Major jump-off: Ambangeg Ranger Station, Bokod, Benguet
LLA: 16°34’58″N 120°53’15″E, 2922 MASL (#3)
Days required / Hours to summit: 4-5 hours / 1-2 days
Specs: Major Climb | Difficulty 3/9 | Trail class 1-2
Trail system: Grand Cordillera Trail, Section 3
Features: Sea of Clouds | Dwarf Bamboo Slopes | Mossy Oak Forest
Mt. Pulag is Luzon’s highest peak and the country’s 3rd at 2922 MASL. This marvelous mountain has long been very controversial due to the impeccable view at its summit – an endless horizon filled with fluffy white clouds – which has captured the hearts of mountain enthusiasts from different parts of the country drawing hundreds of them to her feet every single day. Also known as the “playground of the gods”, her ethereal beauty is truly unique and far encompasses other magnificent mountains of her league.
While “The Sea Of Clouds” might be the ultimate reason to many to challenge her trails from the least difficult Ambangeg to the off beaten, deadly and steep Akiki and Tawangan, Mt. Pulag actually has a lot more up her sleeves that she reveals only to those who are keener to pry. If you are lucky enough, getting you close to a millions stars is another of her priceless rewards.
Mt. Pulag is not just another giant of a mountain but also an absolute life source. From her richness springs vast grasslands and acres of dwarf bamboo fields. In her mossy forest shelters various animal creatures and rare species of plants. She fills in the rivers too with her waters flowing primarily to Ambuclao and the surrounding provinces. She is sacred to the Ibalois, Kalanguya, Kankana-eys, Karao and Ifugaos as she is not only their home but of their ancestors and their spirit. She is strongly and deeply revered. A place where Heaven meets with Earth. A place like no other in this world.
I left for Mt. Pulag with a heavy heart. My climb/travel buddy/boyfie/homebuddy got sick and canceled on me the last minute. Call me insensitive but I didn’t know if he was really not feeling well or was just pretending to be sick so I won’t bug him of still coming but I hated him bigtime. Oh well, I didn’t want some weakling to ruin my well-planned weekend so alone I went to meet with my Mt. Pulag climb buddies in Victory Liner Cubao Station. I was coming all the way from Laguna so I was just glad to have arrived on time as few minutes after, our trip began.
We left for Baguio 30 minutes past midnight on December 5th. I slept throughout the 6 hours of journey amidst the freezing temperature coming off the bus A/C. I was tempted to ask the bus driver to warm it up a little but hesitated thinking things might be worse up there in Mt. Pulag. We arrived in Baguio at 6:30AM. The cold of early morning breeze which emitted of pine trees was something I missed the most about that beautiful place. It was more than a year from the last time I was there so to experience the chilly morning again was totally refreshing.
Arrangements were already made even before we left Manila so we needed not to charter a van or a jeep anymore to take us to Bokod Benguet as one was already waiting for us near Victory Liner Bus Terminal. We did all our mundane duties (bathroom, coffee etc) while we waited for 4 other people who were joining the climb. At 7.30AM, off we went to one of the most awesome journeys of my life.
I sat in between old colleagues from my previous job. Sitting across us were the beautiful Rea and Tin who from the looks of them were having the best of time. What made this adventure more special for me is not just the opportunity to meet and befriend new people but the hope of catching up with the old ones. The chatter started as soon as the engine revved up its way through the curves and bumps of the highways of Baguio. We talked from how great our previous job used to be to people we missed along the way. We chatted like there was no tomorrow until our lips were too tired to speak any longer and slowly each started to doze off. Just when I was about to hit my imaginary sack and succumb to the calling of my wildest dreams, the engine stopped. Funny. I had to suspend my sleep as it was already time for brunch.
The food was good and cheap but if you wanna enjoy it warm you have to consume it in a matter of seconds as it might get cold right before you know it. The P5 cup of coffee was something I also appreciated. We spent a few good minutes taking in the view of the luscious forest and of the nearly empty river down from where we were. When it was time to resume with the journey, the more exciting adventure began.
I rode on top of the jeep along with the other happy souls. Please. Don’t ask how I got on top… :p But. As I was saying. Rea and Tin sat on the front of the jeep along with our guide Mharwin and us – Joycie, Poleng and I – at the tail end of it. We Filipinos fondly call this “toploading” and as exciting as it was, the roads of Benguet made it 10 times more thrilling. We covered a few good kilometers until it was the others turn to experience the fun. I didn’t go down even when the sun was burning in my face. I thought the view is so worth all the UV Rays against my skin. When others have settled down with me sitting in the front this time, we resumed the trip.
