Alto Peak: Conquering The Treacherous Highest Summit Of Eastern Visayas
“We did it” – those were the first words I uttered to myself, after our triumphant climb to Mount Aminduen. Overjoyed, relieved and extremely proud, we were all on a state of unadulterated bliss, as we were savoring the best moments of our major hike in Alto Peak. For the first time, most of us scaled a high profile summit that’s been classified as a major climb. In spite of the howling winds, thick fogs and intermittent rain drops in Alto Peak, there wasn’t anything going to stop us from relishing this memorable climb to the top.
But, our smiling faces, festive spirit and the momentarily spectacular bird’s eye views didn’t tell the whole story of our hike up to Mount Aminduen. Even before our major climb started, we ran into a couple of hiccups that could have postponed our first major climb, as a group. For starters, most of us, including yours truly, weren’t feeling very well, days prior to our hike.
From sore throat and swollen tonsils to high fever and coughs, most of us were actually still under the weather on our hike. What’s more, there were plenty of unique bumps and challenges on our hike, such as thorny plants, mean insects, and a leech. Nevertheless, with perseverance and determination, we pushed through, faced all adversities and finished our outdoor adventure with flying colors.
Our Alto Peak adventure
With maddening traffic jam in Punta Princesa and Mambaling, Cebu, I decided to leave home early, and head to Pier 3 at 7 in the evening (our boat trip was at 10 PM). Soon after, the other hikers for our Alto Peak climb arrived at our rendezvous point – Raul, ma’am Fe, Ember, Chris, Beboi, Bing and Jonah.
Once everyone arrived in Pier 3, we took the ferry shuttle service, and hopped on our boat bound for Ormoc City.
With everyone settled in, we repacked our backpacks and made some preparations for our much anticipated Alto Peak hike. Moreover, Raul used his designing skills to create FS (fan signs) for some of our friends who couldn’t join us for our climb.
Since we knew Alto Peak was going to be an uphill battle, we were compelled to sleep early, and take as much rest as we could. Unfortunately, there was a drunken master onboard who was snoring as loud as a buzzing chainsaw.
I couldn’t sleep, so I channeled my inner Picasso by drawing my masterpiece on Raul’s face. I’m a terrific artist, right? And, Raul’s face also makes a top-notch canvass.
As the hours passed by, I still couldn’t sleep, despite all my Zen-like efforts and relaxation.
And eventually, we arrived at the port of Ormoc, with most us barely getting any sleep. As it turned out, it wasn’t just me who was utterly bothered by the man’s loud and motorbike-like snore.
From there, we made our way to McDonald’s, ate breakfast, and made our final preparations at the public market. A couple of hours later, our transport service –a canter truck – arrived to lead us to Barangay Cabintan, Ormoc City – the base of our Alto Peak climb.
Along the way, we got treated to the city’s cool mountain breeze as well as its splendid nature sights. And more importantly, we got a good view of a new prospect or mountain to climb in Leyte – the perfectly shaped Mount Magsanga. And yes, we will be making a return to Ormoc, months from now, to hike this picture-perfect peak in Leyte.
We, then, arrived in Cabintan where we registered our names and met our official guides – bossing Danilo and Jay Smith – the long lost son of Tatay Raul. In addition, some of us took a leak and poop, while others were snapping photos of the barangay’s soothing scenery.
Minutes later, sir Ramil – the leader of Caleguid – gave a quick rundown of what to expect on our hike to Lake Janagdan and Alto Peak.
And then, our climb to the highest peak in Eastern Visayas began!
With its prickly plants and steep, slippery and forested trails, I knew our hike to Alto Peak and Lake Janagdan was going to be tough and rugged. That’s why we were fully covered for this hike, wearing leggings, gloves and arm guards. And, ma’am Fe also prepared something to fend off the leeches on the trail to Mount Aminduen.
Led by Danilo, we followed the longer and more challenging trail to Alto Peak via Lake Janagdan. On the way up, we discovered a handful of interesting sights and flora, including the sour yet sweet wild strawberries.
As for the trail to Lake Janagdan, it was slightly challenging with some slippery spots and challenging ascends. And, with a fully loaded backpack and a packed tent on my side, it was indeed quite a good warm up to the more extreme and complex trails ahead of us.
In less than 2 hours, we arrived at our first stop of our major climb in Leyte – Lake Janagdan.
As always, we took turns posing in front of the camera, to immortalize this beautiful moment of our hike. And, thankfully, the weather was on our side, giving us a clear and unobstructed panorama of Lake Janagdan.
According to Danilo, this wondrous site is a crater lake that occupies Mount Janagdan’s caldera, which is a dormant volcano.
