Mount Apo and the Boulder Challenge

Mount Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines. It has an altitude of 10,311 ft and ranked as 98Th prominent mountain in the world. It is located in Davao in Mindanao. This mountain is called as “master” or “Grandfather of Philippine Mountains”. The plan to climb Mount Apo was made last year. After the group found out that there was promotional flight to Davao (which cost less), the group grabbed the opportunity and we booked our flight five months earlier. After Mount Kinabalu climb wherein I was also part of the team, the group targeted Mount Apo. But, the plan to climb Mount Apo had a lot of preparations compared with Mount Kinabalu.

October 2008, training plan had been laid out. The plans were long distance walking, two mountain training climb (different mountain) and wall climbs. After the plan had been announced to us, I did understand that the group really made a big deal with Mount Apo. And because of that I realized that I should not take the climb so lightly.

The whole group took it seriously and because of that, we took all the trainings that had been planned. We all knew that if we will not force ourselves to attend these trainings, we will be the one who will suffer in the end because it will be very difficult to someone to climb Mount Apo without enough preparation.

November 15, 2008 Saturday was scheduled for fun walk and the fun walk last more than six hours for more than 30 kilometers walk. Then, November 22 2008 and January 13 2009 both were Saturdays were scheduled for wall climbs. And January 24-25 and February 7-8 both Saturday and Sunday for mountain training climbs. With that training plan in placed, we kept in our mind that Mount Apo climb will not be an easy task.

Since I am a rookie mountaineer (Mount Apo was my fourth climb), I prepared all my stuff. Like what I learned in mountaineering, I have to be self sustain and self equip. I created my personal checklist. I bought trekking pole because most of my previous climbs I used to borrow trekking pole with other mountaineers. I bought my personal first aid kit (just in case I need it or if someone from the group need it), first aid kit was required to all Mount Apo team, this also includes a mask because there is a sulfur pillars part in the mountain near the trail that we are going to pass. More than a week, I gathered all my things that I am going to bring during the climb. I bought another small backpack since I settled my own personal porter. I had many days of packing and unpacking my things. To be honest, at first I have a short checklist, then I keep on updating it because I do not want to miss anything that will jeopardize my climb. Mount Apo climb is not a fun climb, it is a major and difficult climb.

I think my introduction is enough.

Day 1 – Wednesday – Feb 25, 2009

NAIA Terminal 3

1AM meeting at NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) Terminal 3. Cebu Pacific flight is now stationed in Terminal 3. Terminal 3 is one of the elegant airport in the Philippines. Maybe because the terminal was still new. The terminal was exclusive on Philippine Airlines before, but
now, Cebu Pacific is currently stationed here. We met at early hours even though our flight to Davao is around 4AM. At 3 AM, we checked-in our backpacks and around 3:30 AM we were started getting on board. Before 4AM, we were all inside the plane. We arrived at Davao International Airport around 5:30 AM, flight was ahead on its schedule.

Davao City from the top (shot from the plane)

Davao International Airport and its premises

We have a contact group (which included tourism officer and mountaineering group) in Davao that will lead us to our Mount Apo climb adventure. This group picked us at the airport and led us to the jump off area. But before we left the airport, the group discussed the itinerary plan of the climb. Then, we hit the road. All of us are in the group are first time in Davao. After we found out that travel time will take some hours, each one of us took our own opportunity to sleep and rest before the climb start.

Some Views we saw while on our way to Baruring
(photos above with border are copyrighted by Jimmar Lagazo)

It took us 2.5 to 3 hours from the airport to jump-off area at Baruring. After arriving at Baruring we started to trek to see the Tudaya Falls before we start the formal climb. We descent 1.5 hours to Tudaya Falls and ascent same hour from the falls to Baruring.

Some of the views captured while on our way to Tudaya Falls
Pathway to Tudaya Falls (photo with border is copyrighted by Jimmar Lagazo)

Before we descent to Tudaya Falls, we were advised to just bring water and our lunch. But what happened in my case I still brought my backpack with all essentials such as food, first aid kit, hydration system, raincoat and other important things during the climb and the backpack is a little bit heavy. I was not able to transfer my other stuff to my bigger backpack because my porter already left and will trek directly to Tumpis where we will spent our first night. Because of my situation, I had some difficulty to descend the trail to Tudaya Falls and ascend from it. But it helps me to condition my self for the continuation of the climb. After we reached Tudaya Falls, my exhaustion seems to be gone immediately because Tudaya Falls is wonderful and amazing falls. We took our lunch at the ground near the falls. We had a great time in that place.

