January 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
An amateur’s guide to conquering Mt. Pulag.
Mt. Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon and majority of this National Park belongs to the Kabayan Municipality in Benguet and is bounded by two other provinces: Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya. Being 2922 meters above sea level, it is the second highest in the Philippines next to Mt. Apo, and boasts of the best views of the sunrise amongst a sea of clouds.
Mt. Pulag is well known for having a sea of clouds covering the hills below. It gives you a feeling of being afloat. At that time however, the clouds weren’t so thick so the smaller peaks were still visible.
The Park has been declared by the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) as a National Protected Area. A visit then requires a permit from the DENR Visitor’s Information Center, an office three hours from Baguio City and 10 km away from the Ranger Station of the Park [that’s about another hour].
Our trip was arranged by my good friend and UP Mountaineer, Mark [If you need help in setting up your own trip, let me know. He’s been there eight times already through the Ambangeg and Akiki Trails]. He had rented a jeepney at a fixed rate good for 18 pax plus baggage to fetch us from Baguio and bring us to the Ranger Station and back. There were only nine of us so we had enough space to throw ourselves around especially with the zigzag cemented paths and bumpy rides through rough and dusty roads. However, having more passengers will lower your share on the rental and will give you anchorage and more shoulders to sleep on while on the road.
A brief orientation will be given at the Information Center with the help of a video about respecting Mt. Pulag. The other one I saw years back was sort of a generic “Leave No Trace” themed introduction to the visit of National Parks so this one was a lot more appropriate and encouraging.
Upon registration, each individual must pay the following (as of March 2009):
PhP 100.00 Entrance Fee to the National Park
PhP 25.00 Green Fee for the Municipality of Kabayan
PhP 50.00 Camping Fee per Night
The Ranger Station is the jump-off point for the trekking of the Ambangeg Trail. It’s the easiest among the four trails from Benguet and will require you about 2-3 hours to Camp 2 with timed stops for rest.
Kuya Larry will gladly entertain you and refer you to the local guides of the Park. Each guide’s service will cost you PhP100.00 per visitor. Our number only required us to take one guide, named Vienna, and allowed us to hand her a lightweight pack without any additional fees. If you have more to bring, porters can be hired at PhP500.00 per guide. If this is good for an overnight stay, I don’t know. You just probably have to negotiate depending on the weight of the load and length of stay.
SOME TIPS FOR SURVIVAL
1. Timing is everything.
February to March seems to be the best time to visit Mt. Pulag as the temperature at the peak is at its lowest without rainfall. During the day, the sky is made of a blue backdrop with scattered cotton clouds.
Scheduling the trip on a full moon will also give you the best blanket of stars above your head until the break of dawn. Capturing the scenic night skies should be assisted by a lightweight tripod for photography enthusiasts. I chose not to bring mine because that will automatically burden me with 2 kilos.
With regards to the actual stay, be strict about the time so you don’t suffer the consequences. Our itinerary was perfect. We got to the Ranger Station at around 10:30AM so we had time to repack, cook and eat lunch. Come 1PM, we were already a few meters through the Ambangeg Trail.
2. Hiking is done best with a light load so bring only what you need.
A vertically expanding pack should give your back a good suspension so borrow or invest in one. Just make sure that you pack in an orderly manner so you don’t have to worry about wasted space. A rolled earth pad can be used to line your backpack after which you can stuff it with your clothes, mess kit and other essentials. You will know you packed well when the bag is erect once placed on flat ground. [So don’t pack it bery kwik, okay? Hehe] Other things you don’t need, you can store in a duffel bag and leave at the Ranger Station until you get back. This includes your change of clothes for the trip back to Baguio.
Keep your arms free to move about during the trek. It will help you climb the 40º steep slopes you will encounter 30 minutes into the trail. It is also advisable to let your camera hang from your neck but keep the camera bag hooked to the main pack.
3. Rest if you must.
Make 2-5 minute stops every now and then to slow down your heartbeat. Breathe slowly and recharge. Having accessible water containers and trail food will also minimize unpacking and repacking during times of rest.
The park is rich in flora and fauna. It’s not bad to enjoy the view. Stop and smell the flowers. 🙂
4. Protect yourself from the weather.
Although the weather during the trek is generally cool, the hiker will definitely sweat so it’s advisable to wear dry-fit clothes you’d usually be in during a jog. A sleeveless top and sun-blocked skin will also ensure a tan-line free pair of arms. A head gear for your nape and standalone arm sleeves can also work for weatherproofing.
Sleeping on a tent below zero degrees Celsius is no joke so be ready with layers of clothes and the proper gear and thermal underwear. On top of your shirt, you should have a thick sweater or fleece, a hoodie, and a rain jacket. Pairs of jogging pants, warmers and socks can also be worn on top of one another. Aside from that, you also need a bonnet, scarf and gloves. These things you can buy in Baguio City but you might have to endure some itchiness while wearing them unwashed.
For this trip, I brought a very big tent I borrowed from a friend. The cold allowed seven of us to fill the space with no suffocation problems. However, without waterproofing, the occupants at the sides are left to suffer with dew condensing on the surface of the tent so prepare for this. The ground is also cold and an earth pad will help insulate and a sleeping bag will give you added comfort.
