Overnight Hike to Mt. Pulag via Akiki-Ambangeg Traverse
February 6, 2016
Hi everyone! Wouldn’t you agree that one of the best feelings in the world is being able to accomplish something you once thought was impossible? This was what I felt as soon as I got back from my recent hiking trip last January 30-31 in Mt. Pulag which is my 13th mountain and my first major climb.
Elevation: 2922 MASL
Location: via Akiki Trail – Kabayan, Benguet, via Ambangeg Trail – Bokod, Benguet
Difficulty: via Akiki Trail – 7/9, via Ambangeg Trail –3/9
Trek to Summit: via Akiki Trail – 10-11 hours, via Ambangeg Trail – 4 hours
*Please note that our group used Akiki Trail to ascend
I have been talking about wanting to climb Mt. Pulag in some of my previous posts and in this one; I can finally share my firsthand experience in conquering Luzon’s highest mountain and the Philippines’ third highest!
For details on our way of transportation and cost breakdown, please refer to the tables below:
Note: Porters can be hired as well but I was not able to ask for the rate because our group did not hire any.
Our group assembled in Victory Bus Liner in Cubao around 8:30PM last Friday. Our trip to Baguio was scheduled around 9:30PM so we used the remaining hour to eat dinner. (Note: I accidentally left my wallet in Chowking. I am extremely grateful to the employee who went all the way to the bus terminal just to return my wallet.) As soon as we boarded the bus, I settled down and immediately tried to get some shut-eye.
It was the cold breeze that woke my spirit up when we arrived in Baguio around 3:30AM. There, we bought some more supplies (toiletries and trail food) before riding our rented monster jeep to Benguet. Our first agenda was to drop by Ma’am Gina’s Eatery for breakfast which is two hours and thirty minutes away from Baguio. And because it was still during the wee hours of the day, most of us were fast asleep all throughout the jeepney ride with occasional head bumps along the way.
From Ma’am Gina’s Eatery, we could already see the Cordillera mountain range and this made us thrilled to start our trek. After eating our breakfast, we went back to the monster jeep to fix our bags so that they were the ones inside the jeepney and we were the ones on top.
Our agenda was now to head to Akiki’s jump-off point. It was a whole lot of fun going there while sitting on top of the jeepney because aside from feeling the cold breeze against our bodies and the wire cables and tree branches against our heads (lol),everyone was also trying to document the moment through action cameras and smartphones.
When we alighted from the jeepney, we were welcomed by signages that read “Mt. Pulag National Park Akiki Trail Visitors’ Center” and “Difficult Route”. Beyond these, we already saw the steep trail going to the ranger station.
At the ranger station, we registered our names, paid the corresponding fees, surrendered our medical certificates (This is mandatory. No med cert, no climb) and repacked our bags – the guys were the ones who carried the big and heavy stuff (i.e. tents, dinner and breakfast food and cook set). Some of the guys had bags that weighed as heavy as 18 kilograms while some of the girls had bags that weighed between 9 and 13 kilograms (mine weighed 11).
Because we were already delayed by an hour from our target itinerary (original plan was to start at 8:00AM), we hurried to start our trek after snapping a group photo and saying a short prayer. The trail starts with, lo and behold, a steep assault. But because we just started, everyone still had the energy to joke around each other and coupled with the good views, it made the assaults a little less tiring. When we began descending I felt relieved because coming from the blogs I read online, they described Akiki Trail as having “endless assaults”. It was not so bad after all, or so I thought.
We reached Eddet River after an hour and thirty minutes. Here, we found the first water source and some of us already refilled their bottles with water. After a quick rest, we were on our toes to cross the hanging bridge that led to the second part of the trail which was, for me, the real start of our hike.
The Endless Assaults
Apparently, the blogs were not exaggerating when they described Akiki Trail as having endless assaults. It was right after crossing Eddet River when we realized that it was going to be a long and tiring day for all of us.
