Mt. Kanlaon : The Sacred Volcano of Sugar Island



Climbing Mt. Canlaon

Climbing to the summit-crater of Mt. Kanlaon is an exhilarating exercise, and a physically challenging undertaking as well as a “memorable wilderness experience”.  The climb, which is nothing more than practical trekking through the tropical wilder-ness of the Park environment, offers the visitor an insight and perspectives into the intricate workings of nature. 


Vignettes of Early Ascents :


The present-day treks and climbs to the volcanic peak on a more massive scale did not begin until the middle of the 1970s, and only then at the time when visits to the Park were mainly in the form of mountaineering which was being actively promoted- not only to Mt. Kanlaon, but in other prominent mountains in other parts of the country. 

For its part, Mt. Kanlaon has been quite substantially explored since the early part of the 19th century by many, among them, the early natives and indigenous inhabitants whose means of livelihood was chiefly by means of hunting in the wilds for food as well as making the most of the natural resources inside the Park environment.

For mountaineer/writer-author, Ed Gatia, his first attempt to reach the summit-crater of the mountain took place in late August of 1972, but a more successful ascent was not made the following month of September that same year. From those years of experience back in the 70’s, it has been noted that initiating the promotion of outdoors activity like wilderness hiking and camping in those days seemed to the public to be something quite out of the ordinary.  Mountaineering as a nature-oriented sport activity, which became the Philippines’ forerunner for today’s ecotourism, was just in its infancy.  The active involvement of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Philippine Airlines (PAL) contributed much and to a great extent in ushering the “Golden Age” of Philippine Mountaineering in the decades of the late 1970s to the 1980s, certain aspects of which trekking to Mt. Kanlaon played a major role.

A typical climbing activity to reach the summit-crater, which begins at the Guintubdan Entrance Station, may take as fast as within five (5) hours for the physically fit and conditioned, to a leisurely long of seven (7) hours, on the average (also depending on which Trail is being taken).  On the other hand, when taking the Mambucal Trail which offers more interesting sights, a stopover camp for the night along the Trail, as well as in other areas of the Park, is usually part of the regular 4-day / 3-night Program-Itinerary. A typical “wilderness experience” for the visitor may be summarized as follows:


*                              DAY – 01.


The first day is usually the arrival of the visitor(s) and their transfer from Bacolod City (where they are received upon arrival at the Bacolod Airport) to the Mambukal Mountain Resort, about Thirty one (31) kilometer distance east of the City.  The less than an hour’s drive on well-paved highway passes by the small town of Murcia (of which it has political jurisdiction of the Resort area) along scenic country-side views of sugarcane plantations, typical Philippine villages (locally referred to as “Barangays”), and other natural sceneries.  Upon arrival at the Resort, the visitors may opt to check-in at the Lodge for an overnight stay (which is usually the case).  The rest of the day is FREE for them to do an “exploration” of the Resort on their own- a swim in the pool, or the usual short hikes to the nearby “Seven Waterfalls” which are one of the main attractions of the Resort.  


*                  DAY – 02.


An early breakfast, usually served at around 4:00 in the morning, starts the day just prior to the commencement of the hike towards the “forest line”.  The hike is normally done well before sunrise, as the area between the Resort and the Park is characterized by open, tree mottled grassland, to avoid exhaustion from the heat of the sun early in the day.

Then the trekking activity for the rest of the day takes place under the canopy of tall dipterocarp forests that typically characterizes the usual image of a tropical jungle.  A stop-over for mid-day lunch is normally done along the hiking trail near a water source.  There is usually an abundance of water in this particular spot, which is actually a small creek, but the summer months of April and May could drastically reduce the amount of water available.


Moving along, arrival at the area referred to by the locals as “Hardin Sang Balo” (literally translated to “Garden of the Widow”) usually indicates the end of the trek for the day. At this point, a camp is established for the night where water source is almost always available on an all year round basis regardless of the season.  The area is particularly noted for the growth of “eerie-looking, twisted and gnarled trees” among the taller trees of the mid-mountain type, which gave rise to the superstitious belief related to the name of the area among the locals.


*                              DAY – 03.


Breaking camp after an early morning breakfast, the trek is resumed, negotiating the trail that goes through small but scenic rain-fed “lagoons” within the surrounding “dwarf trees” in this area characterized by “elfin forest”. 

The characteristic of the area seems to indicate the transition from the mid-mountain type forest to the “mossy” forest where various species of moss are discerned to be thriving abundantly on tree limbs and branches.  By noontime, the trek is expected to reach the rim of the “Margaha Valley”, a geologic feature of the Park that is obviously an old, collapsed, crater vent of Mt. Kanlaon that formed as an oval-shaped “caldera” measuring about a kilometer across (at its widest point) with an average depth of roughly Four hundred (400) feet below the rim (Anderson 1972).   The bottom of the “Valley” is a relatively large, flattened area some Forty (40) hectares in size which becomes a meter deep la-goon during the rainy season, but becomes very dry during the summer months where visitors would usually make overnight camps.


