Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Once Upon A Hike Up Mt Apo, Philippines

Mt Apo, at 2,950m above sea level, is the tallest mountain in Philippines.  The shortest trek is about 15km, and takes a minimum 2 days to complete the trail.  You would think you could do it in 1 day, technically, if you don't count day and night, you could possibly, but you wouldn't want to do it in the dark.  Every year, they have a race up Mt Apo and the record time at the moment is held by a local at 12H.  Interestingly, the race consist of mountain biking, running up and down and white water tubing for the last leg!!
My expedition started with online research on how to go about doing a trek up Mt Apo.  There are several routes, the more common ones involving Kapatangan-Kidapawan or Kapatangan-Kapatangan or Kidapawan-Kidapawan.  Note that as I mentioned in my previous post Climbing Mt Apo The DIY way, Kidapawan trek involves about 6 river crossings which could get dangerous during the rainy season or when it rains.  If you do not want to get wet, avoid Kidapawan. 
After much research, I decided to go with Mt Apo Adventures who organizes group trips up Mt Apo via the Sibulan Trail (which is Kapatangan-Kapatangan), one of the easiest trail.  Sir Albert Gabriel (adventuregabo@yahoo.com) is very helpful and did a good job organizing the trip.  My email to him was replied almost on the same exact day and all questions were answered without me even meeting him!  His packages and prices are all listed in the website link I provided (just click on the Mt Apo Adventures), and they are pretty reasonable given that everything is provided for.  If you are looking at doing other trails (his website does provide the different trails), you can email and ask him about it and he can advise you on it.
I find this the most value for money as they include practically everything - food, tent, sleeping bag, hiking sticks, transportation and even 1 night stay at Davao city!  For my single air-con room (with cable TV and attached bathroom), it costs approximately P560 per night with breakfast.  The hotel is D'Counter Executive Dormitel which I would say is pretty value for money.  There is hot shower too if you ask.  As I wasn't going to bring a fleece jacket, Sir Albert even provided a fleece jacket for me, free of charge!  Plus, we get a souvenir T-Shirt (which is pretty cool) and certificate after the climb.  Putting two and two together and considering all the factors, I decided to go with him.  There were 11 of us in the group, so the cost per person was P4,700.  Pretty value for money I would say.
And so it was, on the 28th January 2014, I found myself up at 6am in the morning, met up and sat through the briefing with Sir Albert and also made payment for the hike.  Our 11 people consisted of 4 locals, 2 Chinese, 2 couples living in Australia and me.  And accompanying us were 6 porters and 1 guide (Aman).  Our little van took us to Kapatangan drop off point within about 3H and we started the hike just after noon.  Weather was pretty good on the first day of hike and it was all uphill in the forest.  Before we get into the forest though, we had to walk through thick bushes, if you do not want to get cut on your legs/arms, wear protection on them or change into long pants before changing back.  Me, I just went with the cuts.  The first day hike was a lot of 60 degree incline in the forest, some parts are a little slippery.  There are markers on the branches in case you fall behind the pack but in some areas, the markers are not as clear.  Generally it was not too difficult to follow.
Passing by the village

Our group quickly separated into 3 - Us 5 (Australians and me) with our guide were at the front, then the 2 Chinese, and the 4 locals were way back.  Technically, the forest part was not very difficult going up.  If you have done Kinabalu, this is not too difficult but without the nicely paved steps.  Our group arrived in Camp 1 in 3 hours, and the others followed an hour later.  Between the beginning (where we passed through 2 villages) and Camp 1, there is no water source, so pack your water source sufficiently.  There is a slow stream at Camp 1, where the water is drinkable.  If you are more conscious, you can bring purifying tablets.  Me, I drank the water and I'm fine!

Camp 1 - our tents
Our 3 porters (with the food and half the tents) got 'lost' somewhere.  Well porters don't get lost, but 2 of them technically waited for each other at opposite ends and ended up just waiting at the wrong place until our guides went down to find them.  So our dinner got delayed, and while we waited, it was freezing cold!  I was wearing 3 layers - Long sleeved shirt + Down jacket + Fleece, and 2 layers of pants (thick leggings + pants) and beanie and gloves.  Please be prepared for the cold at night because it IS REALLY COLD!!! Temperatures drop to 2-8 celsius at night.
Dinner was freshly cooked by our porters and guide and was pork sinigang with rice on the first night.  If you have special dietary restrictions, tell Sir Albert and he will arrange.  I got my fish and eggs.  Everyone just conked out right after dinner as we have an early morning start the next day.  It is essential to really keep warm to get a good night's sleep.
The next morning, woke up at 6-ish and had our breakfast of hot milo with luncheon meat and rice. Once again, my special was eggs with bittergourd.  Then it was break camp, fill water and onwards travel.  Do fill up the water at this stage as there will NOT be any waterholes until you reach the summit. 
Breakfast time

