Solsona, Ilocos Norte: The Anatomy Of A Mount Sicapoo Traverse
Entrenched at the very heart of an immense mountain complex in Solsona, Ilocos Norte is a mountain of fierce reputation. Of the many hiking destinations the Philippines has to offer, this colossus ranks among the extremely challenging few. Locals call it Mount Sicapoo and its apex rises more than 2,300 meters in altitude making Sicapoo the highest peak in Region I.
To reach Sicapoo’s summit involves hiking across formidable terrain where to err can spell disaster. Three days of relentless trekking, dangerous river crossings, steep climbs, and sheer drops – no other mountain in Luzon Island throws challenges of this magnitude in one tremendous hike than the Mount Sicapoo Traverse.
This hike is not rated 9/9 for nothing. Being physically and mentally prepared will take you from start to finish in one piece. Thus, knowing the nitty gritty can be vital in preparation for this unforgiving expedition – or not.
Nevertheless, here are some important things you might want to consider.
It can be as scorching hot as hell or as bitter cold as your ex’s heart. Here, the climate falls on inclement ends of the spectrum. During summers, expect trekking under intense heat in a very dry environment – that includes the water sources. This means carrying more water, and apparently a heavier load, therefore you sweat quicker than the gush of Gasgas River on a rainy day. At this rate of perspiration, cramps, heat stress, or dehydration can turn this hike into a crawl.
Well perhaps a bit of clouds and a dash or two of rain would be more ideal on the mountain’s unshaded trails. But a downpour combined with ferocious winds and the bone-biting cold it brings is all but a different story. Everything becomes wet and cold and damp – and sometimes, tents, sleeping bags, and morale too. But hey, on the bright side, you get lots of water – a lot of them!
Gasgas River, the main artery of this vast mountain system, serves as the entry point of the traverse. From an easily-maneuverable knee-high stream, this river can swell to a turbulent chest-deep rapid on a bad rainy day. Hikers have to melee an uneven river bed, some lose rocks, and a strong current that can knock you off your feet and I’m not talking about Stevie Wonder. To make it worse, there are more or less 10 crossings on this flash flood prone area.
Gasgas River to One Degree Plateau / Solsona Dam via Mounts Timarid and Simagaysay, including the summit assault, spans about 50 kilometers in total (that’s roughly the same distance from Antipolo City, Rizal to Santa Rosa City, Laguna). This route is referred to as the “Rosary Trail”. On a tight three-day schedule, hiking this physically demanding trail averages 10-12 hours per day. Victory or defeat on this long march will be measured by ones stamina, muscle endurance, and a strong will to finish. If you don’t have any of those, better start praying for an extra pair of legs.
Peaks & Ridges
Mounts Babalitok, Saulay Bubuos, Balbalite, Pakpako, Matalindog, Sicapoo, Timarid, and Simagaysay are all part of the mountain range in Solsona. Each one is connected with ridges as sharp as Newton’s mind and slipping sends you directly to the earth’s core much faster than saying “apple”. Crossing these treacherous ridges are even twice the danger during the rainy season – first, the trail is slippery obviously, and second, cogon grasslands cover these ridges. A blade of grass can grow about the size of a man and a bunch of them makes paths barely visible. Imagine traversing these grass-covered spines in the dark – not fun.
No other slope on this list of peaks rises more vertical and is more punishing than Mount Timarid. It has a semi-89.9999 degree assault that pushes lactate thresholds beyond limits. Legs burn so wild that it can ignite a forest fire blazing as far as One Degree Plateau. Also worth mentioning are the climbs to Mount Babalitok or Saulay from Gasgas River and the Mount Sicapoo summit assault. These are the segments where those extra pair of legs could really, really, really come handy.
Sicapoo Summit Bid
To summit means a long trek on jaw-dropping ridges and heart-stopping cliff sides, while every now and then, the trail cuts through pine forests the size of Edward Cullen’s backyard and a mossy forest thicker than Mirkwood. That alone takes 5-6 hours – include the walk back to Saulay camp, it takes forever. Not reaching the “penguin rock” before cut-off time forces hikers to turn around and as much as possible, be back at camp before nightfall. This minimizes the risks of night trekking on these treacherous paths. For this leg, keeping up with the itinerary is as paramount as not being caught in the Monday rush hour.
3rd Day – The Last Push
From Saulay Junction campsite, the mouthwatering meal and the warm bed you’ve been dreaming of the past two days is still as distant as the far reaches of Uranus.
All the challenges hikers have to deal with in Mount Sicapoo makes a lazy Sunday stroll 50,000 times the struggle. This was the 50-kilometer march that drove me closer toward the verges of breaking with every single step. Tough. Brutal. Backbreaking, both figuratively and literally. There are far too many words and ways to describe Mount Sicapoo Traverse but never “easy”. Yet in every painstaking step, the more the mountains unravel an otherworldly drama that leaves you in a loss for words. Even to call it surreal would be an understatement. This made every step, slip, slide, and cuts, wounds, coughs and colds worth the enormous efforts. Mount Sicapoo may count 9/9 in a difficulty scale but its breath-taking beauty scored an awesome 90/9 in my book.
1.This event is organized by Basekamp Market Market.
2.Did I mention that Mount Sicapoo Traverse is difficult?
3.This post is based on a three-day itinerary. A 4-day itinerary is also possible and probably more ideal to make the climb more relaxed.
4.According to others, your best chances for the ideal weathers would be from November to January – but in today’s shifts in weather patterns, just timing for the fairest weathers is like finding a needle in the haystack.
5.There are a lot of water sources by the trail but some tends to dry up during summer.
6.Being a rope would be really helpful especially if you’re hiking during the rainy season. If the water is very high and very strong, consider postponing. Gasgas River is also prone to flash floods.
7.Waterproof your gear.
8.If you’re hiking during the rainy season, wearing trekking pants will save you from the cold, grass cuts – but not from leeches. If you’re hiking during summer, wear something light, and a hat to protect you from the heat.
8.There are limatik’s or blood leeches on this mountains.
9.Pack as light as you can, pramis. Distribute and/or assign communal items among your team – tent/s, cook sets, food, etc.
10.Guides cost P1000/day (1:4) while a guide/porter costs P1500/day
11. More about Ilocos Norte
13. Like La Playa Filipinas on Facebook
14.Happy hiking and be safe.
Summit assault with La Playa Filipinas (photo by Sir Greg)
Mount Sicapoo “Penguin” Summit (Photo by Sir Jay)