Mt. Mayon has an elevation of 2,463 meters and is notable for its symmetrical cone shape. If you take a closer look on a different angle, there’s a cleft —this is what they call the knife edge of the old trail. With that, Mayon is not a perfect cone volcano from this vantage point.
Our Mt. Mayon climb is a one-of-a-kind adventure. Hiking up the Philippines’ most admired and feared volcano is a breathtaking experience.
The original plan was to climb Mt. Pulag in the last week of August 2011 via Akiki-Akiki trail, but typhoon Mina struck Northern Luzon forcing us to cancel the climb. It was the strongest typhoon in 2011. When we went to Mt. Pulag in 2012 via Akiki-Ambangeg trail, we also had a stormy weather, but that’s another story.
We contemplated of not leaving Cebu where we are based, but then we already filed for a 4 days vacation leave followed by a weekend. Thinking of just staying in our hometown while using up our precious leaves was hard, so we decided to push with our flight and go somewhere else in Southern Luzon where we can avoid Mina.
Our second option was Mt. Pundaquit – Anawangin traverse. However, upon checking the weather forecast, it suggested a bad weather for a trek. The third option was Mt. Isarog in Camarines Sur. We contacted the tourism officer two nights before our scheduled flight, and she responded late with a question as to why we requested a climbing permit only 2 days ahead. She said it might not be possible.
The last option was Mt. Mayon. It is the most active volcano in the Philippines and also the most beautiful. It looks perfect with its symmetrical cone shape. It is named after Daragang Magayon, the beautiful maiden in Bicolano folktale.
How can we treat her as an option?
Sometimes her beauty is concealed by thick clouds, but still looking majestic and dreamlike. It was spectacular watching the clouds kissing the volcano’s mouth.
The Legend of Mt. Mayon
Panganoron (Clouds) and Magayon are lovers in the folktale and both got killed before getting married.
Magayon, the daughter of Makusog (Strong), was sought-after by male leaders from other tribes, including Pagtuga (Eruption) who was defeated and killed by Panganoron (Clouds) during a war to win Magayon’s hand.
After Pagtuga was killed, Magayon joyously embraced her lover Panganoron, but she was hit by a strayed arrow. At about the same time, Linog (Earthquake), the righthand man of Pagtuga, killed Panganoron with his arrow.
Makusog dug one grave site for both. The ground of their grave rose higher and higher the following days and this is where Mt. Mayon stands.
Mayon Volcano Summit Attempt
We took the new trail following the gully where the lava flowed from previous eruptions.
Mt. Pulag was our original climb destination, so we booked flights to Manila instead of Legaspi or Naga, and because of the typhoon, we detoured to Bicol Region. Our flight was delayed for a couple of hours and we were fetched by my cousin who took us to Ali Mall in Cubao almost midnight.
We thought we would be sleeping in the bus terminal but luckily got seats from a cramped non-aircon bus past midnight.
It was a long and tiring 11-hour bus trip and we slept uncomfortably onboard. My legs were almost numb from sitting that long at the back part of the bus.
Bicol Express transit was not available yet on those days and worse, there was a transport strike that time so most buses parked in the terminal are not scheduled for traveling.
After arriving in the afternoon in Legaspi City, we enjoyed the spicy and creamy Bicol express dish for lunch near the bus terminal and also bought our packed dinner there.
To reach our guide’s house in San Roque, Malilipot, we hired a tricycle.
Our trail master was Bayron Cepria. I got his contact number from reading a blog. Tiki contacted him and closed a deal after being offered a lower rate compared to the regular Php5,000 per head. Some even demanded as high as Php7,500 per head—a rate only foreigners would like to afford. Later, I understood why. It’s risky going to the summit and needs other guides to accompany us. Marcial, Gino and John joined us. One stayed at the campsite to look over our things.
The trail to our first campsite (Camp 2) was an easy hike but since I was tired from the long bus trip, I was easily out of breath. About 4pm, we reached the campsite and Mt. Mayon was beautifully covered with clouds.
Along the way to the campsite, we met some carabaos bathing.
The first night, I had my first encounter with Emperador Light, a stiff drink that still gives me a quiver. Our guides are used to drinking it but we are used to Tanduay, which tastes like a bad medicine too. We like it during the socials to help warm our bodies and fight the cold air. I mostly listened to their stories that evening. The next day, we woke up early around 4am and later witnessed one of the loveliest sunrises in my life.
