A sea of clouds, mysterious lakes, enchanting forests and a mountain-top active crater are some of the thrilling things you’ll see if you brave climbing some of the most exciting peaks in the Philippines. We’ve put together Davao-based mountaineer Rhonson Ng’s and UP Mountaineers president Ed Magdaluyo Jr.’s list of their favorite mountains that should be explored by any serious hiker at least once. 

Mt Pulag, Benguet

Aptly described as the Playground of the Gods, this towering mountain is Luzons highest peak at 2,926 meters above sea level and a favorite destination for both beginner and expert hikers. Mt Pulag is reputed for its otherworldly sea of clouds and golden glow at sunrise at the summit.  The trails are a grassland, dwarf bamboo slopes, and pine forests among others, with varying degree of difficulty. Ambangeg, playfully tagged as Artista trail,” is the easiest, thus its popularity among beginners.  The more experienced hikers tend to be drawn to Akiki, dubbed as the Killer trail because its the steepest; Tawangan, which is the most limatik (leech)-infested; and Ambaguio, the longest trail being that its jump off point is in Nueva Vizcaya and stretches all the way to Benguet.

I climbed there way back in 1996 via Ambangeg trail. I must say that the landscape is really very different from the other mountains that Ive been to. The sea of clouds will take your breath away. The ideal month to climb is February when the temperature is just about right, Rhonson says.
Level of difficulty: 3/9 via Ambangeg trail, 7/9 via Akiki trail, major climb 

Mt Apo, Davao Del Sur

Sunrise at the summit of Mt Apo. By Rhonson Ng

Its every mountaineers dream to summit Mt Apo. It is, after all, the Grandfather of the Philippine Mountains with an elevation of 3,144 meters above sea level making it the tallest in the Philippines. Not for the faint of heart given that it takes two to three days to reach its highest peak. Mt Apo has several trails but the easiest is the Kidapawan-Magpet route, which is what Rhonson recommends for newbies. The trail will treat you to a variety of sights such as sulfuric boulders, lakes, primeval trees, waterfalls, and a very thick forest. While hikers can climb Mt Apo all-year round, Rhonson says that its best to explore from December until March.
Level of difficulty: 7/9, major climb

Mt. Halcon, Oriental Mindoro

Rhonson does not recommend Mt Halcon for newbies for obvious reasons. It may not be the highest in the Philippines but it sure is the toughest requiring lots of river crossing, endless steep trails, limatik-infested dense jungle, and a very unpredictable weather.  It also forms part in the popular Knife’s Edge Trilogy, along with Romblon’s Mt Guiting-Guiting and Palawan’s Mt Mantalingahan. “You have to be mentally and physically prepared if you want to climb this mountain because it would really test your limit,” says Rhonson.  It takes about two days to reach the summit and another two to return to the jump off point. But the view from the top is well worth the arduous ascent because you’ll be rewarded with an ocean of clouds rolling over the summit. Have your souvenir shot at the summit’s famous “diving board.”
Level of difficulty: 9/9, major climb

Mt Hamiguitan, Davao Oriental

Bonsai forest at Mt Hamiguitan. By Rhonson Ng

By far the first Philippine mountain range to be declared a Unesco Heritage Site, Mt Hamiguitan offers an experience of a lifetime—thanks to its rich biodiversity and natural wonders. Rhonson particularly likes its centuries-old bonsai fields with plants 3ft to 5ft tall, the stunning Twin Falls, and the mystical Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea), which is not really a sea but a lake that interestingly has its  own low tide and high tide schedule. The Lady Slipper, one of the rarest orchids, also grows here, which is a testament to how rich its flora and fauna is. To ensure that Mt Hamiguitan remains well-protected, the management limits the number of hikers to 60 per week.
Level of difficulty: 6/9, major climb

Mt Dulang-Dulang, Bukidnon

Mt Dulang Dulang’s enchanting mossy forest. By Rhonson Ng

Popularly known as D2, Mt Dulang Dulang is the second highest mountain in the Philippines at 2,938 meters above sea level. It’s known for its mystical aura, which perhaps is the reason it’s sacred to the Talaandig tribe. “Mountaineers are not allowed to climb without securing the blessings of the Talaandig,” says Rhonson.

Before the climb, the Talaandig would perform a ritual involving sacrificial offerings. But what makes this mountain a favorite of Rhonson’s is its mossy forest. Every inch of the trail is covered in moss. “There’s a portion in Mt Dulang-Dulang which makes you feel as if you’re walking on a carpet because of the thick moss that spreads throughout the ground,” adds Rhonson. When the clearing is good, hikers are able to see the peak of Mt Apo from the summit. Wake up early so that you’d get to witness a scenic sunrise and sea of clouds—a reward to a 10-hour climb.

Mt Dulang-Dulang is part of the Kitanglad mountain range, thus most mountaineers prefer to have a Mt Dulang-Dulang-to-Mt Kitanglad-traverse for a complete experience.
Level of difficulty: 6/9, major climb

Mt Guiting Guiting traverse, Romblon

Mt Guiting-Guiting’s famous saw-toothed peaks. Photo courtesy of Ed Magdaluyo

The thin, jagged rocky edges are the main draw of Mt Guiting Guiting, or more popularly known as G2. Even Ed swears that he’ll return to this mountain if time permits. Mt Guiting-Guiting, which is part of the  Knife Edge Trilogy, entails climbing massive rocks piled on top of one another and the rock formations playfully called “Kiss the Wall.” This segment is named as such because climbers have to tightly hug the rockface and stick to the wall as they scramble their way to the other side. You will also have to cross three streams before reaching Mayo’s Peak where hikers usually spend a night camping. It usually takes three days to finish the climb but Ed’s group had a tight itinerary when they climbed this mountain so they were able to do it in two days’ time. They started at 2am from Sitio Olango, the jump off point in San Fernando, Romblon, and summit at 2pm.

