March 15, 2008
For the first time ever.. The Sports Unlimited Adventure Team is about to embark on the ultimate mountain journey in the Philippines. We're climbing the highest peak in the country, Mt. Apo. Mt. Apo lies on the borders of Davao, North Cotabato and Bukidnon.
It is virtually unexplored and provides a spectacular variety of natural landscapes from forest greens to rock faces. Our goal, to reach Mt. Apo's majestic peak, 10,311 feet. Since Sports Unlimited met Sonny and Jackie Dizon, through them we have been discovering Davao and its endless adventure-filled possibilities.
Mt. Apo is Davao's most precious treasure and one of the country's most popular climbing destinations. Finally, after all these years, this is the year, 2008. With an invitation from Jackie Dizon to climb Apo with a special group that she
has put together, the goal of getting to the top of the highest mountain in the Philippines can finally become a reality for our Sports Unlimited Adventure Team.
The adventure begins
March 1 before noon, we left Camp Sabros after our awesome zipline adventure for our next expedition, our climb to the summit of Mt. Apo. We met Jackie Dizon and the rest of her buddies and amigas in Kapatagan where all climbers assembled and was our jump-off point for the climb.
Jackie put together a group of about 40, family and friends from all walks of life, from Davao, Manila and even the States, many of whom were first-time climbers of Apo like our team, and there were a few who, believe it or not, have never climbed a mountain before.
First-time climbers or not, mountaineers or not, everybody was psyched, maybe a bit anxious, but definitely raring to get this climb started.
Help from outdoor specialists
In all the adventure packages that Sonny and Jackie have set up in Davao, their adventure partner has always been the Edge Group. They have dubbed themselves as "outdoor specialists" and have stated that "they are all mountain people." For amateurs, it's best to join organized climbs led by experienced mountaineers who know the safest trails up the mountain.
When climbing, a group always needs a lead man, the Edge members introduced us to our leader whom the group fondly calls " Mr. Big." Don't be deceived by Mr. Big's size, we have no doubt that he can take us up the mountain safely and with his funny larger than life personality, we're sure we'll be laughing and smiling all the way to the summit.
When you first start the climb the thought of how many steps you have to take before you get to 10,300 feet is very daunting. We were advised by our veteran mountaineer friends that when you are starting a climb like this, we should not focus too much on where this journey ends, instead focus more on enjoying the journey itself.
They assured us that if you love nature and the outdoors, there will be times when you forget you're climbing because of the unique, raw and stunning views we will see from different vantage points all throughout the climb up.
The locals help too
Not only is Mt. Apo one of the top climbing destinations in the Philippines, for the locals who live on the foothills of this mountain, they use the land to plant all kinds of vegetation.
Speaking of the locals, climbing this mountain is also a source of their livelihood. I'm sure every amateur climber in this group will agree that the porters who we hire to carry our backpacks we cannot do without. The climb would be a lot more difficult to conquer if we had to carry everything on our backs, these porters are innately mountaineers.
After about one and a half hours of trekking, the group gets our first break at a place they call "Paradise" like we said earlier, not only is this climb all about reaching the top, but it's also about getting to know each other and creating not only climbing memories, but all kinds of memories that will bring a smile to our faces when we look back at this adventure.
It's only the beginning of our climb, but we can already tell that Jackie Dizon made sure that she put together a fun group of people to ensure that whatever happen everyone has to enjoy. Did we mention that part of the group climbing with us are from Holiday Spa and Gym here in Davao, which may explain the guys with six packs.
After that good dose of laughter, we were ready to resume our climb. Rejuvenated, hydrated and if I may say so myself, the enthusiasm of the group was a natural energy booster for me.
Mountain climbing do's and don'ts
Here are some do's and don'ts when climbing a mountain as raw and as unchartered as Mt. Apo. First of all, it is a given that you must always listen to the advise of people who have climbed the mountain before because you can learn a lot from their experiences. Why learn the hard way, right?
Here are the do’s, when you are holding on to branches or stepping on rocks, make sure that the branch is sturdy enough to take your weight and also make sure that the rock you are stepping on is not loose.
You also want to double check the branches or plants that you hold on to be sure that they don't have thorns or sharp leaves that can cut your hands, it's advisable that you bring gloves that will protect your hands when passing through thorny plants.
Some don’ts when climbing. Do not go too far ahead of the guide that is in charge of your group. Do not sacrifice safety even if it's a shorter way but a trickier trail, you are better off not taking the shortcut and go the longer but safer way.
Unless told by your mountaineer guide that it's okay, do not drink from any water source that you see along the trail. Believe me, one of the worst things you could suffer from when in the mountains is a bad stomach. No need to expound on that.
Majority of the first part of the climb up was passing through the thick forest that was quite wet because for the past few days before our climb.. it was raining.
Do not panic if you don't see any trail ahead.. like we said, this trail is very raw and at times you are just passing through thick bushes that are taller than you... make sure you are never left alone and that there is always someone you can see either in front or behind you.
Now..if you do find yourself alone.. stop..and listen for voices and then determine where the voices are coming from...you can also call out loud to get an answer from the other climbers.
Must-have trail food
It was past lunch time so we took our second break. Sometimes it's best not to eat a very heavy lunch since you are climbing up the best things to eat during the middle of the day are light but energy giving trail foods. We recommend that you have them with you as you climb. Let's call these trail foods "mountain must-haves."
