Hiked to: Mt. Pulag

Saturday to Monday
November 28-30, 2015

Standing at 2,922 meters above sea level, the summit of Mt. Pulag is the highest point in Luzon. And since climbing the tallest mountain in this island group isn’t enough, we decided to hike up the “killer” Akiki trail.

First and foremost, let me just say how misleading the moniker “killer” trail is. To my knowledge, no one has ever died hiking up Akiki. But there have been two people who died in Ambangeg, so technically, it is Ambangeg who is the “killer” trail.

Day 1 – The comfortable climb

After arriving in Baguio early Saturday morning, we took a chartered jeepney to Benguet.

A hot cup of coffee in the cold mountains, and a quick stop at Ambuklao dam for a group picture

Because of the aforementioned deaths in Ambangeg trail, everyone hiking up Pulag is now required to submit a medical certificate. So we had to pass by the municipal hospital to get checked if we were free to climb.

The bottleneck for climbers: long lines for a blood pressure check
The bottleneck for climbers: long lines for a blood pressure check

Once everyone in the group was certified fit to climb, we continued the bumpy jeepney ride to the Akiki ranger station, joining lots of other climbers waiting for porters to be able to climb. We had lunch in the meantime.

The starting point
The starting point of all our hardships

Finally, once we secured our porters and guides, we began the first day of our journey up Luzon’s peak.

The initial trail was a rolling terrain with beautiful views of other Benguet mountains
The initial trail was a rolling terrain with beautiful views of other Benguet mountains
It was not as cold as I expected yet, but the winds were very refreshing
You can’t really get tired with these beautiful sights along the way

A short while after, we arrived at the Eddet River campsite, where we decided to camp for the night. This camp was a bit further off from our itinerary because of the unexpected delays, but pushing further would mean a night trek and with such a big group and a lot of porters, that would be dangerous.

Eddet river is enchantingly beautiful
Eddet river is enchantingly beautiful

With the tents set up and the sky going dark, I relished my first overnight hike by glancing up at the night sky for a while before heading inside to sleep. I slept as early as possible because I know we had a full day of hiking tomorrow.

The squat-style toilet is surprisingly nice and better than what I expected.
The squat-style toilet is surprisingly nice and better than what I expected

Day 2 – I climb, I rest, I climb again!

Waking up early has never been my strong point. But it was a good thing we awoke early because just as we finished packing up our tents, the rain poured.

Again, we were delayed and I was seriously considering my karma. Thankfully the rain stopped just as the sun was rising, so after breaking our fast, we were off.

Ready for a whole day's trekking!
Ready for a whole day’s trekking!

I wouldn’t call it a “killer,” but now I know why Akiki got its reputation. Grueling assaults that never seem to end welcomed us. About ten steps up and I can already hear my heavy breathing.

The first assault was through a pine tree forest, which continued until an open grassland called 'Marlboro Country'
The first assault was through a pine tree forest, which continued until an open grassland called ‘Marlboro Country’

Marlboro Country was the goal campsite yesterday, and after arriving, we saw a few groups of hikers beginning their ascent. Someone said that there were more or less 100 hikers going up the mountain this long weekend.

After recovering with trail snacks and small talk, we continued to the second part of the assault: the mossy forest.

The mossy forest assault that my friends said was reminiscent of Mt. Makiling
The forest assault that my friends said was reminiscent of Mt. Makiling

Near the end of the mossy forest is a small ridge with the last water source before the saddle campsite. We had lunch here and filled our water reservoirs before advancing on to grassland assault.

It is a great blessing to be provided with natural and potable water by the mountain as we climb it
It is a great blessing to be provided with natural and potable water by the mountain as we climb it

A little bit more climbing and you emerge into an open grassland. This point is where no other mountain is higher than where you are right now. This is where you really feel the height of Mt. Pulag.

This is also where the winds batter you and make you pay for standing still for so long
This is also where the winds batter you and make you pay for standing still for too long

From the start of the climb, there have been majestic views, but the view from the grassland is probably one of my favorites. Never mind the still-constant assault.

See that small body of water glowing at a distance? That's Ambuklao dam
See that small body of water glowing at a distance? That’s Ambuklao dam

Our assault continued until the fog enveloped us. With just the trail in view, we kept walking until we heard the voices of the other campers. We have Finally arrived at the saddle camp. Our day’s hike has ended.

