Mt Apo: the pinnacle of pride

Climbing the tallest mountain in the Philippines.

As the tallest mountain in the country, Apo is the whole enchilada for many Filipino visitors to Davao. Not that everyone agrees on how tall the volcano is though. the most widely quoted figure is of 2,954m, but more recent tourism literature is claiming something over 3,100m. Certainly the summit is a confused affair, the crater rim having been riven by earlier volcanic events into multiple summits, but this writer, having tramped to the top of perhaps the second highest, couldn’t get much more than 2,850m out of his altimeter.

If the number-boost ing shows a misdirected pride, a purer kind is on display from locals who scale Apo in their droves, shivering yet smiling their way to the top where no small number of the menfolk feel compelled to strip off at least their shirt. on religious holidays you can find yourself sharing the summit with hundreds, and even weekends get fairly hectic, so don’t come here looking for solitude. that said, there is plenty of space to pitch a tent as the crater floor offers numerous spots shaded by crags or merely tall tussocks of tough grasses.

Getting up to that crater takes anywhere from a half-day at full pelt, to two days for more leisurely ascents via longer routes, of which there are several. Most people climb from the Davao City side using the Kapatagan route and then descend using an alternate path to enjoy different views and terrain.

Remember that no matter how balmy the conditions on the coast, this is a 3,000m mountain and you should come prepared for variable weather and trail conditions. Apo often gathers some cloud so in the lower, forested sections be prepared for rain or at least  wet vegetation. Equally, higher up you may find yourself exposed to glaring sun, especially tough in the boulder fields below the summit in places, where the heat is bounced back at you off the pale rocks.

The final push to the summit is brutally steep which ever route you take – just take heart in the thought of how quickly you can lose that height again on the return journey. Finally you are done and gaining the top you are rewarded with views inwards of the fractured crater and its lake, and outwards of a large chunk of Mindanao at your feet.

Having made it, most people stay the night in the crater then get up before dawn to clamber to the top of the rim and watch the sunrise over Davao which, if you are lucky, can be nothing less than stunning.

Then it is time to head home, slithering down muddy upper slopes to regain the forest. take a route that stays in the forest where possible as the old growth is some of the finest in the country – far more beautiful than the plantations that mar other parts of the mountain.

Permits for the peak cost p700 for foreigners, while porters and guides cost around p750/day. If you traverse the mountain, you’ll also need to pay for their transport back to their starting point.