Off to Mount Pulag!

Mount Pulag | Banner

To kick off the year with a bang, I decided to take advantage of the cool January weather and finally tick off a long-time entry on my local destinations bucket list: trek up the majestic Mount Pulag!

 

The Mountain

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Mount Pulag stands tall at 2,922 meters (or 9,587 feet) above sea level. It’s popular for being Luzon’s highest peak as well as the 3rd highest peak in the Philippines. Its vastness has enabled it to sit both in the province of Benguet in Ifugao and the province of Nueva Vizcaya. Its view of the sea of clouds at sunrise is one of the main attractions on Mount Pulag. Currently, there are four different trails that lead up to the summit of Mount Pulag, named here in order of ascending difficulty:  the Ambangeg (5-6 hrs), Akiki (8-10 hrs), and Tawangan (8-10 hrs) trails from Benguet and the Ambaguio trail (2-3 days) from Nueva Vizcaya.

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Due to the lengths of the treks, camping on different sites on the mountain has been allowed by the Mount Pulag National Park management. There are two campsites along the Ambangeg trail that may be occupied during the weekdays. On the weekends, these sites are closed but climbers can alternatively camp out in the Ranger’s Station campsite which is located on the base of the mountain. We opted for the 3rd and most comfortable option: staying at a local homestay — which is basically a rented room at a local villager’s home.

 

The Trek

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Daybreak at the summit of Mount Pulag

It was emphasized to us that though the Ambangeg trail that we took was the easiest of all four trails. But, trust me, the trek itself was not at all a piece of cake — especially for amateur hikers like us! On this trail, the two campsites along it were made as rest stops since the entire hike up lasted around 5 hours. As catching the sunrise at the summit is the ideal experience on Mount Pulag, we began our ascend from the Ranger’s Station at around 1:00AM. We were able to arrive at the peak before 6AM, just before the sunrise.

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The terrain on the trail was not all too difficult as it was mostly flat ground or large rocks you could climb up on. The added challenges were both the darkness and the cold. Since we began the trek in the early hours of the morning, it was literally pitch black out. Thank goodness we rented headlamps or else that would have been a very difficult (not to mention dangerous) climb!

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The awesome Pulag crew! (From left to right: Tepi, Mina, Kim, Enzo, Jason, Patfer, Kevin, yours truly)

The environment along the Ambangeg trail changes along the way as well: from the base up to Camp 2, you can find yourself in a mossy rainforest, mostly walking along the sides of the mountain. From Camp 2 up till the summit of Mount Pulag, the scene changes into vast grasslands which then would mean that there is nothing shielding you from the freezing cold morning winds.

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Speaking of the freezing cold, I wanna take a moment here to talk about our biggest concern before going on the trip: the weather. During the week before our trek, there were reports of frosts and temperatures as low as 1° C on Mount Pulag. After the initial panic over these reports, we geared up with more winter clothes and prayed had for good weather. Take note that rain could ruin the entire trek: muddy and slippery trails, fighting against the cold and the wetness, possible zero visibility at the summit, and even chances of trail closures due to dangerous weather! I am still so grateful that rain was nowhere to be found the entire weekend and the cold was bearable enough for us to enjoy and truly appreciate the majestic views from the summit.

 

Outside the Trek

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We arrived in our homestay in Kabayan, Benguet at noon on Saturday, which meant we had another 12 hours to kill before the actual climb. This time would be meant for resting and acclimating to the low temperatures but being the restless millenials that we are, we took some time to venture out and revel in the simple beauty of this town.

Looking back, I can actually say that the nature views I saw around our homestay were just as breathtaking as the views from the summit of Mount Pulag. I mean, we could see sea of clouds just outside our bedroom window! Then, in the late afternoon, the sun went down in such a beautiful landscape. There were no tall buildings to disrupt the stretch of sunlight disappearing — it seemed like the sun was being swallowed up by the mountains!

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When the sun went, the temperature dropped rapidly and we were all getting ready for bed. Someone noticed how bright the sky was outside so we all ran outside to see for ourselves. When I looked up, I couldn’t believe my eyes on sight of a vast sea of stars just above our heads. Living in the city most of my life, it was such a surreal experience to see so many stars in just one setting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a photo, but it was one of the most unforgettable moments of the trip!

 

The Specifics

Tour Package

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For this trip, we decided to take a packaged tour instead since coordination with locals and the Mount Pulag National Park management would be difficult without any assistance. We booked a tour with this agency and paid a total of P3,530 per person. This package already included all transportation needs to and from Manila, our homestay, some of our meals, a headlamp rental and the services of a tour coordinator and a licensed tour guide.

