This is a post by THH Jon and THH Louie.
San Miguel, Bulacan
Major jump-off: Sitio Madlum, Brgy. Sibul, San Miguel
LLA: 15°15.11’N; 121°1.22′ E; 196 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: Half-day / 1 hour
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 2/9, Trail class 1-2
It’s been a while since THH Louie and I went hiking as it is the Summer season here in the Philippines. I don’t really mind the heat but I would gladly choose beach bumming over mountain hiking on a scorching hot summer day. In the end though, we still chose to go to Mt. Manalmon as we didn’t have enough time and resources to go and stay at the beach.
Mt. Manalmon is not too far from the metro and is perfect for day hikes. You can get there by taking a Cabanatuan-bound bus by Baliwag Transit, ES Transport, or Five Star Transport in Pasay or Cubao. I recommend that you take the bus by ES Transport as it has it’s own bus stop in Brgy. Camias. Travel time takes around 2 hours (enough time to doze off before the climb) and the bus fare is ₱117. Once there, take a tricycle going to Brgy. Madlum where the registration area is located. The tricycle ride going to Brgy. Madlum cost ₱250-₱300. The tricycles there are quite cramped and the last part of the ride is on rough roads so be sure to prepare your bums and your backs! Normally the ride only last for 40 minutes but in our case it took longer than that because we experienced a flat tyre on the way.
We completely forgot about the long and bumpy journey we had when we saw what was waiting for us; the beautiful Madlum River.
It is now very easy to cross the river as there is a hanging bridge that connects each side. In the past, you had to ride on a raft or cross the monkey bridge to get to the other side. Personally, I think the hanging bridge somewhat made the place less picturesque but on the other hand, it made it safer and more convenient for the locals and visitors to cross the river. I’m glad they didn’t remove the monkey bridge as crossing it was my goal for this trip.
The guide system in Mt. Manalmon is cheaper compared with other mountains. Each member has to pay ₱5 for the environmental fee before the hike.
It was already mid day when we arrived at the jump off point and we haven’t eaten anything before we left Manila so we opted to eat lunch first before we start our ascent. I gotta say that I feel like we’ve been ripped off as one meal cost ₱85 (BBQ chicken/pork and rice was on the menu). That’s almost the same as a Chicken Joy meal at Jollibee. Anyways, we still gave in since we’re going to need the energy. There were lots of dogs begging for food when we ate our meal. I guess they are used to being fed by the tourists. They are quite friendly and entertaining though (one of the dogs actually tapped me with her paw and looked eagerly at the chicken I was holding). While we were eating, I noticed that there were a lot of wooden crosses surrounding us. I realized that this crosses were put up there to commemorate the lives of the students who drowned in the Madlum River. Mt. Manalmon and Madlum river was actually closed for some time. It was only earlier this year that the local government allowed visitors to hike.
After our lunch, we headed to the monkey bridge as it was the closest thing nearby. I gotta say that I almost soiled myself crossing that bridge. It actually took me 2 attempts to finish it. On the first attempt, I only covered less than a quarter of the way as the bridge was very shaky. Our friend Stephanie went on next and she made it all the way to the other side. After cursing her in my head, I had another go and made it to the other side as well (insert fire works and hand claps here). It wouldn’t have been so scary if the river wasn’t too shallow. The river was just probably knee deep so falling from a 30 foot cable bridge would be painful. Our guide even told me that one of his classmate died crossing that bridge when they were younger. His classmate got knocked out as his chin got caught on the cable as he fell. He drowned as he wasn’t able to save himself so for all you guys out there who want to cross the monkey bridge, make sure that you are a strong swimmer. Now that I think of it, crossing the monkey bridge is actually pretty dangerous as there are no harnesses that will save you if you fall. It’s just you, your grip and the bridge.
After taking loads of pictures at the monkey bridge, we started our ascent. The hike would’ve been just a walk in the park if it weren’t for the heat of the sun. With the sun high above our heads, each step we took was a challenge. There weren’t a lot of trees and shade on the way up so it was really exhausting. The trail itself was not very difficult as 3/4 of it was not very steep. Even the assault to the summit wasn’t that steep either. Like I said on our Mt. Daguldol climb, I would rather hike on a rainy day and get muddy than hike on a scorching hot day.
We passed through a small cave to reach the start of the trail. Sadly, I saw a lot of graffiti and it smelled like stale piss inside the cave. After passing through the cave, we walked on a trail where we were able to see the river and it’s beautiful rock formation.
The next part of the trail is where you will really feel the heat of the sun as there are not many trees around and the dry soil reflects the heat. The ascent is also quite gradual so it is perfect for beginners.
As we got further, I noticed that we were walking on the river bed. I was reminded of the students who drowned in this river so I asked our guide about what happened. He told me that when the accident happened, it was also scorching during that day and the sky was very clear. As the students crossed the river though, they were swept by a flash flood. Events like this happen when there is a strong sudden down pour on top of the mountains. For the hikers out there, don’t be stingy when it comes to hiring guides as they know more about the place than you do. Be attentive and alert. If it doesn’t feel safe, do not push through.
After about an hour or so, we finally reached the summit of Mt. Manalmon. The assault to the summit is not too bad so it should be okay for beginner hikers. There is a campsite just below the summit that can accommodate several tents. However, you should bring enough water supply as there isn’t any water source there. Another option is to camp by the river and hike to the summit the following day. The view from summit is spectacular. You would see the river snaking below you. Mt. Arayat is also visible from the mountain. I am actually surprised how beautiful it was on the summit considering that it’s not a very high mountain.
After taking several pictures and having a quick rest. We started our descent and headed towards the river. Another campsite is located by the river but I’m pretty sure your back will be aching throughout the night as the ground is covered with stones and pebbles. We didn’t take a lot of pictures by the river as we were all busy cooling ourselves off in the water. Be careful though as there are deep parts so be sure that you stay at the shallow parts if you are not a good swimmer.
Overall, our trip to Brgy. Madlum was a success. Scenic views, beautiful landscapes and rock formation, crossing the monkey bridge and swimming in the river, it was all fun and exciting. We were supposed to go caving as well but we’ve decided to do it the next time we return to this one of a kind place.
Photo Credits: Ibo John Ray