Mt. Pulag: The Unexpected Journey

Situated in Benguet, the mighty Mt. Pulag is part of the Grand Cordillera Range and is one of the most prominent in the country. At 2,922 MASL, it is the 3rd highest in the country, and the highest in Luzon. It used to be the 2nd highest peak in the country but due to the advancement in technology, Mt. Dulang-Dulang in Bukidnon’s Kitanglad Range have usurped it as the 2nd highest peak.

Earning the moniker of the “Rooftop of Luzon”, it offers a great view of the sea of clouds that make amateur mountaineers flock to the mountains. I’ve surmised that this social media craze for sea of clouds began when pictures of the sea of clouds at Mt. Pulag made rounds on the social media outlets. I have to admit, the pictures are really captivating.

Because of these reasons, Mt. Pulag, landed on my must-climb list and thankfully, a friend organized a trip to hike Mt. Pulag. On April 28, 2017, I found myself on a bus to the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio City which also serves as the gateway to other great destinations in the heart of the Cordilleras.

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I am finally here! I never thought that I’d be able to transform a dream into a reality.

How to Get There

  • Ride any Baguio-bound bus in Cubao or Pasay. Fare usually costs PHP 460 and travel time is around six (6) to seven (7) hours.
  • From Baguio, you can rent either a jeepney or a van. The price will depend on your negotiation. Our transportation was already arranged by our homestay.
  • From Baguio, you can also ride a bus at the Dangwa station. Bus fare is about PHP 120 and travel time is around four (4) to five (5) hours. Bus ride, however, is only until the visitor center. From the Visitor Center, ride a habal-habal to the ranger station.

Mt. Pulag Details (Via Ambangeg Trail)

Elevation: 2,922 MASL
Difficulty: 3/9 (Major Hike)
Trail Class: 1-2
Days Required: 1 day
Hours to Summit: 4-5

Source: Pinoy Mountaineer

Mt. Pulag, First Day

Our adventure began at around 6 AM when my friends and I met at our designated meeting place at the Governor Pack Road terminal in Baguio City. When we were all complete, we proceeded to the Visitor Center in Bakun, Benguet. All hikers are required to register first and undergo an orientation at the visitor center.

It was about 8:30 AM when we reached the visitor center. It was still early but the place was already teeming with activity as hikers from various parts of the country were beginning to converge in the area. But what struck me more are the tarpaulins wrapped all over the visitor center and the pictures of previous climbers who have left their IDs on some sort of a freedom wall beside the entrance of the visitor center.

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Just another busy Saturday. Long weekends tend to draw a throng of people into the touristy areas, like Mt. Pulag.
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A wall full of faces of previous climbers. So excited that I am about to join their league.

The orientation room can only occupy a limited number of individuals, hence, a queue. A group was already being oriented inside so we just took our time to drink in our surrounding. The sun was already high up in the sky. Oh well, apparently (and thankfully) the weather forecasters got it all wrong.

When we had our turn at around 10 AM, we were warmly welcomed by the staff before they played a 30-minute video about Mt. Pulag. It is a primer about Mt. Pulag Protected area. It also gave givers and things hikers must observe.

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An orientation is required for ALL hikers, regardless of what trail they are going to take. The orientation is very informative.

Here are some facts about the area:

  • Mt. Pulag National Park is situated on three provinces, Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya and Ifugao, although most trails originate from Benguet.
  • Four tribes are mainly living in the area – the Kalanguyas, Ibalois, Kankana-eys and Karaos. I have both Kankana-ey and Ibaloi running on my blood.
  • It is a vital watershed providing water supply to the surrounding areas.
  • It houses a plethora of flora and fauna, including the endemic Benguet Pine and the the giant bushy-tailed cloud rat. The biodiversity in the area is astounding!
  • The vegetative cover changes as you go higher. The first is the pine forest, then the mossy/montane forest and lastly, the grassland.

Here are some of the reminders given:

  • Refrain from any acts that will desecrate the area like unnecessary noise. Mt. Pulag is a sacred place.
  • Leave no trace behind – what you bring up you must also bring down.
  • Respect the place and the locals. If you encounter locals, let them pass by first.
  • Hike in a single file to avoid creating more trails that will destroy the vegetation.

