Mount Apo. Volcano in Mindanao, Philippines

Mount Apo

Volcano in Mindanao, Philippines

Mount Apo peak Photo © Edwin Lee

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Mount Apo

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Simply the highest mountain in the Philippines, Mount Apo stands proudly within the province of Davao del Sur in Mindanao. The gigantic natural wonder has an elevation of over 9,692 feet above sea level, with a peak overlooking the cities of Davao, Digos, and Kidapawan. Mount Apo is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the country, attracting over thousands of mountaineers annually.

Mount Apo has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list through the efforts of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The DENR considers the site as having one of the highest land-based biological diversity of plants and animals in the country (with over 270 known species of birds, including the endangered Philippine Eagle), along with recognizing it as the center of endemism in Mindanao. Aside from its rich concentration of flora and fauna, Mount Apo also consists of other several wonders such as waterfalls, lakes, geysers, and sulfur pillars.

The Mount Apo National Park consists of the mountain and its surrounding area, its land area spans over 64,053 hectares. Due to its sulfuric emissions, it is also a source of geothermal power with at least two geothermal plants located within its vicinity. Being volcanic in nature (solfataric and potentially active), it is not known to have ever erupted.

History

The name of Mount Apo was derived from the word “Apo”, which means “grandfather” (That’s why it’s dubbed the grandfather of Philippine mountains). Some would say that the mountain was named after a nobleman, Apong. He was killed while mediating in the battle between two suitors of his daughter.

The summit of Apo were longed to be conquered since the 1800s. The first two attempts to reach it were total failures (in 1852 and 1870). On October 10, 1880, the first successful expedition ever recorded was led by Don Joaquin Rajal and the climb was permitted by the Bagobo chieftain, Datu Manig. After the first successful attempt, many mountaineers were inspired to climb the peak of Mount Apo.

Getting There

Since Mount Apo is situated in Davao del Sur, the jump-off base to the mountain is Davao City. Davao is easily accessible to both Manila and Cebu City, and are served by major airlines such as Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. Flights going to Davao are mostly around ₱2,000 ($44) (one-way).

When you reach Davao International Airport, you can either head straight to your hotel or go directly to the Ecoland Bus Terminal. At the terminal, southbound buses are available to take you to Santa Cruz Terminal. Inform the driver or bus conductor upfront to drop you off at the Santa Cruz Terminal. Travel time between the terminals is around 45 minutes to an hour.

Upon arriving at the Santa Cruz Terminal, habal-habals and tricycles will are available just outside. Take a ride in one of those going to the tourism office at the municipal hall. After filing the paperwork (registration, waiver, etc.) and securing a permit to climb the mountain, you then have to wait until morning before the expedition starts. By morning, you will then need to get a ride to Sitio Baruring (when you get your permit, an expert tour guide will be assisting you every step of the way).

From Santa Cruz, mountaineers will have to commute to Sitio Baruring. They can either hire a private jeep for ₱800 ($18), or you can get a bus ride from Santa Cruz to Digos, then a shuttle van ride from Digos to Kapatagan (Wikipedia Article), and finally a tricycle ride from Kapatagan to Baruring. The former is easier and more convenient, but the route depends on the availability of transportation during your visit there.

Permit

Once you arrive in Santa Cruz, you (or your group) will need to secure both a permit and a tour guide to peregrinate Mount Apo. The first stop is at the tourism office at the municipal hall, where you will need to sign some paperwork to get a permit. You will also be briefed on everything that you need to know about the area, the itinerary, and the safety procedures to follow. The fees you will have to pay in the tourism office are the following:
  • ₱500 ($11) for registration and the trekking fee
  • ₱500 ($11) (per day) for a guide
  • ₱300 ($6.60) (per day) for a porter
  • ₱500 ($11) exit-fee (only if the exit-point is different from the entry-point)


Also, if you are unable to secure your own hiking/camping equipment, you can rent all of these in Santa Cruz at around ₱2,500 ($55) (includes a tent, sleeping bags, portable stoves, utensils).

