MT. APO 2004: Phl's Highest Peak via Kapatagan-Kidapawan Trail

Before I write about my 2011 starter climb in Mt. Apo via Kidapawan (Coong Trail), I reckon I should write about my first Mt Apo climb via Kapatagan(Digos Trail)-Kidapawan (Mainit Trail) before my new experience takes over my first take on this majestic mountain. 

I will now retrace my climb steps on this formidable mountain/volcano way back when in the summer of 2004, four hikers ventured in Mindanao to climb Philippines highest peak - Mt. Apo. 

Mt. Apo is a solfataric volcano towering  three (3) cities - Davao City by its northeast, Kidapawan City to the west and Digos City on the southeast. Of the many trail options, we chose the Kapatagan Trail for the ascent and via Kidapawan (Mainit) Trail for our descent.

Majestic Mt. Apo

There are three (3) main hiking trails to choose from on this mountain. Climbers may opt for a relatively easy trek via Kidapawan, a moderate one via Kapatagan (Digos), and a longer (probably harder) trek via Sibulan (Davao).

Our climb in Mt. Apo was initiated by Eric, on his return from abroad for a short vacation in 2004. A former president of our mountaineering org, he left the country to permanently live in California, having been commissioned by the U.S. Navy. He probably left behind a long list of mountains he wished he had climbed, which includes Philippines' highest, of course. Yaz and I arranged details of the climb and three of us flew to Davao on May 14, 2004. I was reminded by Yaz that that flight was my first and my plane tickets paid for by Yaz and Kuya.. Hehehe! A big thanks Yazy.  @_@

Joining us on the climb is Cabs, a Mindanao-born schoolmate of ours . Though a native of Kidapawan, he has not visited/climbed his neighboring giant yet. He fetched us at the airport and brought us to a native diner where we ate fresh grilled seafoods. Particular to the liking of my taste buds is the grilled local delicacy - Bihod (fish roe).  

We stayed at his house in Kidapawan upon our arrival. He gave us a quick tour of their rubber tree plantation and served us Durian for snacks. Davao's favorite fruit appealed to my taste buds as rotten onion, so i was not pleased with my first Durian experience. Back at Cabs' house after the quick tour, three of us prepared our climb stuff for the climb tomorrow at the big room on the second floor where we have a view of Cabs family's machine shop.  

Dropped by the DOT for registration where we were assigned our guide. We rode a habal habal (motorcycle which can carry up to three passenger plus bags)  to get to the jump-off. Managed to have this photo taken where Mt. Apo stands proudly behind us, courtesy of Eric who was the only one with a camera.
A good view of Mt. Apo on our way to the Kapatagan Trail jump-off. (Left to right - Cabs, Yaz and Me)
We met with with our guide (forgot his name) and got to the habal habal again to get to the jump-off. The first hour was a paced hike in an open trail/grassland area, with Bahay Kubo to the left and right. There are also farmlands cultivated by the locals. Their main crops are rice, corn, marble potatoes, carrots, cabbage and sayote.  Fruit bearing trees are also plenty such as banana and coconut.

We lost the vacation feel of trekking along farmlands when we got deeper into the forest. since the starting elevation is relatively high already, the surrounding already have the mossy forest feel to it. Vegetation thickens some more, and the trail becomes more challenging too. The climb just became a little steeper.

We arrived in Tinikaran Camp 1 around 4:00PM, and here we settled for the night. Our tent grouping was - Me, Yaz and Eric on one tent, while Cabz and the guide shared the other tent.

We started early the next day, I don't remember what we ate for breakfast, but I'm sure it was a vegetarian dish because Eric is a lacto-vegetarian (basically a vegan who drinks milk) while Yas and I were lacto-ovo vegetarians (consumes eggs too).   

We left the camp around 8:00AM. While hiking the trail at least an hour later, our guide rushed to us silently and told us to keep our heads down and keep quiet. We followed hesitantly, backtracking the trail for an alternate route. All of us were very very silent, until one of us spoke and asked what was that all about. The guide told us there were guerrillas camped along the trail we left behind. They've setup their hammocks and were sleeping. I was intrigued at how it was a big deal and can't imagine the danger that it poses for us. It was  a weird experience but it kinda excited us at that particular moment.  

At this point, I was no longer tracking of time. We hiked and walked and climbed. Finally, we got to the footslopes of the Boulder Trail. This marks the assault climb for the Kapatagan Trail. 

Start of ascent via the Boulder Trail.

The Boulder Trail is the southeast portion of the mountain whereby collosal volcanic rock fragments accumulated. It was an evidence of the magnitude of the eruption that Mt. Apo was or is capable of. This trail leads to the collapsed side of the old Mt. Apo crater.

Boulder trail on the southeast side of Mt. Apo.

