Hi everyone! Over the weekend, I went with my friends to an overnight hike in Mt. Tapulao, my 41st mountain, after more than a month of being away from the trails. I had an idea of what I should expect coming from the stories of my other friends who were already done with this mountain but of course no matter how much I prepared myself mentally, I was still completely caught off-guard.
Elevation: 2,037+ MASL
Location: Brgy. Dampay-Salaza, Palauig, Zambales
Trek to Summit: 10-12 hours
Easily, Mt. Tapulao has one of the most leg-straining trails because it is 90% rocky/stony. Nonetheless, I am still grateful to have crossed it off my hike list. Read on below for the full story.
To start off, the tables show the transportation details and cost breakdown of our DIY hike:
TOTAL PER PERSON (9 pax)
ESTIMATED TRAVEL TIME
Mt. Tapulao Jump-off
Mt. Tapulao Jump-off
TOTAL PER PERSON (9pax)
Guide Fee (1:5, overnight = Php1,000)
*Contact Number for the guide: Facio Ursua (0950-555-7336)
SAFE BUDGET: Php 1,500 – Php 2,000
The rented van picked everyone up in Robinsons Pioneer around 11:00PM. And because I was slightly late (sorry), we left at around 11:30PM. We were only nine in the group so seat space was not a problem. We used Waze as our navigator to the jump-off. A couple of minutes after we departed, I closed my eyes and tried to get some rest.
I woke up every now and then because of the strong rain and I remember feeling worried because if it was raining this hard, we would definitely have difficulties hiking and we would not be able to see any clearing at all.
We stopped over at a convenience store around 4:30AM to eat our breakfast and buy necessary things for the hike. Afterwards, we headed to the jump-off. Now the last 8km before the jump-off was a challenge to the driver of our van because the road was under construction so there were many holes, big and small, shallow and deep, that he had to pass. There were a lot of moments as well when we would all go out of the van to make it easier for the driver to maneuver. Unfortunately the van got stuck in one of the deep holes and we had to wait for tricycle drivers to help us out of the pinch we were in. When we arrived at the jump-off, we registered our names, paid the registration fee and secured our guides. After a short orientation and a quick prayer, we started the trek.
I know that the trail is mostly made up of rocks but I did not expect that it would start early in the trail. Our guides said that the rocks will eventually get bigger and bigger as we trek further into the mountain. The hike starts at 100+ MASL until the campsite at 1800+ MASL which makes the elevation gain around 1700+MASL. And this is the reason why Mt. Tapulao is also dubbed as one of the best training grounds for a Mt. Pulag via Akiki climb.
At around 300MASL, we were already able to see a great view behind us. This only lasted for a short while because it started to rain after we reached the third kilometer. At first it was only a drizzle but it eventually picked its pace up enough for most of my groupmates to use their umbrellas. Slowly, the fog made its way around the clearing and we were left with nothing but strong rain and wind.
We had our hopes raised when the rain momentarily stopped while we were having lunch at a hut near the 6th KM mark. As if it was waiting for us, the rain resumed the moment we were about to resume our trek. By then, all of us were wearing our ponchos and raincoats. I was not very worried about my bag this time because all the things inside were wrapped in plastic. I learned from my mistake back when we did the Kibungan Cross-Country Traverse because back then, all my things got soaked.
We still had ten more kilometers left to trek to reach the campsite. It sounds like a short distance when you base it on road runs but the measurement in the trails is longer because of the increase/decrease in elevation added to the fact that we were all carrying full packs. We encountered several hikers who were already descending and telling us that they went back because of the heavy rain and wind around KM10 and 14. Nonetheless, we still decided to continue our trek to see for ourselves if we would push through or go back.
We refilled our containers at the water source in the 10th KM. This was also where I found a limatik / leech on my sock. Surprisingly, I was not as paranoid as I was back in Kibungan. And also around this kilometer up to the 15th, we noticed a certain pattern in the trail. It was a more rocky and steeper assault that goes straight and eventually curves to the right and goes straight and curves to right again and again. Technically it was like us circling the mountain to go up.
Because some of us were in the trail lead, we decided to wait for our groupmates in the so-called “Little Tapulao” at around KM12. Our guide said that on a clear day, the views from here are really beautiful. Sadly, everything was enveloped in fog so we were not able to see the views that our guide was proud of. Furthermore, the rain was still pouring down and the wind was still blowing strong on us so it was difficult for us to remain still for a long time because it really gets cold when we do not move.
