They say the third time is a charm. For Camiguin, my third visit on this island province found me on one of the summits of Mt Hibok-hibok. A mountain I used to just marvel from afar when I roamed around Camiguin from my last two visits. Whether from white island or driving on the coastal road, I’ve always imagined how it’s like to climb this stratovolcano that helped shaped the landscape of this island. Standing at 1,332 meters above sea level, Mt Hibok-hibok is one of the 24 active volcanoes in the country.
Birth of PHIVOLCS
Mt Hibok-hibok’s last eruption in 1951 was devastating. The volcano spewed boiling lava, unleashed poisonous gas and caused massive landslides destroying several lands and properties. At least 3,000 people died and from its original population of 69,000, it was reduced to less than half at 34,000 due to out-migration.
The country was still recovering from World War II and immediately the local government also have to deal with this calamity. Under the administration of President Elpidio Quirino then, the Commission on Volcanology (ComVol) was created to safeguard people from the dangers of volcanic eruptions and monitor their activity.
Under President Marcos, the the government agencies were restructured and refined. ComVol became Philippine Institute of Volcanology (PHIVOLCS) in 1982.
ASEAN Heritage Park
We had an early call time at the DENR station situated inside the valley between Mt Timpoong and Mt Hibok-hibok which is also known as the Mt Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok National Monument (MTHHNM). It was just in 2016 that MTHHNM was included in the list of ASEAN Heritage Parks, one of the 8 listed heritage parks in the country. Citing the variety of habitats, high level of endemism and biodiversity in its vast 3,739.1376 hectares area.
Sitio Itum Trail
I gazed at the silhouette slopes of Mt Hibok-hibok under the stars. Feeling the cold morning air outside the DENR station where we had an early breakfast and briefing before our climb. We waited until there was enough light to illuminate the trail. Aside from climbing with familiar trail friends Kara, Celine, Dennis, Gretchen and Lia, we were joined by some folks from Cagayan de Oro, Davao and locals from Camiguin.
We were climbing via the Itum Trail, a recently opened trail in 2019 adding to the already existing 2 trails in Yumbing and Ardent. I asked the guides on the level of difficulty for each and got mixed reactions. In general, the Itum Trail is somewhere in the middle with an average 3-4 hours hike one way. That is if the conditions were ideal.
Climbing Mt Hibok-hibok
Our climb was met with muddy, slick and damp trails. It was raining a few days before and this didn’t help with the climb. It makes easy trails a lot more difficult. I was contemplating using sandals the day before and glad I switched to shoes instead or else I’ll get bruises and would slip more. But despite the challenging ascent I appreciate how beautiful the trail is.
MTHHNM has five major habitats: The grasslands where we started, the freshwater habitat where we crossed by a stream, the dipterocarp forest, the mossy forest and the crater lake. I would often stop (not just to rest) but to appreciate the forest and the tiny details I see. From finding endemic plants like the Camiguin Ayum or spotting also the Philippine endemic Golden-yellow white eye birds on the trails. The towering Pandanus and its many legs were mesmerizing amidst the eerie moss covered trees under a thin layer of mist.
One we reached the summit area, I marveled at the pygmy forest with plenty of pitcher plants at the trail fringes. Most of my climb, I was alone with one of the guides as I was neither going fast or slow. I was relishing the trail (and also navigating through the muddy trail). I reached the summit viewpoint with very little view. With the clouds clearing in a split second to unveil the panorama and cover it up again. I was glad to catch up with the rest of my trail friends at the crater viewpoint though and together descended the mountain.
It was comforting to talk and have familiar people close by. But on the return hike, I went from weary to a little cranky on the inside. Finding familiar landmarks and traces in the forest gave some comfort but not enough to feel how long the descend was. Partially because of the mud slowing us down. Suddenly I no longer has interest on picking up my camera to take photos. Toward the end, words were rarely spoken as I could sense everyone just wants to get down. It also took us around 4 hours to reach the DENR park where food and friends were waiting.
We were all smiles and sighing with relief when we reached the DENR Heritage Park. Looking back at our muddy shoes and pants with laughter at what we had to go through. Mt Hibok-hibok really made a mark on us. Tiring yes but a rewarding climb with the beautiful state of the forest and variety of flora and flaura to be seen.
The climbing season in Camiguin is now open. From March 3 to May 31, the Camiguin Tourism Office is holding climbing promotions such as FREE climb Camiguin dri-fit shirt, drawstring bag, Lanz, the limited edition stuffed toy and a certificate.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.