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Lake Aguingay – Even more Astonishing in Person

To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace.”

-Terry Tempest Williams

Two ecosystems in one mountain: Lake Aguingay - a crater lake formed by the volcano itself and the vast rainforest surrounding it.

Two ecosystems in one mountain: Lake Aguingay – a crater lake formed by the volcano itself and the vast rainforest surrounding it.

Wilderness. This is Lake Aguingay’s main draw I realized upon setting foot on her ground.

The force of nature is more elemental here.  Wind equals ‘sandstorm’. Howling winds that swirl endlessly. Fog that kiss the ground were just few that we witnessed. She did not even let the others pitch their tents that night. She was in a foul mood. The ‘habagat’ made her so.

These however did not dampen my curiosity that lasted the whole time that I was there. I mentally took notes (below) knowing  that time was of utmost importance considering that this place is not as easily accessible compared to Bulusan Lake.

View from the fringes of Lake Aguingay facing the rainforest.

View from the fringes of Lake Aguingay facing the rainforest.

There is something exciting and mysterious about the periphery of Lake Aguingay’s grassland savanna  merging with Mt. Bulusan’s rainforest. It is a   marriage of two ecosystems where the only law is nature’s law. It is one of nature’s most dynamic areas in the vicinity of BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park).

It is in this area of  the park where vegetations shift abruptly and  the most adventurous flora crawl to test each other’s world and persist to push to a territory so much unlike their own.

These were my initial observations during my August 19-20, 2013 personal visit to Lake Aguingay. How I managed to wade through the thick rainforest of Mt. Bulusan before reaching this beauty was a feat in itself. Hours and hours (it seemed to me) of  hike-stop-trek-stop-climb which I did not expect to be that physically straining made a beating to my not-physically trained body for such an arduous trek…rather climb. Nonetheless, the diverse view of the lush rainforest along the trail was enough to strengthen my resolve to keep on going. I was told that if I go slower the dusk will catch us up in the dense forest. The hike lasted half day. The thought however that I will be safe with two porters/guides with me made me more confident. These are the guys that are trained ready to assist trekkers/climbers like me along the way.

Before I proceed with my in-situ observations, let me first introduce again Lake Aguingay:

“There are two lakes in the volcano area namely Lake Bulusan and Lake Aguingay. Lake Bulusan is located at the southeastern side of the volcano at 335 m above sea level. It has a circumference of about 2000 m, depth of 33 m and an area of 165 hectares. Lake Aguingay is situated between the trough of Mt.
Bulusan and Sharp Peak at 940 m above sea level.” (source: Phivolc’s Bulusan Volcano Profile)

In other words, Aguingay Lake is nestled higher in the mountain than her famous sister lake, Bulusan Lake. It is here where mountaineers establish base camp before the final climb to the peak of  Bulusan Volcano. It is here where I stayed for a day and one night to commune with the flora of Mount Bulusan.

I previously thought that Lake Aguingay is purely grassland but up-close shows otherwise. Crawling bamboo, pandan and some interesting shrubs and bushes co-exist with the dominant grasses .

At one end of the lake’s shoreline the grasses seemed to converge according to its kind – tall, taller, tallest. It is an ecosystem on its own. Lake Aguingay mesmerizes and enchants in both areas i.e. dry land and wet land. It is a place that is meant to be savored slowly – every nook and cranny examined because there is always a surprise for anyone who would take the time to know her.

The ground changes too from beach-like sand to pebbles to muddy clay to swamp and to a real lake with water. All of these with their own kind of vegetation. Interestingly, hoof markings of wild boars can be seen in the sand and the muddy soil  of the lake near the water side indicating that this lake provides ecosystem services to several wildlife in the area.

Admittedly,  I have only seen  a small facet of the world of Mt. Bulusan and its volcanic landscape that includes Aguingay Lake. It  needs more than one lifetime to discover its entire wonder and  beauty that include the rich biodiversity of flora and fauna living in a multifaceted habitat. I can only marvel in its awesomeness and sang a song of praise to its creator.

Palali Flower

Palali – the white beauty of Mount Bulusan. A Philippine endemic, this species is listed in PAWB’s National List of Threatened Plants of the Philippines. Palali and Katmon are two different species though both belong to Dilleniaceae family. Palali inhabits this protected area and the adjacent interior mountain barangays of Bulusan.

My serendipity moment during my Aguingay trek was the moment when I  caught sight of a white beauty,  the flower of  Palali – a katmon relative growing lushly at the fringes of Lake Aguingay. It was  in full bloom and the answer as to why there were  immaculate white petals strewn along the mountain trail. It was as if  a welcoming stage was set for my visit to the bosom of her home mountain – Mt. Bulusan.

Lake Aguingay  and Palali flower are reclusive beauties that surpassed my expectations  of what to see during my recent mountain trek.

Lake Aguingay

Lake Aguingay is in constant flux – from dry land to wet land to a real lake with water as shown here. The lowest portion will be filled first with rainwaters and runoffs from the higher grounds. There are in fact not two but three ecosystems in this landscape. This water body is the third.

Lake Aguingay

Sea of three layers of grasses – the dryer the ground, the taller the grass. The shorter grasses thrive in the damp swampy part of the lake. Fritz and Greg in the photo are excellent porters/guides trained by AGAP Bulusan, Inc. a local NGO that manages the activities at BVNP, shown here examining the wet land area of the lake before giving the go signal for me to proceed or not  into the wet grassland.

Mt. Bulusan

The most visible flora in Mt. Bulusan are these giant ferns that flourish in the cocktail mix of volcanic and moist rainforest soil.

Lake Aguingay as base camp near the top

Assaulting the thick fog up to the summit, mountaineers climb at almost zero visibility to reach the crater peak of Bulusan Volcano, August 20, 2013.

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Note: The complete  flora photos during my Lake Aguingay trek (August 19-20, 2013) can be viewed at CDFP – Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines’ face book page. Also, some selected Mt. Bulusan’s flora from this trek are available for viewing at PhytoImages http://www.phytoimages.siu.edu/ . The Palali flower (photo) is the first specimen photo in the gallery exhibiting a pure white ‘katmon’ feature.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

August 19-20, 2013, BVNP, Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Added note: With special thanks to the world-class mountaineering crew of AGAP-Bulusan, Inc.  for the excellent service from food to assistance in the actual climb, base camp accommodations  and so much more during the trek. For the information of interested mountaineers, I availed of the mountaineering package of AGAP-Bulusan with  four other mountaineers, 1 Swiss, 1 half-Filipino/Swiss, 2 non-local Filipinos, (please see the picture below),  for me to be able to focus more on my photo trek. Definitely a second, third and more Mt. Bulusan photo treks will be on my agenda in the months to come. Big thanks to Greg, Fritz, Ariel, Nilo and the rest of the staff at AGAP-Bulusan!

Philip Bartilet, AGAP-Bulusan head orients trekkers/climbers before the climb that begins at the vicinity of Bulusan Lake, this site.  Photo courtesy of AGAP-Bulusan.

Philip Bartilet, AGAP-Bulusan head of operations of the park orients trekkers/climbers before the actual climb that begins at the vicinity of Bulusan Lake, this site. Photo: courtesy of Bulusan Volcano Mountaineering/AGAP-Bulusan.

Related post about Aguingay Lake:

https://bulusanruralvagabond.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/on-why-lake-aguingay-blows-me-away/

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