Because we did not hire any porters for this climb, we were all carrying our own full packs which made the assaults much more taxing. Stepping one foot at a time, with huffs and puffs in between, we finally reached “E-Camp” where we ate our lunch and took our rest. This is also the part where we started to feel the cold breeze that made the heat of the sun bearable.
Because we already lost our momentum after resting for almost an hour, it was a bit of a challenge when we resumed with the endless assaults – somehow, our bags and legs felt heavier. Again, we had to pause every now and then to catch our breaths. This went on for about an hour until we reached Marlboro Country. I already saw some pitched tents around the area because this also serves as the first campsite for groups that have a 3D2N itinerary. Our group; however, had a 2D1N itinerary so we only stayed in Marlboro Country for short while to eat snacks, use the decent bathroom and refill our water bottles as there is also a water source here.
As we resumed our trek, the skies grew dark and we started feeling droplets of water. We feared for rain but fortunately, this did not push through and the drizzle was quick to pass. After just fifteen minutes, we arrived at the next part of the trail, the Mossy Forest. I could not help but stop and snap photos every now and then because of the eerily beautiful landscape. We were all prepared for a night trek but I sure did not want to do it inside the mossy forest. It was a good thing that we were able to get out of this part of the trail after trekking it for more than two hours. We then proceeded to the last and most deceiving part – the Grassland.
During this time, we were already exhausted and we only used the fact that the grassland is the last part of the trail before our campsite as our motivation to push through. I also said “deceiving” because this part is a series of hills where at a glance, one would think that there will be a flat surface upon reaching the top. Wrong! Just when I thought it could not get any worse, it did. Reaching the “top” meant trekking a steeper hill one after the other. So yes, there were no flat surfaces anywhere. Deceiving, right?
Maybe as a way to make up for the deception, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the sunset. I watched as the big and puffy clouds surrounded the nearby mountains (one of which is Mt. Tabayoc, the second highest mountain in Luzon) while the sun painted the sky with warm and vibrant hues. The group stopped to take some photos and prepare for the night trek. I used a small flashlight instead of a headlight.
After the series of hills, our legs finally stepped on either a flat surface or a downward-sloping terrain! And from a distance, we saw a lot of bright lights grouped in once place – finally, the campsite came into view!
We immediately pitched our tents as soon as we got to the Saddle Camp around 6:55PM – a total of ten hours of trekking from the Akiki jump off. Whew! Exhaustion was quick to kick in as soon as I sat down inside the tent. Without knowing, I fell asleep and just woke up to a groupmate’s voice calling everyone for dinner. After dinner and a bit of talking, I went back to the tent and wrapped myself around my sleeping bag and tried to get some shuteye.
We were all awake around 4:00AM to either eat or drink something warm. But because I was not feeling too well, I only drank warm water. At around 5:10AM, we started our 20-minute trek to the summit. What made it difficult were the freezing winds that consistently battered us. I was shaking even under three layers of clothing.
Even before the sun came up, I already saw the formation of the so-called “sea of clouds” and it got me grateful for the good weather and excited for the view. It was around 6:15AM when the sun started to come up and slowly, I marveled at the sight before me. I have no words to describe what I saw and how I felt but one thing is for sure, that was worth the grueling assaults the previous day.
We wanted to take a photo at the summit marker but as expected, there were a lot of hikers gathered waiting for their turn for a photo. Some members of our group did not want to wait in line for a photo so we made our own summit marker via a small whiteboard that was brought by one of my groupmates, Jervine.
After we were satisfied with the photos and the views, we descended back to Saddle Camp to eat breakfast and rest. I was only able to fully appreciate the “playground of the gods” while we were descending because I was not able to see how it looked like the previous day (night trek).
At around 10:00AM, the group started to descend via Ambangeg Trail.
The descent via Ambangeg Trail was a breeze although I was not able to fully appreciate it because it was really foggy when we descended. The only thing I did not like was the rocky trail that made my toes hurt. It took us about three hours to reach Ranger Station Ambangeg where our monster jeep was waiting. As soon as we were all inside the jeep, we congratulated each other on finishing the “Akiki-na-nga-overnight-pa” Pulag climb. I am also unsure how I was able to do it but I am grateful that I was able to accomplish something I thought was impossible to do.
