Trail Chronicles #7: The Boondocks of Norzagaray

As with other trails in Bulacan, i don’t see how you’re not going to enjoy this rustic but arresting trail route, loaded with interesting sceneries like wide vegetable plantations, farms and the ever present mountain ranges of the Sierra.

Though the trails are easy to follow during the first few kilometers of the route, it becomes more intricate once you venture inside the wooded areas as there are several smaller trails that branch out. This said, it can be easy to get a bit lost inside these trails.

The wide open spaces are breath-taking and relaxing and you won’t miss the post card scenes once you are atop one of the many mountain ridges.

This place in San Mateo, Norzagaray which borders that of San Jose Del Monte doesn’t have the usual falls we see often in other parts of Bulacan but if you’re looking for a relaxing yet somewhat challenging trail run, you’re here on the right place.

Highlights:

  • The two wooden bridges that seem to have existed since the birth of our forefathers. Both are ancient but built of sturdy woods and reinforced by strong bamboo poles that can withstand any onslaught of a typhoon Yoling.
  • The vegetable plantations and other wide areas of vegetation which makes for a relaxing run.
  • The unlimited zigzagging trails of uphills and downhills
  • Wild birds of different sizes and colors that whiz by on top of tree branches
  • The mountain trail leading down to a valley over-looking Mt. Balagbag
  • An alternative route to Mt. Balagbag although this is way longer than coming from Licao-licao. The trails here are more challenging and very secluded so be prepared to back-track a little to find your way!

San Mateo, Norzagaray, Bulacan. The road entrance to the trails

Downhill trail to the plantation

Vast vegetable plantations

First bridge crossing

The first bridge located just 1.5 kms away from the entrance. This leads to the main trails.

The second wooden bridge

The river below

Long hill ahead

Mountain ridge overlooking the Sierra Madre mountains

Yummy lunch at Jun’s place. Burrrp…

Adventure Run At Ipo Dam

I had originally planned to run another 32k last Sunday to complement the 29k run i did the Sunday before figuring it would be a good way to get back to back LSDs before the big one in Camsur, three weeks from now. However, with regular training partners Betty and Mel “out of commission” (Betty is abroad while Mel is still recovering from his PAU 70k run last Sunday), i called up Harry Contreras, another Runnex member and asked him if i can join his group on their Sunday run. Seems that they were going to do a 19-20k mountain run and their destination…Ipo Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan. So great, another adventure run!  

Harry fetched my at the Q.C. Hall at about 4:30am and he was with his son, Brian, also a runner. We arrived in Lagro before 5am and met up with his group and turns out to be other Runnex members (Obet and Gani, among them) who were also preparing for the Camsur Marathon. The drive to Norzagaray took another 25 minutes as we finally arrived at a Maynilad Office’s private compound where Obet’s brother works for.  

The Runnex group at the Maynilad compound in Norzagaray

Before long, we were up and about and did some warm up jogs and light stretching as we were warned before hand the the first 2.5 kms were all uphill and the rest of the route would be rolling up and down (whew, another Tanay-like route!). The distance up to the entrance gate was about 8kms and from there up to the Dam itself would be another 2k so it would be 10k, one-way. I was going to approach this run just like an easy training run, walk the ups, run the flats and speed-up the downhills. It would basically be a nice training run, with no expectations of time nor pace–just a fun day of adventure running. 

There were about 14 of us who lined up the narrow but scenic roads with Harry and Gani leading us to the ardous uphill passes that made me breathe heavily while trying to break those hills in segments. To keep the uphills more manageable, i tried to concentrate more in taking the views around me with mountain mists and flora that were attractions to itself. Here are some pictures: 

The run started with a 2.5 kilometer uphill climb

One of the breath-taking views along the way

Lush foliages at the right side of the highway

Continuous uphill going to a place called "Hilltop"

A rice paddy on top of a hill

Foggy mountain crests on the horizons

There were more of this views all throughout the run

Taking a break, from left Edwin, Gani, me and Harry

L-R: Edwin, Gani, Harry and Harry's son, Brian

At the 6th km mark

Coundn't resist taking a picture of this

After 8 kms, we're at the gates of the Ipo Dam at last

Thank God, "Running" isn't included in the no-no list:-)

The Ipo Dam is located at Baranggay San Mateo, here in Norzagaray where it siphons the water from the Angat River direct to La Mesa Dam and ends up at the Balara Filtration Plant in Quezon City. Ninety-five (95%) percent of the water requirements of Metro Manila come from Norzagaray through Ipo Dam. The compound leading to the dam itself have wide streets with tall Ipil-ipil trees lined-up in both sides which zigzags its way down to the bridge area. It somewhat resembles the roads going to Loakan airport in Baguio City except that on this area, the temperatures were now in the mid to high 80s, really hot if not for the trees that shaded us. 

