Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mt. Apo (Part 1)

Conquering PH's Highest

By Ivan Laurence Ignacio

Climbing Mt. Apo is every Pinoy mountaineers' dream. Standing at 2,956MASL,  it is considered to be the 'Grandfather of Philippine Mountains'. Portions of its trail can make you reminisce some other mountains in the country, but the whole climb itself is incomparable and is worth all your time, money and effort. Speaking of trail, there are said to be eight trails dominating the grounds of this magnificent divine creation. We chose to do the frequently used Kapatagan - Kidapawan traverse. Entering at Digos City in Davao del Sur and exiting at another province: North Cotabato. In maneuvering through this trail, we found our Mt. Apo adventure fulfilling and challenging through the variety of trail types it offered: open vegetable plantation, mossy forests, the boulders, grassland, marsh area and the Venado lake, all the way down to an exciting river trail where we had to cross the same river thirteen times.


We were fetched by our service with our guide, Kuya Omel and some of our hired porters at SM City Davao. It was an exhausting day after our Davao City tour. But the enduring three hour ride from the city to our resting place on day one was not really bothersome. Though everyone took some slumber during the ride, our enthusiasm were never gone. Who wouldn't be when we were about to conquer our dream over the next days? It was mixed emotions: enthusiasm, anxiety, a little fear and exhaustion, but overloaded with excitement and joy. "Finally, Mt. Apo," I told myself.

Dolly's House of Seafood in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur

We had a quick dinner in Dolly's House of Seafood, a clean and famous restaurant along the highway at Digos City. After that, it was another one hour ride to Kapatagan. Although it was very dark outside, we knew that we were already in a mountainous vicinity as the road became bumpy and dusty. The excitement has built up once again. I could already smell the irony of struggle and victory.

The BACKPACKERS and friends at Camp Linaw
Camp Linaw is a perfect resting station prior to an adventure in Mt. Apo. It is located near Mt. Apo Highlands Resort and is just beside Mirror Lake. When we arrived at Camp Linaw, I was surprised to feel the shivering sensation brought by the cold night and the high altitude. Everyone was chilling and we were not yet inside the forests of the highest mountain in the Philippines. We went in, did some camp chores and took care of some personal hygiene. Then, we hit the hay to recharge our bodies from what seemed to be a draining yet exciting next days.

Inside Camp Linaw
We were greeted by a promising weather when we woke up on our second morning in the region. The environment was very relaxing: cold temperature, birds chirping, blue sky, green trees plus the amazing view of Lake Mirror complemented each other. Mirror Lake was very magnificent for making perfect reflections of the view in its water, hence its name. But aside from these, what made us ran back and forth with gaiety was the view of the mountain from the lake. We saw Mt. Apo and its bold pose was captured perfectly by Mirror Lake. It was intimidating and exciting! Without any cloud obstruction, Mt. Apo stood there mightily. It was luring us, waiting for us, building up our euphoria for it was our dream climb, our dream mountain. I was personally elated as it is one of my personal dream ever since I ventured into mountaineering.


One of the most memorable moment for me was riding at the back of the truck which serviced us up to the jump off point of Mt. Apo. Ten excited individuals boarded the truck that morning. Nobody can hide their excitement as the heavy duty vehicle trudged its way up the unpaved road. The mighty Mt. Apo was almost always in sight as we got nearer and nearer. Seated at the back portion of the truck, I can smell the happiness and excitement from all the members of our Mt. Apo team. I was quietly seated and trying to let all of it sink in. It was then when I posted an update on our group (The BACKPACKERS) that we were already there, almost at the foot of our dream, adding a promise that we would come back, all of us.

It was one of those defining and emotional moments in our lives when we get to conquer our dreams. Several summits in several years of being an active mountaineer, I always wanted to have this experience. I never felt this extreme set of emotions since my very first Mt. Pico de Loro climb several years back. And I was very happy I felt that - I felt like a newbie again, my anxiousness and bewildered thoughts drowned my mind. Riding at the back of that truck while I saw Mt. Apo burned again that mountaineering passion in me. That innate thing that I and Louie, a long time climbing buddy, were talking about several months ago. It made me feel alive again.

