Monday, September 1, 2014

Mount Pulag: The Roof of Luzon

Kabayan, BENGUET
Date: AUGUST 30-31, 2014

Mt. Pulag – the tallest mountain in Luzon and the third highest mountain in the Philippines. One of the things that I wrote on my bucket list is to be able to climb Mt. Pulag’s summit and witness its famed “sea of clouds”. I was very thankful to learn that Trail Insanity already scheduled a climbing event on August 30, and I invited my friend Rikki to go with me. We were so excited to go to Benguet and climb Cordillera’s sacred peak! Another once in a lifetime adventure which is truly awe-inspiring.



View from the summit of Mount Pulag
DAY 1

I was so excited to learn that Trail Insanity will be having a Mount Pulag event. I reserved a slot for two, and invited my high school friend Rikki to join. I also filed a leave at the office because the trip was scheduled on a Friday night. And then the day I was waiting for finally came – Rikki and I met up at SM North and headed straight to Cubao.

Meet my friend! (it's gonna be FUN)
It was almost eleven o’clock in the evening when we reached Cubao, and what Rikki and I did was to check if other members of the group were already in Puregold – but no one was there. We decided to grab a quick snack at Jollibee and went back to Puregold – and it was still empty. Suddenly, someone went outside Tropical Hut and told us to go inside – it was Sir Jake. He asked us to sign the waivers, and we waited there until the van comes.

There were a lot of new faces that night, and there were some who are also familiar. After filling up the forms, Sir Jake approached us and gave us our bag-tags. Rikki and I immediately attached the tags to our bags, and went outside the store as the van came in.

The van arrived at around 12:00 AM, and after a quick discussion about changes in our itinerary, we finally got inside and waited for it to leave. Our convoy consisted of two vans – and we were on the white one. It was already 12:22 AM when the van left, and because I lacked sleep that day, I decided to take a nap. We had a quick stop over at a gas station in Mabalacat, Pampanga, and left 17 minutes later.

Jeep going to Bokod, Benguet
I was trying to gaze outside the dark highways but there was nothing to see. Some street lamps were turned on, but it wasn’t enough to tell me where we were at – until we reached the toll gate, welcoming us at the newly built TPLEx. It made our journey shorter, as we were able to reach Rosales, Pangasinan in just three hours (from Cubao). We had another stop over in Rosario, La Union, and because of the long trip to Benguet, I decided to grab a snack at the nearby 7-11 store, and went back to the van afterwards. It was 4:45 AM when we left La Union, and after an hour traversing the sharp zigzags of Kennon Road, we finally reached Baguio City 5:45 in the morning.

The van stopped in front of the Baguio Convention Center, and from there, we have to transfer to these two supersized jeepneys our group rented that will be taking us to the DENR office in Bokod, Benguet, and to the ranger station in Kabayan, Benguet. Rikki and I were assigned to be at the red jeepney, and it left at 6:28 in the morning. The view outside the city of Baguio was spectacular –you can see the towering mountains of the Cordilleras and there were a lot of zigzags too – which almost made me throw up.

At 7:50 AM, our convoy had a stop over at a roadside restaurant in Itogon, Benguet. It was my first time stepping on the territories of Benguet outside Baguio City, and we started taking photos before having our breakfast. We went inside the restaurant to check what was on their menu, and what I ordered was chicken adobo paired with black rice (which looked purple to me) and a cup of warm soup, and paid P70 for it. We went back to the jeepney after eating, and left minutes later.

Memorabilia inside the DENR Office (Photo by: Adam Valenzuela)
Our journey going to Mount Pulag continues, and my eyes were filled with wonders as we drive through this scenic route to the town of Bokod. There were more mountains, cliffs, ravines and lots of pine trees. But what I loved most was the view of Ambuklao Dam from the highway. Its lake was turquoise blue, and the reflection from the nearby mountains can be seen on its surface, just like those picturesque scenery in Canada. I tried taking some photos, but failed miserably.

Finally – at 9:33 AM, we were at the DENR office in Bokod, Benguet. This stop over was compulsory because the law requires all mountaineers to register their information and attend their seminar about the sacred mountain. There were also a couple of souvenirs being sold at the office, and tarpaulins from different mountaineering groups posted at their walls.  We were invited to get inside their audio visual room, at waited for the facilitator.