We needed to stop at the DENR Registration site to pay the fees and for the orientation. An hour was spent there which gave us the chance to do some last minute shopping of the things we’d probably be needing before we get going. I slept pretty much during the orientation and I only grasped one thing, “Respect Pulag” which I already know but is still great to be reminded once in a while.
Our journey resumed with me envious of the people riding at the top of the jeep. Oh well. Everybody has to take their turn. 🙂 I contented myself seated inside, too sleepy to even strike a conversation. Halfway through reaching the Ranger Station, sadly it began to drizzle. We reached the Ranger Station after the painstaking 2 hours of journey along the uphill road that doesn’t seem to end. When I got off the jeep, I got my first taste of how bad the cold in the mountains can be. It was past the hour of 1PM and the fact that we hadn’t had lunch yet made it even worse.
We unloaded our bags and stayed at the nearest shed we found from where the jeep had dropped us off. In the same place where we stayed was a boy selling barbecues and other street goodies. He was such a lifesaver. I thought I had to wait for dinner before satiating my ever hungry tummy. We ate while the leader of the pack left to find us a place where we could set camp. Several minutes later, he returned directing us to somewhere I wasn’t able to make out of but I was expecting it was somewhere warm and dry and so off we walked amidst the drizzle with the strong wind blowing us off. I even had this stupid idea of using my umbrella. Well guess what. It didn’t really do me much.
After covering a few meters walking in the middle of the road with the rain and the wind both hitting me hard, I finally saw Poleng sitting outside a store. Finally somewhere I can rest and get rid of my heavy backpack. When I got to the spot where Poleng was, I thought everything was going to be nice and easy but hell No! What was I expecting? A warm and cozy hotel? Of course I had to help others pitch our tents. Please don’t judge me. I can be as lazy as fuck sometimes.
After all the tents were pitched up nicely, each settled down to their designated shelter for the night. At first I thought I was never seeing another daylight given how excruciating the cold was but as soon as I got inside the tent, I thought I never knew it can be that warm. I shared the tent with Rea and Tin and with Luis, the only person who successfully made it out of the 4 people I invited to join this climb. After marking our territories, we all went through our bags to get us something to warm us up even more. After putting on several clothes topped them with my jacket, I hit the sack wrapped in my sleeping bag.
After probably sleeping for 3 hours, I woke up with my body trembling. It was still raining hard and I could hear the wind whistled as it blew against our tent. The cold just suddenly became unbearable despite me wrapped in my sleeping bag and wearing four layers of clothing with 2 layers of socks and gloves and a bonnet. Worse I really felt like peeing and there was nothing I can do to stop it. Hesitant, I got out of the tent to find the nearest washroom. Gladly, I found one that didn’t add up to my stress. It was super clean and looked as if I’m never getting near any bacteria. I find it a surprise how it was kept clean as it is not always the case in mountains.
After relieving myself, I joined the others in the kitchen who were cooking and preparing dinner. They were drinking to a bottle of Emperador Light which was already half empty and so I thought of having a glass or two for myself to warm my tummy up. I took on one shot and the liquor brushing against my throat felt really good. I drank on 2 to 3 more shots until the bottle was empty and dinner was just ready to be served.
That night we feasted on Tamarind Pork stew which is more known to us as Sinigang. The soup tasted rich of tamarind and pork and the veggies were cooked just about right. That dish was even more perfect than coffee in chasing away the cold. We ate in between cheerful chatter and hopes of an even better wheather at dawn. After we were all satisfied, off we went to bed to regain our much needed strength so we could endure the trek the following morning.
We all woke up at 12:30AM. I didn’t have to scour through my things anymore since I’ve set aside those things I would be needing for the climb the night before. When I was ready I went out to check on the others and was aghast to find a sky lit by million stars. I giggled as I struggled to find a word that would best describe what I just saw. I was invigorated as I foresee the trek becoming all the more promising.
While other groups were already leaving camp to get on with the trek, us were still filling up tanks. We munched on some bread and instant noodles. I skipped coffee as I didn’t want to be running to the bushes early on. When we were all revved up, we head on to take the task at hand. A little prayer was sent by Rea to the heavens for the group’s safety and guidance.
We divided our group into 2 teams. I joined the first team led by our local guide Julie – a middle aged woman who belong to one of the natives living in Mt. Pulag. She walked first alongside Luis giving instructions from time to time. I followed closely behind them with Bod, Joey and the others behind me. We walked through the ascending concrete path and continued on to a dirt road that resembled a melted chocolate and was too slippery to walk on to. The entire surrounding was pitch black with my flashlight the only thing illuminating the way somehow. I walked carefully and slowly, heeding directions from Julie and Luis passing it to the people behind me. We’ve not covered a kilometer yet but I was already sensing my body warming up and my breathing slowly becoming labored. Suddenly the cold morning breeze stopped bothering me and the struggle of not making it until the very end replaced my worry.
