Monday, November 2, 2015

Mt. Pulag: A Long Hike Above the Clouds

Mount Pulag soars proudly 2,922 meters above sea level on the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya. It is the the 3rd highest mountain in the Philippines and the highest peak of Luzon. Officially designated as a National Park, it is home to several rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. It's majestic view of the "sea of clouds" attracted mountain climbers to trek and commune on its summit.

I fell in love with the mountain scenery and rich culture of the Cordillera ever since I went solo backpacking in Banuae, Ifugao more than a year ago. So this time, I went along my wife Malou to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary in this mountainous region. We initially planned to go to Sagada but after watching Byahe ni Drew's episode on Mt. Pulag, we decided to instead climb Luzon's highest peak.

I barely had three hours of sleep when my cellphone's alarm clock woke us up at 12 midnight. I immediately got up from the homestay's bed and told Malou we should start to get ready for the guide is scheduled to fetch us at 1 AM. I got down to the dining area and found Mr. Baban, the homestay owner, sitting beside the fireplace and drinking coffee. They have been in operation for one year now, providing a comfortable stay for hikers who chose to not camp on one of the two camp sites of Mt. Pulag's Ambangeg Trail.

Calories are essential for long hikes, so we stuffed ourselves with cup noodles, bread and coffee. Joel, our guide, promptly arrived at 1 AM. After some final preparation, we stepped out of the homestay and started our hike at about 1:30. The whole village has no electricity for more than a week already due to damages brought upon by the recent Typhoon Lando. But the moon and stars shone brightly from up above and illuminated the path together with our headlamps.

Outside Baban's Homestay where we started our hike

The road is concrete-paved up to the village where the DENR Ranger Station is located. The high elevation coupled with the hilly terrain made us breathe heavily at the start of the hike. Our lungs were able to adjust in these conditions along the way and we reached the Ranger Station in about 20 minutes. I asked Joel how long will it take for us to reach the peak, and he replied that with our current pace we can do it in less than 4 hours. That would give us enough time to rest and wait for the sunrise.  

The Ambangeg Trail we passed through is the shortest and easiest among the three recognized trails (the other two are Akiki and Tawangan) going to the peak of Mount Pulag. It is perfectly suited for mountaineering beginners as there are no long ascents and the path is clearly established. I could say that the trail of Bukidnon's Mount Kitanglad and Mount Kalatungan are far more brutal and difficult. As distance runners, Malou and I found the Ambangeg Trail of Pulag certainly one long and lovely walk in the park. According to the DENR in-charge during our orientation the day before, distance from the Ranger Station up to the peak is only 8 kilometers. In our case, we added another 2 KM since we started our hike from Baban Homestay.

After passing the last of the few houses in the vicinity of the Ranger Station, we entered the Pine Forest. The road is now unpaved but still wide and to our right is the deep ravine plunging down to vegetable farms below. A right turn then lead us to a single track trail which marked the beginning of the mossy forest section. The path is made up of compact dirt, rocks and mud on a few wet sections. Then came the first sharp ascent which lasted for only a few hundred meters. There were flat rocks on the ground which made our steps stable. It was in this portion where Malou experienced difficulty in breathing probably due to the steepness of the terrain and the layers of clothing she wore. Fortunately, we were already in Camp 1 so we took our first rest on the waiting shed.

After another hour of passing through the mossy forest we found ourselves at Camp 2. A few group of hikers were already starting their ascent to the summit. Joel excused himself to the camp site's comfort room. Yes, there's a comfort room in every camp site but don't expect comfort though as it is just a deep hole dug on the ground. While waiting for Joel, Malou and I rested on the rocks to regain our energy for the final assault.

From Camp 2, the summit of Mount Pulag is only about 2 kilometers. An open trail flanked by grasses and dwarf bamboos lead all the way to the peak. Flat rocks were purposely placed on the ground on the first part of this open trail followed by soft soils as the gradual ascent starts. The wind started to blow cold but our layers of clothing, gloves and bonnets managed to keep us warm. After one last steep terrain we  finally reached the peak of Mt. Pulag!

Mount Pulag's peak at about 4:50 AM

It was still dark when we reached the top. We managed to make it in 3 hours and 20 minutes starting from Baban Homestay. Joel told us that most climbers usually took 4-5 hours to reach the peak and I could tell that he was actually pleased with our pace.



Along with other hikers, we patiently waited for the sunrise and the sea of clouds. Since we brought along a vacuum flask filled with hot water , we were able to make hot chocolate drink which we also share with our guide. I swear that Milo never tasted so good especially when you're 2,922 meters above sea level.



At about 5:30 AM, the majestic sea of clouds finally showed up. We were all ecstatic watching nature's phenomenon. The amazing site made our long travel from Bukidnon to Northern Luzon all worth it!



The pictures I took would never do justice to beautiful view we have seen. One really needs to climb Mt. Pulag to experience its true beauty.


This climb happened last October 26, 2015

As the soft light of the day slowly exposed the majestic landscape, I contemplate and once again remind myself of the reasons why we love to climb mountains. More than just pushing and conquering ourselves and getting our own sweet reward at the peak, the vastness and stillness of the mountains provide an escape from the complexities of modern living. It make us appreciate life's essentials, commune with nature and most of all, glorify and connect deeply with our Creator.

"In whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also."--Psalm 95:4


2 comments :

  1. I am from the Cordilleras but I haven't tried climbing Mt. Pulag. I hope of someday going up there.

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  2. I'm starting to miss Mt.pulag again. I've been in Pulag and the experience was great . I joined the team of HideOut Travel and Tours and It only cost me 2600 all in all. You can try to join them I believe this is the site hideouttravelandtours.com

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