It was January 12th, a beautiful Saturday afternoon. My friends and I arrived at the jumpoff point of Mt. Talamitam, Nasugbu, Batangas. Our bags were packed for a night of camping, and we were super ready to go. And then they told us the mountain was closed (it’s open now, though).
Over a big sisig and bulalo dinner in the cold Tagaytay mist, we decided to regroup. Batulao? No — they have a crazy fee system. CJ suggested Tarak Ridge, and we thought, what the hell, the weekend’s young. By midnight we were back in Manila, and by 1AM, we were on a bus to Bataan.
|Sunday, Jan. 13||1:00 AM||Left Pasay|
|–||4:30 AM||Arrived at Brgy. Alas-asin in Bataan; registration & quick breakfast|
|–||5:30 AM||Started trek|
|–||9:30 AM||Arrived at Papaya River; heavy breakfast + rest|
|–||11:30 AM||Departed for ridge|
|–||2:30 PM||Arrived at Tarak Ridge; set up camp|
|Monday, Jan. 14||6:00 AM||Woke up and explored the ridge and summit|
|–||9:30 AM||Broke camp and began to descend|
|–||12:00 PM||Lunched at Papaya River|
|–||1:00 PM||Resumed descent; slower pace because M. is sprained|
|–||5:00 PM||Refreshed ourselves at the jumpoff|
|–||6:30 PM||Got on a bus back to Metro Manila|
|–||11:30 PM||Arrived in Cubao|
|Item||per Person||per Group (4 pax)|
|Bus from Pasay to Bataan||₱302.00||₱1,208.00|
|Registration at Alas-asin||₱40.00||₱160.00|
|Donation at Nanay Cording’s||Can vary||Can vary|
|Bus from Bataan to Cubao||₱302.00||₱1,208.00|
*Bus fees are estimates only; that’s the fare I remember, sorry to be inexact. Donation at Nanay Cording’s is optional, but the polite thing to do. Food expenses not included; we spent very little on food. We mostly ate what we brought for camping.
About the location
If you’ve watched sunsets from Baywalk or MOA in Manila Bay, you may have noticed the silhouette of a mountain in the distance, a little to the right side. That’s Mt. Mariveles, a dormant, prehistoric stratovolcano in the province of Bataan.
Because it’s a caldera, there are several peaks, a few of which have established trails open to the public. One of these is the Tarak peak trail, which begins in Barangay Alas-asin, southeast of the mountain’s base.. Tarak peak is 1,130 mASL, while the ridge is 1,006 mASL.
Preparing for the climb
At around 4:30AM, we registered at the Alas-asin barangay hall. We wrote down our names, our contact details, and emergency contact details, then paid a Php40 per head registration fee. We informed the desk officer that we planned to stay overnight. He reminded us to practice good camping etiquette — respect other campers and don’t use dish soap and toothpaste in the river.
We had breakfast at a small carinderia, where I had instant coffee and reheated tortang talong. From there to the jumpoff point, there’s a thirty-minute walk via a newly cemented road. People with cars can actually drive all the way to the jumpoff.
Bahay ni Nanay Cording
The jumpoff point is a small residence which CJ called Nanay Cording’s house. Sadly, she had passed away in November 2018, just two months before our climb. It’s a little house with a generator, an outside toilet and bath, and a sari-sari store, surrounded by plenty of tarps left by mountaineering groups. We wrote our names, again, in a logbook, and CJ left a customary donation for all of us.
This payment and registration process at Nanay Cording’s is not a formal thing, but members of the family render real service to the trail daily. Some of them have become rangers of Tarak, helping senior mountaineers explore and open up new trails. They also function as local guides and even collect trash everyday, trash that ignorant hikers leave behind. They know their way around the area, and will be able to respond fastest in case of any emergencies.
Our pace was slow and steady because of our heavy camping gear. It took us around 3.5 hours to get from the jump off point to Papaya River, where we had brunch and rested for 2 hours. From there, it took us 2.5 hours to get to Tarak Ridge, where we set up camp.
The next day, Mao and CJ climbed the final 20-30 minutes from ridge to peak, while M. and I watched over the campsite.
Features of the trail
The first stretch
The trail is straightforward and easy to navigate, at least in dry weather. A guide isn’t required, but it’s not impossible to get lost. CJ pointed out a few common mountaineering signs to us hiking noobs. For example, pebble stacks and ribbons along the trail so you know you’re on the right track, or branches in an X or triangle shape to warn against a false or closed trail.
Around 80% of the trail passes through moderately thick forest cover, with occasional grassy areas. Beware of sharp rattan palms in the forested areas, and loose gravel in the grassier areas.
It’s a gentle slope from the jumpoff to Papaya River. We crossed six to eight shallow ravines, remnants of landslides. Though not too technical, they still need to be crossed carefully.
The Papaya River is more like a babbling brook than a river, just two to three meters across. The formation of rocks and trees, however, suggests that this body of water may swell to twice its size in the rainy season (don’t quote me on that, though). A few other groups of people were either breaking camp or just setting up in clearings nearby.
Stacks of pebbles and boulders formed small, clear pools. Over it, colorful little insects darted and fluttered: dragonflies, butterflies, spiders, striders. The water glimmered very invitingly in the late morning sun. It was very cold and delicious; I couldn’t tell the difference between it and the mineral water I brought.
(By the way, I only saw one papaya tree, and it was pretty far from the river. So I don’t know why it’s called the Papaya River.)
