On a New, Familiar Trail to Mt. Hibok-Hibok

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

mt hibok hibok camping

Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

In the woods was a path lit up by new light, where branches crosshatched overhead. Panels of sun came through gaps in the tree trunks, like slender fingers gripping. Every surface was glazed with a glimmering sheen of yellow and green, and in the midst of all these was I. 

I'd like to tell you I was by myself, but I was with a whole team of outdoorsmen (and women). The line of hikers stretched before and behind me. It was the inaugural trek through Mt. Hibok-Hibok’s Itum trail, and the light was tripping fantastic.
mt hibok hibok trail

I suppose, for a place known as the Island Born of Fire, I shouldn’t expect anything less.
While already enjoying a top billing in the country’s tourism showcase, Camiguin, it turns out, with its immaculate shores and fecund lands, has more up its sleeves.

The last days of March meant the firsts for the province’s latest program: Mountain Tourism. Climb Camiguin, it beckons, and with astonishing trails like the one we were currently on, the question is not a matter of will or won’t but when

Mt. Hibok-Hibok is no stranger to footfalls. In spite of being a chainlink in the so-called Ring of Fire (i.e. a legitimate active volcano that could erupt any minute), people have been scaling its peak(s) – crater(s) – since time immemorial. There are established trails, the most popular being the one starting at Ardent Hot Springs. The Itum Trail, the one we were on, was a “new” one. Its jump-off is at the DENR office in  Mambajao

This trailhead lies sandwiched between Hibok-Hibok and Mt. Timpoong. Here, we spent the night on a tent, facing the looming form of the former. The cool breeze made for a good night’s sleep, which was just what we needed, for it wasn’t even dawn when we began our trek. 

Daybreak found us on the fringes of the volcano’s forest. As we moved deeper, the light turned brighter and the grandeur of this path came into view. Deciduous trees, more tall than thick, shot up the ground in all directions, the leaves of which tinged sunlight with an emerald hue. For a few beautiful moments, I walked through the trail as if in a trance: the forest is most beautiful in this soft light. 
mt hibok hibok trail

After about an hour, the light turned harsher and the air a tad cooler and the trunks and branches became plush. Carpets of yellow-green fluff covered their surface, like a cozy blanket to keep them warm. Rough brown to green velvet. Enter we did to the mossy forest.
mt hibok-hibok mossy forest

mossy forests in the philippines
It was not as grand as Bukidnon’s Mt. Dulang-dulang, but the way the fuzz fell over branches like curtains, how it gathers into clumps like a pouf, made it feel like we were walking through Nature’s living room: the boulders the sofa, the stumps the chaise. 

Not long after, the moss disappeared and in came lofty Pandanus. Their massive stilt roots arched over the trail, striding the path like multiple pairs of giant legs. These limbs created a whimsical maze before they tapered off into a single rough bark with a fountain of slender leaves at the crown.
pandanus philippines

As we neared the top, these giants relented to the dwarves: a pygmy forest dotted with wild flowers and pitcher plants. Soon, the shrubs and reeds that flanked the path curled into each other, swirling into patterns Tim Burton would approve.
pitcher plants in the philippines

pygmy forests in the philippines

Images of Lord of the Rings kept flashing in my mind. Perhaps it was the abundance of juxtapositions: rough and velvety, enormous and miniature, old and new, the familiar and the strange. Tolkien’s Middle-earth has plenty of this, too: Gandalf and Frodo, Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn and Arwen.

I guess I was rhapsodizing. There I was, doing something I prefer to do with a few close friends, with a whole cavalry. The mountains – in this case, the volcano – always feel like home, going back always feel familiar, no matter how different and unique the path seems. And the newness of hiking with such a large group had me contemplating. 
climb camiguin

I tend to get selfish about places – sometimes, not often. I know how tourism, when done well and properly, can transform a place for the better. But there are times I worry.

As a travel writer, I witnessed how tourism can alter the landscape of a community – economic, social, cultural, and of course natural. In most cases, tourism dilutes a destination. A place and everything about it becomes a commodity, and often, this is for the worse. To allow others, more people, to enter means we risk losing our own little pockets of paradise.

These thoughts swam in my head as I moved further into this fantastical trail, this place that could give Lothlorien or Doriath a run for their money. I asked myself: is it really a good idea to let people in?

Soon, we reached this trail’s end – a platform jutting out of a cliff’s edge – and we were greeted with an unimpeded view of the island. From here, Camiguin never looked more like a paradise. There’s the alarmingly short airport runway. A bunch of structures here and there. But how lush the lowland and coastal forests were! There's also one of the craters to our right. And beyond, the sapphire-turquoise gradient of the ocean, abbreviated only by a swirl of white that was the aptly called White Island.
mt hibok hibok view

mt hibok hibok summit

mt hibok hibok crater

white island as seen from mt hibok hibok

It wasn’t too long, however, as tendrils of fog came rolling in, slowly but surely obscuring the panorama. Such were the whims of the mountains. We are used to it. We know the rules

Thankful for that brief but marvelous clearing, I came upon the answer to my earlier query. (I’ve always known this, but sometimes I forget, because people can be reckless and careless and the worst.) It is our duty to not only showcase destinations but also to communicate the importance of protecting these places from which we draw joy and inspiration. The conversation shouldn’t be “don’t let people know about this place, they will destroy it”. It should be “let’s educate one another on how best we can enjoy a place with the least impact possible”.

Keeping a place to ourselves won’t guarantee its safety – we’ve lost many a place without even knowing about it. I’m starting to think that, in the case of our beloved outdoors, sharing is indeed caring. 

In order for places like Mt. Hibok-Hibok to not be destroyed, we must care for it. In order to care, we must understand. To understand, we must experience. And to experience, we must open the gates. 

Looking back, I still have my inhibitions, but based from what I’ve experienced, and from the “vibe” I got from the local authorities, they are keen on keeping the pristine state of the volcano. It is, after all, an Asean Heritage Park. They are confident that they can, to boot, hence the doors are slowly being opened. 

Well, as I like to say: we protect what we love and how can we love something we don’t know? 

As of writing, Mt. Hibok-Hibok is closed for hiking because of El Niño. If you’re interested to climb, do get in touch with the Camiguin Tourism Office for updates and procedures. 

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