MT. BIRA BIRA traverse: summit to sea survival story

Who would opt to hike on a rainy day starting on the wee hours of a rainy night? The thought of it actually sent shivers down my spine, thinking and imagining muddy trail, possible landslides, incidents across the trail, zero clearing, chilly temperature and strong burst of wind. I just let go of the negative thinking and packed my stuff. By the way, this hike was an invite and a treat from my travel buddy, Arianne, and organized by Janella “Ja” Gundran, an active runner and mountaineer (IG: @jagundran). The group of 38 hikers left Angeles City before midnight and arrived passed 01:00 AM at Subic, after a quick stopover to relieve full bladders and filled hungry bellies, we continued to meet our main guide, Sir Jimmy, and led us to the Cawag, the town where to start the traverse hike to Mt. Bira Bira. We first arrived at the registration, this is where Ja gave the letter of intent with a list of our names and paid the guide fees. We then continued to drive to the jump off point and it was passed 2:00 AM when we finally arrived. Sir Jimmy led us the gazebo-like shelter and made our last preparations before the hike. The rain poured again minutes before we went off the trail.

 

Ja Gundran Ariane Garcia and Crizel.jpg
Ja, Arianne and Krizel posing during the tiring trek

 

ABOUT MT. BIRA BIRA 

(source: http://www.pinoymountaineer.com/2010/01/nagsasa-cove-via-mt-nagsasa-450.html)

LLA: 14°49.03N, 120°06.25E, 450 MASL
Days required / Hours to cove: 1-2 days / 3-4 hours
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-2
Features: River crossing, beach

ITINERARY (From Pampanga)

Day 0
11:00 PM Meet up

Day 1
2:00 AM ETA Subic Police Station
2:30 AM ETA Cawag Jump off
3:00 AM Start trek
6:00 AM ETA Summit MT. BIRA BIRA 
7:00 AM Start descent
10:00 AM ETA Nagsasa cove
3:00 PM ETA Cawag
5:00 PM ETD to Pampanga
7:00 PM ETA Pampanga

 

THE NIGHT TREK

Donned our raincoats and armed with flashlights, we sauntered to the gentle ascending trail to the summit. With only our flashlights illuminating our immediate surrounding, the thrill of trekking in the pitch dark of the night adding the pour sent a surge of adrenaline. It was just tall grass and occasional herbs that scratched our shins and slapped our faces as we passed the flat part of the trail. There are occasional coos and screeches from the wild obscured by pitch dark. Approximately an hour passed, we felt the warmth and sweat beneath our rain coats, slowly we felt the trail gently ascending. Came passed 04:00 AM, the weak light from the eastern sky produced the first view of the mountainous horizon. With the continuous rain, the ascending trail seemed a minuscule river raging down ankle deep.

SUMMITING

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (5).jpg
Vince. Joey. Nikko. April. Reo. Rodolfo of Cloudstaff OUTDOORS

As we are about to summit Mt. Bira Bira, the first rays of sunlight, obscured by thick rain clouds, illuminated our immediate view, just tall grasses dancing and occasional trees swaying with the strong bursts of wind and the magnificent view of neighboring behemoth, Mt. Balingkilat. We sauntered to the zero-clearing summit and our tired bodies got lambasted by the strong rain and wind. It was indeed my first to summit on a rainy day.

Ms. Armela's Summit Photo in Mt. Bira Bira.jpg
Photo Credit: Armela Patalud of Aroundthemetro.ph

We did not stayed long at the summit because of the piercing cold. We started to take the descending trail to Nagsasa Cove. The team split into two and I was, by chance, separated to my travel buddy. Midway on the descending trail, we had a clearing, and the second group had that same view, however, at the summit (Lucky they are).

Mt. Bira Bira Summit by Ariane Garcia.jpg
Mt. Bira Bira Summit (Photo Credit: Arianne Garcia)

With that stunning view, I immediately drew out my camera and took shots of the majestic cove and undulating slopes of the mountain range around us. It was so green (unlike the usual brown color during summer months), the mild cool breeze sweeping on us and scattered trees that appeared picturesque. The soil where are stepping on is adobe red, contrasting with the green grass.

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (22).jpg
View from the trail

The unique low land pine-like Agoho trees adorned the slopes and made the scenery similar to New Zealand sans the ubiquitous bovines. The community below started to come alive evident by smoke rising from the lowlands.

 

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (31).jpg
One of the brooks along the trail

 

It was a moment of pure bliss, after the challenging hike and zero clearing at the summit, here we are enjoying mother nature’s show half way. As the trail goes flat, more river crossings and inundated trails welcomed us as rainwater started to finds its way through the lowlands.

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (28).jpg
These guys having fun after the daunting dawn trek

It was a moment of pure bliss, after the challenging hike and zero clearing at the summit, here we are enjoying mother nature’s show half way. As the trail goes flat, more river crossings and inundated trails welcomed us as rainwater started to finds its way through the lowlands.

