March 12, 2015

climbing halcon the legal way

DISCLAIMER: please be advised that mt halcon is a major climb and is one of the country's toughest mountains to climb. hiking mt halcon is not a walk in the park. if you wish to climb this mountain, you need to be physically prepared.

TL/DR: mt halcon is open for climbing from february 1 to may 31 of each year only. please secure your permits and book your schedules with the baco tourism office. say no to ninja fixers!  if anyone from the tourism meeting which was held today reads this, please feel free to message me re any clarifications or errors posted.

sunrise view from supercat ferry
i rarely post in social media where i am going until i reveal my photos. however, this case is different.  there have been some online gossip circling around facebook that mt halcon is closed... for good and a few "privileged" people are getting access to climb backdoor, a.k.a. "ninja moves". having been informed previously by some trusted mountaineer friends that the mountain is legitimately open, i gambled time on visiting mindoro to know the true status of that mountain. 


it was synchronisity at its finest when you're seeking for information and the right people are there. just a while ago, the baco tourism, barangay captains with jurisdictions near halcon, the mangyan presidents of mountaineering guides and porters, and a few mountaineer representatives (mostly from halcon mountaineering society a.k.a. halms). they had an intense 3-hour meeting about the new laws on mountaineering to be effective immediately. i was informed by belen jardinero, barangay captain of dulangan III that amendments had to be done hoping for the hopeful that the illegal climbs would be stopped. quoting jardinero, "para rin 'to sa safety ng mga mountaineers" (this is for the safety of mountaineers) and i am overjoyed that they are doing such measures for us. two people have already died in halcon and they don't want another death in their record. after giving me a gist of what they have discussed inside the meeting room, they gave me a copy of the amended laws. i asked capt. jardinero if i can share this information via internet and she and the tourism team gave me green lights and, of course, our slots :} and yes, without further delay, the new rules (i apologise as this is only in tagalog. i will give a brief summary in the next paragraphs).

basically, the general rules of the new laws are (take note of the items emphasized):
  1. mt halcon is open for climbing from february 1 to may 31 of each year only. this is for everyone's safety since the said months are part of the dry season in ph when typhoons are less likely to visit. they will only allow climbing off season if there is a valid reason (i.e. rescue/recovery ops, and other critical situations).
  2. there are two legitimate jump-off points: lantuyang and bayanan. you cannot pick where you want to stay. the tourism determines where your entry point is to give fair share of funds to both mangyan tribes residing in each place.
  3. medical certificate and any climbing training certifications are one of the pre-requisites for one to get a permit.
  4. 7:1 is the ratio of mountaineers to guides/porters. if you are 8 in the team, you will have 2 guides/porters. you can also have as many guides/porters as you want. just coordinate with the tourism officer.
  5. climbers and guides/porters will have a load limit of 15 kg per head. this is due to the complaint of the guides/porters who were loaded by their guests up to 50 kg packs of mostly mountaineers' personal belongings and group provisions. as i've said before, you choose to climb, you train to carry your own load and stop slaving other people! if you're not fit enough to load yourself, shell out money for another guide. if you don't want to spend extra cash or carry heavy loads, you've chosen the wrong hobby.
  6. in relation to #5, the tourism officer will inspect your items. they will check your items for potential trash so you need to surrender your trash bags at the tourism office. they will dispose your trash to make sure you won't leave them somewhere in the bushes or anywhere in the trail.
  7. in relation to #6 and 7, dropping by the tourism office and the police station is mandatory as they will weigh your bags. moreover, they need to see the members of your team and confirm their identities. 
  8. in relation to #7, you need to provide your personal information to the attending tourism officer. you will have to leave a valid i.d. at the tourism office before you climb then claim it to log out.
  9. maximum number of days to climb halcon is 4.
  10. after the climb, you need to give tourism the following: photos and videos of the climb, climb report, and your comments and suggestions to improve baco tourism
  11. you need to personally drop or send via courier your letter of intent to climb mt halcon, which includes the target dates of your climb and the complete names of the members of your team
the fixers

let me get this straight that i am not a white knight nor holier-than-thou but i am just one of them people who were denied information and are relentlessly pursuing for the truth. those who have been following my blog pretty well know how our so-called "legal" climb ended and i don't want it to happen again to myself and to others. 

mt halcon was closed for quite a long time and the closure has compelled other people to craft ways on still regularly climbing and earning from it while remaining invisible to the lgu's for years. a few people in facebook claim they have "special connections" and can "ninja move" their way to the summit. moreover, they will tell you the following (based on my and other people's experience):

  • mt halcon is closed. the lgu's are only giving a few trusted people permits to climb and they are the special trusted ones.
  • that the denr/pasu and tourism put on so much red tape, which are very much costly for the mountaineers, so they'll make things easier for you. 
  • they only allow a minimum of 20 people to get a permit which costs 1500.00 PHP. 
  • inclusive of the 20 pax minimum permit, there's a default 6 porter/guides which you will have to pay even if you are only 7 people in the team. 

