Summer is fast approaching and before I lay on the beach and bask in the sunlight, I want to start this year with a climb in Mt. 387 which is popularly known as the “Chocolate Hills of the North”. It is ringed by rolling hills and green valleys making it one of the wonderful hiking destinations in the country. I joined the group of Tahak Mountaineer headed by Mar Monge for P750 with my favorite trek buddy, the courageous and adventurous Lhen Pelenio.
One of the favorite and famous hiking destinations near Metro Manila is Mt. Maculot situated at the heart of Cuenca in Batangas. It has three focal destinations: the Grotto (510 MASL), the Rockies (706 MASL) and the Summit (930 MASL). For the venturesome trekkers, they choose the traverse trail which will start at Rockies to Summit and ends at Grotto (4/9 difficulty). Some choose the Rockies only (3/9 difficulty).
By exploring Anawangin Cove on foot, we appreciated its charm and discovered why it was flocked by a large assembly of campers. But since we were after a relaxed atmosphere, less crowd and more breathtaking views, we chose Nagsasa Cove to spend a camping getaway. This is my first time to camp with my family so I want it to be special and memorable.
After summiting Mt. Pulag, my very first memorable major climb in 2016, here comes another exciting adventure as 2017 came in. Together with my office mates Janice, Rodett, Cyrhine, Lenie and Pauline, we will embark on a thrilling and easy climb to Mt. Talamitam which is said to be the younger sister of Mt. Batulao as both have same terrain. This is located in Nasugbu, Batangas with a height of 615 meters above sea level.
Aside from Mt. Pulag’s famous sea of clouds, its uniqueness is its different vegetation in different elevation. Not only that, it is home to unique species of flora and fauna and is the natural habitat of the endemic dwarf bamboos and edelweiss that feast to the eyes when trekking the 500 hectares grassland. Sounds exciting right?
Mt. Pulag stands at 2,922 meters above sea level (MASL) where its peak meets the borders of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya. It is the third highest mountain in the Philippines next to Mount Apo and Mount Dulang-Dulang and is Luzon’s highest peak.
For a casual trekker like me, climbing Mt. Pulag is a rewarding experience I achieved this year. Thanks to my officemates Janice and Joyce for organizing this climb. I can’t sustain my happiness because right after my unforgettable adventure in Masungi Georeserve last November 30, Mt. Pulag came next.
We were all eleven and since most of us were casual trekkers (except Janice), we chose the Ambangeg Trail or what they call Artista Trail. It was the easiest trail and is perfect for beginners. But mind you, it was a major climb with difficulty of 3/9. To make things easier, we took a package tour for P2,700 per head courtesy of organizer Sheena Cmer. Van transfer was provided with two trail guides, dinner, breakfast and lunch. We were headed by Abby, the coordinator of this tour.
We left McDonalds Visayas Avenue, our meet-up place around 12:00 midnight. We reached Baguio City by 6:20 am and ate breakfast (with choices of tapsilog meal) at Daddy’s Restaurant along Abanao Street.
By 8:14 am we head off to Benguet. We stopped at Jangjang Eatery in Brgy. Ambuclao to settle for lunch and for bio breaks. Shortly after an affordable meal, we went to Jangjang Hanging Bridge, the longest hanging bridge in Benguet. It was narrow and shaking, but still, we were able to capture memories in the middle of the bridge!
The sun was hovering in the clear blue sky. Indeed, the weather was so cooperative. Everyone was highly spirited.
We were traversing picturesque scenery, but the journey to the sinuous and treacherous road was so fast. I felt quite giddy that I want to vomit. We told the driver to slow down a bit. He was driving like he was flying on air.
Orientation at DENR office is compulsory to anyone who will climb Mt. Pulag. We logged our names before we enter the function room. We watched a short video and later the facilitator shared insights about Mt. Pulag and explained well the guidelines.
The four trails: Ambangeg Trail (the easiest), Akiki Trail (the extreme 12-15 hour trek to steep ascent), Tawangan Trail (the bloody trail because of the presence of leeches) and the Ambaguio Trail (coming from Nueva Vizcaya).
I was so elated that I’ve learned a lot about Mt. Pulag and here are the two great things that top it all: to respect the mountain and leave no trace.
Everyone who will climb Mt. Pulag is required to submit a health certificate for safety reason and best interest of the trekker.
Camping in Ranger Station
We pitched our tent on a hilly side of Ranger Station for the night. I was sharing with Janice and Joyce. The view from there was breathtaking. There were lots of pine trees everywhere. The fleeting clouds and clear blue skies were sights to behold! I was so amazed seeing for the first time, a full arched rainbow. It was so beautiful and amazing! It was so wonderful taking photos of the wonderful things our eyes perceived.
And the temperature? It was Amihan season (northwest monsoon) so the weather was so cold. Woooh! In Manila, we escape from the heat of the sun, but in Benguet, we seize the sun! Hahaha! Amid the cool temperature, we had our happy photo ops.
When night came, we were like soldiers dressed in full battle gear. I had several layers of clothing, but despite the number of clothes I wore, I was still shivering.