Pretending to listen (Photo by: Adam Valenzuela)
While waiting for the facilitator, a woman went inside the audio visual room and showed us a video entitled “Prelude of Dreams” – a beautifully crafted time lapse video about the mountain’s famed “sea of clouds”. The facilitator came in right after, and gave us some insights abound Mount Pulag’s history, its importance to the tribes living near the mountain and the dos and don'ts. The seminar lasted for an hour, and we left the office at 11:14 in the morning.

The journey continues, and as we came close to the town of Kabayan, the highway gradually turned to a dirt road, with sharp curves and deep ravines. It was occasionally muddy, with lots of potholes. We have to transfer to another jeepney when we reached the part of the road that was being renovated, and we left at 11:45 AM. It was an hour of perilous journey just to get to the ranger station, and it was already 12:30 PM when we got there. We decided to eat our lunch before starting the climb, and some began putting up their gears against the cold.

Need to change jeepneys (Photo by: Adam Valenzuela)
After praying for our safety, the climb began shortly at 1:22 in the afternoon. We took the climber-friendly Ambangeg trail – which was the easiest route to the mountain top. This trail is highly recommended for beginners because there were not so much assault trails in it - just a plain walk way that gradually goes up. And since the climate was cool, I never felt thirst or exhaustion throughout the climb. We managed to reach Camp 1 just after an hour.

Praying before climbing (Photo by: Jake Gamboa)
We took a short rest at the camp, eating trail food and taking some photos. There was a big hut at the camp grounds, making it a good place for rest. We stayed there for 15 minutes, and continued the climb afterwards. I chose to stay at the end of the group, because I was taking a lot of photos and videos.


From being a trail of pine trees and shrubs, little by little, it transformed into a forest of moss. Tall trees covered in moss were what I saw in this part of the trail. There were also a number of exotic plants that I’ve never seen before in my life, and a couple of springs offering clean, drinkable water which tasted good. Near the second camp, the trail turned a little bit muddy, and it became a lot colder too. I ran up the the trail and managed to reach Camp 2 at 3:55 in the afternoon.

Short breaks during our climb
We began pitching our tent right after arriving at the second camp, and I was so thankful with our guides for helping me build my tent. When it was already built, Rikki and I went inside to take a rest. Staying inside the cold tent, I wondered how this area would look like from one of the nearby summits, so I asked Rikki to accompany me outside and began searching for the easiest peak that we could scale. We climbed the nearest summit from the camp and what I saw was a breath-taking view of the Cordilleras.

Rolling mountain ranges covered the entire campsite, similar to the rolling hills of Batanes. Clouds were passing right in front of us, and our arms reached for them as it swallowed us whole. Unfortunately, the sun cannot be seen from where we were at because clouds were blocking the sky. But it was compensated with the view that stretched for miles - even our camp can be seen from here!


It was already 5:30 PM when we decided to go back to the camp and took a short rest inside the tent, and I became uneasy because the temperature dropped as night crawled in. Sir Jake called all members for dinner at around 7:00 PM, and we went into this makeshift hut hidden behind the camp to eat. He cooked pork sinigang that night, and its boiling soup gave us warmth against the cold night. We went back to the camp after eating, and stayed outside the tent and looked up into the night sky monitoring billions of stars. We slept early, at around 7:30 in the evening, but sleeping in the cold wasn’t that easy.

Exploring nearby mountains

DAY 2

The chilling wind that was creeping throughout my body woke me up. I was shivering, with smoke coming out of my mouth. That was 3:00 in the morning, and I can hear some of our group mates have also risen up. We have to wake up this early in order for us to catch a glimpse of the famed sunrise from the top of Luzon’s tallest peak.

Sir Jake invited us to the makeshift hut to get a cup of coffee. We went there, meeting up with everyone, talking about how cold that morning was. It was already 4:20 AM when we started the climb towards the summit. We had a short prayer just like before, and then our guides began to walk and they were the first in line. We followed them, lighting up our way with our flash lights, in order for us to see the trail. It was muddy and slippery, and there were no trees for us to hold on, so we have to be extra cautious.

Mount Pulag sunrise (Photo by: Adam Valenzuela)
My foot sank into the mud puddle a number of times, and I slipped more than once, but I still kept on moving as my desire to see the horizon grew. The sky, from being pitch black, gradually transformed into an orange sky – signaling the rising of the sun. We stopped at a small plateau to capture some photos, as the sun slowly showed up on the horizon – revealing mountain ranges and small patches of “sea of clouds”.

Successful climb! (Photo by: Adam Valenzuela)
Moving onto the top, I still have high hopes that I will be able to see the sun rising from the summit, even if it has already showed up. And even though my endurance was tested during this point, I never felt any weariness, probably because of the cool climate present all through out the trail.

