They say the wilderness holds answers to questions we have not yet learned to ask. At times, even if you do know already what to ask, the answer does not always come as immediately as expected.
As a sucker for great stories, I’ve always loved listening to tales of adventures narrated by fellow hikers. The creative side of me loves imagining things from how they were told from the storyteller’s point of view (hello, bookworms out there!)
During my first camping experience at Mt. Naupa, together with my fellow newbies back then, one of the questions Jet and I asked was: “Pwede ba kaha sak-on ang Mt. Apo og usa ra ka adlaw sa?” (Is it possible to climb Mt. Apo in just a day?) To which Lawin responded, “What if imong i-goal kay i-dayhike nimo tanang major climb.” (What if you make it a goal to dayhike all major hikes.)
Of course, these were just curious conversations under the clear skies that night. Major climbs were just a farfetched idea at that time. We were noobs – and probably still are XD. But the question was left hanging until yesterday, it got finally answered.
How I Ended Up Joining Mt. Apo Ultramarathon
In my previous blog, I shared how the series of plot twists this year led me to join running events, heck trail running for that matter. As if those plot twists were not enough, there I was registered once again for another ultramarathon – this time with a 2,954 masl elevation.
Here we go again with all these crazy decisions.
Having been able to climb Mt. Apo several years back, I know how strenuous and challenging such a feat will be. It was such an arduous hike that I have long convinced myself not to do it again. Scam. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves.
But Jet and Chiarra were so invested in it. And I don’t want to spend my weekends getting buried with workload (insert other excuses) if I stay at home. I need a life. So, there I was, trailing on weekends, navigating over and over again those long, steep, dirt roads, and complaining every 30km how tiring it was – but still does it the following weekend.
Then race day came.
TDR Series – Mt. Apo 50km Category
When the event was made open for registration, the only thing we knew is that only the 50km category will reach the summit and do the circuit route (Boulderface to Lake Venado) within 17hours. A qualifying race of a 50km trail run finish was also added as a requirement. Two weeks before the event, the organizers already provided the route profile of the run – including two intermediate cutoff times (3.30 hours for the first 15km and 13.30 hours for 35.5km). This is where the merese begins.
Probably learning from the experiences of the previous races, there’s actually wisdom in why race directors and organizers add intermediate cutoffs. This not only saves the time and effort of the organizers, Marshall, and rescuers, this most particularly helps keep safe the runners, especially when already pressed with time and exhaustion.
Four days before the race, a third intermediate cut-off at Aid Station 4 Peak Campsite was added. For additional safety reasons, runners must reach Mt. Apo’s peak within nine hours and thirty minutes (15 km of road run and 9km of direct uphill trail with boulders). Simply put, if you can’t reach Mt. Apo’s campsite by 9:30 in the morning, you are automatically out of the race and will no longer be allowed to proceed to Lake Venado. Instead, you have to backtrail the boulders and head back to Aid Station 2 at Colan where you will be asked to look for your own ride going back to the starting line.
Back to the Original Question: Is it Possible to Dayhike Mt. Apo?
When you are pressed with time, yes. Also, depending on the route – and the activities you had prior to the climb.
Trailing every weekend since the beginning of this year, endurance-wise, I think I can survive a 50km event. But speed is still something I have to work on, especially now that we are back on site with work. With the workload at hand (and other clients on the sideline, poor tayo, kailangan ng side hustle to pay for events XD), it’s quite challenging to squeeze in daily training exercise, even jogging.
Knowing my pace, I have already started processing the many possibilities that could happen. My concern was no longer about finishing the race within the 17hours cutoff. My very first worry was the three hours and a half cutoff for the first 15km. That’s just the base of Mt. Apo from the starting line. If I got DNF on the first 15km, I don’t know how I would go on with the rest of the day.
But maybe the weekends spent on the roads from Bonbon to JY Square paid off. By grace, I managed to arrive before the cutoff and proceed to Tinikaran Campsite. Trailing alone at three in the morning was not only physically exhausting, but the mental battle was also even worse. The only consolation I had was that: at least, I got a chance to summit. If I can’t reach Mt. Apo campsite by 9:30am, at least I was able to set foot at the summit. As one of the race directors put it, “That alone is victory on its own.”
Hence, the mind was fixated on the summit. [Un]fortunately, as I was making sorts of strategies to entertain myself going up, I met a fellow runner who was also navigating through the mossy forest. Like me, she was alone battling with the muddy trails, fallen trees, and steep ascents. Through our exchange of conversations, I’ve learned how much she loved Mt. Apo – that she keeps on joining every trail running event held on the Philippines’ highest mountain. (Later did I know that she was the first woman hailed as a champion in the first Mount Apo Sky Race held in 2015. Hello, Ate Elle! Sige ratag chika, wa gyud tay picture.)
Upon knowing my plans of reaching only the summit, she immediately called me out, recounting all the expenses spent and trainings made. “Di ko musugot nga mag-summit raka. Muhuman gyud ka. Muhuman gyud ta. Imong nawng hayag pa kaayo. Wa pa ka nalaspag. Ali diri, kuyog nako.” (I won’t allow that you only go for the summit. You have to finish. We have to finish. You don’t look exhausted yet. Come with me.)