We quickly shifted off the main road to the tip off point of Ambangeg trail. This time the trail we had to walk on is narrower. It was still muddy as hell with rocks scattered all over it. The mouth of the trail quickly descended for several steps until we were walking on a flat surface again then ascended a little then back to flat. This was like the cycle for several good minutes until the first steep ascent of the trek. The ladder-like path stretched to about 8 feet abruptly turning right stretching to another 7 feet.
After overcoming the first challenge, we took 10 minutes to catch a breather. I immediately reached for my water bottle refusing to take in any food until my thirst finally subside. I felt as if thirst would choke me to death. When it was finally gone, I dabbed on the trail mix brought by Joey and munch on it a bit slowly. I wasn’t at all rested when Julie asked us to go on with the trek but was encouraged when she said we were almost near camp 1. Hesitantly, I followed her and Luis and head on with the trek with fatigue slowly taking over me. I went on to overcome several steeper ascents taking comfort in flat surfaces which would go for couple meters before I find myself again struggling to climb my way up. In many occassions I would stop to get me some air. I was compelled not to linger too long to avoid causing delay to the people behind. Finally after all that struggle, we found ourselves in camp 1.
I quickly looked for a spot where I could sit and rid my back of my bag. This time it wasn’t thirst bothering me but the unbearable pain on my left shoulder. Cold didn’t bother me any longer either so I also got rid of anything that might impede me from breathing more comfortably. I looked through my bag for the salon pas to patch on my shoulder and somehow relieve me of pain. While I was trying to feel satiated, I was also thinking to myself whether I would make it through til the end. It wasn’t my first trek and I sure as hell prepared myself for the worse that could happen but the fact that my energy was dwindling to almost nothing with us haven’t even covered half of the trek yet is something to be troubled with. I guess I would always have the energy and tolerance of a newbie. After almost 10 minutes at camp 1, Julie started calling for the group to get going which woke me up from my reverie.
I didn’t follow until the last person in our team left. I thought it would be best for me to go last so I wouldn’t be pressured of keeping apace with Julie and Luis whose got monster of energy and to avoid slowing the trek down. We were after the sea of clouds so time is of essence. The trail from camp 1 to camp 2 was a lot easier with too many flat surfaces than ascents over a muddier path. This time I went on walking at my own pace allowing every single hiker to advance whenever I felt like catching for some air. It was really funny when all of a sudden I found myself walking alone in pitch darkness with nobody ahead nor behind me. I must have let everyone get passed me, thinking there was still others following close. It scared me at first but then I thought about the whistle I had in my bag. I can just use it to call for them ever I get to that point of feeling so helpless.
I continued walking along the darkened path with soft drizzle from the sky starting to pour over. I’ve noticed the stars were gone and all that was left was thick fog engulfing the entire mountain. The one thing I appreciated about the trail was its being uncomplicated so I wasn’t at all worried about getting lost. I just followed the shaven part and after covering several meters I finally bumped into some trekkers who had stopped to rest themselves. I walked passed them and few meters more I was finally regrouped with my team who were taking a breather at the side of the trail. When we resumed trekking, I made sure to keep pace with them as much as possible. Several minutes more and we were all in camp 2 just in time before the clock hits 4AM.
Everyone must have run to the comfort room (the bushes) the moment we set foot in camp 2. We’ve rested there for quite a short while, did some much needed preparation before we head to hike up the summit. But then Mharwin said we won’t make it to the summit just in time for the sunrise to witness the Sea of Clouds so we opted to go for peak 3 instead. After making sure everyone is ready to get going, we resumed the trek aiming to reach peak 3 before the clock hits 5:00AM.
The trail from camp 2 is a manmade pathway with large rocks neatly piled up to create an aisle fit for a queen. It stretched for several kilometers making the first part of the assault to peak 3 an easy one. I didn’t struggle until the manmade aisle ended. After what seemed like a catwalk for few minutes, I was then faced with a totally different runway. From that point on, I walked continuously in a muddy terrain which seemed to ascend endlessly. There were also other hikers along the way so advancing and stopping for short breathers were another struggle. To hasten our pace given the time we have left before sunrise, Mharwin assisted me with my bag. He must have noticed how much of a burden it was for me. He was just kind enough to oblige and take it.
