The Cradle of Bicolandia – Mt. Isarog (1966+)

MT. ISAROG (VIA PANICUASON TRAIL)
Naga City, Camarines Sur

Major jump-off: Brgy. Panicuason, Naga City
LLA: 13°40′ N, 123°21′ E, 1966 MASL
Days requires / Hours to summit: 2 days / 8-10 hours
Specs: Major climb, Difficulty 5/9, Trail class 3
(www.pinoymountaineer.com)

At the geographic center of the Camarines Sur province lies the last tropical rain forest of the Bicol Region. Mt. Isarog, is a potentially active stratovolcano at the northwest of the Bicol Peninsula. A biodiversity like no other, this is dubbed as the Vulcan De Agua, whose last eruption was in 1641, it supplies clean potable water to 15 of 31 municipalities through its 16 major river systems. Any Bicol trip wouldn’t be complete without having a glimpse of this solitary giant.

But what lies inside its crater is the question, there are numerous posts of how the volcanic crater looks like and that’s what made us more curious to explore it up to the summit and see it before our own eyes.



Malabsay Falls

After our visit at the Mercedes Islands in Camarines Norte, we traveled for two hours to reach Naga City by UV Express vans in Daet that passes through scenic mountain passes and natural parks. Upon arrival in Naga around 1:00pm, we had a final supply run and also had our lunch. Panicuason and Carolina bound jeeps are found at the public market near the Oragon landmark. Since the Panicuason trip will be leaving after an hour, we took the Carolina bound jeep that fills up faster than the latter (20php/pax). The trip took 15 minutes and upon arrival we transferred to habal-habal motorcycles (70php/pax) that took us to the jump-off point at the foot of Mt. Isarog.

There was a registration booth at the entrance gate since it was a holy week and a lot of people have been visiting the Malabsay Falls. We first registered (210php/pax) and while waiting for our guide (550php/day/5pax), we visited Malabsay Falls which is around 300 steps going down the catch basin.

One of the many waterfalls in the vicinity of the Mt. Isarog Natural Park, Malabsay Falls exudes a lot of power as its water gushes down from hundreds of feet down to its catch basin. Its roar is even heard from the entrance gate. The falls is a refreshing sidetrip before or after the ascent to the verdant mountain.



Tales of the Banayad

Panicuason Trail is the most commonly taken route by hikers but aside from this, there is also the Patag-Patag Trail that starts in Consocep Base Camp, Tigaon, Camarines Sur. Canyoning is also becoming a Mt. Isarog staple, numerous waterfalls, sulfur springs, hotspringsas well as Japanese tunnels and caverns are sights to behold that adds up mystery to the mountain’s character.

By 3:00pm we started our trek. The trail to camp 1 was a gradual ascent through tropical trees and lush forest floor. Nabontolan Falls which is an hour away from Camp 1 can also be a rewarding side trip. We reached Camp 1 after an hour and a half. With full packs, and increasing inclination, we continued.

The trail leading to camp 2 through its verdant rain forest is made up of mostly assault ones and flat parts are little to none. Our guide said that somewhere between Camps 2 and 3 is where the “Banayad” trail is. Around 5:30pm we have reached Camp 2, an hour after the 1st camp. Thinking we could reach Camp 4 by nightfall (since next parts will be not steeper than the latter as what our guide said) we resumed with the trek. But, the trail now involves some scrambling  before rocks and tree roots and even steeper assaults than the first two camps. We were on all fours, our back packs weighed a little heavier as we moved on.  It continued for an hour until we reached Camp 3 by 6:30pm. The sun had finally set into the horizon and the night finally settled in,  whatever happened to the Banayad part was purely fiction, we hardly felt it at the least. The group being tired from the island hopping in the morning and the climb this afternoon, finally settled in and decided to spend the night at Camp 3, and commence for an early morning assault the following day.

The campsite doesn’t have enough space for tents to lay on flat surfaces so some of us had our tents in inclined parts. Still no sign of the Banayad (read: susmaryosep). After having our dinner, we immediately slept and as the night got deeper, the temperature dropped like crazy and by 3:00am the following day, we got up and prepared for the steep assault to the crater viewdeck.

Craters, Ridges, Clouds and Clearing

We resumed by 3:30am, the surrounding still pitch black, fog creeping slowly through the woods and sounds of the nocturnal animals are all around. We reached Camp 4 by 4:00am and the environment shifted from the normal verdant forest to the mossy paradise Isarog is known for. Another interesting sight is that almost 1300 species of flora and 150+ species of fauna including endemic ones have found refuge in this mountain amid the detrimental changes. Orchids hang everywhere by the hardwood trees thick in moss and liverworts.

After several head blows from tree branches and a few slips from mossy trunks, finally, we have reached Camp 5 or the crater view deck of Mt.Isarog! A total of 5.5 hours, and it was 5:30am and there was nothing to see. Most of the mountaineers we encountered on the trail said that there was no clearing that day, and even our guides told us that with the way the weather is that day, there is a little chance that the crater will appear.

After an hour, still no hint of clouds waking up from their deep slumber. But, as we are about to descend back to the campsite, the unexpected happened that made us froze from our awkward positions above the trees at the summit viewdeck.

The dome at the center of the crater started to show up, with the clouds rising above the ridges of the caldera.

