Hikong Mahi: a trek to remember
My three-year old pair of Merrell shoes was one of two things I brought that was fitting for our South Cotabato adventure last month. The clothes I had with me were inadequate for the cold temperatures especially at night. As a sleeping mat, I used my towel and scarf. My jacket doubled as a blanket but only covered my upper extremity. Despite all my creativity albeit crude, I was still no match to Mother Nature’s version of a full blast A/C. I must confess that there were fleeting seconds where I was really tempted to snuggle near Earl John, the other guy inside the tent (who was also my college dorm mate), in the most manly and culturally inoffensive manner possible. My strongest argument for doing just that is hypothermia. But thankfully, I convinced myself back to sleep every time that Ang Lee movie scene crossed my head.
We were up earlier than the usual last May 16. Perhaps we were excited to start the challenging trek to Hikong Mahi (or the Tinago Falls). Roy Ungkal, our trek guide, shared the night before that if the weather would not cooperate, we would have to settle for Trangkini Falls. But the weather did cooperate that morning. So after a group shot with almost all of the Sitio Kangko residents, we left the site and headed for Mahi at around 7:22 AM.
We passed by the path going to the bird watching deck, then through a few root crop plantations. A few minutes later, we had what seemed to be our final glimpse of Mt. Three Kings. Everything went downhill after that. Then the trail gradually led us through tall grasses until the view changed to intimidating dipterocarps. We realized that we were now in the middle of a forest.
The undeveloped trail leading to Hikong Mahi or Tinago Falls is considered difficult even by more experienced mountaineers. We carefully trod on loose forest topsoil which was sometimes littered with animal traps. There were times when we used a rope to rappel steep inclines. But in most cases, we held on to roots, vines, plants, and trees for balance, for support, and for dear life. At the river trek, we balanced precariously on slippery boulders and negotiated our way amidst strong and very cold river current. Despite these overwhelming challenges, we amazingly managed to pose for photographs along the way.
It was indeed a very wise move for us to request three community contacts to be our porters during the hike. The difficulty would have been magnified a few times over if we were still carrying our ‘everyday’ (not the reliable NorthFace or Habagat version) backpacks, sling bags, and packed lunch during the trek. But our porters were able to breeze through every obstacle while carrying four or five heavy bags and even without the aid of our one rope. I remembered that they had already been to the elusive Mt. Three Kings so this trek was just a walk in the park for them.
We finally reached the double cascading waterfall after almost 3 hours of rappelling and trekking, crawling and slipping, and getting lost in the trail, and figuring out the best thing to do afterwards. I must laud our ladies who survived the hike when none of them had any authentic mountaineering experience (or even that which closely resembles one). They never complained and they never gave up. There were no drama queens in this batch. I’ll bet that their future husbands would be very lucky even in that context alone.
The many rewards for this part of our journey are as follows: hearing the loud waterfall drop of Hikong Mahi, bathing in its refreshing, icy water flow, and seeing the unspoiled environment around us. But the falls was just an icing on the cake. My memory of our trek is sharper and more significant compared to finally seeing the beauty of this hidden waterfall.
I told Roy that it would be better to keep the trail undeveloped to somehow preserve the beauty of the place. The last things that we want to see in this area are steel railings, concrete bridges, zipline rides and resort huts. I believe that there are adventures that must be embarked unaided. The trek to Hikong Mahi is definitely one of those.
Although I have worn out my Merrells a little bit more after this trek, I promised never to wear them again just for everyday office work. These were made for embarking on incredible outdoor journeys. They are better off worn for summiting, spelunking, and hiking. And in that respect, my good old pair have indeed proven their worth. These have provided me good gripping during the river crossing and during the uphill and downhill challenges. More importantly, these have given me a new reason to keep on exploring the fascinating world way beyond my 4×4 cubicle.