Kanlaon – of fire and brimstone

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Monday, March 25, 2013

MOST people wonder what to do with the long Holy Week vacation. Hundreds flock to the beach and enjoy the sun, others go to the mountain resorts to be one with nature, and still others spend their holy weeks frequenting the many restaurants and coffee shops that are so popular among Bacolod’s citizens.

But for those that seek something more thrilling – may I remind you about the giant rock jutting out from the middle of the island? Our beloved Mount Kanlaon is the third most active volcano in the country, preceded by Mayon and Taal volcanoes.

Kanlaon takes its name from a local legend – the tale of La-on and the Seven-headed Dragon. The story goes that there was once a mighty dragon who thought it would be fun to destroy Negros. The Negrense people didn’t like that idea very much and offered it female human sacrifices in an effort to appease the dragon and avoid its wrath.


The dragon would only accept pure, unblemished female victims, so the Negrense womenfolk got smart and started cutting themselves to be spared from the “weekly lottery.”

The only unblemished woman left was the datu’s daughter. The datu, in a state of panic, offered a reward to whosoever could slay the dragon. A noble named Khan Laon appeared one day and offered to kill the dragon. Nobody believed that one man could do the job, but the Khan said that his ability to speak to animals would help him.

At this point you’re probably thinking he just talked to the dragon and convinced it to fly away, right? Well – no. Instead he enlisted the help of the ants, the bees and the eagles. The ants ate away at the dragon’s body, the bees plucked out its eyes, and a very large, Lord of the Rings style eagle brought Khan Laon to the mountain so that he could personally chop off the beast’s head.

In gratitude for his actions, the people named the mountain after him.

The trek up the mountain is nothing like going up Mambukal – this is not for the faint of heart. This is a trip for those who are strong, durable, and very slightly crazy. If you have no problem spending your entire Holy Week climbing up a 2km tall mountain, then by all means – proceed.

The mountain itself is great for nature lovers. It’s said that there are 197 types of plants on the mountain, and rare animals such as the Visayan spotted deer and the Visayan warthog that live on the mountain.

However, keep in mind that the volcano is still active, and climbers must coordinate with the DENR before proceeding up the mountain.

As I mentioned before, a trip up Kanlaon will require you to devote your entire long weekend to the endeavor. Travelers that wish to experience all that the mountain has to offer will first have to begin their trip at Mount Mambukal, where they will take the Wasay and Guintubdan trails up their first camp at Hardin Sang Balo, an old NPA camp. This leg of the journey will take at least seven hours.

The trail resumes the next day – climbers will be led to Mount Kanlaon’s several lagoons, which are actually former craters of the great volcano. The guides call this the “Killing Me Softly” trail, since this is the most difficult part of the journey, with 164 obstacles blocking your way to the Margaha Valley, a cool, wide open area surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains.

When you get there, you will find a sign that reminds you of your progress. “Welcome to Pagatpat. You are at 2,200m above sea level and 1.10km away from the summit.” Since it’s Lent, I would prefer the term “Via Dolorosa” to describe this leg of the journey.

From there, it’s up, up, up to the summit. The further away one climbs from the valley, the hotter it gets. Before climbers reach the top of the mountain, they must first cross the connecting point between the Maragha Valley and the summit itself.

Along the way, they will come across a cliff named “Allison’s Cliff”, named after a climber who tragically fell to her death on the cliff. The saddle that connects the Maragha Valley cliffs to the summit also makes a great campsite and was a landing zone for helicopters that used to gather exhausted and dead mountaineers.

But the trip to the summit may just be worth it. The ancient Negrense people called it the center of the universe; and climbers can see why. Everything on the entire island, including some of the clouds, is below you. Nothing grows on the crater of the summit – the volcano does not allow flora to flourish as it is still active and may erupt at any time. Guides strongly discourage climbers from throwing things into the volcano.

So, if you seek an adventure in Negros this holy week, you know where to go.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 25, 2013.


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