Mt. Pico de Loro: Stories of Darkness and Kindness

Close your eyes for a moment and listen to your surroundings. 

You can hear everything even the slightest noise, right? Imagine if you're alone in the middle of the forest and can hear all those sounds and more strange animal squeaks for more than two hours. 

ala Blair Witch Project on my first solo night and dawn trek

My Mt. Pico de Loro night and dawn trek last weekend will forever be etched in my mind because of this experience. But, that's just part of the whole story.  

You might have heard or read of how inviting and gorgeous is the monolith or the Parrot's Beak and how lovely is the view from the summit of Mt. Pico de Loro. Let me tell you a different story.

What's with the night and dawn trek?  

I was on an official affair in Manila and I was eyeing Mt. Pico de Loro in Ternate, Cavite for a dayhike on the weekend. But things went wrong after flight bookings facilitated by our host fell on the day before my preferred date. With no one to blame, I accepted my fate of losing the chance to scale Cavite's rockies. 

But optimism pushed me to bring my trek pole and my light trek shoes. My colleagues asked, "what are you gonna do with that?", pointing to the pole. "Pag tinopak ako, gagamitin ko 'to" (If I lose my sanity, I'm going to use this).  

After the Manila affair, I felt ready with the one page list I made of terminal locations, time estimates and contacts.  Three and a half hours later, with 1.5 hour spent on crotch-to-butt infernal transfers from jam-packed MRT to LRT to Lawton Terminal, I was there standing outside St. Anthony Bus Terminal in the silent town of Ternate hungry and thirsty.

Tricycle ride to the jump-off

Mang Rey Salazar, a kind and jolly tricycle driver whose cellphone number I got from PinoymountainBear's blog, lives just in-front of the terminal. After offering me a glass of cold water we boarded his muscular tricycle and headed straight to DENR station on a 20-minute ride.

"The DENR office has closed, you may proceed to the base camp if you want," Mang Rey said in Tagalog with slight Batangueno accent. It was 10 PM. With no choice I knew I only have my trek pole and my head lamp to rely on. 

I have a 1:15 PM flight to catch in Manila the next day. I needed to finish the trek on the right time. "See you 8:00 AM here", I told Mang Rey.

Encounter with a "Monster(?)"

“What the hell am I doing here?” It was the first time I ever asked myself this question in my decade-old mountaineering life. I traversed the darkness of 172 hectares wide Palay-palay Protected Forest on my first solo night trek. 

I've done solo treks before in Mt. Apo via Kidapawan trail in North Cotabato and a Mt. Dulang-dulang-Mt. Kitanglad traverse in Bukidnon but I hired guides and we only trekked when the sun was up. This time, I walked like a lost puppy in the woods, paranoid of all the weird noises and movements. I was anonymous and nameless in the vastness of the forest. Think of Blair Witch Project. It was real.

Loaf bread and coffee for dinner

Thirty minutes down the dark trail I saw two glaring eyes of a big black animal staring straight at me. I was about to run back to the highway but I thought it would be unwise. Monster? I held up my trek pole in defense and to ready for an impending rumble. It was a relief when I found out it was just a horse tied to the shrubs.

Then the real wave of attack came. A pack of dogs surrounded me as I stood there in ninja stance with the trek pole as my sword. Funny, yeah. I blew my emergency whistle suspecting a house could be somewhere near hoping I will be heard. After a minute of deafening barks a woman with a flood lamp asked me to just proceed. Holy dogs! I was safe. 

Meet the second Rey, the basecamp caretaker

It was Ate Violy, wife of another Rey, Kuya Rey Medina. The couple takes care of the basecamp and maintains the trails together with their six children. Before I knew it I was already sipping a cup of hot coffee served by Ate Violy. I shared with them my dinner, a loaf of bread from the Metro.