Her words were so motherly, they stuck a chord in me. Plus, I loved her pace. Not too fast, but she never stops. Taking one step at a time, we managed to reach the boulders and were even able to outpace other runners who were ahead of us. “Told you, we’ll make it before the cutoff.”
I did make the cutoff at the summit. But we parted ways before even reaching the campsite. I chose to stay with Chiarra who was suffering from a stomachache. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving a friend behind. I have to pass on the motivation shared by Ate Elle. If I make it to the cutoff, Chiarra has to. Plus, I really don’t want to pass through the boulders once again should we DNF.
Up until now, we still couldn’t pinpoint the cause of her stomachache. Probably the strong smell of sulfur coming out from the vents. Maybe from the food and beverages, she consumed. Hyperacidity or perhaps exhaustion makes itself known to the body. Whatever it was, we were truly grateful to the Marshalls (and photographers!) stationed at the White Sand and at Mt. Apo’s Davao Peak. They gave the best motivational words – truly one for the books – and first aid that significantly alleviate whatever it was that was bothering Chiarra.
From the summit, we were permitted to proceed to Lake Venado and head to Colan. The problem is that from the Peak Campsite (24km), we have to cover 12km of technical downhell going back to Colan for the last intermediate cutoff within four hours. Twelve kilometers on the road is manageable within two hours, at most. But here, we’re talking about going down from the summit with more than 600 meters of elevation loss, scrambling on fallen trees, crossing streams, rappelling through slippery areas, and navigating through the muddy trail under the heavy downpour.
Consciously observing my speed and the mileage covered, I have slowly come to terms that the chances of me reaching Colan within the cutoff is quite low, if not impossible. I don’t know if I was too tired to deal with and overthink the repercussions (it’s been twelve hours since the gun start) but I’ve come to a point where I stopped minding at all. Sometimes, we have to make amends with what we are capable of doing (as of the moment) and the circumstances that we are in. Life is too short to focus on our shortcomings. Come to think of it, from the start, all I ever wanted was to reach the first 15km. Then, I was permitted to push through the summit – and even visited Lake Venado (this is such a dream come true, as we were not allowed to visit the lake when we had our hike five years back), came face to face with the Century Tree, and complete the Mt. Apo Circuit. Again, as one of the RDs put it: “That alone is victory on its own.”
I spent the rest of the time reflecting through the thick forest. From time to time there were guides and support who would pass through me. Other times, I outpaced hikers, who with all smiles, gave the ultimate boosts of ‘good luck’ and ‘keep safe’. With them I am reminded that above all, safety should always come first. What good would it bring to have crossed the finish line with injuries – that may even cause permanent damages, right? As one of the friends we’ve met in Dau Trail Run once said, “Ang goal kay makaduty pa inig human sa race.” (The goal is to get back to work after the race.) We were not paid to run; we paid to run.
Upon reaching Sitio Tumpis, I paced with the two hikers who generously shared the remaining bottle of water they had. Chiarra was already in sight, waiting a few meters away. We exchanged a knowing smile, with thoughts of: it’s fruitless to beat ourselves going to Colan.
Compared to our previous race in Bukidnon, Muspo 100, I think Mt. Apo greatly changed her. Honestly, I thought she would be sulking for not being able to meet the cutoff. But she was all smiles. I guess, like me, she got enough time to process her thoughts and make amends with the circumstances she was in. She even had enough energy to converse in Tagalog with the two hikers from Cavite!
We arrived at Colan by 1:47pm. That’s 17 minutes way past the cutoff. In the area were other runners who were declared DNF, as well. From there we had to bid goodbye to our race trackers and were instructed to hire habal-habal to bring us back to the race venue. Upon knowing that there are no entitlements given to those who DNF, we decided to directly head back to our accommodation and call it a day.
Mt. Apo Post-Race Thoughts
I know. This is kinda long. But I want to pour out everything before my brain decides to put all memories into the short-term memory bank.
This Mt. Apo Ultramarathon is surely a great quest to face. But the experience is truly one to keep. It’s not every day that you get to be in the same category as the leading trail runners, as of this writing. With us in the starting line were Ces Wael, Julie Ann Morales, Arnie Macareñas, Larry Apolinario, and many other elites in the trail running community. (Thanks Jet, for keeping us updated!)
We were even fortunate to be with other experienced runners from Cebu. Not only that they shared some important tips on what to do before, during, and after the race, but they also generously shared their stories, lessons learned, experiences, and resources with us.
Most importantly, I’ve finally got closure to the long-forgotten question we had several years back. To Marj (2016) who once asked if it’s possible to hike Mt. Apo in just a day, the answer is yes. And if by chance you’ll be presented with another opportunity to visit the ‘Grandfather of All Mountains’ in the Philippines, I hope you’ll grab the opportunity to do so. For not only will you meet new friends and gain more experience, but you’ll also bring back home new insights and lessons learned. Keep growing. Keep going.
Kudos to Team Davao Runners for such a well-organized event. If ADR raised the bar so high for organizing road runs in Cebu, I think TDR has lifted the bar higher in terms of safety, support, Marshalls, aid stations, trail marks, and overall management of the event.
Thank you to all whom we have met along the trails – and to those who showed support from start to finish. Of course, special thanks to Chiarra and Jet. I really don’t know how I ended up here. But well, we made it this far, let’s keep going. To more merese weekends we go!