Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Ups and Downs of Mt. Apo

Last November 2012, two old-legged people went to Davao to climb the highest mountain in the Philippines. These old-legged people were Mustachio and Mustachia, from here on referred to as "we".

We availed of a package from Mt Apo Adventures. The package included a guide, a porter, permits, transportation, all camp meals, tent, sleeping bag, and one night accommodation in Davao City. All we needed to prepare for the trip were our trail food, ourselves, and our pockets. It was recommended to jog for thirty minutes daily for three weeks. We followed the recommendation...somewhat—we did 25-minute walks plus 5-minute jogs three times a week (MWF) for three weeks, and not religiously.


The day came to put the partially prepared legs to the test. Arnold, our guide, met us at the Davao airport. From the airport, we stopped by D' Counter Dormitory to leave our bikinis and boardshorts—things we didn't need for the climb.

Ecoland Terminal in Davao City

Still with heavy packs, we headed to Ecoland Terminal to ride a bus to Digos City. An hour and a half from Ecoland Terminal, we stopped short of the "Welcome to the Lion City of Digos" sign. A motorcycle had been arranged to meet us there.

Overly securing the bags

We would take an hour-long motorcycle ride to Brgy. Kapatagan. The driver overly secured our packs on the sides of the bike, making sure it won't fall, knowing it was no smooth ride ahead. With the spaces on the sides occupied, our legs had nowhere to go but up—or whatever leg position might deem less uncomfortable. My position looked exactly like this:

Yes, like this for an hour. With only a two-minute break in between.
(Photo from YouTube)

It was a guide-driver-and-two-hikers sandwich ride. We reached Brgy. Kapatagan with sore butts and dead legs. It was lunch time, so we entered the nearest eatery where we had our last real meal for the next two days.

We had our last real meal at Travelers Fastfood

Brgy. Kapatagan is your last chance to obtain supplies

After lunch, it's another (agonizing) bike ride to Sitio Baruring. Fortunately, this time it's just twenty minutes of agony. Sitio Baruring is the jump off point for the trek.

On our way to the jump off

Last stop on wheels: Sitio Baruring

At the jump-off point, you can rearrange your pack, take out items you're too lazy to bring and pass it on to the porter or whoever has a lighter load. Load sharing is important since each of us has a different carrying capacity. For the leisure-oriented climbers, just bring your water and camera, leave your shame and refrigerator bags with the frail porters (like what a group of climbers did).

Refrigerator bags

Arnold leading the way, as what guides should do

Ten minutes into the hike

Along the road, we saw fields of carrots, peppers, and other vegetables. Farmers were seen tending and harvesting their crops. There were also farm animals, like water buffaloes, cows, and horses, tethered in the fields.

Spot the Carabao

Fields of green

Farmers and peppers

The rain came and went that week, and it was drizzling on and off that day. The trails were muddy, and most were as deep as five feet. Tramping from locals with their cows and horses have created a trench out of the trail.

From trail to trench

There's a last stopover at a local porter's house — the house of Junjun, our porter. There you can buy some snacks, use the toilet, and rest a bit.

The last stopover

Junjun's pet dog

After a short break, we resumed our hike. It was already 3PM and we were still a three-hour walk away from Tinikaran Camp 1. The way to camp was mostly under the shade of trees.

Catching up with other warm bodies at the emergency camp

Our four-person team caught up with the refrigerator group at the emergency camp and were soon walking within sight of other warm bodies under the fading light. Junjun, the person with the heaviest load in our group, was the fastest walker and soon disappeared in the gloom. We reached Tinikaran Camp 1 with headlamps in full power and were happily surprised with tents all set up and ready for crawling in.

Tinikaran Camp 1 in the morning light of the second day

The Mountaineer's Creed... fill in the peeled parts.

The water source in Tinikaran Camp 1

Trash near the water source :-(

There was nothing left to do but have dinner. Though a menu was set, it was never followed.

 Dinner of dried fish and pork adobo

I had the flu days preceding the climb and was feeling better at the start of the trip. At the end of day one, the fever came back and we decided to ditch the plan of doing a traverse. After dinner, it was time to hit the sack and try to will the fever away. We would still try to summit on the morrow.


We had decided to do a backtrail and so left camp to ascend with small packs on our back, with just water, trail food, lunch, headlamps (in case darkness catches up to us later), and a camera.

We set off at 8AM. From Camp 1 it is an hour's steep hike to Camp 2. Camp 2 has a soft green mossy carpet that made me want to roll on it.

The green carpet of Camp 2

But there was no time for rolling. After catching our breath, we started again. In ten minutes, we were out of the forest cover and were greeted by the beginnings of the boulder trail. This marks the beginning of five hours of scaling boulders with many breaks in between.

Start of the boulder trail (left) and a sulfur vent (right)

We slowly climbed our way up boulder by boulder and stopped from time to time to take in the view, smell the sulfur, look at the plants, and pop some wild berries into our mouth.

Flowers and berries along the way

We cautiously picked our way up the boulders, careful not to fall in the cracks, not to slip on loose rocks, not to cause rocks to roll down and hit somebody who is trailing behind. We were also on the look out for monkeys. Monkeys are sometimes sighted hanging around the boulders and could chase you all the way down or up, whichever way you prefer to go. Fortunately, the monkeys we saw were a long way off, on another ridge, too far to give our pace a boost.

