Mount Mayon is an active volcano located in Donsol. The peak is roughly 3.2km above sea level. Joni, our guides and I would climb one third of the mountain to 1.2km.
We would only climb one third of the mountain because of an unfortunate incident. Visitors used to be able to climb to the top of the mountain but two years ago an eruption took the lives of 5 tourists and their guide. After two weeks of heavy rainfall, water seeped into the volcano. As it heated up pressure built up within the volcano. One day the pressure reached a tipping point and the summit exploded sending large rocks flying in all directions. There were a few groups of hikers being taken up different trails. Most took trails where there was sufficient cover to narrowly dodge the rocks. One group was climbing an exposed, former lava trail. It was on this trail the group of hikers lost their lives. During the eruption, the final 1km path that led up to the mouth of the Volcano had collapsed leaving no known trails left to reach the summit. This year the local guides will start exploratory expeditions to discover new trails in the hope that the excursions to the top can be restored.
At the base of the mountain, we collected our supplies and waved goodbye to a Gecko. He kept saying “geck-oooo”, but I’m pretty sure (s)he was saying good luck.
The first part of the trek was climbing through farm land and palm trees. As we ascended the path narrowed rapidly, the vegetation thickened. It was still a relatively easy climb and our mascots spurred us on. We had company along our trek. Marco’s dog always tagged along for tours and never left the group. Brownie was as loyal as dogs come.
After an hour and a half we came out of the vegetation into a clearing. The ground was covered in volcanic rock and former ash. There was simply no way to forget that you’re walking up a volcano. Behind us the there were lingering grey clouds quickly moving in to hang over us. We knew it wouldn’t be long before they were dropping their payload and there was no chance of us making it to Camp 1 before it did.
I stopped briefly and readied my bag. I brought my rain coat and waterproof bag cover to the top. I put the rain cover on my camera case and shortened the strap on it so that it’d fit comfortably under my rain coat offering it double protection.
Of course the mountain and views could have been awesome on a beautiful day. Though beautiful, I’m not sure it would have been as fun? Isn’t the challenge of trekking through thick jungle in torrential downpour far more fun and exciting. I thought so, but then again I didn’t have a choice.
A light drizzle started but rapidly turned into a hell on earth down pour. I quickly got my waterproofs on and offered my bag cover to Joni whose bag would have otherwise become soaked. My rainproof jacket kept the water out, but with the humidity, I was sweating on the inside getting my t-shirt no less soaked then if I had just forgone the coat. The rocks became slippery. The rain created a tranquil but loud background noise that was hard to talk over.
After walking through the thick jungle vegetation for 2 hours in the pouring rain we arrived at Camp 1. It didn’t look like much and with the rain we couldn’t get a fire going. But the cover from the rain was most welcomed.
Once the camp and tents were set up, our guides made some hot coffee for us all. Joni and I added a splash of Emperador Rum to all of our coffees lifting everyone’s mood.
Brownie stayed on the look out from the moment the camp was set up and only broke guard when he needed to itch himself.
After dinner our guide Marco told us his story from two years ago when the volcano erupted. He was part of a search and rescue party to save a group that got pinned down at the top of the volcano. I shan’t retell the story here because it’s best told by Marco. I will say, throughout the whole experience, Brownie never left Marco’s side. Even when rocks were came flying through the sky, Brownie never made a run for it. After Marco’s story we felt very safe with Brownie by our camp, no matter what strange noises came from the jungle.
After dinner, we all finished up the the Emperador then moved swiftly on to two bottles of local gin that our guides brought with them. Joni had brought his speakers so we spent the night listening to Bob Marley and some old classics. The nights sky was blocked by threatening clouds but parts of the jungle lit up from the glow of the fire flies.
By 10 o’clock we were all starting to feel the effects of the Rum-Gin combination so called it a night.
In the middle of the jungle in the mountain there were no roosters to wake us. But by 6am we were all out of our tents.
Our guides had breakfast cooking already and coffee on the boil.
The ascent that morning was steeper than the previous day (which wasn’t surprising given the conical shape of a volcano). The climb was not only harder because of the steep gradient, but with fewer clouds in the sky it was hotter. Of course the Emperador and Gin didn’t help at all. The first couple of hundred metres had the cover of the canopy but after that we were exposed to the sun. None the less, through thick jungle we marched on.
We picked up some snacks along the way…seriously tasty!
After about an hour we came to a clearing. The rest of the journey was going to be walking up the previously cooled lava flow. It became progressively steeper but after another hour we arrived at Camp 2. The views were amazing.
Of course the volcano had all the things you’d expect. We sat eating a mango in our private swimming pool
It took us about 3-4 hours to climb back down during which it started raining again. But we were all really jolly so here’s some videos and pictures.
Marco brought us back to his mother-in-laws house where we had kept our bags. They were really welcoming, even offering their guest bedroom to have a nap after the long journey. They had lunch prepared already and invited us to treat it like home. I showered, packed my bag and got ready to head to Donsol that evening.
It was a great hike and I’d recommend it to anyone in the Philippines. Hopefully they’ll be able to find a new path to the summit.