After a very comfortable sleep, we woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning at Godi Godi. We had a quick breakfast and in next to no time were already breaking camp and preparing ourselves for the remaining 5 hour trek to the campsite. At first, I was kind of apprehensive in the sense that I felt that we could have allotted more time to cover more ground on this day so that we could lessen our hiking time during the final day. Or maybe we should have just pushed through the previous day since we arrived at the campsite with plenty of daylight left. I was thinking of ways we could have saved time but that outlook would change fast real soon.
We were oriented once more about the schedule we intended to follow while trekking to the summit campsite. The sign said that it would take 4 to 5 hours to reach the peak but basing from our experiences, it was difficult to put too much store on it (thus the apprehension of wasting time). We were told that after exiting the forest line, we will be on the boulder trail all the way to the crater lake. If we got lost or confused, we were advised to just stay by the side of the sulfur vents because that path will eventually lead to the summit. We were targeting to have lunch on the “white sand” area of the trail, just before the 90 degree assault to the crater lake. From there, the campsites would be relatively nearer, just an hour or so we were told. I would like to add by the way that while sir Johnmurs was busy orienting us about trek schedules and paces, Vernz was busy trying to catch the perfect jumpshot over the campfire site. Adik lang. 😀
It was almost 9 o’clock to the dot when left Godi-Godi and for a while, the trail remain unchanged from the moss-covered rocks and overgrown trees. After about 20 minutes or so, that’s when we began clearing the forest line and the majesty of Mt. Apo came in full view. You could see its white cliffs towering in the background, too picturesque to not enjoy. That’s when I realized why it would take the whole day just to reach the campsite: because there would never be enough time to stop and take pictures of Mt. Apo’s beauty. We certainly took our time. We stopped and lounged about every few meters or so, looking for the perfect shot.
Or for Harie’s case and mine, stubbornly waiting for the clouds to shift so that we could have our pictures taken with Apo in clear view. It was unfair that the others seemed to have more luck than us in terms of catching a clearing.
During the first part of the boulder trail, an abundance of small ferns could still be seen as well as some berry-bearing shrubs. We even got to sample some of them. We were warned though that as we approach the summit, the berries would not be edible anymore as they will probably be covered in sulfur. It really did seem that way as we trekked higher and higher. But still, we were not hurrying ourselves (all the “wasting time” worries now completely gone) as we leisurely stopped and posed at every imaginable rock or incline.
As we got near to the sulfur vents, the trail became much more dominated by sharp rocks, almost completely devoid of vegetation. At a distance, it certainly looked daunting but one would find it entirely passable once you get closer to it. In a way, it was a bit similar to the rolling grasslands of Mt. Iglit in that you could actually choose wherever the hell you want to step on as long as you’re going up in the same general direction. The rocks, for the most part, offered stable foot and hand holds but it was still entirely possible for someone to slip and fall so caution was foremost in our minds.
The sulfur vents looked like huge furnaces that were eerie reminders that we were tramping upon a volcano. They were constantly spewing sulfuric smoke so the trail smelled like rotten eggs once we got near them. Sometimes, the wind would even shift to blow the smoke towards us so that was sort of unpleasant. 😀 It didn’t stop anyone from braving to take a photograph near one though. I mean, how many times can you get take a picture of that right? So there we were, cameras in our hands, all lined up taking pictures and asking friends to take pictures of us as if we weren’t perched on sharp rocks that could erode any minute. The challenges we love to take. 😉
After we have had enough of the sulfur vents, we resumed trekking upwards to the white sand area. I think I was perpetually wearing a facemask by this point because the smell was somewhat dizzying. It really took a while before I got accustomed to it. Sometimes, the clouds would roll in as well which severely decreased our visibility. There were instances that the only thing I could see was the next boulder to hold on and climbed over.
