I've always been facinated with Mt. Batulao, one of the most picturesque mountain in Luzon. Its not hard to climb/trek - a day trek is absolutely possible, and there are plenty of opportunities to snap landscape photos.
(Larger version of the photo above can be viewed here)
My friends and I have been planning a day trek for quite some time but never really materialized due to conflicting schedules, up until last weekend.
The jump off point is just about 2 hours bus ride from Manila, so its feasible to include a sunrise shoot in the itinerary, which we did not because we were too lazy to carry tripods. It was actually a good thing, the sun did not show up until around 8 in the morning. It was a cold and very foggy day and I even thought the heavens will open up and ruin the trek. I heard the trails get really muddy when it rains.
There was a drizzle by the time we started up. We passed through a small village and after a while reached the trail head. It was a narrow line, but clean and well trodden both by trekkers and horses. The sun's up now but the wind is still chilly. Low lying clouds occasionally cover the main peak which we can already see.
One of the good things I like, or began to like, about the trek was that there was no radical elevation change. I'm guessing there not much difference, maybe just a couple hundred meters, between the trail head's elevation and that of the main peak.
The (new) trail is also quite well established and all you have to do is to follow the line that runs along the ridge, and up and down some of the peaks. There are detours as well, as following the trail up some of the peaks can be daunting. Some parts are just a foot wide with a long way down on both sides, not very fun for those prone to vertigo.
follow the line
After several minutes we reached Peak #1. It has a nice spot where you can see the line that goes up to the main peak past some of the campsites and smaller peaks. It gives you an idea of whats in store. Though it has become much warmer now, the wind was blowing pretty hard. Once or twice I almost said bye to my hat.
Camp #7 is where one starts to realize how popular Batulao is as a trekking destination. Its one of the larger camps and judging from number of tents there one could surmise that the trail will be crowded soon as everyone hikes up to the main peak.
Camp #8 is no exception. Its much larger and bigger tent city than Camp #7. I think this the main camp for as soon as we step foot on it a local approached us saying: "20 pesos sir, and please register".
We later found out why there's a lot of people there that weekend: its the anniversary of the new trail (which opened Feb 2008) and the locals are treating everyone to a feast (pigs, goats, and chickens were slaughtered for the dinner feast).
After a quick breather we decided to push on as the sun's getting high. There was one really scary peak right after camp 8. Its not that high but its steep, the trail very narrow and dusty and loose ("well beaten" would be an understatement). Luckily we a group heading back to camp who pointed out a detour, a nice trail well covered with bamboo and huge trees. It was a welcome respite from the now blazing sun.
The trail bypasses scary peak and you emerge near Camp 10, the last camp before the assault to the peak.
view from camp 10
Camp 10 has a nice view of the ridge we just came from (all the way to Camp 7), and has a good view of what the trail is like heading up to the main peak. And judging from the looks of the folks coming down from the peak, it can be one of longest few minutes up. Batulao has its mini-version of the "Hillary Step".
We decided to wait until the huge group from the peak has descended to Camp 10 before starting our "assault". Trekkers have been pounding the trail heavily for the past few days that the final leg up to the peak is so loose there is not much to hold on to. I was practically crawling on all fours on some of the sections, and small rocks are rolling down. Longest few minutes indeed.
rain from afar
Group after group soon arrived and crowded the peak. The view was great but the light could be much better. After a few minutes we decided to head down as dark rain clouds are looming.
By the time we reached Camp 10 the clouds disappeared and the light was divine. Too bad we were a long way from the peak and I certainly do not wish trek up that trail twice in a day.
On the way back to Camp 8 we met some new friends who happen to follow this blog (yey!). It was a great day trek, and I certainly would like to go back there again for an overnighter. It would be interesting to catch both sunrise and sunset from Batulao.