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Climbing Mt. Mingan| The Mystical Mountain of Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija

Ending 2013 would be too boring without any death defying adventure to close the year. Away from Mindanao, I couldn’t think of any outdoor activity during this holiday after cancelling my North Luzon adventure because of the Gale Warning from the PAGASA that stopped our shoes from crossing Calayan Group of Islands.

A call from a friend, saved my day after I invited myself to his trip to Central Luzon. Unaware with our destination, I just packed my bag and left our abode in Cavite at 2:00 am for the supposedly overnight “trekking” in an unknown mountain.

With a couple of hours of sleep, I woke up and learned we already reached the location of this special mountain located in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija.

Climbing bare footed at Mt. Mingan wasn't a good idea. Good that my travel mate Merrell was around to give comfort.
The funny thing about this trip was when we realized that even our host wasn't familiar with our destination, navigating primarily based on the installed talking GPS in his car. That was the first time I really appreciated the assistance of modern technology in terms of traveling. With additional little help from the locals, we were able to reach the jump-off point to Mt. Mingan after the additional two "butt-numbing" hours. 

It Was a Rat Race, Picking Up the Pace!

Accompanied by three locals, Jun Jun, Randy and Gideon, we hit the established trail at 11:00 am starting from the jump-off point located inside the "protected eco-park". 

The first phase of our trek was crossing the six partially 'bridged' rivers. I was thinking that I could champion this climb by walking on my bare feet while crossing the small rivers in between.

At first, I thought, “wow that was easy!” But as we started to ascend, the real challenge cracked my expectation by 360 degrees as the trail towards the target elevation was  unforgiving, ranging from rolling to high steep gradient. The devilish trail put me on my most embarrassing trek as I stumbled more than the numbers you could find in a Bingo card. 

We call this as mountain "fastfood"
The climb going up took us eight hours before we reached our temporary camp in 1200 meter above sea level (masl), where we decided to rest over the chilly night.

The cruel night put us all in our most inconvenient situation as we were not expecting the very low temperature at the elevation of 1200 masl. Mt. Mingan may be located in one of the hottest province in the Philippines yet the temperature above this montane forest could drop down to 10-15 Degree Celcius that go along with abundant rains throughout the year. 

Our makeshift tent was our only protection against the pouring rain but turned out not enough to warm our worn out bodies. To survive the night we have to put up a bon fire to warm us a little and send away the “niknik” or sucking insects that won’t leave us since we started climbing.

We survived the night with little sleep. While having our breakfast, we're still shaking wet and restless and even a sip of hot coffee won’t suffice to relax our trembling muscles. 

Blood leeches or limatik
With little supplies left on our bags, we need to catch and push our time on double to reach the higher elevation. That morning climb was even difficult as the cold rain poured down nonstop, making this trail more difficult to conquer. 

The blood leeches or locally known as “limatik” ruled the mossy part of the forest that made our morning ascend harder. We have to continuously look upon each other’s back to look for this blood sucking parasite clinging and sucking on our bare skin and removed them immediately before they could drain the blood out of our body.

That Perfect Pitch-er!

The slow paced climb took us another two hours (felt like forever) before we reached the 1500 masl and had the first sighting of the beautiful dwarf forest of Mt. Mingan. Our hardship was rewarded after discovering a beautiful Nepenthes species conspicuously lurking among the dwarf bushes of Mt. Mingan. Witnessing this beauty have reminded me of the discovery of the pitcher plants we found in one of the NPA infested mountains in Agusan del Sur, Mindanao.

Never mind the Justine Bieber hair, focus on our find, the pitcher plant of Mt. Mingan.
The pitcher plant was somehow similar to the morphological description of Nepenthes ventricosa but confirmation from an expert taxonomist is needed before we could make any conclusion. We roam the habitat (1500-1555 masl) of the pitcher plant and only found same species.  

An unidentified species of forest floor organism
Aside from the pitcher plants, this part of the mountain revealed more amazing species of plants ranging from mosses, berries, pine trees and dwarf trees growing wild and abundantly.

We were also surprised to see a family of Kalaw or hornbills that dwell in dozen, roaming the forest canopy. The presence of such top predator have only indicated how pristine and resilient the ecosystem in Mt. Mingan. 

With little time left, the team decided to descend as we found no summit in 1500 masl to have a bird’s eye view of the whole place.

The View that Wasn't Meant to be Seen!

I felt unsatisfied and  couldn't just leave the place without seeing the canopy of this amazing rainforest, so I opted to create my own viewing deck by locating the abandoned nesting tree of the Kalaw. With the assistance of my guide, Jun Jun, I climbed more than 10 meters from the ground until I reached a point where I had the breath taking view of the canopy. 

The canopy seen at the top of a 15 meter tree at the elevation of 1500 masl
Seeing it from the top of the tree was an exhilarating experience and felt I was in one of those “Lost World” films. The place looks mysterious, soundless yet eerie and feeling treacherous. The whole canopy was fully covered with fog with patches of rainforest and surrounding mountains revealed. 

My makeshift viewing deck
Witnessing this rare beauty from my makeshift viewing deck was enough to justify the challenge we had before we reached this altitude. I won’t suggest for you to do the same for your own safety unless you are as crazy as me or have a death wish of falling 1000 meters head first rolling down.

We thought that we had the most difficult part of the trek until we started to descend from this mountain. The steep gradient made it too difficult for all of us as we could hardly compete against the power of gravity over the slippery trail, making us slipped a dozen of times. I am maybe an experienced climber and explorer but this was the first time I had my knee trembled to weakness, ending it with one great fall, injuring my left knee.

Never Say Die, Never Surrender!

Unaware of the incurred physical damage, I still managed to walk. It must be the overflowing adrenaline rush that kept me pushing to finish this jaunt.

What a relief after we reached the ground
But slowly I felt the loss of energy that made me slipped and stumbled from time to time and almost gave up but it was my strong will to share my experience and my findings that have motivated me to stand on my feet and moved forward until we reached the ground. 

After 4 hours, we reached the jump-off point and I immediately assessed the damage on my knee and good thing it was just a strained ligament, making it difficult and painful for me to walk around. With this condition, I immediately decided to cancel my other trips to Northern Luzon that require trekking before the year ends.

Admittedly, we failed to reach the highest elevation of 1900 masl but at least we partially achieved our goal. The experience in Mt. Mingan was priceless and even quoted  as way more difficult than Mt. Guiting-Guiting.

Warning to Public:

Mt. Mingan (as of this writing) is a  Protected Area  whose establishment and delineation are in progress. With this, collection of any plants, animals or any kind of forest products inside Mt. Mingan is prohibited and subject to punishment in accordance to R.A. 7586 or The National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992.

So if you wish to end up in jail, disregard this notice . Happy trip to 2014 onwards.

Uswag Pilipinas, Uswag!

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