I love a good walk. I can wander the streets of New York or London all day no problem. While I am at ease on flat urban terrain, I have never attempted a mountain climb before. On my trip to the Philippines I figured this was the ideal place to test my flatland legs on a mountain.
Originally I had my sights on Mt. Kanlaon on the island of Negros, but upon arrival in Dumaguette I discovered the mountain was closed to trekkers due to the threat of landslides. Fortunately my itinerary for the Philippines was to have no itinerary. I had travel days that were dictated by the whims of the ferry and bus services. For one of my destinations the ferry company said the ferry might run in two days, proving that for travel in the Philippines the best plan is to make no plan.
With my first choice of mountain knocked out of contention I went online and soon discovered a perfect mountain for beginners to climb, Mt. Hibok-Hibok on Camiguin island.
[Mt Hibok-Hibok from the beach]
Before coming to the Philippines I had not even heard of Camiguin (it is one of over 7000 islands after all.) Camiguin is a small island off the coast of Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines. Camiguin can be circumnavigated by bike in a few hours, which is what I did on one of my days there. This little islands main claim to fame is that it has more volcanoes per square kilometre than any other island on earth. Luckily for me and its inhabitants, none were going off. Hibok-Hibok is considered an active volcano, and it last erupted in 1951 killing 3000 people.
[Ricefields and volcanos – a typical Camiguin scene]
Climbing Mt Hibok-Hibok
Mt Hibok-Hibok stands at 1332 metres high, making it a comfortable day trip. I met my guide, Rey, pre dawn and we rode his motorbike to the Ardent Hot Springs at the base of the mountain, where our trek would begin. It turned out that Rey had a fever the night before and was seeing black when he woke up, yet he still got out of bed. I think of my time at waged employment and how I took sick days at the slightest hint of a sniffle, and here was my man climbing a mountain with a fever (self employment is a great motivator). While this was not a favourable day for Rey to be climbing, it worked out well for me.
[Fever Rey, leading the way]
Seeing this was my first mountain climb I was happy to be going at a slower than normal pace with regular stops along the way. It was also an overcast and cooler than usual day which made the climb easier. I was warned that the path is steep and rocky, and most of the way is through jungle with only a hint of a path.
[Stare long enough and you will see a path]
The ascent took 3 hours with the last third being particularly steep, climbing over the mountains rocky peak.
[Yours truly on the peak of Mt Hibok-Hibok]
On a clear day from the peak you can see the Islands of Cebu and Bohol (the latter being home of tarsiers). There was much cloud cover when we arrived on the peak, so I would not be seeing Bohol again this time around. Still, the view was grand enough to satisfy my sense of accomplishment.
Like much of my travels throughout the Philippines, there were no one else around that day. We had the peak to ourselves, so we relaxed for an hour before making our way back down.
[One day son, this will all be yours]
I had heard before the climb that coming down is in some ways harder, especially if your legs start turning to jelly. I was feeling it a little in the legs, but for me the hardest part was having to concentrate more on every step. I found that going up I didn’t need to think about where I was putting my feet as much, so I let my mind wander to other things to distract me from thinking about the physical exertion. The walk down took two hours, making it a round trip of six hours.
I’m glad it worked out that I didn’t do Kanlaon first, which would have been a two day climb. The one thing I didn’t do on this climb was any warm down exercises. As a result I could hardly walk from stiffness for the next few days. I would have been in trouble if I had of woken up on a mountain top as stiff as that and having to get back down.
When I was in Sabah, Mt Kinabalu kept calling my name to climb it. It towers at over 4000M, which is a fair step up from Mt Hibok-Hibok’s 1332M. I think my strategy will be to go up in 1000M brackets each time to test my legs and lungs.
For now though I am happy that I got to make this unexpected detour to the island of Camiguin.