Sunday, October 15, 2017

Climbing Mt Apo - Then and Now

1994 - my first climb in Mt Apo, with UP Mountaineer friends. (photo credit - Ivan Sarenas)
I first climbed Mt Apo way back 1994, as part of my team’s backpacking trip in southern Philippines including Leyte, parts of Mindanao and Cebu.  This was that time that reaching Tacloban (Leyte) by boat from Manila takes around 25 to 30 hours!  My group was the usual gung-ho type where fun is the priority, and planning was next to none.

Before the trip, one senior org member that we consulted told us that Mt Apo is “typical” and nothing to worry about.  Only to experience, unprepared - for a windy summit camp with temperature dipping to 0-degree C during the night!

I still recall some side stories – some worth sharing, just for fun ;)
-That moment when our assigned dinner cook, was seen “freezing to death” outside our tents (wind blowing hard right through our camp), shivering while haplessly taping pieces of plastic garbage bags around his exposed legs.   As we were unprepared, only 1 or 2 members carried some sort of pants.  He survived. ;)

-That desperate cry from another member, who unwisely depleted his drinking water way far from the summit camp.  Believing that learning the hard way is the best teacher – and hearing him shouting and begging for water from a distance, I quickened my pace forward and left him miserable for the rest of his climb.  Ha ha!  He would later curse me repeatedly.  He obviously survived!  And learned the lesson.

-One member attempted to light the stove (dangerously inside the tent due to strong winds), the fuel vapor whizzed out from the small stove quietly– then he flicked the lighter, igniting the air around and partly burning his hair in the process.  We all laughed!  He survived (the embarrassment) with no skin burns.
1994 climb - summit, doing a warrior shot of some sort (photo credit - Ivan Sarenas)

Overall – the climb was a great, fun adventure – and our climb story, epic!  Mt Apo, being far from home - was difficult to visit given both time and money concerns for budget hikers like myself. 
It will take another 17 years before I climb the mountain again!

2011 climb - Born to be Wild (show) episode on Mt Apo
2011 climb - met the crew (near the summit) coming from Davao side. pic c/o Marie S.

I started my 5-highest peaks-in-5-days project in 2011 partly as a sort-of-training for my Vinzon Massif climb (Antarctica), as well as to promote Philippine mountains.   The idea is to climb each mountain in one day each – to eliminate camping (and the eco-footprint that comes with it).  After day-climbing Mt Pulag in Benguet that year, my next on the list was Mt Apo.

With a small crew and limited time, we hurriedly booked our flights and took the easiest route (EDC trail).  The climb was featured in my former show Born to be Wild – the goal then was not just to have fun but to showcase the beauty of the mountain while promoting conservation.
This Mt Apo climb was short and sweet – but with good video documentation, it was more ‘lasting’.   

It will take a devastating wildfire before I was lured back to climbing it again, but this time for actual reforestation work!
About to plant a seedling in a remote planting site.   

I’ve shared a short story on why we started the reforestation project here , and as I looked back – it was simply the right thing to do.  And it’s not just about the mountain, but also consequently helping the community grow – being a crucial partner in this stewardship effort.

My next climbs in Mt Apo focused on tree-planting in a remote, rugged terrain.  On an advocacy side – I felt glad that we’re are doing this – and my hope is that those thousands of trees that we’ve planted will grow to a beautiful and lush forest.  

The adventure side of this is being able to explore and hike the ‘hidden parts’ of the mountain - steep, rocky, unforgiving!  Combine that with remnants of a dead forest and newly grown thorny bush – it was a type of rare adventure that I’d look for.  Challenging - yes, but fulfilling to see the ‘untamed’ side of the mountain and the little hopeful trees that we planted.
There will always be good reasons why one will go back and climb the same mountain…
Stunning sunsets or sunrise, majestic mountain range, superb photo opportunity, good laugh with friends, even a quiet communion with nature.

But now for me, there’s a new good reason why.   To see through that the forest regrows, and to eventually admire the future forest that we so passionately re-started and nurtured and cared for.

Mabuhay ang Mt Apo!
Near the crossroad to the summit.  

Tips in climbing the mountain
-          Be sufficiently fit, not just to survive – but to enjoy the climb!   A good climb in a fairly, difficult mountain route like Banahaw, Pulag- Akiki trail, Dulang Dulang or Kanlaon a few weeks before Mt Apo climb will be best.   

-          Bring enough warm gears, clothing and protection jacket and pants.  One shell, one or 2 alternate or layer warm jackets, a good non-cotton base layer, along with trekking pants (shell pants is optional and could be very warm and uncomfortable during day time).  I’ve experienced 0-degree C in the summit camp during my first climb so warm sleeping bag and good tent is also recommended.  As an alternative (and in case summit camp is closed), sleeping in lower camp like Venado area is better and a little bit warmer and less windy at night.  It may still reach 10-15C during cold season so proper gear and clothing is still a must.

-          Gloves and sturdy outwear (ex. stretch poly-pants, and high ventilation jackets) may prove very useful if one is exploring the bush-and-thorn slopes of Mt. Apo.  This will be a normal path if one will visit the tree-planting areas, or if one is to explore non-regular trails.
-          Sturdy shoes or boots.  Mt Apo receives a decent amount of rainfall every year so expect wet-and-muddy trails.  Unless you can tolerate, wearing shoes with no waterproofing will soak your socks and can easily ruin your day.

-          Trekking pole is recommended especially when going down.  Save your knees!
-          Bring delicious and energy-rich food for sufficient hiking power, to fight cold, and for good social dinner with your team.  forget about canned goods, freeze-dried, dried fish or lazy-hikers-packed meal.  Preserve your food and cook a good dish!

-          To make it more memorable and fulfilling – immerse yourself in social or environmental effort.  Visiting the Manobo community in Agco for an outreach side trip for example, or participating in clean-up climbs (there are tons of litters in the summit camp).  Volunteer in tree-planting activity. With last year’s wildfire that denuded 140 hectares of mid and highland forest, it will take many years before the forest regrows.  Participating in a reforestation program will help accelerate this growth, and will surely make the climbing trip more purposeful, meaningful and fulfilling! 
In many years to come, what will make the mountain memorable may not just be the memory of its awesome view or stunning sunsets – but the silent happy whispers of the trees that live and thrive.  The trees that you painstakingly planted, nurtured and cared for…

And just a reminder, if you are a beginner – don’t haste! There are few mountains that you may want to try first.  Get enough experience, meet more friends, learn enough skills, enjoy the great mountain playground – and in due time, you will be ready to climb and truly enjoy this great mountain. 

Good luck and have fun...

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