Roy Lachica, July 27. 2011, Oslo
This page was created to help others who are considering a climb up Mt. Mayon.
While planning my 2011 summer vacation to the Philippines with my wife I came over several sites recommending the Mayon volcano as one of the attractions to see in the Philippines. I was immediately drawn to it and decided to find out if it was possible to climb the volcano.
Just a year before on Iceland, I was not able to get closer than 8km of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption that produced an ash cloud that grounded most of the air traffic in Europe for a week during its eruption. So this year I really wanted to finally get close to the crater of a volcano. Conquering a mountain, seeing a volcano up close and getting to see lots of nature on the Philippines seemed like the ultimate authentic travelling experience.
After doing some research I found that Information about climbing it was scarce. Planning how to climb the mountain would be hard. I eventually contacted the Department of Tourism regional office in Legazpi City and was introduces to a certified guide named Eugene B. Bañares. Eugene helped me with getting the required information to plan the climb and a few weeks later I was on my way.
I knew that climbing the mountain would be hard as it was the rainy season and it would be very hot and humid. My initial plan was to climb it and get back down in one day, starting from the very base or foot. This however was not possible (without going through hell or discovering a new trail). To be able to climb it in one day you would have to be in extremely good physical condition, you would have to start at sunset, camps would have to be setup in advance and waiting for you with food and drink. You would have to know the route or have a guide that was just as fast as you. The weather would also have to be on your side and you would have to arrange with transport to the drop off point and arrange all the paper work in advance. (I had to register at both at the tourist department and the local town log book before proceeding).
Me and the guide decided to try climb it in two days. (The eco-guides Association and mountain outdoor guides Accredited by Dept. of Tourism did only arrange 2 or 3 day trips) Although I knew I was going to use two days I decided to train specifically for this so I spent 2 months, 2 times a week having 15+km walks or very steep hiking trips, walking up and down steep terrain, walking very fast on treadmill on max incline or doing strength exercises at the gym.
I also did some research of the terrain and bought shoes just for the trip. I ended up with Solomon Xtempo Mid GTX. These were perfect. Sideways stabilization, protective heel and toe cap, inner sole soft and comfortable, downwards arc on top back side to prevent sore Achilles when walking down. The shoes can also be used for tarrain running (incase the volcano erupts :) ). Shoes bought two sizes too big to prevent toe squeeze when walking steep down hill for hours.
The climate where I live is very different from that of the Philippine climate so I started running in the sun after arriving in the Philippines to get used to the climate. This is of course hard and if you have not done it before be prepared to sweat insanely. Remember to drink lots of water and eat salty food.
Summary of preparation tasks:
Find gear (see section below), arrange guide, vaccination (if needed), training, acclimatization and planning when (season), how fast (2 or 3 days) and how far (to base camp, knife edge or summit), check the volcano eruption alert level.
I was picked up at 9AM after having lots of breakfast (The day before you will usually buy food and drinks for the trip and start carbo-loading). We then went off to register at the tourist department and to pick up a porter from the local area. The ride to the drop off point took 40 minutes from Ellis hotel where we stayed.
The first kilometer of the route was flat and open with farm lands and rice fields.
At the next kilometer we entered the forest and we could feel a slight inclination. At the third kilometer travelled the forest gradually evolved into a dense forest.
The first 3 kilometers went really fast. We only used 16 on the first km, 21 minutes on the second km and 17 minutes on the third. We had a fast pace and two of the porter carrying the most heavy bags had hard time keeping up.
Not having totally acclimatized I sweated like a pig but was not in any was exhausted. Walking with a cold bottle of Gatorade was extremely refreshing.
During the third kilometer we walked inside a narrow trail between 0-2 meters deep in the ground (a ditch formed by dragging timber). At this time it was freaking annoying hot and humid.
On the fourth kilometer we could feel the temperature getting a couple of degrees Celsius colder but walking was harder because of the dense jungle and now the trail got steeper. The jungle was so dense we almost had to use the Machetes that the guides had with them. A porter used his Machete to kill a vicious snake on the trail.
