Mt. Apo: at the rooftop of the Philippines (first of 2 parts)

Part 2 of the series here.

It was not yet raining when our small Mt. Apo team met at the Davao City airport one Thursday morning a few years back. We arrived via different flights and bus rides since each of us came from various cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. It was also the first time that we saw each other in person after numerous text and email exchanges.

We then headed for Jezer Paro’s residence in Digos City. He was our trail master guide, whom we also met in person for the first time that day. After taking a quick lunch, rearranging our packs and finalizing our itineraries, we headed for the Mt. Apo Mountaineering Trekkers Information Center at Sitio Baras in Kapatagan, Digos City. We were to embark on a slightly modified Kapatagan trail in climbing Mt. Apo (2954 MASL), the highest mountain the Philippines.

 

Day 1: A Rainy start

Mt Apo Trek - Registration Area

The rains started by the time we got our climbing permits. I worried at that instant as I imagined a muddy and slippery ascent later on. On our way to the jump-off, we rode a 4×4 multicab which amazingly negotiated a way against the strong water flowing downstream. I thought to myself that if this is how the weather looks like from Day 1, then it might not be sunny in the next few days.

Mt Apo Trek - 4WD multi-cab
Photo courtesy of C. Lopez.

We alighted at Sitio Mainit and immediately took shelter at a small house in the area. We waited for the hard pouring rain to slow down and when it did, we began hiking on farm land. Along the way, we also saw how the downpour washed up the root crops in some fields. The rains may have delayed us a little bit, but it is a completely different story for the farmers who have labored long and hard only to see their crops washed away in just a few hours.

It was already nightfall when we arrived at Sitio Paradise. After taking a delicious soup prepared by our master chef Bintoy, we slept earlier than the usual to prepare us for the very long hike the following day.

 

Day 2: Ascent and Assault

Mt Apo Trek - early morning start

The boulder face of Mt. Apo was very visible at dawn on Day 2. It also looked so near but we know that it is not of course. After taking our breakfast at another farm house, we then left for Camp Godi-Godi. We have to reach this stopover by 1:00 PM since this is the cut-off time for a safe summit assault that day.

Mt Apo Trek - breakfast stopover

Mt Apo Trek - cooking our lunch

Cut-off times are strictly respected by mountaineers since these already account for the other uncertainties – unpredictable weather, possible change in terrain, your respective group’s speed among many other factors. Beyond that hour, a safe passage to the next stopover is not guaranteed.

The terrain from Sitio Mainit to Godi-Godi gradually changed from farm land into mossy forests. We stopped by Upper Sabwag and Baroring for a quick rest. The trail was steep for most parts but there are level grounds and downhill portions as well. I liked the change in landscape since the narrow paths led us through tall fern and hardwood trees. The temperature slowly dropped too as we hiked higher up the slopes.

Mt Apo Trek - wild mushrooms

Mt Apo Trek - Baroring

Our group arrived at Godi-Godi at around 12:45 PM. After taking our lunch, we finally began our assault for the peak. The forest cover gradually cleared out in our ascent. And when the terrain turned rocky, we knew that we were at the foot of Mt. Apo’s famous boulder face. From where I was standing that time, I could say that the view above us was both a lovely and fearsome sight to behold.

Mt Apo Trek - whatever it takes
#whateverittakes

Mt Apo Trek - direct assault

We took the left side or the direct assault route which I gather is not taken by most mountaineers. Although this looked precariously steep from the other side, we were assured that this trail provided the fastest and, surprisingly, the easiest way up the peak. It is indeed steep but the pathway has manageable steps and was clear of the gigantic boulders. It was like climbing a very long staircase with small rocks to step on. But even so, we exercised caution the entire time. We saw to it that no rocks were dislodged in each of our step as these may pose a threat to the many climbers below us.

Mt Apo Trek - sulfuric vents

What probably gave some of my friends the additional boost were the wild berries scattered along the trail. It blows my mind to think how these shrubs managed to survive amidst the sulfuric fumes, let alone flourish at this altitude. But I am thankful that it gave us a needed diversion or encouragement to some extent, in comparison to the lifeless rocks around us.

Mt Apo Trek - old crater

We were able to reach the peak of the highest mountain in the Philippines after a total of almost 12 hours of hiking, climbing, and occasional slipping in between. While we were supposed to celebrate this humble feat like the idiots who set off fireworks later that evening, our visibly exhausted group chose to call it a night instead. It was getting really cold too and the howling winds were probably Mt. Apo’s response to the rambunctious party atmosphere at the camp site. The peak exploration and mandatory picture taking would have to wait until Day 3.

Mt Apo Trek - we finally arrived

 

Looking back now, Mt. Apo surprised me even if there are a lot of handful information about it online. I now have a sobering respect for this mountain for both its unpredictability and grandeur. Contrary to what the print on our complimentary shirts would boldly say, I feel that I did not conquer this mountain at all. It was never an enemy that I can subjugate in the first place.

At the rooftop of the Philippines, I conquered myself instead.

 

Our previous Climp Apo operator is no longer in business. However, there are many outfitters who can provide all-in packages – tent, meals, fees and even airport transfers.

Digos is an hour or so away from Francisco Bangoy/Davao International Airport (IATA: Davao).

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