Mount Tapulao (2037m), named High Peak on most maps, is one of the 29 ultra prominent mountains in the Philippines. It's a long hike mainly on an abandoned mining road.
Summit log:10-Oct-2012: Mount Tapulao 2037 m.a.s.l. (prominence 2015 m)
Participants:Lyngve Skrede (Norway)
Emily Homillano (Philippines)
Getting there:The Caloocan terminal in Manila has frequent buses departing for Iba in Zambales (fare 342 pesos). The bus takes 4-5 hours depending on traffic. In Iba there are many places to stay, including a number of beach resorts. From Iba it's easy to hire a tricycle to the trailhead Sitio Dampay. It's a fairly long tricycle-drive, maybe 45 minutes, so the driver will ask for 400-500 pesos. The last few km to Sitio Dampay is on a very bad and bumpy road, certainly a huge strain on the fragile tricycles and the passengers inside.
Red tape:At the trailhead we had to register at the Eco-Center in Dampay, a white building also housing some information about Mount Tapulao and the surrounding conservation area. They charge a conservation fee of 30 pesos per hiker. The lady at the Eco-Center asked us if we needed a local guide, but we said no. Notice that from 2013 the rules have changed on Tapulao, because now it's mandatory to hire a local guide.
Route description:A day hike is possible, but the majority of hikers spend two days, some even three days. From the Eco-Center at Sitio Dampay walk on a mining road that goes all the way up to the bunker house. Most part of this road is now abandoned and not drivable, not even with a 4x4 jeep. The road can be a challenge even to walk, because it's very rocky, muddy and slippery at times. Important waypoints, including distance and elevation data based on my GPS recording:
0 km - Trailhead at Sitio Dampay (150)
6 km - Water source I (910)
9 km - Water source II (1210) - there is also a campsite nearby
12 km - Our "emergency camp" in the middle of the road (1530)
14 km - Bunker house (1720)
16 km - Summit (2037)
It's possible to sleep in the bunker house (formerly a miner's camp), thus a tent is not really necessary to bring. From the bunker house leave the road and continue on a fairly short trail to the summit. Initially the trail ascends steeply to a high camp (no water source here!), before it goes into a dense forest and eventually emerges right at the summit of Tapulao.
My GPS-track at EveryTrail (follow link for details and to download)
Notes from the trip:From the moment we stepped off the bus in Iba, there was dozens of tricycle drivers chasing us, some of them even trying to get us to Tapulao immediately. But we had no plans to head up in the mountains before the next morning. We wanted to stay the night in Iba, so we got one of the tricycle drivers to show us a few resorts along the beach. The first resort was too expensive, the second one had a rabies-looking dog outside so we ended up in the third one, White Castle Beach Resort. The air-con rooms cost 1200 pesos. While the room was pretty ok, the rest of the amenities seem rundown and dilapidated, including the dirty swimming pool. The lazy staff and a drunkard western owner did nothing to improve the overall experience.
Next morning we checked out of the resort. We left a bag of clothes and equipment that would not be need on Tapulao (at no extra charge). Then we took a tricycle to the trailhead at Sitio Dampay, after knocking the price down from 500 to 420 pesos. We registered ourselves at the Eco-Center, paid the small fee and started to hike.
While I carried the big pack, Emily only had a small daypack. I though that would make us more equal. In the beginning the rocky road was steep, it was hot because of the low elevation, and there was no shades for the sun. Emily struggled a lot, her fitness was not good after 6 months of hard office work and no exercise at all. I came straight from numerous mountain hikes in Italy and the Balkan, so it was very easy going for me.
We passed a water source after 6 km, then another water source and camp after 9 km. We hiked in a snail-pace with a lot of stops for Emily to rest. I doubted that we were going to reach the bunker house before nightfall, but we carried headlamps so that wouldn't pose a problem. It started to rain lightly, but just before nightfall hell broke out. We had reached 12 km and an elevation of 1530 m.a.s.l during a total of 7 hours. There was no shelters nearby to escape the heavy rain, so we decided to pitch our tent as quickly as possible in the road. I didn't like the location, the road might as well transform into a river. But there was no spots for the tent outside of the road (dense vegetation). We pitched it on the higher side of the road, and managed to get our gear quickly into the tent. While Emily took shelter inside the tent, I had to put in more pegs and rope to secure it against the wind.
During a few minutes the road had become a stream, but I had already started to dig a ditch to avoid flooding inside the tent. I was soaking wet and had to remove all my clothes before I went into the tent. We had a quick meal and then snuggled inside a sleeping bag to keep warm. The tent was leaking a little bit from the roof and walls. The floor was wet, almost like a pool, but we had two sleeping mattresses which covered the entire floor, so no problem at all. Most of our stuff was kept dry, no disaster to speak of, it was actually quite snug and cozy inside the small tent :-)
Sunshine from a blue sky greeted us in the morning. We decided to leave our tent in the road. We had no worries that a vehicle would destroy it, because the upper half of this abandoned mining road has not been drivable for a few decades, not even for a monster truck. We enjoyed the short and scenic walk to the bunker house. A local guy/warden is rumoured to stay up here year-round but we saw nobody attending this basic shelter (old miner's camp).
The short trail from the bunker house was partly steep but easy. We had nice view from the summit and we were hanging around for quite a while to eat and take photos. We then started to descend. I went ahead to clean up camp, before we continued on the very long descent together. Emily struggled with blisters and painful legs, so we took it slow and easy. From our camp it took us 4-5 hours to reach back at the Eco-Center. We had no problems getting a trike back to Iba, even though it was getting fairly late.
We couldn't but notice that all people where turning their heads, when we went inside a fast food restaurant in Iba with dirty hiking clothes. After a quick meal we picked up our stuff at the resort, and immediately went to the terminal where we took one of the frequent buses to Olongapo City. By now it was getting late evening, so we had no wish to continue to Manila. Instead we checked into a hotel across the terminal in Olongapo, and got a much needed shower and rest. Next morning we took a bus to Manila, then a flight "back home" to our apartment in Cebu City.