T’boli, South Cotabato: Hiking Mt. Melibingoy (Mt. Parker) & Lake Holon (Lake Maughan)

Lake Holon, T'boli, South Cotabato, Philippines
Lake Holon, the crater lake of Mt. Melibingoy,  in South Cotabato was once declared the country’s cleanest lake.

While researching about Lake Sebu in South Cotabato some years ago, I chanced upon a mountain lake in the same province on Google Maps which I later learned was Lake Holon – formerly Lake Maughan – the ancient crater of a dormant stratovolcano, Mt. Melibingoy (formerly Mt. Parker). I’ve always been intrigued by this lesser known lake located in the municipality of T’boli. And, finally, a familiarization tour of the Allah Valley region sponsored by the Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA) gave me the opportunity to climb this mountain and visit this remote bowl-shaped lake with other travel bloggers.

Lake Holon, T'boli, South Cotabato, Philippines
A T’boli boy with the freshly caught tilapia – an introduced species to the lake.

The English name of the volcano is taken from General Frank Parker, an American general who spotted the mountain and claimed to have “discovered” it during a flight he piloted in 1934. The mountain, however, has long been regarded as sacred by the indigenous T’boli people. Rising 1,824 meters above sea level, Mt. Melibingoy is believed to have erupted thrice over the past 3,800 years, the last one on January 4, 1641. This latest major eruption caused the formation of Lake Holon.

Lake Holon, T'boli, South Cotabato, Philippines
A T’boli man goes spearfishing at Lake Holon. Look how clear the water is!

A bumpy habal-habal ride transported us from T’boli town proper to the trailhead at Brgy. Salacafe for almost an hour, passing by extensive banana plantations. From the jump-off point, it was a steady ascent to the crater rim passing by a lonesome T’boli village. Halfway to the top, a hidden viewpoint revealed magnificent views of Ga-o River, carving a deep jungle valley as it drained the lake. We spotted some Nepenthes pitcher plants along the trail. Philippine tarsiers (Tarsius syrichta) are known to inhabit the undisturbed forests of Mt. Melibingoy.

Upon reaching the crater lake, three in our group including myself rode a wooden canoe and paddled our way to the center of the lake, where we enjoyed a swim in the cold and pristine water. The lake was hemmed in by soaring cliffs carpeted in dense foliage. And the water was so clean it tasted fresh and sweet, and along the lakeshore one could clearly see the lush aquatic plants. Our guides set up camp on the lakeshore. And we enjoyed a hearty dinner of tilapia freshly caught from the lake.

Nepenthes Pitcher Plant at Mt. Melibingoy
Insect-luring Nepenthes pitcher plants along the trail to Lake Holon

The lake’s name in T’boli means “portal to heaven”, which, beyond its captivating natural beauty, pertains to a local legend. A long time ago, a T’boli witch named Unsak prophesied that the end is near and, promising a band of followers eternal life, led them deep in the mountain forests. They came upon a lake where, upon her instruction, they jumped to their death. No one has heard of them since. Some say they perished, and their cries heard every day, very early in the morning. While others say they indeed went straight to Heaven. Officially declared the cleanest lake in the country in 2003 and 2004, local tribespeople still attribute its pristine state to matters of legend and magic.

Lake Holon, T'boli, South Cotabato, Philippines
Camp under the clearest night sky at Lake Holon!

HOW TO GET THERE: Before climbing Mt. Melibingoy, one must register and secure local guides through the municipal tourism office of T’boli, South Cotabato. From T’boli, one must take an hour’s ride by habal-habal or skylab (modified motorcycle) to the trailhead at Brgy. Salacafe. From Brgy. Salacafe, it takes three to four hours to hike to the campsite along the shore of Lake Holon.

Habal-Habal Ride
Just how many travel bloggers can you fit on a habal-habal or skylab (modified motorcycle)?

For more information on hiking Mt. Melibingoy and Lake Holon, contact municipal tourism officer Mr. Bary Lugan at +63 9067943210 or +63 83 2371014.

This familiarization tour around Region XII was made possible by the Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA).

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7 Responses

  1. superb article + spectacular photos. love love the 1st photo at ang milkyway shot. ang sexy ni koyah s 3rd photo! haha

  2. This is my first time to read a blog entry about South Cotobato and it makes me feel eager to see it also for myself! :] Great post pre!

    http://geejaytravellog.blogspot.com/

  3. Awesomely awesome photos Ed! Ganda ng Lake na ‘to 😀

  4. Led says:

    Hello, Edgar! Will you be sharing your Philippine top travel discoveries of 2013 on a separate post?

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