Our monster jeep took us to a canteen slash bathing place where we ate our late lunch and took a bath before we headed back to Baguio City. Again, I was asleep for almost the entire ride back.
When we got back to Baguio City around 6:10PM, we went straight to Victory Liner Bus Terminal to leave our bags (fee of Php20 each) before heading to SM Baguio to have dinner. Thank you to the birthday boy, Robin, for treating everyone!
After dinner and some shopping, we went back to the bus terminal and boarded the 10:40PM trip back to Manila and slept throughout the ride.
Thank you once again to the organizers of this climb: Robin, Jervine, Rayford and Tina. I had an amazing first major climb!
Thank you, Jen, for providing my shelter for the night. Heh.
Thank you, Arnel and James, for carrying my DSLR and taking photos.
Thank you to my hikemates: Rowe, Maica, Carol, Bless, Tin, Clarissa, Mark, EJ, Jher and kuya Arnel (the President of Wawa! Don’t get on his bad side if you still want to climb the mountains in Montalban. Lol.) for the great company!
And thank you to our guides: kuya Pepito and kuya Ivan!
Note: We missed you Glaze and Jepoy!
Prepare mentally and physically for the endless assaults. It is highly recommended to bring a trekking pole.
Bring a dayhike’s worth of water but worry not because there are a lot of water sources along Akiki Trail (Eddet River, Marlboro Country, Mossy Forest). Refill water bottles accordingly.
The last decent bathroom is in Marlboro Country. Take advantage of this.
Do not underestimate the cold especially during the night. Bring enough layers of clothing and an emergency blanket.
The Milky Way usually makes its appearance around 3:00AM though I missed it because I fell asleep. Smh.
Upon arriving in Victory Liner Bus Terminal in Baguio, make sure to already secure return tickets back to Manila in order to avoid long lines and late trips.
Usual itinerary for Akiki-Ambangeg traverse is three days and two nights but it is doable in two days and one night if you start early. Adjust accordingly.
3:30AM – ETA Victory Liner Bus Terminal Baguio. Buy toiletries and snacks.
4:15AM – ETD Baguio to Benguet
6:30AM – ETA Ma’am Gina’s Eatery. Breakfast.
8:00AM – Arrival at Ranger Station (Akiki). Register and do final preparations.
9:00AM – Start trek
10:30AM – Arrival at Eddet River. Quick rest.
10:45AM – Resume trek
12:30PM – Arrival at E-Camp. Eat lunch.
1:25PM – Resume trek
2:35PM – Arrival at Marlboro Country. Rest.
3:15PM – Resume trek
3:30PM – Start of Mossy Forest
5:45PM – Arrival at Grassland
6:55PM – Arrival at Saddle Camp. Prepare dinner. Socials. Rest.
5:10AM – Trek to Mt. Pulag summit
5:30AM – Arrival at Mt. Pulag summit. Sunrise viewing. Take photos.
7:00AM – Trek back to Saddle Camp. Eat breakfast. Rest. Pack up.
10:00AM – Start descent via Ambangeg Trail
11:05AM – Arrival at Camp 2. Quick rest.
11:15AM – Resume trek
12:05PM – Arrival at Camp 1
12:30PM – Arrival at Habal Habal terminal (option to ride one for Php100)
1:00PM – Arrival at Ranger Station Ambangeg. Ride monster jeep to find a place to take a bath and eat lunch.
6:10PM – Back in Baguio City. Eat dinner.
10:40PM – Bus back to Manila
3:10AM – Back in Manila
My first major climb was really tiring but extremely fulfilling. I am also unsure how I was able to finish it but the thought of being able to do a 10-hour assault while carrying 11kg is enough to make me feel proud of myself and our group. Go legs go!
Believe you can and you’re halfway there.
Thank you, Lord, for keeping us safe and for giving us the perfect weather!