It was a Good Friday when we decided to head east to prepare for the Timberland King of The Mountain race which will be held in San Mateo, Rizal. It was supposed to be a track check for the upcoming event but it turned out to be a three-day epic adventure!
It was three days worth of climbs, scaling through sharp-edged limestone, cliffs, granny gear-crunching uphills, and heavily rutted single tracks.
This was a test of both mental and physical endurance for us. I haven’t been to a serious race before so I had to stay in shape.
Rodriguez and San Mateo became my three-day training ground, my boot camp, my ultimate rite of passage. This adventure made me shred some pounds even if I pigged out after every leg of the series, it was intense! Here we go…
Day 1: Mt. Pamitinan & Wawa Dam
The popular Mt. Pamitinan of Rodriguez was the first destination. Towering above the gorge of Wawa river right beside Mt. Binacayan. We crossed a hanging bridge to enter the trails, it was a gradual ascent and the area was forested, shading us from the summer heat. We continued our hike until we saw an ancient balete tree.
We took a rest here and then moved on to the rocky section. This was the most difficult part of the hike because we had to literally climb to the top while holding sharp edged limestone. Good thing we wore gloves or it would have been more difficult.
I wasn’t able to take photos after this point. The sharp edges and climbs were too much and we also had to clear gaps so we wouldn’t fall in small ravines. It may seem too extreme but it was manageable even for first time climbers.
More climbs and then we made it to this spot where you can see the whole stretch of Wawa river and the panoramic view of Rodriguez. It was breathtaking! I couldn’t help but ask them to stay longer.
Another stopover was the famous cliff that served as another viewpoint for us. We were told by our guide to be very careful as we scaled on the side of it.
After the 90 degree assaults that requires some rock climbing skills, we reached a part of the mountain where there were bamboo trees which served as a shade as we stuffed our faces with our trail food.
We had to climb the summit with the help of a rope. I held on it as I pulled my way up to the top. It was all rocks at this point and no shade to protect us, we could feel the burning summer heat, I had to climb faster or my friends would be toasted if they didn’t begin to move ASAP.
We have finally reached the summit! There was a woozy feeling every time I stood up. I tried to take a photo while standing when a gust of wind almost blew me out of balance. It was scary because the summit can only accommodate around 5 people and the rocks were uneven, it was that cramped up there! I stooped down and held on the a rock just to regain my balance. Whew!
I then found a sweet spot and marveled at the beauty of Rizal’s landscape. Right beside us was the summit of Mt. Binacayan which can also be climbed together with Mt. Pamitinan for a twin day hike. (or if you are up for the challenge, you can add Mt. Hapunang Banoi in the menu for an epic 1 day trilogy).
I rappelled back down and proceeded on getting back to the jump off. We excitedly went to the foot of Wawa dam for a well-deserved relaxation.
We laid down and just let the endless water flow. It was pure pleasure for our tired bodies and sore feet! We stayed for a while and then headed to the markets for dinner.
Some facts: (Mt. Pamitinan)
- Height: 426 meters above sea level
- Hours to summit: 1.5-3 hours
- Features: Limestone formations, scenic views of Sierra Madre and Rizal province
- Specs: Minor, Difficulty 3/9
- Trail class 1-4
Day 2: The Wall & Timberland Trails
We set our hiking shoes aside to lace up on our cycling gears. Next stop is “The Wall” a steep 5 kilometer road that leads to the gates of Timberland Heights, a subdivision and an outdoor recreational area that is considered as a mecca for mountain bikers in the Philippines.
We drove along the wall, our engines crying out as we pushed our gas pedals on first gear. It was a steep climb even for vehicles! We saw several bikers and joggers along the way and I noticed their struggle as they grinded and pushed hard to the top.
Parked in the country club along Wall 2, we hauled off our bikes and went back to enjoy the downhill ride.
We rode fast but were very cautious. The rotor heating hairpins gave us a hard time turning at our rate that we had no choice but to slow down, especially when we reached the infamous section called “siko” (Elbow). This hairpin corner have already claimed lives (and limbs) due to it’s steepness and sudden turn. An ambulance was also stationed on the side of the road just in case something bad happens again, and are patrolling the mountain passes for the safety of the visitors/locals.
And then the fun part was over. We found our way to the start of The Wall, taking deep breaths as we prepared for the steepest uphill ride I had experienced to date.