LEGAL: minsan asawa, bihira akyat
they will let you in their team but after numerous discriminatory and "palakasan" level of filters. after which, they'll charge you an exorbitant amount just to step on the coveted dive board. prices can go as high as 3500.00 to 4000.00 PHP per head for those who are really eager to complete their philippine mountaineering bucket list. and because the fixers want to accommodate many, the repercussions are unorganised climbs which sometimes put their clients' lives at risk. clients just keep the fiasco to themselves because, after all, they joined an illegal climb and can't complain.

ergo, don't be fooled. if you were, like me, just charge it to experience and thank heaven and hell that you are still alive.


one thing's for sure: climbing mt halcon, especially with many buddies, is cheap. let's assume we're in a climb of 20 people with a 4 day itinerary, compute for the individual cost with the following rates in PHP:

that thing called "gastos"
bus (round trip) = 270.00 to 334.00 depends on where you are coming from
permit fee = 375.00 per head
supercat roundtrip tickets = 250.00 (highest price)
batangas terminal fee = 30.00
mindoro terminal fee = 20.00
jeepney rental (round trip) = 2500.00 (or 3000.00 if you want to go to puerto galera after)
food = depends on you
guides/porters = 6000 (3pax for 4 days)

done? so if someone's organizing a climb and they are charging you 3500.00 for a team of 20+ without your  own personal guide (not team guide), insurance, freebies (shirt, id, etc), set meals (not canned good meals ffs!), and side trip; and the organizing team is not even a registered travel agency at department of tourism, there's something gravely wrong. ninja fixers take advantage of organising climbs for business because mindoro is far from manila and the tourism office staff rarely browse social media to provide essential information about the climb. ninja fixers and other participants keep this information clandestine to keep the money coming.

criticisms on the new law

although it's nice for them to share us the new laws on climbing mt halcon, here are my criticisms which i gave as feedback to the tourism officer:

  1. 7:1 is an unfair ratio for the guides - sure the tourism officers will weigh the mountaineers' bags and probably seal the bags of the guides. however, during the climb proper, one thing could most likely happen: mr guide softens up and asks for more load from mountaineers. of course, abusive mountaineers would want that and there's 7 people within 1 guide/porter's scope, the guide will have so much to carry.
  2. 7:1 is a dangerous ratio for the guides - i had my friend blogger lagataw post the new laws as well and he pointed out the same concern that the guides cannot fully supervise all 7 people probably losing their order in the trail. the 7 mountaineers are strangers to him so he wouldn't know which ones are his or another guide's.
  3. too much inspection prior to climb - i'm ok with sighting confirmation of member credentials and weighing bags but inspecting each item inside each person's bag is too much. this will be a huge delay in every itinerary's day 1. those who have not researched about this will have problems especially if they only have filed for exact number of leaves for the climb.
  4. indeterminate turnaround time for requested documents - after the climb they're requiring you to give the photos and/or videos, as well ask a climb report. that's no biggie since in every climb, the team scribe documents the climb. however, they haven't determined yet if you're going to turn over the documents right then and there or after a certain time period.
  5. tourism determining your entry point - this is a bit difficult especially if you want to rest for a night before climbing rather than going straight ahead to camp. climbers will definitely need a whole day prior to their climb to get settled considering the tourism visits.
  6. 200 pax cap - 200 is such a huge number of people! one reason why you need to turn over trash is to ensure that there are no garbage left in the mountains. actually, if they don't want too much garbage in the mountains, they should lessen the cap to only 20 per day.
  7. they are trying to formalize the climb process but there are no preventive measures against fixers bringing people to mindoro - the thing is, fixers bring in people during off-season. so i told them that they should have a tourism representative to check the people entering the city via the port. once they spot someone or a group with an overhead pack, they should immediately ask for credentials and escort them to the tourism office. the truth is, they really can't prevent illegal climbs with just an elaborate system of filing for permits. fixers already have contacts at their preferred entry points already that most of the time they are not asked for any kind of permit. apparently, they do not have a tourism desk at the port informing people where to go and recording their visitors unlike guimaras. if they have an attending tourism officer at the port, right then and there they would know if the mountaineers are trespassers.
  8. tree planting - i asked when, where, and if they're going to organize one but got no answer yet. i am also not sure if the species of the trees mentioned are indigenous to mindoro/mt halcon or wherever they're planting it.
wrap up

we got our slots.. legally :} the procedures may be tedious and for sure there will be issues on our climb days but as i foresee it, it's not something as the disaster we had with our previous hosts.

i hope this post helped you in clarifying some issues as well as planning your next adventure. i cannot promise to answer all questions as i was only oriented of the new rules. you may contact the baco tourism office for further concerns.