So there we were, at the peak, shivering from head to foot in the cold mountain air and rainfall. Ah, Mt. Apo – indeed the grandfather of all Philippine mountains (2,956 MASL) . Halfway into conquering him, we have already had our fair share of shifting landscapes and contrasting trail types. As nighttime bade hello, we set down our full packs and quickly assembled our tent amidst the biting wind. Good thing we had the entire peak to ourselves. We settled for a spot inside a shallow cave and hoped the tent can take the battering of the winds.
Our gracious host and guide Jezer Paro* (+63 918 7819861) is nothing short of amazing. Contacted at the eleventh hour, we were fortunate he was available and agreeable to our 2-day traverse of the Kapatagan (Davao) and Kidapawan (North Cotabato) trails. His suggested plan was to start at the Kapatagan side and climb all the way to the summit on the first day, make camp at the summit area and descend to Lake Venado and the Kidapawan trail the next day. Whereas the usual itinerary takes three or four days for the entire traverse, we opted to challenge ourselves to finish it overnight. Jezer knew the ins, outs and shortcuts of the mountain by heart. With all his tricks, we were able to cut short our ascent by an hour or two. We negotiated the ascent for a total of seven hours and 25 minutes and the descent for a staggering seven and 15.
From Digos City proper, the Kapatagan jump-off is an almost 2-hour habal-habal or jeepney ride away. One hour into the trip, mountaineers will have to register at the information center located at Sitio Baras Kapatagan (the Camp Sabros junction is located here). Since we were expected to be there before the office opens at 8:00 AM, prior to our arrival, we already paid the registration fee of Php720.00 and secured the climbing permit/waiver through Jezer. Alternatively, the contact details at the Digos side are: 1. Digos Tourism Office +63 82 5534860 or, 2. Julius Paner of the Sta. Cruz Tourism Office +63 920 8567991.
The road to the jump-off point is steep and rocky. With four riders and three full packs, our habal-habal driver had to skillfully maneuver his way through it. There were points when we had to get off the motorbike so he can easily move forward. There are eateries and a public market on the way to the jump-off point for last-minute purchases.
The Kapatagan trail began with wide paths through farmlands, open fields and muddy narrow furrows. After almost two hours of these, we entered a thick forest with lots of fallen trees. It got technical as we had to repeatedly bend and/or walk over large roots and huge mossy trunks. The forest line then transformed to a more volcanic feel similar to that of Mt. Mayon as we began to boulder our way to the crater and summit. The boulder trail was stunning and covered with big and small rocks whitened by sulfur. Deep yellow rocks bordered the edges of vents that emitted unholy-smelling gases. From there, the crater and the verdant landscape can be seen.
If the entry point is via Kidapawan, the climbing fee is Php500.00 (backtrail). Permits can be arranged through Ging Pame of the Kidapawan Tourism Office at +63 926 8540116 or +63 920 5113524. The downside of arranging an Apo traverse on your own (based on personal experience) is the coordination with both Kidapawan and Kapatagan tourism offices. An exit fee is charged either way.
From the campsite, we descended to Lake Venado through easy sloping trails of soft grass. The overlooking view of the lake from the summit was superb. The existence of a body of water and its vast camping grounds at that altitude (2,280 MASL) was stupefying. The Kidapawan trail from Lake Venado commenced with a marshy tract of land. I personally gave up trying to avoid sinking and shooed away images of snakes and toads as I splashed my way through the swampland. Afterwards, we entered a very steep forested path. Steps appeared to have been carved off the course with some portions requiring a lot of limb coordination. The trek through the forest ended with numerous river crossings. We criss-crossed through the Marbel River, the riverbank and the forest more than five times.
Finally, the entire experience concluded with a half hour ascent to Lake Agko and its hot springs. After a quick wash-up at one of the resorts, we boarded a habal-habal and had a one-hour highway ride to the Kidapawan transportation terminal.
Php2,000.00 guide fee (Php1,000.00 per day; local guides are cheaper at Php300.00 to Php500.00 per day)
720.00 registration fee
200.00 habal-habal ride per pax from Digos to Kapatagan
150.00 habal-habal ride per pax from Lake Agko to Kidapawan
130.00 van ride per pax from Kidapawan City to Digos City
06:30 ETD Digos
07:30 Information Center; registration
08:30 ETA Kapatagan jump-off
08:45 Start trek
11:20 Resume trek
13:00 Bororing; lunch
13:30 Resume trek
14:30 Godi-Godi Camp
19:00 Lights off
11:30 Lake Venado; lunch
12:30 Resume trek
15:30 Marbel River
17:45 Lake Agko
18:30 ETD Lake Agko
19:30 ETA Kidapawan
20:00 ETD Kidapawan
21:00 ETA Digos
*Jezer is a professional mountain guide. He has an extensive background in the sport and in emergency rescue operations. He arranges climbs through his business, Climb Apo Tour and Services. For a group with a minimum of ten participants, the cost is Php4,000.00 for a 3-day climb (they can adjust based on the group’s experience and preference). This is inclusive of all transportation costs, meals, permits, fees and porters. For our climb, we paid this master trail guide Php1,000.00 per day. A very reasonable price for his hospitality, humor and expertise! We initially wanted a Kidapawan-Kapatagan traverse. Thankfully, we heeded Jezer’s advice and went for the flipside. The Kidapawan trail is an endless cardiac trail of slopes and steps. To get in touch with Jezer, you can SMS him at +63 918 7819861 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.