Tudaya Falls (photos above with border are copyrighted by Jimmar Lagazo)

Tudaya Falls

After we arrived at the top from Tudaya Falls, we waited for “Habal habal” as our transportation. “Habal habal” is a single motorcycle that will bring us back to Baruring. I already experienced riding a motorcycle, but the experienced I had for “Habal habal” was different this time and I knew that it was the same thing to the whole group. Imagine a single motorcycle that will able to ride four passengers including the driver. Well, one thing that I noticed, the motorcycle tires used seems to be intended for rough roads because the tires are bigger. The rides were both quite exciting and scary because there were part of roads that was incline and we were either going up or going down. One mistake of our driver will result of our own accident. But the great thing about it, the whole group rides the “Habal habal” and all were able to get back to Baruring safely.

Next, we rested for a while at Baruring and the proper climb had been started. We trek the first part of the trail from Baruring to Tumpis. Before we started the trek, rain already started. If there is a rain, that means we expected that the trail will be muddy and slippery. The trail from Baruring to Tumpis were still easy because we pass the farm land area. We saw different kinds of vegetables along the way. To be honest, I still appreciated the scenery that I saw, well green place is beautiful to me such as farm. From Baruring, the trek lasted from 3 to 4 hours. After we arrived at Tumpis, we pitched our tent and spent our first night at Tumpis. We never worried for water source since there is small housing community in that place.

viewable area of Mount Apo (peak covered by fog)

Day 2 – Thursday – Feb 26, 2009

a morning view that greets me before we start the second day trek

We woke up around 5AM, prepared ourselves and started the second day trek at past 6AM. The plan to accomplish that day is to reach Camp 1 and Camp 2 inside the Mount Apo. From Tumpis to Camp 1, it took us 4 to 5 hours, from Camp 1 to Camp 2, 1 hour. We had our lunch at Camp 2. After Camp 2, the Boulder wherein the climb will last within 4 hours.

Base of the Mountain (photos above copyrighted by Sir Vincent)

From Tumpis to Camp 1, we passed grassland area until we reached the base of Mount Apo. Then the ascent started. Few minutes ascending the Mount Apo, we found ourselves in a narrow pathway. At first I never used my gloves, but after the incident that I was wounded because of some thorns in the plants beside the trail, I forced to used it. Since it rained, the path had water and some path are muddy. I was never surprised anymore since it’s really raining in the mountain. And muddy trail is not astonishing anymore. We continue the journey in the mountain. Mount Apo does not have a well-built strong groove to hike. This means that, the pathway is just simply the footprints of the earlier mountaineer. No stairs unlike in Mount Kinabalu wherein the trail had already built to be friendly trail. Mount Apo does not have that case. And since it rained the day before the trek and also rained during the climb, expected that the hike will be worst because the ground will be filthy and unsafe and because of that, I had been very careful. I remember that because of sloppy ground, I already expected that my shoes will be covered by water and mud. There were times, that even I do not want to glide, but I had to glide because its safer to glide and sometime because I have no choice. It was a relief that we had reached Camp 1. then we rested for 15 to 20 minutes, then we continue the exploration of the mountain until we reached Camp 2. The rain poured us while we were having our lunch. I thought we can rest there and probably build our tent, but the plan changed. The climb continued from Camp 2 to Boulder. After lunch, we continue the trek.

Inside the mountain (photos above copyrighted by Sir Vincent)

Boulder is the most difficult part of the mountain (aside from the muddy part trail). Boulder is rocky part that we need to pass. From Camp 2, we passed the dried river of the mountain, the river has lots of irregular rocks, which for me the start of the boulder challenge. Different kinds of skills to be able to pass small and big rocks. Sometimes, I have to cross one rock from another rock. Then, I have to walk to small pathway area to be able to continue the climb. This was just the river part. When, I found out that the river is not the boulder yet, there was part of me that thinking “if this is not the boulder part, then I must be expecting worst”.

