“Megatraverse.” When you put it that way it sounds like this grand endeavor only those in the ranks of great kings and fearless warriors would ever accomplish. It is not. But is is a worthy adventure, nonetheless.
The Talomo-Apo traverse – or “megatraverse,” as some would call it – takes hikers brave enough to take on its trails across two great mountains in the south: Mt. Talomo, which stands at a great height of 2,674 MASL (meters above sea level), and Mt. Apo, chief among all Philippines mountains at 2,954 MASL. I, being both brave and a wee bit crazy, took the challenge.
Last October 10-12, along with eight brave (and crazy, lest we forget) souls from Manila and seven other brave (some even crazier) souls from Mindanao, I completed the toughest hike of my life as a mountaineer (yet!).
Day 1. In which we are introduced to the party.
We arrived in Davao last October 9. It was still very early but we were to wait for one more participant who had a later flight. Once Veronica arrived, we went to meet who’s to be our guide for the traverse: John Kalog, who is a native of Davao. He gave us key chains engraved with our names, sweet little mementos – our bag tags. Anyway, that happened and the whole “last minute shopping” thing and on we went to Calinan. We then had a short trek up to Sicao Village, famed as the jump off point for Mt. Talomo.
Let me tell you a thing or two about Sicao Village and what happened to us on our brief stay there. It took us a little over an hour to get there. It was just like other villages one would normally find in the mountains. We paid “registration fees” (don’t look at me funny because of those quote marks, they’re there for a reason), in fact, we paid twice. Small change… not. I kid you not when I say hiking can sometimes be really costly. Every thing aside that seemed normal until the last light of day faded. Nighttime at camp in Sicao was a whole other thing. What happened, you might ask. Children happened. A horde of them. All of a sudden, the whole campsite was a dark playground for the children of the village. They were everywhere. And they were loud. They played around our tents; they played around us while we cooked dinner; they played while we ate; they played and they played and they were loud. It wasn’t a bad thing, though. It was actually pretty fun. And that was day one.
The adventure really began in our second day. That was also when the hard part started.
Day 2. In which four friends squeezed in a tent.
I woke up at 5 AM the next day and by 6:30, we started the long hike up Talomo’s summit. Taking on Mt. Talomo was NOT easy. It took us almost nine hours to reach the summit. The hike was really tough often taking us through complicated obstacles, under and over fallen logs, and up steep ascents. We found ourselves gripping at roots and branches for support and tackling vines full of thorns and whatnot. By the time we were almost finished, I was panting heavily. Lucky for me, two from my group, Patrick and Mark were right behind me. We were being playful in spite of being nearly exhausted (and that was just the first of four grueling days!). We just pushed ourselves to the limit and reached the summit (where the camp site was) by 3 PM.
If the hike was tough, our night at camp wasn’t much of a difference. It was very cold because of our elevation and because of the thick fog that enveloped the summit making the whole campsite very wet. It was still fun, though. Our friends from Davao cooked dinner for all of us while we settled in our tents. Patrick, Mark, Nica, and I huddled in one tent. I don’t know why we did this because Mark had a separate tent set up, but it was better for everyone because it was warmer that way. That was day two.
Day 3. In which the kissing monster kissed.
I think it was 5 in the morning when I woke up. I was on the summit of the Philippines’ 13th tallest mountain – I just slept on it – and I was cold. We had a long day of trekking ahead of us so we went on with our own businesses and started preparing, ate breakfast, un-pitched our tents, took pictures, and by 7 AM, we started to hike down to Kabakan Falls.
Again, I was with Pat and Mark and it took us less than four hours to reach Kabakan Falls. We were there before 11 – just in time for lunch. We waited there for Nica, who we found out had a bit of a difficulty with the steep descents. We decided that we would all just trek together from there to Basinan Camp. We let Nica eat her lunch and went on trekking at around 1 PM. The trek from Kabakan Falls to Basinan Camp was not without its difficulties. I still found it hard what with all the steep descents and ascents and all the ducking and going over roots, branches, and fallen trees. It was already 4:30 when we reached the camp site – too late to push for Lake Venado. (Lake Venado was our impromptu Plan B: to make the hike shorter, therefore having 1 more day to enjoy Davao or maybe go to Samal or Talicud Island. As luck would have it, we ultimately weren’t able to go for this plan.)
