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Mt. Hibok-Hibok
By Ramon Jorge Sabarosing
Camiguin Island

MY ROMANCE with mountains and mountain-climbing began in Camiguin in 1981. I remember how tortuous it was and out of fatigue I told myself I will never climb a mountain again. Never.

I climbed it again a year later.

Last All Saints' Day, I found myself returning to Mt. Hibok-Hibok, the first mountain I abhorred and later loved. The first two climbs 17 years ago were now a blur. I could only recall the rocky trails, the black craggy crater with steam gushing out, and the horrible ascent to the summit.

It seems odd to be climbing a haunted-looking dormant volcano on an island famous for beautiful islets and white sand beaches, a waterfall, and hot and cold springs. But for the Panaw-Balanghai Mountaineers of Butuan City, it had to be Hibok-Hibok or nothing.

Hibok-Hibok is the highest of the seven volcanoes of tiny Camiguin. It stands 1,800 feet above sea level and rises above the capital town of Mambajao.

Arriving late Friday night in Mambajao, we proceeded to Jasmine by the Sea Resort and camped, slept amid the swaying coconut trees and the roaring of the sea.

In the morning, we waited for our guide who never came. We started the trek at noon with Mark Aldea of the Department of Tourism in the Caraga region as instant guide.

We took the Ardent Hot Spring route, passing through farmlands where shy farmers offered ''butong'' (coconut juice).

We came across a balete tree from where the arduous climb starts. Rocks sat on top of the other. Carefully, we trudged on. Toward our back, the wide ocean and plains beckoned but not until we saw the White Island slowly creeping into sight did we stop and busied ourselves with the cameras.

Against the blue horizon, the island shimmered like a strewn jewel.

We pushed on, reaching a valley and negotiating winding and ascending trails. There was no sun (thank God!), only thick dark clouds hovering in the distance. The terrain is covered with trees where there was none before to my pleasant surprise).

More rocks, with occasional thermal heat, and thick cogon grasses beckoned as we dragged ourselves up, fatigue starting to catch up. We reached an area where loose red sand mysteriously covers the trail.

Thick fog and darkness suddenly enveloped the horizon. Visibility above and below became a haze. The wind blew strong. The group, nine of us, each at our own pace, found ourselves drawn far apart. It seemed like a baby storm is brewing, I told myself, alone on a steep trail and a little apprehensive. I decided to stop by a crevice and called on the others below to take shelter there.

Everyone was calling and checking on each other. Some of us were already contemplating on finding our respective shelters (for the night) in case the weather worsened. But we also estimated we must be a few meters away from the summit. We figured one of us, Charlie Uy, had in fact reached it because we had not heard of him.

''Someone has to check up first or find Charlie,'' suggested Dr. RJ Villanueva. With headlights on, Gluce Jayma did.

The wind blew stronger and the rains poured. After a few minutes we heard Gluce and Charlie's exchanges. We slowly clamber up the final 90 degree vertical wall surrounded by huge boulders.

At the summit at last !

We tried to examine the crater but the bad weather prevented us. Only contours of protruding towers, deep hollow chambers and ridges were what we could make of it. We'll have a better view in the morning, we thought. But it wasn't to be. The thick fog and the rain hounded us.

As we descended, we gamely intercepted it as sign that Mt. Hibok-Hibok wants us to come back next time.

''Summer!'' everyone muttered.