The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
By Fedor Jagor et al
Public Domain Books
[Daraga.] My Spanish friends enabled me to rent a house in Daraga,  a well-to-do town of twenty thousand inhabitants at the foot of the Mayon, a league and a half from Legaspi. The summit of this volcano was considered inaccessible until two young Scotchmen, Paton and Stewart by name, demonstrated the contrary.  Since then several natives have ascended the mountain, but no Europeans.
[Ascent of Mayon.] I set out on September 25th, and passed the night, by the advice of Seņor Muņos, in a hut one thousand feet above the level of the sea, in order to begin the ascent the next morning with unimpaired vigor. But a number of idlers who insisted on following me, and who kept up a tremendous noise all night, frustrated the purpose of this friendly advice; and I started about five in the morning but little refreshed. The fiery glow I had noticed about the crater disappeared with the dawn. The first few hundred feet of the ascent were covered with a tall grass quite six feet high; and then came a slope of a thousand feet or so of short grass succeeded by a quantity of moss; but even this soon disappeared, and the whole of the upper part of the mountain proved entirely barren. We reached the summit about one o’clock. It was covered with fissures which gave out sulphurous gases and steam in such profusion that we were obliged to stop our mouths and nostrils with our handkerchiefs to prevent ourselves from being suffocated. We came to a halt at the edge of a broad and deep chasm, from which issued a particularly dense vapor. Apparently we were on the brink of a crater, but the thick fumes of the disagreeable vapor made it impossible for us to guess at the breadth of the fissure. The absolute top of the volcano consisted of a ridge, nearly ten feet thick, of solid masses of stone covered with a crust of lava bleached by the action of the escaping gas. Several irregular blocks of stone lying about us showed that the peak had once been a little higher. When, now and again, the gusts of wind made rifts in the vapor, we perceived on the northern corner of the plateau several rocky columns at least a hundred feet high, which had hitherto withstood both storm and eruption. I afterwards had an opportunity of observing the summit from Daraga with a capital telescope on a very clear day, when I noticed that the northern side of the crater was considerably higher than its southern edge.
[The descent.] Our descent took some time. We had still two-thirds of it beneath us when night overtook us. In the hope of reaching the hut where we had left our provisions, we wandered about till eleven o’clock, hungry and weary, and at last were obliged to wait for daylight. This misfortune was owing not to our want of proper precaution, but to the unreliability of the carriers. Two of them, whom we had taken with us to carry water and refreshments, had disappeared at the very first; and a third, “a very trustworthy man,” whom we had left to take care of our things at the hut, and who had been ordered to meet us at dusk with torches, had bolted, as I afterwards discovered, back to Daraga before noon. My servant, too, who was carrying a woolen blanket and an umbrella for me, suddenly vanished in the darkness as soon as it began to rain, and though I repeatedly called him, never turned up again till the next morning. We passed the wet night upon the bare rocks, where, as our very thin clothes were perfectly wet through, we chilled till our teeth chattered. As soon, however, as the sun rose we got so warm that we soon recovered our tempers. Towards nine o’clock we reached the hut and got something to eat after twenty-nine hours’ fast.
[A suspicious medal.] In the Trabajos y Hechos Nolables de la Soc. Econom. de los Amigos del Pais, for September 4th, 1823, it is said that “Don Antonio Siguenza paid a visit to the volcano of Albay on March 11th,” and that the Society “ordered a medal to be struck in commemoration of the event, and in honor of the aforesaid Siguenza and his companions.” Everybody in Albay, however, assured me that the two Scotchmen were the first to reach the top of the mountain. It is true that in the above notice the ascent of the volcano is not directly mentioned; but the fact of the medal naturally leads us to suppose that nothing less can be referred to. Arenas, in his memoir, says: “Mayon was surveyed by Captain Siguenza. From the crater to the base, which is nearly at the level of the sea, he found that it measured sixteen hundred and eighty-two Spanish feet or four sixty-eight and two-third meters.” A little further on, he adds, that he had read in the records of the Society that they had had a gold medal struck in honor of Siguenza, who had made some investigations about the volcano’s crater in 1823. He, therefore, appears to have had some doubt about Siguenza’s actual ascent.
[An early friar attempt.] According to the Franciscan records a couple of monks attempted the ascent in 1592, in order to cure the natives of their superstitious belief about the mountain. One of them never returned; but the other, although he did not reach the summit, being stopped by three deep abysses, made a hundred converts to Christianity by the mere relation of his adventures. He died in the same year, in consequence, it is recorded, of the many variations of temperature to which he was exposed in his ascent of the volcano.
[Estimates of height] Some books say that the mountain is of considerable height; but the Estado Geografico of the Franciscans for 1855, where one could scarcely expect to find such a thoughtless repetition of so gross a typographical error, says that the measurements of Siguenza give the mountain a height of sixteen hundred and eighty-two feet. According to my own barometrical reading, the height of the summit above the level of the sea was twenty-three hundred and seventy-four meters, or eighty-five hundred and fifty-nine Spanish feet.