Traversing the Ridge of Hell – Mt. Balingkilat

It was early summer (April) when I was invited to join a training climb somewhere in Zambales, Philippines. The event was organized in preparation for one of the most technical and toughest climb in the country (Mt. Guiting Guiting – G2).    

I will be climbing with strangers and I’ve met them all for the first time at Victory Liner Cubao, Quezon City. We started to roll past 7 am and reached Olongapo City before 11 in the morning. We had our early lunch, waste no time then, jumped on our chartered jeepney heading to the Police HQ to secure our climbing permit.

We then drove to Sitio Cawag where we met our mountain guide Kuya Rey. After last minute preparations, we hit the ground around 12:45 pm. The sun was blazing hot as expected as it was noon time. However, everyone was optimistic and I felt great early on.

00
Savoring the shade while it last. It’s going to be a scorching climb.

For the first hour, I’d say it’s a piece of cake. Our only enemy was the flaming sun but the terrain was straightforward. We took a break at Kawayanan and refill our water bladder and bottles. This was the last and only water source which was 6-7 hours from the summit where we set up our camp. The water source near the camp site was nothing but dry as dust.

We resumed hike after 15 minutes and the grueling assault begun.

02
We realized the significance of trees early on. Hopeful that there would be more trees on the trail in a very hot weather.

As we climb higher, the sun got fierce, the small number of trees were out of reach, and the terrain started to get brutal. As much as we want to climb as fast as we could, the heat of the sun and 4-6 liters of water at our back added so much agony. In my case, I had 6 liters. Yes, your read it right, 6 liters of water. You might think that we’re carrying too much water, you’re wrong. In fact, it was not enough. 

Again, the last and only water source was 6-7 hours from the summit (where we set up our camp) and the next water source was 10-12 hours’ traverse (30 minutes away from Anawangin Cove).

03
Taking 5 minutes break alongside the dried, burnt Cogon grass.

We climbed for hours under the livid sun in a very steep and rocky terrain up until we reached halfway from the top. The team decided to take 15 minutes’ break. A well-deserved break after all.

04
Nope, I’m not jumping off this cliff.
06
The steep assault continues.

As the sun fall below the horizon, we advanced towards the summit. We’re climbing non-stop on a very treacherous rocky terrain minus the sun but with headlights on. We finally reached the summit 7 in the evening, pitched our tents, and cooked dinner. The weather during the night was perfect at summit camp. We had a pleasant and restful night.

07
Summit camp. Night and morning shot.

Our day two started with a nippy breezy morning. Getting out of from the comforts of out tents was the best thing ever. Wake-up call was past 4 am, we then prepare our breakfast while all of us were stunned by the perfect weather early morning. The sunrise was splendid and Mr. Sun greeted us with a very warmth expression of tenderness combined with a soothing cold puff.  

08
Meet the team at the summit.

We hit the trail a little late (almost 7am) then the real torment begun. Traversing the ridge looks easy at the summit but it’s the other way around in reality. Climbing and traversing Mt. Balingkilat during summer when the weather was insanely hot was absolutely lethal.

09
The epic ridge taken at the summit. Looks easy, isn’t it? Don’t be fooled.

The first 30 minutes of our journey from the summit was neither easy nor difficult. However, as early as 7 in the morning, we already started to use both hands scrambling on the rocks. Yes, you will be overwhelmed with the rocky ridge. It’s going to be a blazing, rocky long day.

10
This is how we start our traverse. Scrambling on the rocks looks fun but it wasn’t.

We go past St. Benedict’s peak and Emil’s Junction then we trekked non-stop heading towards Mendiola Peak. After hours on the rocky ridge exposed to direct sunlight, the team’s energy was slowly depleting. Mr. Sun was doing a great job in providing us the light during the day however it was too much to handle. We’re literally praying for the clouds to show up, sadly, it turned blind eye on us.

11
The level of difficulty between the descent and ascent are just the same. There’s no easy way.

As soon as we go past Mendiola peak, we swiftly descended towards the little hunter’s hut. I call it little hunters hut since it was obviously small. We can only sit inside or lie down and standing was never an option. We can’t complain at all, why? Because after long hours on the ridge we finally found a place to keep ourselves hidden from the sun. We ate lunch and cherished the moment while there’s a little roof on top of our head.

