Mt. Guiting-Guiting: The Majesty of Sibuyan Island’s Mountain King (Part 1)
by Adrenaline Romance
There is always a tougher mountain than the last. Something that is so imposing, isn’t backing up, is punishing you, is indifferent to your pain, and is telling you to quit. Something that is ready to extinguish your life with no qualms. It is on this mountain where you will finally know yourself as a human being. For us, Mt. Guiting-guiting, which is situated in remote Sibuyan Island in the Romblon Provice is that majestic and unforgiving mountain.
A climb up Mt. Guiting-guiting, also known as G2, has always been in our bucket list. It deserves to be so because it is considered to be one of the most technically challenging and difficult mountains to climb in the country. It took us several long months of preparation, planning, and physical and mental conditioning to declare ourselves worthy to climb up its sacred slopes. Such is our huge respect for this grand mountain.
Still in high spirits after our unexpected side trip, we were totally excited for this climb. However, the pump boat remained docked even as the scheduled hour of its departure at 9AM passed. Wondering what was going on, we asked the skipper why we haven’t left Culasi Pier. Bad news! The vessel, which was recently repaired, was not given a certificate of seaworthiness by the Philippine Coast Guard. Specifically, the skipper failed to apply for that certificate the day before. Worse, it was a Sunday, and the PCG officer in charge won’t be back in the office until later in the afternoon. Come on, PCG, you are supposed to operate 24 hours, 7 days a week!
Frustration and disappointment set in. Are we going to be stranded in Roxas City for another day? We have already filed our leaves for one week! If we get stranded, what are we going to do there for a week?
At almost 11AM, we decided we had enough of waiting and exited the pump boat. Then at the last possible moment, the skipper decided to sail to Sibuyan Island anyway, regardless of the penalties and sanctions that they will incur. Although Halourd and I were resigned to abort the climb, Sweetie was adamant that we get this climb on the way. Reluctantly, we re-boarded the boat, which, filled to the brim with cargo and passengers, looked doubtfully seaworthy.
Sailing to Sibuyan Island from Roxas City required a dangerous 6-hour voyage across open water. That means, the waves were humongous and the sea was considerably rough even in fine, sunny weather. We were quite concerned about our safety because many sea vessels, including large passenger ships, sank in these treacherous waters.
After a tense, exhausting, and jarring 6-hour cruise across the Sibuyan Sea, we finally saw the verdant Sibuyan Island, which is the second largest island in the Romblon archipelago. Look at those mountain slopes; they’re covered with lush forests. Beyond the shore, partially covered in cumulus clouds, is the imposing peak of Mt. Guiting-guiting.
A very interesting fact about Sibuyan Island is that never in its geographical history is it connected to the Philippines or the world. In other words, it has been a sole, lonely island surrounded by the sea even in its inception. Thus, Sibuyan Island is called the “Galapagos of Asia” by scientists all over the world.
A dangerous open sea voyage
Due to the large waves, we were diverted to an alternative port instead of the main port of San Fernando. After docking, we rode a tricycle to town where Sir Remy, the head guide of the traverse trail, was waiting for us. Check out their unique tricycle, which is also common in Roxas City. Each has two baggage racks, one behind and the other on top, to allow a larger volume of items to be carried. Furthermore, it has an extra seat outside the sidecar for an extra passenger (as if 7 passengers on a motorcycle-powered contraption is not enough). Riding on the outside seat was risky, but it was pretty exciting for me.
Check out that Tricycle
Because of the island’s isolation and, subsequently, the apparent lack of government attention, the circumferential road around Sibuyan Island is mostly rough and unpaved. However, it does offer amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the sea.
While we were awed by the majestic sights, we still have a lot of serious concerns. First, based from our earlier experience, the boat schedules, which are advertised as fixed, were actually irregular. We don’t know if there will be an available boat for our return trip to Roxas City. Second, we don’t have the phone numbers of the skippers of the other boats to confirm whether there will be return trips or not. Lastly, our team-mates from Manila have already gone up the mountain. While we texted them the day before to modify our arrangement, we don’t know if they left us any food, butane fuel canisters, and supplies. In other words, this climb was a risky gamble.