We passed by an active sulfur vent approximately 1.5 hours from the crater. The sulfur stench (worst than rotten egg) made it uncomfortable to climb this portion of the trail. You will have to do shallow breathing so you won't inhale much of the stench, thus you feel short of breath. This is the biggest sulfur vent passable in the area. This was inspirational to me, because a co-climber (Tedans) who had climbed Mt. Apo decades ago, had a photo beside the vent with the sulfur accumulation as tall as he is (more than 5feet). When I saw that photo, I wanted to climb Mt. Apo too. During our climb, we saw the sulfur reduced to this relatively tiny fraction. It would take another thousands of years for the vent to accumulate that 5 feet massive sulfur again for future climbers to see.
Active Sulfur vents along the Boulder Trail

Arrived at the crater at around 5:00PM, close to daybreak. Mt. Apo crater is a  magnificent landform and one of mother nature's works of art. It has a jagged wall which was part of the old volcanic neck covered with moss while ankle-high rainwater filled the bottom of the crater.
Mt. Apo crater

We hustled to one of the peak so we could have our photos taken before sunset. This is my favorite shot on top of Philippines highest mountain.

We setup our camp, as suggested by our guide, underneath a big boulder of rock which formed a cavern-like area blocking the wind at one side. Same grouping for sleeping applied.

It started raining that night, and the wind chilled us to the bones. Eric brought with him a TNF shell jacket which he thought was enough. Coming from California, he thought he was used to the cold weather already, well he was wrong. He was so cold that night, he squeezed himself between us ladies. As for me, I brought a big plastic bag (improvised thermal blanket) to keep myself warm, it worked great.

All the while, we have no idea how Cabs and the guide was doing inside their tent. ^_^

Day 3 was supposed to be the descent to Lake Venado. But we woke up to a still angry weather, wind banging our tent walls, and rain pouring hard on the ground.. We went outside and saw nothing but fog. Zero-visibility would make our descent very very difficult, so we decided to stay in camp and descend the next day.
We slept, ate, and took silly photos of us inside the tent. We had the entire day to rest and regain our energy.

After the rain, there's always sunshine. Day 4 was a great day to descend Mt. Apo. The warm rays of the sun felt good on the skin after experiencing too much cold for two consecutive nights.

We began descending for Lake Venado around 8:00AM. The view of the lake during the descent was  a great motivator. The lake didn't look exactly like the photo of a vast waterbody below a mountain which you would normally see on the internet. But it was beautiful nonetheless. Old growth forest surround the lake and the dry portions of the lake are covered with moss seeming like a carpet. (1.5hr)

The small patch of water of Lake Venado during summer.

We came from way up there.

From Lake Venado, we were officially in Kidapawan already. We've left the premises of Kapatagan. We took the Mainit Trail for our long and final descent. We passed by a century old - Almaciga Tree which was another landmark along the trail. A gigantic tree as such is an indicator of the biodiversity and the health of the forest.

We arrived in the little town of Colan around 2:00PM. I was a smoker back then, and I ran out of cigarettes being stuck in camp for an entire day. At one of a sari-sari store in this town, I was able to buy a pack of cigarettes (30 sticks in a pack), which was the only cancer sticks available there, brand of which is MAS for only 10pesos. For someone smoking a common brand of menthol cigarettes, this was a new experience though it wasn't that satisfying. The cigarette tasted literally like burnt wood, but I smoked it anyway. Haha! The idea here is that, during a climb you'll find some things you won't encounter in the city. It is important to appreciate what is available and be content with it.

Two hours more of trekking and we were back where we started. Had our photo taken with  our guide and we hired habal habal again to take us back to the main road where we met with our vehicle transport service. 

Then it was time to go back to Davao. I contacted some climber friends I met during past climb congress (Jun, Joel and Jorge) for some trippings around Davao. Jun took us to Jack's Ridge (a restaurant overlooking the city) and met with the other guys - Joel and Jorge for some beer later that night.

Jorge (Higher Ground proprietor) took us in for the night where we met his cute and cuddly son Jethro. ^_^ The next morning, Jun took us out again, this time to buy pasalubong in Aldevinco. He escaped a few hours from the office to take us there, which was very  much appreciated.

We had lots of pasalubong and souvenirs from our Davao friends, Jorge gave us a higher ground t-shirt and Joel gave us big boxes of fresh in season Davao fruits. But aside from the souvenirs, it was the time they spared for us that matters most.

After the shopping for pasalubong, it was time to go to the airport for our flight home. We arrived safely back in Manila.

Our Mt. Apo Climb experience is ours to remember by always.


  1. Nakakainggit! Kpag malakas na ko, aakyat ako jan! ;)

  2. sir/mam,
    hello po, ask ko lang kung may contact pa po ba kau sa nagasikaso at nagguide sa nyo sa mt apo?? may climb po kasi kame nxt month,sna matulungan nyo po kme.. salamat po!


  3. Hi gboy,

    what trail will you be using? via kapatagan or via kidapawan?

  4. kapatagan-kidapawan traverse po sna.. ^_^


  5. Pls visit the website below for a more up to date climb details and comments from climbers.. my climb via Kapatagan was in 2004 so I don't think I would be of any help to you..

    Goodluck! :D


I'd love to hear from you.. Please share your experiences too.. ^_^

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