The camp was full of hikers and we had quite a time looking for available space to set up our tents
Hikers from all the trails (Akiki, Ambaguio, Ambangeg, Tawangan) set up camp here for the early assault to the summit
Hikers from all the trails (Akiki, Ambaguio, Ambangeg, Tawangan) set up camp here for the early assault to the summit the next day

After setting up camp, we still had a few hours of daylight left, so a small group (including me) decided to bid for the summit and capture the sunset.

The summit was a 15-30 minute hike from the saddle camp, made a bit longer by the muddy trail
The summit was a 15-30 minute hike from the saddle camp, made a bit longer by the muddy trail

The looming mountain casts shadows into the clouds, and if aligned properly, you can see your silhouette. Shadow play 2 kilometers above sea level.

The views are simply breathtaking, urging you on to reach the summit

As I was nearing the summit, I realized in my excitement that I forgotten to hydrate before climbing up. My lips were chapped and my legs were sore. The summit didn’t seem to be getting nearer. Powered purely by the thought of reaching the top, I trudged on. Until finally…

The summit
The summit

All the tiredness left me and I was a bouncing ball of energy once again. The peak gave me the second wind I badly needed.

The gorgeous sea of clouds from a distance
The gorgeous sea of clouds from a distance

We took a few more photos of the sunset before descending down and calling it a day. A very wonderful day!

The wonderful colors of the sunset from the top of Luzon
The wonderful colors of the sunset from the top of Luzon

Nighttime at the saddle campsite was cold. Because we didn’t have proper gear, we brought a beach tent to the mountains, and suffered for it. The moisture just seeped through the canvas and into our belongings and ourselves. Everything was either wet, or cold, or both!

I changed my socks twice because they got moist and froze my toes off. I was constantly getting woken up by the frigid wetness. Cursing silently, I waited for the call time so I can prepare for the early morning summit climb.

Day 3 – Once you reach the summit, you’re halfway there

After quickly gearing up to get out of my wet clothes, I had a sip of coffee and went with my group to climb the summit just before dawn breaks.

As the first rays of the sun shone over Benguet, I was already at the summit, along with hundreds of other hikers.

Thumbs up for a successful climb up one of the highest peaks in the country
Thumbs up for a successful climb up one of the highest peaks in the country

If I post every picture taken at the summit, this story would never end. I think I’d need a separate post just for the more beautiful pictures taken by my friends.

Sunrises are for beautiful beginnings
Sunrises are for beautiful beginnings

Finally, it was time to descend. There was a long line of hikers going down from the summit back to the saddle camp.

One final group shot before going down
One final group shot before going down

Back at camp we had our breakfast (I helped cook spam) and packed up our tents for the descent down Ambangeg trail.

The way down Ambangeg is easy, albeit long; this time only made more challenging by the muddy trail
The way down Ambangeg is easy, albeit long; again, the muddy trail added more challenge

There are two types of terrain along Ambangeg trail, one is the grassland near the summit, while most of the trail is foresty.

The view of Pulag from Ambangeg; trees everywhere, straight to where we bought iced buko
The view of Pulag from Ambangeg; trees everywhere, from Camp 1, to Camp 2, to the place where habal-habals awaited tired hikers

About four hours later, we found ourselves in the Ambangeg jump-off. There, our chartered jeepney was waiting for us. We had delicious vegetable okoy (MY NEW FAVORITE STREET FOOD) while waiting and I had my first legitimate bath in three days.

Once the group was complete, we took the jeepney to a nearby eatery where we had late lunch/early dinner. After that, we headed to the DENR office to buy souvenirs. I took the time to admire the paraphernalia left behind by previous climbers.

Lots of photos and finally, a foot long hotdog sandwich from Session Road
Lots of personal items and finally, a foot long hotdog sandwich from Session Road

It was a long and bumpy ride from Benguet to Baguio, where we spent the time eating at Session road before boarding our bus bound for Manila. I just have to say, riding in first class was pretty amazing. I slept most of the way very comfortably.

I woke up, sadly, to the realization that I was back in Manila. It felt sad to be back in the city, but I was filled with lots of good memories from the climb. I came down the mountain, but I took the high with me.


