Mt. Bulusan: What’s the latest?
I’ve been meaning to write about Mt. Bulusan ever since I did my first ascent here way back December 2014 but most of my drafts were just a short write up about the preparations and other stuff but I got busy organizing events and doing office reports. I don’t know what happen but my schedules got really awry so I guess that’s my reason for not writing anything new plus I found a new inspiration to make my day more worthwhile.
Mt. Bulusan viewed from the campsite (this photo was taken on the second attempt to climb bulusan)
I decided to write about Mt. Bulusan because I’m missing the experience we had the last time we were there. Also, I wanted to write something about what’s the latest in Mt. Bulusan. Well, firstly I can’t organize a climb to this mountain right now though I’ve been missing it a lot because last February 22, 2016 Mt. Bulusan spewed a grayish steam and an ash column reaching 500 meters up up and away. The PHIVOLCS also detected a total of 12 volcanic earthquakes prior to the ash fall. So, no matter how you want to climb Bulusan it is forbidden, the mountain is close at the moment and we can’t do anything about. We’ll just have to wait a little I guess. That’s the latest.
photo credits to EPA
Bulusan Experience (The first attempt)
My very first attempt to climb the summit of Mt. Bulusan was on Dec 27-28, 2014. I was invited by a fellow Bicolano mountaineers from Magallanes, Sorsogon to try it. They don’t have a group or a name just a cool dudes who just wanted to climb mountains. Anyway here’s the thing I have just met these folks from my last climb in Mt. Ugo and they’re a bunch of happy dudes along the trail. I heard them talking in vernacular that’s when I learned they were from Bicol. I understand them well enough so I tried talking with then and i had to I admit you’ll never run out of laughter when you are with these guys 100% proven. Especially this guy named Jhowa (andaming alam na kalokohan hahaha burarat) he never run out of things to talk to and I bet his mouth is way faster than his footsteps but his eyes are way bigger than his mouth (Am I right Nat, Kris, Eddie Bling and Axyl?) peace man. Namiss ko kayo😀
The Ninja Mawnteneer
It happens after Christmas and since I planned to have my Christmas vacation with my family in Iriga City I decided to give it a go and filled up the registration weeks prior. The whole preparations was made by Jhowa and his group, they made initial arrangement for our hike with Wild Boars Philippines who manage the park (BVNP). I hook up with Nat on Dec 26 and I feel a bit awkward since I don’t really know this dudes but I’m entrusting them my life and for that I’m grateful, I truly am.
Nat fetch me somewhere along Albay since he’s fetching his girlfriend we agreed to just meet there and join them on their way to Magallanes, Sorsogon. We wended through the lengthy road of Albay to Magallanes, Sorsogon passing by the picturesque view of Mt. Mayon and along the way I was a bit shy in fact I just let Nat do most of the talking until we get to their place. We arrived in Magallanes around lunch time with my bulky mountaineering backpack. I was welcomed by the family of Nat with big smiles on their faces, followed by the arrival of other fellow whom I met in Mt. Ugo. They were all very accommodating, they invited me to have lunch and most of all to have a taste of the most delicious suman sa lihiya I have tasted in my entire life. Nat’s mother made it and I can’t thank her enough for her generosity. Tell you what? I will be willing to travel that far again just to experience that suman.
The best Suman sa lihiya
Right after the sumptuous suman sa lihiya snack, Nat and his brother Noah invited me to go to Aplaya and enjoy the afternoon sun. We do a photo-walk and experience the bamboo bridge they always went to as a kid. They truly are an amazing folks. The treat didn’t just end on that afternoon because after dark we went to a small resort owned by their relatives to have another salo-salo meal with their clan. Oh come on!!! This is the best day ever is it not? More food, more fun, more baggage to carry to Mt. Bulusan.
The awesome Balonzo Family
Our call time if I’m not mistaken was 6:00am- 7:00am but unfortunately Jhowa is late hehe. I can’t remember how long. We traveled from Magallanes to Bulusan, approximately 2.5hrs via private car. Time flew very fast and since we are not really into following a desired itinerary I just play along with them whatever comes. Along the way we bought our provisions and made the last minute preparations we also took our lunch somewhere in Bulusan. We arrived at the jump off by noon time and waited for our turn to be examined. We filled up the registration weeks before so our ID was ready on the date of the climb, they took our Blood Pressure and do other physical tests. Sir Philip the Park Manager gives us an orientation at the foot of Bulusan Lake where a replica of the Mt. Bulusan containing its land area and map was located. After the orientation, we’re ready.