5. Be prepared.
Like in any camping trip, be prepared. There will be no butlers, no waiters, no room service, no hot showers and no toilet seats. Be responsible enough. Bring your food, water, medicine, cook sets, mess kits, wet wipes, tissue, trash bags and working flashlights or headlamps with batteries. [Note that batteries will be less efficient in cold weather so bring extras.]
Do not leave your things outside the tent. Waterproof and store properly. For your electronics, keep them in a dry bag with silica gel or other dessicants to protect them from acquiring moisture.
6. Be careful.
The trek is not a race. Take each step carefully.
The trails can be as narrow as half a foot wide so keeping your balance while walking in a straight line is crucial. Some parts of the Ambangeg Trail have already been lined with tree trunks, stepping stones and hard soil carved into steps so it’s relatively easier to walk on but you still shouldn’t be in a hurry.
Hiking in the early hours of the morning is also very challenging as you can only see where your artificial light can reach. The trails going around the hills will leave one side with vast space sloping downwards vanishing into the dark. It’s scary but just stay alert and you’ll be fine.
For the morning assault to the Summit, you should be awake by 3AM, if you were able to sleep in the first place. This will give you time to not only nourish yourselves with instant food like noodles and coffee, but also to get your gear on and try to relax your brittle extremities in the cold weather.
Having a poor tolerance on low temperature conditions, I had three layers of upper body covering and two layers of pants and socks. But it wasn’t enough. That morning, I had to slide my plastic-covered [adds insulation] numb feet slowly into my rubber shoes.
It’s safe to leave Camp 2 by 4AM to catch the sunrise. Several trails are available. There are shorter trails that pass through the hills but are a lot more difficult to climb. And there are the longer ones that go around the sides with relatively flat surfaces. Whether you take the long or the short trails, all routes lead to the Summit.
You will know you’re going in the right direction when you see the sign “Grassland Summit 1.5 km.” The trail has also improved as there are a few hundred meters of stones arranged into steps. It makes each stride easier and longer.
You may also find white crystal-like substances reflecting light and lining the trails — they’re frosted grass made with dew drops precipitating on the lawn. When you touch them, they’re as solid as ice shavings for halo-halo.
To the Summit!
You might be deceived by the smaller hills and trails. If you’re not on top of everything, then you’re not yet on the summit. The only problem is if you can’t place yourself in the scene due to zero visibility. Just keep moving up or look for people resting on flat tops and eventually you’ll get there.
Halfway through the climb, you will start to regain sensation to your frozen toes. And you’ll be sweating despite the cold. Breathe easy. By the time you get to the summit, the temperature would be already tolerable with the help of the warmth of the sun.
When you get to the Summit, pause for a while. Breathe. And look around you.
Praise God for the scenic views. Smile and take a picture or two. 🙂
Mark brought his cook set, water, and a bunch of insta-cook food. Before leaving the Summit, we recharged with a good cup of noodles. This will prevent your stomachs from growling on the trek back.
I also suggest you apply sun protection before going down as the rays directly hit your face. You’ll get sunburnt in the nose and cheeks like most of us, not unless you want the rosy cheeks feel.
Leave no trace.
We got back to the Camp Site at around 8AM. The boys prepared breakfast as the girls rested. Soon we were all enjoying corned beef and tuna omelette. By 10AM we were already fixing our stuff and breaking camp. Make sure you don’t leave any trace of your stay in the camp. Collect all trash and bring them with you to the Ranger Station.
An easy breezy.
With uphill strides cut short by long stretches of flat grounds and downward slopes, you need little rest. Sometimes, you feel like wanting to stop but when you reach a peak, you just keep moving forward like you’re on autopilot.
Back to Base.
In less than two hours, you should be back at the Ranger Station… sweating, dirty and relieved. So get ready for ice-cold water to refresh you in one of four cubicles there free for everyone to use.
[Warning: This is very much different from the water flowing through the faucets of Baguio or Sagada. It’s the feeling you have when you punch your hand through the ice and water of a cooler filled with bottled drinks while trying to find the flavor you want. It hurts!]
The Science of Strategic Bathing.
Through the course of your well-calculated bath, you will be an expert in strategic bathing:
1. Using a carabiner, hang your pouch with all your bathing needs.
2. Make sure there’s enough water in the pail or a flowing supply.
3. Take off your clothes.
4. Bend over and wet your hair. Get some shampoo and come up with a rich lather.
5. Slowly wet your feet and a bar of soap. Rub the bar of soap against your skin.
6. Work your way upwards without having to directly wet your skin. Just keep on dunking the soap into the water.
7. Once you have covered everything, start rinsing your hair with your head bent forward.
8. Remove the soap from foot to waist.
9. For the final rinsing of your upper body, inhale and pour water to your chest and back.
10. In 15 minutes, you should be done [it takes this long because the water will leave you feeling numb and afraid of the next wetting].
Don’t be deceived by the high noon sun. Even at that time, the wind can still give you chills from the Ranger Station so have your jackets ready.
Eat your lunch.
Pack your bags.
Load and say goodbye.
Leave your comments and suggestions at the Information Center.
Sleep on your way back.
[Originally posted March 11, 2009]