The refrigerator group's porter slowly making his way up the boulders

Sending a text message from the boulders

The boulder face is a trickster. The summit seems within reach, but as we get nearer, new walls of large rocks resurface. What we expected as the summit turned out to be another stair of boulders that we have to scale up again to reach another pseudo summit. I had several "are we there yet" moments. 

Are we there yet?

It was cold and windy as we approached the ascent just before the crater. It was almost 1PM and we were hungry. We looked for a big enough boulder that could shield us from the wind and leave us to eat our lunch without the wind blowing morsels of rice away.

Refueling with lunch before the final assault

Forty minutes later, we reach the crater. On dry days, the crater is devoid of water and you could see from above names spelled with rocks made by previous climbers.

The crater

From above

We summited at 2PM. Six hours since we left camp. Clouds obscured the view and we waited and willed for a clearing. And a clearing appeared for just a few seconds. I was happy being there. Not because we reached the summit, but because there was no other way up, and trekking down is the only option. That means being back to the flat lands where it's, undoubtedly, more comfortable.

To the summit in the fog

The foggy view from the peak

Kids aren't afraid of the cold; shorts and a sweater will do. Arnold is afraid of the cold.

Now you see it, now you don't

After fifteen minutes on the summit, we decided to go back. The descent on the boulders was harder than the ascent. Harder on the knees. It would take four hours down with Mustachia's wobbly knees and short legs.

The light was fading and we were still among boulders. Mustachia confessed that she was praying over and over that we reach the woods before it turned dark. Better to walk in the woods than step over crevices and scramble down boulders in the dark. With relief, we entered the woods just as the darkness crept in. From then on, our legs were in auto mode — we were anxious to get back to camp.

As soon as we reached camp, Mustachia consumed three liters of cold, cold water. And I, with my fever in full throttle, gave in to medicine.

Water. Dinner. Medicine. Lights out. And the sound of rain drumming on our tent.


We took it slow on the third day. Woke up at 7AM. Ate breakfast. Broke camp. Cleaned up as best we could by taking all the trash we could find. And unhurriedly made our way back to Sitio Baruring.

Where our tent used to be

It was a gray day. The rain came and made the soft earth muddy and slippery. Our unhurried pace slowed down to a crawl, fortunately giving us more time to take in the great scenery.


Good bye Mt. Apo!

Thank you Arnold (guide) and Junjun (porter)!

The Downs of Mt. Apo:
  • Trash was evident on the trails. Food wrappers and cigarette butts, though not heaps, should never be tossed about carelessly. When asked about the trash, our guide responded "The locals will just pick it up every cleanup." This irked me, knowing that this "clean-up-after" attitude is being used as an alibi to commit an offense that is very much avoidable in the first place. Also, it's a shame that we give unfair responsibilities to the locals. What happened to the Leave No Trace principle?
  • The lure of getting paid carrying bags is strong, especially on kids. Junjun, our porter, quit school to help his family. I only knew of this on our last day. While seated comfortably at Junjun's house, I asked if I could take a look at the photo albums lined up on a shelf. There I saw a younger Junjun with medals dangling on his neck. Yes, this kid is an academic achiever. There are many "Junjuns" in this guide-porter business. How about scholarship grants dedicated to children of guides/porters, instead of constructing a stairway to Mt. Apo?
  • Vegetable farms are inching closer to supposedly protected areas. The same situation happens in all our mountains—farmers expanding their land, hoping to generate more crops.

How this helluva climb bore a helluva hole in Mustachio's pocket:
Package Php 5500 (Php 6000 if traverse)

Mt. Apo in Two Parts:
The Ups and Downs of Mt. Apo (you're here!)
Mt. Apo Itinerary

Revenge of the Hikers:


  1. Hello Mustachio & Mustachia. :D

  2. Mao diay dugay kaayo na-post kay ang in-charge mosulat kay si Mustachio diay. haha Gahuwat jud ko ani nga post ba. :D Job well done to you both! :)

    Also, kuyog ta ninyo sunod sa Kota kay na-cancel baya to last minute among pagkuyog sa team na niadto last April. :) let's make our own team sa December pohon.

    1. I need more preparation. Both physical and monetary :-)

  3. How many pounds did Mustachia lose after the trek? :)
    Let's do Mayon someday!

    1. Lost some, but gained more after the climb. Hehe. Mayon? Gulp.

    2. Let's see... I think I lost 10 buckets of sweat and 15 pounds of fat. But I made it up by eating-all-I-can crabs and one whole pizza :-) Please see "Revenge of the Hikers" :-)

  4. Grabe jd kadaghan sa basura didto. Maka-ask lng ka kung asa padulong ang money(permit). Lahi pa ang Entrance, lahi pd ang exit.

    1. I think there are loopholes in the organization. We also have to consider that Mt. Apo sits on more than one town (and more than one officials pocket).

  5. Out of all the Mt. Apo narratives I came across, dito ko nabasa about the getting there part. Travel pa lang kakahaggard na. Haha. Sundin ko yang 30minute jog everyday (kunwari) IF ever I get to climb someday.

    1. Thanks! We did jog for 30 mins - but for 2 or 3 days only. Haha