Like most people I also get excited when it’s my first time to hike a new mountain, my adrenaline is pumping like there’s no tomorrow and my feet is etching to walk on that trail. Around 1pm we were asked if we wanted to do kayaking or we just go on foot going to the start of the trail. We choose the latter because we decided that will enjoy kayaking the next day. We started the hike and we took the trail on the right side of Bulusan lake, after an hour of continuous assault we’ve reach the Ranger Station with the hexagonal hut (kubo) with an overlooking view of the beach somewhere in Barcelona if I’d heard it right. The trail up to the hut is a bit steep but not as challenging compared to the assault to the summit. We rested around 10 minutes and decided to push again to avoid being in the trail after sunset. We don’t want to hike in the dark with blood leeches along the trail so for your future reference make sure to walk a bit faster to get to the campsite before dark.
The first rest stop
The presence of blood leeches during our hike started from the hexagonal hut (above) and stretches up to the campsite. It’s a three (3) hour hike from the hut to the campsite. Again, if you don’t want to have a bloody legs prepare accordingly and make arrangement with your group to watch your back as you trek up to the campsite. Keep your pace with your group to avoid being bitten by (limatiks) blood leeches more than you can imagine. We make our way to the forest of Mt. Bulusan hearing only the chirping of the birds on our way and the sound of unfamiliar insects singing different tunes that was beautifully coupled with the blowing of the winds upon the tree branches.
From the first hut it was just an easy 1.5 hr flat trek to another rest stop. The second rest stop once had another hut but due to typhoon it was damage and eventually fall apart. Beware at the second rest stop because from my experience there’s more blood leeches in this area than in the first hut. You will reach another hut after 40 minutes of hard ascent and your guide will tell you to have another take five. This is where I documented a limatik leaping from one leaf to another. (I just can’t pull out my video clip from my Iphone)
Though you might be walking in fast pace don’t forget to enjoy and experience your surroundings you might be missing something like this beautiful never before seen flower. A single plant with different color of petals in the center of each flower. Amazing isn’t it? I’ve never seen anything like it.
Here also is another plan called by the locals (payo sa agta) literally translated to head of an Aeta because it looks like the head of an indigenous Aeta with its curly hair (topview without prejudice).
We enjoyed the richness of the environment along the trail in fact we had documented several fruits that we encountered. Most of these fruit are on the ground so no need to ask if we took this fruits from its trees.
It was around 5:00pm when we reached the water source near the campsite. We filled our gallons for our cooking and immediately went to the campsite. It’s a less than 15 minute walk to the campsite so there’s no worrying when you run out of water for cooking, you can just go back our ask your guide politely to fetch it for you. The guides in Mt. Bulusan are superb they are one of the most organized folks I’ve met and their Manager is the coolest guy ever. He was the one who give us an orientation prior to the climb. Given this, I ask you kindly to treat them well with respect. Kudos to Sir Noel our guide who keeps our spirits high with his uncanny jokes along the trail.
Meet Sir Philip Bartilet in Green Shirt (The Park Manager)
The campsite is located at the 2nd lake named Aguingay standing at 940MASL. It has a flat, sandy, established camping ground that could accommodate a large group of mountaineers. Good thing is that the BVNP only allow 20-30 hikers per day It also has a hut larger than the rest huts along the trail. This hut has a built bamboo table for cooking and eating, you can also set up your hammock on the post of the hut. It was originally built for the guides but most mountaineers use it on a first come first serve basis so the guides set their makeshift tent somewhere in the campsite. As for us since we’ve arrived late we didn’t had the luxury to use the hut coz there’s another group who arrived first.
The hut in the campsite
Luckily, the other group were generous enough to let us use the other table for us to cook our dinner. It was a foggy, windy and chilly night that’s why we cook our dinner in the hut instead of putting up a tarp. Our thanks goes to the group of Tintel for the kindness. Thank you!
Group pic with the group of Tintel from Samar before we descend on the 2nd day
I was not really in the mood to join the socials because I am not much of a drinker so instead I used my time to rest and feel the cold of Bulusan. I had a good night sleep and had a good rest that’s why I’m full of vigor the next morning for the summit.
