The almost 18-hour trek with wild river crossing from summit to Kidapawan jump off became a manifestation of hope and human will.
It’s never easy to scale a mountain. It requires mental and physical preparation. A mountaineer – ready or not – can lose his life, one wrong step or decision and he’ll find himself doing a somersault down a ravine or flailing helplessly as he spirals with the strong current of a river.
And yet despite the huge threat to one’s life and safety – greater for women, a lot of individuals who proudly call themselves mountaineers gratefully take that risk. One has to note that most mountaineers hates being called campers. Among some Filipino mountaineers, to be called a camper is to be insulted – one mountaineer would freely give a discourse on the dissimilarity.
After five months, remembering the Mt. Apo climb somehow is as symbolic as the date of the climb which was on June 11-13, with June 12 marking the Independence Day of the Filipino people from colonial rule. It means a lot, it means freedom.
And to Tony a self reflection,
“Apo taught me to cling on hope and be positive”.
Coming from different walks of life, 16 individuals formed the Team Apo under the Extreme Outdoor Club and embarked on the journey to the summit. Most of the members of the team like Tony, are considered ‘hardcore’ – a mountaineering term for veterans, who had been constantly climbing for more than ten years or more like the long term friends – Gil and Francis.
I may be wrong but most must have thought that the Mt. Apo climb would just be any other climb, the trail proved us all wrong.
Traverse to the Summit
We chose Barangay Kisandal in Magpet as entry point to which Trail Master Arde led the team through lush forests, then to camp one and before everyone could feel exhaustion, the night crawled in silently, closing Day 1 of the climb.
Rising early and braving the colder winds, the second day opened to a trail that offered views of tree trunks blanketed with moss, ferns and orchids up to its branches, of a magical scene of streaming sunlight in between leaves while it drizzled, of bird sounds that has a melody of its own and the rise and fall of distant mountains as the continous ascent brought the team to higher grounds.
Hours later, leaving the not-often use trail, the descent to Lake Venado would be one of the hardest parts of the climb. The trail now is a downhill – muddy and slippery. Yet, one could still hear the cacophony of chirping birds and of a distant sound of a waterfall. Along the trail are beautiful wild flowers, of distinct fauna and if one is fortunate, blood leeches or limatik. Amidst all this, Robbie strikes a conversation, to dispel off fatigue and boredom.
For Mark who was one of the first to reach the camp site at the foot of Mt. Apo, the climb was a solid experience, because to reach it is an accomplishment in itself, the active volcanic mountain looms, hiding itself behind a thick curtain of fog.
At its foot, two stores are opened for business even if its the end of the climb season. One can get coffee, soda, water, some toiletries and crackers but at double the price – understandable of course.
The full face of the moon showed itself that night, bright and clear against feathery clouds as the team called it a day. Members tried to get some sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s summit, and yet before anyone can succumb to the sweet enticement of sleep, dawn had come and Arde was waking up everyone for a light breakfast – I could not even remember what it was.
From Glen’s perspective, “Malupit lahat ng miyembro ng Team Apo, iba’t ibang background ang pinangalingan or traits pero nakamit natin ung goal natin na makarating sa rooftop ng Pilipinas”. To which Resty seconded describing the team members as “cool and hardcore”. Day 3 began with a prayer.
“Congratulations” Jhun, a mariner and our resident photographer said as we stood on the summit. We were awed and mesmerized and thankful. Standing at the highest mountain of the archipelago, what mattered was the wind, the sun, the clouds, the grass, the tiny shoots of flowers, some wild berries and the jagged mountains.
As I stood there, mind almost blank from the exhausting ascent, had no past nor future – just the present. One can reach out and could almost feel God’s hand. A gift had been given.
Notwithstanding the pain on his knees and everywhere else, Gil’s heart was captured by Mt. Apo and vows to return. It’s not just his but all of ours and we all vowed to return – in God’s time, when the heart is ready to accept the challenge again.
And who can dispute Mark when he said “sobrang sarap tumapak sa tuktok ng Pilipinas”? No one, not even Christian, the good natured tall German who was forced to hold the Philippine Flag. We all stood for a commemorative photo.
Reflecting upon it, Edzel reminisces that the members of the team were cooperative. While he was not able to summit due to ligament injury on the knee, he made up by rounding everyone – including porters and did all the photo sessions when all minds are focused on the descent – dreaming of a warm bath, a bed and a good night sleep.
The reverse traverse is now in full force, the steep descent to Ilomavis, Kidapawan – the regular jump off for mountaineers, with the trail an extension of Day 2 – muddy and slippery with add-on ladders. This proposed a challenge as one balances a 30-50 liter backpack. Casually shift on your right foot and you’ll find yourself tumbling down the mountainside.
The team had to rest and eat a very late lunch at a hot spring which converges with the cold water of a small creek. It felt heaven as the hot water enveloped our sore feet, but mind the temperature as the water seems to get hotter by the minute.
And then night started to cloak the whole mountain as the team descends on the first river, the current was strong but the guides and porters were stronger. The team has to go up against six more and everyone is taking in deep breaths anticipating the same hardship as the first. And as the second hand on everyone’s wristwatch moved slowly, darkness brought out cacophony of sounds from creatures of the night who stood watch as we pass by.
Marizs’ only regret was not taking a picture of the bamboo bridge that span maybe 10 meters or more, secured by ropes and the same bamboo as columns. Beneath the bridge is an estimated 15 meter drop to a raging river.
Sometime pass 9 in the evening we reached the exit point, where the trek finally ends and the body aches begins.
The Team Apo members may have different reasons in climbing Mt. Apo but everyone took home the same experience and would become a part of everyone’s story as everyone had become a part of the soul of the mountain.
People climb to experience adventure, the euphoria that heights provide to people, the sense of accomplishment but it is different for porters and guides. They are way behind education and maybe there are no other options to meet their most basic of needs. So, they climb countless times because they have to do it. Let us accord them the courtesy and respect they deserve and make them carry the same weight as we do. Let us know their stories, because like us their story matters and needed to be heard.
We survived to tell the tale and my deepest gratitude to Robbie Dumlao for the selfless kindness.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org