Sunday, May 13, 2012

Climbing Mt. Timbak & The Kabayan Mummies

This is another late post from our twin traverses of Mounts Timbak and Pulag in 3 days, last 14-16 April 2012. For our AKAC mountaineering group, this is our toughest climb so far, hiking more than 38 km. in cumulative total of around 30 hours. Yet it brought out the best from us, a very fulfilling sense of accomplishment, and forming a much stronger bond between the team members.

Pinoy Mountaineer has this technical description of Mt. Timbak, which is also known as Mt. Singakalsa among non-locals. It is the 3rd highest mountain in Luzon, as well as the 9th highest mountain in the country. Climbing its summit is relatively easy, but the long trek down to Kabayan barrio makes it difficult.

Jump-off point: KM 55, Atok, Benguet
Elevation: 2717 MASL (#9)
Days required / Hours to summit: 1 day / 2-3 hours
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 3

From an overnight Php 715 luxurious bus trip, we arrived at about 4:30 am on Victory Liner station in Baguio. Then we proceeded to the mini-bus station at the Slaughterhouse, where we've had breakfast of noodles, pancake, and coffee. We boarded the first Bontoc-bound bus, which departed at almost 6:00 am after it was filled with passengers. Bus fare is only Php 80 up to our destination at km. 55 of Halsema Highway.

Although I feel sleepy, I cannot surrender into the dreamland, as the bus zigzags through multiple turns along the country's highest highway. Listed on the Dirjournal as one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Roads in the World, Halsema Highway has many blind spots and steep ravines. 

We passed a portion where the road sits on a precipice, both edges are deep ravines, before we passed through a rock portion cut in the middle to accommodate the road. Kennon Road would seem like a "drive in the park" compared with driving at Halsema highway! Landslide is a risk especially during rains, and visibility is a concern when fog or cloud sweep the mountains. 

The only consolations are the cool weather, views of nice rock formations and mini-rice terraces. After about 2 hours of travel, the bus stopped at the Northway Sizzlers for a short break, where I spent Php 30 on leche flan and balut (steamed duck embryo). Ate Gina bought freshly-harvested mushrooms there, to be included on our chicken teriyaki lunch menu.

We were dropped at the waiting shed of Atok, Benguet in km. 55 of the highway. We posed for a photo at the jump off point on the right lower portion of the collage above. Note the almost 360 degree path of the highway, with 2 ends of the road on the left and right edges of the mountain.

At about 9:00 am after wearing proper gears, stretchings, and prayer, we started our ascent to Mt. Timbak. Initially its on a cemented road, turning left on a fork, then passing by the Mongoto School. Views of the mountain sides and vegetable farms are welcome sights here.

A photo of cute local kids below.

We decided to proceed first to the house of the the mummy cave keykeeper Manang Rosa, where we can leave our heavy backpacks, before assaulting the mountain's summit.

Some plants we've seen along the way.

We passed by farmers' houses and vegetable plots of potatoes, carrots, and cabbages. We avoided stepping on the crops, like what responsible mountaineers do. Here's a photo of a healthy-looking white cabbage being grown on the mountain.

The views at the summit near the communication antennas. The calvary with 3 crosses are on the lower opposite side of the mountain. Unfortunately, the clouds covered most of the eastern slope of the mountain.

An enjoyable lunch followed at the house of the gracious Manang Rosa. She allowed us to use her pot, plates, water, and toilet, all for free! We bought rice from her plus minimal tip, since we were unable to buy any from Baguio. After paying the Php 30 entrance fee to see the Timbak mummies, we descended from her house. That big rock on the upper left photo of the collage is the burial site of the mummies.

She allowed us to open the wooden coffins that contain the mummies, usually in fetal position. Most of them has single occupants, while some have 2 or even 6 mummified bodies in one wooden casket. Aside from the bones and skull, they still have hairs and dried skin. However, taking photos of the mummies is prohibited on their beliefs, so we have to respect that. Below is the closest shot of the mummy cave's entrance, and the coffins inside it.

Here's a photo of an Igorot mummy taken from the web, which looks similar with what we've seen inside the coffins.

After viewing the Timbak mummies, we continued our trek down to the mountain. We wasted about 1.5 hours of trekking, as we missed the first of 3 gates we were supposed to cross on our way down to Kabayan barrio. Good thing that we got to ask local farmers to advise us the correct trail.

That was a knee-breaking descent, which took us about 7 hours to our chosen emergency campsite near the Tinongchol burial rock. Tired from more than 10 hours of trekking, half with aching knees, insufficient drinking water, we decided to pitch tents on the e-campsite. We slept without taking dinner that night.

It was only the following morning that we arrived at Kabayan barrio. Near the bridge that separates the mountains is the Tinongchol burial rock. The positive side of doing e-camp at Tinongchol is that we were able to see the burial rock in the comfort of morning daylight. We have to cross a hanging bridge to go there, as pointed by the arrow below.

A gate ensues after the bridge, but its unlocked, and there is no guard nor entrance fee. There are three holes on the rock's front side, the upper left hole as an entrance, accessible only with a ladder. The lower right hole seems to be a drainage hole, while the third hole is at the farther right side, not captured in the photo below. There is a back entrance with bigger opening, but we did not tried to venture there.

Can you just imagine how the Ibalois' ancestors dug those holes to build a rock cave, to stuff wooden coffins inside its 3 chambers? What we saw are just 2 out of 50+ estimated burial caves of the Igorots. They are listed #8 on the World Heritage Tentative List, and they were featured on a year 2000 issue of Discovering Archaeology. 

Unfortunately, the smiling mummy with complete set of teeth on above front page was stolen, along with other mummies. So the Igorot officials would not disclose the location of other mummy caves, for fear of looting and desecration of their sacred sites. The Kabayan mummies are included on the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world by Monument Watch, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of important monuments and sites.

A view of the river while crossing the wide steel bridge, on our way to Kabayan barrio.

After about 15 minutes, we arrived at Kabayan barrio. An 8-oz bottle of mountain-cold Coca-Cola there is Php 15. Luckily, there was a truck going on a Sunday mass to Kabayan Central, where we were able to hitch a ride for Php 10. Now we can have our breakfast and load up on supplies, in preparation for the trek to Mt. Pulag via Akiki-Ambangeg trails.

Here's a map of Mt. Timbak (marked "A") from Baguio via Halsema Highway. The green-shaded portion is the area of Mt. Pulag.

Thanks to my fellow AKAC climbers for some pictures I "photonapped" to be posted here. :)

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  1. sumakit ang legs ko sa descent from timbak to kabayan central. ramdam ko sa 2nd day Pulag-akiki-ambangeg dayhike.

  2. @Ken, basagan talaga ng tuhod ang pababa sa Kabayan. Thanks for visiting the blog.