Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mt. Apo: Tales From the Rooftop of the Philippines

7 months ago, I, JC and five more flew to Davao City to conquer the country's granddaddy of all boondocks: Apo. 

Rising at 2,954 masl, Mt. Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines. It sits on 3 provinces - Davao City, Davao del Sur and Cotabato province.

Before we began the climb proper, we had a little detour first at Camp Sabros, an outdoor adventure camp located at Kapatagan, Davao del Sur. We all took turns on the zipline ride (which was awesome!) and the cable lift that we joked to never wanna leave haha. I took a video of JC and I's ride, forgive the curses and the girly shrieks hee. It was a wonderful and exciting experience, something I wouldn't dare miss.

Giant durian greeting you outside the airport; cabbages growing on a mountain slope; trees going to Camp Sabros.

From Camp Sabros, we then proceeded to Kapatagan  proper where we had our lunch. Then back on the road again which, hands down, was the BUMPIEST, HARDEST, MOST STRESSFUL ride I've ever had in my entire life (much like the road we took to Mt. Pulag via Tawangan trail but this one's worse). I probably wouldn't go back to Apo for 2 reasons: 1) for the difficulty of the actual climb and descent and 2) I don't want to go through those roads again. Literally jellied brains and body! 

I sincerely wish the local governments of Davao City, Davao del Sur and Cotabato (the 3 provinces straddling the whole mountain range) do something about those roads. The climbing fee that mountaineers shell out in order to get permission to climb, where do they go? It should be part of the mountain's maintenance and improvement fund. And hello, it is the government's responsibility to provide its people good roads with or without local attraction.

Take 5 at Camp Gudi-Gudi; out into the boulders; sulphur everywhere

We spent the first day in a small barangay on the foot of the mountains. It was so small that you can count all the houses on your two hands. I remembered sleeping at the hard floor while the rest of my fellow climbers had some drinks while waiting for our dinner to be cooked. I remembered waking up to the sound of strong rains pelting on the roof, remembered that I don't ever wanna be caught in that kind of downpour once we're up there. That would be a total nightmare.

Thankfully, the weather was the total opposite of last night during our ascent. We again offered a short prayer of guidance before we proceeded with our climb. We passed by vast acres of farm lands before reaching the forested area. We had our lunch at a water source where a small stream runs down the mountain. Then resumed our trek until we reached Camp Gudi-Gudi. Camp Gudi-Gudi is a huge mossy area where anyone who wants to break their camp or rest for an extra day before tackling the boulders can stay should they wish to do so. 

It was around 3 in the afternoon when this view greeted us. We were finally out of the forest and officially in the boulders area, exposed to all the elements. Mt. Apo is a solfataric and potentially active volcano hence the sulphur vents emitting that foul smell. Oof.

Initially the pungent smell of sulfur won't hit your nose but then as you get closer to the top, and if the winds are blowing right across your path, you will definitely smell/inhale it. And boy does it reek. But of course, we were prepared for it! Boulders was such a challenge to climb and it didn't help that we were slowly losing natural light. Everyone had to move faster lest we want to be caught in boulders come nightfall. Nope, not an option.   

Luckily we were past the boulders when total darkness came. We stopped for a while to don our headlamps before proceeding. Our guide instructed us that from here on, it'll all be pure ascent and we had to be very careful with our each step because we might not see it at the time but one wrong step could lead to a nasty fall. Everyone knows there are only two outcomes - either you make it or you don't. I shudder at the thought.

It was getting extra chilly and we were all tired from a full day of ascending that we couldn't help on pestering our guide if we were there yet haha. At past 8 in the evening, we finally reached the summit camp. I've never been happier to see our sherpas' tent (they made an advance ascent so they could prepare dinner earlier).

JC and I set up our tent in the quickest possible time so we could finally warm our cold arses off and rest our tired bodies. I was so close to skipping dinner but then realised that I was actually starving. Plus I needed all the energy food I could get inside my belly for tomorrow's descent. We had a ninja dinner before dozing off. I remember the insane cold that woke me in the middle of the night. My body/brain was too tired to care so I apparently just slid my feet inside my pack and went back to sleep. I didn't even come out to take a pee. Ha!

Morning finally came. After breaking our fast (yes I finally got to use that phrase from master storyteller George RR Martin!), we all trooped to the summit.

God was so good because He gave us a clearing to see this.

Rooftop of Pinas, yo!

From the summit, we had a clear view of Mt. Talomo's peak.

We took a short trek back to where we came from last night to catch a view of Mt. Apo's crater. Ooh!

I feasted with these plump mountain berries!

After breaking camp, we made our way down to Lake Venado where we also had our lunch. Further away from the summit, closer to civilisation. It might seem near from we stood but still it took us about 2 hours to reach the lake.

After a short rest in Venado we were back on the trail. It felt like we were in a movie. Walking on a swamp-like area and climbing down a few, not so easy 90-degree slopes (no joke!). Kahit gano ka kaingat na huwag lumubog sa putikan, lulubog at lulubog ka rin :)).

View of Lake Venado from above

After Venado, I never got a chance to take out my camera . It was getting late and we were crossing several rivers so it wouldn't really be appropriate (and wise) to waste time taking photos when lives were at risk. We had to be mindful with our each step, nobody wants to be a liability.

The last few hours were physically and mentally draining. My knees were literally folding, I was so close to giving up I had to mentally convince myself that it won't be long now, that the road will come to view and we could finally rest.

At past 9 in the evening we finally found the concrete road. Although there were really no houses, just a road that stretches out into who knows where, I've never been so relieved to see the highway. It was pitch dark yet I can clearly remember a sky dotted with too many stars it's unbelievable. After 30 more minutes of walking, we finally got to our "resort hotel" na fully booked naman so tent pa rin ang bagsak namin haha. I've never been happier to see a television, working electricity, sari sari store, people in general. Never been happier to kick my shoes off and lay my feet on a makeshift rest chair. I offered a silent prayer of thanks that we didn't have unfortunate events throughout the process, that everyone made it to Lake Agko safely. I made it to and out of Apo safely. Now that's an achievement.

Kidapawan sidetrip on our way back to Davao City.

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