The ancestral hunting domain of the Bugkalot, Gaddang and Ifugao tribes, the mist-shrouded summits of the 1, 715 meter tall Mt. Palali stands like an all-encompassing sentinel sprawled across the town of Solano in Nueva Vizcaya.
Last March 3, me and hiking companion Paulo Ortega went to Solano to ascend a mountain that is getting more and more frequently climbed but little explored. As such, our main purpose is mainly to find out what species of plants and animals live there, rather than just reaching the summit and admiring the view.
Climbers to Mt. Palali should first get themselves registered here, where they will also have to pay the registration fee of 100 pesos. Exorbitant, compared to most other, in my opinion.
The mountain beckons...
A species of rattan, Calamus manillensis. Huge thanks to palm specialist Jiro Adorador for its identification.
Looks manageable, until you start walking on all those mud.
A species of Rubus, or 'sampinit' in the Tagalog vernacular. These fruits are in varying levels of tartness; I found this one acceptable, though not something I'd like to have every time. Rubus is from the family Rosaceae, and like its relative, the rose, is also beset with thorns.
A lithophytic Begonia species:
I am quite fortunate to see this orchid in bloom overhead. This is Euphlebium decoratum, an orchid whose flowers only last for a few hours.
This iridescent fern is an Antrophyum, which is quite common when you reach the 1000 m elevation mark. Many thanks to Julie Barcelona for the identification at the species level. I initially thought it to be a Haplopteris. Then again I'm terrible with ferns.
Moss with lichen. Unfortunately, I am not well-versed with bryophytes to be able to give an educated identification.
Liparis dumaguetensis, a terrestrial orchid whose flowers open yellow-green, then darken to purple. These plants would be difficult to spot on the :forest floor without those flowers:
I'm still not sure what this orchid could be. I suspect it to be Appendicula weberi, but I could be wrong. A neat-looking orchid nonetheless with those purple-bronzy overlay on the leaves.
One of the rather many forms of Alocasia micholitziana.
The allofasudden, house-sized boulders appeared. Or rather, I was the one who appeared on the scene because they've been here for who knows how long.
A very narrow path that demands an awkward posture to would-be passersby.
I can't remember the name of these ferns...
Dark and gloomy to casual lookers, but this is like a toy store to me.
A colony of a primordial-looking fern Dipteris conjugata:
A species of Aeschynanthus. These plants are commonly called 'lipstick vines'.
A lithophytic Pholidota ventricosa with developing seed capsules. Note the seedlings growing around it. Mommy orchid should be very proud:
Cheiropleuria bicuspis, an unusual looking fern with brittle, bifurcated fronds. This certainly chucks out images of feathery, lacey plants when one mentions "ferns":
A miniature orchid, Phreatia plantaginifolia:
This is Alpinia paradoxa, as determined by Duke Rudolph (thanks, man!). That is not a flower, by the way, but bracts. Flowers were not present at the time this photo was taken, unfortunately. But cool name, isn't it?
A bed of sphagnum moss.
This is one of many species of so-called Jewel Orchids, possibly Hetaeria cristata, with its bright red capsules
The 'Haring Bato' or 'King Rock'. I read one blog where 'Haring Bato' was translated by its author as 'behemoth rock'. That almost ruined my day.
Freycinetia, from the same family as your culinary pandan, but way more interesting:
Phaius flavus, a terrestrial orchid with impressively large flowers:
Our campsite, cold and foggy.
Cooking 'chicken fingers' inside my tent. And because I neglected to bring a cooking utensil, I just used a tent peg instead:
Unfortunately for me, I also forgot to bring my dish washing paste. But I do have my facial wash, which proved to be effective in errr... removing oil. Perhaps Pond's should look into the advertising potential of this product as a mountaineering/hiking essential...
