Climbing in new normal: Mt. Apo reopens after months of pandemic closure

Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 31 2020 08:12 AM | Updated as of Dec 31 2020 08:43 AM

Climbing in new normal: Mt. Apo reopens after months of pandemic closure 1
A climber wears a face mask while hiking across Mt. Apo’s boulders as protection against the novel coronavirus as well as fumes from the sulfur vents. Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

Climbers seeking to end the year at the peak of Mt. Apo will need to follow new regulations to minimize the spread of COVID-19. 

While the local government units of Santa Cruz town and Digos City had reopened Mt. Apo's trails since Nov. 20 this year, authorities urge those seeking to climb the Philippines' highest mountain to follow health protocols.

Climbing in new normal: Mt. Apo reopens after months of pandemic closure 2
Clouds and fog cover Mt. Apo’s peak on a rainy Saturday morning. Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

Under the new normal of climbing Mt. Apo, a medical certificate is needed together with a waiver and valid Identification Card (ID) to secure a climbing permit. 

From 50 climbers per trail per day, LGUs now only allow 25 climbers per day in each trail.

Santa Cruz Municipal Tourism Office staff Jose Froilan Miagao said that only a few dared to climb Mt. Apo amid the pandemic, noting that only Davao region locals are allowed as of now due to lockdowns and the ban on non-essential travel in various parts of the country.

Climbers are also advised to wear face masks and observe physical distancing while trekking the mountain and staying in campsites.

Climbing in new normal: Mt. Apo reopens after months of pandemic closure 3
A scenic spot between the boulder face, where guides likened it to Malaysia’s Mt. Kota Kinabalu. Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

I have observed though that mountain guides are not so strict about requiring face masks while climbing saying it would be difficult to do this all the time as it would cause shortness of breath especially during ascent and assault on the peak. Guides however said they tell climbers to maintain distancing.

Bernard Cempron, a teacher and a first-time climber on Mt. Apo, wore his face mask while traversing the boulders where sulfuric vents spew fumes. However, he took it off after getting exhausted during the climb.

"Once you need to remove your mask, what you can do is you have to keep distance. You wear the mask for the sulfur protection but once pagod ka na, you can't really wear the mask," he said.

"Definitely when we climb here, it's very good for our mental wellness," he added.

A staff in Barangay Sibulan, Santa Cruz will also check the requirements and orient climbers about the rules before they are allowed to enter the trail.

CHALLENGING CLIMB

While climbing the highest point in the country is on the bucket list of many Filipinos, reaching its summit is definitely a serious challenge that requires weeks or months of physical preparation for the beginners.

Mountaineers and guides have always advised those who dare to climb to not underestimate Mount Apo, which has an elevation of 9,692 feet (2,954 meters).

Climbing in new normal: Mt. Apo reopens after months of pandemic closure 4
Kapatagan and Santa Cruz trails offer the view of the gigantic volcanic boulders in Mt. Apo that adds to the challenge of the climbers. Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

Last Dec. 28, a priest died after around four hours of trekking Kapatagan trail when he felt weak and suddenly passed out. This happened after authorities required trekkers to submit a medical certificate to get a climbing permit.

In a statement posted on their Facebook page, Santa Cruz Tourism reminded everyone to ensure that they have what it takes to undertake extreme adventures such as mountain climbing.

"You need to regularly check on your physical capabilities especially in taking long treks in high altitudes like Mount Apo. Safety is always a priority."

Climbing in new normal: Mt. Apo reopens after months of pandemic closure 5
Mt. Apo’s crater, also called as ‘Dead Lake’, which is only filled by water during torrential rains. Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

The Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur trail was my third trail up Mt. Apo, after doing the Kapatagan, Digos City trail in 2016 and Kidapawan City trail in 2017.

It was the most challenging trail of the three trails I've taken to Mt. Apo as it took us almost 6 hours to reach Tinikaran campsite after passing muddy paths and some exhausting ascents in a tropical rainforest.

We spent another five to six hours of trekking and climbing steep slopes in the forest, mostly over boulders, which are a highlight in Mt. Apo climb.

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At Mt. Apo’s summit. Authorities advise climbers to wear face mask and follow the COVID-19 health protocols. However, they can remove it especially when they are exhausted during the climb. Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

Reaching the summit is a rewarding and fulfilling experience, knowing that you are on the highest peak and appreciating the magnificent views of Mt. Talomo, some cultivated landscapes, Davao gulf, Davao City and Santa Cruz town, its crater, and even a peek at Mt. Matutum's peak in South Cotabato.

AFFECTED BY THE PANDEMIC CLOSURE

Mount Apo may have had a respite from the influx of climbers during its eight months closure due to the pandemic, but the closure has also affected the livelihood of the guides, porters, and even locals who sell food and necessities.

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Muddy trail in Brgy. Sibulan, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur with views of farmlands and Mount Apo. Hernel Tocmo, ABS-CBN News

Mark Anthony Ading, a porter in Barangay Sibulan who is paid P500 a day, said he focused on farming during the lockdown. But his livelihood was still affected as prices of vegetables fell. He said he is thankful that through the reopening of Mt. Apo, he can now earn more income to make ends meet.

Aside from reminding climbers about maintaining safety in dangerous ascents and keeping safe from the coronavirus, authorities also tell guests about the importance of responsible climbing, such as keeping the area clean and avoiding activities that could harm Mount Apo.

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