There is a bit of confusion as to what the real name of this mountain is, numerous blogs and travel sites call it Mt. Gulugod Baboy. I’m going to go with Mt. Pinagbandirahan, as the locals call it. It roughly translates to “where the flag was raised”.
The story behind the name involves a Japanese plane crashing on one of the peaks during World War II. The pilot somehow survived and hoisted a Japanese flag atop the mountain. I tried looking for further details about this online since the story is kind of sketchy for me, unfortunately I couldn’t find anything (yet).
Ben (B) and I got to Batangas Grand Terminal via bus from Buendia along Taft Avenue, fare is 175PhP per person, and travel time is approximately two hours. A quick side-note: friends we met along the trail got lost going to Mt. Pinagbandirahan from Manila because the bus they got on was going to a different grand terminal—in Quezon Province. So, learn the lesson, clearly tell the conductor or the driver of the bus where you need to go to avoid confusion.
We got to the Batangas grand terminal at around 10am, (enjoyed an order of siomai) hopped on a jeepney going to Mabini. We paid 37PhP each for the roughly 30 minute ride. If you want to keep travel time on-the-dot, better factor in the wait-time to fill the jeep with passengers because on this particular trip, it took about 30 minutes to fill the jeep since it was a Sunday. Just tell the driver that you’re heading to Philpan, no need to worry, ours even hooked us up with two other passengers so we can share the fare for the tricycle which is 40PhP per head and 160PhP for special trips. The rode to the jump-off is literally beside the sea which will elate you to say the least. We got off from the long uphill ride directly in front of the registration table, fee is 40Php.
To recap, from Buendia to the registration area we’ve shelled out a total of 409PhP.
The Mountain and the Sun
Now, it’s true that Mt. Pinagbandirahan has a well-established trail and the need for a guide is minimal (fee is 500Php for a small group), but, and I say this with conviction, I highly encourage first timers (as in first-timer to a particular mountain, even if it’s your 100th climb, if it’s your 1st on a particular place, it’s always better to be safe than sorry) to hire one. If you and your friends are on a super tight budget, I suggest climbing on a Saturday morning. There’s a high chance you’ll come across a guided group and you can trail behind them (but don’t be an ass, offer something to show you are remotely trying to earn your keep when you are near them. Y’know, like trail food or something. At the very least be friendly).
We were assisted by kuya (brother) Lito. He’s a relatively new guide but has lived his whole life in Mt. Pinagbandirahan. Kuya Lito, B, and I started our way up at noon—a very bad idea. Summer is right around the corner and the sun was blazing down on us, it was freaking noon time after all. It was a bad call, I admit.
To those who are saying this is an easy climb or anything synonymous, they’re lying—or, they’re super fit. We started walking and immediately, as in once we’ve stepped out of the registration area, we found ourselves on an assault! Already, my temples started pulsating and my heart was probably visible as it took one labored beat after another. After a few minutes we were stepping on a concrete road again and it was strange for me because I was expecting…well, earth.
It was just one long scorching, cemented, 60° slanted path. We felt like we were beginning to spontaneously combust. It’s a little embarrassing but we had to stop every 30 steps we took. Did I mention all these are happening at noon? Yes? Alright.
Finally, we reached the end of that lava road and reached a small store directly in front of where the earth trail begins. B was convinced he couldn’t make it anymore and I really didn’t mind going back because we can always just hit the waters. But after resting (for a long time) and a little pep talk from the locals who owned the store, we got up and carried on.
“Lakad kayo kaunti, pahinga. Lakad uli, silong uli, pahinga. Kung hindi kayo maglalakad, hindi kayo makakarating. (Walk a little, rest. Walk again, find a shade, rest again. If you don’t start walking, you will never reach where you’re heading)” – Ate (big sister), from the store.
