On Mountains and Their Limits: Can We Go Higher?

Illustration by  Carla Crespo

Illustration by Carla Crespo


When done right, tourists can help drive rehabilitation. But this isn't a case where more is always better.

Often when we picture grand destinations—and hardly any are grander than the mountains—we imagine them in terms of what they can handle. Many tourists have the tendency to measure this in terms of their land area instead of carrying capacity, as though if a place is big enough to accommodate them, then it should. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

Every place has a carrying capacity (the technical term is tourist carrying capacity or TCC): the maximum number of people it can accommodate and support at the same time given its resources, the seasonal and unexpected changes, and without damaging and depleting its environment. Think of it as a destination’s tolerance-level for humans.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has a “Manual on Computing Carrying Capacity of Ecotourism Sites in Protected Areas” which serves as a management and development guide for ecotourism projects, especially when it comes to determining the number of people that can visit to do which activities.

But carrying capacity is not discussed heavily in the Philippines—at least not until substantial damage has been done. The complex case of the Boracay closure, for example, has brought this issue to the fore. The mountains have taken the brunt of this misinformation, and the best we can do is to strap ourselves down with information before we even think to climb.


Quick Reads Esquire Philippines | Business Mirror | The Pinoy Mountaineer
LPU-Laguna Journal of Multidisciplinary Research Vol. 5, No. 1
Let's Talk About Overcrowding | Sustainable Tourism

Legal resources Guidelines for Ecotourism Development in the Philippines
Tourism Act of 2009

Here's how some of the country's most popular mountains are doing:

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1. Mount Pulag (Kabayan, Benguet) | 2,922m above sea level, 2-3 day climb

Mt. Pulag has an estimated 300 to 400 hikers daily. There are four major trails you can access it from: Tawangan, Akiki, and Ambangeg (from Benguet), or Ambaguio (from Nueva Viscaya). Last January, Mount Pulag Park Management suspended all activities due to forest fire caused by a butane stove explosion which spread through the grassland areas. All suspensions were lifted and re-opened last April.

2. Mount Apo (Davao Del Sur) | 2,956m above sea level, highest in the country, 3-4 day climb

In March 2016, a fire broke and destroyed more than 300 hectares of grass and forest cover. 13 months after, the Kidapawan trail was re-opened by the Mount Apo's Protected Area Management Board to public, for as long as climbers complied to their strict imposition of rules to ensure the mountain's protection, including undergoing camp management and leaving the peak before night time. Until now, it is unclear what caused the fire.

3. Mount Pinatubo (Botolan, Zambales) | 1,486m above sea level, 4x4 ride and 2.5 hour hike

Mount Pinatubo, then a 600-year dormant volcano, set the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century in 1991. Though effective regulations and measures have been taken to protect the mountain, accidents happen. From 1995 to 2013, three foreigners and five Filipinos died from drowning in this spot. Local tour guides, Aetas, and others who live in the area are informed about the rules to strictly enforce them. Prohibitory signs are placed throughout the area, but of course, tourists should know this in advance. When getting a guide, make sure you get one affiliated with the local government or tourist board. Get clearance to avoid getting stranded.

Another tip that should be obvious: the water from the crater is not drinkable due to the heavy sulfur.

4. Mount Daraitan (Tanay, Rizal) | 739m above sea level, Level 1 in climbing difficulty

Daraitan is one of the most accessible mountains from Metro Manila, so there's the chance of people traffic especially during peak seasons (April-June). The council overseeing daily operations in Daraitan implemented a limit of 300 people per day to hike up the summit, which is still a hefty number. Due to the high foot traffic in Mt. Daraitan, we recommend staying away, particularly during peak season, to help give the mountain some recovery time. If you are still determined to make the climb, follow the strict rule of leaving no trace.

5. Mount Guiting-Guiting (Sibuyan Island, Romblon) | Highest difficulty rating, 3 day climb

This mountain ranks most difficult not for how high it is, but the steep, jagged ridges, volatile weather, and dense forest. Apart from that, locals also believe it nests a village full of spirits and engkantos. Folklore aside, Mt. Guiting-Guiting is not for the faint-hearted, though its technical nature is what excites mountaineers. Climbing is advisable between the months of March to May. Due to DENR-ERDS and the Guide Association recommendation, only 128 persons are allowed to camp in Mayo’s Peak, 18 at the summit, and 18 at Traverse Camp 3.


Responsible mountaineers follow the 7 rules of Leave No Trace (LNT).

These principles were outlined by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare. Know the special concerns of the area. Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.

  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow. Good campsites are found, not made.

  3. Dispose of waste properly. Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.

  4. Leave what you find. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them. The mountain is not the place for souvenirs.

  5. Minimize campfire impacts. Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment.

  6. Respect wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.

  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.

Aside from following LNT principles, you can support several conservation projects in the Philippines that address different environmental issues. The Conservation International Philippines works with the government and local communities to protect the country’s natural assets—forests, mangroves and seas. Pinoy Mountaineer organizes community mountain clean-ups. The Cordillera Conservation Trust (CCT) tackles conservation through responsible tourism; they host marathons through the mountain range in order to inspire people to protect the land they run on. By investing in the enhancement of the natural park, the CCT has built better relationships with local communities, produced job opportunities, and reduced the economic pressure to develop land.