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Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo: Part 2

On the way to the peak of Mt. Ugo

In any adventure, the intended results are never assured. This is one of the things I’ve learned in so many epic bike rides, trail runs, climbs, and travels. When you think you think you got everything planned and figured out, a moment’s inattention can have nature throwing you a sucker punch and leaving you dazed, confused and wondering what went wrong.

We knew that mountain biking Mt. Ugo was never going to be an easy task. But we calculated the risks versus our own abilities and made as much preparation as we could. Still, this was mountain biking: a sport where risk can never fully be taken out of the equation, an activity where taking risks is part of the satisfaction.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Leaving Sitio Lusod

Day 2 of our mountain bike trip to Mt. Ugo started at around 8 in the morning. The ground was still wet and sloshy from the night’s rain, and we needed to check our gear first before embarking on the trek up the summit. I was feeling much much better after the night’s rest.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Mt. Ugo, in the background, awaits

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Catching our breath before the next push

After saying our goodbyes and thank yous to the people of Domolpos who hosted us, we got on our bikes and started on the trail. We could see the cloud-covered summit of Mt. Ugo from the school. If we were just hiking, I have little doubt that the trek would probably have taken only around two hours. But since we were carrying bikes, we knew it was going to take us much longer.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

It took half an hour to get this far from sitio Lusod

Trek to the Summit
The trek from Domolpos to the summit proved even more challenging than the previous day’s hike-a-bike. The terrain was steeper and the several sections of path were narrower, with cliffs on the side that were several stories deep. Again, the clouds on the horizon didn’t bode well. Unlike the previous day when it was all sunshine in the morning, it was all clouds and light misty rain on Day 2.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

The twisty trail up Mt. Ugo

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Mr. Valleybikes hike-a-bikes

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Get high on mountains, not on drahgs! :p

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Endless grind. Does this mountain have a peak?

Instead of taking us 3 hours, the trek to the summit took us almost four hours. Our guide Primo said that on a clear day, you could see all the way to Pangasinan. But that day, we couldn’t see past a hundred meters because of the thick cloud. At least cel signal was up. Some of the guys used the downtime to send messages to their families and friends.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

The woods are dark lovely and deep

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

I have climbed highest mountain, I have run through the fields, Only to IG with you

I uploaded a few photos. Coming from a generation where you had to lineup to use a payphone and getting a PLDT landline took ages, I am still amazed at how technology has shrunk the world.

We had lunch and got ready for the way down. We were tired from another gruelling hike, but we were all also in very high spirits because it was going to be mostly downhill from summit. After all the excruciating uphill rides and hike-a-bikes, we could finally get some reward.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Unique flora on Mt. Ugo

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

The obligatory groupfie at the peak

At least that was the case in the first few minutes. After a while the terrain became too steep for riding safely and we all had to carefully hike down with our bikes in tow. As anyone with mountaineering experience knows, it is oftentimes more difficult to go down than to go up.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

When you can ride

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Getting our bearings after a gnarly descent

But some sections of the trail were rideable. And when you could ride them, it was just pure magic. Riding the narrow trails which hugged the cliffs made me feel like Nik Wallenda walking the rope over the Grand Canyon or the late great Dean Potter in one of his slackline classics.

When you ride a beautiful but challenging terrain, you enter a certain zone of clarity while executing your lines. You get wrapped up in a state of Zen where all the noises of existence fade away into the background and it’s just you and the moment, you and your choices, you and the ecstasy of being proved correct in each turn.

But like I said at the start of this story, in any real adventure, success is never certain.

Mountain Biking Mt. UgoAccidents

Bong, one of our riders made a simple miscalculation of putting his foot down on a tricky trail, which caused him to lose his balance. Before he knew it, he was falling down a very steep ravine.