Afterwards, we descended to the lake, to snap more pictures, take a breather and eat our lunch.
Going down was also a struggle, with its steep and slippery trail.
So, what did we eat for lunch? We indulged on a hearty, tasty yet a bit unhealthy combo meal of lechon, humba with egg and rice.
We did spend a great deal of time in Lake Janagdan, chilling, taking photographs and cracking up jokes.
Likewise, we caught of a glimpse of kayaks for rent in Lake Janagdan.
Like most of my recent hikes, Raul was once again the undisputed king of our lunch break, sharing hilarious words of wisdom and munching goodies endlessly.
With lunchtime over, we went on with our hike, climbing a forested trail full of mysterious surprises and obstacles.
Moment later, we got a sweet overlooking view of Lake Janagdan.
For a while, I thought the trail from here to the junction point or campsite was going to be a walk in the park. While the climb up was a little demanding physically, I didn’t expect the downhill hike to be rather challenging and rugged.
And to my surprise, it was like a maze or an obstacle course jam-packed with traps and stingy plants.
Not only do we have to crawl and climb over fallen trees, but we also have to keep an eye on prickly trees, unfriendly insects and sharp gashed trees.
From my point of view, this challenging obstacle was the result of Yolanda’s fury and might.
I fell on a number of occasions, stepping on brittle branches and tree trunks that look like solid ground. Luckily, my hokage skills and background in calisthenics saved me from these unfavorable circumstances.
Ma’am Fe – the most experienced hiker in the group – was also having troubles hiking this trail from Lake Janagdan. She even said to me that she thought of giving up on mountaineering, in the midst of the perilous hike. But after our downhill hike, she said it was worth every minute.
I breathed a sigh of relief, when I saw the junction that sir Ramil told us earlier.
And, damn, that was a mind-blowing trail! Personally, I think it was more challenging and perilous than the climb up to Alto Peak.
As we were resting and waiting for others, we noticed the sulfur’s undeniable smell. As I’ve guessed, we were close to another peak in Cabintan – Sulfutara Peak.
We took a rest and ate some sweet treats, before resuming with our hike to the campsite of Alto Peak.
With the weather becoming gloomy and the skies turning dark, we hiked our way to the campsite, passing by boulders, tiny waterfalls and natural gardens.
An hour later, we arrived at our campsite. And just when we were about to pitch our tents, it, all of a sudden, rained heavily.
Even so, we remained upbeat and optimistic. When you’re surrounded by a bunch of open-minded people, sometimes nothing can go wrong. Most of the time, these open-minded people can turn unfavorable situations into funny and pleasant moments.
When the rain finally stopped, a group of hikers from Samar with sir Ramil arrived, to set up camp.
Spearheaded by Beboi, we, then, began pitching our tents. Raul, meanwhile, was the designated chef, and was amazingly great at cooking.
We, later on, ate our dinner, shared some interesting travel stories, and went to bed as early as 08:30 PM.
As much as we want to stay up late, and talk about different things, we had to go to sleep early, to rest our jaded muscles. Also, remember, we barely had any sleep the night prior to our climb.
To ease up our weary joints and muscles pains, we put on a dose of a sports liniment (Omega Pain Killer, to be specific).
And finally, I had a chance to catch some sleep.
I was asleep, dreaming of wonderland, when, out of nowhere, it rained again. This time, it was a heavy downpour that woke up Raul, Beboi and I.
Sadly, I didn’t get any more sleep, following that commotion.
No matter how hard I try, I just couldn’t get back to sleep.
Ultimately, Beboi’s alarm clock sounded, and we were forced to wake up, and prepare for our assault to Alto Peak.
It was incredibly cold, with thick fogs surrounding our campsite. And, just like dinner the previous night, Raul and his children prepared our breakfast and lunch for our hike.
After eating breakfast, we let the other hikers climb Alto Peak first, to prevent traffic and congestion on the summit.
Slowly but surely, we changed our attire, refilled our water bottles and disassembled our tents.
Our guides, soon, hid our belongings in a special place where nobody would notice. As our guides have said, we have to limit our things going to the summit, as the climb to Alto Peak can be tough, even for hardcore hikers.
“This is it. The moment of truth”, I said to myself, while preparing my gear and backpack.
Before moving on with our hike, we said another prayer, for good weather and safety for our climb to Alto Peak.
Without wasting any more time, we hit the trail leading to the zenith of Alto Peak.
At first, the trail to Alto Peak was meek, flat and pretty manageable.
As we were hiking on a modest terrain, we passed by boulders, water streams and mossy trees wonderfully covered in thick fog.
Quite frankly, it reminded me of scenes from my favorite horror flicks.
We kept walking, until bossing Danilo stopped.
