Jul 8, 2020

The Climb to the highest peak in Palawan, Philippines: Guide to Ultimate Mt. Mantalingahan Traverse

It is a hiker’s dream to climb the highest peak in Palawan, the mountain of the Gods and a protected landscape of “high universal value” – the Mt. Mantalingahan. Its true summit stands proud at 2,085 Meters above Sea Level (MaSL) and scaling its first peak seems impossible until it is done. Through the Wild Expeditions Palawan, our team of six, together with the local guides from Rizal, scaled this biodiverse and breathtaking treasure dubbed as one of the hardest mountains to climb in the Philippines – read our story.

It is a hiker’s dream to climb the highest peak in Palawan, the mountain of the Gods and a protected landscape of “high universal value” – the Mt. Mantalingahan. Its true summit stands proud at 2,085 Meters above Sea Level (MaSL) and scaling its first peak seems impossible until it is done. Through the Wild Expeditions Palawan, our team of six, together with the local guides from Rizal, scaled this biodiverse and breathtaking treasure dubbed as one of the hardest mountains to climb in the Philippines – read our story.

Our Manta Story, Your Future Guide 

Day 0 – Our team only met and decided to pursue this climb a night before our travel to Ransang, Rizal, Palawan – the jump-off for these 4 days, 4 nights hike. Having workstations from different parts of the province, this is the only time for us to meet and discuss with the Wild Expeditions Palawan and prepare for food, shelter, guides and other necessities. Sans tour lead, our group began our day zero by traveling for three hours from Puerto Puerto Princesa to the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL) office in Quezon, Palawan where we registered and got a permit for the climb, was briefed and inspected. Quezon is also where we bought all our food and supplies.

Our team during the inspection outside the MMPL Office at Quezon, Palawan

We then pushed to Rizal and passed by their Tourism Office, Philippine National Police Station, the Barangay Ransang and the CAFGU Headquarters before walking for a kilometer to the sleepy little village of friendly Palawans – Balen-balen. Upon arrival at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, our team then set up our hammocks inside a small receiving hall and pre-cooked our food by boiling it in water, salt and vinegar; bought local vegetables and finalized our supplies to ensure that it will last until the end of day 4. We then capped our tiring day 0 with a refreshing bath and the view of a milky way seemingly saying that it’s going to be okay, I guess, for the next four days.

Day 1 – I don’t really like waking up to a blaring alarm clock in the morning, it just jolts me up without warning, ruining my ideal gradual “wake-up” routine but I guess I have to live with it in the next four days for “Manta” is a long endless arduous up and downhill struggle, they say. We started preparing our breakfast and packed lunch, and repacked all our personal stuff and supplies at 4 o’clock in the morning until the rays of the sun broke behind the mountains within the range. At 8 o’clock, with the sunshine already so bright, our team composed of Ate Ems, Eboy, Wayne, MV, Ferds, Kuya Binoy, Rodel and I, left the village with a hopeful “take cares” and quite worrisome “It’s a long walk ahead” from the residents.

Our team, hopeful and quite worried before leaving Balen-balen, Ransang, Rizal

Manta is harsh and unapologetic – the first hour is a walk in the hot plains, the next two is a continuous uphill climb to the view deck. Never had I ever gave up in my previous climbs, but the trek during the first hours, with the weight of my bag and the heat of the sun, almost made me cry and gave up. Manta is a game of mental and physical preparedness and light packing. I thought my weeks of quick uphill walks is enough, but it never was. Our team arrived at view deck at 10:30 AM, our first stop; there I learned that almost all of us struggled.

