The Bataan Killer Loop is one of the most scenic biking destinations here in the Philippines. This was exactly the location where the “Battle of the Pockets” took place during the 2nd World War – traversing thru the very trails the Filipino and American soldiers used during the war. It’s unimaginable that just 70 years ago, in these very trails, thousands of our countrymen fought and died while defending their lines against their Japanese invaders.
The name was coined a few years back by a group of visitors who rode this loop, after what they’ve gone thru, one jokingly said, ‘this is a killer!’ Since then, the trail masters and members of the Bataan Trail Riders named it – the Killer Loop.
But don’t be discouraged by its name because here you will find one of the most breath taking views in the Philippines – a mountain biker’s haven or should I say, heaven. As you bike along the ridges, you’ll see the Bataan Peninsula on your right, the Manila bay on the other side, Mt. Samat behind you then the rainforest of Mt. Mariveles up ahead.
Just imagine 6 Hours of Climb and 2 hours of pure adrenalin pumping downhill ride. It’s only 35 kilometers, but one has to be fit, for this may be one of the hardest climbs that you are gonna make – hence the name. But no worries, what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger.
Three years ago, during my first ride here with my bike buddies from Club 45-50, I concluded that it was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever experienced. I had cramps everywhere, I got so dehydrated, and had my share of scrapes from several falls. On the way up, every step and every pedal was painful. In every 10 meters or so, I would stop because I’ve already exhausted all my energy. But as they say, with every hardship comes a reward. For what the downhill part gives you, you will have forgotten the pain and suffering already that makes you want to do the loop all over again.
It took me at least three days to recover from the exhaustion, but not from the irreparable scar in my ego. I was determined to come back. With a more prepared, better trained me, the succeeding rides were all -bliss.
But even if one is well prepared, things can not go as planned all time for this trail is moody. It is impossible to ride the loop during the rainy season, or say after a heavy rain the day before. The mud will be so sticky that your bike’s wheels would just stop spinning. If you force to push forward, you will end up finishing the ride by nightime. It has also happened before that some riders got stuck up there, just to be rescued by midnight. I just can’t stress enough the importance in having a local trail guide if you decide to bike here. Even the most veteran rider, will find himself in the other side of the mountain if not guided.
Some other things can go wrong too. From broken drop-outs, broken bike frames, to broken collar bones, I’ve seen it. In my experience there, if something goes wrong, you have to fix it yourself, improvising with what you have. So i’ve prepared an essential list of ‘things to bring’ that is if one decides to conquer the Killer Loop soon.
Things to bring:
- At least three (3) liters of water. Very, very important. If your backpack can carry less than 3 liters, make sure to bring 1 liter or more inside your bag or bottle cage. There will be no stores or carinderias once you hit the mountains.
- Gatorade/Powerade if it can still fit in your bag/bottle cage. Always a good source of electrolytes.
- Hydrite/Salt Sticks to avoid cramps and improve water retention in the body.
- Lunch Pack (Rice, Adobo, Hard-boiled egg, Maalat na itlog, Hotdog, Spam, etc.)
- Snacks (Sandwich, Burger, Bananas, etc.)
- Some food (Granola Bars, Peanuts, Trail Mix, Powerbar, Gu, etc.)
- Basic first aid kit (Alcohol, Betadine, Cotton, Bandage, Gauze, Paracetamol, etc.)
- Identification Card (License, Medical card, etc.) with emergency contact info of someone.
- Two Spare Tubes, Patch, Tire levers
- Hand pump
- Spare derailleur Hanger/Drop-out
- Chain Link, Chain cutter, Chain lube
- Spare shifter cable
- Whistle. Loud one.
- Wet ones or wipes.
- Emergency money
- Bike light/flashlight
Optional things to bring:
- Bandana. Essential on a certain downhill part along the trail to protect the face grass blades hitting your face.
- Knee/Elbow Pads (If you ride hard on downhills).
- Swiss Knife/Gerber Multi-tool
- Zip ties
- A little duct tape. Yup, duct tape saved our day in one of our previous rides.
- Water purification tablets. If your fluid gets depleted, there’s a brook where one can refill your bladder.
- Extra shirt
– Assured 90% cellphone signal through out the ride
– It’s going to be a whole day affair, expect to be home late.
– Make sure bike is on tip top condition. Bike problems might be a cause of delay, which of course will delay the whole group.