It was a welcome sight and after a few minutes, everything cleared all at once.
The challenging hike and the time we spent to come here all paid off, not just break-even but much much greater than what we expected.

The crater was teeming with life, as it surrounds the dome at the center that looks like a little mountain inside a larger one. Mt. Mayon, rises formidably in the south, with Mt. Masaraga and Mt. Malinao in the foreground. The Bicol peninsula, Aguirangan Island, Lagonoy Gulf and the surrounding towns of Camarines Sur are also seen.

But all good things must come to an end, it was brief 15 minute encounter with the hidden gem of Mt. Isarog. The clouds again slowly swooped down from the ridges down to the bottom, encircling the dome in fashionable manner as it slowly hugs and devours the whole scene into pure white and void. We then played monkeys as we tried to reach the highest branches of the trees to take a good look of Naga City a little above 1966 meters above sea level.

We descended back to our campsite by 7:50am and got back to our campsite after an hour. We then had breakfast before the long descent to the main gate.

Dozed off a little before we broke camp, and by 11:00am, we started out trek down. The trail was more amazing as the bright sun illuminated the highest boughs of the trees, and as it radiated warmth through the forest floor. Everything was a sight to behold, ants of every color roam the floor, varieties of insects crawl everywhere. We reached the jump-off point by 12:30pm.


Next in the Niche:

Dios Mabalos! – Naga City



Budget and Itinerary:

Camarines Norte-Sur
Three (3) days – Two (2) Nights Itinerary

Day 0
2045 Bus to Daet, Camarines Norte via Superlines (515php/pax)

Day 01

0900  – Arrival at Paracale, Cam Norte (longer travel time, holy wednesday, average travel time 8-9hrs)
0930  – Early Lunch, tricycle to Labo (150php/trip)
1130  – Arrival at Labo, Camarines Norte, ride jeep to Daet (10php/pax)
1200  – Arrival at Daet, Camarines Norte, transfer to jeep to Mercedes Port (15php)
1220  – Mercedes Port, hire boat for island hopping, haggle (3000 overnight/5pax)
1300  – Start Island Hopping (Apuao Pequeña-Apuao Grande-Canton-Quinapaguian-Malasugui-Caringo)
1600  – Arrival at Caringo Island, set up camp
2000  – Socials
2200  – Lights off

Day 02

0500  – Wake up
0600  – Break camp
0700  – Boat ride to Canimog Island
0720  – Arrival at Canimog Island
0840  – Depart back to port
0900  – Mercedes Port, take jeep back to Daet (15php/pax)
1000  – Daet Central Terminal

1100  – Take Van bound to Naga (180php/pax)
1300  – Arrival at Naga City, lunch, supply run
1400  – Take jeep to Brgy. Carolina (20php/pax), alternate route take jeep to Panicuason, alight at GSP, 15mins walk toMt. Isarog Natural Park
1415  – Brgy. Carolina, take habal-habal to Mt. Isarog Registration Gate (70php/pax)
1430  – Arrival at Mt. Isarog Natural Park, register (210php/pax), secure guide (550php/day/5pax)
1440  – Visit Malabsay Falls, return back to gate
1500  – Start trek
1630  – Camp 1
1730  – Camp 2
1830  – Camp 3, set up camp, dinner
2100  – Lights off

Day 3

0300  – Wake up, breakfast
0330  – Final assault to summit viewdeck
0400  – Camp 4
0530  – Camp 5, summit viewdeck
0750  – Descend back
0900  – Camp 3, camp out, snacks
1100  – Descend back to jumpoff point
1115  – Camp 2
1145  – Camp 1
1230  – Jumpoff point
1300  – Ride habal-habal to Peñafrancia Resort, tidy up (70php/pax – Habal, 100php/pax – Entrance Fee)
1400  – Take jeep back to Naga (20php)
1420  – Arrival at Naga City, lunch, explore downtown Naga, buy souvenirs
1700  – Take tricycle to LCC Naga Terminal (10php/pax)
1715  – Ride van bound for Daet, Camarines Norte (180php/pax) (we reserved tickets at Superlines Daet to secure bus trip, Cubao buses also available at Naga)
1900  – Daet, explore town proper, dinner
2145  – Ride bus back to Cubao (515php)

Day 4
0700  – Back to Manila

Budget: 2500php safe budget for 4pax

Notes:

● Permit to climb is mandatory to all mountaineers who wishes to climb Mt. Isarog. One can secure a permit at the Tourism Office of Naga City. Alternately, permits can also be pre-arranged by the Kaddlagan Outdoor Shop and Naga X who organizes climbs and canyoneering activities at Mt. Isarog

● Permit to climb can also be secured at the DENR station at the jump-off point but is not an encouraged practice, since delay in itinerary will be prevalent and inconsiderate to the tourism officers who will be arranging the permits and guides

● Contacts:
Guide: Kuya Jose (+639096844528)
Kuya Victor, Habal-Habal: (+639151387475)
Kaddlagan Outdoor Shop (Naga):Jojo Villareal (+639198006299)

● Limatik/Leeches are present in the trail most specially during the monsoon months

● We only encountered one (1) water source along the trail, that is Camp 4

● Prepare necessary provisions prior to the climb, be responsible and practice LNT principles



You’ll miss the best things when you keep your eyes closed.
– Dr. Seuss


Go, Carve That Niche,

Rex


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