And guess what folks? It was the first roping challenge of our hike to the top of Alto Peak.
My load was fairly heavier, as compared to my hiking buddies. After all, I was carrying a DSLR, 2 liters of water and a jacket on my backpack. Still, I got to complete the first rope course with ease.
The hike, however, wasn’t getting easier, the closer we got to Alto Peak. You have to literally crawl, climb, and leap over tree trunks and branches.
Of course, there were also stingy fauna and ropes along the way to help you get to the top.
Truthfully, I can’t remember how many I’ve used the ropes for this hike.
Yet, even with the seemingly endless assault, I was psyched, pumped up and on fire. Plus, I was confident in our ability to finish the climb to Alto Peak, despite our aching muscles.
Weeks of preparation and months of hiking mountains in Cebu have prepared us mentally and physically for this arduous adventure. To me, anyone who says the mountains in Cebu aren’t exciting and challenging is a clueless fool.
We did make a few stops to regroup and recover, on the way up to the peak.
Once, I remember ma’am Fe asking the guide, “What kind of a trail is this?”
Seriously, this hike is no joke. In all her years of climbing, she’s never seen anything like this. She even said that it’s harder than her recent major climbs, including Mount Apo, Mount Pulag, Mount Talinis and Mount Kanlaon. #thestruggleisreal
Along the way, we bumped into the first group, who didn’t spend a lot of time in Alto Peak because they felt it was cold as hell.
With adrenaline rushing in my veins, I aced the super steep and slippery trail with the help of the ropes.
Before the hike, sir Ramil told us there are 70-degree inclines on the way to Alto Peak. In my book, though, it felt like these inclines were closer to 80 and 90 degrees. And, I’m not kidding or exaggerating.
With excitement and joy, I kept on hiking, until we arrived at the top of Alto Peak.
And boy, it was such a glorious feeling.
For some reason, the climb felt like the epitome of my life.
I’ve been through so many struggles, hardships and failures in my life. And like our Alto Peak, I just kept on grinding and hustling, until I made it to the place where I want to be.
Honestly, I didn’t take a ton of photographs on the summit, and I was just amazed by our recent feat. I congratulated everybody for conquering Alto Peak – the undisputed highest peak in Eastern Visayas.
Soon after, another group of local hikers arrived in Alto Peak, feeling elated and blissful of their accomplishment.
From solo shots to wacky group photos, we snapped dozens of photographs on top of Alto Peak.
Likewise, Raul had a plethora of shots with his fan signs to his beloved children.
Eventually, we revealed a surprise that almost gave Beboi a teary eye – a pair of cupcakes and a tarpaulin saying “happy birthday”. As far as I’m concerned, it was a fitting surprise or a mild reward for the man who made all of this possible. Without Beboi and his efforts and leadership, I don’t think we’d hike Alto Peak that weekend.
In some ways, he’s a mirror image of myself, when I was with my first hiking team in Cebu.
Even though we’ve finished taking pictures, we just stayed there for a while, hopping for clearer skies and a more awe-inspiring view.
And our prayers were answered, minutes later.
In just a few seconds, we got a beautiful, splendid view of the mountains and lush landscapes surrounding Alto Peak.
I know it was short, but it was gorgeous and mesmerizing, nevertheless.
The clear and sunny sky didn’t appear again. And so, we descended from Alto Peak, to cap off our major hike.
Descending, however, can be just as difficult or even more as the climb up. To make things even worse, it was raining cats and dogs, on our way down. In fact, I had a ton of mishaps, as were going downhill from the summit.
I didn’t look cool and graceful on our way down to the campsite from Alto Peak. In some instances, I had to use my butt to pass by a tree trunk or descend from an elevated part of the trail. But, who cares?
Hiking is, after all, not a ballerina show or a beauty contest. Sometimes, you have to crawl, grind it out, and use unorthodox strategies to survive in the wild and return home safe. And, thank God for giving me this big behind to help me survive in complex technical trails like this.
Upon our arrival at the campsite, we ate our lunch, packed our bags, and made way to the final stop of our climb – Heaven’s Peak.
On our way back to the last stop, ma’am Fe noticed that there was something in her eye. And, as we’ve found out, it was a leech feasting on one of her eyeballs. Yikes!
Danilo, though, easily plucked out the leech and showed it to us.
We, ultimately, arrived in Heaven’s Peak, changed clothes and prepared for our boat ride back to Cebu.
We bid farewell to sir Ramil, and embarked on our transport service back to the city center.
Sadly, there was another unforeseen hiccup waiting for us in the city center.
Later on, we discovered that the boat ride back to Cebu was fully booked.
But, it was okay! If we can survive the perilous trails of Alto Peak, we surely can survive a night in Ormoc City.