The hike up to Camp 2 was pretty steep and still within the forest area.  We took 1H to get to the start of the boulders.  (*Note:  when I mention "we" I mean the group of 6 of us - Australians and me and the guide.  As an estimation, the rest of the group was about 1-1.5H behind us) After which it was a 2 hour hike/climb up the boulders.  Compared to Mt Kinabalu, these are looser and jagged rock surfaces whereas Kinabalu was relatively flat rock surfaces.  I did Kinabalu in 1 day meaning I was at the rocks mid morning when the sun was shining bright and it was more difficult then with the altitude and the sun.  Mt Apo boulders going up, though looser rocks, I didn't feel too much of the thin air and the sky was a little cloudy so was not as tough.  But with loose rocks, it meant that some parts were a little tricky.
We had a short lunch break when it started to rain.  But we have come too far to NOT make it to the top.  So we took a 30min hike up to the mirror summit just for the sake of it (though we really couldn't see anything as fog was everywhere!!).  Then it was a 15min hike down to our campsite for the night near the summit.  It was 130pm when we arrived.  This camp site was beautiful, right within the valley.  There is a water source here but the water tasted a little sulphurish, although it is still safe for drinking.  Then we all settled into our tents to seek warmth while the rest arrived later. 

Misty campsite
With the foggy weather, we knew there was no chance of a sunset, but still we tried our luck and went up anyways.  No sunset but the view was pretty awesome.  Our dinner that night was Pasta with Tomato sauce and tuna.  Everyone just went crazy when we saw pasta! Something other than rice :)  It was pretty good! 

As soon as we were done eating, it was lights out as the next day we had to wake up at 430am for the sunrise.  The night was really freezing cold.  Up here, the temperatures probably dropped to -2 and it was too cold to sleep.  Note to self and others - Keep your feet super warm because my feet were freezing cold and couldn't sleep because of that.

Next morning at 445am, we went up to the highest point of Mt Apo for the sunrise (about a 15min hike).  And we waited, in the freezing cold, for the sun to slowly rise up.  It was really amazing view as  you can see Davao below, samal island and talikud island.  We stayed up there for an hour or so taking pictures and just revelling in the feeling of being on top.  Not to mention shivering in the cold.

Mighty 5 (haha) - Cold.....
After a quick breakfast, it was break camp and we started our descent at 730am.  Going down, it is best to start as early as possible as you do not want to be caught in the afternoon showers or going down in dimming lights.

Me and the guide/porter

Crater Lake
The hike down brought us through a different boulder path than we came up and the view was amazing! With the great weather, we were just in awe of the view presented before us!  Going down boulders is not my strong point and I'm not good at it as rock surface and loose rocks are tricky for me.  We took 3H to get down to camp 1 where we waited a while for the rest of the group.  They were approximately 2H behind us.  After a short break for lunch, we continued our way down in the forest.  Going down in the forest, it was slippery and steep.  Some of us slipped a fair bit.  Hiking stick helps to keep your balance, but mine broke just before we entered the forest.  But thanks to my Kampung Addidas, I was able to get a better gripe of the soil and just hang onto the trees and roots for support!  Another 3 hours brought us from camp 1 to our drop off point and the trek finally ended at 230pm for the 6 of us. 


Waiting at the drop off point, we contemplated getting our own transport back to Davao first as the others were too far behind.  But after lots of waiting and negotiating, 2 hours gone and the rest of the pack arrived. We saw no point in getting another van with the rest of the group back again.
The van dropped us back at the hotel after about 3 hours and it was time to wash up and clean off the 3-day dirt!
All in all, it was a really good experience.  Was tough at some parts, and the cold at night was unbearable at times, but the experience was great!  Our guide was really nice and had a lot of experience climbing the mountain.  The itinerary was pretty well planned and the timings provided were rough estimate to buffer for the slower hikers.  Food was pretty good.  Do note that climbing Mt Apo does require stamina and training.  If you are those who never exercises, please do not try it.  At least train a little before you go.  Unless you exercise regularly, then it is not that bad.  I didn't train but my regular exercise did help me along the way.  It is NOT a walk in the park.  Especially since you will be carrying a pack on your back, which really adds load onto you.  So pack light.  You don't need a new set of clothes everyday.  Going with an organized group means that you don't have to pack food or tents so it helps.  Do bring along trail food or munchies for you to snack along the way. 
Also, if you 'worry' about your clothes getting muddy and dirty, bring those you are going to discard.  I throw away all my hiking clothes, except for the winter wear.  The T-shirt, the long sleeve shirt, the socks - All thrown away.  There is absolutely no way to shower, unless you are willing to brave the cold night and wipe yourself down with a wet towel.  And plenty of rubbish around also.  Basically the group pack their rubbish (plastic, cans etc etc) up and leave them at a corner.  But, I got to know from a divemaster that once or twice a year, they do a massive clean up of Mt Apo, especially after the Holy Week.  Groups of porters will go up Mt Apo just to collect these rubbish down to dispose.  Though could have done with more frequency.
Possible to do it in 2 days? Yes of course!  We had quite a lot of lax time given we arrived at Camp 1 at 330pm, and at the second day campsite at 130pm.  So, could have pushed on a little bit more on the first day, especially if you start earlier.  We started at 1230pm, so if you started 2-3 hours earlier, easily you could have been up to the summit campsite at the end of the first day which would cut it down by 1 day.   Our guide told us a 63-year-old guy did it in 2 days! Must have been a really fit grandfather.
Other than that, just go and have fun, enjoy the scenery and make the most out of it! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks! great post and great pictures, truly inspiring!