Rising to 2293 meters (7522 feet) above sea level, Mount Matutum prominently resides at the southern end of The Philippines southernmost province of Mindanao. Although only 70 km SSW of the country's highest peak Mount Apo, this isolated dormant volcano dominates the landscape from all 360 degrees.
Mount Matutum behind the Pineapples
It is so grand in its steep rise that it beckons nature lovers and mountaineers to climb its lush green slopes.
The name Mount Matutum is derived from the local Blaa'n tongue "Amyak Maleh" meaning climb and plant. Indeed, all trekkers are required to plant a tree while visiting the Mountain. The Mountain and its surrounding landscape are protected through a Presidential Proclamation issued March 25, 1995 by President Fidel Ramos. The indigenous Blaa'n group that inhabits this part of South Cotabato protects the Mountain and surrounding 14,000 hectacre forest.
It's irregular characteristic shape was formed by volcanic uplift during previous periods of activity. The last eruption (unconfirmed) occurred on March 7, 1911. It is classified as a non-active volcanic cone composed mostly of pyroxene andosite. Its surrounding areas are classified as volcanic slopes and piedmonts.
Mt. Matutum forms the headwaters and catchment area for several major drainages including the Klinan, Silway, and Buayan rivers which empty into the magnificantly beautiful Sarangani Bay through General Santos City. These rivers provide rich nutrients to nearby communities. Recognizing the lush vegetation, on December 7, 1963 the Dole Company established in nearby Polomolok what is arguably the largest pineapple plantation in the world.
Army Officer Wu Ting Fang recorded the first documented ascent of Mount Matutum in March 1914. However, it was very likely scaled earlier as the local Blaa'n group's record keeping is practically non-existant.
Safety and Security
Coincidental with many of the world's most majestic mountains, Mount Matutum is close to areas of political unrest. As recently as November 23, 2009, a massacre left 52 people dead. The family of a local politician, accompanied by some 30 journalists were gunned down and buried in a mass grave less than 100 miles from Mount Matutum. Earlier in 2009, five Red Cross workers were kidnapped while serving on the the Mindanao island of Sulo.
The US state Department warns citizens traveling to Mindanao and its surrounding islands. Click here
for a US department of State update. In 2011, the US Embassy in Manila reissued its previous warning of reported kidnap for ransom gangs operating in the southern province of Mindanao. Terrorist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Jema'ah Islamiyah that have broken away from the more mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front or Moro National Liberation Front have carried out bombings resulting in injury and death. While those responsible do not appear to have targeted foreigners, travelers should remain vigilant. US government employees must seek special permission for travel to Mindanao.
That being said, it is possible to safely climb Mount Matutum and visit nearby surroundings without incident provided that logical safeguards are observed and that travelers are aware of the problem areas. Sensitivity to the people and their history can help if the unforseeable does happen.
Philippinos are deeply religious. Almost all attend church regularly. Two of the world's greatest religions, Christianity and Islam dominate the culture. Today's heightened unrest is fueled by the government's annulment of an August 5, 2008 agreement to accord the Moro Islamic Liberation Foundation (MILF) power and control of 712 villages in the island of Mindanao.
The 712 municipalities are situated within the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindinao (ARMM). This region lies northwest of Mount Matutum and includes Cotabato City, Zamboanga City, Maguindinao, and the islands of Basilan and Sulo. General Santos City, Davao, Polomolok, and Tupi are in the oposite direction and not part of ARMM.
A 1995 government proclamation 1995 funds the local Blaa'n group who maintain Mount Matutum as an ecotourism destination. They take safety and security very seriosly because their livlihood is very much dependent on it. We witnessed this first hand when we were a half day late in our scheduled return. The village people lined the streets with smiles and sighs of relief at our soiled and muddied emergence from the rain forest.
In addition to man made safety concerns, Mother Nature can also wreak havoc. Dengue fever, transmitted by mosquitoes has been reported in Mindinao. Untreated, this disease is fatal to 50% of those who contract it. Even when treated, the mortality rate is 5%. Insect repellants are strongly advised.
The Philippines is composed of 7107 islands. Of the limited options, flying is preferred. Airfares are now nearly as low as boat and ferry tickets. Flights are a little over an hour whereas sea travel takes 43 hours. Besides, The Philippines record of ferry travel is less than disappointing. On September 6, 2009, a Superferry traveling from Manila to General Santos City sank after ramming a reef off the west coast of the island. On June 22, 2008, another large ferry en route from Manila to the nearby island of Cebu sank in a typhoon. And more recently, on December 27, 2009 a small ferry traveling from the island of Mindoro to Batangas sank.
Two airlines operate daily flights to and from the Philippine island of Mindanao. General Santos City is preferred. Mount Matutum is 30 km NNW of GenSan as the locals refer to it. Davao is an acceptable back up. It is within 120 km, but the travel is through dense mountainous terrain. If you take the Davao option, make a sightseeing stop at boxing's reigning world champion and GenSan's favorite son Many Pacquiao's cockfighting farm (cockfighting is legal in The Philippines). It is located in Malungon. On the highway connecting Davao and GenSan, the turn to the east heading to Malungon is close to the turn heading west toward Mount Matutum. Avoiding all other other Mindanao cities which lie to the northwest in the ARMM region is recommended.
Philippine Airlines, the country's flagship national airline flies from Manila to both General Santos City and Davao. If you are connecting from most international cities, Philippine Airlines offers convenient connections through its vast array of affiliated carriers. Cebu Pacific is the Philippines no frills airline. They are truely a fun way to fly. Both have one flight per day between Manila and General Santos City and several between Manila and Davao.
