I’ve always said it in my various travel blogs. The exponential growth and development has opened a whole spectrum of possibilities for the tourism industry. If there is one one side of tourism that benefited from newly paved roads, it would be eco-tourism, particularly mountaineering and trekking. All across the country, new mountains and new trails are being opened to cater every thrill-seeker’s need for adventure.

One such new trail is Benguet’s Mt. Pigingan. Tucked in the hinterlands of the Cordilleras, it is a newly-discovered mountain which was prospected for its mountaineering potential. Its neighbors – Mts. Ulap and Ugo – are already well-established hiking destinations. Mt. Pigingan serves as an alternative to this hiking destination, and was also my next hiking project during my period of unemployment.

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New weekend, new adventure!

January 27, 2019: The Adventure

My adventure started in McDonald’s Greenfield, the emerging meeting place of many organized climbs. For my weekend climb, I have joined Rocky Casera’s Rocky Outdoor group. As I was joining as a solo participant, I was unacquainted to any of my fellow participants. I am hoping to get to know some of my fellow participants as we climb the mountain. Once everyone was complete, we departed for Itogon, Benguet.

At around 5 AM, we finally Barangay Tinongdan, the starting point for our adventure. We were greeted by the late January cold breeze. While our organizer was coordinating with the barangay officials for the necessary permits and registration fees, me and my fellow participants were scurrying around, exploring the area and looking for food or coffee to warm us up for the adventure that was ahead of us. Travel hack: the store near the registration area offers free and unlimited Benguet arabica coffee. Suffice to say, its bitterness rouses the drowsy spirit.

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Starting, and ending the day with a cup of black Benguet coffee.
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Being a Cordilleran myself, I am no stranger to riding the “monster jeep’s” top load. It always fascinates me how most travelers are willing to experience this.
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Hanging bridges are pretty common in the Cordilleras. It also marks the start of our hike.

Once all arrangements were done, we headed to the jumpoff point. I thought the jumpoff point was near the registration area. Apparently, I was wrong as we had to ride a jeep going there. We traversed a one-lane 8-kilometer farm-to-market road, finally reaching the trailhead in Sitio Balocboc, Barangay Dalupirip after about an hour. Unlike most of my climbs, we set out when the sun was already rising.

With the necessary pre-climb rituals completed, we started our climb by crossing a hanging bridge. As the bridge was partially-damaged, we had to cross in batches (I heard the bridge has been fixed). The first part of the trek slithers along the banks of Agno River before finally opening up to a mountain rough road, which kind of reminds me of Mt. Tapulao. However, the rocks were not as big as that of Mt. Tapulao’s.

As the ground starts to heat up, it has become more imperative to do a fast climb. As we made progress, we’ve passed by fellow climbers who started out their trek earlier than we did; they were already having their breakfast. Nonplussed, my companions and I just kept on and our urgency paid off as we reached the junction. The junction also serves as a resting area and marks the real ascent towards the summit of Mt. Pigingan. Mt. Ugo is also accessible through the junction. My fellow hikers even discussed plans on a Mt. Pigingan-Mt. Ugo traverse.

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Always remember to read signs, especially at the junction.
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Our welcoming party at the junction.
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A couple of hours ago, we started our adventure over there.

After a brief respite, we resumed our climb by navigating through the well-established trail zigzagging the side of the mountain. A thirty minute ascent opened up to a wide open grassland, typical of Cordilleran mountains. The trail, however, became less established at this point and we had to basically trust our instincts, searching for footprints that will lead us to the right path. It wasn’t that difficult, thankfully.

With the major assault completed, the rest of the climb proved pleasurable. The trail post-grasslands area was well established and was easy to navigate, hence, it was all smooth sailing. The trail to the summit  was the typical Cordilleran trail, covered by tall pine trees, which provided us with badly needed shade from the sun’s rays. The cold breeze also provided respite from the heat.

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Ugh. Open trails. It does remind me of Mt. Ugo and Mt. Ulap.
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Some semblance of hope! There is something understated about scenes where the green meets the blue.
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Immersing in nature makes us examine even the small scenes.
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Pine cones are trademarks of Cordilleran mountains. Please, leave these things be. Remember the Leave No Trace principle.

After over three hours of climbing and walking, we finally reached the famed knife-edged summit of Mt. Pigingan. To get to the prominent peak, we must first navigate a narrow rocky trail. It was supposed to be an easy climb because the rocks had small pockets we can cling on. However, the wind was blowing with full force.

This made the climb tricky and precarious. One misstep could make us fall on the steep ravines on either side of the trail. Slowly and carefully, my companions and I inched towards the summit. Soaring at just 1328 MASL, Mt. Pigingan lives under the shadows of Mt. Ugo and even its most famous Luzon cousin, Mt. Pulag. Despite this, Mt. Pigingan is a welcome addition to the Cordilleran hiking scene.

At the summit, the winds were even blowing stronger. We literally had to hide behind the big rock formations at the summit to keep ourselves from stumbling. We also hid our things so that they won’t get blown by the wind. I assumed that the winds were blowing hard because it was late January.  Finding the right equilibrium was a literal challenge at the summit. However, we are not going to pass the opportunity of taking pictures to commemorate yet another achievement.

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Ah yes, finally! The prominent peak of Mt. Pigingan. Fun trivia: Pigingan is the local term for “slanted” and it is easy to see why.
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Come on, blow me away with your beauty.
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Those are some unexplored parts of Mt. Pigingan.
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But of course, the obligatory summit pictures.
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It doesn’t look precarious at all. Just kidding. This is definitely not for the fainthearted.

It was a challenge climbing the knife-edged summit but it was doubly challenging going down but still we managed. When we went down the summit, our companions started arriving, either solo or in packs. Those of us who arrived first took some rest before resuming the ascent. I could have taken it easy from then on but because of my intense dislike for open trails, I went along with my other companions who started the descent sans any guides. After all, the trail was easy to navigate and they’ve also mentioned that this was their second (or third?) time climbing Mt. Pigingan. I was assured; plus my mind was unconsciously memorizing the trail.

Like stallions rushing downstream, we ran the trail in a mad dash. We badly wanted to avoid the heat. Running down the trail, I realized how my competitive spirit is making me smile. It reminded me also of how much I love the outdoors. Despite the inconveniences, immersing in nature, under the scorching heat, is always an exhilarating experience that I will never get tired of doing week-in, week-out.

After over six hours, we were back at the jumpoff point. It was already lunch time so we unpacked our lunchboxes and have some sort of a feast. It was a fitting conclusion to an adrenaline-driven adventure. Happy and safe climbing everyone!