WHERE: Benguet, Cordilleras, Philippines (10 hours drive from Manila: 6 hrs by bus, 3 hrs by commuter van, and 1 hr by motorcycle; plus 4-5 hours on foot to the summit).
WHEN: Open year-round
WHY: Most spectacular sunrise, expansive sea of clouds, and 3rd highest peak in the Philippines (highest in Luzon).
CHALLENGES: Major climb of 3/9 difficulty level, cold temperatures, midnight or very early morning hike.
EXPENSES (Per Person)
- Transportation Roundtrip Total: Php1780 which includes:
- Bus from Manila to Baguio – Php900;
- Taxi from Bus Terminal to Old Slaughterhouse Van Terminal – Php80;
- Commuter Van from Baguio to Ambangeg – Php300;
- Motorcycle from Ambangeg DENR to Ranger Station – Php500;
- Medical Certificate: Php100
- Park Fees (DENR+Ranger Station):
- Entrance Fee – Php175
- Camping Fee – Php100 per tent
- Environmental and Heritage Fee – Php150
- Guide Fee – Php600 per group of 5 persons (required)
- Porter Fee – Php500 (maximum 15 kilos; optional)
Note: Food is not included in this DIY Mt. Pulag expenses because it widely varies between persons. Just prepare a personal budget for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 1 dinner, and snacks in between for a 2D1N climb.
MUST BRING ESSENTIALS
- Cold weather gear: thermals, jacket, gloves, beanie, gloves, socks and sleeping bag.
- Filled-up water bottle
- Rain Gear if climbing during rainy season
- Trail and camp food
- Most important: Register in advance with the DENR Office of Ambangeg before the climb, especially when scheduled for a weekend. There is now a set maximum number of climbers allowed in Mt. Pulag. Given its popularity amongst weekend climbers, there is a very real possibility that you will not be allowed to climb without advanced registration with the DENR. Contact nos. +639103010423, +639196315402, or +639291668864.
- Take a night bus from Manila to Baguio to save time and accommodation expense.
- The night bus is perfect for the 7am passenger van from Baguio to Ambangeg.
- Hire a motorcycle from the commuter van’s drop off at the junction of Ambangeg (Bokod, Benguet). They will take you to the DENR office, the Ranger Station (jump off point), and back.
- Bring a “Fit-to-climb” medical certificate to the DENR Office. If you have not, ask your motorcycle driver to take you first to the lone doctor’s clinic in Ambangeg before going to DENR.
- Finally, hike on weekdays if possible. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to spend the night at Camp 2 (approx. 1 hour hike to the summit). This means a long midnight hike from the trail head at the Ranger Station all the way to the peak to catch the famous Pulag sunrise and sea of clouds.
OUR DIY MT. PULAG EXPERIENCE
This hiking trip was part of May’s (the other half of this blog) Air to Summit to Sea week-long birthday celebration. This means hiking exhausted and sleep deprived after we landed from our 4 day trip to Taiwan.
We took the 10pm Genesis bus from Cubao. We arrived in Baguio 6 hours later. It was only around 4am so we took refuge at a 24 hour fast food restaurant, had coffee and a plateful of very early breakfast. Around 5:30am, we took a taxi to the Old Slaughterhouse where the Van Terminal for Ambangeg is located. The first trip was supposed to leave at 7am, but the driver did not leave until the van was full. We were finally on the road around 8am and arrived at Ambangeg junction after 3 hrs.
Motorcycles approached and offered to take us to the DENR office (less than 5 minutes away) for orientation then to the trailhead at the Ranger Station (1 hr uphill drive). We happily accepted. But, when we arrived at the DENR Office we were asked to show our “fit-to-climb” medical certificate. We were not aware of this requirement so we had nothing to show. Luckily, Ambangeg has a medical clinic and we were able to secure our certificates after a very tense borderline hypertension prognosis from the resident doctor. Good thing we had the long hours of travel, lack of sleep and high noon heat to blame for it.
Back at the DENR office, we were given the stamp of approval, paid the fees and attended the orientation for new climbers. In the orientation, we were given hiking decorum reminders, informed of what to expect, and shown a 15 minute video about the diversity of Mt. Pulag. Thereafter, we reconsidered our packs, removed almost 10 kilos of non-essentials from it, which we left at the DENR office, then commenced the 1 hr motorcycle ride to the Ranger Station.
The road to the Ranger Station is narrow with plenty of blind curves. So prepare yourself for a scenic and adrenalin inducing ride especially when your driver decides to overtake a truck on a blind curve and came face to face with a terrifying surprise in the form of a much bigger truck careening down the slope. I don’t even want to imagine what could have happened but I give my thanks to high heavens and to our lucky stars that all ended well.
It was a very straightforward process at the Ranger Station. Wait for your turn, pay the fees, meet your guide and porter (we had one, a remarkable and very strong elderly lady), and start the climb. After everything was arranged, we had lunch at an eatery near the Ranger Station. The number and size of flies that kept us company was not a pleasant experience. A better option would have been a quick stop at one of the eateries around the DENR office.
We did not start hiking until after 1pm. It was a long slog. We were exhausted and heavy-lidded. But our spirits soon lifted with the passing montage of beautiful mountain vistas. We hiked on the 1st week of June 2017 and the weather was perfect despite forecasts to the contrary. I took so much photos, I was accused of making photography my excuse to stop and take frequent rests. :p
After around 2 hours of easy to moderate hike, we reached Camp 1. It has an open-air but roofed resting place, a toilet, and spring water source nearby for bottle refills. The landscape shifted from shrubs and saplings to mossy trees, the trail turned darker and much cooler from the shade of the towering canopies. The shaded trail helped a lot in making the hike easier for us, we were no longer catching our breath, it became a pleasant trek with minor uphill assaults to Camp 2.
The transition from the mossy forrest of Camp 1 to the grassland of Camp 2 was quite special. It felt like walking out of a long dark tunnel into fairy land sunshine. We arrived just before sunset and the camp was aglow with the resplendent low hanging sun reflected on the wide expanse of the golden grassland. That and the feeling of relief and elation of finally having arrived at your destination for the day.
My brother was there, so he took care of everything from setting up the camp and cooking dinner. I happily rested my sore but very accomplished feet. 🙂 After playing cards and eating our steamy and delicious dinner, we were off to bed.
At around 3:30am, we dressed up as warmly as we could and left the camp with our headlamps and water bottles. There was nothing to see other than shadows and silhouettes at the start. But when I looked up, I gasped. For the first time, I saw the milky way adorned sky intimately close to where I stood. After 20 minutes of sustained hike, I took off my jacket. I felt hot and sweaty. The cool mountain air felt good against my skin. I was cautioned though that it wasn’t very smart because I could easily get caught in hypothermia without warning. We kept going in the dark without much strain. Again, I was surprised at how the locals maintained the trails to make it easy for the hikers. There were even parts that reminded me of cobblestone paths.
After about an hour of walking under the stars, the sky began to break with the glow of the first rays of the sun. It soon revealed a breathtaking expanse of undulating grassy hills nearby and purple peaks at a distance. We arrived at the summit and nothing compares to the beauty of Mt. Pulag bathed in the early morning light. I stood there transfixed, with a heart bursting with gratitude and awe. Thank you Mt. Pulag for the gift of beauty and the rare moment of bliss it gave me.