FIRST, OUR STORY
What was supposed to be a casual and chill climb turned out to be a nerve wracking, death defying experience that’s definitely one for the books. The group left Clark, Pampanga at 11:00 in the evening and headed to Subic. From Subic, we drove to Cawag jump off where the trek will start. Registration, payments, and meeting with our guides were all arranged from this point. Since there was moderate rain at around 1:00 AM, we were led to a makeshift camp where we rested and got ready for the climb.
The group started ascending at exactly 3:00 AM braving the cold gust of wind and drizzles of rain thinking that somehow it would stop as daylight approaches. But the irreconcilable happened in the middle of the trek as heavy rain started pouring and the wind became more unforgiving. At some point, it felt like I was walking in the middle of an angry typhoon with zero visibility, and the only direction I had was a faint light coming from the guide who was 20 feet ahead of me. Water gushed heavily down the trail but there was no other option but to head on and get to the summit as fast as possible.
It was almost 6:00 AM when the group reached the summit. Everything was covered in thick fog. It was almost sure that this is all we get to see of Mt. Bira Bira. So with trembling bodies because of exhaustion and cold, the group decided to rest for a while. The heavens must know how much effort it took to get to this point because the clouds cleared for a few minutes and voila! A clearing that revealed the terrain of Nagsasa, Zambales. The majestic Mt. Balingkilat stood mighty on one side. In the center of green mountain ranges, the sparkling view of the ocean can be seen. The climb may have been intensely difficult, yet suddenly it was all worth it.
The rain started to pour again while we steadily paced towards Nagsasa Cove. The descent took us another 2 hours through a muddy and rocky trail with a number of river-crossing along the way. The last one being the most challenging not only because of its width (30 feet or more) but also because of the strong current that came with the heavy rain.
The first attempt to cross the river failed. So the group decided to move and look for a shallow part. A second attempt was made and about 3 people (including me) already made it to the other side when the rain started to pour again. Anticipating for a stronger current to come any second from that point, the rest of the group braved the unexpected and crossed the river as fast as they can. Perhaps it was adrenaline that kept everyone on their toes. Without ropes or any survival gear, everyone made to the other side alive and in one piece.
Nagsasa Cove is located in San Antonio, Zambales – farther than its well-known neighbor Anawangin. It houses a quaint community whose main source of living comes majority from services given to tourists such as camping fees, boat rentals, food preparation and selling of souvenirs. The cove used to have a rocky terrain until the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo decades ago. Today, Nagsasa Cove is covered with beautiful fine gray sand and surrounded with Agoho trees, which commonly are mistaken for pine trees. There’s not much to do here aside from beach bumming, swimming, and going for a short trek on the nearby hills. People who wish to add more adventure will have to combine other activities like what we did. Travel across the mountains of Zambales and chill at one of its charming coves. If you are a traveler who’s sick of overcrowded and almost polluted beaches, then Nagsasa Cove is perfect for you.
After a few hours of rest, the group decided to call it a day and head back to Pundaquit. Another challenge was waiting for us because the group had to be transferred from the shore to a small boat (good for 5 people only), to a bigger boat that’ll take us to Pundaquit since it was low tide and the biggest boat can’t dock on shore.
There’s really not much option here so I already volunteered to be one of those first to be transferred. As if we haven’t encountered enough danger for the day, the boats can’t just ‘connect’. So, we had to swim from the small boat going to the bigger one. It was a mixture of both regret and assurance because 1. I made it to the big boat 2. The tide was bad and to say I was dizzy is an understatement.
It took more than an hour to transfer everyone. While I stood there waiting (yup I didn’t sit), I kept myself busy thinking about everything except the tide. Why am I doing this? Is the new logo okay? Why are we just friends? Hahaha. Oh well…
Pundaquit is a small community that’s more commercialized now. Upon docking, you’d find an array of stores, bars, and souvenir shops. Even comfort rooms you can use to shower and clean yourself (P20/person). We had a short stop at Pundaquit. Not enough to explore its shores but enough to see its calm sunset.
This adventure had thrills and more perils with it. It was difficult and life threatening. But please don’t get me wrong. Don’t get discouraged because of what happened to us. Given the right weather and condition, it would have been a blast to see Mt. Bira Bira and Nagsasa Cove. Perhaps one day, when time allows, I will go back and do it again. But for now, I’m just grateful to go home alive, ready to tell what an awesome story Mt. Bira Bira was.
ITINERARY: Mt. Bira Bira (Mt. Nagsasa) Traverse
LLA: 14°49.03N, 120°06.25E, 450 MASL
Specs: Minor climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-2
11:00 PM : Meet up in Clark
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 Pundaquit
5:00 PM : ETD to Pampanga
7:00 PM : ETA Clark
BUDGET: P750 – P1000 inclusive of transportation (from Clark), boat rentals, and guide + environmental fees. Excluding food and other personal expenses.
NAGSASA COVE: Camping fee and hut range from P100 – P250. Food, water, and toiletries are available at local stores for reasonable prices. Clean comfort rooms are also available on the island.