Waterfall at Mt. Halcon (Mindoro)

Philippine Mountains


The Philippine islands are mostly hilly or mountainous. Smaller islands are in the rule of volcanic origin - volcano mountains characterize frequently their topography. The larger islands have mountain chains, which extend mostly in north-south direction and parallel to the coast. Luzon for example is spanned by the   

chain of mountains of the Sierra Madras (along the Pacific coast),

the further west situated Cordillera Central (with the town of Baguio and the Mount Pulag),

the rugged Zambales Mountains (western of the town of Tarlac with the Mount Pinatubo)

and shows finally at the southeastern end (Bicol Peninsula) a range of volcano mountains (including Mount Mayon at Legaspi).  

Almost thirty mountains of the Filipinos are more than 2000 meters high. They are here in the centre of the consideration, simply because they impress by their beauty, spectacular landscape prospects, their topical vegetation, large number of endemic species and their mountain sports facilities. We speak here about higher mountains in general. Please refer to your travel guide with regard to specific mountains and possible routes. 

The highest mountains

The highest of all Philippine mountains is without a doubt Mount Apo near Davao, the "grandfather" of all Philippine mountains. Mostly it is claimed that its height is 2954 meters, but other height information - 2953 and 2958 meters - can also be found in Internet. Different altitude readings can also be found with regard to other well known Philippine mountains.

How these 2954 meters of Mount Apo can be classified? The following diagram gives an orientation:    


The summit of Mount Apo reaches a third of the height of the Mount Everest and its altitude is nearly the same as the German Zugspitze. Our diagram includes also the deepest point of the Philippine trench (Galathea Depth), just to show how the collision of earth plates in the Philippine archipelago (1) creates very different levels of altitude and deepness.  

Some people could say, these 2954 meters  are trivial or petty. However we should consider, that especially the Philippine coastal mountains regularly do not show any foothills and that the ambitious mountaineer has to start more or less at sea-level. The situation in the mountain chains of northern Luzon is different. The Mount Pinatubo for example showed before its eruption in 1991 a height of 1745 meters above sea-level, but only about 600 m above nearby plains.    

Which mountains follow in altitude? The Metropolitan Mountaineering Society Philippines (MMSP) offers the following listing (excerpt)  (2):    


1. Mt. Apo

Davao, Mindanao


2958 meters

2. Mt. Pulog



2931 meters


3. Mt.  Tabayoc




2842 meters




Mountain Province


2702 meters


5. Mt. Kapiligan




2670 meters


6. Mount Halcon




2585 meters






11. Mount Mayon




2321 meters






21. Mt. Banahaw




2177 meters






25. Mt. Guiting-Guiting


Sibuyan Ramblon


2058 meters






51 Mt. Bulusan


Camarines Sur


1599 meters

This listing should be taken with a pinch of salt, however. Not because other publications are showing sometimes other spot heights. In this list of top ranking mountains two mountains have been simply forgotten and this is a cardinal error for a reputed mountain climber society.  We refer to Mt. Piapayungan on Mindanao with its 2814 meters and to Mt. Dulang-Dulang in the province Benguet.    

Following newer GPS measuring Mt. Dulang-Dulang has an altitude of 2937 meters. If this is correct measurement, Mt. Dulang-Dulang  should be with some meters difference the second in the ranking of altitude. Mount Pulog was measured by American armed forces in the seventies when GPS measuring was not yet available. And now there is a call on the Philippines for more standardized, valid official measurements (3). Perhaps the Philippine government should invest more money in geological investigations also with respect to the rich mineral resources  in the country.

Of course snow can’t be expected at these altitudes; the Filipinos find snow only  in their refrigerators. The snow border dependents on several factors like climatic zone and mountains site and can not be defined exactly after altitude meters. Snowfall in the tropical regions requires presumably altitudes as of 3500 / 4000 meters. Don’t mix up snow with white sulfur deposits, which could be found for example at the Mount Apo. It can get severely cold, however, at the highest peaks. It is told that on the mountain peak of Mount Apo the temperature is only about five degrees. Suitable clothes are therefore necessary.    