At night, we went looking for animals, where we found some phasmids and a few other things:
A beetle from the family Curculionidae:
Another tiny-flowered orchid, this time Phreatia listrophora:
A strangely tick-shaped spider:
The following morning, I did some strolls again. Here is the tree root parasite Balanophora papuana:
A small ant hill:
It is unfortunate that some hikers attempted to collect Nepenthes stems; these (N. ventricosa) are strictly highland plants and it takes years of advanced horticulture techniques to be able to properly keep Nepenthes in cultivation. Please leave these plants alone. This photo shows a climbing stem with the apical tip cut off. Fortunately, two new growing points are taking the place of the severed portion. However, if the collected part bore seed heads, then the ignorant collector just did a great disservice to the species' population.
One last look.
This very graceful palm is Heterospathe philippinensis, or 'sanakti'. If only this were in cultivation, it would make a better option to the commonly cultivated Chamaedorea siefrizii. Sincerest gratitude to Jiro Adorador for supplying me the name of this palm.
That's the Magat River as it snakes across the Nueva Vizcaya lowlands. Clouds are building up...
A truly magnificent stick insect. I am still awaiting its identification from phasmid specialists.
Another plant of Liparis dumaguetensis, nearing the end of its anthesis:
An attractive species of Piper. The genus also contains the familiar pepper plant.
Now imagine yourself slipping down a slope, and in a desperate and frantic move for survival, you instinctively clasped the surrounding vegetation for support, and your hand chanced upon this gloriously wicked rattan stem. The searing pain should be enough to make you swear on somebody else's mother.
This is the part of the trail that I hated the most. That orangey substrate has a very thick, gluey consistency that clings tenaciously and builds up on the shoes' lugs, rendering them ineffective in gripping surfaces and thereby increasing one's chances of slippages. Ironically though, I did not slip here, but on another substrate type which is whitish- possibly lime-based but also with the consistency of clay.
Another species of Piper, with very attractive leaves:
These ants are probably from the genus Polyrachis. Apart from the golden rump, each is armed with a pair of forward-pointing spines on the anterior thoracic region. These ants were found underneath a loosely placed bark atop a fallen tree stump. After taking a few photos, the bark was placed on top of them again. Humans have no right to mess such a tranquil domestic scene:
And then finally, I reached Purok 5. I wanted to do some more walking so I obliged myself. Here's a woman threshing rice stalks. On the horizon is the majestic Mt. Palali.
From the jump-off point in Purok 5, I walked my way to the barangay hall at Purok 3; it took me around 20 minutes. I was supposed to contact the tricycle driver who took us here from Solano the day before, but I instead opted to walk it out, knowing that I still can after a rather grueling descent. However, upon reaching the said barangay hall, I found out that it was closed, which is a shame because I needed to tidy myself up before heading back to Cubao- you owe it to fellow passengers to make yourself presentable in a public transportation vehicle and not look like as if, well, you have just come down from the boondocks (even if you really did). Incidentally, there's this faucet on the left side of the hall, where I cleaned myself, changed clothes, and heated water for my cup noodles. I just can't be denied.
And then there's my pair of shoes, which I expected to finally croak up after quite a number of trips (I did bring a back-up pair of sandals). Caked in mud, but looks like it's still good for one or two more wars.
Getting there (and some words to get you by):
We boarded a Tuguegarao-bound Victory bus at Kamias in Quezon City, which left at 11:30 PM. We were supposed to take the Santiago-bound bus but Paulo arrived late and the the bus left even before he reached the terminal. Anyway... We reached the town of Solano at roughly 5:40 AM the next day, and hired a trike to take us to Purok 3, Brgy. Maddiangat; Ilocano is the dialect spoken here so you don't say 'Maddiang-GAT', but 'Maddiang-G(U)T'. Note that there are no 24-hour stores around so make sure you have your supplies with you before you start embarking to Solano.
Now, normally these drivers will charge outsiders 100 pesos per trip, but I then found out that a ride only costs 15 pesos. Always ask the locals for pertinent details, including travel time and fares so you don't get screwed up. The trail is situated at Purok 5, and is rather steep at the onset, but the challenge is the thick clay substrate. Water is not a problem in the early goings, as there are black hoses where you can get it. Further up, your next water source is at the second camp site, at a little over 1400 meters. There is a brook there, just walk further up.
By the way, getting guides is compulsory. Hiring one will set you back 500 pesos per day.