Our Conquest of Mt Pulag

Our Conquest of Mt Pulag
by Danny Tariman

Mt Pulag is the Philippines’ second highest peak and Luzon Island’s highest with an elevation of 2,922 meters above sea level. Located in the boundaries of Benguet, Mt Province, and Isabela, climbing this mountain is quite a daunting adventure.

The peak of Mt Pulag in the morning sunrise.
The peak of Mt Pulag in the morning sunrise.

As early as January, my family had planned to scale the heights of this tallest mountain in Luzon. This will be my and my wife’s, first long trek, after trekking Mt Pinatubo about 2 years ago. My 2 children had gone trekking to “smaller” mountains in-between.

We did some research. We are aware that the air at the top is very thin, to which some people are not comfortable. We know that the temperature at the top drops to below zero during cold months.

But the most exciting info we got is the awesome, breathtaking view of the sun rising above the clouds. At the top, you will be literally be above a sea clouds. If there is only one thing that excites me, this is it!

Early morning sun silhouetting the pine trees along the road to the Ranger Station.
Early morning sun silhouetting the pine trees along the road to the Ranger Station.

After weighing the pros-and-cons, we decided to take a trek organizer to simplify our trip planning and organizing. And we are taking public transport.

We boarded a Victory Liner bus in Pasay City, leaving the bus terminal at 9pm. We encountered heavy traffic along EDSA. From Pasay City all the way to the Balintawak interchange, it took us an agonizing 2-hours. Finally we arrived Baguio City at 4:30 very early in the morning. It was still dark.

From the bus terminal in Baguio, we transferred to a jeep which will take us to the drop off point in Kabayan, Benguet.

The vegetable terraces near the Ranger Station.
The vegetable terraces near the Ranger Station.

After traveling from Baguio for 2 hours We first had a pit stop at Country Road, a local restaurant where we had a hefty eat-all-you-can breakfast. I had been controlling my diet for quite some time, but this time, I thought I had to have a “cheat diet” so that I will have enough energy to trek the mountain.

After breakfast, we registered and then attended a briefing-orientation at the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) local office, as a requirement to scale the mountain. We learned that there are 3 trails to the top – an easy trail, a more difficult for the “pros”, and a much more difficult passing through forest infested by leaches (oh my!). We took the “easy trail”, which is still a 4-6 hours trek!

The start of our trail from the drop-off at Ranger Station
The start of our trail from the drop-off at Ranger Station

After the briefing, we boarded again our jeep to the starting point of the trek – the Ranger Station in Kabayan, Benguet. It was another hour ride. After the registration process, and some arrangements – getting a trek lead/guide, a porter for our extra baggage, adding-on of clothes for the colder weather – we started our trek.

Mt Pulag here we come!

We started the trek at about 10:30am starting at the Rangers’ Station. We were led by our guide “Jane”. We passed by a less-than-a-kilometer cemented road, then walked on a dirt road, and finally the single-line trek.

From the village-community, you will be greeted by a scenery of mountains with vegetables terraces planted with potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and lettuce.

The first forest we passed is the “pine forest” where mountains are covered by tall pine trees. As we trekked further, the forest transitions into a “mossy forest” where tropical trees are covered with moss. At this point, the pine trees are no longer visible.

The trail to Camp-2 where we had rested for the night.
The trail to Camp-2 where we had rested for the night.

We reached Camp-1 at about 11:45. We had our lunch at this camp and also our “pee break”. Many trekkers rest and eat in this area.

After eating our packed lunch and a few minutes of rest, we continued our trek to Mt Pulag. We passed through the mountain trail, appreciating the various vegetation that gets our attention. We also had some “selfie” and “groufie” photos taken, and had some brief stops to catch our breath.

Mt Pulag, here we are!

My wife & I upon our arrival at Camp-2 after an almost 4-hr hike.
My wife & I upon our arrival at Camp-2 after an almost 4-hour hike.

We arrived at Camp-2 at about 2:30 in the afternoon, after hiking for about 4 hours – rest and picture taking included. I had a great feeling that finally we arrived at our camp. We will be spending the night in this camp and we have the entire remainder of the afternoon to roam around and view the surroundings.

We had 2 tents for my family – 1 tent for the girls and another tent for the boys.

Ou "deluxe" accommodation for the night, at a biting temperature outside the tents.
Ou “deluxe” accommodation for the night, at a biting temperature outside the tents.

Oh yes, I have to say that the natural spring water is so sweet and refreshing! We had to fetch and refill our bottles a number of times. The water comes from the mountain spring. Caution: if your tummy is not used for this type of “raw” water, don’t take this; just use your bottled water from the city. I suggest you bring at least 2 liters of bottled water for each person.

After taking some rest and light snacks, my children went to the nearby hills and explored the place. They reported that the view is very beautiful and awesome!