Can mountains also get smaller? The question may surprise because sanity and reason first want to deny this. But the Philippines have also a remarkable example for that. The eruption of the Mount Pinatubo in 1991 caused not only the death of approx. 300 persons, the eviction of ten thousands of people, the destruction of a wide-area ecosystem by lahars, sediment and ash deposits and a drop of the global temperature around a half degree. It also has blown round about 10 km 3 materials in the air  and the height of Mount Pinatubo went down after the eruption from 1745 to 1485 meters (4) .  

The potentially active volcano mountains  

A list of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology & Seismology from 2005 shows altogether 27 volcano which are classified as "potentially active"(5). Here an excerpt of the list with the number of recorded eruptions:   

Mount Mayon (Albay, the "disguised devil")                             47 eruptions

Taal volcano (Batangas)                                                         33 eruptions

Mount Kanlaon (Negros Oriental)                                            25 eruptions

Mount Bulusan (Sorsogon)                                                     15 eruptions

Mount Ragang (Cotabato)                                                        7 eruptions

Mount Makaturing (Lanao Del Sur)                                           7 eruptions  


This list is not completely up to date. We should add at least one eruption in 2006 with regard to the volcanoes Mount Mayon, Mount K(C)analon and Mount Mayon. In this context it would be advantageous to know the official criteria  for an “eruption”.   

The number of registered eruptions, however, is not a clear indicator for the dangerousness of a volcano. We should remember that Mount Pinatubo "slept" about 500 years before his violent eruption in 1991.

Most Philippine volcanoes are Stratovolcanoes. They have been built up by effusion-processes (lava-flow) and eruption processes (ashes and volcanic slag). In the upper area they have often a strong inclination; the crater edges can already collapse during the outbreak. 

Mountain-Climbing and alternative walking routes   

Inexperienced climbers of higher mountains should calculate two or three days for ascent and descent. It is also advisable to engage native mountains guides. Especially offside the tracks some dangers are lurking, for instance impenetrable thickets of jungle, dead ends of canyons, flooding, slippery and steep steps, sulphur steams or rock fall.  

Not everyone has the ambition to climb a peak with a higher degree of difficulty. But he likes perhaps trekking together with other friend far away from the asphalt marked-out routes. Such trekking routes in eastern Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro or Palawan can be found in literature (6).  

For those which give higher mountains a wide berth and shy away from higher expenditure of energy, perhaps a walk over grass-covered hills maybe an alternative. The "Chocolate Hills" on the island of Bohol are then the right recommendation. Nearby the place Carmen Hills over  thousand, 30 -50 meters high hills can be found. They remember  gigantic mole hills. In the dry season the hills are colored brown, therefore the name “Chocolate Hills”. The geologists still discuss the cause and origin for the unusual hill formations. A newer theory assumes that the island of Bohol was under water in prehistoric times. Then a sea volcano destroyed itself and left gigantic stone blocks in the sea. They were covered with lime in the course of the time. The seabed was lifted later and weathering and erosion formed the today’s shape of the hills.   

More and more enthusiasm of the Filipinos for mountaineering

"One, two generations before", writes Hanewald,the Filipinos - with the exception of the wild inhabitants of the Cordillera Mountains – did not have anything to do with the useless, moreover most exhausting climbing" ... “They considered the mountains also quite beautiful from the frog perspective (7) .  

The history of the mountaineering in the Philippines gives him in part right. According to a widespread opinion the two young Scots Paton and Steward climbed the Mount Mayon for the first time in 1858. With regard to Mt. Apo a disagreement exists. The Philippine side likes to refer to a first successful mountain expedition under the leadership of the Spanish infantry officer and later governor of Davao Joaquin Rajal y Larre in 1880. However, the German botanists Schadenberg und Koch, which climbed the Mount Apo in 1881/1882, claimed that the Spaniard and his troop never reached the mountain peak. They found only a signpost of the former expedition on a altitude of 2700 meters, but the peak has an altitude of 2954 m (8) . By the way - on their way to the peak the German researchers found the very rare "Rafflesia Schadenbergia Greppert", a plant with up to three meters wide inflorescence. In this context we should also mention, that the first ascend of Mount Guiting-Guiting (Sibuyan Island / 2058 m) by Philippine mountaineers was not until 1982 (9).  

