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Cebu Highlands Trail Segment 4a: Ginatilan to Lawaan, Danao

By Adrenaline Romance @AdrenalnRomance

Cebu Highlands Trail Segment 4

The discovery of something new even in our very own home island is mesmerizing. That discovery is often a realization that we should not readily believe in rumors and heresay. We often hear from people that Northern Cebu being dangerous, deforested, or bare. But when we actually went there during our Segment 4 CHT hike, we found an amazing place that is safe, green, lush, and wild!

What’s nice about camping in a community like Ginatilan is that we have access to lots of fresh water. Thus, we were able to cook some soup for breakfast, fill our water bottles to the brim, and—best of all—had a refreshing bath! And on a long, hot trek, having a morning bath really fills us with vigor and energy.

We bade farewell to Ginatilan, strapped on our Deuter backpacks, and started our long walk towards our exit point in Lawaan, Danao. As soon as we rounded out a blind curve, we were back in the green wilderness of North Cebu. The golden early morning sun seemed to make the mountains glow softly.

Let's start trekking!

At the bottom of the valley, we came across Lusaran River. A shallow area filled with pebbles served as a convenient natural “bridge” for us to cross the swift river. The cold, flowing water felt really good on our legs, and the round pebbles became our reflexologists.

Crossing the Lusaran River

A carpet of flowers! Sweetie imagined herself to be Goldilocks sitting on a vast meadow. Hehehe!

Goldilocks?

We also met locals who shared amazing stories of the past. This guy may seem to be just like your ordinary farmer. But he revealed that his father was once part of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea during the Korean War. His dad’s unit held fast to defend their position in Hill Eerie under intense artillery and mortar bombardment. Yes, his father survived and resumed a simple life as a farmer.

Sharing inter

After the short chat, we continued on our way. Our first objective was to exit the valley, and to do that, we had to climb this very steep mountain. It wasn’t easy as the morning sun burned bright and hot. There was no shade, and we had to hump it up on the grassy trail.

A friendly dog from the last community we passed through followed us. While we welcomed our furry friend’s company, we were aware that he has an owner judging from his collar and well-fed belly. Reluctantly, we had to shoo him away.

Hot morning

The dog kept following us, so Sir Jing had to threaten him with a stick so he would return home. While waiting to ensure that the dog won’t follow us again, we took an about face to admire the rugged view. Wow! These are views that we don’t see every day. These are views that tell us that Cebu has so much more to offer.

Knowing that we just climbed and traversed those mountains, we can’t help it but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment even though we were still far from completing the segment.

The highlands of Asturias

This climb seemed to be never-ending! Upon reaching what we thought was the top ridge, we became aghast to see that there are still more slopes to climb! Whew! But that’s okay because the air was clean and fresh. And of course, the view all around us is to die for.

Tiring ascent

After what seemed to be an entire morning of climbing, we finally reached the topmost ridge of the mountain. The open terrain of the grassy ridge provided us with a wonderful view of the valley far below us. From this vantage point, we can see the Lusaran River and the town of Ginatilan, a collection of blue and white specks a few miles away.

Against the vastness of Nature, mankind’s developments seem to be almost insignificant.

Lusaran River below us

These mountains may look formidable, but they are important arteries for the locals who live here. Trained and familiar eyes can spot man-made trails even when they’re camouflaged against grasslands or concealed in thick foliage.

Let's trek

A quarter past 9 AM, we arrived at a lone hut near the remote Uling Peak, Kaluwangon, Asturias. Aside from being our designated rest spot, we did some charity here. An old couple live here, and they’re taking care of two young schoolchildren who, sadly, were abandoned by their parents.

Every day, the elderly couple work hard to provide food on the table. However, age has caught up to them, and toiling in the farm for years has taken its toll.

Bringing gifts of joy!