I and my wife took some time too to walk. But as we are a bit tired, we just went to the middle of the hill and took some photos.

We had an early dinner at 5pm. I think we had to eat early so we can clean and keep our cooking and eating utensils before it gets dark.

The camping area as captured by my son's SLR camera from the summit.
The camping area as captured by my son’s SLR camera from the summit.

After the meals, I started adding on 2 more layers of clothing, and my gloves to keep me warm. The temperature is getting lower as darkness sets in. By night time before I slept, I was wearing 4 layers on top (2 shirts, a sweater, and a jacket) and 2 layers for bottoms (a trouser and a jogging pants). It was really very cold! Plus, I had gloves to cover my hands, bonnet to cover my head, and a scarf (which I borrowed from my wife) to cover my neck.

I had a ‘shallow’ sleep, although my family I sense, had a good one. At about 12:30, I was awakened by a bright light outside our tent. I thought someone was walking around. As I opened the tent window, I was surprised by the wonderful view of stars and an almost full moon in a very clear blue night sky. I wanted to wake up the boys with me but I restrained because I might disturb their sleep. The moonlight was an amazing experience, indeed! It is something I haven’t seen for many years since I moved to the city.

Mt Pulag, to the Peak

We woke up at 3:00am for our final trek to the top. We boiled water for our coffee and chocolate drink to warm our bodies before the hike. We prepared some trail food and water for the climb. Everything else, we left at our tents.

The trail to the summit: it was a 1-1/2-hour trek for us going up from the camping area.
The trail to the summit: it was a 1-1/2-hour trek for us going up from the camping area.

We left the camp at 4:05 in the morning. We had our LED torches and LED head lamps “on” to light the trail to the top. At this point, no more trees and forest to pass; just the dwarf bamboo grass covering the mountains.

After one-and-a-half hour hike, passing through sometime rocky trail, we finally reached the summit at 5:30am! Just in time to view the sunrise which was just a few minutes after we reached the top.

What a wonderful feat! Scaling the mountain and getting to the top at 2,922 meters above sea level!

My family upon our arrival at the summit
My family upon our arrival at the summit

In few minutes, the sun started to peep-in from the horizon of clouds. It was really an amazing, breathtaking view! Really an experience for my entire family!

The temperature too is very low at about 7 degrees Celsius (forecast temperature). I couldn’t take out my gloves for more than 3 minutes. [I had to remove it for my picture taking as my phone screen would not sense my finger with my gloves on.]

The morning sun peeping  at the edge of the clouds, as seen from the peak.
The morning sun about to come out at the edge of the clouds, as seen from the peak.

Back to Camp

We left the peak at about 6:30 in the morning. Still enduring the biting cold temperature with our layered clothes on.

As we trek down the mountain, we take out our ‘body warmers’, 1 piece at a time. Finally reaching the camp, I had only 3 layers of clothes on top.

The sun just rising from the clouds, as viewed from the top of the mountain
The sun just rising from the clouds, as viewed from the top of the mountain

We reached our camp at about 7:30 after almost 1 hour hike.

We had a cooked breakfast inside our camp. Our trek organizer cooked for us while we were at the peak of the mountain.

By 8am we started to break our camp, fixing our backpacks, and a bit of housekeeping. By 9:30 we were ready to the final trek back to Rangers Station.

Final Trek

I was a bit tired by this time. I can feel the fatigue of trekking for about 6 ½ hours for the past day. I told my wife that we will get a porter to carry my backpack going down the mountain. We did.

My family at the summit marker.
My family at the summit marker.

We started our descend at about 9:30am. It was a bit easy hike this time, except for the few climbs along the trail. We had a few rest stops too, arriving Camp-1 by about 10:30! Wow, it took us now just about an hour. Our guide/trek-lead noticed our faster pace. We had a 15 minute rest at Camp-1 too, to regain strength.

Finally, we trekked back to the village-community. This time, as sun was at its highest, we were easily tired by the noonday heat. We arrived Rangers Station at about 11:30.

Wow, a truly wonderful experience! An awesome, breathtaking view from the top!

Our children with a friend, at the summit of Mt Pulag.
Our children with a friend, at the summit of Mt Pulag.

We praise God for the good weather, for the strength He has given me and my family, and for the provisions for this expedition. This is indeed an answered prayer. Thank You LORD!

My wife and I had this "selfie" at the peak.
My wife and I had this “selfie” at the peak.
My son & I, just after arrival at the summit.
My son & I, upon arrival at the summit.
My daughter & I at the peak: the temperature was truly biting!
My daughter & I at the peak: the temperature was truly biting!
At the trek: the oldest tree in the "mossy forest".
At the trek: the oldest tree in the “mossy forest”.
At the trek: the oldest tree in the "pine forest"
At the trek: the oldest tree in the “pine forest”
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