Geology, Local Travel

Mount Apo – A Climbing Destination For Beginner to Advanced Mountaineers in Mindanao

When George Leigh-Mallory was bombarded with questions on why he climbed mountains such as Mount Everest, the only thing he said was “Because it’s there!” Aside from stating the obvious, it does seem natural for climbing enthusiasts like him to wake up excited to conquer any mountains in their paths. We learned from our geography, Philippine history, and science classes that Mt. Apo is the highest volcano/mountain in the Philippines. The urge to go up Mount Apo was intensified when I had a chance to work in Mindanao where the volcano can be found. Luckily, my colleagues and friends felt the same way.

In July 2008, me along with my friends and colleagues left Cagayan De Oro on board a bus that took us to Kidapawan City, the capital city of North Cotabato. We arrived in Kidapawan terminal at around 6 AM, boarded a van and then, a single motor that brought us to Sitio Agko, Barangay Ilomavis, our starting point.

climbing, budget travel, travel destination
Posing for pic with a friend during loading of our bags onto “habal habal”, a single motor bike that will carry us to our starting point.
motorcycle riding, climbing, mount apo
Seating in front of the motorcycle driver was no fun especially when the road was rough.

After lunch at Tony’s old porter’s house, we set out again at 10 minutes past 12 using one of the trails that would go around hot springs, fumaroles and Marbel River, the largest river draining Mount Apo in Cotabato.  Our first stop was a bunkhouse seating amidst a forest where we planned to spend the first night.

On Sitio Agko trail.
With Bevs, behind us was the first steaming ground encountered in the area.
Posing beside this fumarole along the trail. There are plenty of this in this section of the trail.
Hydrothermally altered rocks – this happens when the ground is steaming. The hot steam from underneath reacts with a rock – similar to weathering except this process was not caused by water but rather by steam.
We had to walk along and across Marbel river, sometimes on logs, or by jumping from one rock to another.
Some sections of the river had rapids so we had to cross the logs while praying we don’t fall off. None of us did.
Me white getting encouragement from my best friend to cross the river with care.
One of the first camp sites in Mt. Apo is Ko-ong Camp Site, the first one we encountered from Marbel River, going up.

The sun was setting fast and we wanted to reach the campsite near Lake Venado before it became too dark and make the path treacherous to trek on.

It was already getting dark after a short stop in Ko-ong campsite. We couldn’t see the trail clearly anymore so we had to use our head lamps and flash lights. One scary incident happened to me: my lamp’s batteries were draining fast such that my lamp casted faint light on my path and flickered a lot. With the sun sinking at the horizon, I couldn’t see clearly around me so I didn’t realize that I was trekking on a narrow ledge between two very steep and very deep ravines where landslides had apparently occurred in the past. My right foot slipped over one of the roots on a boulder where trees were growing out.   My feet were suddenly suspended on a cliff side with my hands hanging on to tree roots! I was hanging on for a few seconds with my feet trying to find another piece of rock for footing. I found it and jumped into the trail safely. I was shaken by the incident especially after being told by Jonel, our porter, that a Caucasian climber fell down the same spot a few years back whose body was never recovered. We decided to rest for close to half an hour.

Our porter Jonel, a native of Sitio Agko lighted a bonfire for us since our hands had gone numb and our bodies shivered from the cold despite the jackets and head scarves. We waited for two other friends to arrive before we set out again. At the end of that cliff side where I almost fell was yet another level of vertical cliff of about 20 meters high that we had climb up. Tony and Jonel used the rope to help us climb the rock, which we later found out out to be a former landslide area. For the first time during the climb, I felt that I couldn’t climb anymore and had probably stopped there if it weren’t for my friends’ persistence and help.

It was a full moon on the night I almost fell down a ravine.

After eleven hours of rock climbing, trekking and crossing rivers and creeks, we arrived at our first camp site called “The Bunkhouse” which was a “nipa” with GI sheet roof seated in the middle of a forest not far from the famous lake of Mt. Apo which is Lake Venado.

We spent the first night inside this hut within a thick forest.  This was curtain of berries and leaves made by our porter, Jonel.  Pretty, isn’t it?

This was a photo taken of me after I screamed like a banshee because a small leech clamped its suckers at my foot. I hate leech especially the ones in the forest because they can be itchy as hell.  Also, I never liked the idea of a small animal sucking my blood (hence, my paranoia over mosquitoes and bed bugs).  Thankfully, my friends were able to successfully get one off me.  We laughed at the overreaction I made over a tiny leech.