We gave these two kids some books, toys, and candies. For the couple, we gave them some food. It’s not much, but it comes from our hearts. “Happiness is only real when shared,” was what Christopher McCandless wrote before he died in the Alaskan wilderness during his ill-fated adventure. And indeed, everyone was really beaming with happiness. There is always joy in giving, and the world would be a better place if everyone does that.

Our “payment” for this? A cool rest and fresh water so we could prepare some hot coffee.

Happy kids!

After almost an hour of playing with the kids, we were ready to continue the trek. We said goodbye to the family, crossed Uling Peak just below its summit, and started our descent. Our next target stopover was a spot at the bank of Danao River somewhere far below us.

Mountains and valleys of Danao

But getting to the river was easier said than done. Deep within the jungles, trails—human or natural—crisscrossed at certain points. Following the right trail proved to be a challenge, even for Sir Jing.

Years of trekking and climbing has taught us to identify, range, and triangulate the source of sounds in nature, including the murmur of rushing water. However, the terrain amplifies existing sounds. Thus, what sounds like a major water source turns out to be a small stream! What sounds like a woodcutter doing his work turns out to be hollow bamboo stalks striking each other in the wind.

Where are we?

We had to backtrack a few times as Sir Jing gradually recalled which trails to take. A few times, however, we had a few doubts, particularly during a certain area where we climbed up another mountain. We’re supposed to go down to a river, but why were we going up?

On the right track

But Sir Jing is an expert in traditional land navigation. He has a lifetime of outdoor experience in his belt. With a confident stride, he led us to another open ridge which afforded us an encompassing view of our destination and lunch area—the banks of Danao River.

Danao River

In every hike, an opportunity to actually see our destination always gives us a surge of energy. The trail began to follow a downward slope, so we raced towards the river. Boy, were we that tired and hungry!

Let's hurry up!

A quarter past noon, we finally arrived at the banks of Danao River. We picked up a sweet spot, shrugged off our backpacks, kicked off our shoes, and took out our packed lunch. While the ladies prepared the food, I set up my burner so we could boil some water for coffee.

Lunch time

We arrived at our lunch spot earlier than usual so Sweetie and Apol had some time to refresh themselves with a cool swim in the river. We found no soul here, so we had the river to ourselves.

Refreshing swim

While the ladies frolicked in the water, Sir Jing and I enjoyed some hot coffee while chatting about the CHT. We felt quite honored when he said that aside from him and Jonathan (his companion during the first CHT thruhike), our team are the only recreational outdoorspeople who have ever set foot on this place!

The Danao River serves as a sharp geographical boundary between the municipalities of Asturias and Danao.

Meditating

A quarter past 1 PM, we packed up and continued on our way. Upon crossing the river, we were officially entering the municipality of Danao.

This municipality has a dark secret. During the Marcos era, the highlands of Danao were teeming with communist rebels on the run from government forces. Years later, enterprising locals established a lucrative black market. They manufactured counterfeit firearms known as “paltik.” The “paltiks” are hot items, and policemen are actively on a prowl to catch a “paltik’ seller.

“Paltiks” are mostly made of scrap metal. But some are so expertly manufactured that they look like their genuine counterparts.

Crossing from Asturias to Danao

After crossing the river, we climbed yet another steep mountain. Even though our legs were starting to ache, we climbed rapidly, knowing that when we reach the end of this trail, there will be a cold Sparkle waiting for us. Hehehe!

Tough ascent

Uh-oh! The guardian of the trail came in the form of this angry-looking bull. One bump of its massive head, and we’ll go careening back to the river. Giving it space was easier said than done because the giant beast was lying down on the trail itself.

Thankfully, he didn’t do anything aside from chewing his cud. He let us pass albeit with a wary look in his eye.

The guardian of the trail

As we reached the top of the ridge, we can see where we came from. The thought of having traversed such long distance in such rugged terrain is just mesmerizing. Amidst all doubts, exhaustion, and pain, we persevered and triumphed.

