Errol Abada Gatumbato

Mt. Kanla-on reopens for mountaineering

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The active crater of the Kanla-on Volcano. Leiza May Gersalia photo*

The trails of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island are once again open for mountaineering after they have been closed for a while due to volcanic alert level. The Phivolcs has recently lowered the Kanla-on Volcano’s alert level, from one to zero. MKNP Protected Area Superintendent Concordio Remoroza announced this development after his office has conducted site assessment. It was found out that the trails and campsites in the park are still serviceable. The summit of the MKNP, where the Kanla-on Volcano’s active crater is situated, towers at 2,435 meters above sea level. It is the highest peak in the Visayas and the 16th highest in the Philippines. In spite of the danger, the summit-crater is the ultimate destination for mountaineering in the MKNP.

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Margaha Valley, a dormant crater just below the existing and active crater. Leiza May Gersalia photo*

The volcano exploded without prior indication in August 1996 while there were 18 trekkers at the summit. It took the lives of three trekkers and wounded several others. The incident and other considerations prompted the MKNP’s Protected Area Management Board, at that time, to develop and implement mountaineering guidelines, which have been updated through the years. The guidelines include the automatic closure of the MKNP for mountaineering once the Phivolcs declares volcanic alert level 1 or higher. The MKNP is one of the favorite destinations of mountaineers because it is physically and emotionally challenging to reach its peak. The diverse and pristine sceneries along the trails and campsites are marvelous sites of different forest structures, colorful vegetation, and beautiful lagoons that can be viewed while one is progressing to higher elevations. There are four designated mountaineering trails in the MKNP.

The Guintubdan Trail in Sitio Guintubdan, shared by both La Carlota and Bago cities, is

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The author at the Guintubdan Entrance Station*

the most popular entry point. It is roughly 8.5 kilometers away from the summit-crater, and where the most breathtaking views of lush forests and numerous waterfalls are found. Some mountaineers may reach the peak using this trail within five to eight hours of continuous ascending hike. For those who wish for a more relaxing trek, there are two campsites along this trail where you can pitch a tent for overnight. The longest trail to the peak is the Wasay Trail, with the entrance located above the Mambukal Mountain Resort in Murcia. It will take two days to use this long, winding, and ascending trail to the summit with a distance of about 14 kilometers. This is the most picturesque trail, passing by the lovely “Hardin sang Balo” (widows’ garden), where various plants are competing for their beautiful colors and appearance amidst stunted trees, and the gorgeous PMS and RAMS lagoons.

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One of the waterfalls in the MKNP*

For adventurous trekkers, the Mananawin Trail in Brgy. Masulog, Canlaon City in Negros

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The view of the crater from the MKNP Administration Center in La Castellana*

Oriental might be one for you. While it is only seven-kilometer away from the crater, it will immediately expose climbers to direct and stiff assault terrain in open-cultivated and grassland areas with no water sources along the trail. The Mapot Trail in Brgy. Malaiba, also in Canlaon City, is a bit easier than Mananawin Trail, but it is also a direct assault kind of trail. The crater can be seen from these two entrance stations in Canlaon City when it is not cloudy.

The MKNP’s mountaineering season is during March, April, May, October, November, and December. A group, composed of a maximum of 10 trekkers, is allowed to trek in a day per trail during this period. The rest of the year is considered as low season, when only one group with a maximum of 10 trekkers is allowed in a month per trail. Issuance of mountaineering permit, with corresponding fees, from the PASu is a mandatory requirement in the MKNP. Climbing parties are required to submit booking form, mountaineer information sheet, and notarized waiver of responsibility of the expedition members. The booking shall be made at least three months before the expedition. The mountaineering fee is P500 for Filipinos and P1,000 for foreign nationals. There is an additional charge of P250 when you will be using different entry and exit points, except for Mananawin/Mapot entry and Wasay exit and vice-versa where additional fee of P450 will be charged.