I know my partner Marc brought with him chocolate bars, fiber bars, and of course a lot of water. I brought a mixture of grains like oats with raisins and also different kinds of dried fruits. Jackie Dizon's favorite trail food is dried mango which she brought a whole lot of and shared generously with the whole group.
You can never have enough water so if you are thirsty, drink. Do not skimp on hydrating yourself although the weather gets cooler as you get higher, that does not mean that you need less water. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
"Take nothing but pictures"
Of course aside from carrying your trail food, always carry your camera. You never know when you will chance upon a beautiful and rare view, or a pretty place in the middle of nowhere. That's why part of the mountaineers’ motto is, "when climbing a mountain, take nothing but pictures."
That was a much needed break, we've been trekking for over 4 hours at this point so this may be when you start feeling a little bit fatigued, but we just have to remember that "nothing great comes easy."
I think it's safe to think that, just think, if you make it to the peak, you can say you climbed the highest mountain in the Philippines. Now that sounds great.
We try very hard on Sports Unlimited to bring you to places you may have never been to before, we enjoy doing that. But you know what's more enjoyable? Going to places we’ve never been to either. If you like being in harmony with nature, then you will love this climb.
You definitely see a different type of natural beauty when you are in the depths of a mountain. Ah, the wonder of the wilderness.
Determined to make it to the top
We have to be honest though, if you decide to conquer the country's highest peak, a B-plus effort is not going to cut it. You really need to be determined, driven and ready to push yourself to the limit. With the pleasures of experiencing the beauty of this mountain comes your ability to be very patient, it's definitely enjoyable, but it's not easy.
We are nearing our 6th hour of trekking on day one of our climb to the peak of Mt. Apo, we are faced with the decision whether or not we stop now while we still have enough light, so it will be easier to set up our tents and cook, have an early dinner, call it an early night so we can get enough rest for our trek tomorrow where we need to ascend to the summit.
The decision of the group, stop while we still had daylight that meant spending the night at Camp Baruring Emergency Camp Site. This camp is about 2 hours away from Camp Goody Goody which is normally the camp site where you spend the night on day 1.
We may not have had the most comfortable seating arrangements, no one really expects that when camping in the mountains, but the delicious food that the Edge Group prepared for us totally made up for the lack of luxury dining.
The minute our stomachs were satisfied, our bodies felt the fatigue of our 6 hour trek and we immediately retreated to our tents.
Mt. Apo adventure day 2
March 2, second day of our climb, 5am wake up call. As soon as the sun started to come up, one by one, everyone started to come out of their tents and you can hear the voices of the coffee drinkers in the group requesting in symphony for a much needed hot cup of coffee, the air early in the morning is pretty nippy.
Even before breakfast was served, the group, led by Francis decided to do some stretching to get our muscles warmed up and to get our juices flowing. After our exercise session, breakfast was served. I have to say, when you climb a mountain with Jackie Dizon, you may be in the middle of the "boondocks", but the food served sure hits the spot.
Everyone seemed very satisfied with breakfast and now that we were all fueled up, we were ready to start day two of our climb. Today, if all goes right, we will achieve our goal of getting to the summit of Mt. Apo, over 10,000 feet above sea level. Our short term goal though is to get to Camp Goody-Goody, that's about a 2-hour trek.
So far, all is good, everybody seems to be having a good time, but of course, in the back of our minds, we know that the higher we get, the tougher the climb will become. When climbing a high mountain like Mt. Apo, you have to prepare yourself not just physically but mentally as well.
Like we said earlier, when climbing any mountain, make sure you make water your best buddy, always have some with you, the same goes for easy to carry trail food, so when you feel that you need a quick picker-upper, you can munch on them while you walk.
"Leave nothing but footprints"
We all know that where there is food, there is trash. Empty water bottles, wrappers, plastic bags, though they are empty, make sure you still take them with you when you go down the mountain. That's another mountaineer motto, when climbing a mountain, leave nothing but footprints.
Marc arrived in Camp Goody-Goody with some of our team then I arrived. How can you not stop to take pictures? Who knows when you're going to get to go down this path again, maybe never. So you definitely want to document the pretty places that you pass.
Now we know why this would have been a better suited camp site to spend the night, there is a lot more space to pitch tents, ground is a lot flatter and the tall trees seem to form a circle which gives this camp site a cozy feel.
Our team decided that from this point on, we had to pick up the pace, we wanted to be very sure that we get to the summit before late afternoon which is when there is more chance of rain.
Taking a break from climbing
I know we said we would pick up the pace and try to stop less so that we get to the top earlier but, playing with this "mountain toy", if you could call it that for lack of a better term was so tempting. Role playing like you were Tarzan in the real depths of the mountain. Come on, that's hard to resist.
Before you even ask the question we will answer you, no, we do not set anything up for camera purposes, all the things you see us doing and all the things we are seeing are all natural wonders. All right, enough playing, we really have to keep climbing. Our guides are promising us that after this downhill trek, the forest will end.
It's not that we are tired of the forest, it's just that we know that once we get out of the forest we then get to the boulder face of the mountain and we're told that we'll be getting a great view that will show us how high we have actually climbed from inside the forest since we are so deep within it, we really can't tell.
Will everybody make it to the top? Find out next week.