The BACKPACKERS' send off to the Mt. Apo Team @ BP Headquarters

"Ingat kayo babe (take care).. Take as many good memories and pictures as you can... Happy for you doing your dreams.." ~ from a fellow BP, BP Angel, who is also my girlfriend. This message along with our other friends' well wishes consummated the overwhelming feeling I had that day.


The start of a twenty hour tramping inside the territory of PH's highest began as our truck parked at a small store beside the field. We had our climb ritual of praying for guidance as our porters and guide readied themselves too. The first part was walking in a vast vegetable field. The scorching heat of the sun complemented the generous whipping of the wind so we did not really feel the exhaustion easily. The surrounding plains and plantations were very inspiring to look at. Indeed it was a warm up, as we happily traipsed over one vegetation to another. We even came across some locals carrying goods. Apparently, there was a small village on top of the hill where we bonded and rested for a good thirty minutes.

We continued the easy trek in the vast meadow where we chanced upon some farmyard friends and greenery. We went hiking at scattered trails, which could be very confusing if we did not hire a guide. There was one point when I slipped because of a very slippery and muddy uphill. I scrambled when I felt pain on my left shoulder. I thought for a while that it got dislocated. So yes, there were muddy paths but after my trail mishap, no one fell from these obstacles.

There was a take-five moment when everybody's sitting down admiring the slopes with plains and small hills below. While passing trail food to one another, I pulled out my phone and read aloud every single messages from our Backpacker friends we left in Manila. They expressed their prayers, wishes, happiness and admiration to the rest of the Mt. Apo team of The BACKPACKERS. These just sealed the deal that regardless of the outcome of the climb, I will be back..., WE WILL BE BACK with the other BPs.

We were slowly entering a forested area when a commotion in the trail disturbed the peaceful singularly filed hikers. When I slipped, I fell behind the back of the pack and gave the lead to BP Heinz. On the way, he saw a familiar creature resting in the middle of the trail. "A snake!", he shouted. To my delight, (because I really wanted to see a live snake in the trail whenever we climb mountains) I overtook the halted hikers to check the creature. I saw a relatively small and long black creature with slight curves in its body. Yes, it was alive! But because it was rather motionless, I just hopped over it and asked the rest of the folks to do the same. It was then when our porter Kuya Bobong told me that it was not a regular snake, but a black cobra. Maybe a Philippine Cobra? I tried to google if there is such a reptile named 'black cobra' but to no avail. But if it was a Philippine Cobra, then we just had a face to face encounter with one of the world's deadliest snake! Yay!


One fascinating thing about Mt. Apo is that every trail is picturesque. Even with the regular forested trail, it was tailored in such a way that it will entice you to reach your goal. It sends this vibe of encouragement for you to hike more. The secret of the Kapatagan trail is the presence of the so-called Everyday flowers which gave us the feeling that we were walking inside a beautiful man made garden. In effect, there were times when we had to stop and adore the surrounding. T'was these times when BP Clue and BP Liz will get their trusty cameras and capture each moment in every possible angle. So why Everyday flowers? Our guides said because it blooms everyday.

We reached our first official stop at around 11:45AM. Our local porters told us that it was referred to as the 'Paradise Campsite'. True to its moniker, it was reminiscent of those scenes that you see in fantasy TV. Camped at the grassy center, we saw weird trees and bushes (filled with Everyday flowers)  on our north, hundreds of tree canopies ahead, and pure greenery on our south. The tall trees gave us a vibe that enchanted creatures may have been playing there when no one's around. We stayed there for two hours; some took a breather by napping, and some helped Kuya Omel in cooking our lunch. It was then when I took the liberty of knowing our porter guides. We will be together for three full days so I felt the social need to memorize their names: Kuya Omel, my primary contact, was the lead, then the siblings Kuya Bobong, Kuya Junjun and Kuya Jovan, and the youngsters Turoy and James.


The real hiking challenge continued after we left the 'Paradise' at 1:45PM. Here, we got deeper into the forest of the Kapatagan side of Mt. Apo. We had to pass by two more campsites before our target camp ground: Godi Godi campsite and our goal was to reach it by daylight.