I was pretty satisfied with our tour, especially with our tour coordinator who was very kind and even let us stay a lot longer on the summit than we were supposed to.

 

Itinerary

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Ambuklao Dam

This trip ideally can be done on any regular weekend, but as you’re sure to be fatigued by the time you get home, it’s recommended that you take a rest day. We departed Manila on Friday night and got back on Monday early morning.

Expand the section below for a full breakdown of our actual itinerary
Saturday
12:00AM Depart Manila for Baguio
 6:00AM Arrive in Baguio & depart for DENR office
 8:30AM Quick stop for photo op at Ambuklao Dam
 9:30AM Arrive at the DENR office for orientation
 11:00AM Depart for Ranger Station
 12:00PM Arrive at homestay and lunch at Ranger Station
 1:30PM Rest, explore the area of Kabayan, Benguet
5:00PM View the sunset by the cliff near the homestay
6:00PM Dinner at homestay
7:00PM Appreciate the vast sea of stars in the night sky
8:00PM Bed time
11:30PM Wake up and get ready for the trek
Sunday
1:00AM Start ascent to the summit
6:00AM Arrival on the summit, just in time for the sunrise
7:30AM Depart summit and descend to Camp 2
9:00AM Arrive in Camp 2 for breakfast
12:00PM Arrive back in homestay and wash up
1:00PM Depart for Baguio
4:00PM Arrive in Baguio
8:00PM Depart for Manila
Monday
1:30AM Arrive back in Manila

 

Necessities & Tips

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If you’ve been on smaller day hikes (like I have before conquering Mount Pulag), you should really understand that this requires a lot more preparation because, honestly, this trek is quite dangerous if you aren’t ready for it! So here’s a list of the essentials that you will needing:

LAYER UP

The cold is no joke! Make sure to check the weather and local reports before your trip and plan out your wear accordingly.

Open this section for a list of what to wear for the trip
  • The pieces of clothing that I found really useful were dri-fit, heat-retaining innerwear (such a lifesaver).
  • Add some more layers of fleece and cotton on top of that
  • Another essential piece: a waterproof jacket for your outermost layer to protect against the rain!
  • For bottoms, add some layers as necessary and top with trekking pants.
  • Don’t forget to cover up other parts of your body too: a bonnet to cover your ears, thick gloves and thick socks should help.
  • In total, I wore around 6 layers of tops, 3 layers of bottoms, and 3 pairs of socks!
  • We were required to bring a raincoat/poncho as well. The last thing you want to be up there is being cold and wet.
  • For footwear, trekking shoes are highly recommended.

 

GEAR UP

Having the right gear is crucial to hikes like these! Ensure that you’ve checked all these items before heading out.

Open this section for a list of essential items you would need for the trip
  • Probably the most important item that you shouldn’t leave home without for this trip is a headlamp! Hiking in the dark is extremely dangerous here since most of the trail involves cliffs and ledges.
  • Backpacks with a raincover and another smaller one to use during the hike. For your summit bag, it helps if you leave a lot of room so that it not only is lighter on your back during the ascent, but also so you can remove some of your layers on your hike back down (note that the sun will be out by then so it’s going to get a lot warmer!)
  • For the trek, bring along lots of water or some energy drinks and trail food, preferably sweets or granola bars for that extra boost of energy on the trail!
  • There isn’t a large selection of places to eat in the area, so bringing some extra “meals” like canned tuna paella and some sandwiches isn’t a bad idea.
  • Quick fix for the cold? Instant hot and spicy Korean noodles will keep your insides nice and toasty.
  • Bring thermos to keep hot water for the trek.
  • Remember to rainproof all if not most of your things. Hiking hack: use trash bags as rain covers for your backpacks or lining on the side so that water doesn’t damage anything inside.
  • Electric plugs are hard to come by (though the homestays do allow you to charge your devices for a P15 fee/charge). But it’s always safer to have a back-up powerbank! Remember to fully charge your phone and camera/s!
  • A medical certificate is required to be able to enter Mount Pulag National Park. Make sure to secure this before your trip.
  • Personal medications and toiletries — bring some sunscreen during the hike as the descend back down under the morning sun will take a toll on your skin!
  • Bring along some playing cards or some form of offline entertainment as you’ll be spending some free time before the trek.

 

Got your own experiences to share about your time on Mount Pulag? Or got some recommendations on other hikes for me to conquer? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you 🙂


I trekked up Mount Pulag and explored Kabayan, Benguet in January 2017. 

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Giselle is the owner and author of Giselle Wanders Off, a travel blog and creative outlet where she captures her adventures at home and abroad in hopes of inspiring others to go see the world as well!

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