After what seemed like an endless uphill climb with the steepest and greatest challenge being the assault starting from the base of peak 3, we finally reached a nice and cozy spot to witness the most awaited moment, The Revelation Of The Sea Of Clouds.
NO SEA OF CLOUDS, ALL FOGS
The numbing cold started to seep through my body just few minutes after we reached peak 3. I wanted not to stop moving so I can still keep warm inside but I was just too tired. I lay seated on the ground scouring my pack for something to munch on as I could no longer drink my water. It had gone unbearably cold and with that kind of weather, I needed instead a tasty warm soup. To my surprise, Mharwin offered me a small bowl filled with instant noodle soup. What a boyscout, isn’t he?
The scene was almost perfect with only the most important character missing. Daylight had broken into the horizon but no sun has risen up the cloud filled sky. Fog had taken center stage and no Sea Of Clouds had shown up. No beguiling beauty. No awestruck faces. No nothing. Only sad disappointed looks from everyone atop one of the highest peaks of this year’s most talked about Mt. Pulag.
I let out a sigh. A deep long one. I looked up the heavens sending the gods a silent prayer but they heard me not as several minutes past, the breeze became colder and rain came pouring down.
ASSAULT TO THE SUMMIT
I didn’t wanna push for the summit after that disappointing non-appearance of the Sea Of Clouds but then again I thought about what I was really there for. It’s to embrace and appreciate the mountain, Sea of Clouds or none. I looked around me and realized there’s so much to this beautiful mountain that what average hikers are normally there for. Despite my numbing feet, wet from the nonstop downpour, I joined the others to challenge the summit.
The muddy quest began along acres of dwarf bamboos then passed several slopes it suddenly changed to never ending grasslands similar to that of Mt. Batulao. It nearly took us an hour to reach the summit. Before finally approaching the base of the summit, a rainbow appeared and surprisingly the sun rose up the sky. Still struggling, it finally found its way through the stormy clouds but failed to stop the drizzle. Despite that, the sun’s warmth still felt soothing against my skin.
Again, I was at the end of the pack daydreaming. I’m not the kind to race especially when there’s no time limit to beat. Ya know (Childish grin) Yeah. I am just making excuses for my lazy turtle butt. 🙂 Anyway. While I was in the middle of amazement, I heard a voice calling up to me. It was Luis and Poleng who were at least 500 meters away asking me to quicken my pace as they excitedly advance for the summit despite the heavy traffic. Yes. There is traffic even in the mountains.
I looked at the image of the mountain with people coming down and going up the summit. Their staggering number reminded me of ant workers with hundreds of them lined up in my closet each have something in hand to save for the coming rain. I’ve never seen that much people in the mountains before. I thought what I saw in Mt. Batulao and Mt. Pico De Loro was already the worst but that day, what I was seeing with my own eyes was unimaginable. I suddenly felt a pang of guilt and pain for this poor, absolutely stunning mountain.
I continued walking over the muddy trail. For the first time that day, I have come to realize that the trail is so beaten up making it unstable and treacherous especially when it rains. I’ve also noticed that there was not one nor two but several trails going to different directions probably made by hikers looking for a detour to avoid the too beaten original trail not because they wanted to give it a rest but because they were looking for an easier path.
After the seemingly endless hours of avoiding falling on my back, I finally reached the summit.
THE SHORTLIVE MOMENT WITH THE SEA OF CLOUDS
While we triumphantly went through the obligatory photo ops at the summit, a shade of blue peep through the east, showing us a glimpse of fluffy white clouds underneath. That instantly took our breaths away. As awestruck as I was, I didn’t have the chance to capture it on a photo. I was stunned and speechless. I stared at it without blinking afraid of missing a single detail. When I finally summoned the strength to get back to my senses, it vanished covered again in thick fog just when I was about to snap a photo of it on my camera. Speaking of luck huh! Good thing! I’ve got friends who were quick with both their minds and hands and managed to capture that priceless moment.
GOING DOWN THE SUMMIT
We followed a different trail going down. Approaching the summit we stayed left and going down we took the right. This trail to the right perhaps was created to avoid collision from hikers assaulting the summit. From the base of the summit, we traced our footsteps until we reached Peak 3. Instead of passing over the peak, we instead passed aside it. The hike going back to camps 1 and 2 and the ranger station is just a walk in the park. Literally. It was still muddy and slippery but would you have noticed it after going through the worse?
Again I was left walking alone. I’m not a loner but in the mountains, you would probably leave my slowpoke butt alone given how slow I walk, taking in every scenery that comes my way. I never had company but myself until I reached camp 2 with me regrouping with the lovely folks from Cebu Lynne, Jeff and Gerard. I joined them going down to camp 1 but halfway I then again lost them until I bumped with Poleng, Icah and Bod few minutes before reaching camp 1. We walked alongside one another with me finding my best company in Bod who at that time had difficulty walking after cramps got to him bad.