Ate Ems and I posing for a picture at the view deck as if nothing happened

We then decided to add another porter to lessen the weight of our bags, I removed my liquids and left only what I need before the next water source. We then pushed to Bulldog, where we were joined by our additional porter, Tatan; took our lunch and had a short nap. At 1:30, we entered the forest and aimed for Cabugen through large looming ferns, surreal blue-colored berries, slippery rocks, muddy trails, mushrooms which we picked for dinner, emergency campsite called gamot and endemic Santan or bright orange and white. We reached Baluin campsite by 4:30 in the afternoon and decided to spend the night there instead of pushing to Cabugen – again, the stars shone brightly together the fireflies that night. It’s quiet colder, the crickets are louder and we slept soundly hoping to regenerate our strength for our hike up Manta’s high camp – Paray-paray.

Day 2 – Not reaching Cabugen means an additional two hours to our supposed eight-hour scheduled ascent to Paray-paray. Ferds was not feeling well that day – and everyone is plagued with the fear of him getting malaria, nobody knows how long the incubation period is (google now says it’s 7 to 40 days!). Nevertheless, with his assurance, our team began our assault at 7: 30 in the morning right after breakfast, break camp and a prayer – never did we begin our hike without prayer and never did it ever fail us. We then smoothly trekked through a muddy forest path and reached Cabugen by 9:30.

Wayne at Cabugen with a lush mountain at the background

Upon refilling our containers with water that will last for eight hours, we then pushed to Kawayanan and took our early lunch there.

Two Palawan tribe members joined us to sell their handicrafts.

Handicrafts sold by the tribe members dwelling at the mountains

After a quick nap and at the onset of the afternoon Manta rain, we began the grueling unlimited assault to our next stop. It was just a friendly drizzle at first, just what we need to cool us from the heat – but then torrential rain poured down without mercy, drenching us and our bags for hours. Ate Ems, Wayne and I went ahead of the group with Kuya Binoy while MV and Eboy waited for Ferds behind with the guide. We pushed ourselves up through the protruding roots and ravines, stepping onto sharp rocks, occasionally singing to ease ourselves tiredness.

Quick stop at 1,400 MaSL, one hour before the high camp

The rocks seem to grow bigger and bigger and the trees smaller and smaller with each step – a sign that we’re gaining elevation, and after four hours, past bright yellow ground orchids, we reached Paray-paray at 4:30 in the afternoon – exhausted, thankful and quite energized. That night, refreshed from an afternoon bath from the small cascade with a mesmerizing sunset view, our team happily shared a warm meal, a shot of gin and occasional laughter brought by the resident shrew and fell into a cold restful slumber – all praying for Ferds’ recovery and a clearing at the peak in the morrow.

Day 3 – our morning was greeted with the best news we could ever hope for, Ferds was feeling well and strong. Upon preparing for our supplies, we begin for another two hours of assault to the peak. Daylight broke with oranges and vermilions, peeking through the crest.

MV at the top of one of the knife-edged trail on the way to the summit

Undisturbed mossy forest, small bamboo-like grasses, dwarfen sturdy trees, and sharp-edged rocks dot the trail.

Ate Ems amazed by the mossy forest along the trail to the summit

Reaching the peak of Mt. Mantalingahan is a personal triumph for me, it is a stepping-stone and bucket list checked in one – this is my last of the Palawan mountaineering trilogy. …And just before the remnants of the sunrise disappeared into the horizon, our team, teary-eyed, excited, thankful and proud, reaching the most breathtaking summit I had ever seen to date – the rooftop of Palawan, the mountain of the Gods – the Mt. Mantalingahan.

The first peak of Mt. Mantalingahan with the view true summit bathed in sunshine
Our team at the summit

We were granted an early morning clearing just as we prayed and this gifted us with the 360-degree view of Palawan from the West Philippine Sea to the Sulu Sea. The jagged crest of the true summit bathed in sunbeams seems to invite us to return and climb again. The plains of Brooke’s Point and Rizal promise bountiful season harvest in the east while the fog concealing the heart-shaped valley, the home of Tau’t bato tribe down south, ignites an idea of somewhere unknown, yet to be discovered. The rest are of an endless picture of magnificence, isolation, silence, strength, and vulnerability – something to look up to, experience and protect.