At this point, where the cone of the active crater of the Volcano is within striking distance, the Trekking Program has the option of either making a direct ascent to the summit-crater, or to descend down to the “Valley” below for another overnight camp.  The decision for a direct ascent is usually done based on the condition of    the weather for the day.  The summit-crater of Mt. Kanlaon, the slope of which becomes steeper, lies some 200 meters above the rim of the “Valley”, and climbing to the top may take- on the average, about Forty (40) minutes for the physically fit.  The cone is an open area devoid of vegetation, except in some portions where alpine-type species of grass and some other small shrubs, and where volcanic rocks of varying sizes, solidified ash, lava, and other deposits of pyroclastic materials become the dominant feature.  Reaching the summit-crater of the highest peak in Central Philippines to enjoy some fast and fleeting moments of triumph at the top, and the appreciation of this awesome product of nature are the highlights of this “Nature Adventure Tour” to Mt. Kanlaon National Park.


*                              DAY – 04.


Either way,  after the successful (or sometimes, failure) attempt to take the summit-crater of Mt. Kanlaon, the descent back to Base is done by taking a shorter (but relatively steeper) trail down to Sitio Guintubdan, a small village located at the western boundary of the Park, where this Nature-adventure Tour comes to an end.


So as the day wears on, the toiler of the soil goes about his tasks oblivious to the passing by of climbers who have just descended from the “sacred” mountain.  Tomorrow is another day, and Mt. Kanlaon will again cast its mighty shadows upon the land.



The cone of the active crater as viewed from Makawiwili Peak

Group of climbers enjoy the morning sun while the volcano begins to erupt in the background





The beauty of the mountain’s natural environment- with exotic flora and fauna, awesome geologic and other natural features of great interest, have been widely noted for their scientific, educational, and recreational importance, as well as its historical, cultural, artistic and aesthetic values. 

For these attributes, Mt. Kanlaon has been found and identified to possess all the necessary pre-requisites required for its status to be considered and declared as a National Park on August 8, 1934 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 721 (pursuant to the provisions of Act No. 3915) enacted and passed during the Commonwealth era in the country.  At the time of its Proclamation as a National Park, Mt. Kanlaon conformed to the basic concept as a “relatively large area not materially altered by human activity where extractive resource use are not allowed, and maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational, and recreational use.”






  At the time of its Proclamation as a National Park, Mt. Kanlaon conformed to the basic concept as a “relatively large area not materially altered by human activity where extractive resource use are not allowed, and maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational, and recreational use.”


To be technically exact about it, the original size of the Mt. Kanlaon National Park covers a total land area of approximately 24,557.6 hectares (or 245.57 km2) and is officially located at geographic coordinates 10o 24.7’ North latitude and 123o 7.9’ East longitude.  This mountain is centrally located in the highlands of Negros- the fourth largest island in the Philippine archipelago, and forms part of the natural political division between the two Provinces of Occidental and Oriental, in the western and eastern portions of the Island, respectively.

Consequently, the area comprising the whole of Mt. Kanlaon National Park has been apportioned (albeit disproportionately) to be part and parcel of the political jurisdiction covering four (4) cities and two (2) municipalities, namely: Bago City; La Carlota City;  San Carlos City; the municipalities of Murcia and La Castellana, all in the Province of Negros Occidental; and the City of Canlaon in the Province of Negros Oriental.


The respective areas of the Park that have been divided into six (6) portions, each portion of which is part of the political jurisdiction of the corresponding four (4) cities and two (2) municipalities in the aforementioned.   The political lines of boundary of these six government units all meet at a common point located at the summit-crater of Kanlaon volcano. 





Undoubtedly, the most prominent feature of the Park is the active cone of Kanlaon volcano and its summit-crater which, rising at an elevation of Two thousand four hundred thirty-five meters (2,435-m) above sea level, is the highest point in Central Philippines, and the more than Twenty four thousand (24,000) hectares of the land mass making up the Mt. Kanlaon National Park area is basically volcanic in nature.  Mt. Kanlaon has been classified as a large strato-volcano type which is part of a chain of volcanic mountains along the central spine of the island of Negros and along the Negros Trench that includes Mt. Silay (1,533.67-m) and Mt. Mandalagan (1,879.30-m), both to the north of Kanlaon, and Mt. Talinis (Cuernos de Negros) located some 50 miles north-west of Dumaguete City in southern Negros Oriental Province.