How to get there:
Coming from NLEX, enter SCTEX going to Subic. Then exit at DINALUPIHAN interchange. Then turn right at the Bataan Provincial Highway/Roman Super Highway going to Pilar. That’s another 25kms till you reach Pilar Total gasoline station (that’s where the loop starts).
I asked our trailguide, Eboy Roselada and here’s what he had to say:
Q: Where did the name Killer Loop come from?
A: It was in the year 2003, when we started to use the name Killer Loop Trail when some guest riders rode the trail and commented that the trail is a “killer”. Since the trail don’t backtracked and goes around the Mt. Samat… hence the “loop”. The ride was also posted at pmtb (proboards) with the title “Killer Loop Trail” – a lot of avid mountain bikers read that post and asking us for assistance to organize a ride on the Killer Loop and the name stuck. Most of the trails that we have in Bataan are named mostly by our guests. And with so many name to locals like Arkong Bato, Liyang, Balete, Junction, Death March, etc. and since KL is more famous to mountain bikers, eventually in 2004, the provincial tourism also adapted the name as a mountain bike destination.
Q: How and who discovered the Killer Loop?
A: Actually, the trail is an old guerrilla tracks used during World War II. The track interconnects with the municipalities located around the Mariveles mountain ranges. We’ve exploring the bataan mountains since the 90’s for mountaineering activities. After getting married in 2001, the attention was shifted to finding ideal tracks for mountain biking and off-road running. My father-in-law also told me about this old guerrilla tracks that they use to bringing some goods from their farm to nearby town using these old guerrilla tracks. Then sometime 2002, my wife Joyce and I met Jojo Pangilinan, an experienced mountain biker, whom we share the same passion in exploring the mountain ranges to establish mtb trails. With frequent rides and meet ups, the trail soon expanded to different exit points ideal and best for mountain biking.
Q: Can you give us a brief history about the location?
A: The trail played an important role during WWII. It is where the famous “Battle of the Pockets” happened. The world knows the struggle, endurance, and bravery the American and Filipino soldiers put up defending Bataan and the country. So imagine, you don’t just get to experience riding the trail but also will have an opportunity to reflect and learn the rich history of the place.
Q: What are the key locations along the loop? e.g. rest stops, lunch area, best downhill trail, etc.
A: The “Canopy” is where we take our first regroup after the trailhead; “Middle Earth” is a ridge where you can see on your west the china sea and bataan nuclear power plant, east side is the manila bay, north is the Mt. Natib mountain range peaks, south is the “Pantingan Peak”; the “Aircon” is a cool place where we take our lunch; “View Deck” provides spectacular view of Mt. Samat Cross and the hills of Pilar, Orion and Limay; “Joyce Ride and Middleby Trails” a long single, fast and silky-smooth downhill tracks cruising along the mountain ridge.
Q: Please tell us about any memorable experience during one of your rides at the Killer Loop.
A: Every ride to KL is memorable. It’s like the guests are the script writers and we just facilitate the story line. I have one particular experience though, when my father-in-law joined me in exploring the trails. I wanted to connect all the trails that we previously explored. He was curious how I use topo maps and compass in navigating my way in the mountains. We entered the mountain around 7 in the morning and came out around 9pm. My mother-in-law was so worried but was wife was just smiling waiting at the trailend. He never joined me again, hahahah.
Q: Can you please give us essential points or tips if one wants to ride here.
A: The trail is an ideal for experienced or advance riders to enjoy the trail. Make sure to bring enough water and trail food/packed lunch (no store available) and some essential tools for bike repair (spare tube, multi-tool, pump, bike lamps, extra drop out or derailleur). Better to bring someone who is familiar on the trail to accompany you as there are so many forks up there and for safety as well.
Q: What can one expect from a first timer at the Killer Loop?
A: The trail will test rider’s endurance, strength, and bike handling skills. You will experience paved roads to the trailhead, then dirt roads, extended climbs with grades up to 35 percent, ruts, roots, single tracks, double tracks, rolling hills, rock gardens, technical ascents and descents, ravines, swithbacks, river crossings, natural launch ramps, all a mountain biker can wish for.
Q: What special projects or campaigns does your group have to protect the trails?
A: We make sure to conduct ride briefings to manage and to have a safe and enjoyable ride. We put into practice the Leave No Trace principle. “Take Nothing but Pictures, Kill Nothing but Time, and Leave Nothing but Footprints.” We also organized mountain bike clinics and conduct and facilitate annual mountain bike event called “Padyakan sa Bataan” in celebration of the Araw ng Kagitingan.