Kind People in the Forest

We shared stories in the silence of the night lit only by a dimming kerosene lamp. Kuya Rey said they've been living in the forest for 31 years and tending to his livestock and farming fruit trees are their means of livelihood. Although the legality of their stay there is an issue between them and the government, they still believe they are the rightful caretaker and protector of the forest.

Medina family's humble abode

Their humble abode, a stilt house made of thick lumbers confiscated by DENR from illegal loggers in the forest, serves as the control station for the basecamp. Passing mountaineers are asked to register and pay P20. They have foods and drinks for the mountaineers who want to load up. In a way, the family benefits from the tourism highlighted by the proud monolith at the end of the trail.  
The family was amazed that I came all the way from Mindanao and had to trek at night just to reach Mt. Pico de Loro. They didn't know I came to a point of thinking of cancelling my plan upon arriving at the bus terminal. 

The couple offered me to share with them their room for the night. We slept on the floor with their 3 children. They prepared me a tent ply that served as my mat. It was too kind for a family to offer what little they have for a stranger.  

Four hours later, 3:30AM, I needed to leave. I slid my sleeping bag back to my pack and washed my face. I needed to be back at the jump off by 8:00 AM to ensure I make it to my flight schedule.

Forks in the Road and another "monster"!

I bid good bye and thanked Kuya Rey and ate Violy. The patriarch's last instructions were clear: follow the clearer trails; look for trail signs; whenever there are forks in the road always turn right. 

Trails to the left lead to Maragondon town. Some may lead to nowhereland!   

Easy. I got lost in the dark trail twice having mistaken a dried river for a clearer trail. Thankfully, the plenty of trail signs proved to be helpful. 

Halfway to the summit I was palpitating. The trail got steeper so I decided to rest. Weird sounds of invisible animals and the raging winds added to the eerie mood. Suddenly I saw another black animal with glaring eyes approaching me. Astounded, I shouted like hell and fell butt first to the jagged boulders. I used my sword, I mean my trek pole, to prevent it from getting near. The "enemy" did not move. 

Meet Picoy

It was a black domesticated dog waggling its tail. Its eyes were that of an innocent child. We became instant trail buddies. Whenever I get confused with the dark trails it would lead the way.We shared the second bread loaf until we reached the summit together. Let me name him Picoy. 
The Pico de Loro summit
Just before the sun rose, I reached the campsite were a makeshift store (mountaineers call it "7 Eleven") was settled. The De Jesus family from adjacent Batangas province operates the store. I ordered coffee and seafoods noodles in cup and I consumed part of the 10 thermos (thermo jug) of hot water they normally prepare for a normal weekend for flocking mountaineers.

At last, it's about the Mountain

Voila, the summit! And from 664 meters above sea level the famous monolith was there staring straight at me. At first as a silhouette from the fading dawn, then as a proud solo structure in a wide space overlooking various land formations, highways and Hamilo coast somewhere in the south. 

The monolith a.k.a. the Parrot's beak
The monolith or the Parrot's Beak was standing solo and proud. I was there standing solo and gasping for breath.  

Scaling the monolith with no rescue standing by was never an option. I wanted to go home in one piece so I just took time photographing from different perspectives. But as I get nearer the big rock I get more convinced of not missing the chance to reach its top. 

One-on-one with the monolith 

The difficulty of scaling the Parrot's Beak did not disturb me. It was its "bastardized" walls filled with vandals that reduced it to a sorry state that I found distressing. 

The vandalized wall of the monolith

hang on the edge with the rope
Moments after holding the ropes and rocks for my life and camera there's the flat top! There was this indescribable joy involuntarily overwhelming my body.   

Where's Pico the black dog? He was there near the base guarding my bag . 

The dog and the parrot's beak 

I was up there solo and maybe crazy. But after surviving the first half of the climb and upon reaching the top of the famous monolith, I thought the rewarding view was worth the craziness after all.

On top of the monolith. "The beauty is just too good to pass up." 

Pico de Loro's monolith

saying goodbye to Picoy
It's a feat on my part but it was something not safe and I don't recommend mountaineers to do the same for several reasons even the most adventurous of spirits would understand. 

Kind People on the Road

I get into thinking before going down. "How did I get here?" I remember dozens of people whose kindness led me to where I was sitting. I remember my colleagues and hosts in Manila giving me directions going from Ortigas to Lawton terminal, the strangers inside the MRT and LRT who responded to my questions, that fat boy inside the bus who enumerated the towns before Ternate and the terminal, the kind bus conductor.

I remember the kindness of the two Reys and their wives and Juanito the campsite 7Eleven store caretaker. I remember Picoy the dog.

another mountain has conquered my spirit
I remember the kindness of strangers. I remember sincerity in their faces to offer what little they have. So, if somebody would ask me about Mt. Pico de Loro, I would tell my stories of surviving in the dark because there were strangers I met along the way.

By the way, I made it 40 minutes before the flight schedule with the help of a taxi driver who stepped the gas pedal to run 120 km per hour in the middle of the traffic.
"In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present."
- Francis Bacon

Helpful Tips:

Time considerations (I can't recommend my itinerary for reasons earlier stated. But here are time considerations for travelers starting from Metro Manila):
Lawton or Baclaran Terminal to Ternate: 2 to 2.5 hours depending on traffic density
Ternate Terminal (St. Anthony Bus Terminal) to DENR: 20 minutes 
Jump Off to basecamp: 30 minutes
Basecamp to Camp site: 1.5 to 2.5 hours
Camp site to Summit: 20 minutes
Summit to Monolith/Parrot's Beak: 5 - 10 minutes

Expenses / Fees: 
Manila to Ternate by bus: P83
Ternate Bus terminal to DENR/Jump Off :
-Option 1: Tricycle at P75 per head for group of 4 or P200 for solo passengers (contact Mang Rey Salazar: 09289760157)
-Option 2: Jeepney - P500 (one way)
DENR registration Fee: P20
Campsite/Mountaineers fee: P20


  1. woow! amazing. you're so brave kuya! congrats! ;)

    1. Takot much gani ko, Aldwin. hehe.
      i made it back in one piece ok na.
      thanks for dropping by.

  2. Gusto ko din gawin to! hahaha I'm a little crazy too ( I mean - malakas ang fighting spirit!) haha Hurray para sa experience sir Louie!

    1. kaya mo naman Sir Nanardx. ikaw fa! pero as i said here, i don't recommend na you do the same. hehe
      Hurray, sir. cheers!

  3. wow! I hope (in the near future) maka sama ako sa'yo Sir. Invest pa muna ako ng mga gamit pang trek ;-)

    1. will keep you posted sa future group climbs namin sir. cheers!

  4. i so feel you and your narrative of this adventure, louie...ngayon ko lang nabasa....thank you for taking us with you...but you are truly crazy for doing this (with the aftermath of victor's solo climb in maculot) sarap mo suntukin! (peace)

    1. thank you, Ms Judy Pinaytunay, for calling me cray and for dropping by. The climb happened before Victor had an accident sa Maculot. Had it happened earlier baka di ko na natuloy 'to. :)

  5. Hahaha! You're crazy, man! I will never trek a mountain by my lonesome in the dark of night! =)

    1. Am I? maybe. hehe. I can't even imagine doing that again, dude. :P

  6. Hahaha! You're crazy, man! I will never hike a mountain by lonesome in the dark of night!

  7. wow! nami nga experience ba. creepy but really fulfilling...

    1. yeah, dude. fulfilling but really creepy at first.

  8. I love the part of the story, when you met Picoy. :) Goodluck sa nect trek sir :)

  9. Love the part of the story where in you met picoy :) Goodluck sa mga next trek sir :)

  10. Ang tapang grabeee!!! Goodluck po sa mga susunod nyong trek kuya!


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