At the Grotto.


Located  south of bustling Manila in Cuenca, Batangas, Mt. Maculot is easily among the favorite mountaineering destinations because of its wide campgrounds, good enough degree of climbing difficulty, breathtaking vista above and the awe-inspiring view of the Taal lake from the famous Rockies.

And this is where I, along with with some of my friends, hied-off to last April 9 – in preparation for The North Face 100k Trail Adventure Race in Baguio City which happened April 24 – 25, which I signed up for but had to pass up on due to work travel scheduled on the same week.

Incidentally, it was also my first attempt at mountain climbing and not only did it go oh-so-well, I am now convinced I have found my second (sport) love next to running.

The Planning Stage. Just before the Holy Week break, I got sms from Pat informing me of two climbs being organized which he thought I should consider joining if I am indeed serious about completing TNF – especially since I have never climbed a mountain and have only done trail running once in 2009. I was psyched! First was Mt. Batulao but it was cancelled at the last minute due to some members not confirming and transportation arrangements not finalized. I was disappointed but it was just as well that the climb didn’t happen on Good Friday because I was totally ill-prepared for it.

And then came Mt. Maculot. An ideal choice, according to Dennis, because the TNF Adventure Race this year was said to have been designed to have the same degree of difficulty, thanks to the race director and organizers.

Assembly. After a series of sms and email exchanges, as well as, regular updates on’s forum, the day finally came for us to converge at the assembly place: KFC Buendia. Assembly time was 1:30AM. It was a bit tough for me, having just played badminton for our company’s sportsfest which ended just before 9PM. After having dinner with Noel at the nearby restaurant, we walked the rest of the way home so he can glam up for Malate and I can start packing for my mountain adventure.

Not exactly knowing what to bring, I ended up packing my bag with the oddest assembly of caboodles, most of which are not exactly mountain climbing must-brings. I packed Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (sometimes I like to trick people into thinking I’m super smart by toting around some hard to read books, hahaha), thinking I’d have some reading time once we camp out at the summit; my iPod nano and iFrog speakers; a bag of lightly-salted Pretzels; a box of Loacker coconut chocolate wafer thins; a bottle of water; a pair of shorts, knickers and tanktop to change into after the climb.

I only had about a thousand pesos in my pocket ($24).

Meal before the ascent.

Destination: Mt. Maculot. We boarded the Jam bus bound for Lemery, Batangas at around 3am thinking we would be on the road shortly after. Unfortunately, the driver waited until the bus was full and it was only after some serious berating by one irate passenger that the driver grudgingly drove the bus out of the station at 4am. The air conditioning system inside the bus was in such fine working condition that I immediately drifted off to a much-needed nap. The travel to Cuenca was only two hours which is just about enough to give my sleep-deprived body some energy for the climb.

But, alas, there was a car accident not too far from where we’re supposed to get off which caused traffic flow to go on almost a standstill. We reached Cuenca at 7am. There were 10 of us so we divided ourselves into two groups and hailed two tricycles to take us to the registration area. Registration was 10 pesos each. Used to be 5 pesos but with the inflation rate and all…:D

The Ascent. We decided to take the path leading to the Grotto first which is on the other side of the mountain.  Before embarking on our journey, we took some time to eat our breakfast at the foot of the mountain. KFC original recipe chicken has never tasted so good! Yes, I was that hungry.

Finally, it was time to start our ascent. Dennis was our designated guide and we all just trailed behind him. Little Miss Eager-beaver, I was almost always the one closely behind Dennis. Bakit ba, adelantada ako eh! (Translation: Why ba, I’m adelantada! LOL)

Like a marauding colony of ants, off we went to conquer Mt. Maculot…

At the grotto, we were able to charm some kids to take several group shots and soon after,  we left the Grotto and made our way to the summit

We haven’t gone that far yet when my feet started to form blisters because I was wearing the wrong pair of socks. Yes, no-show ankle socks are a no-no in mountain climbing. Thanks to Carina, Ellen, Ambo and Dennis for supplying me with band aids. And who can forget Carina’s gigantic tub of petroleum jelly!

I think my climbing attire is a little bit confused but you really won’t care anymore once you’re out there. Or maybe it’s just me, Little Miss No Reservations. Also notice how my nostrils were flaring in some of the photos.  That’s where I humbly conceded that no matter how relatively good a runner you are, it takes so much more than just speed and endurance to do mountain climbing.

Only a few minutes into our descent, we got into another adventure. Okay, fine, we got lost. We took the wrong trail which led us to a dead-end. Rather, the edge of the ravine. We didn’t have stable veins or rock to hold on to so most of us had to resort to sliding our butts down. But despite that, we were still a bunch of happy trekkers!

On our last rest before we soldiered on all the way down to the foot of Mt. Maculot. Glen fed us with so many energy bars and gummy bear-like things. I also scored a bar of super melted Snickers almond chocolate from him and some lychee jellyace from Carina. I’m such a food monster!

By the time we reached the end of our mountain journey, my whole body was covered in dust mixed with dried-up sweat and I was not smelling very nice. I think it was Tracy who said that even after a long workout session in the gym, she has never smelled as sour as she did after the climb. Same rings true for me and everyone else in the group. So what else was there to do but to shower!

For 15 pesos, we were given a bucket of warm water for showering which was not so bad except that I’m not used to bathing using a sachet of Pantene shampoo as bodywash, which is exactly what I did because I didn’t  bring my bathing and moisturizing caboodles with me.

Being among the first ones to shower, I had enough time to scour the sari-sari store for food. I started with a small serving of DingDong mixed nuts (one of my favorite junks!), a small bag of cheap chicharon (deep fried pork rind), barbecue and isaw (grilled chicken entrails), and halo-halo! By the time the rest of the gang were done showering, my mouth was already frothing from too much food of the weirdest assortment!

At 5:30PM, we boarded the bus that would take us back to Manila. Awww…

Our Mt. Maculot adventure easily ranks among my favorite adventures this year, if not, forever. I had so much fun climbing over fallen tree trunks, hanging on to tree roots for stability, sliding down pathways on my already-painful butt, ducking from spiny leaves and trunks to avoid getting scratches on my precious skin – but I ended up having a shallow gash on my right leg anyhow when I tried to swing my leg over a trunk. My mountain climbing adventure was made even more fun by friends with whom I share my passion for running and athletics. What we found most abominable though was the shocking amount of trash and litter left by other climbers. It disgusted us to the core that these bunch of irresponsible people walk around disrespecting Mother Earth just like that. Maybe on our next trip, we can organize a clean-up project at Mt. Maculot. Now that’s something to seriously think about and plan for.

Please help preserve the environment.