Regardless of these seeming impediments, it was still quite easy to remain amused and amazed at the boulder trail of Kapatagan. The different rock formations formed towering and almost creepy structures. There was one moment where I looked up and the first thing that popped into my head was Baradur. I’m sorry for being a LOTR fan, that’s just really what went to my mind. I almost looked down on my shirt to see if I was carrying a ring worn as a necklace. Just kidding! (or am I?…)
So after about 3 hours of climbing up huge boulders and stopping every 5 seconds to further deplete our camera batteries, we finally arrived at the white sand area at about 12:40. Since we were Group 3, the rest of the pack arrived there earlier than we did and were actually done having lunch already. Our guides even set up a resting area to shield them from the sun (which was at its highest seeing as it was noon). Following their suit, we stopped to rest and have a bite to eat but not before a well timed jump shot marking my arrival at the place. Please be patient, you would soon find out that the climb would be riddled with a ridiculously high number of jumpshots. That’s all we (translation: Vernz, Lee Jay, Ate, Erwin and I) ever seemed to do there! (that, and cartwheels).
We stayed there for about half an hour, rested a bit and scaled a particularly hard rock formation all because we wanted to do what Jeffrey did (add inggitero to a list of what I am). As luck would strike me again, I had to wait a while before there was a clearing (unlike everybody else…). I was adamant not to give up though because I knew the resulting shot would be highly rewarding. Babaw lang. 😀
After our lunch break, we were oriented once more to keep distance between ourselves so that it’ll be safer during the 90 degree assault. It was a relatively short assault but it did look intimidating when looking at it from the white sand area. That passage would lead us straight to the crater lake. We wanted to pass through the lake first instead of the other trail which leads directly to the summit (the 87 degree one…because 3 degrees makes all the difference in the world!). In reality, the steep trail was manageable like the rest of the Kapatagan trail and in about a short 10 minutes, we found ourselves at the crater lake of Mt. Apo.
Amazing was simply what it was. The lake water was pretty low but it was still breathtaking to see that little stretch of mossy land caged by rocky cliffs on all sides. Mountaineers have even arranged some rocks on the lakeside to spell out names so that they could be seen from the view at the peak. It was kind of neat although I didn’t like that some people actually carved and dug the earth just to get a nice aerial view of their names. Vain much? (yes I realize that this comes from a guy who is a huge fan of jumpshots. I see the irony.)
Being at the crater lake was when it became all too real that we were nearing the peak of the country. From there, it was a quick 10 minute hike to the Digos/Davao peak of Mt. Apo. Finally, we did it! It was time to bring out the banners and kiss the summit of the highest mountain in the country! It was almost too surreal to be put into words. I was ecstatic, elated, amazed, fulfilled and other watchamacalits! The icing on top of a very rocky cake!
So, after basically exhausting our camera’s batteries taking every picture angle imaginable, it was time to head to the campsite. It was situated at a clearing between the two peaks (Kidapawan and Davao) and was just 15 minutes away. The plan was to set up camp there then head to the other peak to watch the sunset. So after a quick walk down from Davao peak, we arrived at the campsite. The place was an ideal campsite. There were natural windbreakers everywhere and the ground was flat. There was also a grotto placed on the area as well.
The only downside was, just like in Godi Godi, there was a dump site of trash and alcohol bottles dead center of the camp. It was disheartening to think that some mountaineers disregard the basic principle of leaving no trace. It kind of marred the beauty a little bit. I actually didn’t take a picture of it (in denial mode) but I guess more people need to be aware of the reality especially given what mountaineers pay to maintain Mt. Apo. Tin actually called me out on that during the post climb because she did her part when she saw the same situation on Mt. Kitanglad. On our end, we just made sure that we weren’t adding to the already large pile and brought our trash with us.