The river pathway had been ended but the boulder part start off. And we saw from there the sulfur pillars. Sulfur pillars is near at the trail that we are going to stroll. And the issue will be the smell of the sulfur, that is really stinky and will cause us to vomit or difficult to breath. That was the time, I took out my mask to help me to survive trekking the path near the sulfur pillars.

While climbing the boulder part, I realized to myself, how will I able to pass this rocky part of the mountain. There was a part of me that asking myself, “Will I survive on this mountain?” And then, I just saw my self struggling to climb the rocks. I thought at first that I will never able to pass the boulder, but the wall climb training that we had in the group and my gloves really helped me to be able to pass the boulder. Boulder part has more rocks, some rocks are bigger and taller than me and will question myself “How will I be able to climb this one?”, then I have to be clever and think a way to do that. There was part of boulder wherein there was slant area, then, while climbing that part, I realized that I was near top, and I do not want to look down. I have to be really careful because the area of footprint is just enough for one step at a time and I moved myself in side way position because if not, I might fall. After passing this part, I was ecstatic because I made it to the end part of the boulder and I passed the boulder challenge.

end of dried river and boulder start off

Boulder Photos (photos with border are copyrighted by Jimmar Lagazo)

After reaching the area before 87 Degree (87 Degree is the trail that the team will take to be able to reach Mount Apo Summit), the group built the camp and we spent our night there. The night was so cold. And I cannot stay outside the tent during that time, my buddy and I spent most of the time inside the tent during that night. We just let ourselves out to have our dinner. Before I sleep, I had my complete gear for the cold condition of the mountain such as thermal wear, gloves, sleeping bag and socks. I did survive that night in the mountain.

Day 3 – Friday – Feb 27, 2009

The group planned to wake-up at 5AM so that we will be able to witness the sunrise at the Summit of Mount Apo. I woke-up before 5AM. Then I prepared myself. That time, it still a little bit dark and we started the trek with our headlamp. The group had a short walked from the camp to 87 degree. I saw 87 degree and the trail is a rock face. It was called 87 degree because of the measurement of the slope. Then, I started to climb the 87 degree. While climbing, I can hear the beat of my heart. I had mixed emotions, I felt scared, nervous, but determined to complete my climb. My pace was a little bit slower compared with other mountaineers in the group. I remember, there was a part of the 87 degree wherein I was almost at the top near in the crater lake of the mountain, I was trying to avoid to look down because I might feel something and I might fall. I tried to step forward many times but I was scared. Then, I told to myself, “you’re almost there, why are you going to stop now ?”. I looked around while I was struggling with myself. Then, I found the beautiful view of the ground, at that point I was inspired and told myself “you can do it”. Then, I was able to step forward to that difficult part of 87 degree and I reached the end of it.

Pathway to 87 degree
87 degree – trail to Summit
87 degree – trail to Summit
Crater Lake
Crater Lake
Crater Lake

Crater Lake photos (photos with border are copyrighted by Jimmar Lagazo)

View from 87 degree (this is another version of the view from the ground of Mount Apo)
(photos with border are copyrighted by Jimmar Lagazo)
(photo above copyrighted by Sir Vincent)
this is the scenic view that made me inspire to continue to climb 87 degree

After reaching the end of the 87 degree, I saw the crater lake. I was amazed. For me the small crater lake was incredible, the water was so clear. At the middle of the crater lake, there was a pressure part because there are some bubbles on it. Well Mount Apo is known as one of the stratovolacano but the last eruption was unknown.

Then, after the crater lake, I continued the climb up to the summit wherein the trail was easier compared with 87 degree.

Finally, I reached the Summit of Mount Apo at past 6AM, most of my team when I reached it, were already taking their photos. Well I did the same thing, because it is a moment in our life, reaching the Summit of the Highest Mountain in the Philippines. It so cold at the top. When I reached the top, all I can see are clouds and white sky. We waited to have some clearing. And I saw the other peak of the mountain from the other side. I saw crater lake from the summit. We saw the rising sun which still covered by the clouds. We saw sea of clouds.