“On a clear day, you’d be able to see Mt Mayon from the summit. Another feature that I like about G2 is the picturesque peaks, which are like saw teeth,” shares Ed.
Level of difficulty: 9/9, major climb

Mt. Mantalingajan, Palawan

Panoramic view as seen on the way to the summit of Mt. Mantalingajan. Photo by Eli Paraiso

As the highest point in Palawan, this mountain is dubbed as the Mountain of Gods—a subtle way of warning the hikers that the climb will be a risk to a mortal’s life and limbs. Combine the difficulty of Mt Guiting Guiting and the length of Mt Halcon and you’ll get Mt Mantalingajan. No wonder that it holds the notorious reputation of having the longest minimum time to reach the summit. An added layer of difficulty is the risk of malaria, which Ed considers as another reason why experienced hikers should never underestimate Mt Mantalingajan. [Ed: Get anti-malaria shots if you plan to go.]

Mt. Mantalingajan is an ancestral domain of Palaw’an or Palawano, the indigenous group of Palawan. Along the trail, you’d pass by the small community of the Tau’t Bato tribe where you’d get a glimpse of their old way of life. Bird life and rare flora like the pitcher plant abound in the mountain as well as tropical trees including kamagong and ipil.

“The trail has lots of cliff faces and water source is very limited. It was rainy when we climbed here so there’s no clearing. Everything looked white. But ordinarily, you’d see the 360-degree view of the open peaks, Southern Palawan and the sea,” says Ed.
Level of difficulty: 9/9, major climb

Mt Sicapoo traverse, Ilocos Norte   

Mt. Sicapoo summit with the penguin-shaped rock formation on the background. Photo by Erwin Claver

Its moniker as the Penguin of the North is due to the fact that the rock formation leading to the summit is shaped like a penguin. Ed says it takes about six mountains to reach Mt Sicapoo, in addition to the numerous river crossings that climbers have to go through during the climb. Although the climb would really test your stamina, the views along the way is worth the blood—it’s the playground of limatiks)—and sweat.

Ed says that there is a section on the ridges that’s lined with pine trees, and further away, climbers are treated to a dense vegetation and a beautiful mossy forest. He also recommends climbing in the summer months (March to May) as the river streams are a bit calmer by then.
Level of difficulty: 9/9, major climb

Mt Kanlaon, Negros Occidental

Mt. Kanlaon with a view of Margaha Valley and Makawiwili peak. Photo by Neil Jarina

Aside from being the tallest mountain in the Visayas, Mt Kanlaon is also the largest active volcano in the country, making it a favorite mountain among thrill hikers for they’ll find themselves in no shortage of merciless ascent, says Ed who himself has already conquered this tough mountain. There’s a portion called “Killing Me Softly,” named so because the trail will really do just that given the 164 obstacles that will impede you from reaching the Margaha Valley, noted for its cogon grass and shrub-covered floor as well as old crater lake where hikers spend the night camping. Mt Kanlaon also features a dwarf forest, sheer rock walls and cliffs, thus prodiving a variation to climbers.  

“What I like about Mt Kanlaon is the active crater at the summit, which is a wide gaping hole with vertical drop to the center. It looks mystifying and terrifying at the same time that you cannot help but be spellbound,” Ed adds.
Level of difficulty: 7/9, major climb

Mt Malindang, Misamis Occidental

Forest vegetation at Mt Malindang. Photo by Erwin Domingo

As the highest peak of  Zamboanga Peninsula at 2,402 meters above sea level, Mt Malindang is another hiking spot that will really push you to your limits. But Ed says what’s special about this mountain are the rare and endangered animals it hosts such as hornbills, Philippine eagle, tarsier and flying lemur. Hikers have high chances of encountering wild pig and palm civet along the trail.

What makes this mountain memorable to Ed is its large canopy trees that give an impression that you’re entering a green natural tunnel. “In another part of the trail, you’d find a small crater lake called Lake Duminagat. It is a sacred lake for the Subanon people who live in the mountain ridge for they believe that it is guarded by a deity.” Ed shares.

 

Who is Ed Magdaluyo Jr?
Ed Magdaluyo, Jr. is the president of the UP Mountaineers, an organization aimed at promoting responsible mountaineering and advocating forest conversation and mountain habitat protection. He has scaled Mt Everest Base Camp, Mt Kinabalu, and the summits of the  four “Knife Edge” mountains in the country. 

 

 Who is Rhonson Ng?
A contributor to local and international publications, Rhonson Ng is also an award-winning photographer whose works appeared in coffeetable books, billboards and tourism materials. He has held several photo exhibits in Mindanao and Luzon. Aside from these, he’s also a caver, diver and avid mountaineer who has already conquered the summits of Mt Apo and Mt. Kinabalu (the third tallest mountain in Southeast Asia).