Going for the first emergency campsite, Upper Sabwang, we were fast paced but slowing down when perfect opportunities came to sight. And did I not mention above that the beauty of the traverse is that every trail present several photo opportunities. But when we reached Upper Sabwang, our guide expressed his concern that we might not make it by daylight. So I issued a temporary restraining order abstaining from short yosi breaks and huddling for pictures so that we can reach Godi-Godi campsite as soon as possible. But the TRO was soon lifted when we reached the base of Baroring campsite. Here, a striking stream basin was present. If Paradise Campsite was the playground of fairies and other enchanted creatures, it was this spot which was their actual abode. There were mossy trees and strange bushes sandwiching the basin. It was spellbinding. I could not even put it in words.

Baroring is another emergency campsite which can house a small number of tents. But what was interesting about it is that there were several layers of small campsites as the elevation got higher. So we counted and labelled these, "first floor", "second floor", upto the "rooftop".

Trekking to Camp Godi Godi is trekking in its ensnaring and true context that you have to feel the place and touch nature. We had to grab onto the branches and tree trunks, breathe the smell of earth and go over or under logs. We encountered several log obstructions that I even lost track of my "over the log" and "under the log" counts. There were interesting parts when we had to walk over a big and long stumbled log to keep track of the trail.

I was happily leading the pack with Kuya Omel when I heard that the rest of the pack paused again. I dropped my pack and ran back as fast as possible when I heard one of the most soft spoken backpacker, BP Liz, from a distance saying something that has blood on its context. Thus our first minor injury when out of enthusiasm and the unpredictability of the elements in the surrounding, BP Clue accidentally hit her head in a protruding branch of a tree. We stopped to nurse it, but the tough backpacker in BP Clue won't stop this injury from reaching her dream. The enchanting forest of Mt. Apo can really give one an overdose of excitement and make him or her wander carelessly into the wild, and that was what happened.


The rest of the gang in the lead pack hurried up their pace while I decided to stop and wait for the sweepers, Ma'am Weng and BP Heinz. It was during this time when I realized that I was really living my dream. I had an interesting and healthy conversation with Ma'am Weng (author of tackling several matters about the sport that we both love. Ma'am Weng expressed her ideas overflowing with overwhelming emotions that she also was rekindling her love for nature and unexpectedly fulfilling her dream. I can never thank and be grateful enough for the set of friends - both BPs and guests, that joined me in my first journey to PH's highest. They say it all falls down to destiny and I believe that fate allowed us all to share those precious 'first times' together.

As Ma'am Weng, BP Heinz and I were hiking through a relatively elevating forest, we could already hear the voices of the lead pack. At 5:30PM, mission accomplished: we made it to Camp Godi Godi! And it still was not dark! The total trek time on day one was six hours.

We immediately set up our camp and rested. I was very surprised when I saw our porter guides busy preparing the meal for the night. With some intervention from Ma'am Weng and Wilson, they really did not want us to bother and do anything. This is why we can say that we were truly pampered because this was the first time that it happened to the group. Whenever we climb mountains, camp chores are always worked on hand in hand. But we were lucky this time that our porter guides were really insistent in serving and cooking for us. I can not express how I admire the genuine initiative of these people we were climbing with in Mt. Apo. My heartfelt thanks!

After the delicious potato filled dinner, (Afritada and Sardines blended in potatoes and sauce; describing food is not my forte), we went to our guide's open tent to have socials there. It was then when we realized that our porter guides were not just generous and industrious, they were also personable and funny! I really enjoyed that socials with them but because we were not even 1/2 in our adventure, the socials survivors me, Liz and Wilson had to say goodnight and prepare for the next day.


It was a promising morning - everyone's recharged, the weather was great, and an interesting monkey appearance on our campsite, we headed off for the next phase of our adventure. This is what I anticipated the most: meeting the BOULDERS of Mt. Apo!

Photo Credits to Clue and Liz

Continue reading...

Mt. APO (Part 2)
By Heinz Lopez Alvarez, Jr.

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