Meanwhile, mountaineering is almost "in" under the Filipinos. There are various mountaineer organizations, for example the Metropolitan Mountaineering Society of The Philippines (MMSP) or the Cordillera Mountaineering (CMC). These organizations got particularly active in the year 2002  - the "Year of the Mountain".    

When Leo Oracion as the first Philippine mountaineer climbed the highest mountain of the earth, the Mount Everest, in May 2006, the Philippine nation had again a hero. The Philippine president was also in the flock of congratulators and she jubilated: ”He is the very picture of hard work, tenacity, and courage. He has shown to the world the stuff Filipinos are made of,” the President said (10).   

Increasing loss of forests  

It is known that important functions are attributed to the forests.  They enable a rich biodiversity, function as water reservoirs and prevent soil erosion, floods and droughts.    

Some centuries ago, 95% of the land area of the Philippines was green still wooded. Only some spots - particularly on Luzon – were settlements with open land. In 1920 there was estimation, that  64 % of the country’s area is covered with forests. This percentage reduced now to 24% (2005). Only 12% from these 24% are uncultivated primary forests. In total, the Philippines lost between 1990 and 2005 about a third of the  forest land. An annual forest loss of almost 2%  is expected at present (11). The causes are illegal lumbering, the expansion of the agricultural areas measures of infrastructure and forced mining. The government measures against the increasing deforestation had  up to now only a limited success. 

The enormous landslide in Guinsaugon (Southern Leyte) in February 2006 showed the severe consequences of deforestation in connection with intense, long continuous rains. The small place was covered by an up to 30 meters high layer of mud. Approximately 1300 dead and missing people were to be lamented.  

One measure of the government concerns the establishment of national parks and reserves. The above mentioned, higher mountains (i.e.: Mt. Pulag – Mt. Makiling – Mt. Apo – Mt. Kitanglad -  Mt. Guiting-Guiting -  Mt. Halcon - Mt. Malasimbo -  Mt. Isarog - Mt. Bulosan) are very often the centers of these national parks.

Part of the protective measures can also be stronger regulations for mountain going tourists. David Dalton writes in his guidebook(12) with regard to the Mount Apo:„Recently, Mount Apo has become something of an environmental hot potato and the government is trying to dissuade people from climbing it because of the damage they have done to trails and the litter they have left behind. Small groups of climbers  with special interests, such as botany or photography, will still be allowed, but larger groups could find they get turned back”. Before starting a hike in the mountain consultation of the tourism office is now advisable.     

Mountain fables and legends  

There is no systematic Philippine cosmology but a lot most different legends from single tribes. A very unusual legend of the origin of the mountains is handed down by the Mandayas. They narrate, that the earth was originally flat. One day a mysterious tall woman appeared, who  used to sleep on the back of a giant eel. Always if she stretched out on the eel, mountains arise and when the eel snapped at some prey, violent earthquakes broke out.  

Mountains – so another fable from Panay - are the columns which carry the sky structure. The abysses of the volcanoes are accesses the underworld. Particularly the high mountains have been and still are considered as sacred. In the area of Mt. Pinatubo that was the belief, that the good souls find their home after the death on the high mountains while the less good souls must be content with lower mountains.  

Innumerable good and bad Gods, giants, spirits and fairies settle in Philippine legends the mountains. According to the stories of the tribe  of the Bagobos a very bloodthirsty God with name Mandagaran is at home on the Mount Apo. He sits on a throne from fire and can bring about a good rice harvest for example, if his never ending thirst for human blood is satisfied. In order to soothe him  and to get his goodwill slaves and even children were sacrificed to him. In some legends it is told, that the carved up body parts – now blessed – were even taken at home.

