Sultan Peak is a famous mountain peak south of Victoria Mountain Range in Narra. I was fortunate enough to know some of the stories that occurred on its unexplored slopes and valleys and the neighboring mountain range, for I am a son to one of the few who braved the unexplored mountain ranges of Palawan in the old days. My father have a case full of faded photos taken during his hikes along with postcards and letters from his friends and guests who went deep in Sultan, Victoria and Anepahan Range long time ago. Imagine what it's like in the early 70's. I was fascinated by the story of their climbs and asked my father endless questions about jungle survival and navigation. Masayuki Nishigaito, an ornithologist from Osaka, Japan visited the Mantalingahan, Sultan and Victoria Range in 1975 and returned in Sultan Range in 1986 with my father. The story of their climbs was one of my favorites. My father and his team saw the Sultan Lake from the slope Sultan Peak in the early 90's and brought the German hiker and journalist Ronald Hanewald and his wife Flor in Sultan Lake in 1994. Some photos taken from Sultan Lake appeared in his book "Philippinen Abenteuer-Handbuch" published by Jens Peters publication in 1996. Brigiit Gnagi, a biologist and hiker from St. Gallen, Switzerland was our first female European hiker who went up in Sultan Range (1996) via Bato-Bato. Kurt Sanftl, Georg Pircher, Kurt Wieser and Dieter Janek followed in 1997. Dieter Janek, a botanist and writer from Bozen, Italy returned with two companions in 1999 and went deep in the mountain range via Batang-Batang River with my father where they found the waterfalls known today as Sultan falls. Fritz Nuemann, a mountaineer from Bad Fielnbach, Germany went deeper than that. He followed the mighty Batang-Batang river with my father in 1998, but instead of going left towards the waterfall, they followed the main branch and reached the beginning of the river. It's the same route that my father took when he and his team first reached the Tagbulante waterfalls in the other side of Victoria Mountain Range. There was an old tribeman who went with my father in Sultan and Victoria Range in the old days as his personal porter. I tried to find him but my friend Julius in Sitio Mariwara told me that the old tribeman died years ago.There was countless of trekkings occurred in and near Sultan and Victoria Range between the 70's and late 90's, and although my father and his team didn't summited the Sultan Peak, my father, Ted "Teddy" De Peralta knows the mountain range very well.
In 2008, we're happy when we heard the news that a successful summit was made in Sultan Peak, and later, a group of local mountaineers established a trail that connected the Sultan Peak and Sultan Lake. They called it Sultan Peak - Atong Lake Traverse. We do not know a mountaineer named Atong in the old days, but we thought that it's a fancy name for a lake and my father and his friends were happy that a lot of people were getting interested in Sultan and Victoria Range. For years after that, we kept hearing wonderful stories of successful climbs and interesting species of rare flora and fauna found in Sultan Peak. A foreign botanist found a rare pitcher plant near it's summit in 2010. The pitcher was bigger than the shrew-eating Nepenthes attenboroughii of Victoria Peak, they named it Nepenthes palawanensis. The Pinoy Mountaineers hiked that trail and wrote a blog about it in 2014 (Hiking matters #437, #438, #439). Mountaineers and scientists around the world who climbed the "Sultan Peak" using that trail was amazed by its diversed forest, waterfalls and mysterious lake. We found out last October that they all made the Sultan Peak famous.. without knowing that they climbed the wrong peak.
I did that peak with my friend Redan Calalin. We arrived at the jumpoff in Sitio Mariwara 28 October 2016. It was raining and we had a late start, it's 7:46 in the morning. We're worried that the Batang-Batang river was too deep to cross but found out later that the current was manageable. We started trekking as usual. We doubled check our packs and gears and made sure that we have everything we need for the hike. I turned on my GPS handset, marked the jumpoff, set the track log and followed the trail. There's lot of river crossings up ahead and we thought that we might have to swim across and so we started trekking wearing flip-flops.
The river crossings proved a bit difficult. It was nothing compared to the river crossings of Cleopatra's Needle, but in the rainy season, the currents of Batang-Batang river were stronger and during heavy rains it tends to swell. The rain stopped near the first river crossing. There's no need to navigate. We didn't bothered to check our bearings. The trail was there, well established and more than a meter wide. You can never get lost with a trail like that. We knew that we're on the trail going to Sultan Peak and mountaineers were using that trail. We're confident that we'll make it to Sultan Peak if we stay on that trail. We started looking for interesting species of insects, fungi and plants around the trail and took pictures.