CJ and I sat in the middle of the stream, under a slim tree with a honeycomb in it. We re-washed the baby potatoes and chopped up an onion while the other two guys set up the cooking set and other food items.
Lunch was corned beef sauteed with onion, boiled baby potatoes, and instant crab and corn soup with egg. It helped wake us up after the whole Manila-Cavite-Batangas-Manila-Bataan trip. After eating and resting for a little while, we set off for the ridge.
Not five minutes away from the river, we met the three hikers. They were resting at the foot of a large tree along the trail, like NPCs strategically placed by any sensible game designer. They were older than us, and obviously very experienced, and they gave us a bunch of cool advice about where to explore next and what gear to buy for cold or wet weather.
I was very impressed because it felt like I was on a real Pokemon-slash-Ragnarok-type quest, and now a few new places and items were unlocked. And it was time to walk away and gain more and more of everything — cash, XP, items, levelups.
The second stretch
After the Papaya River, the ascent becomes much steeper and narrower. The flora grows denser, as well. A steady upward walk culminated in a slightly exhausting series of almost vertical, roughly 60-degree assaults.
Vines and roots and branches are extremely helpful; you just had to be sure of what could hold weight, and of course, you need both hands free. I’d borrowed a trekking pole to help me with my added weight. It was helpful during the first half of the climb. But after the Papaya River, I started putting the pole aside and using my hands and feet.
We didn’t know how high we were getting; the vegetation was too thick. It was like a tunnel, and the light at the end was always up ahead. But the wind grew colder and colder, confirming that we were gaining height.
Finally, the trees came to an almost abrupt end. The trail burst into high, shrubby grasslands.
In the distance, the mountain melted into fields and cities and ended in silver seas. This was Tarak Peak, cold and wind-whipped.
Suddenly we were nearly in the clouds, and rolling away beneath our feet in all directions were the slopes of Mt. Mariveles. In the distance, the mountain melted into fields and cities and ended in silver seas.
This was Tarak Peak, cold and wind-whipped. As we took deep, steadying breaths, the great mountain treated us to a broad, full-color, 90-degree valley rainbow which vanished, too soon, in the mist. Time check: 2:30PM.
We could see all the way from ridge to peak, as the trail was open: full of grass, boulders, low bushes, and loose gravel. The peak itself was crowned with a denser cover of low trees that danced in the wind.
We encountered three official campsites:
- Papaya River. The campsite is beside the river itself, which is midpoint between jumpoff and peak
- Tarak Ridge. The campsite is behind a ledge that shields it from the worst of the wind
- Tarak Peak. The campsite is right near the peak
We set up camp at the Tarak Ridge campsite, behind a ledge that functions as a windbreak. The trees there are crazy loud, because of the wind — their incessant thrashing sounds like the roaring of white water.
When the tents were set up, we took a long, well-deserved afternoon nap to recover from Saturday’s Nasugbu misadventure.
I woke up as the sun was setting, to the sound of tentative little footsteps and heavy breathing right outside our tent. After more snorty breathing, I heard someone else’s tent zip up, and M.’s voice asking CJ if it was him.
We all thought it sounded like a little pig, and that was probably what it was — a wild boar, small, dark, nocturnal, elusive. We never got to see it, though.
For dinner, we prepared the same food as earlier: some soup, sauteed corned beef, and baby potatoes. It was great, but I wished we’d remembered to bring coffee!
When I had to “use the bathroom,” I’d walk to a spot far from both campsite and trail. The view was of the distant city. The lights were so pretty and the wind so cold, it was delightful.
It was so cold, our breath came out in little white puffs. We warmed our hands and feet over our small, carefully crafted campfire. But clouds rushed in on us until it was truly too chilly and damp to keep hanging out, so at 10PM we retreated into our tents.
It was so cold, our breath came out in little white puffs.
I fell asleep to the noisy thrashing of the trees, and the occasional shuffling, snorting, footsteps, and heavy breathing of the baboy-ramo. (The people at Nanay Cording’s insisted that though baboy-ramo do live there, they’re too shy to get that up close, so it was probably a bayawak. Sure, but do monitor lizards snort and have little hooves?)
In the morning, we enjoyed the ridge for a while. Since we were expecting people to pass by, it wouldn’t do to leave the camp unguarded, so only CJ and Mao hiked the final thirtyish minutes to the peak.
We left the ridge before ten in the morning, on Monday, the 14th of January.
We’d been descending for maybe an hour when M. sprained his right knee. Mao put a bandage on it for support; we gave him Tiger Balm and a mild painkiller. We had to go quite slowly after that. (Totally fine with me; my lazy legs were turning into jelly.)
Back at the Papaya River, we brunched, rested, and washed our faces. Then we started walking again. By 5:00PM we were back at the jump off, where we deposited our trash, snacked at the sari-sari store, bought a few souvenirs, petted some puppies, and chatted with the guides. The family also let us use the toilet and bath.
Instead of walking back to the town of Alas-asin, we hitched a ride with Ate Beth, who was going to buy something in town. We paid her Php150 for her trouble, and it really was trouble as we were almost too heavy for the tricycle.
6:30PM — we caught the last bus to Manila. Or at least they said they were the last bus; we were hoping for a ride to Pasay, but this would only go as far as Cubao. Our return trip to Manila, since it was the rush hour, took almost five hours (the journey from Pasay to Bataan, the day before, took only three hours).
We had dinner at a McDonald’s in Cubao and took a Grab south. It was past midnight when we got home. ★