been hearing good reviews about their breakfast. It certainly did not disappoint!

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After breakfast, we did an early check-out since we stayed here for just one night.

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We then headed to Mines View Park to enjoy the view and some fresh air. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit nearby Good Shepherd Convent. This is where you get most (if not all) your Baguio goodies to bring home.

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Also try the strawberry taho that’s only available here in Baguio. You should easily find someone who sells them around Mines View Park.

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For lunch, we went to Hill Station at Casa Vallejo – an establishment that’s been here for so long.

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Don’t forget to check the Mt. Cloud bookshop as well.

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Well, that’s it for my Baguio trip! We had to return to Manila already. A quick but memorable family bonding trip.

– The Tourist Pao

Chasing Mt. Pulag (Philippines)

Last weekend, I decided to join a group of friends to embark on a journey that would take us to Mount Pulag. Mt. Pulag is situated near the Benguet province. It is Luzon‘s highest peak listed at 2,920+ meters above sea level and the 3rd highest in all of the Philippines. Since it was our first time to hike and camp out, we decided to take the easier Ambangeg Trail.

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The trip starts at our meeting point in Metro Manila on Friday at around 10:30 PM. From there, we traveled to Baguio where we would meet up with our travel organizers. It was still dark when we reached Baguio. From there, we unloaded all of our baggage and transferred to ride a jeepney to head to the DENR office. It probably took us an more than an hour to reach the DENR station where everyone was required to sign-up and attend an orientation. By the time we got here, it was already sunrise. We were part of the 2nd/3rd batch to attend the orientation which took around 45 minutes.

From the DENR office, we then headed straight to the Ranger Station. This is one of the starting points at the Mt. Pulag National Park. Due to the waiting time it took for the orientation, it was exactly noon time when we arrived at our starting point. Contrary to our prior setup, we were to camp here instead of Base Camp 2. This just meant a longer hike for us instead of hiking midway and then ascending further for the sunrise the next morning.

(A week before our trip, we were informed that hikers can no longer stay at Base Camp 2. The move was done to avoid the mountain’s degradation. When we were in the orientation however, we’ve been hearing that it has again been opened. Only a certain amount of people can stay at the new Base Camp 2. Unaware, there was also Base Camp 1.)

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Staying at the Ranger Station can be a win-lose situation. I was actually surprised to see a convenience store which had everything you needed. They even sell beer and you can buy some spam and have them cook it for you. Moreover, there was a small lodge to stay in if you did not want to tent out. For those who opt not stay, you can still use their toilet and shower for a small fee. Talk about convenience…

On the downside, hiking towards the peak took longer. The hike should have only been 4.7 km to Base Camp 2. After that, only 3 km left the next day to reach the peak. Since we were not fortunate to stay at any base camp, it meant an 8 km hike towards the peak plus another 8 km back.

Once our tents were properly setup, we immediately had lunch. Despite having not much sleep, curiosity got the better of us. Our group decided to start hiking around 2 pm that Saturday.

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From the moment we started to hike, you can already see the stunning view of the mountains and it’s surroundings. Our timing was just perfect to hike Mt. Pulag. It never rained during our stay here. The weather was cool and the sun was bright.

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Before reaching our destination, we passed by Base Camp 1 and two water stations. The source is from fresh spring water so no need to bring too much liquids while hiking up. You can just re-fill when you pass by these stops. It was already 4:30 pm when we reached Base Camp 2. We felt tired during some parts of the hike due to our body adjusting to the altitude and all. We were able to cut time going back as the descend is always faster. It was already sundown when we reached Ranger Station.

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For dinner, our organizers cooked us some sinigang na baboy (pork tamarind soup). I had two cans of beer afterwards before I headed to rest. It was already 9+ in evening at this point. Our call time was around 12+ am Sunday morning. Midway through my sleep, I woke up twice due to the cold climate. Even though we had some thermal mats and sleeping bags, the ground was just too cold. I was only wearing a thermal shirt when I slept so the rest of my arms were chilling. Brrrr… I just decided to wake up at around 11+ pm and wait for the ascend. At this point, I only had around 1-2 hours of total sleep ever since we left Metro Manila.

It was already wake-up call at this time. We had all of our gear ready for the real hike towards the peak! Bringing trail food is a must. Most notably powers bars, nuts and some sweets to keep your energy up. Likewise, hiking with the appropriate gear (hiking shoes, thermals and a head lamp) will really help.

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We left at around 1 am and reached one of the peaks at around 5 am. I guess, our initial hike really helped as we were able to significantly cut our time to get to the peak. We even had the time to lie down and star gaze for a few minutes before the final ascend.

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As soon as it hit sunrise, the beauty of Mt. Pulag (and the sea of clouds beneath) is revealed. It was sheer beauty and splendor! After taking quite a few photos during sunrise, I just looked as far as I could from where we hiked. Looking back, I can’t imagine how we managed to traverse across this beautiful landscape. The reach to the summit was such a rewarding experience!

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Before 7:30 am, we decided to head back down. It was almost noon time when we arrived back at the Ranger Station. After our late breakfast, we backtracked for Baguio. We returned before 6 pm and decided to grab some early dinner at Cafe by The Ruins before heading back to Manila.

This was definitely one of my more memorable trips so far. It made me realize that I don’t have to be too far from home to experience the beauty that our world has to offer.  Mt. Pulag has widened my traveling perspective for sure!

– The Tourist Pao