Friday, March 03, 2006

Bontoc Circuit Trail

Bontoc Circuit Trail
Mr. Banny Hermanos

Batad terrace photo courtesy of  Banny Hermanos, EL Writer
The Bontoc Circuit Trail (BCT) in Northern Luzon’s Cordillera’s Central mountain range retraces ancestral walking paths linking the Mountain Province’s 7 of the 10 municipal towns. Bontoc, capital town of the Mountain Province is 6-7 hours scenic drive from Baguio City along the newly rehabilitated Halsema Highway. This center of civilization sits right in the crossroads of the Halsema Highway, from Baguio down south to Kalinga up North and the Bontoc-Banaue Road, crossing the mighty Chico River on the east enroute to the world famous Banaue Rice Terraces which is 2-3 hours drive.

Long established even before Magellan’s discovery of the Philippines in 1521, these trails had been the interaction routes of distant tribal illages separated geographically by towering mountain ranges and deep iver valleys. These paths had been witnesses to tribal intermarriages and tribal wars caused by boundary or water disputes that sometimes result in bloody conflicts. “Bodongs” or peace pacts resolving conflicts are also borne on these dirt trails where opposing village elders would hike and meet half-way. Spanish and American colonizers traveled these difficult mountain trails to stamp their influence. Philippine revolutionary soldiers led by President Aguinaldo trekked these trails on horse or on foot to escape pursuing American forces after their historic loss at the Battle of Tirad Pass on the west in December 1899. Masferre lugged heavy photographic equipment up and down these trails from his Sagada home to record in black and white the rugged land, its people and their distinct culture way back in the 30’s.

From the American hill station Baguio, US engineers led by EJ Halsema carved from the rugged landscape in the early 1900’s a mountain trail towards the frontier settlement of Bontoc, long ago center of trade and commerce in the region. With the arrival of automobiles and their network of roads, these ancestral tails slowly faded into misuse and neglect.

Now, raditating out of Bontoc are all-weather dirt roads reaching adjacent towns of Sabangan, Sagada, Sadanga, Barlig and end-of-the-road barangays of Bagnen, Aguid, Mainit, Sacasacan, Anabel. All of these places are regularly serviced by hardy local 4x4 jeepneys or mini-buses within 1-2 hour drive. These points bound the Bontoc Circuit Trail which was retraced for the first time by an organized trekking group Philippine Airlines Mountaineering Club (PALMC) last December 2004 and retraced, mapped, GPS plotted and documented again April 2005.

Traversing one-forested mountain ranges and crossing deep river gorges via rickety metal handing bridges, ancestral walking paths are revisited connecting to other end-of-the-road barangay or to a town along the Halsema Highway or to the Bontoc-Banaue Road. This circuit trail delineated by linking Mountain Province’s best eco-tourist spots such as magnificent rice terraces, cool mountain-top lakes, challenging peaks, cascading waterfalls, invigorating hot springs and quaint villages offering rustic accommodations to the recreational trekker took all in all 9 hiking days to complete.

Stringing together towns with existing inns in a drive/hike itinerary, a physically fit BCT visitor even without outdoor equipment may lug day hours on the trail and find shelter at the end of the day at comfortable inns offering hot meals and cozy beds. This is the Philippines’ version of a hut-to-hut trekking route, a popular trek experienced only in the Alps and in the Himalayas. But should you want to rough it out to have a true wilderness experience, the BCT offers the best campsites and away from it all feeling amidst spectacular scenery and rich culture.

With local governments’ support and the community’s involvement, the BCT ensures this cultural treasure to be safe from deterioration and will soon be a model for responsible ecotourism thus giving the local economy a local boost.

“Gawis ay Mountain Province”

Mr. Banny Hemanos. Past President PALMC. BCT 2005 Expedition Leader

2nd PALMC Bontoc Circuit Trail 1-7 April 2006
Anabel.  Taken by Banny

Acquaint yourself with the rich cultural heritage and the natural wonders of Cordillera range in the 2nd run of the Bontoc Circuit Trail by PALMC in the company of the original exploratory team led by EL Banny Hermanos, Team Leaders Errol Baylon and Dexter Macapagal and local guides endorsed by the local government this 1-7 April 2006.

Starting at Bontoc, two groups will be organized, one directed towards the North from Sadanga to Sagada and the other at the South covering Sabangan to Sagada. The two groups meet midway at the Bontoc Circuit Trail after 5 days at Lake Danum near Sagada for an overnight stay. Activity culminates in Bontoc on 7 April for the Lang-ay Festival organized by the tribal groups and the local government.

From the testimonies of the original exploratory group, Stephen Tan, Errol Baylon, Larry Honoridez, Cesar Banares, Andrew Besinal, Mon Mendoza, Joshua Vizcarra, Jo Ramos, highlights of the trek to look forward to are:
Lowest point is at the Chico River at 750 M ASL while the highest is the Siblaw-Talaw at 2,400 M ASL

  • Most difficult to negotiate are the ascent to Balintaugan and the descent to Anabel.
  • Most fun is the ridge trail from Mt. Datacan to Lake Danum.
  • Trail referred to as with historical significance was the Lingoy Settlement which was set up in 1921.
  • Most indifferent is Mainit where residents are cold to visitors.
  • Most recent dispute is the boundary and water dispute between Anabel and Linggoy.

In a place rich with cultural heritage, live with the fact that there will be surprises along the way like waste treatment, source of water, stray animals, food and interfacing with the mountain settlers.

Join the 2nd run of the Bontoc Circuit Trail. Pre climb is scheduled on 15 March 7 PM at the PAL Learning Center in Padre Faura corner Adriatico St. Manila. Group departs for Baguio on 31 March PM. For more information call Banny Hermanos, Dexter Macapagal and at the PALMC Office Fabie Espino or John Fortes at 536 4246/ 526 2533.

To accommodate those who expressed interest to join the experience, this will be an open climb. Enlist early as the expedition is limited only to what the public transpo can take.

-Chito Razon 2 March 2006

Read Ramon's B. account of the North Trek at Log in is required.


  1. If you are in facebook, be awed by Mt. Tenglawan in Bakun. From the album of Master B. Hermanos.!/photo.php?fbid=10200453911170605&set=a.10200453603562915.203431.1241502330&type=3&theater

  2. Reposted 1 June 2014 at FB PALMC. 73(c)