Continuing our run down the tree-lined roads, we saw a small waterfall where we made a stop to freshen up. I had noticed the gushing water below that indicated we were nearing the dam. So close to it, we rushed down to see what’s in store… 

Now inside the reservoir, we re-grouped and took on the downhills slowly. L-R: Harry, Gani, Linda, Rizza, Doc Benny, Doc Lito and Glenda

We had the road all to ourselves

The view atop a zigzag road

Saying "hi!"

Enjoying the downhill but would be a torture later when we climb back those hills

The trees offered shade on a very hot morning

Linda, on extreme left is about to stop and buy a rice cake from that vendor

Just a few hundred meters from the dam

We see a small waterfall up ahead and rush to it

The waterfall can be barely seen, at right

Another shot after cooling ourselves

Winding down the stretch

Getting down to the dam which from here is now visible

Here we are now at the bridge stern of the dam

The view, at last!

The old Ipo Dam

We all were glad to have seen this place for the first time

At the other end of the dam which is all but dried up

A memorial marker which commemorates the recapture of the Dam by the Filipino-American forces from the Japanese invaders

Applying sun-tan lotion and hydrating for our trek back up to where we came from

The painful journey on the way up back those hills. "Gallowalking" rules!

Time seemed to pass quickly and soon we made the exit out. Harry, Gani, Obet and myself decided to run an extra 2.5 kms up the “Hilltop” which was the route going to the entrance of the National Power Corporation where the Angat Dam ( read it here)  is located. Obet, who grew up in the town himself, almost knew all the people we encountered at the streets saying his highs and we joked that if he would run for Mayor here, he would get all the votes, hands down.:-). As we stopped at the hilltop mark, with a birds eye view of Ipo Dam, we met some cyclists who were also on their way to Angat Dam. 

Cheers with C2!

Making our way to the "hilltop", we met these bikers who were on their way there too.

We got on top of the hill near the National Power Corp going to Angat Dam. At the back is the Ipo Dam

Ipo Dam. We were just on that bridge an hour or so ago

Completing about 18k, we headed back the main road on our way back to the Maynilad compound. I took my last sachet of GU banana-strawberry flavored gel and gobbled it down with some 8oz of ice-cold water before the descent. That was a nice long gentle downhill (part of the 1st 2.5k uphill start) that seemed to go on forever. It was an easy 6:30/pace coast until we reached our starting point. We covered a total of 22k. We all had a giant sized breakfast of eggs, giant tilapia fish, spare ribs, corned-beef, egg-plant garnished with tomatoes and onions, rice and even tasted for the first time “baboy damo” (wild pig) cooked as adobo. Yummy! 

Thanks to Obet and family for hosting us a great breakfast and to the Runnex club for taking us in an adventure run. It was a wonderful experience–the scenic route, fresh air and wonderful people–it’s one of the joys of running! 

On our way back to home base, we saw some trails that lead us to this stream

The water streaming here came from the Dam itself, as we were told

When Harry met Obet...Obet, a Bank Manager (in singlet) has about 12 full marathon finishes under his belt

Trail / Mountain Run At The Angat Reservoir, Bulacan

Trail running has its special magic. It is mostly quiet with no cars and traffic to contend with. The scenes appear to change every few meters and you seem to be in sync with nature itself, appreciating unspoiled woodlands, rivers, vegetation and the like. Expect the unexpected as many experienced trail runners would fondly advise. The jazzrunner and his running friends were in for a surprise as the trails would lead to uphill mountain ridges, rock climbs and a great view of the Angat river basin and dam.

Last Sunday, we hied off to San Jose Del Monte (SJDM) in Bulacan to pick up non-running friends who were our main contacts in order to gain entry into the heavily secured Angat Water Dam and Reservoir. This Reservoir is strictly off limits to the public except when special requests are made in advance for groups who wants to tour the place. So Darryl, June and myself met up with Edwin Ang, our point man (June’s friend) and Joel Salazar, our main man who knew contacts inside the reservoir who would let us have access inside the reservoir.

We left SJDM at 6:00am and arrived at the first main gate of the reservoir at about 6:30am. Both reservoir and dam are located at the Angat River in San Lorenzo, Norzagaray, Bulacan. Its main purposes are to supply water in Metro Manila, provide irrigation for the provinces of Pampanga and Bulacan, to reduce flooding to downstream towns and villages and to generate hydro-electric power to feed the Luzon grid.

There are 3 main security checkpoints before we could reach the reservoir itself. We started our run at the first main security gate where we left June’s car which would be later driven by Edwin to follow us wherever we went.

Running up to the view deck

Running up to the view deck

The deck was about a kilometer away from the entrance

The deck was about a kilometer away from the entrance

We ran up to the main view deck where you could see a bird’s eye view of the reservoir.

Jazzrunner with Darryl

Jazzrunner with Darryl

With June on left

With June on left

Darryl with the best view

Darryl with the best view

From the view deck, we would later run down on the mountain slopes where lush green trees and other fauna were on both sides of the road, similar to those of back wood roads in Baguio City.