After the video presentation, the tourism officer also took the time to entertain our questions and relate her past experience. She said, for instance, that if you are noisy at the mountain, rain will surely come. Moreover, she also enumerated the trails that one can use in hiking the mountain:

  • Ambangeg Trail – The easiest trail, it is not as highly technical as the other trails. The incline increases gradually and has very few assaults. This can be done in one day.
  • Akiki Trail –  This is a more technical trail as it involves purely assault, taking two days to complete. Because of the intense assault on this trail, it is referred to as the “Killer Trail.”
  • Ambaguio Trail –  This is the longest trail, taking three days to complete. The prevalence of leeches gave this trail the moniker “Bloody Trail.” The tourism officer said that leeches even fall from the trees (shudders).
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Tranquil is the only thing that comes to mind on seeing this view from Baban’s. If you’re wondering what is planted on the farm plots, it’s carrots.
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Cotton candy in the sky. It is such a delight being so close to them eye candies. 

After our orientation, we then proceeded to Baban’s Homestay where we’ll stay before climbing the fabled mountain. What struck me though was the road condition. I expected a rough ride but so far, everything has gone smoothly. My friends who have been here in 2010 have also noticed the change. The only thing that is constant after all is change.

Baban’s Homestay is the pioneer homestay in the area. Owned by a local family, it is comprised of the parent’s and children’s homes which they opened to climbers. However, if you want to keep in touch with nature, you can pitch your tent at the ranger station area. However, a separate pitching fee must first be paid.

The homestay is very cozy, and so is the area. It is surrounded by vegetable farms and one can view the surrounding mountains. The owners are also very friendly and accommodating. I guess it comes with the territory. We are highlanders after all! It is just unfortunate that we were billeted with a noisy and rude group who acted as though they owned the house.

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Oh yeah, cellphone signal is very sporadic, especially if you are a globe subscriber, hence, this sign directing occupants where to find cellphone signal. 

When we were able settle down, we went to the ranger station to register and pay the necessary fees. Guides will be assigned at the ranger station. As the guides went to the neighboring town to attend a community celebration, our guide will just text us or meet us at Baban’s. In the meantime, we went around the ranger station. The ranger station was once part of the pine forest but due to the expansion of farms, the pine trees were cut down. So sad, really. The ranger station now even have a mini-grocery!

When we went back to our homestay, we were met by the vociferous bedlam caused by our fellow occupants. To avoid being irate with their antics, we left to have our lunch which we asked the owners to prepare. Meals are charged separately. When we toured the heritage house, we learned that the couple have six daughters and they played host to prominent celebrities like Angel Locsin, Drew and Iya Arellano and Howie Severino.

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Getting close to nature gives me the chance to sharpen my photography skills.
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Nature has so much beauty you never run out of inspiration.

At around 3PM, when we still haven’t received any text from our guide, we decided to go to the ranger station. It was already a bit cold as the fogs shrouded the area. When we reached the ranger station, we were informed that our guide went to our homestay to meet us. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a cellphone so we had to ask our friend who was left at the homestay to look out for her.

In the meantime, we just walked around the area again. Luckily, there was a cultural presentation of the locals. Our friend, active on such cultural presentations, jumped on the opportunity to dance to the beating of the gongs. The locals were actually impressed she could actually dance even though she was not a local.

As it was getting late, we went back to our accommodation to have our dinner then take a bit of rest before proceeding with our hike. We are to wake at 11:30 PM after all! Too bad the energy of our fellow occupants hasn’t died down yet so we had to bear with their noise.


Very Important Notes:

  • Medical certificate is a MUST. Climbers with heart ailment and hypertension are advised not to climb due to the cold. Temperature could go subzero during January and February.
  • Camping on camps 1, 2 and 3 is not allowed from Friday to Sunday. On these days, camping is limited to the ranger station only.
  • It is highly advised that climbers contact the Protected Area Superintendent for reservations. To avoid getting the mountain too crowded, the number of climbers have been limited.
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So what was waiting for us at the top? Tune in for the second installment of our Mt. Pulag excursion.

 

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