It was a good day to make history.
The sky was vivid blue behind the white feathery clouds on 20 February 2011 as the exploration team led by Jing Lavilles de Egurrola, composed mostly of Camp Red members, make ready to take the first step for the most ambitious project dubbed as the Cebu Highlands Trail (CHT).
Egurrola could remember the feeling of dread, the dread of failing to deliver. It does not help that anxiety always hits him at every start of each exploration, making him run to the nearest toilet.
“It was unsure confidence” he recalled. But for the 52-year-old bushcraft practitioner, once he got past the first walk, confidence begun to rise again. Fueled by his years of practicing bushcraft, the natural skill kicked in as he trudged into the familiar unbeaten path.
The first step the team established was tagged as Segment 1 and would traverse Lutopan, Toledo City to Guadalupe, Cebu City passing by the picturesque Mananga River. However, a pending dam project on the river would make the trail impossible to trek. So on 03 January 2016, Egurrola decided to re-route the trail bypassing the Mananga River. The solo trek lasted for more than 11 hours to include wrong turns and backtracking.
CHT will be a long walk. Patterned after the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail of the USA, the CHT will traverse the whole length of Cebu from North to South or vice versa. Although its length is just below 7% of the APT or PCT, Cebu is 260 kilometers in length when measured from tip to tip according to Egurrola.
“The Cebu Highlands Trail will be my legacy to the next generation” – Jing Lavilles de Egurrola
He divided the routes into eight segments and sub-segments due to time restrictions, when finished the trail will approximately be 275 to 280 kilometers in length and would require at least a month to hike the whole length or maybe less for an experienced hiker. Depending on the segment, hiking a part of the trail would at least take 2-5 days to finish.
“The segment 4-A was about 70% dirt road, 20% footpath and 10% cemented road. It was an up-down, road winding route along the road and uphill-downhill trek on footpaths. There was a point wherein you could see both east and west coast of Cebu which was a first of my experience” Justin Apurado said, sharing his own escapade with the exploration team.
For those who can’t be able to afford a month of hiking, easy routes will be identified as well as camp sites, bivouac sites, billeting areas, exit routes, evacuation area, alternative routes, service routes, water sources and rest areas will be identified and integrated once the trail is finished.
A hiker can choose to hike the whole length without interruption, choose a segment or hit the trails one segment at a time. The table below is a quick guide to the route, difficulty level per segment and points of interest.
*Level 1 – easy, rolling, mildly long; 1% trail; Level 2 – long, rolling with some steep stretches; 10% trail, Level 3 – mildly difficult, long and lots of steep stretches; 20% trail; Level 4 – difficult, long and steep stretches; 40% trail; Level 5 -very difficult, long and lots of steep stretches; 60% trail. Please do note that the grading system is applicable for the project only, set by its exploration team. The remaining % of trail refers to pave or unpaved roads.
Based on Egurrola’s account, hiking the CHT will be like walking into the beautiful – most of it unseen and rugged terrain of Cebu, once in a while the view of the ocean, passing by indigenous plants, mountain flowers, encountering rare wildlife and immersing in the rich culture of the upland communities.
For those who are fond of snakes, he mentioned sightings of Banded Krait (Udto-Udto), Cobra (common Dupong), Pit Vipers (Hanlulukay) and the Philippine King Cobra (Banacon). The presence of snakes and other wildlife poses a hazard to hikers aside from opportunistic individuals thus hiking the CHT does not only require training but cautiousness. He further assures that leeches or limatiks are almost non-existent.
Egurolla forewarns that the trail won’t be perfect and would be raw just like the APT and PCT in its early years. Polishing the trail would rest on the shoulders of those who will follow the footsteps of its trailblazers. In this, he plans to involve local outdoor clubs and assign each to maintain and refine their assigned segment.
Already at 63% of the target trail length and five years from that sunny day in February, Egurrola is hopeful and upbeat that the CHT will be able to welcome its first visitors in the early months of 2017.