That’s the same in life. A worthwhile journey is always difficult. It’s always full of doubts, fear, desperation, and nagging thoughts to quit. But if you overcome it all, you can look back and realize just how strong you really are.

We’ve made it!

Mountains and valleys

Well, not yet exactly. We have one more major hurdle to get through. We need to cross this ridge to get to a trail that leads to a concrete road. Following that road will lead us to our exit point in Lawaan.

The ridge forms a part of an extremely steep field. The ascending trail that traverses it is so narrow that need to tiptoe, our heels hanging over the edge. Very lose, dry soil exacerbated the challenge of crossing it. We had to hold on to very fragile grass, branches, and roots to maintain our balance.

Falling here is not fatal (although embarrassing). But if one of us fell, there’s no way of crawling back up without a rope. The soil is just too loose and slippery. We have to go all the way to the bottom, climb a mountain slope, and start all over again. So inch by careful inch, we carefully made our way across the ridge.

Narrow, slippery edge

At last, we reached the concrete road somewhere in Barangay Saksak. There was a sari-sari store nearby where we rewarded ourselves with some bread and soda. Best of all, Sacsac celebrated their town fiesta a day before, so there was a bit of leftover food that the household offered us. We politely declined the offer and asked to have our water bottles refilled instead.

After a 30-minute rest, we started the last leg of this hike, a 1-hour walk towards Lawaan.

The road at last

Beautiful karst formations were resplendent in the highlands of Danao. What’s more, locals said that a few years ago, some foreigners visited Sacsac. They brought ropes and climbing equipment. According to the stories, they spent a few days climbing these amazing cliffs.

Knowing that there are no bolted cliffs in Danao except for the privately owned Chocolate Mountain, we presume that these foreigners were trad climbers. For those who are not familiar with climbing lingo, trad climbing is rock climbing discipline wherein the climber places and removes fall-protection gear as they climb up the cliff. Compare that to sport climbing wherein the fall-protection gear is permanently bolted to the cliff face.

Karst formations

After an hour of walking on the hard concrete road, we finally reached the crossing of Lawaan, Danao—and our destination for the day! Whew, what a hike!

We waited for a little while for some habal-habals to take us to the city center of Danao.

Lawaan at last!

As a reward for a hike well done, we stopped by Halourd and Ann’s newly opened franchise restaurant Sol’s in Liloan. They happily fed us with grilled chicken and pizza. For dessert, we enjoyed cassava cake, biko (glutinous rice with caramelized sugar), and their specialty—halo-halo!

Halo-halo is a popular Filipino cold dessert which is concocted from crushed ice (powdered ice in case of Sol’s), evaporated milk, sugar, and various ingredients such as sweetened beans, coconut, sago, jelly, leche flan, fruit slices, and more. Finally, the entire assembly is topped with a scoop of ice cream.

If you want the best halo-halo, Sol’s in Liloan is the place to go. It’s just right across the town’s fire station.

Dinner at Sol's

Completing the first part of CHT Segment 4 taught us something. When you hear something unfavorable about a certain place (or a certain person), don’t readily believe it. Get up your haunches, and go for the actual experience yourself. You will be surprised at just how different reality is from heresay.

Itinerary

Day 1
5:00 AM – Assemble at Ayala V-Hire Terminal
6:00 AM – Leave Cebu City
7:30 AM – Arrive Trailhead to Mt. Manunggal, start trek to Ginatilan
11:45 AM – Arrive Cabasiangan, Balamban, lunch
12:45 PM – Leave Cabasiangan, trek to Ginatilan
4:00 PM – Arrive at Ginatilan, set camp
6:00 PM – dinner
8:00 PM – lights out

