Climbing Mt. Apo | Kapatagan Trail


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We’ve been eyeing Mt. Apo for quite a while since we got together. We had a couple of invites from other mountaineering groups but declined them because Mercy had to stay in Manila because of work and I got most of my schedule covered by cycle tours and the like. We also agreed that we were gonna climb it together. After so many invites the we declined, we were finally able to push through last year.

A friend ours, Anjo, invited us to join him and other enthusiasts from another company on a three-day climb to Mt. Apo and back. It was not going to a be traverse because most of the participants were first timers. Yes, it sounded drastic or reckless to trek the highest mountain in the Philippines without any prior experience in climbing, but those guys were really serious.

The event was set last October, we had a month to prepare for the climb and we had many gears on our list that we had to prepare or acquire. We had no proper trekking shoes and bag to start with. Well not proper for me at least. All I had were trek packs good for day hikes or s24O‘s (Es-Two-Four-Oh). We first scoured for decent trekking shoes in different surplus shops (ukay-ukay). Now if you’re wondering why we had to do that instead of just buying a new pair shoes, it’s because you don’t want to waste (by saying waste, I mean destroy) a new pair of trekking shoes and climb it on a difficult trail on the first day. I guarantee you will not like it, especially if you’re an OC type of person.

Second was looking/borrowing trek packs that could store our gear, food and necessities for three days. Luckily Mercy’s dad had one and I was able to borrow from my cousin. Then we purchased the other things that we needed and packed it. I’m always excited with this kind of excursions that’s why I pack ahead of time. I always make a check-list and made sure I had checked out everything on the list a week before the event. (Haha) So yeah we were set for the trip. All we had to do was wait. The weather was good all week, the week before the event, so I was getting more excited. What we did not know is that on the day we were gonna embark, a typhoon or low pressure area went in PAR.

DAY 1 – On October 3, midnight, we travelled to Kapatagan where the jump off of our trail would be. It was like 3 hours or so from Davao. It was still dark when we got there and temperature started to drop. We had some problems along the way because the trail up was a bit wet and rocky. We almost resorted to walking the remaining (dunno how may Kilometres) distance to the jump off site because the vehicle couldn’t get through. It would have been a bad start if it happened.

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The jump off site, is the house of our guide. They call him Miting, or Kuya Miting. He is a local of the area and has been guiding countless climbers for years. When we arrived, we re-checked our gear to make sure that everything is complete and in place. Breakfast came after. Anjo, as usual, the cook of the group, prepared us a sumptuous meal, enough to give us energy on our first day trek to the first camp site.

At the break of dawn we were already prepared for the trail. The weather was really cold, given that we were already at a hight altitude, the rain clouds started to appear. We carried our packs but before even starting we took a group shot at the jump site. I actually brought a tripod with me, a heavy one if you might, and not an advisable gear to bring with you on a long difficult trail. I guess I didn’t follow the ‘Pack Light’ policy. (group shot!) And so it began.

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It was drizzling before we started. The cold breeze gave me chills, or something like a thrilling feel that an exciting adventure was about to begin. The trail didn’t disappoint, right from the start all I could see was an uphill trail. We passed through small villages and farm fields. Through earth and water. Me and Mercy were ahead of the group with Anjo while Banjo was with the group on the rear. Kuya Miting climbed on ahead of us, (Photo of Mercy and Anjo leading the group)

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I gotta say, I was not that prepared for that climb. I didn’t have much prior training and or exercise to prepare myself physically. Yes, I do biking but trekking on high altitude is very different. The air you breathe seems too thin that if you don’t control the way you breathe you easily get out of breath and then you get easily exhausted.  I could say we were fairly fast even though we did a lot of stops to wait for the others to catch up. It took a toll on me trying to catch up with Mercy because I didn’t want to be left behind. Also because, the more I pace with the fast group, I do my best to catch up and not tend to slack off. Man she’s fast. (Haha)

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It continued to drizzle up until we reached the rainforest. The mud slowed us down. Then add the fog into the mix, you wouldn’t dare go fast on the trail especially if it’s your first time. The cold weather did help a lot though. If it were hot during that day it would have been a lot harder. It was also the part where it got hard. The more we trekked uphill the more we got heavier so we took a break just before entering the rainforest.

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Entering the rainforest. Here is where it gets better. The trees began to block whats left of the warm sunlight and then after a while you will definitely feel your not in an urban place anymore. Nature at it’s best. Our trail master planned for us to have our lunch at the second water falls that we will pass. We kept asking how far is the second water falls from our current location because we were beginning to get hungry, the snacks just won’t suffice anymore. Of course his answer would vary from “1 hour away” or “30 minutes away” (in vernacular) but we all know that means it’s still far away.