 

Ferds, enjoying the summit (lit!) and Eboy with the Wild Expeditions Palawan banner
Trekking down to Paray-paray before the fog settles in
Ate Ems walking far ahead of the group back to the campsite while the fog envelopes the mountain

When the fog started spreading after having a quick breakfast at the summit, our team then descended back to the campsite and had lunch and a quick nap. At 1:30 in the afternoon, we started our technical rainy trek down to Pisa-pisa, our next campsite. We passed yet another wet, mossy, rocky mountain edge and a small upland stream where we replenished our water supply and cleaned up for the night – this source is the nearest to the last campsite (30 minutes) and the next one is 12 hours away, we made sure to have enough water to last us for a day.

Upon setting up the camp and dinner, exhausted and sleepy, our team retired into an early and uncomfortably cold night.

Foggy Pisa-pisa camp site

Day 4 – We were supposed to leave the campsite at 6 o’clock in the morning but because we need to make sure that everyone had breakfast, everything is complete, properly packed and clean, we left Pisa-pisa at 7:30. We trekked up and down incessantly in the rain, fog and afternoon heat for 10 hours past Lapong, Tagringgit, and upland farms, occasionally resting to replenish our energy and bumping into Palawan’s trekking to their homes in the heart of the mountains.

Bumping into the locales

We reached Cupang, the first community with the water source after the campsite, at 4:30 in the afternoon. Malis, our goal for the day to finally say that we survived Manta, seem to be at our grasp. But we were met with yet another steep descent for 1 hour and 30 minutes before we reached the plains after dark – feet bruised and knees shaking, we arrived the highway in Malis, Brooke’s Point at 7:00 in the evening – all safe, sans injury or broken bone, thankful, fulfilled, and quite awe-struck of the four tough blurry days.

The team upon reaching the National Highway in Malis, Brooke’s Point

To ensure that the hike is completed and the concerned agencies were notified, we proceeded to the barangay hall to log, and coordinated with the PNP and CAFGU to report. Barangay Captain Singhe Onsing of Malis warmly welcomed us, provided us water to freshen-up, and offered the hall for us to spend another night since no public vehicles are traveling back to Puerto Princesa City after 6 o’clock in the evening. We then cooked the last of our food supplies; some had a drink with our awesome local guides, and finally slept soundly, again, due to the long arduous day.

Suggested Itinerary for the Ultimate Mt. Mantalingahan Traverse

Time Route and remarks
Day 0
8:00 to 10:00 AM Travel from Puerto Princesa City via hired vehicle (PHP 7,000)

–          The hired vehicle is preferable to commuting because registration to several offices is required

10:00 to 11:30 AM Arrive at MMPL Office at DENR Quezon, Palawan for registration and permitting

–          Pay PHP 250 each, get a short briefing and have your bags inspected (liquor and gambling stuff are not allowed)

–          Hikers are reminded to register 5 days prior to the hike and coordinate early if the hike is during peak season. Only a small number of hikers are allowed to hike simultaneously

11:30 to 12:30 NN Buy all supplies (except butane – this should be bought in Puerto Princesa City)

–          Prepare a meal plan (coordinate with the entire team including the guides for food restriction and preferences)

–          Cash basis; no beef on weekdays

12:30 to 2:00 PM Travel to Municipal hall of Rizal, Palawan
2:00 to 3:00 PM Get permit at Rizal Tourism Office, pay PHP 150 at Treasurer’s Office, log at PNP (bring a valid ID) and travel to Ransang
3:00 to 4:00 PM Register and get permit at Ransang, pay PHP 50 and provide all necessary documents

Travel to Balen-balen (you might walk if the road is impassable), provide the documents to your guide

