Hiking Mt. Gola with a Kid (San Miguel, Bulacan)

October 15, 2018


This trek was nearly postponed. I crammed work till 2:45 am and was dead tired. But by 6:30 am, Lia woke me up, saying she wants to hike. I asked her thrice if she really wants to, hoping she'd say no. Every time, she said yes.

We headed first to the Kalawakan barangay hall in Dona Remedios Trinidad - San Miguel's mountainous neighbor - to inquire about a yet undocumented mountain. It turns out at 1 pm, no guide was around. We had already spent P600 on fare alone and dealt with a four-hour ride, traffic, and a whiny tricycle driver. We weren't going waste all those by taking a ride back home.


We asked the trike driver to turn back and drop us off at Sitio Madlum - a good 30 minutes away from Brgy. Kalawakan - so we can hike Mt. Gola instead. We weren't able to complete it in 2017 as I was severely hyperthyroid then.

Mt. Gola is the sister mountain of Mt. Manalmon. It''s visible on the other side of the river, just across the latter. You use the same trail for hiking, but after the stream crossing, a left turn on a prominent bifurcation will lead you to Mt. Gola (and a second river crossing. Mt. Manalmon only involves one river crossing - after Madlum cave). A right turn on this bifurcation leads to Mt. Manalmon. Twin hikes can be easily done in half a day, often starting in Mt. Manalmon.

Without asking which mountain we wanted to climb, the old guy manning the registration area wrote down "Mt. Manalmon" on our sheet. Calmly, I said, "Sa Gola po kami aakyat." He gave me that look as if I was a daft to even request it.




"Sigurado ka? 2 o' clock na." he asked, still not crossing out Manalmon on the paper. I nodded.

He beckoned a guide. The guide, a 40-some year old stern-looking male, repeated the question. "Gola? Sigurado ka, ma'am, kaya ng anak mo ang Gola?"

The registration officer butted in. "Eh sinusulat ko na nga sa papel Manalmon, pinigilan ako."


"Nakaakyat na po kami sa Gola. Nakaakyat na rin kami ng Manalmon," I replied.

A few more male guides in the background yelled out, "Gola? Hindi kaya nang bata yon. Porter ka. Papabuhat 'yan sa 'yo."

The apprehension is not unfounded. At 196 meters above sea level, Mt. Gola is 36 meters higher than Mt. Manalmon. Its trail is also a kilometer and a half longer each way. The trail to Mt. Manalmon's two peaks is mostly on flat terrain.



While two-thirds of this terrain is shared by Mt. Gola, the remaining one-third is a different beast. Hikers would have to negotiate rocky, uneven, and steeper surfaces for about 30 to 40 minutes on the last leg toward the summit, with one segment featuring a 30 to 40-degree incline. This short section, completed in around three minutes, may require the use of your hands and a rope.


Our guide didn't seem excited about the idea either. He never talked to us - not even to provide the obligatory pre-hike briefing about the mountain - unless I asked something. The one exception he did so was to only reconfirm if we've previously hiked the mountain. I told him matter-of-factly that I hiked Manalmon thrice already and Gola once, and three of those, Lia was with me.

In one instance, he distanced himself, brought out his walkie talkie, and remarked to another guide (who kept telling him we should have gone to Manalmon instead of Gola), "Nakapunta na daw sila diyan tatlong beses. Dapat nga diyan na lang eh."


I kept mum. As a woman, in the long run, you develop a sense of comprehension when people say things out of genuine concern and when they say it because they underestimate your gender. For six years that Lia and I traveled together, it's mostly the second one, and often, the remarks come from men.

For six years too, I've tried to explain that I don't encourage challenges with calculated risks for superlatives but for the experience. For our collective enjoyment. For her to develop a better appreciation of nature, judgment, problem-solving skills, and patience. For her to learn that if she wants to get something nice (i.e. a good view, trees to hug, and a dip in a river), she has to work her ass off for it.



But I've grown weary of explaining. I'd rather Lia show them what she can do than tell them. And I think she did.

Except for two knee-deep river crossings, our guide didn't carry her, nor did she ask to. Barely stopping for breaks, our entire hike lasted only three and a half hours. We made it back down before sunset. Through all of this, Lia didn't complain. And I didn't even have to say a word.


HOW TO GET THERE



FROM MANILA

From the Cubao bus terminal, take a Baliwag Transit or Golden Bee bus to San Miguel, Bulacan. Tell the conductor to drop you off at the intersection going to Sibul. This is after Camias. You should see a police station on the right, and on the left a huge red horse signage.

Walk to the tricycle TODA/ terminal (sometimes a tricycle is already parked at the intersection where you'll alight), and tell the driver to drop you off in Madlum. The registration area is located from the parking lot just across the bridge.


FROM OTHER POINTS IN BULACAN
(Bocaue, Norzagaray, Balagtas, Meycauayan, Marilao, and Sta. Maria)

Take any jeepney that plies the Sta. Rita exit via NLEX (It has to be via NLEX). Alight at Sta. Rita exit, right after the tollgate. Baliwag and Golden Bee buses regularly pass by (the signage will read San Miguel, Madlum, Gapan, or Cabanatuan). Tell the conductor to drop you off at the intersection going to Sibul. This is after Camias. You should see a police station on the right, and on the left a huge red horse signage.

Walk to the tricycle TODA/ terminal (sometimes a tricycle is already parked at the intersection where you'll alight), and tell the driver to drop you off in Madlum. The registration area is located from the parking lot just across the bridge.


TRAVEL EXPENSES (GOOD FOR SOLO HIKER OR ADULT WITH CHILD)

Bus to San Miguel from Cubao and back - P234 (P117 per way)
Tricycle to and jumpoff point in Madlum - P480 (P240 per way; can comfortably fit 3 people)
Entrance fee to Madlum - P20
Environmental fee - P10
Guideship fee - P300 (for every 5 persons)
Use of bathroom for washing up - P20

TOTAL EXPENSES = P1,064 (one adult or one adult and a child)


ITINERARY


5:00 am  Take bus from Cubao to Manila

8:00 am  Arrive in San Miguel; take tricycle to Sitityo Madlum

8:30 am  Arrive in jumpoff point; take footbridge to registration area

               Register, get guide, briefing

8:40 am  Start hike

10:40 am  Mt. Gola summit

                    Photo ops

11:00 am  Start descent

12:00 pm  Back at Madlum river

                    Swim; lunch

2:00 pm  Leave for Manila

6:00 pm  Back in Manila


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