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The next part of the trail heading towards the waterfalls is where I placed my camera back in my pack. I needed my two hands to get across the terrains and cliffs. The way towards the waterfalls is a combination of uphill and downhill. Sometimes we would hold onto tree roots or rocks because basically it wasn’t passable anymore. Two things kept popping out of mind when I was there. First was keeping an eye on Mercy and making sure she’s safe (although I was the one that had a disadvantage. Weight problems) and what comes next?

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We were slightly behind schedule when we reached the second waterfalls. We had our lunch there on top the rocks beside the falls because it was the only place available. The water was very clear you could drink it without sterilizing. It was very cold too like water with ice. The food and the water refreshed and gave us energy to push on through the remaining trail. We had the chance to rest our weary backs and legs too but as soon as we were preparing to continue it started to rain.

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Everyone quickly brought out each of their rain coats/ponchos except for me and Mercy. The jacket we brought would not ward off the heavy downpour even if it was water proof. It was my mistake to take the weather lightly that I only packed for gears that could ward off the coldness. We had no other choice but to get wet and curse the weather. I’d rather we have jackets that we can use at the campsite than wear it and still get soaked. We trudged on. (But guess what? Wet clothe equals additional weight)

After a few hours or trekking we finally got to the first campsite called “Godi-godi”. I remember it was already around three or four in the afternoon when we arrived there. By that time the rain had already stopped. We were so relieved to finally get our packs from our backs and set up our tents. We setup like a circle with our main tent in the middle. Mercy and I setup our tent under a shade incase there would be another downpour. Just as soon as we finished setting up our tent we immediately changed into some dry clothes.

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We took a nap and woke up just before dinner. Mercy didn’t even want to come out of the tent because it was really really cold. I remember stepping out of the tent barefooted and without a jacket to get some food. It was like stepping on ice that my feet went numb in seconds. During the dinner, the trail master discussed with us the changes in our plans. We decided not to make camp on the second camp site. First, because the weather had gone bad. Second, most of the group’s gear are not suitable for very low temperature. Thus, making it a bad move to continue camping above the boulders.

DAY 2 – So the next morning we came up with a plan to just pack light. Bring only necessities. In our case, food, snacks, water, camera and a tripod. We formed two subgroups, Banjo with the first group who went on early and the second group, us, with Anjo who left the campsite second. It was so different from the first day. Without our heavy packs we could freely move and even run.

The most awaited part of the trail was the boulders. We were lucky enough that it was sunny when we got there so we kinda got the chance to take pictures. I was amazed with the view from above. We also saw piled up stones which served as guide to other climbers. When on the boulders, we could also see the smoke coming out from mountain. It was actually sulfur and it smelled bad (Lol)  After around an hour of hiking we already caught up with the first group.

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We still took a lot of breaks as we needed to catch up on our breath and constantly rehydrate. We rested under huge boulders and took photos whenever we had the chance. Though it was more like the other way around. (Hehe) Mt. Apo is truly majestic as it is challenging. To be able to pass to unfamiliar terrain and see new sights is an experiencing worth having and sharing.

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This is Kuya Miting, our local guide and porter, resting on top of a boulder while waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. I was pretty amazed when I reviewed this photo. Look at the sole of his shoes. He was so fast on the trail even with like basically no spikes on his shoes. I, on the other hand had numerous slips. That’s experience and knowledge of the trail for you.

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When we got higher, just an hour before we could reach the second camp site the weather began to change again. The fog came in and blocked our sight of the peak. There were times that we could only see up to five meters away from where we were standing so we had to be more careful. One bad or miscalculated move could be a life changer. One other thing that amused us on the trail was finding blue berries. Although it was off-season we ate a fairly amount of blue berries on the way to the top.

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We were the first ones to reach the second camp site so we took the leisure of taking photos and making use of the tripod that I brought. It was a little bit off because the soil looked like white beach sand and I was on a mountain. Pretty much like a setting in The Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring. I was really freezing because the wind was already blowing hard. We thought there was already a storm coming we could hear the wind howling. We had our lunch there, our only chance to stack up energy and rehydrate because the next phase would be scaling to the peak of the mountain.

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The rest of the group already caught up with us. Guess what? More photos (Hehe) It was in this part of the climb that I remembered we had a talk regarding some other climbers that came with us on that day. They got lost on the way to the second camp site. I guess they circled up instead of just pushing top. We didn’t see them reach the second camp site that day.

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Immediately after the preparations we continued to climb to the peak. It was a bit sad that me and Mercy already knew that we wouldn’t get a chance to see the view from the peak. There was no way the storm would pass anytime soon. But what kept me going? I knew Mercy would still be happy to finally reach the peak. I mean, I too wanted to reach the peak but sometimes happiness comes when you are able to make other people happy and being there when it happens. That alone kept me excited to conquer the mountain and even more excited of what will happen next as there already was a storm.

