Adventures in Mount Pulag
This is a story about a first time climber who trekked one of the highest mountains in the Philippines. It was not an easy trek but the beauty that awaits this experience lingered with her and is definitely worth repeating.
And so, my Mount Pulag adventure happened last month, November. The whole peak covers an area of 11,500 hectares and is situated along the Grand Cordillera Central Mountain Ranges in Northern Luzon covering parts of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya. Mount Pulag is within the locale administrative jurisdiction of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Cagayan Valley Region (Region II).
It is the highest mountain in Luzon at 2,922 meters above sea level; and is the 3rd highest mountain in the Philippines, next to Mount Apo in Davao (2,954 meters above sea level) and Mount Dulang Dulang in Bukidnon (2,941 meters above sea level)
Since Mount Pulag is a habitat for many wild plants and species, our government has proclaimed it as a National Park to ensure that the beauty of the forest is preserved and protected. There are protocols and rules that must be followed in climbing Mount Pulag and to ensure that all hikers are aware of this, the D.E.N.R (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) requires all climbers/hikers to attend the orientation before you are allowed to enter the Ranger Station-the very base of the mountain where the trekking begins for the Ambangeg trail. I am also amazed that in case you missed out important things to bring with you during the hike, there is a store outside the D.E.N.R office which sells almost everything you need for your climb; thick thermo jackets, stainless cups and plates, raincoats, bonnets and mittens, tents and so on.
The composition of the mountain has 3 parts: Pine Tree Forest, Rain Forest/Mossy Forest, Grassland/Greenland Forest (or how the D.E.N.R puts it: 3 levels of elevation). The trek to Mountain Pulag really gives you a thrill because as you climb higher entering the different elevation of the mountain, each level is different, with a totally unique experience and new sights to enjoy.
Per level is distinct from one another in terms of the plants/species growing only in the specific areas of the mountain. Thus, every level is named after the most dominant features or plants growing in that part of the mountain.
The base of the mountain where the Ranger Station is also located is the Pine Tree Forest. By its name, this part of the mountain is composed mainly of pine trees. You will enjoy this trail because of the beautiful view of the mountain ranges of Cordillera. You will also pass by a view that looks like Banaue Rice Terraces. Unlike Banaue Rice terraces though these terraces we see in Mt. Pulag are made up of vegetable plantation planted on mountain slopes by the locales. Vegetable farming is one of the locale's means of livelihood.
The trail here is fairly wide and is the easiest level to trek (among the three levels). Terrain is not yet steep; and there is not much downhill and uphill. Depending on your pacing (how fast you walk), this level is about an hour trek from the Ranger Station to the Mossy Forest. The entire area on this level is about 2,000 hectares.
As we go higher in our trekking, we now brave the next level of the mountain which is the Mossy/Rainforest. This level is the longest trail because it covers the biggest area of the mountain, about 5,000 in hectares. Mossy Forest/Rain Forest is characterized by plants such as moss, vines, ferns and wild flowers and contorted trees with twisted trunks adorned with lichens and mosses. The rain forest is like the hidden part of the mountain trail where from afar it looks like broccoli/cauliflower trees altogether. It looks gloomy because of the contorted trunks,trees and mosses and you will really feel the cold breeze because it is not exposed under the heat of the sun. Since rainforest is the part of the mountain that supplies water to major dams in Cordillera; Ambuklao, Binga, San Roque, and Magat, you can see a lot of small pipes running spring water. What a refreshing experience to drink fresh and clean spring water from the mountain itself.
The trek here at the Mossy Forest is steep, muddy and slippery and is only passable one person at a time. This trail is more difficult than the Pine tree forest because it has a lot of steep uphill. You have to have a good trekking shoes and a good walking stick to help you ease the climb on this trail.
Since the Mossy/Rainforest is Mount Pulag’s most dominant feature, trek here can take about 2-3 hours before you reach the Grassland/Greenland which is the highest level of the mountain. From the Greenland though, it will take another 2 hours trekking before we reach the peak of the mountain. Usually, when campers reach the Greenland, there is already a designated area for campers to set their tents where they can stay overnight before the final assault to the summit the next day. Most climbers leave the camp at predawn to start trekking until they reach the peak of the mountain just in time before sunrise.
Campsite 2 is the designated area for campers trekking the Ambangeg Trail.
During night time, you see the beautiful sky adorned with all the stars; it literally makes you feel like you are just outside the earth and just looking at the galaxy. It was beautiful.
As dusk falls, everything is totally dark because setting up of bonfires is not allowed in the campsites. Depending on the month when you climb, temperature in the evening drops to 5 degrees celsius or even lower. You will really need a good thermo jackets or layered jackets to help you beat the rough cold weather.