The trail left the main branch and followed the tributary coming from the left side of the river. That crossing was the deepest (09.31504°N-118.24926°E) the water reached the chest strap of my backpack. We had lunch at that crossing, the time was 1125H. We rested and resumed trekking after 45 minutes. The undergrowths was lusher than in the forest beside the main branch of the river. I didn't know that the tributary that we're following was the one my father and Dieter Janek took in 1999. At 1324H, we left that tributary (09.31535°N-118.23748°E), 441 masl. The trail started to become steep, we donned our hiking shoes, tightened the straps of our packs and continued trekking. 1614H, we left our backpacks on the trail leading to the highcamp and after a short but steep descent, we arrived at the base of the waterfalls and took photos. Then the rain poured. We scrambled back on the trail and rushed towards the camp. I was shivering with cold when we reached the camp. I saved the track log and turned off my GPS handset while my companions pitched our tarps, changed clothes and boiled coffee. At 1728H the rain stopped. We made camp and cooked dinner. It was a good climb, everyone was happy. We swaped stories and tell jokes, then at 2037H, the rain poured again accompanied by lightning and thunder. It rained all night and we didn't sleep well. It was the coldest campsite and the coldest night in my life.
I woke up late the next day, Redan and Juls were preparing breakfast. After talking with my companions and my father over cellphone the previous night, it was decided that we're not going to take the travese to Sultan Lake as planned, but will descent on the same route that we took during the ascent. We ate a hurried breakfast and started the summit assault. The time was 0741H. Before leaving the camp, I turned on my the GPS again and set the track log. Redan didn't bothered with his and went ahead carrying only his camera, water, med kit and survival knife. All our heavy stuffs will remain in the high camp until we returned from the summit assault. I decided to bring a backpack, threw in some biscuits and candies, camera, cellphone, med kit, knife, extra long sleeve shirt and started to follow them in the dripping forest, but returned to the hammock and picked up a coil of climbing rope. Old habits never dies and it's better to be prepared when climbing unfamiliar terrain than sorry. I've learned that 12 years ago, the hard way. The trail going to the summit was good and after an hour we arrived at the top. The true summit which was in our right side have tall trees around it, blocking the view of surrounding area and so we didn't went there, but followed the trail going to the other side of the slope towards the Sultan Lake. We saw a lot of huge pitcher plants at the top, along with beautiful ground orchids and other interesting species of plants. A light drizzle was falling but surprisingly, there was no thick clouds on the surrounding peaks. We saw the distant Victoria Peak and The Teeth, Mt. Gantung and caught a glimpse of Mt. Mantalingahan before the rain in the west slowly covered the Palawan's highest mountain. We stayed until 1014H at the top then slowly returned to the high camp.
We arrived at the high camp earlier than expected. We cooked and ate lunch, then broke camp and started the descent. We arrived at the main branch of Batang-batang river and just as we feared, the river swelled. We made sure that our packs were watertight and started the river crossing. I watched them one by one and gauged the strength of the current and the depth of the river. In some places, the water reached Redan's neck. I'm 5 feet and 9 inches, taller than Redan by nearly two inches. I have a couple of inches to spare, I mused as I followed him across the swift flowing river. Then a funny thing happened. When trekking, I never wear a belt. It interferes with the waist belt of my packbag and I found it annoying. Shoulder deep in the middle of that river crossing, the strong current pulled my trekking pants! I was trapped, one hand holding my floating backpack, the other hand holding my pants. I was thinking about letting the current take the pants and swim with my pack towards the river bank, but the thoughts of going home wearing underwear made me hold on to the pants tighter. Redan turned around and took my pack while Juls swimed after my floating flip-flop, both laughing like hell. There were no incident during the rest of river crossings and we arrived safe in Sitio Mariwara at 1736H.
I've been busy after that climb and It was after a week has passed when I finally found time to save the gps track log in my PC and organized our photos. I connected the GPS handset in my PC, browsed through track logs, choose the one titled Sultan Peak, went to online terrain map, typed Sultan Peak, clicked enter and waited for the screen to clear. The screen zoomed in showing the top and slopes of Sultan Peak, but our track wasn't there. I checked cable but it's fine. Confused about what happened to the track log, I zoomed-out the map and nearly choked on coffee when I saw the bright red line that marked our track was nowhere near Sultan Peak, but snaked towards another mountain peak near the lake. The End Peak! All the little things that puzzled me about that climb suddenly cleared. The old landslide that my father warned me about was not found during the climb along with some landmarks that he told me. He mentioned a waterfalls near Sultan Peak but it was not as high as the one that we saw during the climb and when I turned off my GPS in the highcamp on the first day, I noticed that the End Peak appeared in the LCD of the GPS, but I was shivering with cold so bad and thinking of hot coffee that I ignored it. I was thinking that something was wrong the moment I set foot at the top but was so occupied with my camera to think that the position of the ridge and the lake was indeed very wrong. I immediately called Redan and told him that we did the End Peak and not the Sultan. He laughed and told me that it made things clear for him too. The night in the highcamp, he checked our coordinates and thought that his GPS malfunctioned that's why he left it in the highcamp during the summit assault.
It was ironic that the Sultan Peak became famous for its beautiful forest, lake, waterfalls and rare flora and fauna, yet maybe it remains unclimbed unto these days. The real Sultan Peak lies unnoticed somewhere south of the lake while they're climbing the End Peak, which they thought is the Sultan Peak. I made a promise that I'm going to find and climb the true Sultan Peak before this year is over.