OverviewTowering at 2954 meters above sea level, Mount Apo is the highest mountain and volcano in the Philippines. The first successful climb to Mount Apo was led by Don Joaquin Rajal, a Politico-Military Governor of Davao with Datu Manib of Sibulan as their guide, dating back to year 1880. Apo's last eruption, however, is unknown and sulfuric craters spewing toxic fumes can be found on the boulders section, on the way to the summit.
The stratovolcano is home to 270 bird species, 100 of them endemic. As one of the highest land-based biological diversity in terms of flora and fauna per unit area, it is marked for the UNESCO Tentative World Heritage List.
Getting ThereCebu Pacific Air, the local low-cost carrier with a new and modern fleet, offer cheap daily flights from both Manila and Cebu starting at less than 2000 pesos (one-way). I flied from Cebu City and paid 2500 pesos (one-way), and back to Cebu City for 1800 pesos only (one-way).
One can either stay a night in Davao City or go directly to Santa Cruz (45 km southwest of Davao), where a permit and guide/porter for Mount Apo must be arranged. After arriving Davao International Airport, try to avoid the taxi-touts at the entrance/exit who will try to charge 1500 pesos for a ride to Santa Cruz. Walk instead 50 metres from the terminal, where the white or yellow metred-taxis are. Here you can easily negotiate a price of 600-700 pesos. If you are on a really tight budget it will be even cheaper to commute like described below (total 207 pesos):
1. After arriving at Davao International Airport, ride a taxi to Ecoland Transport Terminal (travel time 20 minutes - 150 pesos)
2. At Ecoland Terminal, look for south-bound buses such as yellow bus, weena bus, ACFB or Metro Shuttle and ask the driver or the conductor that you will be dropped off at Santa Cruz Terminal (travel time 45 minutes to 1 hour - 43 pesos).
3. At Santa Cruz Terminal, take a motorcycle or tricycle taxi to the municipal hall, Tourism Office (travel time 5 minutes - 14 pesos)
Red TapeYou need a permit for this mountain, and guide/porter is mandatory. At the Tourism Office in Santa Cruz ask for Julius Paner. You better contact him in advance, at least a couple of days before you arrive Davao.
His mobile: 09208567991 (replace the leading zero with +63 if you are calling outside of the Philippines)
His e-mail: email@example.com
The fees are:
500 pesos in registration/trekking fee
500 pesos in exit-fee (only if exit-point differ from entry-point)
500 pesos per day for a guide (mandatory)
300 pesos per day for a porter (mandatory)
The registration dilemma as reported on TheLoneRider.com seems to be history, even though this happened quite recently (early 2008):
"The thick layer of bureaucracy that accompanied the registration process was frustratingly stupid. To register, they require the following: a letter of intent, an application form, 1x1 picture, medical certificate, waiver, briefing, certificate of briefing, etc. The papers go through the following offices: OCEEM, the city mayor, and the CTO" - TheLoneRider
SafetyMount Apo is located in Mindanao, a province which has been troubled by Muslim separatists in recent years. Even though this part of Mindanao (Davao and surroundings) is considered fairly safe for western travellers, there have been several terrorist attacks also here, most notably the 2003 bombing of Davao Airport seeing more than 20 people dead, and more than 100 people injured. As of 2008 the dreaded Abu Sayyaf group seems to have weakened a lot, but both Abu Sayyaf and linked groups have still managed to cause troubles and multiple deaths in and around Mindanao lately, recent bombings in Digos City being one example. Rebels of NPA (communists) are also heavily present in Mindanao, but is said to not target civilian people.
Food and Accomodation
You probably need to stay one night in Santa Cruz. Balay ni Nonoy Pension House is highly recommended (800 pesos per night). There are also a RestoBar next door.
On the mountain you will spend 1-3 nights of camping in a tent, depending on your pace. Tent, sleeping bag, matress and cooking equipment can be hired from your guide in Santa Cruz (2500 pesos for a complete package). The temperature will drop to almost freezing (0-5 degrees C) during night-time at the summit, so bring a fleece under your goretex.
Trail to the summitFrom the trailhead in Baruring walk 20 minutes to reach Lower Colan, where you also have to register at the nearby army camp. Then continue to Upper Colan, a 20 minutes walk through nicely cultivated landscapes. The easy part of the hike ends right here, because shortly above Upper Colon the dense and wet rain-forest will both slow you down and wear you out remarkably. There are a myriad of trails above and below Colan, so the guide is not only nice to have, but even mandatory to get a permit. I would not even considered to do an illegal ascents without a guide here, because most likely you will get lost in the jungle somewhere, taking the wrong trail or something, and never get to the summit anyway.
After approx 4 hours you will reach Tinikaran Holding Camp 1 (2100m) which is a nice place to have lunch. Then continue for a while until reaching Tinikaran Holding Camp 2, where water can be found. But be careful, this is just a very tiny dam of still-water, so it would be very advisable to add purification tabs. At Tinikaran, nature also welcomes you with the birds chirping in symphony with the swaying of trees and an offer of the sweet wild berries.
From the crater it is funny hiking on a ridge to Peak 3, which rewards you with magnificent views in many directions. From Peak 3 descend a little bit and continue to the summit camp, which is just a 10 minutes walk from Peak 1 and Peak 2.
By now it will probably be late afternoon, so pitch the tents here at 2900 metres elevation. If you still have energy, walk the last 50 metres to the summit, if not, wait until next morning when you will see the beautiful sunrise from the summit. The sunrise (depending on season) is about 5:30 and it will be some unforgettable minutes on top of Philippines. Almost entire Mindanao (19th largest island in the world) can be seen from the summit.
What is the highest pointThere are in total seven peaks of Apo, all of them within short and easy reach from the summit camp. I only recognize the highest point as a peak because the other ones only have a prominence of 10-40 meters, to low to be considered a real peak.
I measured Peak 1 (facing SE towards Davao City) to be minimum 5 metres higher than Peak 2 (facing N), confirming that my guide was correct, and that the local guides of the Singapore team were wrong even though they had some good arguments:
- why was there a concrete plate on Peak 2, officially marking this as the highest peak
- why was the trail to Peak 2 more well trodden than to Peak 1
The latter make me suspect that quite a few have missed out Peak 1 even though it's both higher in terms of elevation, in addition to being a far better point for watching the sunrise.
External linksMount Apo on Wikipedia
Mount Apo on Distantpeak
Mount Apo on PinoyMountaineer