First Southwest Ascent of Calaptan Peak

by Dennis S. Ella
            From the vantage position of Patag in the northern slopes of Mount Mandalagan, the 4,802-foot Calaptan Peak, clad in dense blue-green forest and occassional mist, appears as the most prominent peak across the Malogo River valley separating the two dormant volcanoes of Northern Negros. With this impression, the Singarong Backpackers (SB) had relied for a year on the theory that Calaptan is the official summit of Mt. Silay (5,033 ft.).. Actually, Mt. Silay lies to the northeast of Calaptan Peak and like most peaks in the Northern Negros Forest Reserve (NNFR) had remained unclimbed to mountaineers by that time.

The Early Mountaineering History
             While the adjacent Mt. Mandalagan has enjoyed the distinction as a hub of mountaineers since the Butlak-Banaag Mountaineering Society started exploring it in 1980, Calaptan had remained untouched to mountaineers until May 1997 when a 2-man SB scouting party approached it from Canlusong. In search of Tingtingon, this mountaineering party went as far as the wooded upper slopes in the sheer eastern side.
              Eventually in March 1998, a 3-man party belonging to the Northern Trekkers Club, Inc. summitted Calaptan as a result of its south-bound traverse across the Gawahon-Calaptan ridgeline following its conquest of the West Face of Gawahon Peak. Capping its adventure, the three mountaineers survived a tent-less bivouac on a steep slope and, running out of supplies, they executed a desperate rappel over the sheer Southwest Face.

The Messner Team Was Born
              Inspired by the resourcefullness, pragmatism and minimalist approach of the legendary alpinist, Reinhold Messner, the SB organized in September 1998 the Messner Team to devote solely to nonguided peak climbing. Before this shift from a
horizontal to vertical form of mountaineering, the SB could safely assume the unsurpassed record of nonguided traverses in the NNFR, all done in its two years of existence.
              For its first objective, the Messner Team set its sight on Calaptan Peak under the pretext that it is the official summit of Mount Silay.

Journal of The Climb
September 19, 1998: Disembarking in Capitan Ramon, the Messner Team composed of its three original members (Dennis Ella, Pedro Palabrica and Roger 'Regor' Sildres) hiked for two hours across an open country to Canlusong at the southwestern base of Calaptan Peak. In the home of Barangay Captain Cuello who fetted them a lodging for the night, the climbing party learned that the peak which they set out to climb is actually Calaptan, not Silay. Despite of this disheartening discovery and inspite of the discouragement from the farmhand of the Brgy. Capt., the party resolved to pursue their objective. (According  to the farmhand who belittles the capacity of the party, the Calaptan forest is able to disorient even the locals.)
September 20, 1998: Setting out early at 6:00 a.m., they followed the logging road towards the mountain. Barely an hour later, they broke away from the logging road before they could get to Sitio Ilaya (the last settlement) to head northeast and to enter the forest.
9:00 a.m.: Their belief to summit by mid-day turned out to be unfounded. They had a hard time hurdling a sheer mountain-side with a dense forest, oftentimes lossing the vision of the peak. Disturbingly, Dennis (the Climb Leader) an hour earlier was almost hit and maimed by a rolling chunk of rock dislodged by a team-mate while they were descending a steep ravine.
11:00 a.m.: They struck upon a brook near a seedlings nursery in the forest. Grabbing the oppurtunity to save their packed water supply, they took an early lunch. With this brook, they could afford a chance to have water for breakfast for the next day. Without it, they would have until evening to negotiate to the summit and, successful or not, they would go down without any water left for breakfast. 
1:30 p.m.: Upon topping a ridge, they went westward to the bottom of a dry gully that separates the twin peaks of Calaptan. The higher peak, the true summit, lies to the northeast above the face of the West Ridge. Figuring a rough calculation, they were positive to reach the crest of the ridge in half an hour. (Again, their estimate turned out to be way off the mark.)
3:00 p.m.: Lumbering through the bariw tangle of the narrow West Ridge was a tedious prcocess. Oftentimes, stepping on bariw branches, they could't move without forcing to ward off the sturdy branches and spiny leaves that gave them several bruises and almost broke their spirit.
5:00 p.m.: At the risk of not finding any other spot feasible enough for a tent before nightfall, they selected a spot to clear and level by filling up hollows with forest debris. Recalling the Camp VIII of Hillary and Tensing on the Everest, Pedro dubbed their exposed and awkward camp as the Final Assault Camp.
September 21, 1998: The early morning was clear. They woke up early and executed the final push to the summit. This time, they had a very light load consisting only of three packets of noodles, a Coleman stove and their remaining supply of water.
7:00 a.m.: In great jubilation, they set foot on the summit after a few minutes of easy walk. In a grove of stunted agoho (pine tree), the summit has a trail-fork. A trail-branch leads down to the dry gully - the thing they missed without any regret. Afterall, despite of the difficulty on the West Ridge, they curved something to be proud of - a route of their making.
8:00 a.m.: After enjoying a breakfast of noodles on the summit, they retuned to fold their tent and broke camp. Instead of backtracking to Canlusong, they headed audasciously to the north along the trail on the Gawahon-Calaptan ridgeline. They hoped to reach in three hours Barrio Gawahon where they could take ride back home. 
11:00 a.m.: Three hours of  traverse led them nowhere but the top of the ridge without any sign of water. Very thirsty, Pedro was already trying to lick the moisture on the bark of trees and to chew the leaf of rondalla. Although Dennis could already figure out a known region, the Gawahon Ravine down west, he led his team-mates back to a trail-branch he noticed earlier along the way. If they would insist on going down to the Gawahon Ravine, they would have to negotiate down a trail-less route on the steep summit-wall.
12:30 p.m.: They couldn't expect to find water along the trail on the sheer face and they could not prepare their lunch without water. Although Pedro claims that he is a mountaineer (and therefore stoical character), he proved to be a liability to the Team for he succumbed weakly to the fangs of thirst, hunger and fatigue when the best choice was to neglect everything save the need to find water soon. Dennis and Regor waited for half an hour for him to catch up in the trail-junction on the ridge and he proved to be more slow on the descent.
2:30 p.m.: While the slope had eased dramatically, water was not yet within sight. Desperately, Pedro who was very far behind started calling out for aid. Regor went back to assist him. (It turned out that Pedro for some fit of irrationality was no longer in the trail which the two ahead of him did follow.)
3:10 p.m.: Dennis couldn't believe himself hearing a rushing of water on a narrow open ridge - the Ronel Ridge. In disbelief, he spottec real water. It was rushing along an irrigation canal lying inauspiciosly alongside the northern side of the ridge.
4:00 p.m.: At long last, they were able to partake their lunch. Down the slope, Barrio Gawahon was very much recognizable from the ridge. However, it was not very likely that they could reach it in time for the last trip to the Victorias City.
September 22, 1998: A day past their 3-day jaunt, they finally boarded the Canter to go back home.

Post Script
Adversity sometimes has a way of driving a man to seek further challenges. Having experienced the exhiliration of nonguided climbing, the Messner Team, barely a couple of weeks later, climbed Gawahon Peak on Oct. 2, 1998 and Dinamlagan Peak on Oct. 3, 1998. Seeking ever greater challenges, the MT pursued the unsuccessful First Attempt of the South Face on Oct. 15-18, 1998. (The South Face was finally climbed by the MT on August 29, 1999 - nearly a year later.) Ton his credit, Pedro Palabrica particpated in the climbs mentioned.
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