Rising 1,332 meters above sea level, Mount Hibok-Hibok – also known as Catarman Volcano – is the most active of at least 14 volcanoes found in the Philippines’ second-smallest province of Camiguin. No wonder the province is dubbed the “Island Born of Fire”!
The volcano’s name is derived from the Kamigin word that means “to heave” in reference to the mountain’s restless nature. Mt. Hibok-Hibok erupted five times in recorded history, most notably from 1871 to 1875, which formed the volcanic cone Mt. Vulcan and destroyed Catarman town, leaving behind the Sunken Cemetery and Gui-ob Church Ruins – now famous tourist landmarks on the island.
The latest eruptions were from 1948 to 1952, which killed more than 3,000 people and prompted the establishment of the Commission on Volcanology (COMVOL), predecessor of Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS).
Today, Hibok-Hibok is a hiking paradise within Mounts Timpoong–Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument (MTHNM). The 3,739-hectare protected area spans densely forested peaks, stunning waterfalls like Katibawasan Falls and Tuasan Falls, and the island’s highest point, Mount Timpoong (off-limits to recreational hikers).
Declared an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2016, this volcanic landscape is home to rare and unique plants and animals, including rodent and bird species found no where else, such as the Camiguin forest mouse and Camiguin hanging parrot. At its highest point, climbers are rewarded with sweeping views of the coastline, White Island sandbar, and Ilihan crater.
My exploration of Hibok-Hibok last December 2021 with fellow travel blogger Elal Lasola was arranged by Camiguin Tourism Office. It began with a birdwatching excursion near the visitor’s center where we spotted birds found no where else on the planet. The following day, we embarked on a traverse day hike, ascending to the summit via the new and challenging Itum Trail (eastern slope) and descending via the popular Yumbing Trail (northern slope). We were accompanied by experienced guides and park rangers Gloria Abian and Johry Cubar.
This was my second climb up this volcano, having summited nine years ago via the Yumbing-Ardent trail.
Ascent via Itum Trail
Formally launched only three years ago, the Itum Trail is the newest route to the summit for recreational hikers, replacing the Ardent Trail, which has been permanently closed. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, however, paused tourism on the island in early 2020. Leading up the eastern slope, this route begins from the MTHNM Visitors Information Center, the official entrance to the protected area, located at Sitio Itum, Barangay Baylao, Mambajao. We started our hike at 5:30 am, after a 30-minute drive in a multi-cab van from GV Hotel Camiguin in Mambajao town proper to the visitors center, passing by mountain roads cloaked in fog.
After more than year closed due to the pandemic, the trail was only cleaned a week before our climb. We were the first tourists to climb the mountain via this new trail since the island reopened to tourism in late 2021. Itum Trail was more challenging than Yumbing Trail. The trail was steep and narrow, and barely visible for the most part due to the overgrowth. A few precarious sections of the trail required us to pull ourselves up on ropes.
Small leeches inhabited the lower portions of the trail, working their way onto our shoes and underneath the bottoms of our pants. We flicked them off with our fingers, or fended the buggers off with alcohol spray, but eventually got too tired to bother the deeper we trudged into the jungle. The little bloodsuckers were enlivened by the relentless rain shower, which made our ascent all the more daunting. Fortunately, their numbers dwindled as we climbed higher, soaked to the bone. Tree ferns and mossy trees with epiphytic plants such as ferns, orchids and ant plants towered at higher elevations.
As we neared the summit, the mossy forest eventually gave way to an open trail flanked by stunted trees and shrubs. By this point, it has stopped drizzling. We could see patches of blue sky above. Pitcher plants clung to the trailside foliage. They were the endemic Nepenthes ramos, a species found only in northern Mindanao.
We reached the summit peak before 12:00 pm, just in time to lunch on the Jollibee burgers we brought. The highest point was a sheer clifftop with large rocks where hikers can sit for the perfect shot with a sweeping background of the northern coastline behind. On clear a day, one can see as far as Bohol from here. Unfortunately, during our visit, the view was obscured by thick clouds blown in by the strong wind across the treetops of the surrounding slopes. Now and then, a break in the clouds would give us a fleeting glimpse of Mambajao town far down below.
Descent via Yumbing Trail
After resting at the summit for an hour, we began our northward descent at 1:00 pm. A short hike to the other side of the summit area finally rewarded us with views of Ilihan crater (also called Aron crater). This crater was the site of devastating eruptions in the early 1950s. The viewpoint, however, was overgrown with shrubs, so I launched my drone to capture better views of the crater. Our patience finally paid off: the clouds receded to reveal White Island sandbar floating on the Bohol Sea.
Hikers may opt to descend via the Itum Trail, returning to the visitors center. But for a change in scenery, we descended via the Yumbing Trail, traversing the crater we saw from the summit area. The recent rains filled up the grassy field of crater, and we waded across knee-deep waters to reach the other side. Despite the wetter surroundings, we observed no leeches in the area.
From the crater rim, we descended into forest, negotiating a vertical section of the trail, which required us to hang on to a rope and gingerly make our way down! Other than this tricky part, this well-trodden route was so much easier than the Itum trail. Exhaustion, however, started to hit us on the last hour of the descent, as we traversed rolling farmland and coconut plantations. We all ran out of drinking water. Aside from the thirst, the encroaching darkness of sundown also slowed us down.
Just as soon as we wanted to give up, we were greatly relieved to reach the end of the trail, where a sari-sari store awaited us dehydrated hikers. We chugged down a big bottle of water in a flash, before boarding the parked multi-cab that drove us back to Mambajao town from Barangay Yumbing.
What to Wear
- Comfortable active wear
- Long pants and high-cut socks (for protection from mosquitos, thorny plants and leeches)
- Lightweight, waterproof jacket (in case of sudden downpours)
- Hiking shoes (preferably waterproof)
What to Bring
- Drinking water
- Lunch and trail food
- Insect repellant
- Alcohol spray (to fend off leeches)
- Medical kit
Registration & Fees
MTHNM visitors are required to register at the DENR-PENRO Office (near the Mambajao Municipal Hall) before proceeding to the protected area. Guiding fee is PHP 1,200 per group (3 persons maximum), plus an environmental fee of PHP 200 per person per day. For the latest information, visit the MTHNM Facebook page.
Where to Stay
We stayed at GV Hotel Camiguin in Mambajao town, which offered the cheapest rooms on the island. It is strategically located at the center of the provincial capital, next to a Jollibee. For hikers, it is conveniently located near the DENR-PENRO Office (2 km away) and Itum Road, which leads all the way to the MTHNM Visitors Information Center, the start of Itum Trail.