Sea to summit

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MOUNTAINS AND SEAS are the country’s top eco-tourism drawers for both mountaineers and beach lovers. Over at Agusan del Norte, its capital, the City of Cabadbaran, is taking the lead in protecting and nurturing the “sea to summit” ecological balance of the province.

The 2,012-meter Mt. Hilong-Hilong, the Caraga Region’s tallest peak, is ranged as among the most technically difficult mountains to ascend and is suitable only for climbers with intermediate and expert skills. A recent expedition dubbed “Freedom Climb” took climbers three full days to conquer the summit.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, the mountain has seven major waterfalls, scores of minor cascades, ancient rock art thousands of years old, a carpet of giant white anthuriums, and unexplored caves.

It is also the nesting site of the endangered Philippine eagle, habitat of the Philippine wildcat, flying squirrel, tarsier, and a microscopic flower not found anywhere else in country. The mountain is also home to some 120 different species of birds, 59 of which can only be found in the archipelago.

Mt. Hilong-Hilong
Mt. Hilong-Hilong

Hilong-Hilong is also a sanctuary of indigenous frogs, reptiles, mammals, and ecologically threatened flora.

A Senate Bill proposing that the mountain be declared a National Park because of its rich biodiversity was filed by Senator Pia S. Cayetano.

Another important peak is Mt. Mas-ai where, surrounded by virgin forests, the mountain-top Lake Balwang is found. The 1,680-meter peak is home to wild orchids, resinous trees like Almaciga, mountain pines, and five varieties of pitcher plants. Also found on its slopes are the Philippine Mocaca, the kalaw bird, woodpeckers, flying lizards, hawks, and rare species of small frogs.

Then there is the Pongkay-Mt. Agong-ong Prayer Mountain, with a 600-step staircase leading to the peak. Located near the city proper, this a moderate climb whose reward is the literally breathtaking panorama of Butuan Bay, Mt. Hilong-Hilong, and the meandering Cabadbaran River.

An amazing geological formation in the city’s hinterlands is the Higanteng Bato, arguably the biggest boulder in northern Mindanao. Measuring 54.13 meters in height, 124 meters in circumference, and 31 meters wide, it has a cool stream at its the foot.

Higanteng Bato in Cabadbaran
Higanteng Bato in Cabadbaran

According to Cabadbaran Mayor Dale Corvera, the local government is taking stock of its eco-tourism potential and has crafted a City Tourism Master Plan with tools, plans and strategies to boost its emerging eco-tourism industry.

The area is also home to an equally rich coastal ecosystem, owing to its long coastline — from the mouth of Camboayon River to the mouth of the Cabadbaran River, covering the barangays of La Union, Calibunan and Tolosa.

Cabadbaran river
Cabadbaran river

This coastal ecosystem is home to the Calibunan Marine Protected Area, the country’s most successful artificial fish sanctuary which restored 76 species of aquatic life, according to the Mindanao State University which helped bring it back to life.

A pagang coral reef, which was just about the size of the human hand when it was transplanted in 2006, has grown into more than three square meters in area. With a depth of 16 meters, the fish sanctuary is ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving and free diving.

The upland and coastal ecosystems are connected by verdant rivers emanating from the mountains, whose thick forest cover has helped maintain the delicate ecological balance.

beach sunset in Cabadbaran

The city’s main waterway, the Cabadbaran River, is an emerging tubing site, its whitewater course offering an adrenaline-pumping ride more than an hour long. It’s quieter sections are ideal for a sightseeing cruise aboard paddle boats, bamboo rafts or pumpboats.

With a total land area of 32,518 hectares, Cabadbaran accounts for 12.55% of Agusan del Norte’s land resources, one of the biggest in the province.

Mr. Corvera said that with its natural wonders, coupled with its heritage attractions, the city can be one of the leading nature, adventure and culture spots in Mindanao.