On our last day in Batanes, after biking around North and South Batan, motorcycling around, and separate trips to Sabtang Island and Itbayat, Outside Slacker and I met up again in Basco to hike through a forest maze up a mountain. The thickly forested Mt. Iraya has an elevation of 1,009 metres (3,310 ft) above sea level, and is a major landmark of Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines.
I heard from locals that getting a good view from the summit was extremely rare. Even on clear summer days, the mountain’s summit was always shrouded by clouds and the view from the top was foggy at best. According to Pinoy Mountaineer, Mt. Iraya is a minor climb in terms of difficulty (he rates it 4/9 with a trail class of 1-3). However, the perpetual cloud cover which causes moisture in the upper reaches of Iraya makes the last part of the trail muddy and a bit tricky to navigate.
We started our hike at around 8 am, which is late by mountaineer standards, as the recommended time to start is around 6 in the morning. The hike starts at the road right next to the Basco Airport, a short tricycle drive from the town proper.
I could tell that the day was going to be a scorcher. Even in the dense forest at the foot of the mountain, I was already starting to sweat. The first part of the trail passed a small cemented bridge, a row of houses, a deep ridge, a field where cows were grazing, then a steady but gradual uphill climb on a trail that seemed to wind around the mountain.
During the hike, our guide Nelson told us that Mt. Iraya is home to the Batanes pit viper, an arboreal snake that is just one of the abundant endemic flora & fauna species in the island. The mountain also houses the spring water from where the main town sources its drinking water.
At first, our pace was leisurely, with lots of stops to take photos of the wildlife, trees, foliage and the view of the Basco lighthouse, town proper and Valugan Boulder beach visible below.
But just like a forest maze level in a video game, the terrain gradually became more and more challenging the higher we went. Later on, I found myself taking less and less photos as I had to crawl under branches or clamber over fallen trees, which were blown down over by a recent typhoon. The terrain shifted from pleasant fern gardens with dusty but solid gravel trails to slick muddy paths lined by hauntingly beautiful moss-covered trees.
Eventually, we reached the “shoulders” of the mountain, a small clearing fringed with high reeds on either side, where we could see a bit of the view below as well as the last trail to the summit. This last part was the most difficult, as it involved an almost vertical ascent up slippery rocks, where you had no choice but to hoist yourself up by clinging to stalks of wild reeds on either side of the trail.
Our first view of the summit was not the most scenic. We were met with a blast of strong wind and thick clouds which obscured the view of the town below and the seaside. But after sweating through most of the trail, the sudden cold at the top was pretty refreshing, and I was happy to just be able to sit down and rest a bit.
While we were just sitting around, the thick fog that covered the summit wafted away for a few brief seconds and we were rewarded with a view of Batanes below on the side of town. The view facing the sea didn’t clear up unfortunately, but we were happy enough to be rewarded with the elusive view.
Getting down was an even bigger challenge. After the steep descent from the summit, I found myself walking in silence most of the way down, pain shooting through my knees with every step. Despite the walking stick, I couldn’t seem to take large strides and found my feet just shuffling forward in small steps and sweat pouring down in buckets.
I looked back at the summit, and for some reason, it was perfectly clear! The clouds had disappeared completely! If only we had lingered an hour more at Iraya’s peak.
While making our way down, I asked myself more than once, why put myself through this kind of torture, when I could readily enjoy beautiful coastal views from any other point of Batanes. I could have just taken a leisurely ride to the Rolling Hills and enjoyed the view from there.
But despite all the efforts, there’s really something satisfying about knowing that you’ve scaled a mountain, especially one in the northernmost province in the country. I’m no mountaineer, but I consider this a milestone. Having climbed up Bud Bongao in Tawi-Tawi, (the Southernmost province in the country), I can proudly say that I’ve climbed up to the summit of mountains in the Northernmost and Southernmost parts of the Philippines! Achievement Unlocked!
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- Allot a whole day for this activity (including ample time for rest after the hike).
- As of May 2014, the tour guide fee for climbing Mt. Iraya is P1,500 per group. If you want to save on costs, find other climbers to join your group.
- On the average, it takes about 3-4 hours to climb to the summit, and about 3 hours to descend.
- According to our guide, the fastest someone has climbed to the summit is about 1 hour 45 minutes.
- It’s best to start at around 6 or 7 am to avoid the worst of the heat going down. If you start early and don’t linger at the summit, you can be done by 1 or 2 pm.
- We brought packed lunch in case (but decided to just hike down for lunch). Light snacks like Skyflakes or Trail Mix will suffice if you want to wait till you get down for late lunch.
- Wear comfortable clothes. Dri-fit shirts and loose pants work well as you will sweat a lot. You can get a lot of scratches and mud on your legs from the thick foliage.
- Wear shoes with good traction. Slippers are not recommended because of the muddy/slippery parts near the top.
- Bring lots of drinking water. It’s better if you have a hydration bag instead of a tumbler of water.
- 6 to 8 Panciteria in town serves great Pancit Cabagan and Halo-Halo, which is amazing after the long hike.
- You can still get a cellphone signal on the mountain to receive calls and texts. Photo uploading on Facebook and Instagram can be slow though.
- According to Pinoy Mountaineer, if you want a chance to get a clear view from the summit, the best time to climb to Iraya is during the “mini-summer” month of September