The Bataan Killer Loop – A Post-ride Commentary
by Tony Rivera
First and foremost, I would like to thank Randy Rivera for organizing such an event. Without his recruiting prowess, we would have never made this ride possible. Applause – applause! He really saw to it that the ride was well organized from beginning to the end. Providing pointers, reminders, maps, and even a hotline so that everyone gets to the meeting point on time.
Secondly, I’d like to thank the Bataan Trail Riders (BTR) for hosting us all – ALL 58 of us! We broke the previous record set by PMTB. Cool! They gave a brief talk prior to the ride and some safety reminders.
That being said; let’s jump right in to the meat of this ride.
Who is it for?
The trail is both a mentally and physically demanding course. If you haven’t been riding distances of 35km or so off-road with loads of technical uphill climbs you’ll be walking home before you reach the halfway point. The course demands that you keep your pedals turning as efficiently as you can and save precious energy going up… You’re going to need that energy going down again – I kid you not. And don’t let the relatively short distance of 35km fool you. You’ll climb to an altitude of about 739m and by the time you’re through , you would have climbed a total of close to 900m!
The course is not just physically demanding. It is painfully clear from the time you take your first pedal stroke that you’re going to need to keep your wits close and your eyes peeled meters ahead of you. Even the climbs are technical. You’ll be forced to choose the proper line or risk being stopped by a root, stump or rutt. That’s just going up. You’ll need be equally sharp if not even sharper on the way down. It will be fast, rock/boulder ridden with roots and undergrowth covering your view and line.
Don’t take this course lightly. We had two comrades who had to go back in an ambulance because the mountain flung a surprise at them when they were least expecting it. And when you’re running on food reserves and water vapor in your bladder, it’s easy to miss that boulder or rutt.
What bike is best suited for this course?
I thought long and hard on this one. And since I haven’t had a chance to ride this one before, I chose an Ellsworth Truth sst.2 from my quiver to be my weapon of choice. And although the Truth performed wonderfully in this track. I think the course is still best ridden with a Trail Bike (120mm of full suspended travel) or if you have the muscle for it, an All Mountain bike is an even better option. In fact, now that I think about it. There were very few cross country bikes there.
What should you bring?
Randy Rivera had a very long and exhaustive list of things to bring. And it makes sense to actually bring those as well. I won’t go through the entire list but I found the following a must have for this course.
- 2-3L of water
- food – there are no convenience stores around
- tire patch, extra tubes, and a hand pump
- cellphone – yes there is cellphone coverage in the area
- bandana, long sleeves, and long socks – the undergrowth will cut you mercilessly
- a whistle
- and basic tools for your bike
It was mentioned that you should bring spare parts like a rear derailleur, drop-out, chain and such which I thought was overkill until I saw some chap rip his rear derailleur apart. Not a nice way to end the ride walking the remaining 25km of trail back.
Most importantly, bring a guide. I cannot stress this more. There are lots of places to get lost in and looking for you at night when you have no way of telling others where you are is like trying to use your phone a friend lifeline but don’t know the question. So bring a guide and bring lots of friends.
This is a bit contentious. The record here is 5 hrs which I think is doable when blessed with a good guide, trail conditions and fewer stops. The total riding time for our group was about 3 hours and the whole ride lasted for almost 7 hours including stops for safety, regrouping and meals. I think if you take it all out, breaking the 5 hour mark is definitely possible. But don’t get any weird ideas… it’s not about beating somebody else’s time. It’s all about having fun with your mates too.
How to get there?
The jump-off point is at the Total Station along Roman Highway in Bataan in a town called Pilar, Bataan. If you reach Orion, your past it already and need to head back. The best landmark is the turn-off heading to Mt. Samat’s memorial.
If you’re not sure how to get to Roman Highway… take the NLEX Northbound and exit where it connects with SCTEX head along this path. You’ll be looking to exit at Dinalupihan. Turn right once you see the National Highway. That’s Roman Highway already and should take you to the Total Station.
But, remember to contact your local guides before you do. It’s for your own safety.
There you have it. I hope I was able to sum it all up here. But I know I’m just barely scratching the surface of what we experience that day. Most of us went home exhausted and completely spent but still had wide grins from ear to ear to show for it. Till next time amigos!