Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mt. Apo, 1994

Mt. Apo is the Philippines' highest mountain. Standing at more than 10,000 feet above sea level, it's actually less than 1/3 the height of Mt. Everest (29,000+ feet). Nonetheless, climbing the country's highest point is a dream for many new and aspiring mountaineers. Our group, Congress Mountaineers, planned a 1-week, 3-mountains to climb in Mindanao, on holy week of 1994. Seven of us -- Peachy Tiongson, Coco, Jules, Toto Gestuveo, Jun Velasco, Gene Penas and myself, set for this trip. Within 1 week, we should be able to climb Mt. Apo (Davao-Cotabato provinces), Mt. Kitanglad (Bukidnon), and Mt. Hibok-hibok (Camiguin), in that order. We wanted to save, so we took the Superferry from Manila to Cagayan de Oro City (about 35 hours), then bus from Cagayan to Davao via Agusan provinces (about 9 hours).

First stop was rest and recreation at Seagull resort, Davao City, owned by then Cong. Dureza, Toto's cousin. It was a full night of swimming, drinking and partying! We woke up the following day a bit groggy, but happy. We left the city late in the day, and travelled to Kidapawan, North Cotabato; we slept on a mountain resthouse in a barrio, where a vehicle will pick us up the following day to bring us to the jump-off point of Mt. Apo.

After an early breakfast, a 4wd vehicle picked us up. We started the trek around 8:30am on a river. It would be a river trail at the beginning. We passed by a PNOC geothermal production or exploration plant in the mountain. No logging activities, except those in cleared areas where the power plant is located. We saw many huge trees, mostly dipterocarp species, but the biggest that I saw on the trail was a huge almaciga tree, circumference about 3-4 people on a circle arms spread apart.

We reached Venado lake, a wide open area that becomes a swampland during the rainy season, about 2pm. On summer months like this, the lake is small, the dry flat land is wide. This place is about 3x the area of UP Diliman's sunken garden, I think. Most climbers would rest here for a night, have party in the evening, and climb Mt. Apo's summit the following day. That was also our original plan. However, we got some momentum, and didn't find staying in the place too inviting, so after a few minutes rest, we decided to continue the climb up to the summit on the same day!

That was a decision that would prove to be discomforting later. At mid-afternoon climb, we were covered by trees, then tall grasses (cogon/talahib) at a deforested area protected us from cold winds. By 5:30pm however, the tall grasses are gone, so we got exposed to chilly winds and the cloudy sky was getting darker, our visibility getting murkier. So we had to walk faster to keep our bodies warmer, but it was simply getting colder. We were separated from each other temporarily as the stronger ones were on the front while the more tired ones were left more than a hundred meters behind. I reached a relatively flat camping area a few meters from the summit around 6:30pm; by then, it was dark, I was chilling, and I could not find the others. I got scared and thought that I got lost!

A few minutes more and I could hear their voices calling out those who were left behind. I was appeased and went straight to the first tent that was set up to rest and put on 2 layers of jackets. We sensed that there could be some mild typhoon coming because the weather was rather harsh. After eating dinner and a few shots of vodka (Gene's favorite), we slumped our tired and cold bodies inside our warm tents.

We woke up past 6am refreshed, cooked and ate our breakfast, and headed to the summit. To the top of the country's tallest mountain! There weren't big and tall trees on the top, only dwarf trees and plants, including dwarf bamboos like those in Mt. Pulag. We took pictures, sat at the summit, and waited for the thick clouds to disperse so we can see the lowlands, the provinces of Davao and Cotabato. We waited for more than 2 hours. When we realized that it's pointless to continue waiting as the cloud seemed to be as thick as they were 2-3 hours ago, we decided to pack up and leave the place. Our original plan was to stay here for another night.

Since we started late (almost 10am), we descended fast. We moved fast on our way to Venado lake. After the lake, we met many climbers, both mountaineers and ordinary hikers who just plan to have a picnic at the lake, brought with them live chicken and small pigs/goats to slaughter and cook in the lake. We slowed down as we had to give way to those who were ascending. We reached the jump-off point where we started the other day about 5pm. The driver of the vehicle nearby that would meet us was surprised and unprepared since he was supposed to meet us the following day. Actually he was surpised I think at how fast we climbed and descended the mountain.

From the mountain, we went to Toto's place in Digos, Davao del sur. So happened that there was a family or clan reunion at Toto's place, so there were lots of food and beer that night. Some of us got drunk and were knocked down to the sofas later that evening.

The following day, we savored once more our achievement of reaching Mt. Apo's summit and descending safely. Of course, stories of how drunk some of us were the other night added spices to the laughter.

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