On Mindanao, an island better known for terrorists than tourists, a rugged mountain rises through the clouds. Verdant trees line a narrow dirt path leading up to the precipice, and a bubbling river beckons the adventurous spirit to follow it into the wilderness. This is Mount Apo, the crown jewel of the Philippine climbing experience.
2,954m above Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines, Mount Apo is the
highest peak in the country. The climb typically takes two or three days,
depending on which of the many trails you choose, and is not for the faint of
heart. But those who brave the near-vertical slopes, rocky ledges and hidden
swamps are rewarded with dazzling views and a journey that inspires the soul.
tourists are often warned to avoid the entire Mindanao region because of internal
tensions with rebel groups, most of the violence is isolated to areas farther
west than Mount Apo. An extensive pre-climb safety briefing, registration permits
and knowledgeable local guides (arranged by the local tourist office)
are required. The biggest problem you are likely to encounter is how to capture
the mountain’s grandeur in a photo lens.
to the base of Mount Apo is a journey in itself. After flying to Davao City
(direct flights are available from Manila and Cebu), tourists must take a two-hour
bus or van ride to Kidapawan for orientation, then ride an open-air jeep or
motorcycle to the base camp, another hour away. Alternatively, you can hire a private
car or taxi the entire way from Davao City. A Unesco World Heritage site, Mount
Apo Natural Park spans about 64,000 hectares and is nestled between the Davao
and North Cotabato provinces.
barkada (group of friends) left the
base camp at 4 am, hoping to be well into the forest by the heat of the day.
The hike began like any other mountain trail. In high spirits, we followed the
path up and down a few minor hills and bounded across the river on stepping
stones, laughing about who would be the first to stop for a water break. As we
trekked up the mountain however, slick footholds along craggy cliffs replaced
the once-easy dirt paths and breathless wheezes replaced our carefree jokes.
in the rainforest, the trail seems to disappear, visible only to the most
experienced guides. You can feel the altitude shift as you continue the ascent
– sometimes at a 90-degree angle. Occasionally rickety ladders or rusty
handholds help travellers up, but often it is a task to find a secure tree root
or steady rock on which to place your foot that will not trigger a minor
landslide onto your mates below. Many backpackers camp the first night at Lake
Venado, a welcoming expanse of serene flatland dotted with hidden swamps. The
tune of cicadas lulls you to sleep after an evening of crystal clear
the sunrise on Mount Apo is like sitting in a watercolour painting. As the mist
clears, pastel pinks, oranges and purples dance in the sky around you,
challenging you to race the sun to the summit. If you do not mind hiking in the
dark, you can leave Lake Venado three to four hours before dawn and reach the
top at the moment the sun peeks over the horizon, illuminating the lone white
cross that stands at the peak.
the apex, the view is clear and unobstructed. You are far above the clouds now,
surrounded by a vast expanse of nothingness and a panoramic view. It feels like
the top of the world; a transcendent experience.
The journey down is not as arduous as the hike up, but it is
not by any means easy. Still, many take the opportunity to stop and “smell the
roses” along the way. Mount Apo is considered one of the richest botanical
mountains in the region, and rare plant and animal species thrive in this
unspoiled environment. Hidden waterfalls along the edifice offer refreshment to
weary travellers. At the bottom of the trail, hikers can rest their aching legs
at soothing natural hot springs.
the mountain can be climbed any time of year, the best season to go is between
March and May, when the volatile weather is less severe. Hikers can forego
mountaineering equipment, but are advised to bring standard camping supplies,
as well as food and plenty of water. Rain gear and warm clothing are also
recommended, since temperatures at night can drop near freezing and rain is
always a possibility. While some hikers opt to carry all the equipment
themselves, many hire at least one porter to carry water and other necessities
for about $5 to $8 per day. Besides transportation fees, foreign visitors can
expect to pay about $18 per person for registration fees and $12 per day for a
tamer and less technical than other mountains in the region, like Mount
Kinabalu in Malaysia or Mount Kerinci in Indonesia, Mount Apo has its own set
of challenges and should not be underestimated. Whether an exhilarating
challenge for the aspiring mountaineer or an invigorating hike for the
experienced climber, the journey to the top of the Philippines leaves visitors
in awe of this archipelago in the middle of the Pacific.