I’ve never really climbed a mountain before (except maybe if you count a trek in Mt. Makiling, when I was in grade school). It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s more of that all the other mountain trips that I’ve been invited to never really fit my schedule. However, since this trip was planned months in advance (I think November 2015) I was really able to make time for this and join the climb.
About the trip:
Mt. Pulag is in Benguet, in the northern part of Luzon. The mountain is the 3rd Highest in the Philippines (next to Mt. Apo and one more mountain which I don’t know). While it is just the third highest mountain in the entire country, it is the highest point in Luzon.
The thing about traveling I guess is that no matter how early you plan for it, there are always going to be some unexpected things to pop up. For this one, aside from me not nearly not being able to join because I forgot to pay (wasn’t reading the group’s FB messages). I was actually sick. I had a slight fever and was coughing. But my friends told me that I should just head over to Baguio and Benguet and see if I’m well enough to climb. If not, then I just stay at the camp. Given that I had nothing else planned for that weekend, I agreed.
Based on what I remember, these were the essential things that I brought along when I went to the mountain (aside from the normal clothes and toiletries):
- Clothes (baselayers, thermals)
- Sturdy shoes
- Water container (Around 3 Liters should be enough, although there are water sources along the trail in case you need to refill)
- A carrying pack (you can have a separate smaller bag that you bring during the trek itself if you have a place to leave your things)
- Walking stick (optional but helpful)
Getting there is part of the adventure:
First, we took a bus from Manila to Baguio. We left at roughly around 11pm, and the trip took around 6 hours or so, including the stop overs. Upon reaching Baguio, we just had a quick stop to we took a jeep (which we chartered) that took us from Baguio to Benguet.We probably arrived in Benguet after 3 hours. Again, I was mostly asleep as I was not really feeling well.
Once in Benguet, there were a couple of stopovers before actually climbing the mountain. would stopover at two places. A turo-turo style “karinderya” (eatery) for a quick breakfast and a DENR station for the orientation. While we first headed to DENR, I think we arrived a bit early so we just went to the karinderya first. I think that going to eat at that place is “required” as the one who runs the jeepney charters from Baguio to Benguet (and back) was also the one who runs the eatery.
So we bought our breakfast as well as some food for takeout (this would be for our lunch/dinner). The food was okay, not exactly cheap but I guess it’s fine. After breakfast we headed over to the DENR station for the orientation. The Orientation took an hour or so, there is some waiting time since there were a lot of other groups who would also climb the mountain. The orientation would basically just talk about the mountain, the different trails, the do’s and dont’s and things like that. It’s a pretty informative one especially if it’s your first time to climb Mt. Pulag.
We were able to avail of a home for this camp. Our group (I guess there were around 20 of us), stayed in this house inside the mountain range actually, it was around 300-400 meters from the entrance. It was still pretty much under construction but good enough as we had a toilet and potable running water .
I was sleeping for most of the time just trying to recover and get well enough to climb. I think the mountain air did wonders as I did feel a whole lot better when I woke up after lunch.
When I woke up, my friend and I decided to walk back to the entrance gate and see what was in there. We were able to buy some snacks (strawberries, carrot pancakes, turon) at the entrance way as well as some supplies (butane for the portable stove). We also explored a bit and climbed a few other areas around it.
Readying for the climb:
We headed back to the house to rest up and hang out a bit with the group. The thing with Mt. Pulag though is that while it is famous for the sunrise shots and the sea of clouds at the summit, the surrounding areas while on the trail are a site to behold as well. The two images below were taken a few meters away from the house that we were staying in.
After taking some shots, I went back to the house to chat with my new friends and eat dinner. After some food and drinks, we slept at around 9pm to be ready for the climb at around midnight. Some of the leaders of the group stayed up though to prepare breakfast for the trek.
The goal upon reaching the summit was to see the sunrise and the sea of clouds. As such, Hikers would usually start their ascent at around midnight so that they would be on the summit just as the sun is rising. As I mentioned, our house was located inside the trail already, it was a good 500 meters from the entrance. While we were preparing, we already saw some other groups who were already starting from the entrance.
The ascent took around 4 hours I think. Since we started around 1:30am, the trail was really dark. I had a new appreciation for the utility of headlamps. As expected there were really a lot of people going up. This was quite evident during some of the stops along the campsites where you can really see large groups huddled together.
Going up the mountain, I guess I can understand why others say that it is not a difficult trail. While there were some areas where you had to go up, there were really no part where you would have trouble due to it being too steep. I think it also helped that it didn’t really rain while we were ascending (although there were some moments where there was a slight drizzle) so there was no slippery areas either.
I think those who found difficulty in the trail were mostly due to exhaustion because even if it was not a challenging ascent, it can still tire you out. Another possible challenge would be the temperature. As you get nearer to the summit, you would really feel how cold it is. I remember that at first, I was able to make do with not wearing gloves, but started to need it when we were getting higher and higher.
It took us about 4.5 hours to do so I think, and we had quite a number of stops including the lengthy one we took at the campsite 2. However, we reached the summit earlier than the sunrise which was a good thing since we were able to stake out a spot before more people came (and there were really a lot of people). The cold temperature very evident during our time at the summit. When I had to take off my gloves to take pictures, it was so cold that I had problems steadying my camera due to my hands immediately shivering.
During our climb, we asked our guide what our chances were of seeing the famed Sea of Clouds. Our guide was not really inspiring confidence as he said that he thinks that we would not see it due to the weather which was very conducive to mist and fog which would cover the view. However…
After spending some time to take pictures at the summit, we headed down. Since you would now have daylight to illuminate the scene, you would get to appreciate the trail more. Aside from the summit, the trail itself offers pretty good views as well. So, if you’re not exactly rushing, it would be a good idea to stop and take more pictures. However, our group was trying to move a bit faster, so I didn’t really take that much pictures going down. Our descent from the summit to the house probably took around 2.5 hours with the only difficulty being the weather becoming a tad warmer.
Leaving the Mountain:
After washing up and having a quick snack at the house, it was time to leave. First we headed over to the same eatery for lunch (which I think was part of the package for the chartered jeep as well). After that, we went to the DENR station for clearance i think (required) and then had a quick side trip to the Ambuklao Dam in Benguet before leaving for Baguio.
When we reached Baguio, we killed some time as our bus schedule was still later in the evening. We just went to SM Baguio which was a few minutes walk away from the terminal. My friends bought some ground coffee beans (Benguet and Sagada coffee) and I would have bought too if I had a press.
After a few hours, we headed back to Manila on board our buses. By the way, I learned that there was actually an FX/Shuttle service that could get you to Manila (they were picking up passengers in front of the bus terminal).