We said goodbye to our good Samaritan Ate Ville and met Sir Remy at the San Fernando marketplace. Because Sir Remy told us it was already late and we need to hurry up, we bought whatever we can grab our hands on—canned food, package soups, rice and bottles of Gatorade. This was our first-ever climb in which our meal plan was thrown out of the window, but we also don’t want to take chances.
After a bumpy one-hour ride, we arrived at Sir Remy’s place and the jump-off point in Sitio Olango. We met some friendly Manila-based climbers who shared their delicious dinner with us. Best of all, one of the guides volunteered to confirm our return boat’s schedule as he knows the captain personally. To our huge relief, the guide confirmed that there’s definitely a trip to Roxas City on the day we plan to leave Sibuyan Island.
In addition, Sir Ken Agasway, the leader of the Manila team and the one who arranged this climb, left us with butane fuel canisters and some food. He also forwarded our guide and porter payment to Sir Remy. All was well!
A hearty dinner before the climb
We had a short briefing, met with our assigned guide Angie and porter Andrew, prepared our stuff, had a cool shower, and slept early. At the crack of dawn, we were up and had another quick shower. After a heavy breakfast and some last-minute checks, we finally commenced this dream climb. We were walking along the dry Olango riverbed when the sun rose high enough so we can use our cameras without firing the flash.
Sweetie confessed that she almost shed tears of joy and relief. That was totally understandable. After all the uncertainties we experienced, we couldn’t believe Mother Nature actually gave us the chance to achieve the adventure of our dreams.
We were pretty sure there were lions, hyenas, and cheetahs hiding somewhere here. Hehehe! The grasslands plain below the mountain look very similar to African savannas. Our country definitely has so many wonders.
Is this in Africa?
The combined onslaught of summer and a quarrying operation somewhere upstream dried this river. According to Angie, this was supposed to be a powerful river in the past. Today, water flows in the waterway only during rainy season.
Before proceeding, we took a rest at the base of the mountain. We rested for a bit while Angie and Andrew filled up all our water bottles from a hidden spring; we need them full because it was going to be a hard climb. Angie also secured his bolo, which he uses as a tool and a weapon.
Filling up our water bottles
After the short break, it was time to do serious business—the actual assault to Mt. Guiting-guiting’s summit. Angie said that this was going to be a grueling 10-hour ascent. Suddenly, I remembered my unfortunate cramping episode when we climbed Mt. Pulag’s steep Akiki trail. Although we had plenty of workouts, dayhikes, and jogging sessions to prepare for this adventure, I still hope I won’t have cramps this time.
Grassy warm-up before the grueling ascentg
The trail began to rise steeply as we entered the forest. At first, we thought the features of the trail, which comprise of loose forest soil, roots, and occasional boulders will remain the same until we reach the last camp on this side of the mountain. Boy, we were in for a big surprise!
Let us introduce you to our guide Angie (the guy in blue) and porter Andrew (the guy with the green pack). They are some of the strongest and most capable guides/porters we’ve ever encountered in all our mountaineering adventures. But that should be of no surprise since they are pure May-as—indigenous people of Sibuyan Island. Having lived in these mountains all their lives, these guides and porters are almost super humans. They can carry huge loads, effortlessly leap from one rock to another, live off the land, and cross the entire Mt. Guiting-guiting range in just a day. Later, we learned that Angie can even track bees to their hives so that he can harvest the bees’ honey.
The team placement was also new to us. The porter walks in front of the team while the guide walks behind. In most other mountains, it’s the other way around. It was an unusual arrangement, but it made sense. The porter with the heavy load can go ahead to set up camp or to prepare the next stop for the team. The guide stays behind to direct the team and to have a commanding overview of the trek’s progress.
