A Mountaineering Guide for Beginners

Check out these tips for novice mountain climbers, along with favorite Philippine mountain climbing destinations.

Philip Handang, mountaineer and photo hobbyist, shares some insights for novice mountain climbers in the Philippines.

Need a break from the pressures of urban life? Have you been staring at photos of outstanding sunsets, breathtaking landscapes, mountain views, and a person standing on a summit and thinking, "That's gorgeous!" Why be contented with just looking at the pictures and viewing mountains from afar when you can actually climb it and experience everything first hand.

Mountain climbing is a lifestyle sport involving hiking and trekking through rugged terrain, camping, climbing over rocks, fallen trees and logs, passing by thick vegetation, crossing rivers, and exploring the great outdoors while having fun in the process. This feat requires a great deal of patience, physical endurance, motivation, and presence of mind. Climbing mountains is truly rewarding: not only does it cultivate environmental awareness, it also develops a person's character by facing and conquering one's fears and ultimately conquering oneself, leaving the mountain climber with a great feeling of achievement.

05_Apo_Group_Pic_phil_handang.jpg
Group climb with the Voyager Adventure Club at Mount Apo in Davao del Sur.
Photography: Philip Handang

In the Philippines, a person who climbs mountains as a hobby is generally called a mountaineer.

For anyone who wants to take up mountaineering as a hobby, there are several mountaineering clubs in the Philippines that offer a Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC). Some clubs offer a single day course, and others like the UP Mountaineers and Ayala Mountaineering Club incorporate the training into their application process that usually takes about 3 to 4 months to complete.

It is strongly encouraged for every aspiring climber to undergo the BMC. The BMC teaches the proper physical training and essential outdoor skills needed by a mountain climber, the proper climbing etiquette, and the "Leave No Trace" principles that are all very important to help minimize the impact on the environment. Another advantage in learning BMC for the novice climber is the opportunity to collaborate with seasoned/professional climbers and receive priceless tips based on their years of climbing experience.

If you just want to try it out, you can tag along with your mountaineering friends and climb minor mountains near Metro Manila, or you can join other mountain climbing tours organized by experienced mountaineers and club organizations.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Destination

Gideon Lasco, the author of Pinoymountaineer.com, devised a "relative" difficulty rating system that can be used to compare one mountain in the Philippines to another. The system is divided into three parts:

1. Classification (Minor or Major)
2. Difficulty Scale (1/9 being very easy; 9/9 technical)
3. Trail Class (1 -5 which describes the type of trail to expect).
This can be quite overwhelming for newbie climbers, so for the purpose of this article, we can just use the "Minor - Major" classification in choosing mountains to climb.

Generally, a Minor Climb is any climb that can be accomplished within a single day without extraordinary physical effort, taking five hours or less from the jump-off point (location at the foot of the mountain where the hike begins) before reaching the summit.

A Major Climb normally requires two or more days to accomplish, with the climber exerting a great deal of physical effort, and normally takes six hours or more to reach the summit.

01_Pulag_Sunrise_phil_handang.jpg
Sunrise view with the fabled “Sea of Clouds” backdrop at Mount Pulag in Benguet.
Photography: Philip Handang

One of the factors when choosing what mountain to climb is the view that you are afforded. Even on minor climbs, the views as you climb along the trail and from the summit can be outstanding. With more experience, a mountaineer tends to climb more difficult mountains where the challenges are greater and the views are even more breathtaking. One rule of thumb is the harder it is to scale the mountain, the more serene and wonderful the views at the top are. Therefore more physical preparation is needed to accomplish the major climbs.

Local people and culture, potable water sources (usually rivers and streams), river crossings, mossy forests, 360 degree views of surrounding and nearby mountains are some of the other features to look for and consider when planning what mountain to climb.

Tips in Preparing for a Mountaineering Trip


Personal Health
As with any sport, before engaging in mountain climbing proper training and physical preparation is needed. For beginners, an easy and inexpensive way to get in shape is to go jogging 3 to 4 times a week before your scheduled outdoor climb. Another way to prepare your leg muscles is to do stair climbing, and as you stair climb you can wear a backpack and loaded with heavy books or liters of plastic water bottles to also target your shoulder, back, leg muscles and knees. This way you can get accustomed to carrying a heavy backpack as well.

The harder the climb, the more physical preparation is needed. This is important to minimize hiking related injuries and if you are physically prepared, you would fully enjoy the breath taking views and not the other way around...which is you running out of or gasping for breath.

Clothing
While hiking, wear quick dry clothes and stay away from cotton fabrics and denim pants since you will be sweating profusely during the climb. Wet clothes against your body can cause hypothermia especially during the portions of the trail where there are strong winds. For your headgear, wear a cap or a wide-brimmed bush hat for protection against the heat of the sun.

