Trips - Mt. Halcon, Mindoro 

Mt. Halcon -- The Most Difficult Ascent 

After two hours of slow plodding across the vast expanse of Batangas bay we finally reached the town of Calapan in Oriental Mindoro. The town itself is not uninteresting and would likely be an a place of endless possibilities for the typical traveler.

We could also have chosen to take the jeepney to the nearby beaches of Puerto Galera and had the time of our lives. Instead, we were hell-bent on tackling the "recognized" most-difficult ascent in the country -- Mt Halcon. It is one of those rare anomalies in the list of Philippine mountains where you actually start climbing from sea level instead of getting that free-ride halfway up to the summit as on most other peaks.

The entire company of climbers we were with on the jeep was in an accelerated pace of last-minute checking and packing as we sped through the dusty roads of Mindoro, talking in monotonous half-serious tones about the weather, the time, and trail conditions. As we reached our jump-off point at the head of Lantoyan trail, we were met by non-climbing members of the Halcon Mountaineers (HALMS) who were watching out for late climbers at the base of the mountain. As it happened, we were the last ones to arrive.

We were informed by the welcoming party that we were way behind the scheduled start of ascent. For a few moments it appeared as though we would have to abandon our climb even before we could begin. A brief negotiation with the ever-cautious climb organizers ensued over the radio. We couldn't blame them for being so careful after a death high up on the mountain from a previous climb by another climbing team.

By the time we got under way, the noon sun was beating harshly down on us as we laboriously navigated the horrendously steep approach to the trail head. After thirty minutes of continuous trekking on trails carved directly into the face of a cliff, we finally arrived at the last Mangyan settlement near the forest line. We paused for a while just below another rise to collect trail water that we hoped would be enough to last us until the next water source.

We were soon enveloped by the dense jungle canopy that hides most of the lower slopes of Mt Halcon. The jungle in this part of the mountain is alive with a multitude of insects and animal species including the dreaded leech that was no doubt at the forefront of everybody's mind. The tension that these otherwise diminutive creatures cause was evident as members of our own climbing team would regularly pause to check for signs of infestation. Fortunately, side from a few stragglers, we would not encounter the leeches during the climb.

We soon caught up with the tailgroup of HALMS and they would let us pass through so they could assume their rightful position, at the very end of a very long line of climbers that were slowly making their way up the mountain on the way to basecamp at the Aplaya campsite, a little over five hours ahead of us.

We reached basecamp soon enough and we had to settle for a slightly sloping campsite that night because all the better spots were already occupied. Our team met a few friends at Aplaya, one of whom was trying his best to rest an injury inflicted on the way up during the first day of the climb. He sounded totally disappointed that he had to abandon his summit attempt because of the injury.

We checked with the climb coordinator at his well-appointed camp regarding trail conditions and weather, it seemed that the next day should be perfect for our own attempt at the summit which loomed 8400 feet above us. We woke up early the next morning to the sound of rain beating down on the tent fabric. It seemed like an eternity before the weather cleared up enough for anybody to begin the day's trekking chores.

As soon as the weather let up, we were on our way. It would take us another eight hours before we would finally get to see open skies above our heads instead of a dark, seamless canopy of leaves.

We reached the roped section of the summit ridge at a little past 3 in the afternoon. We took a much needed breather at the base of the precipice as we waited for the climbers from the HALMS lead group to finish setting up a new line that would help us across the next section of the route.

We finally walked into summit camp at about quarter to four and would camp there for the next 17 hours.

Originaly published on The Nature Explorers Society Website. Please visit them and take a virtual trip up the mountain.
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