Scorched earth: Mount Cinco Picos-Silanguin Cove traverse

The trail from Sitio Cawag to Silanguin Cove is barren and burnt. There is virtually no shade, save for the pockets of trees that line the streams. Had it not been for the wind and the clouds, our Saturday hike would have been an extreme form of self-flagellation. There was an easier and more relaxing way to the cove, but still, we chose to expose ourselves to the difficulties of the hike, because this is what defines us. We are mountaineers, after all.

We left Makati before midnight, and as was usual, I could not get myself to sleep during the entire journey. I listened to Ed Sheeran’s new album as we sped towards Subic Town, although I could not recall any of the songs by the time we started the hike. There were already several groups in Sitio Cawag, many of them heading to either Nagsasa Cove or Mt. Balingkilat, both of which I’ve done a few times. In fact, Silanguin Cove is the only one I have not hiked to, so I was eager to go.

The trek began a shade after 5AM. It was still very dark, and the trail was muddy in parts, but mostly dry. When the sun finally shone, it revealed the scorched landscape before us. I can’t say this is due to logging, or some other form of illegal activity, although our guide told me that bulldozers came to collect boulders from the riverbed. Some parts of the mountain resembled charcoal, remnants of a recent burn. Whether intentional or not, it was difficult to imagine the mountain looking different.

During my last climb to Balingkilat, a fire was moving over the slopes of Cinco Picos. We studied the wind before we arrived at the comforting conclusion that we were perched far and high enough not to be bothered by the smoke.

The last time I was in this part of Zambales was nearly 10 years ago, for the 1st training climb of AMCI’s BMC 2007. It was much greener then, although it was also a very wet climb. This time around, the rivers were dry, and the reeds, brown. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant climb until we descended from the shoulder close to the five peaks, and down towards the cove.

Initially, our guide estimated we would reach the cove in 9 hours, depending on our speed. We reached the end of the trail in under 7, and with generous rest stops in between. At one point, we hesitated leaving the shaded riverbed with the green pool. From there, it was still over an hour’s hike to the beach, passing through scorched valleys. Ash was being blown away, and in some places, the cove was still burning.

When we arrived at the beach, the first thing we did was to order a few bottles of Coke. But our celebration seemed to be premature. Apparently, our campsite is still a good 30 minutes away. Silanguin seems to be the longest of the three I’ve been to, and the most difficult to walk on. Like Anawangin and Nagsasa, the beach has been cut up into parcels, fenced, and awarded to possibly spurious claimants; our resort in particular was close to the eastern end of the cove. I had to drag my feet across the gray sand, passing resorts with the barest of facilities.

Our ground crew arrived an hour later, and it seemed nothing else was on the itinerary except to cook food, eat, and drink. I personally did not go beyond a radius of 50 meters of our kitchen. I was neither spent nor tired. Just unexcited that even this one has not gone unnoticed. No matter how far away we go, there will always be crowds. Escape has become a luxury, and solitude, an impossibility. While we appreciate the conveniences of running water and a nearby store, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to truly disconnect and shut off?

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