At the fifth kilometer we set up basecamp (altitude 811m) and made lunch on an open grass field. The guide and his team prepared hot food and we spent at least three hours there. I was really surprised by how much effort they put into preparing the hot lunch.
We were a bit anxious about the weather but it rained only very little and we packed our stuff and went on.
We carried on for about an hour and arrived at base camp 2. Now we were out of the jungle and there were mostly grass and bushes.
Once again I was amazed by the effort they showed in preparing dinner. They prepared ‘Bicol-express’ a famous local dish, fried chicken, soup, rice and more.
We spent the evening talking and getting to know each other.
The view of the sunset and afterwards seeing all the lights from the nearby towns was incredible.
We went to bed early and stood up at 5AM. Once again the porters made hot food, this time Spaghetti.
The climb from base camp 2 (altitude 1339m) to summit (altitude 2463m) took us about 3 and a half hour.
The sixth kilometer consisted of walking on smooth rock formations formed by cooled lava flows. Also called Pāhoehoe. Here the pace was fast. Heart rate was high because of the steepness.
Soon the smooth rock surface changed to a variation of loose crispy stones formed by volcanic ash, solid rock surface and sand. We had to be more careful on smoldering and loose rocks.
Soon we could start to smell the sulfur dioxide volcanic fumes and it was time to put on the gas mask.
At around 2100 meters the flank was often so steep we could not climb without using hands. Ropes are advisable on the last part although we did not use it. A 45-degree ascent on loose volcanic cinder and lava sand follows up to the summit.
On the last 200 meters you’ll start to see gas pouring out of cracks in the mountain. Some of the rocks will be burning hot. Here the sand stops and the mountain is more solid and grayish. Still there are many loose rocks so be careful.
The weather was perfect as we approached the summit but the wind was blowing the volcanic gases our way. The gas is extremely uncomfortable to breathe in and stings in your throat. Even with a gas mask on I started to get a headache after being exposed to the gas for about an hour.
We arrived at the summit just before noon and experienced a fantastic view.
The feeling of being at the top, standing on the crater of an active volcano with gas seeping out of the ground you are standing on and fumes being pumped out of the vent just meters in front of you was quite exceptional.
I was extremely glad to be at the top but it was also uncomfortable with all the gases and the strong winds. We also had to watch out for hot vapor. I was told that sometimes burning hot water vapor is mixed with the gas and it can burn you if you stand where the gas is blowing.
During the walk down we started to go empty of water. I only had 1,5L of Gatorade and 1,5L of water in addition to the water that the porters had for sharing. The porters miscalculated the water ammount needed and had used too much water for cooking. Water could be found on the mountain but it was mostly still in small ponds in a few places. I did not take the chance to drink from this water without cooking it. I already had a weary stomach most of my vacation in the Philippines because the natural bacteria is very different from where I'm from.
Apart from dehydration, the walk back down went well. The trip back to the hotel was awful. Sitting cramped inside a tricycle for 40 minutes after a hike like that will kill you. Tricycle transport, food, water, tent and sleeping bags were included in the package I bought from the guide.
All in all, the hike was very successful. I got to the summit and back without any injuries. I got to see a lot of nature. I got a good exercise and got to learn about Philippine culture. I got some very nice pictures and had an awesome experience for life.
Suggested equipment for a 2 day climb:
There is not that much other interesting things to do in Legazpi and the surrounding area compared to the top locations in the Philippines. To find things to do you might want to check out the public regional tourist department homepage or facebook page. You might also check out Legazpi City facebook page to see whats going on in the city.
Taking pictures of the mountain can be fun but be aware that in the rainy season you seldom get a good clear view of the mountain. Remember to take a picture from the airplane.
Need a guide? Contact Eugene B. Bañares.
E-mail: eugene_banares [at] yahoo [dot] com.
Matterhorn (4,478m) in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy.
This work by Roy Lachica is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at roy.lachica.no.