“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” This quote by Australian-born rock climber and mountaineer, Greg Child, perfectly summarized our three-day Mt. Apo climb.
As I have shared in Part 1, this climb was two years in the making. So with still sleepy eyes, but excited hearts, we woke up on the second day knowing that something important is about to happen.
It’s 2 am. Save the light from the night sky, outside was pitch dark. The air was cold but thankfully our guides prepared hot soup before we break camp.
From Tinikaran I, it would take an estimate of 4 to 6 hours to the summit — depending on your pace and your stops. Kuya Babu briefed us what to expect along the trail. He told us not to stray away from the group since there were many confusing forks ahead. He warned us of the steep ascent. That it would be long and grueling and somewhat endless. At quarter to 3 am, we began. To make sure that no one would drag the hike and none of us gets left behind, we decided on the lead, midpack and sweeper group. As for me, I chose the latter.
As I walked at the back of the pack, I saw the string of headlamps snaked to the sky. We hiked through a thick forest, passing by Tinikaran II. We used the roots of bigger trees as foothold and means to pull ourselves up the trail. Some fallen branches also acted as hurdles. We hoped and crawled our way through until we reached the forest’s exit.
4:30 am. The first light started to break by this time.
The Boulder Face
An uphill and rocky terrain welcomed us as we regrouped at the starting point of Mt. Apo’s boulder face. We took the opportunity to take group photos since the next 3-4 hours will be spent on scrambling on all fours.
The boulder section of Mt. Apo was the trickiest, yet the best, part of the climb — at least for me. It’s a 4-kilometer assault hike (or crawl) on a trail-less path. There were yellow and orange flags that served as markings, but extreme caution was still a must. Some boulders were loose and unsteady so we had to make sure each of our step had a stable foothold. The wide open space added to challenge as we fought against the wind. And though we were unperturbed by the heat of the sun, we knew it was burning our skin.
There were sulfur vents belching out smokes here and there too. Fortunately, I didn’t have to endure the foul odor since I had a runny nose.
An hour later, we reached the Rock Tower where we had our breakfast. The sun was up, exposing the vibrant landscapes below. The view before us revealed Davao del Sur’s beauty. Plain fields seemed miniaturized as we stood atop. Mountains rolled in the horizon from end to end. The weather was great and the sky was blue. We would have loved to stay longer and freeze that moment, but the “road ahead was long and winding.” And the fog was slowly setting.
We regrouped at the White Sand Emergency Camp at 9 am. Exhausted and burdened by our heavy load. Just when we thought we were close, our guides told us that the summit was still far ahead. Yet, despite all reasons to be frustrated, we moved forward to our the final assault.
Mt. Apo is capped by a 500-meter wide volcanic crater with a small crater lake and has three prominent peaks. As we headed toward the first peak where Santa Cruz and Kapatagan trails converge, we meet several other hikers from different groups. By this time, getting to the summit became more challenging. 1) Because the assault became steeper. 2) The fog became thicker 3) The gust of wind became stronger and unbearably cold.
It took us an hour to reach the crater lake which was almost invisible due to thick fog. Ten minutes away from it was Davao Peak. The weather here in the summit was the complete opposite of the sun-drenched boulder face. We knew we will get no clearing, but we still decided to get a group photo for memory’s sake.
We then traversed to Mother Peak while taking several stops to catch our breaths. It was no different from the first one. If anything, the wind got angrier to the point that it was almost pushing our bodies from all sides. The blast of wind was so bad that we didn’t get a decent group photo in this area.
As we descended from Mother Peak, we saw the Philippine Warty Pig of Mt. Apo. We did not stay long since it was crowded with hikers and instead regrouped at the Old Camp where we had our lunch since it was past 12 noon. Afterwards, we prepared ourselves for the last assault of the day. Kapatagan Peak has a signage which indicates the height of Mt. Apo. There were climbers queueing for photo ops despite the “bondpaper” background. We got ours too before heading down to Lake Venado where we will spend the second night.
And just like that, we’ve reached the highest point of the country. Yes, it would have been great if we were able to get a clear view of the ‘world’ from the summit. How awesome would it be to stand on Mt. Apo’s crater? Yet, despite not being blessed with a clearing at the top, I could say that we were blessed with a wonderful experience along the way. The long hours of walking and scrambling are worth it. It reminded us of our vulnerability and our weakness. It taught us that what comes before the grand finale can also be the best part.
That’s it for now. What goes up must come down… but that will be for another story. Until next time! 😉
For now, check out Remembering Mt. Apo: Part 1 (A fantasy turned reality)