The "Chocolate Hills" are according a legend the result of a fight two giants. Their fight in case of which they threw sand and stones at themselves lasted for three days. Finally they reconciled und left the island. Only the weapons of their fight remained. - Another variant of the origin of the hills pretends that a young, strong giant fell in love with a simple girl one day. The girl died and of the giant cried bitterly. His tears changed into hills.  

Once a very beautiful princess lived on the Mount Mayon. She was strictly sheltered by her uncle Magayon, however. All suitors feared the anger of the uncle. One day, a courageous young warrior, who fell in love with the princess, succeeded to escape her. When the uncle pursues the two, they ask the gods for help and a landslide buried the uncle alive. His annoyance over the loss of the niece did not stop until today and is shown in the form of volcanic eruptions.  

Maria Makiling who appears both as  a goddess and as a beautiful, young fairy lives in the mountain Makiling (Lugana) according to a legend. The mountain silhouette shows her body outlines. She was very charitable and welfare-active. One day a hunter roved through her fairy kingdom. The two falls in love and the hunter swears her eternal love. Later Makiling discovers, however, that the huntsman was unfaithful and that he had already married another woman. The fairy queen who still can see in the moonlight sometimes is since then sad and frustrated and the nature starves with its fruits.  

Perhaps these legends are presented today to the children only with a smile and a wink.

There is, however, another mountain which is considered as a sacred, sacred mountain by many also at present time. It is the Mount Banahaw . The Mount Banahaw (12) is located about 170 km away from Manila in the south of Luzon near San Pablo. His altitude is about 2180 meters and the last eruption was in 1730. It is thickly wooded and shows a crater lake, caves, springs and many  waterfalls. The prominent points often have often biblical names. Numerous sects, cults, seers, faith healers and sellers of devotional objects are waiting – especially in Easter time - for the buses full of pilgrims, which expect  a visit of the mountain could bring new physical and psychological strength and insights to them. Some describe the Mount Banahaw as the new Jerusalem. Jesus is supposed to have entered the mountain. Virgin Maria, Dr. Jose Rizal and UFO´s were already sighted, too. Here we have a place where also nowadays new superstitions and legends were born again and again (13) .  

 © Wolfgang Bethge, 2006   

(1) The Philippine trench stretches with a breadth of around 30 km parallel to the Philippine East coast from the northeast top of Luzon to the island of Halmahera ( Moluccas)  -  Compare: W. Bethge, The Philippine Trench, in http://home.arcor.de/be/ bethge.philippinetrench.htm

(2) List of Mountains in the Philippines by Height, in: www.geocities.com/The tropics intercities/1030/philmnt.htm

(3) Desiree Caluza, Is month Pulag country it 2 nd high mountain? in: Inquirer news service, 16-7-2006

(4) Matt T. Rosenberg, Mount Pinatubo eruption, http://geography.about.com/library/weekly/aa030901a.htm

(5)  http://www.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph/VolActive.htm

(6) Roland Hanewald, Abenteuer-Handbuch, Bremen, 1996, S. 341 ff

(7) Roland Hanewald, Abenteuer-Handbuch, Bremen, 1996, S. 183ff

(8) Miguel A. Bernad S.J., The "Snow's" on Mount Apo, http://www.geocities.com/yosemite/3712/bernada2.html

(9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Guiting-Guiting

(10) Thea Alberto, Filipino mountaineer reaches Everest summit, INQ7.net, GMA7, May 17, 2006

(11) http://rainforests.mongabay.com/20philippines.htm

(12) David Dalton, The Rough Guide to of the Philippines, 2004, p. 349

(13) Excellent descriptions of Philippine mountains, also of the Mount Banahaw, from Mike Wieland can be found are found here:  http: //www.malapascua.de/mount_banahaw.html