I was prepared for the climb and I brought with me extra thick jackets, jogging pants, socks, mittens and bonnet plus a blanket to keep me warm. I couldn’t sleep well because of the cold weather and when it’s time to leave our tents at predawn it was extremely difficult to get out from our tents. If we were not motivated to reach the summit, we would have probably chosen to stay in our tents. It required great determination and discipline to be able to conquer Mt. Pulag specially that you’re trekking before sunrise for more than 2 hours while the weather is extremely cold and it is totally dark everywhere! Your only source of light is your head lamp which can light just a single step. And while you walk on a single trail with your tour guide and other climbers in front of you and behind you, you trust that the long single trail will bring you to the summit because there is nothing you could see other than your trail; one step at a time. My hands were literally numb because of the cold and I was catching my breath while walking at my usual pace. But, the challenges were nothing compared to the beauty that awaits us once we reached the top. It is something worth the long and strenuous walk beating the cold. It was worth it.
There were 3 summits of Mount Pulag according to our tour guide; summit one is the highest where most climbers go. Summit 3 is about 200 meters lower than summit 1; then summit 2 is about 40 meters lower than Summit 3.
Me and my best friend plus our tour guide trekked towards Summit 3 while our other buddies in the group climb to Summit 1 because it would take longer hours of trekking to Summit 1 (2 hours and a half) as compared to Summit 3 (1 and a half hours) and with our pacing we could miss the sunrise if we attempt to hike towards summit one. (it’s hard to walk as fast because of the cold and when you are catching your breath and without sleep) Our tour guide was also funny when he said that since most campers would go to Summit 1, there would have been a lot of photo bombers. But, seriously, I prefer the Summit 3 because when we got there on top, we were just all by ourselves on top of the mountain! The area is not as big and it could not fit a lot of people on top! I wouldn’t mind if it’s a little bit lower than the highest summit, I still have a beautiful, exhilarating view of the sunrise, the mountain ranges below and the clouds below the mountains. (Yes, we were higher than the clouds) During the time of our climb, there was not much sea of clouds.
Funny that the most difficult part of our climb was when we were almost close to the top. The assault to the summit made me a little bit nervous because the climb was so steep, there was no rock to hold on too because it was grassland everywhere. I don’t have a stick with me and at that time while I was literally hanging like a spiderwoman on top and a few more meters to the summit, I looked down and saw how high I was already (and how deep the fall will be if I fall. LOL). But I knew I will not choose to give up after all that I have gone through already. I hang in there waiting for our tour guide to climb ahead of me and by the time he reached the summit, he grabbed me by the hand and slowly pulled me over. Thus, with a few more big steps I finally reached the top of the mountain. The feeling was unexplainable! It was still dark when we reached the summit about 5:30AM and it was soo windy at the peak but everything you see is beautiful! It is an experience that will stick with you for the rest of your life. It will be an experience worth repeating again and again, never mind the challenges along the way. It is beauty at its finest! It is a display of God’s beautiful creation! I can’t help but thank God again and again because it is just amazing how beautiful His creation is. As I recall the moment, even when this blog is past a month after the climb, the details were still fresh to me as if the climb was just yesterday.
That's my story. Let me share with you some of the basic things you will need to pack with you for the climb.
Basic Essentials to bring with you for the Climb
I. Clothing: Thermostat jackets/2-3 thick jackets,extra shirts,layered pants, Socks, mittens, bonnets, Scarves, good trekking Shoes, raincoat (weather can be unpredictable on top)
II. Tents/Sleeping Pads/Small Pillows/Blankets (tents are available for rent at the ranger station)
III. Walking Stick (can be rented out at the ranger station)
IV. Camping Stoves (we didn’t have to bring this because we’ve availed a full board meals from our tour guide)
V. Water Jugs/Small Thermos/Stainless Cups
VI. Toiletries including Insect/Bug Repellent & Sunblock
VII. Mini Snack bars
VIII. First Aid Kit
IX. Head lamps/Flashlight
X. Whistles (incase of emergency)
XI . Cameras with monopods/tripods
Additional note: All campers/hikers are required to get a locale tour guide. The number of tour guides would depend on how big your group is. Coordinate with D.E.N.R for details or you can check local tour operators/travel agency for the next scheduled climb. If you are carrying heavy backpacks for all your hiking essentials, I suggest get a porter. I like getting a porter because it gives jobs to the locales there and also gives you comfort when you climb. It is extremely difficult to climb carrying big loads at your back. I see other hikers do it but I still prefer to climb light so I am grateful for the availability of porters. The locales are very warm people. My best friend and I are extremely grateful for the help of our porters and tour guide. It would have been a rough climb for us if not for them. And, for those who like me used to wonder if there are restrooms on campsites; yes, there are. Off course don't expect much but at least there is a designated restroom for every campsites: Camp 1 and 2.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to drop me a comment or send me a message. I would be glad to hear from you. :)