True to my promise of climbing more mountains in 2017, I found myself yet again on the mountain trails. Merely a week after my first 2017 hiking expedition, I am again up and running, but this time, I will be scaling a mountain that is technically closer to home.

Mt. Ulap is a part of the Gran Cordillera mountain range. Lately, it has become a first time hiker’s haven due to its relatively easy traverse. Though it has been open for hiking enthusiast for quite some time, it hasn’t received that much attention until recently. Aside from being an easy trek, the trek is renowned for its picturesque backdrops and rock formations.

Mt. Ulap Details

Elevation: 1,846 MASL
Difficulty: 3/9
Trail Class: 1-3
Type: Grassland with pine ridges
Days Required: 1 day
Hours to Summit: 2-3 hours

How To Get There

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(C) Google Maps.

Mt. Ulap is located in Barangay Ampucao in the municipality of Itogon , Benguet.  To get there from Manila, ride any Baguio City-bound bus like Victory Liner or Genesis Bus. Both bus companies have terminals in Cubao and Pasay with several trips running hourly. Ticket costs around PHP 445 to 460, while the travel time is roughly six (6) to seven (7) hours.

Upon arrival in Baguio, go to the Ampucao jeepney terminal located on Lakandula Street beside Baguio Center Mall and behind Jollibee Magsaysay Avenue. If you’re unfamiliar of the area, ride a cab or ride the Aurora Hill/Trancoville jeeps plying Magsaysay Avenue. Just tell the driver to drop you on Jollibee Magsaysay.

Ride the Ampucao bound jeepneys and tell the driver to drop you at the Ampucao Barangay Hall. Jeepney fare is PHP 50 while travel time takes 30 minutes. Jeepney rides start at 4 AM daily. If you want an early start, you can contract a  taxi driver to take you to the Barangay Hall. Depending on your convincing powers, one way fare is around PHP 500 to 700.

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Crowd! I never thought that there would be this many who’d want to trek on the same day as us.

The Barangay Speaks

We initially planned to start our trek at 4 AM, the earliest time they allow trekkers to climb the mountain. We wanted to witness a dramatic sunrise and we wanted to avoid the crowd that is already accumulating at the barangay gym.

But alas, luck wasn’t on our side. Apparently, some organizers have been complaining to the Barangay LGU regarding the increase in fees (registration, tour guide and parking fees). They question the fact that there are no visible developments in the area in spite of the fees being paid by the trekkers. Some of these trek organizers are threatening to ban hiking activities in Mt. Ulap.

Honestly, I think that banning trekking activities will help the mountain breathe and won’t be a big loss to the locality. The locals are used to rolling in with the punches that they’ve lived for too long without the the trekkers and believe me, they will continue on surviving without the trekkers. Money is, and will never be, an issue. The locals can survive without the money you are paying them.

To air their side, the punong barangay and the barangay council were all present. They used the opportunity of having the tour guides, the organizers, the trekkers, and the car drivers in one place to address all the issues raised. After an hour of discussion, all parties seemed to have reached a consensus. Immediately after, the registration and all hiking activities resumed.

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All’s well that ends well. Let’s get this started!

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Trying to catch the last bits of the sun before it rises way above us.
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Another sunrise shot. Sorry, I really am in awe of the sun rising (or setting) over the horizon.
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Nature at its best. The sun, the clouds and the trees all making up an eye-catching scene.

Our Adventure

It was around 6:30 AM when we began our ascent to the summit. We had BJ, a very youthful 13-year old, for our guide. From the onset, and the from the number of people who waited at the barangay hall, this is bound to be a pretty crowded trek. Everyone wants to have a piece of the wonderful Mt. Ulap scenery. Among the throng of people waiting to trek Mt. Ulap are some of my P&A colleagues and some students of my instructor-friend.

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Stamped!

Before alighting from the Barangay Hall, please ensure that you have been stamped. Otherwise, the inspectors at the mountain entrance won’t let you climb the mountain.

 

At the first view point, a crowd was already forming. Everyone is already taking their time taking pictures of the surroundings. We can understand why because the opening salvo already offers a view of Lingayen Gulf over the western horizon and of the peaks of Mt. Cabuyao and Mt. Sto. Tomas shrouded by the clouds. We passed on the opportunity of taking pictures because we wanted to go first in the other attractions that the mountain can offer.

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Breathtaking. This view at the start is a promising one. 
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Foliage. These pine trees kept me incognito from the rest of the world, even just for a while.

We first traversed on a pine-covered ridge. The ascent is manageable, especially for beginners. It wasn’t long into the climb when I felt my calves starting to cramp because of the coldness. Thankfully, as the ground started heating up, my calves started loosening up, too. I can now enjoy the hike.

