Saturday, May 26, 2012

Turning a quarter of Century at Mt. Apo.

When you’re about to turn 25 and the world is about to end (December 21, 2012 the Mayan calendar predicted) you want to achieve something that you will be able to brag about. Something like losing your virginity (not literally darling! But if you want, it's your choice. ahaha!). Like conquering a challenge and  telling that tale about your adventure to some uncharted territory.

Mine is a tale of adventure. Of conquering a mountain, not just a mountain but considered the tallest mountain in the country! Yes, I think I deserve this bragging right. :)

There are five existing trails going to Mt. Apo (Bansalan, Kapatagan, Sibulan,Makilala, and Kidapawan). Kidapawan seems to be the ‘easiest and fastest’ trail for Apo virgins like us. Teneee.

So why Mt. Apo this year?

Three years ago, our intern Jamir Ocampo wanted to climb Mt. Apo. So he dragged me, CJ and Melody to join him. We had no previous experience with climbing yet. Our partner in Kidapawan, concerned with our welfare made us met one of the guides from Guardians of Lake Venado. They made us realize how hard it is to climb Mt. Apo, the  “grandfather of all mountains” in the country. We retreated with our plans. We stayed overnight at Bongolanon Falls instead. We tried trekking some parts of the river. We experienced the cold and thank goodness, we followed their advice. But I made a simple vow on that waterfalls looking at the peak: “Before I turn 25, I will go to your peak Apo Sandawa. That’s a promise.”

The failed Attempt
My katropa during our stay at Bongalon Falls. I secretly made a vow on that day (March 9,2009). 
And as my birthday’s fast approaching, I was reminded by that vow. Having two previous mountaineering experiences made me confident, and knowledge on what to expect . I prepared the itinerary, contacted local motorcycles,  guides and walked/jogged every day. Most of those I invited were adamant. Except for Krizzy who still got to negotiate for her office leave. With or without companions, I was determined.

Two days before leaving, Mark Gerongay (a mountaineer and co-worker of Krizzy) was so concerned with our safety. He’s a member of Tribung Mindanao Mountaineering Club (TRIMMOC) and he advised us to take his friends as our porter-guides instead.

Local guide’s price is P300 per day including food. Theirs is P400 per day. But Mark assured us that they would treat us as “princesses”. Haha!

So on Tuesday midnight, Mark introduced me to Elvis.  A man with an easy smile. We talked about food and some arrangements. I had some problem with the cooking set that Melody was about to provide, Elvis assured me that he will take care of everything. Wow! He took the money for the food and I am impressed by his budgeting skills!  

Then another friend, Cocoi Paloma of Sunstar Davao decided to come along! Hurray! It will be a five-team: 2 women and 3 men!

Just enough for the adventure.

May 10,2011. We met the other porter-guide mountaineer Glen Truz. With little introductions made, we start to talk and laugh around with some silly jokes. We took the van in SM going to Kidapawan to stay for the night. At 930PM, we arrived in Kidapawan and stayed with Willie, a high school good friend and now working with the geothermal plant as chemist. (personal note: THANK YOU dearest for adopting us that night. For the tinolang manok and for just being a gracious host. I love you to bits! J)

May 11. I contacted the habal-habal driver who will take us to Brgy. Ilomavis. At 5AM sharp, he waited for us. We are quite concerned with Krizzy’s loaned out bag with metal! She’s having difficulty as it bangs her head. A bag useful for mountains with high and slippery snow-filled terrain like Mt. Everest but we think it’s not for Mt. Apo. Elvis and Glen took out the curve metal but the back support metal is still there and it’s still heavy. Glady, Cocoi is such a gentleman who offered to take the bag (but in exchange of eat-all-you-can treat in Buffet Palace).

We arrived in Brgy. Ilomavis at around 6:45AM. Before starting any trekking, we bowed our heads to say grace to our Lord and to ask for guidance.  Passing through Marble River is somehow an easy feat with 6 bamboo bridges made. We bet it was made for the many climbers during the Holy Week. We took our lunch in one of the clearings.

Marble River Crossing!

 After three hours of river crossing, the Mainit Hot Spring campsite will be reached. Take note: You must reach this campsite before 3:00 PM as the next camp site, Lake Venado is still 5-6 hours away.

We ate our lunch fast. A thirty minute rest then we start our agony walk again. We met 4 climbers going down. Kidapawan trail is most known as exit trail as Lake Agco, offering cold swimming pool and hot bath is located at the foot of the mountain. Great for soothing aching muscles. After hours of walking, it’s relaxing to meet other people whom you think are having the same difficulty as you. Misery loves company after all.

We passed through thick forest, and some “killer trails” ranging from "87-degree" to  "90-degree" trail. The buwis-buhay bamboo stair was put in place made vertical sections easier to climb.

The buwis buhay (life-risking) slippery stairs.
When climbing these sections, you need to focus your energies. Preparing physically for the climb is not enough. The strong mental attitude is another thing. Every climber must know this. Facing a challenge head on is a great feeling. And asking “malayo pa ba? (Is it still far?)”is a big no no for climbers. Enjoy the experience.