The 2nd Day
We woke up minutes before 6 AM and prepare our breakfast accordingly. It was very foggy and the weather is a bit uncooperative during the night. During the night we hoped to have a good weather the next morning but the weather is unforgiving we didn’t even see the view of Mt. Bulusan from the campsite because of the thick fog that engulfs it.
Anyway, we had no choice but to accept the fact that our chance to have a clearing is next to zero. We were frustrated but we decided to push through for the summit though our guide told us that we might not be able to reach the summit with this kind of weather, the wind at the summit might be very strong according to Sir Noel. With this idea in mind we still think positively we even had a few photo ops in the thick fog before we were invited to do some exercise before the actual assault to the summit.
Exercise before the assault
We commence our assault at around 7:15am, the trail is wet so we had to struggle with the mud. The terrain going to the summit is forested giving us a little protection from the wind and fog. After an hour of arduous ascent we reach the rest hut located near the grassland. The terrain just shifted from forested to grassland. From here, our struggle moved to the next level. The mud is double and the wind tripled. My spirit keep saying that I can do this so I went up to see the grassland but the more I do this the strong the wind gets. Jhowa and Bleng tried to follow me but the strong winds worried them, me too but my desire is even stronger. They reach me at one of the small tree in the grassland waiting for the wind to weaken. I took a short video clip to show how strong the wind.
We had a short talk if we were to proceed or stop Me, Jhowa and Bleng. We didn’t reach a decision so I decided to push myself and hoped that they follow me. My desire to reach the summit is very strong so even though I’m all alone I tried to do it. I learned afterward that some from my group decided to stop at the rest hut and decided to not continue the ascent to the summit.
The Overwhelming Wind to the Summit
I had the glimpse of the rocky portion of the trail meaning I’m almost there according the blogs I have read so I push myself even more. Unluckily, after my solo attempt to reach the summit one guide is shouting from behind and asking me to stop. I looked back and waited for him, he shouts even more because he can’t see me behind the fog. I took some photos while waiting for him to appear but all I can see is the white fog blocking all the view.
Manong Guide battling with the winds
The guide reach me and I asked him if we are near he said assured that we are near, he told me that we are almost at the summit because there were already rocks along the trail meaning the grassland will be overtaken by the rocky portion once you are near the summit but he told me that we must stop and we must start to descend because the wind at the summit will be formidable it will be stronger than the winds from were we are. I was so frustrated because my struggle will result to a failed attempt. I had an internal battle whether to push through or listen to him. Eventually I thought of my safety and of course the safety of the group so with heavy hearts I decided to climb down with them. After all, Summit is optional, getting home safe is mandatory.
I asked Kuya to took a picture of me at the rock I’m standing to have a souvenir and swore to myself that I will be back (with vengeance haha) and will try again to reach the Summit.
Though we are all frustrated we still manage to put on a smile when we reach Aguingay Lake.
We reach the campsite and we planted trees as mandated by the BVNP. We’ve done our share to protect and conserve Mt. Bulusan and we will definitely come back for more. We had a quick lunch cooked by our guide and we started our descent after breaking camp.
At exactly 2:00PM we are at the jump-off, the park management congratulate us for getting back safe and provided us a certificate of conquest even though we didn’t reach the summit.
After the mandatory photo ops we enjoyed kayaking at the Bulusan Lake for an hour and decided to go to our side trips. (Will post soon for the sidetrips and Itinerary for Mt. Bulusan) For now, I would like to end this entry by Thanking the group who invited me to join their climb. To Jhowa, Nat, Axyl, Kris, and Bleng my heartfelt gratitude for the company and hospitality. I hope to join you again soon!
Watch our for the next post about our second attempt to Summit Mt. Bulusan. (The Triumphant Ascend to the Crater of Mt. Bulusan)
Click the photo to see the album of our 2nd climb to Mt. Bulusan
To give you a bit of history of its last eruption. Well, it happens three weeks after my second climb. It was reported that sporadic explosions have occurred at the volcano starting from May 1, 2015, ejecting small plumes of ash. We climb it last April 3-4, Holy Week of 2015.
Special thanks to BVNP! Your management deserves a great commendation for your efforts to preserve Mt. Bulusan.