I was imagining that a headless horseman will come out of the trees when I took the picture above. It wasn’t often that you observe trees that form tunnel-like structure with their branches.

I slipped on a patch of grass along the shore of Lake Venado. In fact, I slipped quite a number of times on this climb.
Someone drowned and died here the previous  year. The story was the guy just graduated from college and went to climb Mt. Apo with friends to go camping. He got drunk and swam on the lake. The underwater current brought him towards tree roots where he got entangled and drowned.
Fog was starting to “eat” the whole scene so we started clicking the camera before it obliterated the view of the lake.

On the way to the peak of Mount Apo:

We needed to pass through this forest before we could reach the foot of the main peak.

The peak of Mount Apo was completely obliterated from view by the thick fog; to get to the peak, one has to go through this thick forest (photo above).

Lake Venado as viewed on top of a boulder on the way to the summit.
One has got to rest once in a while.  I was getting sleepy here and the grassy path was too inviting. 😉
I love Merrel shoes but this pair had been to so many fieldworks, it had barely survived this climb.
My pair of Columbia waterproofs looked okay so far but tented to slip on wet grass and rocks.

It got too cold whenever the fog was around us.  It was hard fighting off the soporific effect the fog had that we succumbed to it a few times during the climb by taking power naps on top of flat boulders.

We were getting close to the peak at this point.
We could see the top of the clouds on the way up, near the peak.
Signage that points to the trail going to the summit.
Almost there.
Once we reached the peak, we were surprised to see that it was carpeted by Bermuda grass.  I removed my shoes and my improvised thermal socks to enjoy the green natural carpet.
Shallow well where one can get water for washing and other domestic use except drinking.
After a tiring climb to the peak, we pitched the tent quickly and had a snack and water.
So happy to be at the peak at last.
It felt like we were in heaven, just look at those clouds at our feet.
This is the main source of drinking water at the peak. The water was somewhat sweet, it’s the best tasting spring water I’ve ever tried in my life.
Green Bermuda grass carpeting the peak.
One of the reasons why climber need to go to Mt. Apo – these berries

I love these berries!! These fruits are black and sweet when ripe and they grow on rocks or thin soils and are quite abundant around Mount Apo’s peak and crater.  But one has to slow when eating these as they’re high in fiber which I found out the next day. Good thing we brought a shovel with us. Haha!

Our photo on our second night on the peak, fully covered because it was so cold up on the peak.
Dawn, with moon still high above us.

That triangular pointy mountain is Mt. Matutum as viewed from the peak.

Practice Rapel at the Peak

We decided to practice rappelling along one of the steeply sloping rock faces on the peak.

To the Crater!

Geologists that we are, we absolutely needed to visit one of the craters. To access the crater, one has to climb down the Rockies, the circular sloping terrain laden with large boulders.

Me looking at a solfatara inside one of the craters of Mt. Apo.

We had to stop every once in a while when the sulfuric gas became too thick.  The smell could get too overwhelming because of sulfur – which was akin to smell of rotten egg.

Solfataras are similar to fumaroles except that along with steam, sulfur grains are visited out of these vents.  We observed vents as high as one meter.
Don’t ever wear anything silver when you’re near a solfatara! My thumb ring tarnished due to the highly corrosive sulfuric gas!

We stayed on the peak for two days then packed up and climbed down towards Lake Venado on our 3rd day.
Caption this. Haha!
My tongue was actually hanging out here.  No one told me going down the mountain was more exhausting than going up.
Damn, this log sure was heavy. Almost broke my neck here, kidding.

We spent the third night camping near Lake Venado.  It got so cold, we decided to build a camp fire making sure that it was away from dry debris.  We didn’t want to cause a forest fire. Our camp fire also looked like horsemen.  Creepy.

It can be quite mesmerizing to see the fog literally float towards you from the lake, I literally run for my camera so take these snapshots. Boy, Mt. Apo sure was beautiful.


Enjoyed the few rays of sun filtered through the thick forest after spending a foggy and cold night.
Our tent and Lake Venado.
Went for stretching before climbing down again.
Go go Power Rangers!

Flora and Fauna in Mount Apo

I’m not a biologist but I do appreciate the exotic plants and insects I saw in Mount Apo.  I took these photos in case a biologist crosses this website and help me identify some of these for me.















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