Anyway, nighttime at Basinan was intense. I do not want to relive the horrors of that night so I guess it’s best to cut the story short: a kissing monster (aka Kalog, our guide) showed up and hovered outside our tent. Before the night ended, Pat, Mark, and I all had been kissed. Pat, Nica, and I comfortably squeezed in Nica’s tent while Mark slept in his. Day 3.
Day 4. In which Apo was a sight to behold.
We woke up at around 6 AM excited to finally get to see Apo (again, for Pat and I). After the usual morning rituals and breaking camp, we went on our way to Lake Venado. Pat went turbo and arrived at Venado maybe an hour before all of us did. Nica and I, on the other hand, took it easy. We reached Venado in four hours. It was the easiest, most leisurely part of the hike.
Lake Venado, with a surface elevation of 2,195 meters, is the highest lake in the Philippines. In my first Apo climb, going down Venado served as a side trip for us. We went out of our way just to go down from the summit campsite and visit the lake then back up again because it was part of a different trail than the one we took (Kapatagan-Kapatagan). Anyway, this time, Venado really looked like a lake – unlike the last time I saw it when it looked more like a pond. Apo also looked grand from our vantage point. We stayed there for more than two hours, taking time to dry up our stuff, eat, and rest.
It was almost 3 PM when we hit it off again and went for the summit camp. But before the steep summit camp assault, we had to go around the lake. We saw familiar faces camped on the other side, friends from our Kitanglad climb – they were with BaseKamp. It would normally take hikers carrying full packs two hours to finish the quite tedious summit assault. It took us over three hours. One of our friends, Nick, showed almost all signs of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness, Altitude Sickness) so we had to really consider him. We could not just leave him so we stayed behind him allowing him to dictate our pace throughout the summit assault. Pat, being the team lead, let others go ahead of us so that they could start pitching tents and preparing stuff. When we were about 10 minutes away from the summit (i.e. on a normal pace) Pat told me that I could go ahead. I gladly went because I was feeling so cold I almost felt numb. Pat, Mark, Nick and some of the guys from Davao finally arrived at camp less than an hour after I did.
At 10 in the evening, after dinner, some of us went to explore one of Apo’s many peaks. Pat, Mark, Nica, and I along with a couple of the Davao boys and our guide were standing on one of the Philippines’ highest peaks at 10:15 PM. But we still haven’t reached the summit. That happened the next day.
Day 5. In which the sea of clouds revealed itself.
I woke up before 5 the next day. It was time to explore Apo’s peaks! (Again.) It was time for the Philippines’ summit! (Again.) Anyway, it was 6 AM when we finally started the fun.
We first went to the peak where one can get a good view of Lake Venado and Mt. Talomo – perfect for gazing at where we had been the past days. Looking at how far Talomo is from Venado and how far below Venado is from the summit, it dawned on me how hard the hike really was. However, seeing the magnificent view made me realize how truly rewarding great effort is. The sea of clouds was very nice to look at. Our guide, John, proudly called it “ocean of clouds.”
We went to the summit next. And finally, at 7:10 AM on the 13th of October, 2014, I was once again standing on the top of the Philippines. It was amazing. To be standing on the country’s highest peak and to be doing so after 3 long days of tough trekking was overwhelming.
A little past 11 AM, we started on our way down. We would still need to face the infamous boulders of Apo and make our way through another forest to Sitio Culan to call ourselves successful.
Unfortunately, Nick, who had been really sick, and some other guys got lost in the trail somewhere very near the village. We were already at one of the first houses we could seek refuge in when we learned about this. The group did try to look for them but it was too dark and too risky. They (the ones who got lost) just set up an emergency camp somewhere in the dense forest while we set up our own in front of the house.
Day 6. In which we felt like champions.
Early the next morning, we decided to head down to Culan to catch a ride going to Digos and then to Davao. All of us except Patrick had our flights that day, with some as early as 1 in the afternoon. We couldn’t waste time lest one of us misses our flight and shoulder additional charges for booking another one. We knew that Nick and the others were right behind us. We would later reunite with them in one of Davao’s budget hotels just when we were about to leave for the airport.
So that’s it. After being in the wilderness for four days and trekking for more or less 32 hours, we were on our way home. We climbed not one, but two of the tallest mountains in the country. We stood on the very top of the Philippines. We took on a great challenge; we faced tons of difficulties and survived every last one of them. We were successful. And we were happy.