Half way to the peak is where you will see the lake or the crater of the mountain. We couldn’t actually see the whole thing from where we were standing because of the thick fog but it was kinda creepy seeing that it was filled with water. Photos from here on out are already minimised since it was already useless trying to pull out my camera and not getting a decent shot.

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We were just a couple of meters away from the peak when we decided to take a rest behind the rocks. We used the rocks as shields from the strong wind. I had to keep leaning against it because it was already pushing me from where I was standing. I swear the wind could blow me off the mountain if it went full blast. It was there that our trail master asked the group to push on or go back already. We were determined to push through. It was just a couple of meters away. Would it hurt so much? No it did not but we did have to endure the wind. We headed to the peak and savoured the moment. We actually tried to take a group shot on top but no luck. The lens was full of moist even just after pulling it out from the case.

Even though we didn’t get to see the wonderful panoramic view from the top of the mountain we were still happy. We still got what we came for. The photo opportunity was just a bonus. We were full of smiles having to have conquered the highest peak in the Philippines. It was really an achievement. Something you could tell to your kids one day.

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We descended from the peak around two in the afternoon. We had to move as fast as we can because we needed to cover a lot of distance back to the first camp site. I tried my best to keep up with Mercy on the way down. One lucky moment though as I was scoping the area where we should supposedly see the crater from a higher vantage point. It was all covered up with fog so I didn’t really expect to have a glance of the crater. But then, the wind blew hard, clearing up the fog below and we saw it. I think it was just three of us standing on that cliff like portion when it happened. We saw the crater like for three seconds or so. Then the fog covered it again. That moment Mercy and I knew that we are going to be back to conquer the mountain again.

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Anjo and Mercy leading the way back to the camp site. I was on the rear the whole time taking photos, capturing moments as many as I could. We met another group of climbers on the way down. They were set to make camp on the second camp site. They were the ones that told us that they also saw the group of men that climbed and didn’t get to arrive at the second camp site. We were already convinced by that time that they got lost. We were only hoping that they had back tracked and headed back to the camp before dark.

The others were far behind us. Banjo and Miting guided the rear group since they were already exhausted they could not move fast. What we did was we gave our flash lights to them because we knew they were gonna get caught in the dark. We on the other hand rushed back. By saying rushed back, I mean move as fast as we can and then take photos as fast as we can. (Haha)

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This is one of the photos that I captured when Mercy climbed on top of a large rock formation. She really likes going on those risky portions. I was actually far behind when I took this photo. Just about enough day light to capture this one. A few minutes after that we were already able to get back to the camp. However, it was not really the end of the action. Just as we were about to relax while waiting for the others to arrive, it rained again. This time it was much stronger. We had to reposition our tents because the gutters we made would not cut it anymore. We repositioned somewhere higher and at a slightly sloped position so that the water won’t build up under or near the tent.

After that I started to prep our things for the next day. We had a lot of wet stuff that needed drying. Also a lot of stuff that needed to be packed. It was already dark when the rear group arrived. We waited for them to change before having our dinner. It was still raining that time and I had no jacket to ward off the cold. I just had to survive that night wearing a couple of shirts on top of each other.

After we had our dinner we noticed lights coming from the direction of the trail towards the mountain. We thought somebody was still not able to come back from our group. Then we noticed it was the guys that got lost. They never got to reach the second camp site. They went in circles and actually was half way to another trail. They were lucky they were able to bring their flash lights with them because otherwise they would really have a hard time or possibly really not being able to come back at the camp. There was no moonlight to help them see in the dark. All in all it was a good day. Time to rest and relax our muscles for we will still be back trailing the next day.

DAY 3 – The next morning was sunny. The storm had just passed as we were leaving. We could see the boulders from the camp site. Mercy actually thought of staying for another night. She wanted to come back to the peak just to see the view from the top. Well, we both knew it was a bad idea so we packed our things and went on the trail.

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It was a long way back to the plains and opposite to the first day, the last day on the trail was sunny. I was exhausted already, my feet could feel everything that I stepped on. I was heavier so my body took a toll on the downhill. We still took stops on the same spots that we took stops on the way up. As usual I was quite left behind by the lead group. I reckoned, as long as I can see them I’m good. This is where we took the chance to take some photos of the plains.

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We arrived at the drop off site all weary but contented. Even with blisters on my right toe, dead toe nail on the left. I lost my Fox gloves at the boulders and forgot our trekking pole at the Paradise. At least we were able to relax ourselves because there was a hot spring nearby and on top of that, it was free. We had our dinner after that, courtesy of Kuya Miting. It was the last meal of the excursion and our last night there. It was an unforgettable three days being there. We went on home hoping for the chance to be back in the future. This took a long while to post but I like composing it like telling a story. (Hehe) Till our next adventure.

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