I am lounging on a beach in Samal Island. My aching legs are resting comfortably on a wooden table in front of me. The scorching sun is up, the sky’s blue as well as the ocean. I could see Mt. Apo from where I’m sitting. The summit is clear and the weather is good for climbing.
I was in elementary when I first heard of its name and why it’s known to all Filipinos. It is the highest mountain in the Philippines with an elevation of 2,954ft above sea level. Back then, I never realize how that knowledge would affect me, not until I fell in love with mountaineering. It’s all Filipino mountaineers’ dream to climb Mt. Apo and I was one of those dreamers. The dream of climbing it and reaching its summit clearly resonated in every mountain top I stepped on.
While I idly sit at the beachfront, I am reminiscing the past two days I have spent in that mountain. Waves of emotions come rushing all over me. Then there’s sadness…sadness NOT because of any bad experiences…NOT because of all the challenges…but because I am missing Mt. Apo…the experience…the views…that incomparable peace and freedom while hiking.
So soon I think…
Being lulled by the scene, everything flashes back like clips in an adventure movie…
Three days ago, I, with four of my friends who have the same dream to pursue that day, woke up in a small native house at the foot of Mt. Apo. It’s a small village called Paradise. Our hips were still aching from a long and bumpy habal-habal ride from yesterday. And today was the day we were all waiting for, the first day of the climb, the day to make our dreams come to reality. There were clouds but the modest sun still shone giving its promise of a perfect day. The morning was cold but our high spirits kept us warm. The adrenaline pumped up to the breathtaking sight of Mt. Apo – enormous and enigmatic. The mountain was laughing at me saying “You cannot climb me”.
We completed our breakfast with a hot cup of coffee. Our uttered prayers resounded up to the mountain top asking for safety and guidance as we explore His wonderful creations.
At 6AM, we started our trek along the gentle landscapes neatly lined with thriving farms. The morning fog pleasantly welcomed us on the trail. The chayote branches were supported that may not break down under the weight of the fruit. Cabbage and potatoes were almost unheeded on the ground.
We hiked up and danced through a long and muddy trail, played limbo rock with the fallen, mossy tree trunks, fascinated with floras and faunas we saw and enjoyed the scent of dewy green leaves all around us. As we went further, the trail became steeper and trees became bigger like those in the Lord of the Rings movie. Before long, we reached the stream where we refilled our water bottles. The trail constantly changed hour by hour. It was like entering different dimensions I have never been before. Earlier, we started our trek in a farmland before we reached the muddy trail, we were surrounded by huge towering trees after and then we reached the rocky and gravelly part with an 80 degres assault to the summit. Such a challenging trail! After more than 10 hours of walking, the stamina slowed down but the determination and goal of reaching the summit always brought it back up. The final ascend began in late afternoon. It was an approximate 82 degrees direct assault to the summit on a rocky and gravelly trail. Our lung capacity was affected by the sulphuric gas that filled the thin air. The last traces of cultivation and last hardwood trees were left behind as we ascend into a cool atmosphere of exquisite purity.
The last hour was a test of faith and determination – a 90 degrees ascend under the dark sky where you need to be friends with your headlamp and remaining energy for the day. We began climbing steep rocks, negotiating each step as we focus from ledge to ledge.
I was standing on a small rock several hundred feet in the air and I had no choice but to hoist my body to the next small ledge above me.
Our hike continued to that meandering trail, then around 7 in the evening, we reached the summit safely.
Too tired for that days climb, everyone went to bed early…
I laid still in the cold, dark in my sleeping bag. Shivering in the keen and frosty air, I pulled my emergency blanket and waited till it gets warmer. It took a while for me to sleep.
I was awakened from a restful sleep by the light of the day. I rose from my bag to be greeted by the smell of cool and sweet mountain air. It was a sunny day and my muscle ached as I crouched down to boil water for coffee. Over our breakfast, the guides and the group planned our days hike. Our second day’s hike was mostly downhill, past the Lake Venado, some cliffs, 7 rivers then meander over and through small hills until we reach Lake Agko Resort in North Cotabato where we would spend a night before we go back to Davao City.
We cleaned our campsite before we went to the summit.
Finally, there I stood at the highest point in the country. It was an overwhelming feeling that’s really hard to explain. I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one’s life and sigh. Splendid! I looked around as I stood on a huge rock. I could see hills covered by clouds below. The light of the rising sun that time glorified the sierras and as a dew fell, aromatic odour made the still air sweet. Mt. Apo has reserved his choice of gift for us who stood in its summit. But the time to go had come…and it never ended there, several grand views waited us on our way down.
Lake Venado was still, mirroring the luscious green trees that surrounds it. From there I could hardly see the summit anymore. The trail down was as muddy as the trail going up. After a long walk, the light of the sun had left us once again. We passed by an open space where great fires of tree trunks were burning cheerily with the Manobo Tribe round them. This friendly crowd invited us for coffee. We socialized with them before heading back to trekking. Soon enough we crossed the first out of the 7 rivers. Our legs and feet were soaked in a cold. Refreshing but it became uncomfortable after another walk.
11 hours of walk and we completed descend. In less than 5 minutes of our arrival in Lake Agko Resort, rain poured down heavily. We thanked our Lord Jesus for waiting us to complete our climb first before He poured his blessings to the land.
After this journey it’s not like “Hey I told you I can conquer you” in fact Mt. Apo was right the first time – and like all other mountains, it’s Mt. Apo who has conquered me.
This was the best extreme adventure and hard core experience to date and many more to come… Another dream has just been checked on my bucket list. Oh, I just love life!
Sharing some photos I took during the hike: