CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Northern Mindanao tourism officials are banking on the natural wonders and rich biodiversity of mountains in the region to draw adventure travelers.
Department of Tourism Region 10 (DOT-10) Director Marie Elaine Unchuan said that the number of protected areas in the region has inspired the regional DOT office to launch mountain tourism as part of a circuit of tourism activities in the region.
“Mountain tourism is the latest addition to the products of DOT-10 which has introduced farm, dive, faith, and cultural tourism in the region,” Unchuan said.
Unchuan said that before the mainstreaming of the climb tourism, local government units in the region have to put in place frameworks to set the rules.
The Camiguin provincial government, for example, has joined hands with DOT-10 to promote mountain tourism in the province, the home of Mount Timpoong and Mount Hibok-Hibok.
The Mount Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument was included in the roster of ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHPs) in 2016.
Of the 8 AHPs in the country, 3 can be found in Northern Mindanao. The others are the Mount Kitanglad Natural Park in Bukidnon, and the Mount Malindang Range Natural Park in Misamis Occidental.
According to the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, AHPs "are selected protected areas in the ASEAN region which are known for their unique biodiversity and ecosystems, wilderness, and outstanding values" and "were given the highest recognition because of their importance as conservation areas.
Mount Timpoong is 1,500 meters above sea level while Mount Hibok-Hibok is 1,200 meters above sea level.
On March 23, local authorities organized an inaugural climb to the summit of Mount Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin, via a new trail. More than 20 people joined the climb, which started at the base camp at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Office in Barangay Itum, Mambajao.
Experienced mountaineers from across the country were joined by foreign and local social media influencers. The base camp is between Mount Hibok-Hibok and Mount Timpoong.
Based on a handout from the provincial government, the trail transitions from deciduous to mossy forest at 900 meters above sea level, then passes by a landslide area where one can find mushrooms and sulfur vents.
At 1,100 meters, climbers will come across a pandan forest and red ferns, as well as a also a huge vent.
The recommended stop is 3 hours into the climb for a panoramic view. The trail then traverses into the old crater with huge boulders and sulfur vents.
Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler
There will be a steep ascent to reach the minor peak of Mount Hibok-Hibok. Hikers will enter a pygmy forest and have a view of several mountain peaks in the horizon.
Nearing the peak, there will be more pygmy forests with wildflowers and endemic pitcher plants. The summit is the crown of Mount Hibok-Hibok with panoramic views.
'Ready for tourists'
Photographer and adventurer Rhonson Ng said that the climb was invigorating. “The trail was beautiful as it is still covered in moss, unlike other mountains which are now almost barren,” Ng said.
Carina Dayondon, fresh from her Seven Summits climb, also took time to join other climbers. “Mount Hibok-Hibok is one of the requirements in joining the Xavier University Mountaineering Society, this is the second mountain I climbed when I started to become a mountaineer,” Dayondon recalled.
Dayondon, who hailed from Bukidnon, is the first Filipina to conquer the 7 highest peaks in 7 continents.
Mambajao Mayor Jurdin Jesus Romualdo asked the climbers to help spread the word about Camiguin’s mountains. “Wherever you go, please speak about Camiguin and be our spokespersons to promote Camiguin and help us in our conservation of this beautiful province.... We are ready for tourists to come,” he said.
Opportunities during closure
Prospective trekkers to the Camiguin mountains would have to wait, however, as the trails would be closed until August this year due to El Niño, according to DENR's Roberto Rufino, head of Protected Wildlife in the island.
Rufino said that the DOT and the provincial government are already aware of the closure as a preemptive measure to protect the mountains during the dry months.
Unchuan said that the permit for the inaugural climb in March had been already issued before the closure of the mountain trail was ordered.
She said the closure period would provide "an opportunity to fine tune legislations for the mountain tourism."
“Legislations should be in place, and communities must be involved in this,” Unchuan said.
Camiguin officials, for their part, gave their assurance that they have safeguards in place to protect their mountains for tourists once the trails are open to trekkers.
Camiguin Governor Maria Lourdes Romualdo said that they have trained mountain guides and rangers to protect the environment.
“No moutaineer will go up without local guides,” Romualdo said.
Veteran mountaineer Dr Gideon Lasco of pinoymountaineering.com, who was part of the March 23 climb, said that development must also take into consideration preserving the natural resources of Camiguin.
“The need to protect the mountains is a very valid motivation to take care of the environment. But we who climb mountains, and all our friends, have the opportunity to promote a different kind of motivation to protect the mountains, and that is because we love them,” Lasco said. – Rappler.com