4:00 PM onwards Freshen up, pre-cook all fresh food supplies, prepare for dinner, inventory all materials to make last-minute purchases, dinner, lights-off
Day 1
7:00  to 9:00 AM Balen-balen to View deck
9:30 to 11:30 AM View deck to Bulldog (lunch)
12:30 to 4:30 PM Bulldog to Baluin (you may proceed to Cabugen or Kawayan if you are fast)
Day 2
7:00 to 11:00 AM Baluin to Kawayan via Cabugen, lunch (make sure to refill your water in Kawayan or Cabugen, the next water source is in Paray-paray)
12:00 NN to 4:30 PM Kawayan to Paray-paray
Day 3
4:30 to 6:30 AM Paray-paray to Mt. Mantalingahan Summit (or earlier if you want to witness the sunrise)
9:30 to 11:00 AM Summit to Paray-paray, lunch
1:30 to 4:30 PM Paray-paray to Pisa-pisa
Day 4
7:30 to 11:30 AM Pisa-pisa to Tagringgit
12:00 NN to 4:30 PM Tagringgit to Cupang
5:00 to 7:00 Cupang to Malis, Brookspoint

–          Log at Malis Barangay Hall, end of mt. Mantalingajan Tra

Budget requirements (for six hikers)

Registration – PHP 450 each

Transportation (Hired van from PPC to Rizal and van commute from Rizal to PPC – PHP 1,500 each

Food – PHP 700 each

Guide and porter fee (3 guides for 4 days plus their fare back to Rizal) – PHP 1,750

TOTAL – PHP 4,400 per hiker

Important Reminders

Prepare – mental and physical preparation is necessary if you want to scale Manta. Train your heart, knees and legs, hike up and downstairs with at least 8 kilos of load. Try other lower mountains and experience over-night camping at high elevation to get the feel of how it is in situations and camps such as this. Boost your immune system; you cannot afford to get sick in conditions such as this. Bring and apply insect repellent every day or if necessary, malaria prophylaxis is also an option. Read blogs and watch vlogs to initially have an idea about the trail. Never underestimate the mountain, bear in mind that Manta has a difficulty level of 9/9.

Mindful Personal Loading – pack light but make sure you have all the necessary survival stuff. Do not think that your fellow hikers will prepare and carry your supplies for you. Bring medicine for fever, loose bowel movement, pain, and your personal meds. Girls, we can take ferrous sulfate if, by so many chances, the universe decided to let us have our period during the hike – I found this very helpful (Thank you, Ate Ems). Manta is cold – make sure to pack a thick jacket, bonnet, extra socks, sleeping bag, thermal blankets – tent is preferable but the hammock is lighter. Bring a 20,000 mAh power bank and make sure that you have water containers that could store up to four liters of liquid. Take light easy dry clothing – you will have a chance to take a bath in all campsites. Bring slippers, personal toiletries, head or flashlight, energy-packed trail food (e.g. energy balls, banana cake, berries, raisins, chocolates, others) and waterproof everything.

Food and camping – Before travelling to Quezon, make sure that your team have all the necessary supplies such as  food good for five nights and four days for the hikers and local guides, first aid kit, cook sets, stove, butane, chopping board, lantern, cooking utensils, knives, environmental friendly dishwashing stuff, tarpaulin for the common kitchen, fire starters (in case), radio, extra ropes, food containers for packed lunch, and trash bag, etc). You can also google other camping necessities.

Other notes – Make sure to check the weather before the hike and decide accordingly. Bring extra money to buy handicrafts from the locals. Pre-coordinate with your guide – we recommend Binoy Lumpon (+639308624828). Adhere to MMPL, LGU, PNP, CAFGU, and your local guides’ advice. Respect local culture and beliefs. Observe Leave No Trace at all times and hike with your best buddies – you’ll have the best climb you can ever wish for – thank you,  Ate Ems, MV, Ferds, Eboy, Wayne and Wild Expeditions Palawan! Do you want to hike more destinations in Palawan? Click here!

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