Cebu Soon to be a Mecca for Hikers

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.

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Wild Raspberry or Sampinit, an edible wild fruit that can be found along the CHT (c) Justin Apurado

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.

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Improvised bridge on a part of the trails (c) Jing Egurrola

“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.

Table 1
*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.

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Beautiful ridges (c) Justin Apurado

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.

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A child in one of the upland communities (c) Justin Apurado

The Man Behind The Trail

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The man himself, Jing Lavilles de Egurrola

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.

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(c) Justin Apurado

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.

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Pine trees line a part of the trail on CHT (c) Jing Lavilles de Egurrola

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”

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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.

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Justin Apurado taking a nap during one of their exploration activities (c) Jing Lavilles de Egurrola

******

Author’s Note:

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 phmountainstories@gmail.com. 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.

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29 thoughts on “Cebu Soon to be a Mecca for Hikers

  1. What a great write-up Ms. Ven which even I could not conceptualize. Thank you very much for your support. I wished you have a specialized logo which I aim to include in all my pronouncements. Just the same I will mention Mountain Stories on the same length and breadth as all the other sponsors. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was my honor Sir Jing to write this for you and for the rest of the exploration team! I support you all the way, I hope thru this, I was able to help in my own small way.

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  2. Great insights on this Ven. I know the CHT is quiet an ambitious and arduous undertaking but the presence of the exploration team is already a plus factor on this. I have known Sir Jing for quiet sometime now and I still find it interesting to learn more skills at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just hope that the Queen City of the South will not be congested with corporate backpackers in the near future. We still have pristine areas that we need to conserve and preserve for the next generations to enjoy. True, it is a very big responsibility for us Cebuanos to take care of our natural playground. Cebu still has a lot to offer and when this trail opens, I hope the mountaineering consciousness will be instilled into the hearts and minds of the outdoor enthusiasts here and the neighboring provinces in the Visayas area. Hope you can come here and stay for a week. Hope you can also join the Camp Red family in one of their weekend hikes too. 🙂

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    1. Thanks mam Jean for the kind words. I’m sure Sir Jing will help on the establishment of the necessary policies to maintain the trail. I guess since we are promoting Cebu in general, the influx of backpackers, tourist and the like is a by-product of this endeavor but I strongly believe Cebu will be up to the task!

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      1. Yes I understand. There is really no harm in promoting Cebu however, we must bear in mind that in every endeavor, LNT should be considered. The outdoors had suffered so much and it needs time to heal. CEBUs highlands are vulnerable to being plundered by corporate backpackers at present and different ideas sometimes don’t compliment each other. Honestly, I am worried that too much social media will have its toll on our natural playgrounds here. More than ever, I hope to preserve what is left of our resources. I know I am guilty of posting too much online but as long as there is still a flicker of hope, I know I can undo it. It is more enjoyable to be on the safe side always.

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      2. Let me reply on a point per point.
        1. Cebu is growing and had been becoming a business hub with or without the CHT. The CHT was trail blazed with the intention of encouraging Cebuanos to hike their own patch of land, enjoy nature and seeing that beauty might encourage them to protect it (see Justin Apurado’s share of his experience on the blog)
        2. In establishing the trail, Cebu might be able to protect its resources. When it becomes a trail like the PCT or APT, the chances that the mountain ranges where the CHT traverses might be declared as Natural Parks (this is just a positive forecast on my part).
        3. LNT is a core principle of every mountaineer/trekker and its practice rest is on our shoulders who are familiar with it. Let us help educate others who don’t by our social media post, leading by example and verbal instruction. Policies and how the trail will be managed is not yet final as of writing. Once the trail is finished by this year, we will make a follow-up story.

        I hope we can welcome this trail with it’s positive intentions.

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  4. I wish I had your tenacity in extracting so much valuable info from Sir Jing in such a short time. Haha. I had a list of serious questions, about blades, mauling a bear and starting fire from just the wind but I ended up gossiping the man. -evil grin-

    Nice write-up! Keep it up!

    Watch your six,
    Robbie

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    1. Thanks Sir Robbie. I did pester him for sometime. Been itching to publish this story before the end of January but been stuck up with work. Thank you. Please share baka may gustong sumuporta from your circle of connections for the last segments to finished.. Happy trails, hope to walk a trail with you in the future!

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  5. Hope this trail wont be abused by money-makers trail running organizers. . . For sure a lot will try this trail once open, and for sure trash will be everywhere. People from different brgy will use this opportunity to collect a lot of fees, open stores along the trail, etc etc. . Smh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sir Jet for sharing your fears. may we take trail running in general as a sport like mountain climbing or mountaineering. Reality wise this will help the people of the upland communities in many ways. I hope we can open up our minds and be excited of the positive possibilities this trail will bring to their lives (see photo on post).

      I am not negating the negative effects but with the right policies and implementation of it, the negative impact can be reduced. The thinkers may already have them and as the trail develops, we as mountaineers can contribute to its betterment. Half the responsibility rest on the shoulders of those who will be hiking those trails (include me). May we welcome the CHT with the trailblazers good intentions.

      happy trails Sir Jet!

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  6. exploring the unexplored and leaving a trail.. nice discovery, soon people will flock here like Osmena peak, there’s no stopping. we just keep in mind as backpackers/hikers we love nature and we want it preserved that way 😉

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