KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/30 Sept) – While many mountaineers and nature lovers prefer to take an adventure trek up the country’s highest peak during summer, some would also dare to climb Mt. Apo even during this relatively cold month of October.
With their backpacks loaded with stacks of canned goods, dried fish and a few bottles of brandy, it has been a tradition for mountaineers and students to spend their semester break at the country’s highest peak at 10 degrees Celsius, which could even drop five degrees lower during a rain.
OctoTrek is the time for some mountaineering clubs to gather their members for an organized climb.
Ging Pame, chief of the City Investment and Promotions Office, told MindaNews that the organized climb is set on October 17 to 23, which coincides with the semestral break of most schools.
The city government, Pame said, has been imposing a P500 registration fee but students get a 50-percent discount during the organized climb. Students who could not join the organized climb will have a 20-percent discount.
“We prioritize the students during this climbing season,” she said.
The city tourism, Pame added, is now accepting advance registration for the OctoTrek, which runs until December. The fee is sanctioned by the Mountaineering and Trekking Ordinance of 2006.
For beginners, the recommended trail is via Mandarangan Trail in barangay Ilomavis. This is located near the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) geothermal plant.
Pame said that with this trail, first-timers will take only nine hours to reach Lake Venado when it usually takes at least two days coming from the Bongolanon trail in Magpet and from the New Israel trail in Makilala and from Kapatagan in Davao del Sur.
In the past, hikers were allowed to pass through the geothermal plant’s Site B, where everyone would start the trek crossing Marbel River more than a dozen times.
However, in the 2000, the Philippine National Oil Company, which used to operate the geothermal plant, closed Site B for hikers. The city tourism office then opened another jump off point outside the plant.
In the past, adventurous climbers would traverse the 2,956-meter peak of Mt. Apo from one entry point and exiting on the other side. But this practice is being discouraged these days as this has become the common cause of injuries and even getting lost on the trail, Pame said.
“Even though they are accompanied by porters, we still discourage the practice because some porters are not familiar with the other trails,” she explained.
But she added that the local government will only allow climbers to go up the peak if there is proper coordination.
Under the same ordinance, a P500 exit fee will be charged to climbers who started from another trail and exit in the Kidapawan trail. “Actually, this is already a penalty because we are strictly implementing the backtrail policy,” Pame said.
In trekking the Mandarangan trail, climbers have to endure three hours of river crossing, some balancing acts on fallen logs, as well as hopping on boulders.
Climbers may opt to camp for a night at the Mainit Hot Springs, which has a small pool where you could dip in the hot and soothing water.
But trekkers must reach this site by 3 p.m. because the next campsite site is already in Lake Venado, which is at least six hours away from the hot spring.
The most challenging part of this trail is the 87-degree ridge, where climbers often say that it’s a“4×4 climb” because you have to use both your hands and feet for 15 minutes to conquer this portion of the trail. Since a few years ago, ropes and wooden ladders have been placed there to help climbers, but it is still the most difficult part, especially for first-timers.
In the coast of Lake Venado is the main campsite, or the base camp, for all trekkers during climbing season. This vast 15-hectare campsite surrounds the chilling lake, where climbers get most of their water supply for cooking and washing.
Experienced climbers and porters usually bring bottled water just enough to quench their thirst along the trail.
From Lake Venado, the peak is a two- to three-hour trek passing by thick cogon grass and wild berries. But during this climbing season, the trail is quite muddy and slippery.
At the peak, when the sky is clear, you can have a nice view of the whole province of North Cotabato, the view even extending all the way to the cone-shaped Mt. Matutum in Polomolok, South Cotabato in the south about 100 kms away and the “Sleeping Lady” mountain range in the boundary of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur about 120 kms in the northwest.
At the other peak facing the Davao del Sur province is a rejuvenating view of the Davao Gulf. Sulfuric vents are visible below this part of the peak.
Some climbers would also camp at the flat portions of the peak area.
The only problem at the peak is the source of drinking water. Aside from the little spring near the campsite, the alternative source could be the old crater, which is about 300 meters away from the camping ground.
In the past, garbage has been the problem in the campsites of the country’s highest peak. The local governments, along with mountaineering clubs and non-government organization, have conducted several clean-up drives to bring down the garbage left by irresponsible trekkers.
As a measure, the city government allows climbers to carry up to 15 kilos of baggage as stipulated in the Mountaineering and Trekking Ordinance. The climbers’ baggage are weighed in during the orientation. Climbers will be penalized with P25 per kilo per day of excess baggage.
Last year, Pame said a total of 461 climbers registered and climbed through the Mandarangan trail. The figure was relatively low because Mt. Apo was closed to climbers last summer due to El Niño, she said.
But the figure does not include climbers who passed by the VIP (very important person) trail.
The VIP trail is often used during clean-up drives, for researchers and for guests of the local government units. The jump-off point is inside the EDC, particularly at the plant’s Site H. At an elevation of 2,480 meters, Site H is at the same level of Lake Venado. From there, experience climbers can reach the peak in just three hours.
For adventurous climbers, the Bongolanon trail in the town of Magpet is also open.
Carl Tanaid, Magpet tourism officer, said they also require a P500 registration fee for every climber, with a 30-percent discount for students. Students must only bring their valid school ID, but only for undergraduates, he noted.
The Magpet LGU offers a P3,000 package to climb Mt. Apo for three days. This includes the fees for mountaineering guide, porters, equipment rental, transportation, souvenir T-shirt, food and other logistical needs.
The jump off point of this trail is accessible via Barangay Ginatilan in Kidapawan then proceeding to nearby Barangay of Bongolanon, which is already part of Magpet.
After the orientation at the tourism sub-office in Bongolanon, the two-hour trek starts going to the Anos Mountain range, where the climbers can have lunch.
Then a four-kilometer uphill and downhill trek for three hours to reach the Bob’bong mossy forest, where the climbers will have to pitch tents and spend the night. Climbers can also swim in the nearby cold spring.
On the second day is a downhill and uphill climb but a moderate part of the trek going to Lake Venado. This takes four to five hours encountering century-old trees, a mossy forest and wild flora and fauna. Then a three-hour strenuous climb to the peak.
On the third and final day is an easy three-hour downhill trek to the Lake Agco Mahomanoy resort in Barangay Ilomavis, where climbers can refresh at the swimming pool for P20.
“This is part of our agreement with the Kidapawan-Magpet-Makilala Ecotourism Program so that they will not impose penalty to climbers coming from the trails of these towns,” Tanaid clarified.