“Keep on climbing, feel the wonder of nature. Love it and protect it – and always remember: To climb a mountain is to feed the visual needs of our living spirit..” – Sky Biscocho, April 2015
A moment shared may or may not happen again. It is easier to plan for a get together but schedules, distance, priorities and willingness are factors that hinders it to become a reality. When it does materialize, it becomes a gift – sort of a miracle.
In the mountaineering community, we meet a lot of people whom we share a few minutes or days of stories and laughter. Mountain climbing is a fertile ground that can foster love, friendships and deep connections.
During my climb last 2014 to the highest mountain in the Philippines, I met several good souls including one of the kindest soul I’ve ever met. We spent a three-day hike including one of my most dangerous, knee-buckling night trek.
It was that experience which will bond us for as long as we live. Each shall remember the faces (younger faces) of the team members even after decades had pass.
Using that connection, 4 of the 16-wo/man Mt. Apo team including me and several other friends, met to hike Mount Mariang Makiling, the highest feauture of Laguna rising from the depths of Laguna de Bay. The hike provided the perfect setting to reminiscè the Mt. Apo climb and it’s epic moments.
The Myth of Mariang Makiling
It is said that the peaks of the mountain are Maria’s face and breast and that based on the contour, she seems to be reclining with her hair flowing away from her body if seen from certain angles.
And maybe her best trait is generosity because she allow mountaineers to walk up and down her body. Some would even litter and become noisy. Yet, it is said that in a prankster-like retaliation, she punishes by letting them go round and round inside the forest, not being able to get out until they clean up their camp or turn their clothes inside out.
Sadly, she did claimed some lives for her own.
When asked if Mariang Makiling had made her presence felt, Sky Biscocho affirmed the myth.
“Oo naman. Para sa iba ang kalimitan pagpaparamdam ni Maria Makiling ay ang panliligaw o pagkawala sa trails. Lilituhin at minsan umaabot sa kamatayan sa pagkawala o pagka hulog kapag galit ito. Pero kapag natuwa siya sa sinoman, nagiging magaan ang pag akyat at pag galugad sa bundok na ito”
That might be the duality of life at play, based on local sightings, Maria is described as a beautiful young woman who never age. When she approves of a merriment of the communities at her feet, she’ll bring sunshine, a soft breeze and a shower of dried leaves.
Wow! I wouldn’t have minded even if she enchanted me. I’ll ask about her secret beauty regimen and shall never age until eternity. I was a bit disappointed when I learned she only enchants men. Jeez!
Aside from being generous to hikers, Mariang Makiling acts as the ‘guardian’ of the mountain. The unusual weather patterns on the mountain area is attributed to her moods. From afar, clouds do play at the tip of her peaks and when locals or hikers get lost in it’s forest, the incidents are still deemed caused by the diwata or the spirits following her.
“because myth is more powerful than history…”
The mountain that is widely known in the country as Mount Makiling stands at 1090masl (3580ft) looming over Laguna. Based on records, although she is classified by PHILVOCS as potentially active, there had been no records of eruption. Still, she shows volcanic feautures. My friend Ei, who is an alumna of UPLB, says that there is a popular mud spring in the area.
When we started our trek, we did passed by some huge pipelines from the Sto. Tomas, Batangas side that carries the by-product of the Banahaw – Makiling Geothermal Plant.
The Makiling Traverse
Known to the mountaineering community as MakTrav, the Mount Makiling Traverse starts from Sto. Thomas, Batangas and ends at the University of the Philippines Los Baños or vice versa.
Known for it’s challenging trails and it’s waterfalls including the famous Dampalit Falls, the Skyway Trail Makiling Traverse or MakTrav was pioneered and named by Sky Biscocho and his team. This was between 1992 up to 1995.
According to Sky, in that span of 3 years he had to experiment on a lot of route before the trail was finally completed. And in commemoration to it’s completion, the members of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, Inc. (MFPI) were the first to formally use the trail, the climb was dubbed as ‘the president’s climb’.
The sweat, pain and time alloted by Sky and his team paid off and we now enjoy the panoramic view that the trail offers.
My team and I chose the Sto. Thomas jump-off which is the reverse-traverse. However, Sky laments that the trail he established is being reffered to as the Sipit Trail instead of Skyway Trail Makiling Traverse, the name coined when the trail was established.
We registered at Sitio Jordan and proceeded to procure guides which had become mandatory.
The local PENRO officer was a big burly man who was agitated when one of the tricycle drivers sent a part of our team somewhere else rather than the recycling area or dump site where the registration hut is located.