Food and Accommodation

Since you will be spending 2 to 3 days trekking Mount Apo, it is required that you bring your own food/rations. All of the things you’ll need can be bought at Santa Cruz market (like bread, cup noodles, canned food, etc.) If you’re not really sure about what to buy, you can bring your tour guide with you while shopping.

The journey to the trailhead starts in the morning so you might have to spend a night in Santa Cruz. Several accommodation options are available at affordable rates (below ₱1,000 ($22)), these are Carlo Angelo Travelers Inn, Four Jewels Pension House, and the climber’s favorite, Balay ni Nonoy Pension House.

The Trail

Normally, it would take a mountaineer 3 to 5 days to reach the summit of Mount Apo. There are several trails leading to the summit/peak of the mountain, these are the Kapatagan Trail and Sibulan Trail in Davao del Sur, and the Kidapawan Trail and Magpet Trail in North Cotabato.
The most common route to the summit is the Kapatagan Trail starting in Sitio Baruring, From the Baruring trailhead, there will be mandatory registration at the nearby army camp in Lower Colan. Mountaineers will then continue their hike towards the Upper Colan, which is about 20 minutes of hiking through a thick verdant forest. The trail gets more difficult from here on out, the lush wet jungle will slow every climber down. The tour guides will walk you through the right trail (since there are plenty of trails in and out the rainforest, it’s very easy to get lost).

The first checkpoint is the Tinikaran Holding Camp, which is around 4 hours from the trailhead. This is usually where you have your lunch and regroup with your party. There is another holding camp a couple of hours ahead (Tinikaran Holding Camp 2), this is where you can get some fresh water before moving on. Right after the camp, climbers will encounter yet another dense vegetation and an area with sulfur steams.

After trekking past the steam, the next obstacle is the “87 Degrees” steep slope (which was named after its 87 degree angle). The slope is considered as the steepest part of the trail. After trekking through it, climbers will finally reach the crater of Mount Apo. The first landmark you will reach is the Peak 3, a beautiful place where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the province. Right after you descend a little bit from the peak, you’ll reach the summit camp.

At the summit camp, climbers will have to pitch tents and set camp for the night. By morning, the sunrise can be seen from the summit. The climbers will have one of the most memorable experiences in their lives. Aside from this mesmerizing feat, a panoramic view of the whole island of Mindanao can be seen from the summit of Mount Apo. The summit holds a total of seven peaks, which are all just a few minutes from the summit camp. The Peak 1 is the highest in terms of elevation and has a much better view than any other points in the summit. For some odd reason, Peak 2 has a concrete plate indicating it as the highest peak in Mount Apo even though most tour guides recognizes Peak 1 as the highest (check your altimeter and find out).

After sunrise, climbers will have breakfast and the tour guides will make sure all is prepared before starting the descent from the summit. There will be several side trips going down Mount Apo, including the Mundo Apo Hot Spring at Upper Colan, the Lake Venado (Wikipedia Article) and Lake Agco, and a night at Lower Colan, where you can experience the daily life in the village of an indigenous tribe.

Safety

Since most of the trip will be spent in Davao, it is important to be aware of your safety in this region. Because of Muslim separatists in Mindanao over the years, foreign countries have declared the area as a red zone. Despite these issues, Davao and its surrounding provinces has been considered safe for foreigners and tourists. Most people you will encounter in Baruring are already used to the large number of mountaineers visiting their town, safety procedures are always followed and they will be very helpful in assisting you throughout the whole trip.

Travel Tips

  • Bring a thick jacket or a fleece when you go on this trip. Since you’ll have to spend a few nights camping, getting cold will be unavoidable and the temperature at the summit drops to 0° to 5° Celsius during night time.
  • Be proactive in asking your tour guide about safety concerns or facts about certain checkpoints during the trek to the summit. They might forget to tell you some important things.
  • Some popular travel agencies in Davao City offer Mount Apo tour packages. The tour includes a shuttle pick-up from your hotel to Santa Cruz, assistance in securing the mandatory permit, guide fees, rentals on equipment, and a trip back to your hotel.


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Author: radiantan. Last updated: Nov 05, 2014

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