The sun was still roaring. We took ate’s word to heart and stopped from time-to-time. B threw up mid-way, I gave him the option to walk back—same thing you should do if you or one of your friends aren’t feeling too well while hiking. Remember that the mountain will always be there; you can always go back and try another day. I will also reiterate the importance of having a guide here. If we didn’t have one, and either one of us collapsed, what will happen then? Guides—always a good idea.
Ever so slowly and countless stops later, we found ourselves at kuya Lito’s place. We met his children and we stayed there for a few minutes to rest and bought cold drinks to cool down. We really took our time and stopped when needed. A couple of feet higher we got to kuya Randy’s house where we met two jolly girls, Jam and Mae. They are the ones I said earlier who somehow ended up in Quezon Province and spent the night there. They said they started climbing at 10am and also took their sweet time because of the heat. They fell asleep at kuya Randy’s house and that’s where we met them, it was already 2:30pm.
Although it was still hot and the trail is a steadily steep ascent, the sun was slowly letting up and the hike became less laborious. Finally, after three hours of wheezing we arrived on top. It was not what I was expecting.
Disbelief is the perfect word to describe that moment. I was in disbelief as I stare at the harmony of the sea, the sky, and the slopes and how it make up such a wonder. Mt. Pinagbandirahan’s 360° view of the beautiful Batangas coast lines cannot be justified in photos, it has to be seen and breathed in.
The other ‘disbelief’ though, is going to leave your heart aching. I did my research before our climb and I have read that some factors will disappoint me when I get to the summit—one of which is the cemented road on the other side of the mountain. Yep. You can ride up to the peak and walk five minutes (not even) to the very top. Honestly I find this slightly intriguing because, through this road, my 67yo mother can come with me and see the beauty that I saw without breaking her fragile knees or suffering a stroke because of the heat. The down side of this however, is it makes the mountain too accessible even to people who don’t care about what they do or how they’d affect the mountain. We got there with two groups who came in late in the afternoon via van. Both groups are rowdy. One of the men even removed a danger sign for a measly photo op and he didn’t put it back where he got it not realizing that he’s putting other climbers in peril.
Another thing that really broke my heart is how the once famous lone tree near Mt. Pinagbanderahan’s summit is now littered with misspelled Tagalog placards of where the comfort rooms are—it’s depressing.
I don’t want to call this climb a disappointment because I truly had fun despite the probable permanent knee damage I’ve acquired…and without a doubt, summit scenes are always–always wonderful. When you climb up Mt. Pinagbandirahan, or any other mountain, or anywhere else for that matter, be responsible. Be humane. Take care of it so somebody else can see it someday. I do hope you climb up Mt. Pinagbandirahan someday.
The Road Home
Since B was still feeling woozy and it was getting dark (plus my knees were about to give out), we opted to go down through the cement road all the way to Mabini. We gave the driver 250 for the 30-45 minute ride down the mountain and beside the coast. It took a while before we were able to hop on a jeepney back to Grand Terminal (37Php/pax) since it was already 7pm. We boarded a bus to Buendia (175Php/pax) via skyway at 8pm and arrived in Manila at 10pm. Our total fare to get home is 638PhP.
Overall we shelled out 1047 for fare to and from, plus 500PhP for the guide which gets us to around 1,547PhP. If we add in the food, we’ll get at, roughly, 2,000Php for the both of us. Not bad, eh?
My original plan on how to go back to Manila was by going down where we came, swim a little, and go home. You can opt to do the same especially if you have ample time, go swim! I will be setting up another climb here with friends, most likely and overnight to add another S, and my favorite kind–stars.
As usual, the mountain made me appreciate how my heart beats and the strength of my damaged knees. As usual, I loved climbing with B. As usual, we’ve met interesting people along the trail. As usual, the mountains gave me an endorphin high. All these ‘usuals’ doesn’t seem so usual when we deal with everyday life. I needed this high. Much needed, much appreciated.
It you ever find yourself wanting to visit this lovely mountain, please do so with care—for you and for the mountain (and nature, everything). I hope you find joy beyond the aching muscles and the smouldering heat.
painful first climb since Mt. Pulag in 2015!