Mt. Bulusan and Mt. Isarog can be spotted from the top. Oh volcanoes, why are you wickedly beautiful!
From above, you can get an overlooking view of Albay Gulf.
You can actually drink water from here if you can’t take the thirst and itch in your throat. The guides said it is drinkable, but we didn’t try it ourselves though.
Higher, there’s no more vegetation. We are surrounded by boulders and loose rocks.
It’s better if you use a hydration pack so scrambling will be a little easier and safer. Also, I think bike helmets would have been better than the construction hats that we used. But of course, you should bring lightweight cave/safety helmets if you have any.
Above, it felt surreal.
Later, the sulfuric atmosphere was overwhelming and it made our throats dry and itchy. It got me teary-eyed.
Covering our noses and mouths to avoid inhaling too much sulfuric air. It smells like you are surrounded by a hundred rotten eggs. Tip: Wear a gas mask.
We’re almost near George Step, a short distance before reaching the summit. This trail portion is named after George Cordovilla, who first trail-blazed a route to the crater summit. We’re fortunate enough to meet him after the climb.
On the way here, I was in fear for my life. I was ready to say that I’ll just stay near George’s Step to wait for them. There was this kiss-the-boulders segment I couldn’t dare climbing up. Imagine you have to embrace a boulder on a steep edge.
Finally, one said out loud that we better return, and hearing those words was such a relief.
The sulfuric air made breathing uncomfortable, it had our throats dry and itchy, and my eyes irritated. The loose rocks point at George Steps was quite scary for us, especially with a super cloudy visibility. We decided that it’s better to go down than continue.
Going down was more difficult. It was scary for me looking down at how far I can fall and roll over if ever I take a wrong step on those loose rocks. I can’t seemed to stand well, my knees were shaky, so I just glided my butt down at some parts at the lava gulley. Embarrassingly this had ripped my trek pants, but good thing I wore leggings under so I wasn’t that exposed. I could only laugh at myself when thinking about it.
Clumsy as I am, my Nalgene bottle dropped and bounced far below. No crack appeared and I still use it today. The scratches on it remind me how durable it is.
Going down almost near the campsite, I tasted sour wild strawberries. Yummm! 🙂
A splendid sunset is what makes this hike so rewarding.
On our last day, we hike back to Brgy. San Roque and had a great time enjoying the cool waters of a nearby clean, silted and rocky river. It was very refreshing to take a dip after a couple of days without a bath. The river currents soothed our tired muscles.
Afterwards, we paid a quick visit and took a short rest at Bayron’s place. While at his house, we browsed through old photo albums of previous climbs guided by him. I never noticed these mountain flora and fungi during our hike. It made me realized that I was not observant enough—I was oblivious to my surroundings, my mind was off somewhere.
It took us a total 5 hours for the ascent and another 5 hours for the descent. The best time to climb Mt. Mayon is during summer, especially in April when it is less cloudy.
But for now, the local government disallow climbers to summit after the eruption in 2013 where 5 climbers died (4 westerners, 1 Filipino guide) and 7 others were injured and rescued. It was a very sad news. Mayon without warning produced a thick column of ash into the air and spewed out giant rocks.
Looking back now, if there is one thing I’ve learned the most during our Mt. Mayon climb, it’s having the sense of danger —to practice caution.
If you are given clues on how dangerous it may take to reach the peak, better return rather than risk your life. #YOLO right?
To put it in another way: there are times we need to step back, reflect, and ask ourselves if certain things we want are worth the struggle or pain.
Yet, I’m still hoping that someday I get to climb Mt. Mayon again when we won’t likely catch the clouds kissing the volcano’s mouth. One day in clear skies…
Mayon Climb Itinerary
Here’s our actual itinerary c/o Tiki Allado.
2030: ETD Mactan Airport (delayed)
2110: TD Mactan Airport
2230: TA NAIA (Manila)
2350: TA Ali Mall (no more bus) stranded mode
0130: TD to Legazpi City
1330: TA Legazpi
1445: TD to Camp 2
1815: TA at Camp 1
Free time and travel back to Manila
1230: Out and about Metro Manila
2000: TD to Airport
2300: Home sweet home!