The Man Behind The Trail
Sir Jing, as most of his students calls him, is a bushcraft and survival advocate and practitioner. He organizes activities or do lectures to impart the old age practice of surviving in the wilderness with minimal gear. His lectures which includes practical application of nocturnal hunting, bushcraft cooking, traditional and night navigation, survival tool-making, trailcraft, firecraft, plant identification and uses, how to set up snares and traps, shelter, map reading, outdoors leadership and other skills related to tropical bushcraft and survival.
Trained in Single Rope Technique, First Aid, Land and Jungle Survival and Navigation (with the AFP), Search and Rescue among others, the soft-spoken Cebuano is considered by Ramon Jorge of CLIMBER as his mentor and father. He says that it was through Egurrola that he was able to discover his true calling for the outdoors.
“He is a very humble man yet full of wisdom. He always encourage his students to put their best foot forward” Says Ramon Jorge of Sir Jing.
Barely receiving local support, Egurrola embarked on the CHT project together with several members of Camp Red, a bushcraft and survival guild which Egurrola founded in 2010. Camp Red members are known for their survival and bushcraft skills in the tropics who can subsist on bread or water and edible plants and fruits. They consider a reliable bushcraft blade as their best friend.
“I prefer Camp Red members (but not necessarily) because of their flexibility to adopt and improvise to situations because they are trained”
In the early months of 2015, he trained a CHT exploration team military style and named it as Eagle One and Eagle Base. Eagle One is the trailblazing unit while the later serves as the support team who provides communication, weather updates and could mobilize during search and rescue if needed.
An ambitious idea which had been dumped by its original thinkers, Egurrola vows to finish the CHT even with the lack of support and funding.
The idea was originally hatched by Judge Meinrado Paredes and Atty. Al Jovellar in 1996 with a goal of finishing it by 1998, however the project did not see an end due to some unforeseen circumstances.
“It is not only following the dream of my friend and mentor but of everybody. The dream to walk all the mountains of the entire length of Cebu from North to south”
However, he admits that the undertaking is difficult. “I do not have the fund to run a full-scale exploration. If I had, I would have finished this in a year”
Asked what were the challenges he encountered, he said with a laugh “I had to deal with the upland communities, asking permission for the trail to pass by their ancestral lands and sometimes there is a need to explain to them about the trail and gears. One time, I had to explain what a tarp is, show them how it looks like and what its uses. While on other times, I have to show the baranggay captains the approval letter from the local government or a text message to prove the legality of the activity”
In the span of five years, some individuals and business owners answered his plea for support and contributed equipment, gears and even food for the exploration team.
To date, among the contributors includes Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos and Native Delicacies, Silangan Outdoor Equipment, Tactical Security Agency, Bakhawan Beach Home, GV Hotels Philippines and private individuals.
“It (the support) keeps us going” he said with a smile during the Basic Wilderness Course sponsored by CLIMBER’s where we spent an hour talking about the project. The excitement in his eyes could not be hidden and the passion in his voice is enough to blaze any trail.
Climb fees and other government fees are yet to be established by the local authorities once the CHT is finished. We will update you readers once information is available.
Leave your mark on Cebu Highlands Trail (CHT) by supporting the exploration team by sharing this post, sending an encouraging message to the exploration team or by giving monetary support or gears they can use to finish Segment VI to VIII. You can contact Sir Jing Lavilles de Egurrola at 0917 203 5101 and 0933 322 5005 or drop me a message at my facebook inbox or at firstname.lastname@example.org. To check updates about the CHT, you can visit Cebu Highlands Trail Project, their official Facebook page.
You can also read Sir Jing’s accounts of the exploration and his other musings at Warrior Pilgrimage.
Lastly, my utmost gratitude for entrusting this story to me Sir Jing. I hope I would be one of the first to trek even one of your easiest segments when it opens to the public.