Day 2
5:00 AM – Wakeup call, breakfast, break camp
6:30 AM – leave Ginatilan, start trekking to Lawaan
12:15 PM – arrive at Danao River, lunch, swim
1:15 PM – Leave Danao River, resume trek to Lawaan
3:00 PM – arrive at Sacsac, rest
4:15 PM – arrive at Lawaan, ride habal-habal to Danao City
5:00 PM – arrive at Danao City, wait for jeep to Cebu

Budget*

  • Php 120 per person – V-hire fare, Ayala terminal to Mt. Manungal trailhead, Barangay Magsaysay
  • Php 80 per person – habal-habal fare per person, trailhead to Mt. Manunggal crossing
  • Php 80 per person – habal-habal fare per person, Lawaan to Danao City
  • Php 40 per person – jeep fare per person, Danao City to Cebu City
  • TBN (to be negotiated) – Sir Jing’s professional guideship fee

* Rates can change without prior notice. Note that we didn’t include the budget for meals, snacks, and personal expenses as you may have different sharing schemes or preferences.

Tips

1. For guideship services, contact Mr. Jing Lavilles de Egurrola at 0933-3225005. You can also get in touch with him through his personal Facebook account and through the Camp Red Facebook Group. He and his partner Jonathan Apurado are the only ones who have completed the CHT.

Please have the courtesy to introduce yourself first when contacting him. Let him know that we referred you to him through our blog.

2. Presently, self-guided hikes on the CHT are not yet possible. The trail is not marked, and you could get easily lost. Moreover, locals are wary of strangers, and visiting their place unannounced can make them suspicious of your presence. This could constitute a misunderstanding or worse, a security issue. It’s mandatory to hire Sir Jing as he will get the necessary permissions and arrange the courtesy visits for you.

3. As of this writing, a guided thru-hike is not yet possible. Until the trail is marked and the Cebu Province supports its protection and documentation, only guided segment/sub-segment hikes can be done.

4. Bring a wide-brimmed hat or scarf to protect yourself from the heat. Don’t hesitate to tell the guide to stop if you feel exhausted.

5. Water sources are aplenty on the trail. You can also buy bottled water and resupply at the sari-sari stores along the way.

6. Wear arm guards and trekking pants to protect your skin from the sun and prickly plants. Also, a dry-fit shirt or rash guard will help keep you cool. Se7en makes very comfortable outdoor apparel.

7. Wear trekking shoes or sandals with an aggressive tread. You will need a lot of traction since you will be scrambling over loose soil and slippery rocks.

8. Bring salt tablets or ion-filled beverages such as Gatorade, coconut water, or fruit juice aside from water. The hot sun, multiple ascents, and exposed trails can make you sweat a lot. When you lose enough ions and salts via your sweat, cramps will occur. If cramps happen, rest for a while, drink a lot of water or ionic drinks. This will replenish the ions in your system.

9. Bring energy-rich trail food such as nuts, crackers, bread, and bananas. Don’t underestimate the trail.

10. Pack light but do bring the following:

  • water (at least 2 liters)
  • good-quality 3-season tent with fly sheet and groundsheet (or hammock)
  • cookset (can be shared with the group)
  • burner (can be shared with the group)
  • cold weather gear (warmer, thermal underwear, fleece
  • jacket, windbreaker or winter jacket)
  • extra clothes (1 set for climbing, 1 set for sleeping, 1 set for returning home)
  • trekking shoes/boots and light flip-flops (for walking around the campsite)
  • raincoat, rain jacket, or poncho
  • hat, scarf, and sunglasses (to protect yourself from the sun)
  • first aid kit
  • food for dinner, breakfast, and lunch
  • hydration salts, table salt, or Gatorade (to avoid and relieve cramps)
  • toiletries
  • headlamp or flashlight
  • whistle
  • cellphone
  • extra money
  • trail snack
  • personal medication

11. Don’t forget to waterproof your belongings. You can do this easily by wrapping your stuff inside dry sacks or plastic bags.

12. Please mind your trash; do not leave any of your garbage behind. Keep your voices low, and avoid unruly behavior.


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