Cocoi and Krizzy know this. We all know this. So we try to make a joke, sing Ironic (Cocoi shared that according to one study, singing Alanis Morrisette songs is good for mountain climbing) and share our physical preparation for this climb. Cocoi and his family is into biking. Krizzy was supposed to walk her dog Coco every morning but she confessed she didn’t follow the physical preparation. All she brought is positive attitude.  AHA!
Finally, Lake Venado. 
Despite a slow pace, we managed to arrive in Lake Venado at 3:30PM. There’s a pitched tent. And I was surprised that there’s even a sari-sari store in the lake! You can buy anything but for a higher price. 1 liter of Coke is P150. A pack of cigarette is P100. A sachet of oil is P20. Well not bad, as you have to expect the kind of labor exerted when they haul that products. Aaaahhh..the very enterprising Pinoy. No matter the odds, opportunies will come and someone must grab that. 
Good morning Apo!
The shanty you see is a sar-sari store! The ever enterprising Pinoy! 
Basic rule in mountaineering: Leave nothing except footprints!

I was even disappointed with a huge pile of garbage near the water source. I was told that climbers ranges from 300-1,000 every Holy Week! Even at once or by batches. And the area around Lake Venado is packed during the ‘peak season’. I can’t imagine the time when these people pooped at the same time! Oooohh!

That’s why I don’t like large organized climbs. I was invited during the April 28-30 climb with 300 climbers (previous year counted around 800!). A mountain has a carrying capacity. Mt. Apo being as the famous one and a declared National Park (under the National Integrated Protected Area System or NIPAS, RA 7586) need a close monitoring for the climbing activities here. Management of the area does not entail political geographic boundaries.  In 2009, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also submitted the country’s highest peak to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. I remembered one instance wherein Kidapawan prohibited entry to the peak as rehab and cleaning of Lake Vendao. Bansalan continued. I don’t know how the Mt. Apo Management Council takes this pressing issue. Or if they are still functioning. Banana and oil palm plantations are slowly encroaching on communities at the foothill of Mt. Apo. 

Back to our predicament. After the difficult ascent, the next landscape that awaits is the swampland that signals Lake Venado. Muscle started to cramp. The wind howled chilling the bones! Thank God, my  trip to Netherlands at the tail-end of winter somehow prepared me with what kind of coldness to expect.  We tried to help the boys in pitching our tents.

We changed clothes and just used wet wipes. And true to their words, Elvis and Glen wouldn’t let us help in cooking. We’re too happy to oblige. After dinner, rain started. And we heard two climbers (A Turk man and a Japanese woman) just arrived from the peak.

May 11. We met the 2 foreign climbers and their guide. Their guide played and taught us how to play Frisbee in style. He also gave us their pasta, sauce and noodles. Tamang-tama dagdag handa sa birthday ko! :) 
Goooooooooooooood morning! Koreanovela superstars.  

From Lake Venado, there’s still 3 hours of trekking before reaching the peak. After eating breakfast, we started our climb. It’s rocky, full of wild berries and some cogon grass. You can see also the peak of Mt. Tamayong and you’ll understand why it’s called Lake Venado. It came from the Manobo word ‘venao’ meaning ‘deer’. On top, you can see the outline of the deer. J

Krizzy and I enjoying the view.

Vandals at the stones at the peak campsite. TSK!
We had lunch at the peak campsite. Walked around, marvelled at the rock formations but was dismayed by the garbage left and the vandals. 

A ten-minute hike and we’re on the summit at exactly 11:40AM! Piles of stone were put by climbers at the center. Each of us added one stone on the pile. Of course, we documented our ascent. If it’s not too foggy, you can view the boulders of Kapatagan, the old crater and the “Solfatara".

TEAM WACKO conquered APO!

Paying homage to the grandfather. 

Overlooking boulders in Kapatagan trail and the Solfatara .

First plan was to spend the night at the peak but constant raining every night might not be a good sign. So we have to go back at our tent in Lake Venado. The descent is harder on the knees.

Krizzy and I are joking we looked like we wrestled in mud, while oour two guides looked like they have just been walking in a park!

We saw a black myna bird that accompanied us in our trek downhill. Glen said it’s very unlikely. A spirit that guided us in our trip.

Just when we arrived at the clearing of Lake Venado, it started to rain. We change dour clothes and spend the rest of the afternoon playing cards. And exchanging Pinoy banats. Boy! I’m so blessed to have these people.

May 13. Hoooray!!  Woke up at 5AM and walked around the lake. I watched the summit with awe and murmured a little prayer to my Savior for the marvellous 25 years of my life.
Happy birthday to me. And happy mother's day to all mothers of the world!


“Reaching the peak, seeing the whole landscape, I felt infinite, yet very small being surrounded by grandeur of Almighty’s creations. It’s my personal pilgrimage. My personal vocation of knowing something unimaginable,..the unspeakable calmness when you reached the peak. The sense of leaving unnecessary things behind. That everything you need to survive is in just one bag. It sensitizes your 5 senses. Just you and the universe and the people you need to stick with.”
Ascent is hard. Descent is harder! But somehow ‘easier’ as we knew the trail already. Jokes abound. And the thought of a hot bath and coooooooold cola keep us going.

Lake Agco. Hot bath and the cleansing ritual. 

We arrived at Lake Agco at around 3:40PM. Booked a room and started our cleaning ritual. Ended the day with stories (hair raising stories that Glen and Elvis encountered several times of climbing Apo) and our team assessment. Yes, our guides  are very professional. 

Everything settled. Everybody fulfilled. We slept soundly. 

Yes. I turned 25 folks. And Mt. Apo conquered me. This is the tale I would like to share. 



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