No one actually saw it happen, one of the other riders just heard a scream. We quickly regrouped and started looking for Bong. Fortunately, he could still talk. We tried to zero in on his voice but because of the tall grass and the tricky terrain, it took us about 20 minutes to find him

I and one of the guides found him in a gully almost 50 feet down the side of the trail. He was bloodied in the face. I took some betadine from my first aid kit and had our female guide put some on his wound. I took off my rainjacket and draped it over him as light misty rain was coming down.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

One of the worst things that could happen in a fall like that was getting a spinal fracture. I asked him if he could feel his legs. He could. I asked him if he could move his legs. He could. This meant that at least, the worst didn’t happen: his back was OK and there was no paralysis. Still he was in a lot of pain.

Like any mountain biker who fell down a cliff, one of the first things he said was: Bro, kumusta bike ko? That lightened up the mood a bit. Such is the attitude of a real biker.

Meanwhile, Ohmar and the others rode ahead to call for help. Joseph, and JM and I stayed behind to care for our fallen friend.

Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it started to rain–not the light misty kind of rain which we had been experiencing all morning, but real rain that drenches.

We needed to get our friend out of that gully and onto a much higher ground because if the rain got any stronger, the gully might flood. JM, who is trained in emergency response with the UST mountaineers had us rig a makeshift stretcher from long pieces of wood and our jackets and shirts. We were able to move our friend to higher ground, but now the three of us were exposed to the elements. The rain didn’t let up.

Bong was a veteran of several epic rides in the Cordillera. He had actually ridden on Ugo before. He was also with me during our ride on Bobok-Bisal, and has even done the Sagada-Tirad Pass traverse on a bike. In Metro Manila’s MTB circles, he’s known as strong and skillful biker, and a familiar face in some of the bigger more prestigious races. This accident wasn’t supposed to happen to him. He was never reckless. But like I said, in mountain biking you are always taking your chances.

After a few hours, help finally arrived. Three locals from sitio Lusod came, but they also brought with them some bad news. Another biker from our group had an accident and broke his foot.

Since it was already starting to get dark and we were getting more and more drenched in the rain, JM and I decided to head on down to sitio Lusod ahead of the rescue team while Bong was getting hoisted onto another makeshift stretcher. We no longer bothered with riding our bikes because the light was fading and the trail was too slick and muddy.

Night Trek
An hour or so later, the sun had completely set and it was pitch black in the forest. We had to rely on just the beams from our flashlights. In the dark, it was easy to get lost amid the forking trails of Ugo. JM’s mountaineering experience came in handy as we read footprints and tire tracks in the mud to figure out where to go. Sometimes the tracks seemed washed out by the rain. But thankfully we always made the correct turn.

We met another local who helped us navigate a tricky part of the trail. He was from Lusod and he was part of the rescue team. He said Lusod was just a few kilometers away. While a few kilometers of walking in Metro Manila is no big deal, Cordillera kilometers are different. We understood that it was still a long way to shelter.

En route to Lusod, the rescue team caught up with us. I was just amazed with these mountain men. It was incredible how fast they made the trek while carrying our fallen friend in a makeshift gurney.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Refuge after a harrowing ordeal

Hungry, tired and cold, we finally made it Lusod where the other members of our group were waiting for us.

We also found the other member of our group who had an accident. He was another unlikely victim of a mishap. Jonathan is a downhill biker who has done his tour of duty not just in the Cordillera, but down Mt. Halcon itself. When it came to technical descents, he was probably the most skilled among us. While riding, something got into his eye. He bailed on his bike but landed in an awkward position. We would learn later that it was a serious and painful fracture.

Rescue and Extraction
We will forever be grateful to Mang Gregorio, Aling Lourdes and the Lusod community who took care of our injured brothers while we waited for medical help from the Barangay Hall down in Tinongdan.

Mountain Biking Mt. Ugo

Our guides and rescuers

I accompanied the rescue team who brought one of our fallen friends down to Tinongdan that night. This was an equally arduous trek. While it had stopped raining, the trail was still very wet and slippery. Some parts of the trail were completely washed out.

I thought it was incredible how most of the members of the extraction team were walking down the trail barefoot. They never slipped despite carrying my friend, who probably weighs 160 lbs or around 70 kilos on a stretcher. Their stamina and balance while descending the technical terrain in the middle of the night were just amazing.