There are more than Two hundred (200) volcanoes and volcanic mountains in the Philippines that are listed, identified, and catalogued by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology & Seismology (PHIVOLCS), an Agency under the Department of Science & Technology (DOST), and Mt. Kanlaon is identified as one of about twenty (20) which have been classified as a highly active volcano, and one of the Six (6) “most active” volcanoes in the country.  The volcanic nature of Mt. Kanlaon is evidenced by the presence of several major vents, including the present active parasitic cone.  The size of the active crater measures roughly more than Three hundred meters (300-m) in diameter, and descending cylindrically down to a depth of about Eight hundred (800) meters

The active cone of Mt. Kanla-on volcano, which is technically a parasitic cone which erupted from the side just south of the older now extinct crater, is perched atop a rejuvenated highland made up most of intercalated lava flows and meta-sediments of argillic compositions, with volcanic boulders and other ejected debris all around. The youngest formation is a thick and massive series of argilaceous limestone” (Anderson, 1971). The remaining portion of the volcanic peak, from the foot of the active cone to the summit-crater, is barren of vegetation except for the growth of sparsely strewn species of two (2) types of grass namely, the Isache vulcanica and the Miscanthus depauperatus which are both endemic only to Mt. Kanlaon.  From the summit-crater, on a clear sunny weather, is where one is pro-vided with a magnificent and panoramic view of the Park itself, as well as the back-ground scenery of the greeneries in the lowlands.  The volcanic summit of Mt. Kanlaon has long been regarded as the primary objective of most would-be climbers who make annual treks to the Park during the Holy Week season to this “sacred” volcano of sugar island.



 Considered to be one of the few remaining wilderness areas in the country to-day,  Mt. Kanlaon still harbors a good number of endemic wildlife species- both flora and fauna, some of which- unfortunately, have been declared as either Threatened, or Endangered, species.  The only Natural Park to be represented in the Greater Negros – Panay faunal region, Mt. Kanlaon forms part of the Western Visayas Bio-geographic Zone (WVBZ)- an area representing Nine percent (9%) of the total area of the Fifteen (15) such Bio-geographic Zones of the Philippines.

Some twenty-two (22) families of bird species have been identified to exist in the Park, notably those that have been studied by Prof. Dioscoro Rabor.  Of interest among these bird species are:  the Blue-crowned racquet-tailed parrot (Prioriturus discursus); Visayan tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini); Flame-templed babbler (Stachyris speciosa); White-winged cuckoo-shrike (Coracina ostenta); White-throated jungle flycatcher (Phinomylae aligularis); the Negros Bleeding Heart Pig-eon (Gallicolumba keayi) and the Negros Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus arcanus), both of which are- unfortunately, have been listed as critically endangered, if not feared to have already  gone to extinction.  The existence of this tiny bird is only known only from “a single female specimen” obtained (presumably) by Prof.  D. Rabor in Mt. Kanlaon in 1953, “with no subsequent sightings..” (Kennedy, et al)  For a more detailed listing of the various other bird species found at the Mt. Kanlaon National Park, reference is made and included at the Appendices.


The Mt. Kanlaon National Park Office reports that “the fauna found in the Park shows a pattern of ‘high diversity’- or there exists high species richness as elevation decreases, while low species richness increases with altitude”.  Further, “the presence of high species of fauna in the lower elevation areas of the Park can be attributed to its various types of habitats.  A greater number of habitat types results in a greater species richness of fauna.  Lowland areas also have several plant species that serve as food re-source for a variety of existing wildlife.  Six (6) species of fruit bats and 4 species of large mammals are mostly found in lowland and montane forests of the Park.  The MKNP survey recorded low species endemism in lowland habitats (40%) compared to both the montane and mossy forest habitats (66%).  Mammals found in the lowland areas are not included in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. However, the said list indicates that the Visayan Warty Pig found in the montane forest is critically endangered similar to the Philippine Spotted Deer found in the mossy forest habitat

The Mammals of MKNP have high endemism in higher elevation, with species, specially the endangered ones very restricted in distribution, preferring habitats with less disturbances and dense vegetation.  Most of the listed mammalian species such as wild cat / civets, pigs, deer and fruit bats are food source for local hunters. Per available data from the MKNP Office - Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Mt. Kanlaon National Park has been described as,


“….home to about One hundred ninety-seven (197) species of flora, with One hundred forty five (145) of them found at the lowland areas, One hundred fourteen (114) species in the Montane forest, and Twenty-nine (29) species at higher elevation of mossy forests.  Although more species are listed in the lowland areas, the Montane forest has the highest plant diversity at Sixteen point twenty-eight percent (16.28%) species per plot compared to Thirteen point eighteen percent (13.18%) and Nine point six percent (9.6%) species per plot at the lowland and Mossy forest, respectively.  In terms of tree species, however, the lowland area has the highest number of species at Six point twenty-seven percent (6.27%) per plot….The high elevation forest is dominated by gymnosperms, ‘pandans’, small to medium trees and shrubs, herbaceous species, orchids, vines and other epiphytes, ferns, and mosses….Floral endemism or level of restricted species present is relatively high in Mt. Kanlaon.  These species are found in the Three (3) habitats of the Park with Eighty (80) endemic species found in the lowland areas, Fifty-five (55) endemic species found in the Montane forest and Fifteen (15) endemic species located in the Mossy forest….”


Noted among the orchid family is the Calanthe elmeri species of ground orchid which we found thriving in the eastern slopes of the Park at an elevation of about One thousand seven hundred (1,700) meters above sea level.  It may be of interest to note that the Dipteris conjugate (fern) plant species, which is thriving in Mt. Kinabalu also thrives at the volcanic slope of Mt. Kanlaon.




Portions of the "walls" as seen here, the highest point of which is the "Makawiwili Peak",


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