Itinerary:
(Timekeeping brought to you by rosnof.wordpress.com)

Day 0

  • 22:00 ETD Victory Liner, Bus bound for Baguio

Day 1

  • 02:50 Stopover at Sison Pangasinan
  • 04:25 ETA Baguio, Secure chartered jeepney
  • 05:10 ETD Baguio, jeepney bound for Benguet
  • 06:15 ETA Pinkan Jo Eatery, breakfast
  • 09:00 ETA Benguet Municipal Hospital, secure medical certificates
  • 10:25 ETD Benguet Municipal Hospital
  • 11:30 ETA Akiki Ranger Station, wait for guides and porters, lunch
  • 14:00 Start Trek via Akiki
  • 16:00 ETA Eddet Campsite, set up camp
  • 17:00 Socials, Dinner
  • 19:00 Lights out

Day 2

  • 03:00 Wake up call, pack up, breakfast
  • 06:35 Start Trek
  • 09:40 ETA Marlboro Country, rest
  • 10:45 ETD Marlboro Country
  • 12:00 ETA Last Water Source, lunch
  • 14:00 ETD Last Water Source
  • 16:00 ETA Saddle Campsite, set up camp
  • 17:00 Start Trek to Summit
  • 17:30 ETA Summit, Take pictures, wait for sunset
  • 18:00 ETD Summit
  • 18:30 Back at Saddle Campsite, dinner, socials
  • 19:30 Lights out

Day 3

  • 04:00 Wake up call, morning coffee
  • 05:00 Start Trek to Summit
  • 05:30 ETA Summit, Take pictures, wait for sunrise
  • 07:30 ETD Summit
  • 08:00 Back at Saddle Campsite, breakfast, pack up
  • 10:00 Start descent via Ambangeg
  • 12:00 ETA Camp 1
  • 12:50 ETA Ambangeg Ranger Station, fin chartered jeepney, fix up
  • 16:00 ETD Ambangeg jump-off
  • 17:00 ETA Retaurant, Late lunch/Early dinner
  • 18:00 ETD Restaurant
  • 19:00 ETA DENR Station, buy souvenirs
  • 19:45 ETD DENR Station
  • 21:00 ETA Baguio, Session road, buy souvenirs
  • 23:25 ETD Baguio, bus bound for Cubao & Pasay

Day 4

  • 03:00 ETA Cubao

Tips:

  • Bring the right tent aka don’t bring a beach tent to the mountains. Use multi-layered tents if possible, or those with separate flysheets and groundsheets. Use every tent feature that prevents moisture from seeping into your tent.
  • Don’t underestimate the cold especially at night in the saddle campsite. Bring emergency insulation blankets.
  • Bring lots of garbage bags. Waterproofing, trash bags, they have lots of uses.
  • This is one mountain I regret not having a DSLR. You’re gonna want to bring one for taking pictures of the very wonderful sights. The night sky is especially amazing at the top of Luzon.
  • Socks, gloves, bonnets, etc. Protect your extremities and you’ll be cozy even in just two layers.
  • The toilet at the saddle camp is….. undesirable (dubbed by my group as the ‘gates of hell’). So as much as possible, poop at the toilets in the Marlboro country or Eddet river campsites.

I’ve hiked with this group lots of times, as they’re the ones with me on my mother mountain, and again in Mt. Daraitan. It’s glad to see the group again. Thank you for the invite and I’m looking forward to more climbs together!

The Adventure Addicts' Pulag contingent: Pulagalags!
The Adventure Addicts’ Pulag contingent: Pulagalags!

And that’s the story of my three-day encounter with Luzon’s highest. I’m finding the appeal of overnight hikes already and if given another chance, I’d be willing to undertake this again, only this time, just a bit more wiser and more prepared.

And that’s Luzon’s highest peak, finished!

The traveling pink polo reaches the peak of Luzon and the 3rd highest in the Philippines!

-jgzn

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6 thoughts on “Hiked to: Mt. Pulag

  1. Hello sir. question lang po. kinuhaan po ba kayo ng dugo and pinag Xray po ba kayo for the medical certificate? Thanks sir

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    1. Hi! For the med cert, blood pressure lang plus breathing and cardio check up by the local doctor. No blood test or xrays necessary. Although baka iba rin yung process ng personal doctor ninyo :)

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    1. Wala po. You have to go to the local hospital in Benguet before going to the ranger station to present your medical certificates. Kaya mas okay na mag secure na ng med cert before the climb :)

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