He stressed that no registration fee is collected from hikers but was vague on the guide fee, “bahala na kayo kung magkano ang ibigay niyo sa guide”.
In my line of job, cost should always be defined – clear cut, in black and white. I feel a matrix should be established, it would then be subjected to scrutiny if it is fair or not. With a vague declaration like that, mountaineers are left to either give more or less than what the guide/s deserves.
For our 13 wo/man team, three guides were provided. Good natured and easy to laughter, they guided, helped and shared their stories. When I asked about the several mountains visible from our vantage point, one of the guides pointed out Banahaw, Maculot and several others and went on to share the best joke I’ve ever heard about Mt. Maculot.
For mountaineers who had already walked the trail numerous times, a guide may not be necessary since the trail was already established and marked with station numbers.
However, like other mountains near NCR, guides had become mandatory to support and provide livelihood for the locals. Mountaineers are providing jobs and in a sense, it is a good way to give back to society.
“…napagkakaperahan, at eto nga pati ako may bayad sa binutas kong trail…”
Sky just voiced out what some members of the mountaineering community had been lamenting. This is now the reality of our mountains, when it becomes a hot spot, the LGU’s sees a revenue.
We all have our own opinion on the matter and the comment box below is ready for your thoughts.
MakTrav has it’s own allure. On a day in April, the challenging trail during the rainy season transforms into an enjoyable one. One word can describe it: fun.
There are ascents once in a while however those are ignored as one can be mesmerized by the life size ferns, the trees that are older than the oldest member in my group, the monotonous cricket and other insect sounds that dominates a part of the trail.
After ascending a little more, the rhythmic melody of bird songs can be heard. All this are keenly appreciated because one is tempted to enjoy the surroundings due to the cool temperature of the forest itself. No wonder some men are easily enchanted.
Somewhere, the more ardous Palanggana Trail – which is currently closed as it lies on a private property, also converge before the Melkas Ridge.
At the foot of Melkas Ridge lies Station 15, best for lunch and rest. Fuel for the challenging ascent to peak 3.
And alas, the infamous Melkas Ridge with it’s postcard perfect view, cauliflower-like canopy of leaves and challenging rope segment with the cliff on both sides. It was a good place to die, a good vantage for photos.
True to Sky’s own observation, the vantage point on Melkas Ridge offers the most amazing view.
“ang pinaka maganda sa traverse ay ang Melkas Ridge to Haring Bato peak campsite to Cornites peak, Makiling peak down to peak 2, end of trek up to Los Baños or the Sto. Thomas, Batangas”
Haul your own weight and you’ll be standing on a clearing that leads to Peak 3 where everyone can take a rest, savor the view, the elevation and the pain.
What I loved about the hike was the conversations and laughter. The ebb and high of it. It was indeed good to hike again with Gil, Tony and Glenn after almost a year after the Mt. Apo climb.
The trek to Peak 2 can not be underestimated, the vegetation had shortened to almost my height and some of the team members found their untog moments from low lying branches which ellicited laughter.
The trail had narrowed until we have reached peak 2. By then the muscle pain had started to make their presence felt but all that was taken away again as the view of Taal, Laguna de Bay and another lake I am not familiar with but was said to be included on the seven lakes in the Philippines greeted us. We started our descent to UPLB with several stiff downhills.
Then the sun started to set and darkness begun to engulf the whole mountain. Our pace became quicker and in no time we have reached the area where motorcycles await mountaineers to transport them to the UPLB ranger station. They cost Php100.00 per pax which I found very expensive and the ride was more painful than the trek itself. But night had already descended and we still have a bus to catch.
And as the experience is nearing it’s end, all I saw are fullfilled faces – smiling, feeling accomplished.
The hike was not just to tick it off the bucket list but a choice one has given as a gift. For me, it was rewarding and would be the best dayhike I’ll ever have for 2015 with just the mere reason that I hiked with some friends (Mageo and Allan) and some members of my Team Apo. The breathtaking views were just beautiful add-ons.
We might have missed the waterfalls or Ate Glo’s mami but I would make that an excuse to hike Mount Makiling again if given the opportunity.
Sky and his team has given us a gift that had and would become a part of our adventure and memories. The trail was the product of their love for the mountains, the gift of time and maybe the loving thoughts that we, the next generation of mountain lovers, may also experience the trail and it’s breathtaking view.
May the words of the MakTrav pioneer resonates within our soul.
I am grateful for the gift of time from the members of my Mt. Makiling climb. We all are busy in our own small world yet each had inserted the activity on their schedules.
Time indeed is the most precious gift one can give to another – more precious than any material things.#
I was really ecstatic when Sky Bischoco replied to my request. Sir, my deepest gratitude.