I counted two complete rollovers before landing on my day pack halfway down the steepest section of the trail on Mount Naguiling. You are helpless up there once your feet leave the ground, so you might as well start counting. Miraculously, I did not break any bone though there was a distinct crack as I ended on my back, and I feared for the camera lens and the mobile phone. Like a superb sweeper though, Froi had done a good job moments earlier along the trail when I asked him to stuff the Canon inside the Deuter 15L behind my back. He had wrapped the camera in the ground sheet and put the empty water bottles in front, so the crack I heard was nothing but cheap PET bottles. I bashed my shin on the loose limestone rock on the first turn, but these injuries are acceptable on these sorts of climbs.
The mountain, about 940 metres above mean sea level on my friends' altimeters (I forgot to bring mine), rises like a dark green spearpoint above the rice farming village of Jaybanga, the usual trailhead. It is likely the tallest point of Batangas province, part of the Lobo range of mountains that also includes Nagpatong, Bangkalan and Banoi, all located in the hill country of Lobo that adjoins Quezon province. A few groups had made the multi-day traverse to Nagpatong and Bangkalan since the mountain opened in 2014, according to locals. Probably the only reason it had not been climbed as often is the absence of public transport to the hamlet. It is a good one-hour SUV drive after you cross the bridge-less Kansahayan river, a historic waterway for the Muslim slave raids of the pre-colonial era but which now acts as a moat in the wet season. The road beyond the river is beautifully paved, though with acute inclines and flecked with rock slides.
It was my first climb in exactly three months, and it showed. I was a step (or two, or three) behind my young friends, and the lead pack would be typically 15 or so minutes ahead of me at the rest stops. Your lung's capacity to process greater volumes of oxygen is diminished once, through work, medical reasons, or sloth, or a combination of all three, should stop you from climbing and running over an extended period. It feels as though your chest would explode from the deficit, and it takes a few hours to get yourself into groove. By that time though you'd be fighting leg cramps, which are, in a way, even worse. It's the equivalent of putting your thigh and calf muscles through the meat grinder.
The trail is roughly divided in two: The lower section of orchards, coconut plantations and slash-and-burn slopes are settled by migrant farmers in search of land, mostly out of Mindoro island across the Verde Passage. As the settlements expand, public access should become an issue as trails are blocked by barbed wire. The designated camp sites, just below 500masl, are now private property.
The beauty of Naguiling shows once you get past the coconuts, technically an invasive species. The rest of the trail to the summit corkscrews, counterclockwise, with good views of the grass top and rocky sides of Nagpatong before diving into the canopy. The tropical lowland forest is in good shape for the time being, looking mostly undisturbed and dominated by giant-boled fruiting figs. Hornbills croak above as you negotiate the steep and slippery single-track that is perennially wet, and we surprised a perching Brahminy kite early in the descent. The last part of the ascent is negotiating under and above fallen trunks near the top of a ridge. Froi, Rovi, and Corina took pictures of lichen, shiny giant centipedes, and wild orchids as they kept me company while I battled through cramps on both legs. Dekz, Josh, Angie and Jeni patiently waited for us at the summit, a lushly vegetated speartip with narrow windows to the south, with views of Nagpatong, Bangkalan, Verde island and the low mountains of northern Mindoro, and northeastern Batangas on the other side.
Excluding the extended lunch stop at the camp site, the 800-metre ascent takes about four hours, at my current pace, and nearly three hours on the descent. You'd need three litres of water or more for the entire climb. We stuffed ourselves with coconuts and soda at the first settlement on our way down and were back at the road well before dark.