Sunrise covered by clouds at the Mount Apo Summit

It felt so great that I achieved another thing in my life, I was able to reach the summit of Mount Apo. I thought this was just a dream but it became a reality. We stayed at the summit for a few minutes but then we decided to descend because of the strong and cold wind.

If ascending in 87 degree was challenging, the same thing of descending it. All I was thinking is to be careful while doing it, because I want to go back alive. After less than an hour, we reached the ground. I was relieved and thankful that I made it, I passed 87 degree.

Some of the team went to the other peak, but some decided to go back to the camp and I am one of the person who went back to the camp. Next, we had our breakfast. Then, I prepared all my stuff for the next thing, which is to descend the mountain. Descending mountain started at around 9:30 AM.

Same experience I had while climbing the boulder part of the mountain. But this time, its more difficult because the wind direction is against us and I can smell the sulfur from the bottom part of the boulder. I can also feel the heat of the sulfur excrete from the ground. My pace was slower. And that time, I totally able to see the whole boulder part of the mountain which surprised me and even myself cannot believe that I was able to pass it. After reaching the end of the boulder I was thankful again. Because I did survived in boulder. The trek lasted almost 4 hours.

Sulfur Pillar
Sulfur Pillars
Sulfur Pillars
Sulfur Pillars
Sulfur Pillars
Sulfur Pillars

Boulder photos captured during descent

Then, we trekked the dried river again. Our trek was traditional and not a traverse. This means that, the trail we took to reached the summit was the same trail to reach the ground. After reaching the Camp 2, the thing that I deal with were muddy trail and slippery pathway. Another hour passed, I reached Camp 1. After Camp 1, next was Tumpis. The group spent our night again at Tumpis. I reached Tumpis at almost 6PM that day.

While on my way and probably at the half of the trail from Camp 1 to Tumpis, rain started. This adds up to the difficulty to go down to the ground. It was so muddy, my shoes took shower with the rain, dip into the mud, covered my whole feet. Then, I have to control myself not to drift away but there were situation that I cannot helped myself. I really have to skate into the mud. There are trails that I have to crawl because there were huge trees that fall into the trail. Sometimes, I have to depend on trees, on its trunks, or other parts of the plants that I can hold on for a while to have a safe slides. From Camp 1 to Tumpis, I took it almost 4 hours, unlike with my other co-mountaineers, they just let their selves go with the flow and do not matter anymore if how many times they will fall, glide, slide into the mud. I was thankful again because I reached Tumpis and I was safe.

When I reached Tumpis, I was really tired. All my clothes that I was wearing while descending the mountain were wet. And I felt so cold. I know that from Tumpis to Baruring, the trail will be easier. But the problem was my feet. My toe nails were aching. And this was the reason why my pace from Camp 1 to Tumpis was so slow. After the whole team reached Tumpis and all were safe, the whole group were happy and enjoying. The group accomplished Mount Apo with safety. That night, most of the men in the group had fun, they celebrated and drink wine. The ambiance and the spirit that night was full of joy, joy of accomplishment. Each of us were proud to ourselves. I felt the same thing in my heart.

Day 4 – Saturday – Feb 28, 2009

We woke up around 6 AM and went down from Tumpis at 7AM. We arrived at Baruring at past 10 AM. From Baruring we saw Mount Apo, but this time the sky was clear and no clouds covering the peak of the mountain. We spent our time at Baruring for couple of picture-taking. And all of us were excited to see Davao City and have some fun after completing our Mount Apo adventure.

Mount Apo from Baruring (at last we saw the peak due to clearing)

After reaching Baruring and after I saw Mount Apo from a far, I questioned myself like this “Did I really climbed that mountain? I can’t believed that I did. I can’t believed that the climb was over”. During that time, I thought that all experiences that I had to climb that mountain were just a dream and not for real. Well, I think, Mount Apo climb is the most dangerous climb that I had so far. For me, the climb was harder than Mount Kinabalu. It is somewhat extreme for me. And I am glad that I was back on my feet and I was safe.

I was safe and I was able to write this experience here.

Mount Apo, Davao City, Davao del Sur, Philippines

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DBA Mountaineer

An IT Professional who is in love to travel to learn more about our world, like natures a lot specially mountains.

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