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (21).jpg
Amazing view of the valley

 

THE DAUNTING RIVER CROSSING

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (37).jpg
The upper portions of the river before the current got stronger

When we reached the bank of the main river in the Nagsasa area, the daunting current welcomed us. Our trail guide led us to another spot where the water level is quite low. He tried to cross the waist deep waters and made it back from the other side. With anxiety, the team decided to form a single file and braved the gushing waters. Half way, we felt the current go stronger and light ones, like me, struggled to anchor a step against eroding soil below. When one of the team members, Reo Jan Matias,  noticed our struggle, he grabbed our arms and made himself a support. The water grew almost chest high and fear started to consume me.

Mt. Bira Bira Traverse Nagsasa Cove River Crossing
River Crossing during a downpour (Photo Credit: Tricia Ivy Arenillo)

 

The single file broke into two, the first team almost dragged by the strong river current, but never let go of the tight grip with each other. As our feet stepped secured on the shallow part, we pushed the rest of the team to the shore. We made it! Now, the second half are still in the midst of the strong current, Reo, found a long thick branch and reached out. The team made it to another side safe, complete but drenched. Shout out to Reo, he is the one that stopped me being dragged by the strong river current.

 

THE FINAL HIKE AT THE FLAT LANDS

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (34).jpg
At the foot of the mountains

With the continuous downpour, we trekked on a seemingly out-worldly flatlands with unique flora around us. More inundated trails surprised us, shin deep and in other parts, knee deep. We ended up in a community where houses are made of thatched and light wooden materials. From there, according to our guide, we have one more river crossing that is waist deep. After few strides, we reached another river bank of reddish brown waters. This is already salt water and the current is weak, and the silt under the river seemed to be quicksand as each step would plunge your feet almost shin deep.

 

AT LAST, THE BEACH!

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Colleagues, Jasper and Aljay enjoying their time in Nagsasa Cove

Nevertheless, the struggle ended and we are at the shores of Nagsasa Cove. Some of the team members, dropped their bags, made a quick wash and ran to the shores to experience the strong waves of the cove. After a long wait, the second half of the team arrived, hugged some as a congratulatory response. We exchanged stories and shared meals. This activity is truly one for the books. We had a sunny lunch and siesta time – momentarily sunny.

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Friends, Tors and Charles, enjoying the beach
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Arianne posing in Nagsasa Cove

 

THE STORY OF LOLA TEODORA

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (3)
Lola Teodora of Nagsasa Cove

After exploring Nagsasa Cove, we are able to meet Lola Teodora. We spent little time with her asking what she knows about the cove. She resided in Nagsasa since 1970s and her husband fish for sustenance. Their family were forced out during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and evacuated in Subic where they received rations from the government. When decided to return, they took the same trail we did back to Nagsasa. “Maraming buhangin ang binagsak ng bulkan, dati ang dagat hanggang dun (Huge amounts of ash spewed from the volcano, before the coast was until there)”, she said pointing to where the resorts huts are currently erected. “Talagang malaki ang dinagdag na lupa dito(There is huge additional of land here) “, she added.

 

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (42)
This pup ran to me

 

RESCUE STYLE BOARDING

Mt. Bira Bira Cawag Zambales Traverse Nagsasa Cove Day Hike Itinerary Travel Guide (1).jpg
The beach at low tide

The boats had arrived before 3:00 PM and a sign that we need to pack up, that very same moment,  the rain poured, the wind blew a bit harder and the strong waves resumed. The huge boats are unable to dock near the shores because of the humongous waves and was coincidentally low tide that time. The smaller boat then would fetch smaller groups and poise near the boats so we can transfer – this time we have to swim (with lifejackets of course) as we make another exciting transfer. The sea current was strong and we really have to hoist ourselves with the rope connecting the boats – imagine a sea rescue scenario. Despite this frightening boat transfer, the challenge did not end yet, heading out to the open West Philippine Sea, our boats had to pierce through huge waves after huge waves. For about an hour, we cruised through rough seas, but verdant mountain ranges with alternating towering waterfalls captivated us. This is the advantage of visiting Pundaquit during rainy season.

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Sunset and Camara Island

At last, the sight of the Pundaquit shores, with surfers and skimboarders playing with the gigantic waves, this made me shout in my mind, “WE MADE IT”.  After freshening up ourselves, we headed back to our van. Before we traveled back to Pampanga, we had a group dinner sponsored by Cloudstaff.

APPROXIMATE TRAIL

 

mt bira bira traverse nagsasa cove itinerary budget and trail guide

BUDGET (from Pampanga-Subic-Cawag-Nagsasa-Pundaquit back)

Van  ₱21,000.00
Tour Guide ₱4,000.00
Registration Fee ₱2,340.00 60 per pax
Boat Fee  ₱7,020.00 200 per pax
Entrance Fee @ Nagsasa Cove ₱3,900.00 100 per pax
Cottage  ₱400.00 200 each
Total    ₱38,660.00

Per Pax    ₱992.00

THE TEAM

The Team - Mt Bira Bira traverse Nagsasa Cove.JPG
Photo Credit: Reo Jan Matias

 

 

APPRECIATION

My heartfelt thanks to Arianne Garcia for sponsoring my slot with this activity. Also, thank you to Ja and Krizel who organized this trip and kept their cool despite all the challenges that happened, from the rainy ascent to daunting sea travel back. Kudos!  

Thank you to the Cloudstaff team I was with during the descent. They never let me felt out of place. 

 

 

 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. NEET ADMIN says:

    what a strange mountain. got plans on going back there on a summer day?

    Like

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