When we got out from our tent for dinner it was freezing outside. There were spatters of rain and the wind was blowing so hard as if there was a storm. This is where I experienced the coldest weather in the country. I was worrying, with this crazy icy cool breeze can I trek the summit in a bewitching hour at 1:30 am? Bahala na si Batman.
The three of us were the first batch to eat at Abby’s kitchen tent. We huddled inside and were delighted to eat nilagang baboy Abby cooked for us. Aside from the hot soup, we had coffee too and lakatan for desert. Nilaga was delicious. Just perfect to warm our chilling bodies.
After our dinner, we stayed outside for few minutes. Surprisingly, amid the stormy wind and spattering rain, the night sky was so clear. The full moon, the stars… I was thrilled by the beauty of the night in Benguet. It was perfect for some social activity, but since we were getting wet, we decided to stay inside the tent and sleep.
We awoke rather late the next morning. Blame it to the cold weather. Brrrrr!!!! Since there was no time to eat our breakfast, we were given a packed meal each. By 2:35 am we set off for the climb.
Camp One – flat trail
This was my first time to trek in narrow trails and in total darkness. We wore head lights to light up our way. We were advised to be extra careful because we will be walking beside dangerous cliffs. Since it was raining, the trail was slippery and muddy. It was really really cold that I felt the initial numbness of my hands. Later, I had a hard time catching my breath on the steep incline because of lack of oxygen. Despite my clothing, I was still freezing cold. The cool weather lingers into my veins. We reached Camp 1 by 3:50 a.m. We rested for ten minutes and moved on.
Camp Two – gradual not so steep trail
The trail to this camp was even more slippery. At times there were no stones or woods to step on so we had no choice but to walk in puddles of water in the softened earth. Thus, our feet were soaked to the skin. The thin air, the lack of oxygen and the cold weather made the trek harder. Again, I was catching my breath so hard on steep parts.
Seeing water sources along the way marked the proximity to Camp 2. We had several stops before we reach this camp. It’s good that there was a latrine in the area for bio breaks.
We now prepared for the hardest and coldest part of the trek. But before we move on, I ate first my packed meal. Though it was cold, we were advised by Abby to drink water so we will not be dehydrated. By 5:50 am we headed to the last leg of our climb!
It was a downcast morning. The sun was hiding from thick clouds. Though it rained profusely, we continued walking on an ankle-deep mud. It was slippery and at times we hold on to tall grasses. I was mesmerized seeing for the first time lots and lots of bamboo dwarfs. It was definitely beautiful! But as we went along, it was an eyesore to see trails with damaged foliages. Poor bamboo dwarfs.
I made frequent stops to catch my breath as the altitude increased. Looked like my heart will get out from my body. It beats rapidly. After what seemed like hours of endless walking, I decided to quit. I had a hard time catching my breath and the weather got extremely cold. But then, I told myself, if I quit, I will miss seeing the famous sea of clouds and I will never have a picture with the iconic wooden signboard of Mt. Pulag. Well then, I proceeded.
There were two colors of mud, one is brown and one is black. You may choose which will discolor your shoes because you have no choice where to step on. But I noticed, black is much slippery so I went on walking on brown mud.
When at last by 6:10 am, we were on the summit, the highest point in Luzon! Yahoo!!! I can’t describe the feeling. It was overwhelming and amazing! I felt so proud that I want to shout to the world, “I survived Mt. Pulag!”
But there was no Sea of Clouds in sight or a beautiful sunrise! Nonetheless, this climb was truly worth it. Picture taking with the signboard was jam packed. It took several minutes before our turn.
It’s good that the sun came out to open as we trekked back. And because the sun was shining, it was then I appreciated much the beautiful rugged terrain of Mt. Pulag. The golden brown grassland was dominated by dwarf bamboo. Next in sight was the mossy forest with bonsai shaped trees, brown and green ferns, the red flowers locally known as “lolong” and the edelweiss.
According to Abby, the beauty of mossy forest was magical. Certainly, it was. Philippine Oak Trees were prominent in mossy forest.
From ten minutes rest from Camp 1, we now headed to Station Ranger. Another wonder along the way is the presence of Benguet pine which dominated the picturesque trail. It was getting hot but as I’ve said, here in Benguet, we seized the sun! Hahaha.
The journey going back to where we started was enjoyable and relaxing. Thanks to one of our trail guides Mercy, for helping me eased the trek. Conquering Mount Pulag is an amazing feat. No wonder why fervid climbers kept coming back to this beautiful mountain in North Luzon.
By the way, Mt. Pulag is named after the local term called Pul-ag meaning bald.
My meaningful adventure with Mt. Pulag had finally ended. Will I return or not? Certainly, I will. Wait for my revenge climb! Hahaha!
|Minor Climb No. 2: Mt. Pinatubo Challenge||Minor Climb No. 3: Mt. Gulugod Baboy||Minor Climb No. 1: Taal Crater Lake-Family Hiking Adventure||The Exciting Masungi Georeserve Trek|