Forty-five minutes later, I managed to reach the trail leading to Mount Pulag’s peak. It was an assault trail, and I exerted all effort in order for me to get to the top. It was 5:20 in the morning when I reached the summit of Mount Pulag, and the view was simply beautiful. I felt extremely joyful knowing that I was already standing at the roof of Luzon. Meanwhile, everyone was taking their own photos, especially at the signage located on the summit, which reads “Welcome Mt. Pulag Summit 2922 MASL”. I got my own photo at the signage, and just enjoyed the view from the top.

We had a group photo at the signage before returning back to the camp. It was already 6:32 in the morning when we left the summit, after staying there for an hour. It was getting warmer as the sun rose into the sky, but also cold at the same time (thanks to the wind). Later on, I decided to remove a layer of my sweater because it was getting hotter. I was following our guide back to the camp, and I was one of those who were at the end of the group.

Trail Insanity goes to Mount Pulag (Photo by: Adam Valenzuela)
Jump shot!
I noticed the trail that we were at. This was the same trail that we took hours ago, but the difference that the sun’s light made was huge. What I saw were mountain ranges covered in dwarf bamboo plants, verdant rolling hills, deep slopes and smaller versions of “sea of clouds”. Aside from the scenery, our interesting guide also shared some stories and legends about the mountain.

According to him, Mount Pulag was named because of its bald like features, and “pulag” in their language means bald. The truth is that plants couldn’t grow any taller because of the altitude, with maximum heights being at 10 inches tall. He also shared a story about the enchanted beings that dwell in this sacred mountain, which seldom causes ill-mannered mountaineers to disappear. These beings could also send strong rains to those who are rowdy, and they could also grant those who respect the rules a glimpse of the famed “sea of clouds”. It was already 7:52 in the morning when we reached the camp, and I saw Rikki, who managed to get there before me. We stayed inside the tent, waiting for our breakfast to be cooked.

It was really hot
After eating our breakfast, the group began packing up their tents and bags, and we followed suit. We started the descent at 9:50 in the morning, and because it was getting warmer, I decided to remove my jackets and moved on with only a single shirt.


Rikki and I decided to go down as fast as we could, so that we could be the first ones to use the shower room. We reached the first camp at 10:37 AM, and rested for only five minutes before resuming our way down. When we reached the site where the rice terraces were, I asked Rikki to go ahead. I took a couple of photos and videos before going on. It was already 11:27 AM when I reached the ranger station, and I saw Rikki sitting at a corner. We ate cup noodles for lunch, and visited a nearby souvenir store, called “Mt. Pulag Souvenir Shop”.

Beautiful Rice Terraces near the Ranger Station
Souvenirs, anyone?
We looked for souvenirs inside, ranging from key chains, shirts, ref magnets and other stuff made by the locals. I bought myself a shirt, a magnet, and key chains. We also asked the store owner if we could use her shower because there were too many people lining up at the ranger station just to take a bath. She was kind enough to let us use her shower room, so I went back to the ranger station and took some of my clothes and started taking a bath. The water was freezing, and it was like participating in an ice bucket challenge! We thanked the lady for her generosity, and went back to the ranger station.

It was already 1:36 in the afternoon when we left. Some of my group mates opted to do top loading, which I wanted to experience badly. Then, after reaching the part of the highway that was being renovated, we had to switch to another jeepney. It was already 2:30 in the afternoon when we reached the DENR office in Bokod, Benguet – just to log out. We didn’t stay there for long and continued on our journey back to Baguio City.

Enjoying the streets of Baguio City
After two stop-overs and almost three hours of driving through zigzags, we finally reached Burnham Park, at 5:15 in the afternoon. Sir Jake gave us two hours to roam around the city, and the group went onto separate ways. Rikki and I went to the market, buying fresh vegetables and pasalubong, which took us an hour to do.

Then, we headed to Session Road and looked for a place where we can eat. I was looking for Steaks and Toppings, but since we do not have that much time, we opted to eat at KFC instead. It was almost 7:30 in the evening when we got back to the van and left immediately. We arrived in Cubao six hours later, and I managed to get back home at 2:30 in the morning.

What a wonderful weekend that was – with another mountain being slashed off my list. Mount Pulag was the fifth mountain that I managed to climb, and I am very proud to say that I’ve been to the roof of Luzon – which is already an accomplishment for me. I can’t wait for Trail Insanity’s next event. Where could it be?

Smaller sea of clouds. Maybe a sign of me returning.



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