For cold nights at camp and for sleeping, you may use a jacket, bonnet, dry pair of socks, or anything that would keep you warm through the night.

Every climber should also prepare for a rainy day even on summer months. It is good practice to always have a waterproof jacket, rain poncho, or a raincoat. Use zip locked plastic bags to waterproof your dry clothes and gadgets (camera, cell phone, etc).

Wearing a pair of hiking shoes is also advisable since you will be walking along a rocky and rugged terrain that normal shoes like rubber shoes or sneakers weren't designed for. Hiking shoes, with a pair of thick socks, also give you the advantage of overall protection for your precious feet. For minor climbs, some mountaineers prefer wearing hiking sandals with straps. This is also a cheaper alternative, but offers minimal protection and cushioning for your feet compared to a hiking shoe or boot.

04_Gears_Tent_phil_handang.jpg
A tent is a mountain climber's home in the woods, protecting against heavy rains, winds, and annoying insects.
Photography: Philip Handang

Gear
Tents are not needed for day hikes. For climbs spanning from overnight to several days, bringing a tent is essential for a good night's rest. Decent tents can be bought from local outdoor shops, and you don't have to buy a top of the line foreign brand tent unless you are really serious about mountaineering. These kinds of tents are extremely lightweight but are a bit expensive. If you don't have the budget, you can just share a tent with one of your climbing buddies for now.

Food
Food plays an important part of your planning. It is the source of your strength, fueling your body to continue the demanding task of mountain climbing. For meals, it is important that the meal is easy to cook and require little water. Adobo, fried foods, rice, canned goods and instant noodles are a few good examples. Trail food like chocolate bars, salted peanuts, raisins, and other sweets are also good to boost your energy levels when the need arise.

For day hikes, 1 to 2 liters of water per person would suffice, although you may need to bring more if it is in your nature to consume a greater amount. Do take note however, that the more water you bring, the heavier your backpack becomes. On some mountains there are also potable water sources where you can hydrate and refill your water bottles, and when in doubt about the cleanliness of the water source, it is important to boil your water before drinking.

02_Apo_Mossy_Trees_Trail_Phil_Handang.jpg
Always climb with an experienced mountaineer on your team. Shown here is the area by Lake Vanado with mossy trees (trees that grow only at high elevations) at Mount Apo in Davao del Sur.
Photography: Miguel Nacianceno

Companions and Climbing Buddies
Always hire a guide or go with an experienced mountaineer every time you climb mountains. Climbing alone increases the risks involved unless you are an experienced mountaineer with survival skills. Never venture into the woods without properly informing other people.

Itinerary
Creating an itinerary for your climb is also beneficial for success. This serves as your guide on what time you should be in a particular place and what time you are expected to be back at the jump-off.

Before leaving on a trip, don't forget to send a copy of your itinerary to someone in the city, either your family or friends, and include contact numbers in case of emergency.

Precautions 
Against 
Risks
 and
 Dangers


  • To avoid dehydration especially during the summer months, always drink water and rehydrate every so often during water breaks at nearby water sources.
  • To avoid hypothermia, wearing of proper warm clothes is also needed. Once you reach the camp, change in your dry clothes and let your wet clothes hang to dry.
  • Always watch your step on and tread lightly in order to avoid sprained ankles and knees.
  • Always bring a basic first aid kit. You can buy this in department stores and medicine drug stores. Don't forget to bring your personal medications if you have any.

Popular Mountain Climbing Destinations

Minor Climbs

Mount Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas
Around 2 - 3 hours bus ride from Metro Manila, this mountain is ideal for beginners who just want to have a relatively easy and refreshing hike. It takes an average of 2 hours going up to the "Rockies," the highlight of the whole climb where one can see the breathtaking views of Taal Lake, Taal Volcano, and nearby towns of Batangas and Tagaytay highlands. On a clear day one can also see Mount Makiling's silhouette looming in the horizon. This mountain can be day hiked or camped overnight. If you want a little more challenge you can also do a traverse hike (going up a mountain using a route, passing by the summit, and going back down on a different route) from the so called "Grotto" side of the mountain, passing by the summit, and continuing to the "Rockies" before going back down.

Mount Batulao in Nasugbu, Batangas
This is another mountain that is easily accessible from Metro Manila and ideal for beginners with only a 3-hour bus ride passing by Tagaytay City, Cavite. The mountain's jagged tooth-like peaks are quite a sight to behold. It's a 3 to 4 hour hike along open windy trails, with nice views and mountain landscapes. This can also be day hiked or camped overnight.

