A Perspective and Capsule History of Peak Climbing in the Northern Negros Forest Reserve
While the Mount Kanla-on National Park (MKNP) became the site of mountaineering explorations in the late seventies, the NNFR has remained beyond the reach of mountaineers until the late eighties. A period of dramatic decline of insurgency in the island of Negros, the late 80's ushered the years of robust mountaineering activities in the once feared region of the NPA rebels. By the advent of this period, there wasn't a single peak in the NNFR that has been climbed by mountaineers whose main objective is to pit themselves to the challenge of peak climbing.
Of course, before the early eighties, in those decades of massive logging operations perpetrated by companies such as Trinity, Northern Negros and Insular Lumber Co., the secluded mountain interiors were thrown wide open and, despite of the absence of true intention to climb as a sport, many peaks succumbed to the efforts of surveyors and loggers. Aside from these uncanny climbers, there were the World War II soldiers, the AFP men, the NPA rebels and the forest scavengers who in one way or another might have climbed the NNFR peaks before the coming of the mountaineers.
As a sport, the earliest known climb in the NNFR (most likely done in the late 80's) was achieved in Mount Marapara by the BBMS, the mountaineering group credited for the pioneering explorations in Patag and the Mandalagan Range. Thereafter, no other mountaineering climb has been heard of in the NNFR until September 1998 with the first mountaineering climb of Mt. Calaptan in Canlusong, E. B. Magalona by the Singarong Backpackers, perhaps the only climbing team in the country that is so methodical and very strict in the non-employment of guide in its ventures. Since the Calaptan Ascent, the SB has recorded first mountaineering climbs on five peaks and the rare first ascent on Mt. Sewahon in Sagay on August 31, 1999.
With the 6,168-foot Mt. Mandalagan as its highest peak, the NNFR contains tropical mountains with mediocre elevations even by Philippine standards. Mostly below the Philippine norm for a major mountain (not lower than 6,000 ft.), these peaks do not possess the severe climbing conditions that turn alpinists into legends in the world - extremely low temperatures, oxygen-deficient atmosphere at the very high altitude, volatile show conditions, avalanches and unpredictable blizzards. However, like most tropical mountains in the world, these peaks possess their exclusive problems to intimidate a select breed of mountaineer, the tropical peak climber - biological hazards,, baffling forestal navigation and water-procurement problems that shape and alter any plan. These are the conditions the tropical climber have to face.
Significantly, in the present Philippine tropical climbing set-up, the weight of the challenge has already shifted towards the least known and less lofty peaks such as the NNFR peaks, away from the major mountain destinations such as Mt. Apo, Mt. Pulag, Mt. Halcon, Canlaon Vol., Mt. Guiting-Guiting and Mt. Kitanglad. As the case stands, guide-procurement is strictly enforced in these major mountains thus depriving the climber of the oppurtunity to plot a working plan and to be prepared to react to the unexpected obstacles or the hitches in the itinerary. Along with this, the major mountains are already thoroughly explored and with existing trails, a situation that contribute to the factors that relegate climbing into a simple test of physical endurance.
In particular, the volcanic mountains of the NNFR (Mt. Silay and Mt. Mandalagan are Halocene stratovolacanos) which are young in geological terms hence not yet fully eroded, possess very steep slopes as exemplified by the steep mountainsides of Mt. Silay and the two Sicabas.
Of the four popular mountaineering entrances in the NNFR, the Gawahon entrance where guide-procurement is not required stands as the most ideal trail-head for any non-guided peak climbing venture. Several officially listed peaks in the NNFR could be accessed through Gawahon, namely Mt. Silay, Sicaba Daku Peak, Sicaba Diutay Peak and Lantawan Peak. Setting aside Kampuestuhan and Patag where guide-procurement is strictly enforced, the perimeter of the NNFR is dotted with far-flung barrios accessible to vehicular transport from towns or cities (mostly commuters' vehicles on scheduled trips) that are possible venues to start the practice of the true mountaineering objective - to climb a peak to test the limits of one's physical and emotional resources.