So anyhow, we quickly chose our respective places and pitched our tents before assaulting once more to the Kidapawan peak of Mt. Apo for the sunset. Sir Johnmurs claimed that this was actually the higher of the two peaks but since no one had an altimeter, we couldn’t be sure. In any case, we trekked up to that little mound of rock and once more stood among the clouds, knowing that at that moment, we were as high as anyone can be in the Philippines. And boy, what a feeling that was. 😀
It was actually quite comical watching 20+ people cramming into a little mound, each of us looking for the perfect view, the most breathtaking background or the coolest jumpshot (yes, even there…anything short of suicide, we were willing to take on). Thank heavens that the weather cooperated. The sun was perfectly waning and the clouds were just magnificent. We didn’t even pass up on the chance to be wacky on the ridge leading up to the peak! Well, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking. Most of the pictures came from my climbmates since our camera’s batteries have already died by then. Too much pictures I guess. 😉
We also offered a Climb Against Cancer prayer atop Mt. Apo. We forgot to bring a copy of the actual prayer so we just had sir Erwin lead us thru an improvised one instead. 😀
When the cold started to kick in, we decided to head down back to the campsite. We hanged out until the stars came out then had our share of the spaghetti dinner. After everyone has had their fill (or for some, during the middle of eating…), we convened to have our group socials for the climb. We basically do this every time to officially welcome new members to our little group and to formally introduce one another and basically know what the group is all about.
Happy to Live, Glad to Give or HLGG was actually started as a birthday gift by two of our “punong abalas” (Madz and Yan) to another member, Anne. They wanted something meaningful so they decided to hold a mini outreach program among the Aetas near Mt. Pinatubo then playfully called the endeavor Happy to Live, Glad to Give. For their second attempt, they climbed Mt. Pulag then gave some donations to the kids of Abucot Elementary School.
I actually joined during the third wave of the group. Funnily enough, it started because I just wanted to go out of town. My schedule was free and I remembered a high school batchmate Yan, (who always seemed to go on trips which is why we called her Wow Philippines) so I looked her up and asked if there were any upcoming out of town trips that she was planning and if I could join. Fortunately enough, they were going to Batad so I shamelessly asked if I could join them. She told me that they were holding an outreach program and everybody was required to bring school supplies to give to the kids. I haven’t joined an outreach before that so I thought it was a worthwhile thing to do. I wasn’t wrong and the rest was history.
I’ve actually introduced some mountaineer friends that I have met to HLGG over the course of our trips. I ended up as de facto recruiter for the group actually. I invited my sister to join during the 4th wave, invited Des and Harie during the 6th and for the 7th, I was the primary contact of Javes, Alvin, Shelly and Arlene. Maybe HLGG should start paying me for this eventual expansion. 😀 It’s actually quite interesting and rewarding to think how that one effort snowballed into the HLGG family that we know today.
For some of the new ones, like Shelly and Alvin, they joined the event pretty much with the same motivations that we did when we first joined. But then you get involved and make new friends and you begin to appreciate that there’s more to just touring around or climbing mountains. Sir Javes and Mam Arlene claimed that although they have participated in outreach programs before, they never had the chance to be the ones to actually hand them out and they were quite thankful for the experience like the rest of us.
We went around the circle, introducing ourselves and telling tales about how we got involved in HLGG in the first place. We cracked jokes, shared inside stories and basically got to know each other during the socials. Harie kept falling over for laughing too hard, Vernz was being her ‘usual’ self, Shelly was banned from future HLGG events, Jevs (Javes) will forever be known by that name, Jeffrey uncharacteristically shied away from the spotlight and Tito Dar proved to be as wacky as ever. We were doing all of this while hugging ourselves to fight the biting cold I might add. After an hour or so of laughs and stories, it was time for one huge group hug then off to bed!
At first, we just wanted to go out of town or climb a mountain. Which is how most of the HLGG family came together after all. Just like what I said at the end, HLGG became what it is:
“Dahil may mga taong gustong tumulong (and as Vernz quipped)… at mga taong gustong gumala.”
True, so true 😀
Next: Day 3 descent to Lake Venado, mud pits and river crossings.
**Lee Jay Balongoy