When we flew from Manila to General Santos City in May 2009, Philippine Airlines quoted almost $300 round trip. We chose Cebu Pacific because their fare was less than $80 round trip. However, we recently priced Philippine Airlines and found they matched Cebu Pacific fares.
From other Cities in Asia
Cebu Pacific recently began offering service to and from several cities in Asia, including Shanghai, Singapore, Osaka, Jakarta, Bangkok, Taipei, and Hong Kong. Most flights to Mindanao land at Davao. Although they do not fly daily from all cities, fares are reasonable. If you can fly to any of these cities, completing your flight to Mindinao on Cebu Pacific may very well be your best value.
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You need a permit to climb Mount Matutum. Guides are also required. Climbing permits must be obtained at the municipal hall in the town of Tupi. Officials in Tupi use the permit application to secure a guide from a list of approved local mountaineers. Route finding is easy. However, experienced mountaineers will benefit from the guide's knowledge of poisionous vegetation in the exgtremely dense tropical rain forest.
It is best to allow 3 days for completing the permit application and securing the required guide.
Guide Sanjie and Bridgeski Bum Climb and Plant Mount Matutum
The The motto is "Amyak Maleh Matutum!": Climb and plant Matutum! Planting a tree during your climb is mandatory. This is a great initiative and a positive contribution to the local ecosystem. Plants are available locally for a nominal fee.
In 2009, one US dollar bought 46 Philippine Pesos (PHP).
Mandatory Permit.................. 150 PHP (little over $3)
Mandatory Tree seedling........ 10 PhP (less than 25 cents)
Mandatory Guide................... 500 PHP (little over $10)
Dense Tropical Rain Forest Vegetation
Due to the extremely dense vegetation in the rain forest and the infrequency of climbs there is one practical route up Mount Matutum. No more than 5 side routes have been pioneered. However, the incredibly fast rate of vegetation growth has all but washed them away. Unless you are part of a team of machete wielding trekkers with a week on your hands for trailblazing, stick to the guide's suggestion.
Commencing at Barangay Kablon, the first leg is an open trail passing by rolling hills surrounded by private fields and plantations. Coconut, rice, mango, bananas, jack fruit, and durian (Philippine national fruit) are the most prominent crops. This approach to the tropical rain forest is too wet for the popular pineapple which covers 10,000 hectacres of the lower elevations surrounding the mountain. An hour away is camp 1, which is also the entrance to the rain forest and the last source of water.
The second leg embarks from camp 1 up a gradually steepening slope ending at a plateau and an obvious break in the dense vegetation. Pull up a seat on one of the fallen trees and nosh down a few calories. You'll need all of them for the final 1 to 1 1/2 hour climb.
The final summit push is very sttep. Technical climbing gear is not needed because of the abundance of vines and roots that mother nature provides. Besides, a slip and fall lands you in a soft sofa of wet vegetation cushioned with plush muddy moss. Hopefully you will have learned to recognize and dodge the poisonous plants that scraped your arms during the first 3 hours of steep climbing. They still itch and will continue itching for the next 10 days
Arrive at General Santos City, Mindinao, Philippines
Take bus or cab 35 km NNW of GenSan to Tupi
Apply for climbing permit at Tupi municipal Hall
Return to Tupi to retrieve climbing permit
0500 Take bus from GenSan to Tupi
0900 Arrive at Kablon Crossing, less than a mile south of where you purchased your permit
0930 Hire a cab or motorcycle to arrive at Mount Matutum Guard House where you will meet your guide and register for the climb
Mount Matutum Guard House
1100 Start your trek by walking up the one dirt road of Barangay Kablon
1200 Arrive at camp 1 for lunch
1300 Fill 3 liters of water from this last source and resume trek
1700 ETA summit, set up camp and take in a magnificant south pacific sunset over Serangani Province
0500 Arise to a spectacular southeast asian sunrise over the Pacific Ocean
0700 Break camp
0800 Start descent. You'll need to sign out at the guard house when your trek is complete
1200 Arrive at Barangay Kablon and return to highway
1300 Catch bus back to GenSan, Davao, Koranadal City, or your place for the night
With an early start, it is possible to summit and return in one day.
If you are interested in obtaining a certificate of your climb, head to Tupi where you purcahsed your permit. It will take town officials a day to verify the records held at the guard house.
Time: GMT plus 8 hours
Electricity: 220 Volts, 50 Hz
Currency: Philippine Peso (PHP); $1 buys 46 PHP; 50 pesos to a buck
Weights and measures are Metric
Visayan, however english is widely spoken. Any person who graduated from high school speaks english.
The people of General Santos City enjoy a storm-free weather year in and year out. However, there is still a notable dry and wet season in this region. The best time to climb is from November to May during the dry season. The wet season, marked by tropical rainfall, is from June to October.
The temperature ranges in the city from 28 to 36 degrees Celsius. It was 10 degrees cooler at the summit compared to the base on the day we climbed.
The gods of the sea protect the southern tip of Mindanao through natural geography. The region rarely experiences typhoons which are common occurences only a few hundred kilometers to the north. Visitors enjoy great weather in spite of occasional tropical rains during the wet season
Cost of Living
Sadly, the security concerns raised above effecting filipinas themselves have rendered this area of The Philippines economically depressed. When the government successfully removes these threats, the beauty in both the landscape and the unmatched hospitality of the people will turn the southern tip of Mindanao into a tourist mecca. Serangani Province is among the most beautiful natural island destinations on the planet.
The current economic depression makes travel very affordable. A kilo of sushi grade tuna at the local market can be had for under two dollars. That's about a buck a pound! You'll barter a taxi driver over hundreds of pesos; a couple of bucks. Spend the extra $4. They deservie it and you are a rare visitor. For your safety, just don't flaunt it.
Useful LinksPinoy Mountaineer
General Santos City