Mt. Telakawa: The Climb to Lazy Lump of Natural Goodness
On a cloudy Saturday afternoon , I just finished packing my 35-liter backpack. I was quite excited for that afternoon’s hike to a mountain I consider as one that would give the Maculots or the Pico de Loros of the south a run for their money.
If things don’t go on as planned, we might have to do a night trek. But hey, that’s part of the adventure. One that may probably make me want to return to the top of Capas’ lazy lump of pure natural goodness – Mt. Telakawa.
At the Jump-off
Our group of 18 people from Tarlac Mountaineering Club (TMC) and friends arrived at the Capas Satellite Tourism Office in Brgy. Sta. Juliana. This is the same area where tourists secure guides and 4×4 vehicles for Mt. Pinatubo trips via Capas. Only this time, we didn’t rent 4x4s because we only had to cross the lahar expressway in Crow Valley for 30 to 60 minutes. After registering, we secured 3 guides and 2 porters.
In the valley
We started along the lahar terrain at around 3:00 pm. In Crow Valley, one would see an abundance of talahib and sprouts of water lillies on rivers and ponds. It’s a normal sight if you see Aeta farmers carry their produce of gabi, luya, or charcoal to the barangay proper via foot, on beat-up motorcycles, or on carabaos.
A scenic view of mountain ranges provide the green in the midst of seemingly unending swaths of sand and water in white and grey hues. Hidden in these ranges is Sitio Dalig (part of Brgy. Sta. Juliana) which is the more popular starting point for climbers trying to reach its peak.
Our lead guide, Sherwin, told me about an alternative route to the summit. He uses that route when going to a privately-owned ranch that his family looks after. I asked our team leader Nath if we can try the suggested route. Despite some hesitation and fear that the itinerary might be compromised, he still agreed.
The afternoon heat was pounding on us from all sides which made the flatland walk a bit difficult. I even found myself struggling to take out my camera phone from its ziplock and document the day’s activities.
Telakawa via Mayanaw
After long photo-ops in the middle of tall wild grass with Mt. Telakawa as background, we reached the foot of the mountain at 4:10 pm. We still needed to walk through a river about 3 meters wide to get across a private land. Water lillies abound and made it difficult for one to cross.
Along the valley, if you’re standing right in front of Mt. Telakawa, you will find Sitio Dalig on its right side. The alternate route on its left side and the one we were about to ascend on was called Mayanaw (a Pampango slang which means “an abundance of anahaw” – the national leaf of the Philippines). After the river crossing, a private farm that has been planted with mango, guyabano, and coconut trees seems to be waiting for our arrival.
There were benches and tables made out of wooden logs near the entrance to the farm. The area was quite cool and windy, owing to its location in the middle of all these fruit bearing trees. Homes of Aeta families serving as caretakers of the land are placed near the resting area. One of the caretakers, Manang Rosita, told us that the land owners permit people using their trails to climb up Mt. Telakawa.
We decided to have a long break to savor the cool air and hydrate. “We’re gonna need it,” I told myself, as we faced a very long assault all the way to the summit. Dark clouds then formed just above the mountain as we prepared for the climbing part of this journey.
Mt. Telakawa’s trail starts off on a gradual ascent on one of its hilly ridges that also doubles as viewing decks to Crow Valley. During this part, I have to constantly remind our first time climber guests to “look behind you” whenever I see their faces being engulfed in difficulty or frustration. After turning around, their common reaction is that they feel refreshed and rewarded for the little steps they took in climbing.
After the ridges, the trail angles adjust from 45 to around 55 degrees. That’s sure to take up some of your leg power especially while carrying a 12-15 liter backpack. On this part of the ascent, huge rocks and boulders that look like tiny black dots from afar are already highly visible – sticking out from different parts of the mountain like how chocolate chips are embedded on a cookie.
We found a charcoal-maker’s hut at least 2 hours away from the summit. Considering the new route we took up, a trip that was supposed to take us all the way to the summit in just 3 hours (via the Sitio Dalig trail) became a 5 hour endeavor.
It was getting dark and the rain clouds above found a way to make it even darker. Nath and I assessed our situation and decided to set up camp at a wide open spot for 8 tents nearest the summit. We just decided to continue the following day. We sent two eco-adventure guides to scout for a camping spot which they found at a location approximately 1 hour away from the peak of Mt. Telakawa.
On the campsite, we immediately pitched our tents and cleaned up so we can prepare for dinner. Night eats in the mountains with TMC, and especially with Nath, are always a treat because you never know what he has in store for the group.
Right after dinner, rain started to fall quickly. Everyone scampered to their bags, taking out waterproofing and bag covers. Some retreated to their tents, while others reinforced their tents’ vestibules (waterproof covers). Karmi pulled out her Vertikal rain tarp and we quickly tied its ends and sides to the trees surrounding us (thank God for trees!). After waterproofing everything, including us wearing our rain jackets and ponchos, the rain stopped and it didn’t bother us anymore all throughout the night. Well, so much for panicking.
The rest of the night was spent on socializing, telling stories, and cracking jokes over some bottles of Emperador brandy (the mountaineer’s Jack Daniels).
After breakfast, everyone began breaking up camp. It would have taken the group less than an hour if there wasn’t any bush-clearing to be done by the guides on the trail.
However, the climb towards the finish line was another set of steep ascents. Fortunately, it was on an established foot trail that’s being used
by the locals in crossing to the other side of the mountain.
After an hour or so negotiating the steps and huge boulders, the team was at the summit! Photos were quickly taken as the sun rays were already slicing through the bush hats and long-sleeves of our companions.
The view on top of Mt. Telakawa was priceless. There aren’t a lot of mountain destinations in the Philippines where you get treated to a view of a majestic lahar landscape below. There’s a unique blend of elegance and roughness with this mountain that I’m sure will bring in a lot of curious visitors from out of town. It looks friendly at first glance with a hint of hostility for adventure’s sake.
Going Down, Going Home
After going down from the summit, everyone rested for about 15 minutes at the campsite. Two of our guides got down from the mountain early morning to inform Kubo Restaurant (in front of the Tourism Satellite Office) that we’ll be having our lunch there. Walking with mechanical precision (think: Energizer bunny), Aldy and I reached the restaurant a few minutes before 1:00 pm. We really hurried so that we can get first dibs at the bath and shower rooms. Woohoo!
After everyone has cleaned up, our lunch of hot sinigang was served with super extra green bell peppers! When we reached Tarlac City, I and some of the guys wrapped up the day with a few cold bottles of beer and with new stories and possibilities about that crazy, lazy lump of pure earthly goodness along Crow Valley – the best alternative to Mt. Pinatubo, and what Tarlac province may claim as its own: Mt. Telakawa.