Be careful! Many plants like these are wicked, and they can cut your skin. The leaves’ edges are sharp and saw-like.
At around 8AM, we reached Camp 1 at 657 MASL where we had a well-deserved rest after a constant ascent. We shared our GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, but we included chocolate bits and jellies to the mix) trail snacks to Angie and Andrew and began to share stories. Both shy guys opened up as they realized we were treating them as equal team members, not as service providers.
We left Camp 1 and continued the ascent after getting our heartbeat and breathing back in sync. Not far from the camp, the trail abruptly changed. Rather than loose soil which we usually trek on in other mountains, we came across huge boulders. And by huge, we meant boulders ranging from the size of an average man to a single-floor bungalow! There was no other way than to climb these humongous rocks.
Seventy percent of the trail, from this point to faraway Mayo’s Peak, is dotted with mountain-borne boulders. No, we weren’t just trekking. This is pure and awesome rock scrambling!
Those are huge boulders
It’s a beautiful world! Sweetie paused for awhile to admire the stunning scenery below us. In many instances, we had to fight it out in order to witness these wonders.
Living a good life is similar. You need to persevere; take the challenge head-on; and overcome your fears, doubts and worries. That’s the only way to enjoy life’s promises.
Mt. Guiting-guiting Natural Park
Because Sibuyan Island is isolated since its geographical birth, it is very rich in biodiversity. Much of the forest area in the island, covering an area of 140 square kilometers, is original. Forests in the plains however are second-generation and have grown successfully through reforestation.
To protect this treasure, the Philippine government declared an area of 157 square kilometers at the center of the island as a protected area called the Mt. Guiting-guiting Natural Park. The park features canopied forests amidst scenic landscapes.
This does not include the mangrove forests and the heathlands that surround the park and Mt. Guiting-guiting.
Huge rocks dot the slopes of the mountain. The somewhat reddish color suggests that these rocks are rich in mineral and iron deposits.
The ascent starts
Wild ferns are everywhere! Many of these ferns are so large and lush.
The struggle was very real…and absolutely fun! We had to use our hands and feet to climb near-vertical sections of the trail.
There are elements of real danger all along the trail. For example, although this “deck” offers a picturesque view of San Fernando, we had to be careful because a misstep to the right can send us falling off the ridge. Vegetation covers the edge of the cliff.
Mt. Guiting-guiting Natural Park
At around 11AM, we arrived at Camp 2 deep inside the forest, and it’s time to replenish our energy. We prepared a hot lunch of corned beef, sausages, and thick crab-and-corn soup. Of course, along with lunch comes interesting stories, from legends of the mountain to funny accounts of the guide’s experiences in guiding other climbers.
Reaching Camp 2
After a hearty lunch and a pleasant round of conversations, we started the next and last leg of our first day’s ascent. The trail took us deep inside the mountain’s montane forests, which starts at an elevation of 700 meters.
Many of the forest trees are covered with various types of moss. The moss provides a great habitat for insects and worms. Furthermore, because they retain water like sponges, you can suck water from them in survival situations.
Along the trail, we found a huge variety of carnivorous pitcher plants. Specifically, these are Nepthes Sibuyanensis, a specie endemic in Sibuyan Island. Visual and nasal lures attract insects towards the slippery lip of the pitcher plant. Once the insect lands on the lip, it slips into the inside of the pitcher plant. The interior wall contains waxy scales, inward and downward-pointing hair, and aldehyde crystals that prevent the prey from crawling back out. Inside is a vat of liquid that slowly drowns and gradually dissolves the insect. The plant then absorbs the nutrients from the dead prey.
Pitcher plants usually grow in locations wherein the soil quality is too acidic or lacking in nutrients for more fragile plants to survive. So rather than solely depending on photosynthesis, pitcher plants supplement their nutritional requirements through their insect prey.
As we reached a fern-covered ridge, a thick bank of fog rolled in. Despite the fact that we left the canopied forest behind, the foliage became thicker. But what was really strange was that everyone, even the guides, felt a powerful sense of humility and reverence. It was as if we were entering a sacred and ancient place that is filled with spirits of Mother Nature.