Mount Pulag via the Ambangeg Trail in Kabayan, Benguet
Mount Pulag is the highest mountain in Luzon and the third highest in the Philippines. It is 6-hour bus ride from Metro Manila to Baguio City and another 3-hour bus ride going to the Visitor's Center in Ambangeg. The breath taking views are accessible to tourists and beginner mountaineers alike via the Ambangeg Trail. It takes an average of 5 hours to hike going up the campsite where one could spend the night. This is also the coldest mountain in the Philippines, where sometimes temperatures go down to -5 degrees Celsius during the evening and dawn. Wearing of proper clothing is strongly advised. Views of the mountain's so called "Mossy Forests," "Grasslands," and the "Sea of Clouds" awaiting at the summit during sunrise are a few of the highlights.

Major Climbs

Mount Makiling Traverse Day Hike from Batangas to Los Banos, Laguna
Climbing Mount Makiling is one of the favorite training climbs of mountaineers because of the tough challenges that await every climber. It is a 3-hour bus ride from Metro Manila to Sto. Tomas, Batangas, the starting point of the climb. The trail in this mountain is heavily vegetated, where one should go over or crawl under fallen logs and navigate through dense vegetation composed of thorny rattan plants. Blood leeches (locally known as limatik) abound in this mountain but only during the rainy season. Experienced mountaineers can accomplish the whole traverse in 7 hours or less compressing it in just a day.

03_Tapulao_Red_Soil_Phil_Handang.jpg
The long and endless trek at Mount Tapulao in Iba Zambales, with its rocky reddish soil.
Photography: Philip Handang

Mount Tapulao in Iba, Zambales
Mountaineers fondly call this mountain "The Long and Endless Road," referring to the seemingly endless hike with an average of 12 to 14 hours going up to the summit alone (not including the descent), and "Poor Man's Pulag," since it resembles the environs of Mt. Pulag on higher elevations. After a grueling hike through the rocky reddish soil, hikers are treated to refreshing cool breezes and breathtaking views upon reaching the pine tree forest. This mountain is accessible via a 5-hour bus ride from Metro Manila to Iba, Zambales.

Mount Apo, Davao Del Sur
Mount Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines, and is the grandfather of Philippine mountains. In Davao City, one can see this magnificent mountain towering over the horizon. Climbing Mount Apo is every Filipino mountaineer's dream. With its so-called "Mossy Forests," "The Boulders," the extinct crater, the "Lake Venado" (which is the highest lake in the country) and the summit itself, this mountain's breathtaking landscapes are truly a sight to behold.

Mountaineering 
Etiquette

Follow the mountaineer's creed:
"Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but foot prints, kill nothing but time."

As a mountaineer, it is our job to be stewards of Mother Nature. Here are a few important things to remember when climbing mountains:

  • Do not throw your trash anywhere, instead place it in your trash bag and bring it down the mountain and dispose of it accordingly.
  • Do not vandalize or write words on trees and rock formations.
  • Be considerate of other visitors and mountaineers. Minimize noise, like shouting, playing of loud music, etc.
  • Be respectful to the locals and their customs and traditions. Greet other people when you meet them in the trails or in towns.
  • Leave what you find. If you see something that is beautiful, please, by all means just leave it there and don't bring it home with you.
  • Follow the "Leave no Trace" principles, outlined on this link in detail.

Online Resources
The Pinoy Mountaineer website is a comprehensive blog
about hiking in the Philippines created by Gideon Lasco. This site contains detailed itineraries, tips, and other special concerns in climbing. Majority of mountaineers check this website for information and updates on the mountains that they plan to climb.

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an educational, nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people, worldwide. Based in Boulder, CO in the United States, the organization aims to achieve its goals through education, research, volunteerism and partnerships. Visit their website for more information.


Mountain 
Climbing 
Tours


  • Travel Factor - although primarily offers beach and travel tours, this company also offers climbing tours to Mt. Pulag, Mt. Pinatubo, and other well known minor mountains.
  • Trailadventours - a brainchild of the website Pinoymountaineer. This outfit offers tours on different mountains from Mt. Pinatubo, to Mt. Apo, and other outdoor destinations.

Other mountaineering groups also organize "open climbs" or "friendship climbs" that a newbie hiker can join. You can try also try searching Facebook events on the scheduled climbs of different groups like Voyager Adventure Club and Green Mountain Tribe.

Mountaineering 
Gear 
Shops
Here are a few outdoor sport shops located within Metro Manila:


*Backpacks can also be purchased at any Chris Sports and Toby's Sports outlets located in SM and Ayala malls.