The PAMB has imposed accreditation of porters and guides from communities, who underwent training on mountaineering and safety courses. It is mandatory to have a guide to a ratio of one guide to six trekkers. Hiring of porters is only optional. The fees are P750 and P500 per day for guiding and porter services, respectively.Compulsory climbing equipment and other materials are required, like individual sleeping bag, tent, pressure-stove for cooking, and personal first aid kit. Only ready-to-cook food is allowed and campfires are prohibited. The carry in-carry out policy is included in the guidelines. For further details and booking, you may email mknp.pasu@mail.com .*

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July 6, 2017 Posted by | Ecotourism, Forest Ecosystem, Mountaineering, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Closing a mountain for mountaineering: The story of Mt. Kanla-on

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

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The view of the Kanla-on Volcano from the MKNP Administration Center at Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, Negros Occidental. Ma. Gina Gerangaya photo*

I was reminded of the closure for mountaineering of the Mount Kanlaon Natural Park in Negros Island, two decades ago, after I recently learned that authorities at the Mount Pulag National Park in Luzon are considering similar action, too. It was in 1996 when I, as the then Protected Area Superintendent of the MKNP, recommended to the Protected Area Management Board the closing of the mountain from trekking, due to a number of pressing issues and concerns. There were oppositions from several mountaineering groups, but the PAMB stood firm to impose the temporary closure. It was a decision worth sharing again and again, so that other protected areas, particularly those sites with similar features to MKNP, may be able to learn some lessons and insights from it.

The prime consideration for the possible closure of Mt. Pulag is reportedly due to damages

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Mithi Laya Gonzales Suarez above the hovering clouds at Mt. Pulag. Leo Suarez photo*

created by the influx of visitors during the past years. The peak of Mt. Pulag, towering at 2,922 meters above sea level, is the highest in the entire Luzon and 3rd highest all over the Philippines, making it one of the favorite mountain destinations not only of local trekkers, but foreigners, too. Thousands are flocking to the area every year.

Mt. Pulag straddles several municipalities covering the provinces of Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya, and Ifugao. It is famous for its deep ravines, steep terrain, and the so-called “cloud forest”. A trek to Mt. Pulag is popularly known as an adventure above clouds, because there is a point where one is actually above the hovering clouds. Aside from mountaineering attractions, Mt. Pulag is similarly identified as one of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines, since it harbors numerous species of flora and fauna in various habitat types.

Phreatic explosion and other safety concerns

In August 1996, the Kanlaon Volcano exploded without prior indication, and at that time, there were 18 trekkers at the summit. The phreatic explosion took the lives of three trekkers, while several others were wounded. The incident reminded us that the four-kilometer radius from the crater is actually a permanent danger zone, as classified by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, and, therefore, it is supposedly close to all human activities.

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The active crater of the Kanla-on Volcano. Photo from MKNP Facebook Page*

The Phivolcs recommended the implementation of strict safety measures and standards if we will continue to allow trekking at the summit of the MKNP. While we were planning what safety measures shall be carried out, we saw the need to temporarily close the MKNP from trekking.

It was also observed that during the rainy season, it is not advisable to trek at the park, because of safety considerations. There were recorded accidents of mountaineers who trekked to the crater during the rainy season, since the visibility in the area is poor during this period.

Unregulated entry of trekkers

We conducted assessment on the impacts of mountaineering at the park, and our findings showed there were numerous trails leading to the summit, and they were expanding, to the extent of degrading the natural vegetation. Some areas were cleared of vegetation to serve as campsites. Numerous hikers, especially those from surrounding communities, were cutting natural growing trees for their camping tents and firewood. We noticed several graffiti that were engraved in big stones near the crater, and even in some giant trees. Solid wastes were cluttered in trails and campsites.