After indulging on a hearty dinner at Jollibee, we went to the bus terminal, so we can spend a night there and rest. For an affordable price of 10 pesos, it was an absolute bargain and a steal. There was even some entertainment on the bus terminal.
At 7:30 in the morning, we departed from Ormoc City, and traveled to our homeland, Cebu. Quite a weekend, indeed!
Our Alto Peak itinerary:
- 05:00 AM: ETA Ormoc City
- 05:30 AM: Breakfast at McDonald’s
- 06:00 AM: Bought supplies at Ormoc City public market
- 07:30 AM: Depart for Barangay Cabintan
- 09:00 AM: ETA Barangay Cabintan/picture taking/briefing
- 09:50 AM: Start hike to Lake Janagdan
- 11:40 AM: ETA Lake Janagdan
- 12:30 PM: Descend to lake
- 01:00 PM: Lunch
- 02:00 PM: Resume hike
- 03:40 PM: ETA Junction
- 04:00 PM: Resume hike to campsite
- 05:00 PM: ETA campsite/set up camp
- 07:00 PM: Dinnner
- 08:30 PM: Lights out
- 04:00 AM: Wake up
- 06:30 AM: Eat breakfast/ pack up
- 08:40 AM: Start ascend
- 10:30 AM: ETA Alto Peak
- 12:00 PM: Start descend
- 02:00 PM: ETA campsite/lunch
- 02:40 PM: Start hike to Heaven’s Peak
- 05:00 PM: ETA Heaven’s Peak
- 06:00 PM: Depart for Ormoc city port
- 07:00 PM: ETA Ormoc city port
- 08:00 PM: Dinner
- 09:00 PM: ETA bus terminal/rest
- 04:00 AM: Wake up
- 06:30 AM: ETA Ormoc city port
- 07:30 AM: Depart for Cebu City
- 10:00 AM: Pier 1 in Cebu City
- 11:00 AM: Home Sweet Home
Our main expenses:
- Boat fare to Ormoc: PHP 400 per person
- Back-and-fort transport service to Cabintan: PHP 312.50 per person (PHP 2,500 for the whole group).
- Guide fee: PHP 250 per person (PHP 2,000 for two guides for two days)
- Fastcraft fare to Cebu City: PHP 550 per person (non-aircon)
- Registration fee: PHP 25
Our transport service is good for 10 people. According to the driver, the rate for a group of hikers with more than 10 heads is PHP 3,000. As for the guide services, you’ll have to pay PHP 500 for a guide per day, which is good for every group of 5 hikers. Since there were 8 of us, we had to pay PHP 1,000 per day for our guides.
Things to take note:
- For guide services, contact sir Ramil Morales through his Facebook account or via the Caleguid page. Likewise, you may contact him through his mobile number at 0921-724-3042.
- For transport services, you may contact Rodel at 0920-715-6011.
- Traveling solo or with a partner? There are habal-habal rides that can take you to Barangay Cabintan for about PHP 200 per person and per way (Not sure about the rate, though). There are jeepneys to Cabintan from the terminal near Ormoc Port, but I’m not sure about the travel time and rates.
- Practice the LEAVE NO TRACE principles.
- Pack at least 3 liters of water.
- There’s water source and a waterfall near the campsite.
- Bring trail food/snacks.
- Bring ION drinks like Gatorade or Pocari Sweat.
- Wear trekking shoes or sandals with great traction.
- Pack a tent.
- Pack a cook set, and cook your food.
- Pack full-fingered gloves, leggings and arm guards.
- Use your legs, when using the ropes. You’ll be swaying from side to side, if you don’t use them.
- Only Smart has a stable mobile signal in Barangay Cabintan.
- Do some preparation climbs, before hiking Alto Peak, to improve your endurance as well as enhance your confidence.
- You may also camp at Heaven’s Peak for PHP 100 per night. You can take a shower there, for PHP 25.
- You can also take a day hike to Alto Peak, if you’re short in time. However, you’re not going to see Lake Janagdan if you take the day hike option.
All in all, our Alto Peak climb was a fun-filled and exciting adventure that I’ll remember for years to come. Sure, we didn’t get to see the majestic vistas from the top, but to me, the views following a hard hike are just a consolation prize. The camaraderie, the funny moments, challenges and the priceless life lessons – these things are far more valuable than the Instagrammable views. As an added bonus, we got know each other a lot better, and became closer, as friends. As the old and wise Raul has said, it’s not the destination that makes the journey memorable, but the people who are with you.
And, by the way, I’d like to say thanks to Joseph Baya of Team BETA, Idas, Daphne and Jimmy Elorde for all the hints and tips they’ve shared to us. Keep on rocking, mga bes!