After a painstaking descent with my mind asking “Are we there yet?” nonstop, we finally reached the mouth of Ambangeg trail. We didn’t had the energy left to walk back to the campsite so without second thoughts, each hopped unto the motorcycles parked there. It was a bit pricey at P100 but I had no regrets as the ride back to the ranger station added extra spice and thrill to the already epic Mt. Pulag adventure we just had.
MY 50 CENTS OF THOUGHTS
- I think it will be best to support funding the project of DENR to create a man made aisle in Ambangeg trail, that way we could avoid further destruction of Mt. Pulag. I know some mountain enthusiasts would oppose this as they think building a manmade aisle defeats the purpose of hiking up the mountain but there still remain Akiki And Tawangan and those are the real challenge.
- DENR should limit the number of people hiking up Mt. Pulag to barely a hundred in a day to give it time to recuperate and recover from too much beating. They should also continue to close the mountain during weekends to avoid influx of hikers which contributes in its further destruction.
- I think people who hike up Mt. Pulag and any other mountains should learn to appreciate the mountain’s innate beauty and not just its view from the top. It’s always the journey that counts and not the destination.
HOW TO GO THERE
From Manila, ride a bus in Cubao (Victory Liner|Partas |Genesis) going to Baguio. From there charter a jeep going to Bokod Benguet if you are hiking Pulag through the Ambangeg trail or Kabayan Benguet if you are to go with Akiki and Tawangan. Roundtrip fare is roughly around P1500. Make sure you already have your reservation prior to going there as walk-ins are no longer encouraged. Please coordinate with the DENR office for more information.
My hike to Mt. Pulag was organized by a friend wherein I paid a total of P3650 that includes roundtrip fare, food, mandatory fees (registration, environmental, camping, local guide and donation), printed group t-shirt and tarp. May be a lot less excluding the shirt and tarp. If you are looking for someone to organize your climb, you can contact Mharwin Gimena or Carlo Tolentino. They are both on Facebook. If you wanna DIY, contact DENR office to know how to go about with your climb. Please refer to the contact information below.
PASU E-mail: email@example.com
PASU Mering’s Mobile: 0919 631 5402
Office Mobile: 0929 166 8864
Office Landline: (074) 444 2720
THINGS TO BRING
Don’t ever underestimate Pulag. Please come prepared. Here are some of the things you need to bring.
– headlamp with extra batteries
– small roll of duct tape
– 1 canned/preserved food as emergency food – for each individual
– first aid kit (elastic bandage, wound kit, otc drugs such as bonamine, paracetamol, loperamide, decolgen no drowse, mefenamic acid, anti allergy, pain ointment, burn ointment)
– personal meds
– 2 water bottles, 1 liter trail water
– 1 liter camp water (total of 1 to 3 liters each)
– trek gear for cold weather (bonnets, gloves, scarf, inner thermal wear or do layering of clothes, water repellent jacket, 2 poncho or disposable raincoat (lightweight)
– sleepwear that can also serve as your clothes for going home, towelette and toiletries
– trek shoes
– 3 pairs of socks
– waterproof gadgets and clothes by placing them in ziplocks
– extra ziplocks or a drybag
– black bags
– wet tissue
– trail food (energy bars,peanuts, chocolates, grapes can give high energy while trekking, apples/banana)
– optional trek pole
– Sleeping bag or fleece blanket
– Emergency blanket( coleman disposable)
– Earthpad or sleeping mat ( aircon insulator will do
– warming oil
– mess kit (spoon/fork, food container) and camp knife
2200 Meet-up Victory Cubao
2300 ETD Baguio
0500 ETA Baguio City. Breakfast/Supplies
0730 Breakfast Jangjiang
0900 ETA visitor’s center. registration/ orientation
1100 Head out for the Ranger Station
1300 ETA Rangers Station Ambangeg
1400 Set camp Mini Burol @ ranger station/Lunch
1600 Prepare dinner
1700 Early Dinner/Socials
1900 Lights Out
There you go lovely people. I hope you enjoy reading my long narrarive. I tried to keep it short and sweet but Mt. Pulag is such a memory I couldn’t resist to relive. I want to thank all the people who made this amazing journey possible. To Joycie and Teo, big hugs for your unwavering support for the group since day 1.
That’s it for now. Comments are most welcome. Shares would be much appreciated. Thanks. See ya 🙂