During the Holy Week in 1996, we found out the unregulated entry, not only of mountaineers, but thousands of faith healers who were in pilgrimage at the crater of the volcano during the Good Friday. These healers started trekking on Holy Thursday and camped overnight near a cave at the Margaha Valley, a dormant crater just below the present and active crater of the Kanla-on Volcano. At the campsite of these healers, we found out clearing and cutting of high elevation growing trees and gathering of plants believed to have medicinal values. However, we were not able to make immediate actions, because our team was outnumbered, and several unknown persons holding bladed weapons were surrounding us.

Biodiversity considerations

Aside from the MKNP’s feature as an active volcano and the negative impacts of

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The Margaha Valley. Photo from MKNP FB Page* 

unregulated entries of trekkers, there were biodiversity concerns that also need to be addressed. The MKNP is one of the most important protected areas in the country. It was one of the 10 pilot sites for the implementation of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, through the World Bank supported Conservation of Priority Protected Areas Project in the Philippines of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, from 1995 to 2002.

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The threatened Visayan warty pig*

The biodiversity assessment revealed that some trails and campsites leading to the peak of the MKNP are habitats of assorted species of flora and fauna. The “shoulder” of the volcano, popularly known to mountaineers as the “saddle”, is host to a variety of wild flora, and many of these plants are left unstudied, even to date. The Margaha Valley was found to be a grazing area of the threatened Visayan spotted deer. Traces of the equally threatened Visayan warty pigs were noted in Hardin Sang Balo and other campsites along the trails, from Murcia town to the summit of the MKNP.

Drafting of guidelines

Amidst all these challenges, the PAMB, led by the late Cornelio “Bob” Aizpuro, who was then the PAMB Ecotourism Committee chairperson and former City Planning and Development coordinator of La Carlota, drafted the first mountaineering guidelines for the MKNP. Edwin Gatia, a seasoned mountaineer and the officer-in-charge of the Department of Tourism in Negros Occidental province at that time, provided the necessary technical assistance in the preparation of the guidelines, which have been subjected to technical reviews and consultations with various stakeholders, such as communities, local governments, and mountaineering groups. The mountaineering permit at the MKNP was adopted after more than a year from its closure.

Mountaineering regulations

Official campsites and trails were properly designated with billboards and signs. Per expedition, only a maximum of 10 members, including the expedition team leader, is allowed. The team composition excludes mandatory guide (one guide to five climber ratio) and optional porters. In every trail, only one expedition party is allowed in a given time. Four trails are used for trekking to the summit. Other trails were closed for trekking.

Mountaineering is open from March to May and October to December at the park. Other months are low season where only one expedition party per trail is allowed in a month. Once PAGASA declares a weather disturbance or PHIVOLCS declares volcanic activity, the area shall be closed automatically from mountaineering.

Issuance of climbing permit, with corresponding fees, from the PASu is a mandatory requirement in trekking at the MKNP. Climbing parties are required to submit booking form, mountaineer information sheet, and notarized waiver of responsibility of the expedition members. Booking shall be made at least three months before the expedition. No one is allowed to enter the park for mountaineering without the approved permit from the PASu. The PAMB has imposed accreditation of porters and guides from communities, who underwent training on mountaineering and safety courses.

Compulsory climbing equipment and other materials are required, including individual sleeping bag, tent, pressure stove for cooking, and personal first aid kit. All expeditions are obliged to provide themselves with their own food rations, subject to inspection and approval. Only ready-to-cook food is allowed and campfires are prohibited. The carry in – carry out policy is included in the guidelines. All are expected to strictly observe the basic rules and ethics on environmental protection and conservation.

After I left the MKNP as park superintendent in 2002, to date, the mountaineering guidelines are being observed. I guess, however, that there is a need to revisit the different provisions of the guidelines, how they were carried out, and how they impacted, either positively or negatively, on the biodiversity, communities, and mountaineers through time, so that we can learn more lessons and insights on this aspect of nature recreation in protected areas. After all, there is such a thing as “responsible mountaineering”. EAG*

 

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Mountaineering, Mt. Kanla-on, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment