Mt. Namandiraan – an Epitome of Hardship and Beauty

About Mt. Namandiraan

 Ilocos Sur's highest mountain at 2330+ MASL
 Located in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur
 Difficulty:
 Bessang Pass Monument to Sitio Namita (Traditional route) 8/9
 Sitio Namita to Bessang Pass Monument (Reverse Circuit/Traverse) 9/9
 Days to summit: 1-2 days
 Watersource: Yes, at least 3 available

Just a little discussion about its etimology:

Mt. Namandiraan got its name from Bandila (flag) when the Commonwealth flag was raised here in the 1930s. Before World War II, another Philippine Flag was hailed in this mountain and so the locals called it Bandilaan or Namandilaan. At present, the mountain was registered as Mt. Namandiraan. During WWII, this mountain also serves as a route for the Japanese going to Mountain Province as it is the closest path to Mankayan, Benguet where the Lepanto mines – known as a major source of copper since way back 12th century – is located and have been operated by the Mitsui Company of Japan for three years. Evidently, foxholes can still be found on its summit so be careful on pitching your tent way up here.

How on earth did I end up here?

My colleague invited me to join this KKB (Kanya-Kanyang Bayad) climb. Since it’s within my budget and I’m really looking for a challenging hike, I agreed to join.

So, in my mind I agreed on a Mt. Namandiraan climb via Traditional route which will start at Bessang Pass Monument (1500+ MASL) to Sitio Namita (500+ MASL). It was only three days before our actual climb when I learned that as per our itinerary and the Altitude-Distance Chart of this hike that we’re actually doing the reverse! I have three days to prepare myself mentally (and to accept the fact) that it’ll be a gruelling assault on our first day. Physically, I’m not sure if I’m ready but I just got back from a Mt. Masaraga day hike so I’m pretty much in tune – or so I thought.

The Trial on the Trail

Let me tell you that in summary we hiked for 11 hours on formidable steep assault plus an hour on a combination of banayad  (gradual assault) and downhill terrain just to reach the summit on our first day of hiking. I’m not trying to discourage you or rant about its physically-demanding trail. It’s actually one of the best hike I ever had and I would highly encourage this to experienced hikers/mountaineers. For a novice, I guess a three-day itinerary would do but physical preparation and conditioning prior to this hike is neccessary.

Let me share my experience with you in detail.

Our jump-off point is the Day Care Center at Brgy. Malaya, Sitio Namita in Cervantes, Ilocos Sur. From there we’ve met the head of the tour guides, Ms. Rufa Pecha. We’ve had our hearty breakfast first, then submitted our medical certificates, permit, and of course the orientation. Ms. Rufa introduced our guides – Kuya Manny, Kuya Amor, and Kuya Freddy. What I like about their guiding system is that they are already equipped with two-way radios. Of course our group brought ours as well, thanks to Kevin Manuel of Pinoy Mountaineer team and Jepoi Mansibang of Mansibang Outdoor Institute (MOI).

We started our hike descending (from 500+ to flat 500 MASL) passing by rice fields and Bodoy river. Then the trail with nonstop assault started from Sitio Paang.

It was a sweet, pure cardiovascular assault that welcomed us which made us literally catch our breath with every step. I stopped every once in a while and enjoy the view. We were on pace, with few stopovers along the trail. It took us 3 hours in that difficult trail to the first water source and half an hour to reached the second one where we had our lunch. Every rest-stops, I usually take my much-needed power nap. From there, it’ll be roughly 5 to 6 hours to summit – on full pack, steep assault, narrow ridges, and pine-covered trail. It actually took us around 8 hours or so with many “take fives” (rest).

 

What I like about the trail of Mt. Namandiraan from Sitio Namita’s side is that it is covered with pine forest and of course the flora and fauna. The breathtaking scenery along its trail is noteworthy as well. I mean, it’s really photogenic especially that the weather is on our side. For the assault part, some of my co-hikers told me that it is somewhat a combination of trails of Mt. Sicapoo, Kibungan (Tanap to Tagpaya), and Mt. Pulag (Akiki trail). I’ve only been to Kibungan and Mt. Pulag via Akiki Trail so I can’t relate much about the Sicapoo part. All I know is that, if Akiki Trail is dubbed as the “Killer Trail”, then the assault at Mt. Namandiraan would be double to triple kill.

One of the highlight of this traverse is the narrow ridges. Up to date, it has the most narrow ridge I’ve hiked so far so it’s important to be really cautious. Using trekking pole would be really helpful in maintaining balance and added support to your knees (if only I had two!).

 

At peak 5, the trail is somewhat reminiscent of Mt. Tapulao’s pine forest from Camp 2 to Mossy forest, with some boulders along the trail. One distinguishing feature of peak 5 is the Kay Ang rock which is like a baby version of Mt. Ulap’s Gungal rock. Local’s believe that a man with leprosy was brought there to die. So much for an e-camp at 6pm! We spent an hour at this rock taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful sunset amongst the pine trees. I think it’s the only take five I didn’t take a nap, instead I help my co-hikers lighten up their load by joining them in eating the trail foods they’re willingly sharing for everybody.

 

This is the first time I’ve experienced cramps while hiking and my calves were really giving me a hard time with it alternatively attacking on each sides. Eating pinch of salt really helps.

 

And so dusk came and we decided to continue to our journey. We can see the summit from where we’re at and our guide told us it would take roughly an hour and half to get there.

 

We decided to really take it slow as we’re already trekking at night – we need extra precautions. We also happen to enjoy a clear night sky! The trail was partly lit because of the moon. It was starting to get cold but since we’re on the move, we didn’t mind at all.

After three hours we finally reached the summit. Yay!

📍 Continue to Part 2

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