After the pine ridge, the trail turned into wide-open grasslands. Our leisurely stroll surged on and at around 8Am, about an hour and a half into our hike, we finally reached the first peak, Ambanaw-Paway. It is 1,788 meters above sea level (MASL). The view from the first view point is just stupendous. On a 360-degree turn, you can see, starting from the right, Baguio City, Mt. Cabuyao, Mt. Sto. Tomas, Lingayen Gulf, San Roque Dam, Philex Mines tailing dam, Mt. Ugo and Mt. Pulag. Over the horizon, you can also see the solitary peak of Mt. Arayat in the midst of the Central Luzon plains.

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One of three. We have a lot of climbing ahead of us!
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Hear ye! Hear ye! I am a son of the mountains, and now I can fathom why!
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Stunning. One word is enough to describe the scenery.
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Raging bull. Saw a couple of these guys charging down the mountain trail looking for a place to graze.

We reached the second peak, Gungal at around 9 AM. It is situated at 1,814 meters above sea level and is more renowned for its prominent rocks formations. The most famous of these rocks is the Gungal rock which is cantilevered on the side of the mountain. Pictures of thrill-seekers standing on the rock have already made its way on all social media outlet. These pictures, I surmise, are one of the reasons why many trekkers flock to this mountain.

As we were just the second batch of trekkers to reach the Gungal Rock, we can take our time taking pictures. Had there been more trekkers on queue, we would only be limited to 10 seconds each. Thankfully there was no group behind us so we took as much time to have our pictures be taken at the famed rock.

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Perspective. On the top right, one can see the tiny peak of Mt. Arayat in the heart of the Central Luzon plains.
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Fierce and fabulous. The ladies are taking a rest before charging on to the next challenge.
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Gungal Peak. Two out of three. One more to go!
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Living on the Edge. Some of us do – some to test their limits while some to remind themselves that they are alive.

After Gungal Rock, we proceeded with our assault to the main summit. We passed by rolling hills which some seasoned trekkers say are resemblant of the rolling hills of Mount Pulag. They  also seemed like mini-Chocolate Hills with those layered lines. To appreciate the view, and partly due to exhaustion, we sat on the grasslands. While some thrive in the bedlam of urban living, some enjoy this brand of tranquility.

After drinking in the scenery, we again proceeded with our trek. At 10 AM, we finally reached the third peak, the very summit of Mt. Ulap. Whew. Again, we took the time to bask in the beauty of the view and of our environment. These are views you will rarely see in the pandemonium of the Metro.

On the way, we saw the campsite where some of the campers were beginning to rise and decamp. The sight is just incomparable. It is just too beautiful. It was such a blessing to be in this place at this moment. For every trekker we meet on the way, we gave them nothing but smiles and encouragements because we want them to witness also the beauty that we’ve just witnessed.

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Rolling hills. These sleepy hills are just a delight to the eyes.
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Blooms. This tiny flower blooms amidst the flurry of activities around it.
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Cerulean. The blue skies and blue waters are just majestic from the top.
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Lush. The mountain’s flora is also teeming with different plants.
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Open Skies. If you could just open your arms wide open and be lost in the big blue sky. 

 

It was too bad that we had to start our descend. The descend was a bit trickier than the ascend because we had to scale an acute-angled ridge. The angle, plus the rocks and the queue of people going up made our descend a wee bit more challenging. But our difficulties were soon rewarded for at the base of the Sta. Fe Ridge are numerous food stalls. For those who rarely see hanging bridges, you will pass a couple of them on the way to the jeepney terminal.

It was 12 noon already when we finally reached the jeepney terminal where we rode a jeep going back to Baguio. Upon reaching my grandparent’s house, I was automatically dead to the world. I didn’t realize I was that exhausted from our earlier expedition. Time to catch some Zs.


Itinerary

Day 0
2030H Meet up at Genesis Bus Cubao
2100H ETD to Baguio City

Day 1
0300H 
ETA Baguio City
0330H ETD to Ampucao Barangay Hall
0600H Registration
0630H 
ETD to Peak 1
0800H ETA First Peak, Ambanaw-Paway. Picture Taking.
0900H ETA Second Peak, Gungal. Picture taking at Gungal Rock.
1000H ETA Third Peak, Mt. Ulap. Picture taking and rest.
1030H ETD to Sta. Fe Base
1200H ETA Sta. Fe.
1300H ETD to Baguio City

Expenses

PHP 445.00 – Bus Fare to Baguio City
PHP 100.00 – Cab fare to Ampucao Brgy. Hall (Contracted at PHP 500.00, divided by 5)
PHP 100.00 – Registration Fee
PHP 120.00 – Tour guide fee (Fixed at PHP 600.00 for 7 individuals, divided by 5)
PHP 75.00 – Jeepney fare from Sta. Fe to Baguio City (Normally PHP 50.00 but we had to divide the difference among the trekkers who have already reached the base. Else we have to wait for the jeep to be full which can last until late in the afternoon as most trekkers have vans to transport them.)

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