It was almost 5am when we finally reached the road. But there were added complications to the rescue. The strong rains from the previous day caused landslides along the road. Still, the rescuers of Tinongdan never faltered. These men have my highest respect. I wish I could have shared a beer or a round of Empy Lite with these guys under better circumstances. But tired and sleep-deprived as I was, I couldn’t even share a joke with them.


An ambulance finally brought us to a hospital in Baguio where Bong got patched up and checked. He was still fortunate for not sustaining any life-threatening injury. Jonathan arrived at the hospital a few hours later.

It was a definitely a trip for the books–something each one of us would not easily forget.

To be continued in Part 3: Lessons Learned and Tips for the Would-be Ugo Bikers

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  • Dennis Garret Lee

    October 14, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Because of this irresponsible, misplaced bravado of the these folks who shook up a quiet community who don’t even have an inkling of the local culture, the veteran riders of Mt. Ugo, who took pains to gain the confidence of the locals are now being faced with mistrust and the possibilty of being banned with the mess they left behind. Someone died in these mountains years ago because of the same reasons. My tip for people attempting it: don’t if you don’t have the skills and the right attitude. But ultimately this next tip is the most important of all: Understand the local culture of the people, don’t just intrude and impose your presence.

    • First of all, I hope you and your family and friends are OK. I am writing this from overseas and have seen what supertyphoon Lawin has done to Northern Luzon. I hope you and your family were spared the brunt of the storm.

      Now, about your concerns: thank you for your apparent concern for the welfare of mountain bikers who want to try biking on Mt. Ugo. But first let me disabuse you of a few notions.

      Was our group was irresponsible, reckless, infected with misplaced bravado? Like I said in the article, which I hope you’ve read, we made a lot of preparations for this trip.

      The man who organized the trip, Ohmar, is an old-time mountaineer. His mountaineering resume is a bit long, but suffice to say that he has done Mt. Halcon more than a dozen times and has even taken part in rescue missions. Ohmar is not exactly the kind of guy who does irresponsible things up in the mountains.

      The members of our group who had a mishap on Mt. Ugo were veteran mountain bikers. One has done the Cordilleras several times, while the other calls Mt. Halcon his home trail. As such their skills are above-average. So let me assure you that they have checked their skills and attitude. Everyone in our group has.

      But if what you’re saying is that: “they are not as skilled as me, hindi sila kasing galing ko,” then you may have a point there. But just please say it simply and plainly, instead of making an offhanded remark about our group being irresponsible. So here’s to tip 1 from Dennis Lee: If you’re biking Mt. Ugo, dapat kasing galing kayo ni Cowpatchman.

      If what you’re saying is that “magaling kami kaya imposible kaming maaksidente.” You should probably be acquainted with a word called hubris.

      About understanding the local culture: let me assure you that we did not do anything that was meant to offend the beliefs and traditions of the local community. I know the value of respecting local customs and mores. My work has taken me to the hinterlands of Mindanao, in Datu Saudi Ampatuan among Maguinadanaos who are members of the MILF, and in Indanan, Sulu among members of the MNLF. If I didn’t know how to respect the customs of local communities, I’d be dead by now. My work with an environmental organization has also led me to understand how we must never presume to know more than the local community.

      About your other concern for the mountain biking community: Has there been a move by the locals (and by that I mean the people who actually live there) of Mt. Ugo to ban bikers from the mountain? Please give us an update instead of just voicing your fears and such.

      I understand that you feel a sense of ownership about Mt. Ugo. However, it is only the local communities there who can really decide how they want to manage the mountain. I regularly bike in the trails of Tanay, Rizal and I feel a sense of ownership there too. But I wouldn’t presume to be a local since I don’t live there. I am at most a stakeholder.

      If the locals of Mt. Ugo apprehensive about allowing bikers there because of the possibility of accidents, bikers need to band together to come up with a set of rules that may convince the local leaders to continue to allow it. Bikers are stakeholders on Ugo.

      Thank you for taking time to read my blog and this reply.

  • Mr. Lee,

    You sound like an expert in mountain biking and on rules in exploring the mountains of our country. I hope i can ride with you someday.