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the view

Air was still cool at this point

Air was still cool at this point

Taking our time

Taking our time

From the main road, we would enter trails that offers challenges in navigating its different terrain. We had to traverse dirt, pathways of dry leaves, grass, rocks and roots. Unlike running on paved roads in big cities, running trails is rarely monotonous.

Start of the trail run

Start of the trail run

There were even choices on what trail to run on. We chose the left trail

There were even choices on what trail to run on. We chose the left trail

Meeting a native of the place

Meeting a native of the place

It was a good day for a run, the early morning breeze was cool but the sun was about to come up. We all came prepared with our hydration belts, trail shoes with both June and Darryl wearing their caps on.

At the bridgeway

At the bridgeway

At the foot of another dam, the Ipo Dam

At the foot of another dam, the Ipo Dam

June arrives

June arrives

Our hosts, Edwin (second from left) and Joel (right). Once upon a time, i weighed nearly as much as Edwin's :-)

Our hosts, Edwin (second from left) and Joel (right). Once upon a time, i weighed nearly as much as Edwin's 🙂

After coming in and out of different trails, we were lead back to the main road which was now all 3kms of downhill. We were now running along another bridge way just atop the spill way. The view here was magnificent like we were on a lake somewhere in Europe.

The main reservoir in all its magnificence

The main reservoir in all its magnificence

Taking a pose

Taking a pose

Like a silhouette

Like a silhouette

There were still many trails that were to be discovered so off we went further…

Running near the dam's edges

Running near the dam's edges

More trees along our run

More trees along our run

Shade of trees kept us cool

Shade of trees kept us cool

Another trail among many others

Another trail among many others

Pushing thru inside

Pushing thru inside

Tall trees to keep us company

Tall trees to keep us company

Photo finish

Photo finish

Unto another wooded area

Unto another wooded area

Small rocks and roots were now all over the place

Small rocks and roots were now all over the place

Now threading in uneven surface

Now threading on uneven surface

Resting atop the turbines

Resting atop the turbines

Posing on the bridgeway

Posing on the bridgeway

Resuming our run on another trail

Resuming our run on another trail

Traversing a narrow path

Traversing a narrow path

Pumping for the top

Pumping for the top

No way but up

No way but up

Making our way to the top

Making our way to the top

Nearing the top

Nearing the top

Almost there

Almost there

Success!

Success!

Darryl running the muddy edges

Darryl running the muddy edges

The bane of trail running. A prelude to TNF trail race at Secobia?

The bane of trail running. A prelude to TNF trail race at Secobia?

Back on the dirt roads

Back on the dirt roads

An opening towards the lake

An opening towards the lake

Ahh...another magnificent view!

Ahh...another magnificent view!

Pose muna.

Pose muna

Tired and weary?

Tired and weary?

Navigating thru huge rocks to get a better view

Navigating thru huge rocks to get a better view

My turn to push down

My turn to push down

More rocks on way down

More rocks on way down

Now sprinting towards the top of the ridge

Now sprinting towards the top of the ridge

Rendezvous with Darryl

Rendezvous with Darryl

Nearing the head of the ridge

Nearing the head of the ridge

Nearing the lake

Nearing the lake

Sprint towards the end!

Sprint towards the end!

There!

There!

View at another angle

View at another angle

Short cooldown

Short cooldown

June, at peace with himself

June, at peace with himself

Darryl, testing the edges of the ridge

Darryl, testing the edges of the ridge. No way i'd do this!

Isa pang pasaway!

Isa pang pasaway!

Another memento with June

Another memento with June

Running back to main base

Running back to main base

On my way back

On my way back

June and Darryl in tandem

June and Darryl in tandem

Emerging from the woods for cooldown

Emerging from the woods for cooldown

Our main man Edwin preparing fire to cook our lunch

Our main man Edwin preparing fire to cook our lunch

Preparing the rice

Preparing the rice

And now, the best part...set on banana leaves, our lunch consisted of broiled tilapia and dalag, fresh from the Angat River, Rice, Shrimps, Bulalo and Pesang Dalag

And now, the best part...set on banana leaves, our lunch consisted of broiled tilapia and dalag fresh from the Angat River, Rice, Shrimps, Bulalo, Tomato Salad and Pesang Dalag

It was one of the most exhillirating trail/mountain runs we ever had and one of the most scenic. On this run, we had forgotten to track our time but time was not of the essence here anymore as we had before us spectacular views we wished would have continued on and on.

Our heartfelt thanks to Edwin Ang and Joel Salazar for their support and friendship for without them, this run would not have taken place.

We’ll see you on our next trail run.

THIS RUN IS DEDICATED TO THE COURAGEOUS PARTICIPANTS OF THE 1ST BATAAN DEATH MARCH 102K ULTRAMARATHON RACE THIS COMING SUNDAY, APRIL 05, 2009. GOOD LUCK AND SUCCESS TO YOU ALL!!!