DAVAO CITY, PHILIPPINES — Mt. Apo has always been mystical. Being the country’s highest peak, Mt. Apo is always on top of the list of mountain trekkers. And like any other mystical mountain, Mt. Apo had its share of tragedies with lives lost and others saved.
Urban legend has it that a mystical white deer is sometimes seen in the forest. This deer was said to have saved lives of mountain trekkers who get lost in the forest.
One popular story was how this white deer saved the lives of two Boy Scouts who wandered aimlessly into the forest of Mt. Apo for almost two days when a white deer appeared before them and led them back to the camping site.
In last week’s traditional Holy Week mountain trek, Ralph Ryan Rafael of North Cotabato was one of the limited number of trekkers allowed to scale Apo’s 2,954 meters elevation.
Rafael recounted how he and a friend went ahead of their group on the second day of their trek. Though they have climbed Mt. Apo several times already, Rafael admitted that the two of them got lost along the way.
Then a dog appeared out of nowhere and led them to the right path. He said that whenever they fall behind, the dog barks loud so they could keep track. And sometimes the dog backtracks and finds them and then leads them back to the right trail.
They named the dog Bobong, after the campsite where they first saw it. Rafael said that the dog led them all the way to the peak of Mt. Apo and to Lake Venado where most campers stay before trekking back down to civilization.
Lake Venado was named as such since the body of water forms a deer-shape when viewed from atop. Here, many lives were also claimed by the so-called fairies of the lake.
The latest casualty was 23-year old Ian Caasi who drowned in the lake last April 5, 2007 during a Holy Week climb.
On the third day of their stay in Mt. Apo just as they were about to go down, the climbers could no longer find Bobong.
Despite the number of deaths of climbers in Mt. Apo, the lure of the highest peak has not diminished. This prompted authorities to limit the number of climbers during Holy Week to only 1,000.
This is because the area is experiencing dry season and the threat of forest fire is high.
The Mt. Apo Natural Park Protected Management Board passed the resolution as a precautionary measure to protect the country’s highest peak.
The board, composed of officials from the towns, cities, and provinces surrounding Mt. Apo, have also agreed to implement a common set of trekking policies designed to “be consistent with the principles of biological diversity and sustainable development.”
Aside from a strict prohibition on smoking, the climbers will also be asked to bring their own garbage on their way down from Mt. Apo.