The thick fog bank made the air cool and refreshing. But it also made the trail more dangerous. Check out the left side of the photo below; the fog hid a very steep cliff
At around 2PM, we reached a small flat area called Helipad. As its name implies, it’s supposed to be a landing area for choppers. But the pad is too small and rough for a helicopter to land on. Being at the shoulder of a mountain, the view around us must be breathtaking if not for this fog.
After 15 minutes and consuming our first bag of trail mix, we proceeded to Camp 3. Now, look at the photo below to see just how verdant and lush this mountain is. Biologists of the National Museum estimated that there are 1,551 trees in one hectare in Mt. Guiting-guiting. That’s a whole lot of trees, don’t you think?
Be careful, Sweetie! She stood at the lip of a cliff that seems to have no bottom. Seeing her at the edge made me truly jittery. And yet, this is truly part of the trail.
The photo below gives you a better view of the knife-edge trail that we were walking on. On one side is a sheer drop and on the other is a steep slope. Choose! Hehehe!
Close to 3PM, we finally saw the sign that indicates that Camp 3 is just around the corner. Finally, we can have a well-deserved rest after 10 hours of climbing. It was about time too because I felt tell-tale signs of leg cramps.
Choose a cliff on the left or a slope on the right
We had one final push up this 70-degree part of the trail that is characterized by loose soil and falling rocks.
Hidden in a small clearing just off the trail is Camp 3. The good thing is that the lofty trees protected us from strong high-altitude winds, which became more ferocious later in the night. However, their massive network of roots protrude from the forest ground, making it a less-than-ideal place to pitch tents. Sweetie, Halourd, and I had to spend some time to position our tents on the most level piece of ground we can find. Hammocks, on the other hand, would be perfect here.
A massive cliff behind Camp 3 shielded us from the brunt of the wind, which got stronger and colder as the afternoon wore on.
Angie told us that we should be able to leave camp by 3AM the next morning so we could catch the sunrise at the summit. But because we want our climb to be slow, pleasant, and unhurried, we didn’t take any chances. We told Angie that we should be out by 2AM, which meant that we need to wake up at 1AM.
They agreed to the schedule and began to gather all the water we can carry from a hidden water source. This will be our last water source until we exit the mountain sometime tomorrow evening.
Thus, we prepared an early dinner and next day’s breakfast, changed into our sleep clothes, and drifted into a relatively relaxing slumber.
After all the sacrifices and preparations—after all the doubts, uncertainties, and near misfortunes (and one immense unexpected fortune) that have befell on us in the past few days, we were finally on the way of achieving a grand dream. But deep inside in our hearts, the first day was a proud yet humbling experience. We were filled with gratitude to whatever unfathomable forces that worked with us to make this dream climb a reality.
Despite the danger and the exhaustion, we have made it safely to Mt. Guiting-Guiting’s immense summit slope. But will we make it to its glorious peak? check out for Part 2 of this dream adventure.
Getting to Sibuyan Island
The standard way is to ride a bus from Manila to Batangas. From the port in Batangas, there is a ferry that goes directly to Magdiwang, Sibuyan Island. However, this option is only logistically and financially effective if you are originating from Luzon.
Thus, for climbers and mountaineers from Visayas and Mindanao, we have an alternative way via Roxas City in the province of Capiz, Panay Island. To get to Roxas City, please check this link and scroll down to the section with the heading “Getting to Roxas City.” The good news is that effective November 19, 2016, Cebu Pacific now has daily flights from Cebu to Roxas City!
From Culasi port in Roxas City, ride a pump boat to San Fernando, Sibuyan Island. The voyage across the Sibuyan Sea roughly takes 6 hours.
Regarding the climb itself, we opted to do a traverse from Sitio Olango in San Fernando to Tampayan, Magdiwang due to logistical reasons. The traditional route is the other way around.