Every Filipino Mountaineer’s Dream is to conquer the peak of Mt. Apo, which is considered as the “Grandfather” of Philippine mountains being the highest at 10,311 ft. above sea level.
It was in October 2005 when TGCS mountaineering enthusiasts, while breathing the fresh early morning breeze at the peak of Mt. Kitanglad had a meeting of minds and decided to climb Mt. Apo in Kidapawan South Cotabato.
Physical and Mental preparations for the said climb were undertaken as early as May this year (e.g. Early morning jogs and Trek in local Sites, among others).
Composing the Team were: Engr. Robert Rio, TGCS Admin. (Team Leader) ; Mr. Arnel de la Cruz, TGCS CMDT.; Mr. Climaco Bernales of PMI-Bohol; MR. Elmer Pizarras of Valencia High School (Documentation Expert); THe youngest but the toughest and most unyielding member, Robert Nelson Rio Jr. Bat Com TGCS Cadet Corps and Mountaineering Club Prexy and yours truly, Mr. Oliver Arcillas – the Author.
Facing a blank wall regarding the details of the climb, Sir Bob Contacted Ms. Marife, the tourism officer of Kidapawan City and learned from her that the Apo Climb is divided into two seasons: Summer Climb, form March-June (the busier Season) and the Octotrek, From October-December ( Wet Season). For the rest of the year, the trails are closed to climbers so that Nature will have time to “Heal itself”.
When all preparations were ironed out (including wives consent of course), we sailed from Bohol to Cagayan via Cebu. Then, From Cagayan we took a six-hour land trip to Kidapawan. Thanks to the scenic terrain and good road conditions, we barely felt and discomfort during the long trip.
It was past 7 p.m. when we arrive at Kidapawan tourism office.Though we had not taken anything for supper, our spirits were high with excitement as Ms. Marife and her crew briefed us with the itinerary of the climb. Then, we made a quick tour in the city for a good place to dine and then hurriedly bought supplies for the trek.
DAY 1. We found ourselves transported by a van towards Ilomavis where a registration crew was stationed to check all climbers credentials and where accredited porters/guides can be contacted. Then we met Roel, a young Bagobo tribesman and an expert guide. Mandarangan (a smaller volcano) trail since the regular Mainit (a hot spring) trail, which was easier, was closed due to a massive landslide.
The trail was one of a kind as it was adorned with steaming sulfur at the entrance which led us down to the Marbel River (some say Marble). We crossed the rumbling torrents six times on a medium-sized logs, which were not properly secured and with nothing to hold on to. That was only a foretaste of the thrill and adrenaline pumping adventure on the three-day trek. We walked for six hours before arriving at camp 1, Ku-ong Creek, a butterfly sanctuary at 6,211.92 ft. high, which was unjustly disturbed due to dozens of trekkers pitching tents for the night.
Before sliding inside our sleeping bags we recalled how we manage through the treacherous trail and planned out the next days activity. Then, Lights off.
DAY 2. With the ultimate goal of setting foot on the peak, we embarked on another grueling three-hour trek to Lake Venado. Aware of even greater danger that beset us, we decided to do a slow-paced advance to able to cope with the technicalities of the trail. We crawled under fallen trees and Poison Ivy plants, mastered several steep slopes estimated at about 90° where you have nothing stable to cling to except secondary roots and your determined self and finally we braved through slippery and muddy trails. Challenged by these obstacles we rested ourselves on our creator for guidance in decision making and protection from the claws of death.
We reached Lake Venado after three hours of crawling, grasping for breath, and hurdling bog bridges. We felt a gush of relief upon seeing the calm and clear body of water covering the entire 5-hectare landscape. What was once a campsite is now a vast fresh water resource, which seemed to entice ever tired trekker to take a cool plunge. Robert Jr. then, was quick to draw his digital camera and too pictures of us by the lake with the peak at the background. After that short breather, we agreed to skip lunch and proceed to camp 2 (popularly known as the “saddle” as the landscape suggests), which requires another 5 hours (shorter for the experienced climbers) to climb in an open but equally dangerous terrain. At first we thought it would be easy but as we moved on, the sudden change in air pressure and temperature slowed us down. So, we had to stop for a replenishing of the energy lost. It was past 3 p.m. when we had our much-needed lunch at the Mt. Apo marker, which was more than 9,000 Ft. high. We reached the saddle at exactly 5 in the afternoon. At the saddle, we hurriedly pitched our tents, prepared our dinner as we started to feel the biting cold of the night wind. Being not used to this kind of weather and altitude, we showed some signs of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) like shortness of breath, cough and colds and even fever. We really had a hard time adjusting to these conditions.
Feeling claustrophobic inside the tent, Robert and I decided to spend sometime outside the tent watching constellations and playing with our headlamps like Jedi laser swords as the light strikes through fog while Sir Arnel was sleeping like a log and snored like a 10-horse power engine. It was 4 a.m. when we finally retired.
DAY 3. We finally planted our feet and shared another photo ops on top of the grandeur that was APO. As Sir Arnel prepared breakfast and lunch, Robert and I climbed the second of four peaks towering the saddle. The second peak was facing Davao and overlooking the crater of the Philippines highest volcano..
But the thrill and the drama didn’t end there because we still have to descend from peak to where we started. Instead of taking the same route, our guide pointed us to the Mainit Trail because the Mandarangan Trail was almost impassible. The challenge in going up was doubled since we tackled the trail under heavy rains and thunderstorms. Things never quit tickling our minds as we heard the tales of seven lost mountaineers while crossing the river after the rains.