The climb was brutal! It was harder than the Canlubang route going to Tagaytay. I forced my way to the top as I pedaled as hard as I could. Granny gears couldn’t even help that much. Every pedal sent jolts of pain to my thighs, sweat from my head and face were collecting on my handlebar as I endured the sudden 800ft elevation.
I saw the gates of timberland and made a sigh of relief. It was the shortest flat section as the roads welcomed me to “Wall 2!” Another uphill stretch along the subdivision of Timberland leading to the mountain trails.
I forced myself not to stop but couldn’t help it any longer. I have dismounted for the first time to catch my breath. I felt like I ran through rain as I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. I took the bladder hose of my hydration bag, had the best water I have gulped my whole life, wiped the mist off my shades and got back to the saddle after a few minutes.
Wall 2 was not that difficult compared to the first part but the compounded fatigue and muscle pain from Wall 1 will get you. I continued to pedal to Wall 3, the brief uphill stretch going to the Blue Zone, the first part of Timberland’s series of trails.
Friends told me that you will “hit the wall” if we do the 2 kilometer climb, hence the popular name. We have managed to grind further, entering Blue Zone as we cut corners going up the mountains.
The viewpoints were stunning! Along the trails was the view the Sierra Madre Mountain range. It was nothing but blue skies, green slopes and fresh air. We decided to stay here for a while to enjoy the scenery and recuperate.
We gained our momentum afterwards and continued with a faster pace. The summer heat made the soil lose that our rear wheel came slipping and sliding along the corners.
It was a fun ride after the open area. Bamboo trees and leaves scattered everywhere, we thought it was just a flat twisty area but we were surprised by rutted switchbacks and more uphill climbs, we also had to cross a stream just to get through.
We went our way out of Blue Zone, cycled to the lose, rocky terrain of Basic Trail, and then proceeded to check out Green Zone.
Green Zone is an easier ride (unless you take the jump sections), and the forested environment will give you cover from the sun. There were several switchbacks passed the beginning of this area and had several climbs before the exit as well.
We were done by the afternoon. There were also several areas in Timberland that we hadn’t explored that day (Roxas loop, Chapel, Nursery, and Black Diamond) but we guaranteed that we will be back to enjoy the trails on weekends.
- Distance: 2 kilometers
- Elevation: 800ft, 50 degree incline
- Accident prone downhill sections
- When reaching the gates of Timberland, a valid ID is required to be left to the security guards to gain access (Quite tough when you came from wall 1, panting heavily while rummaging through your stuff)
- The only International Mountain Bikers Association (IMBA) certified bike trail in the country
- Spectacular views of the Sierra Madre mountain range
- Dubbed as the mountain biking capital of the Philippines
- Home of the King of The Mountain bike race held annually
- Hardest area is the Black Diamond trail (I haven’t tried this part yet)
Day 3: Mt. Maarat aka “Shotgun”
This is it… The Ultimate test.
Third leg of our Rodriguez + San Mateo series is the jaw crunching, knee popping climb to Mt. Maarat. Still banged up from the Mt. Pamitinan climb and Timberland ride, we readied ourselves to the foot of The Wall (c6 Road fork) and headed left to enter the infamous Shotgun.
The entrance was a daunting view as we were welcomed by the steepest road we’ve seen so far!
I can say that Shotgun is more difficult compared to The Wall. This is where I reached my limits, after the big, steep turns and gear grinding ascents, I dismounted. And then I had a lot of dismounts from time to time. This was just too much for my sore, tired, sleepless body.
In spite of the torture, this mountain also offers its fair share of rewards. While resting, I looked back and saw the whole of Metro Manila on the horizon. I couldn’t help but rest longer.
There were also several trucks that went up the mountain road. We found out that the peak is a dumpsite where all the trash of Metro Manila are being collected.
We had no choice but to continue further. To conserve energy, we had to “stitch the road” most of the time just to progress. (ride in a zig-zag direction.)
We finally reached a flat section! I adjusted my gears and pedaled easily to store some energy. I knew it’d be torture again afterwards.
The twisty road was more gentle at this point. We took a breather here while looking at the highlands of Timberland right beside the mountain pass. Just a few meters more and we’re on top.
After the slow 5 kilometers, we have finally reached the summit! It wasn’t a nice view as there were grasses that blocked the scenery. There was also a security guard stationed prohibiting us to go further to the landfill.
We took several photos and got back down to enjoy the sickest downhill ride.
- Distance: 5 kilometers from the C6 fork
- Elevation: 400 meters above sea level
- The summit of Mt. Maarat is a controversial landfill site, with bike groups and other environmental NGOs opposing its construction