We resumed our descent after 40 minutes and deal with the unbelievably hot weather again. It was noon time and we felt like we’re inside the oven waiting to get roasted. Few minutes later, we started to hear a loud firecracker bursting sound and it never stopped. We carried on then, we realized that we are indeed traversing the ridge of hell. The mountain was literally burning and we must traverse through the fire. There’s no other way and we can’t turn back either.

12
Traversing through fire.

We all managed to escape from the raging fire by running on the ridge and seek refuge under the tree few minutes later. We deserve to rest after winning the battle between fire and human. Everyone was exhausted and dehydrated. It was past 2 pm yet, the heat of the sun was getting worse.    

13
Smiling faces after surviving the wild fire. Finally found another tree after few hours of descent.

As much as we want to stay a little longer under the shadow of the tree, we must keep our feet moving. We still need to descend few miles all the way down to Anawangin Cove before we can call it a day. The heat of the sun was surely at its hottest. I can feel the hot spell getting into every cell of my torso straight to the bones. We almost run out of water yet, it was a long way down.

14
The look of desperation. Hiding underneath the shadow of a tree.

As we went further, Kuya Rey said wild buffaloes were just around the corner. We should be vigilant and cautious. Wild buffaloes here are known to be aggressive and would gladly attack you any minute. Traces of wild buffaloes are very evident on the trail.

15
A glimpse of Anawangin Cove. Found another spot to halt and breathe fresh air. We’re trying to fit ourselves underneath the teeny tree shadow.

If only we could uproot a tree and take it with us we already did. We must trek 1-2 hours underneath the flaming sun before we get to the next tree, a small tree. Before we  reached the water source most of us we’re already in bad shape, dehydrated, and dead tired. We ran out of water and water source was still couple of hours away. We keep moving until we reached the very steep section (70-80 degrees descent).

This was the most awful and hurtful descent ever. Aside from the loose rocks all the way, dried young bamboos (up to 5-6 feet tall) are all over slapping your face on your way down. There’s also a couple of fake trails to no sign of trail at all while the threat of wild buffaloes was very high.

We’re on the lead and found a nice spot to rest while waiting for the other team members. We then re-group and 3 of us hurriedly went down to the water source to fetch water for our climbing buddies who’s resting 100 meters above. Some of them almost passed out and didn’t want to move anymore because of too much dehydration and exhaustion. That feeling when you’re ready to drop and just give up. Some of them reached that point and just want to give up.     

In addition to the bad news, the aqua in the water source was not potable. Well, it’s like black tea with a very healthy larva in it. The team got no choice but to keep moving towards the cove. It took us a moment to boost the fighting spirit of our climbing buddies. We’re only 30 minutes away from the cove and ice cold drinks are waiting.   

16
Treating ourselves after the epic traverse.

We reached Anawangin Cove few minutes before 4 pm. Then, here comes another bad news. We were told that our chartered boat left already. Great! Instead of pushing the panic button, we enjoyed the beach and just chill. We managed to rent another boat which took us to Pundaquit beach. Huge waves splashed on us yet, everyone seemed to love it.

No time to waste after we washed up. We headed to Olongapo via chartered jeepney and reached the city an hour later. Then, we took Victory Liner Bus going back to Manila.

Final Verdict: If you would ask me if I would do it again. My answer is absolutely, yes. Why? Because of the following reasons; 1) Mt Balingkilat traverse is an excellent training ground in preparation for a more technical climb, 2) the mountain was unique and it has a rare element that allure most of the trekkers/climbers to keep coming back, 3) the view was superb and you’ll end the traverse by soaking yourself in one of the great beaches in the country.


TIPS and TRICKS

  • Be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared especially if you’re planning to do this traverse during summer. Trust me, you will be tested to the edge of your limits.
  • If you’re climbing the mountain during summer time, expect to carry a lot of water. You’ll need it to re-hydrate and for survival. However, during monsoon season water shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Sun screen is a MUST. You will be traversing a very exposed ridge whether it’s summer or monsoon season. Expect a few to no trees on the ridge. You can’t hide from the sun for hours.
  • Bring a visor or cap with you. Keep in mind that you’ll be on the ridge all day long. You need something to protect your head/face from direct heat of the sun.
  • Watch out for wild buffaloes and take it seriously. Listen to your guides if you don’t wish to be one of those who got attacked by these wild mammals.
  • Respect Mother Nature and leave no trash at all cost.

 

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