As soon as the rest of my groupmates arrived, we asked each other if we should continue with our trek or just head back. Honestly, part of me wanted to go back but most parts wanted to push through and maybe this is how we all felt and with enough encouragement from everyone, we pushed through.
We had to endure the rocky trail up until the 15th kilometer where the rocks were replaced with pine trees. The fog made the landscape both eerie and beautiful at the same time that we had to take photos every now and then. The trail at this point was mostly flat already and it gave our legs the break that they desperately needed.
We reached KM16 (campsite) at 2:50PM – a total of 10 hours of trekking. It was a challenge pitching our tents because we had to make sure that we keep the inside dry as much as possible despite everything being wet. It took some time before everyone had finally settled down and changed into dry clothes. This was also when the exhaustion kicked in and I remember everything being silent for a while because all of us could not help but take a nap.
And finally, we rewarded ourselves with warm sinigang for dinner before sleeping for real. I commend my groupmates for being able to cook despite the downpour.
I woke up to the sound of rain (still) against our tent. After a while, it finally stopped and this gave us the opportunity to prepare breakfast and explore the whole campsite and take photos.
Our guides advised us that there would not be any clearing at the summit due to the bad weather and so we decided to just stay in the campsite. Some of us; however, wanted to trek until the entrance of the mossy forest where there is an abundance of limatik / leeches.
As soon as we were finished eating, exploring and taking photos, we packed our things and prepared for the descent. The weather was still not cooperating as it started to drizzle again moments after we resumed our trek. Because of the non-stop rain the previous day until early that morning, the trail was more muddy and the rocks were more slippery so we trekked with extra care to avoid any forms of injury. We were faster in descending, reaching KM14 in just 30 minutes. However, the descent gave our ankles and knees a bit of strain due to the rocky and slippery terrain.
The rain weakened as we descended until it stopped completely. As a result, we were able to see a bit of clearing momentarily. We regrouped at the KM6 hut (where we had lunch the previous day) at around 12:00NN only to find out that some of us were bitten by the leeches (fortunately, I was spared). We all agreed to have lunch at the jump-off instead so after the break, it was a quick two-hour descent back to the campsite.
Upon arrival at the jump-off at around 2:50 (a total of six hours of descent from the campsite), some of us prepared lunch while the others took a bath and fixed their things. We left a little before 6:00PM and were back in Manila around 11:30PM.
Really grateful to the following:
Lory for organizing the hike and inviting me and for cooking the lunch at the jump-off.
EJ for the party (lol) and for helping prepare the dinner on the first night
Kent for pacing with me during the climb and for some of the photos
Cindy for letting me stay in your tent and for being on top of things from pitching to disassembling the tent
Vivian for being a fun tentmate and for sharing your trail food
Neo for cooking the yummy sinigang and for carrying my camera before it rained
Johnny for the fun jokes pre and post hike
Joem for being the navigator going to jump-off
and to our guides tatay Facio and kuya Boljack for ensuring our safety from the start until the end of the trek.
Tips and Observations
Waterproof the inside of your bag
There are some leeches along the 10th kilometer and 17th kilomter (mossy forest). If you have a Type O blood, it would be better to cover yourself up thoroughly. My groupmates who got bitten are Type O.
There are about 3-5 water sources (KM6, KM10, KM16, etc.) along the trail
Guides can be hired in advance but it is also possible to get them after registration during the hike day
Always make sure that one foot is securely in place before stepping. Some rocks are loose and may cause unwanted injuries if not careful.
Below is a short video summary of our hike to Mt. Tapulao:
Lunch, dinner and breakfast food (talk to your group about the arrangement)
Bag Rain Cover
Salt (to prevent muscle cramps/spasms)
Mess Kit (Plate, Spoon, Fork, Cup)
11:30PM – ETD Manila to Palauig, Zambales
6:05AM – ETA Mt. Tapulao jump-off. Registration (Php50). Secure guides (Php1000 each for 5 pax/overnight)
6:50AM – Start trek
9:50AM – ETA KM6 hut. Eat lunch.
10:30AM – Resume trek
3:40PM – ETA campsite (KM16). Set up camp.
7:00PM – Lights off
5:00AM – Wake up call. Breakfast.
8:00AM – Break camp
9:00AM – Resume trek
12:15PM – ETA KM6 hut. Regroup
1:10PM – Resume trek
2:50PM – ETA Mt. Tapulao jump-off. Fix up
5:50PM – ETD Mt. Tapulao jump-off
10:00PM – Dinner at NLEX
11:30PM – Back in Manila
I have been experiencing rainy hikes recently and as much as I am saddened by this, I am also grateful for the experience and all the lessons I learned coming from these difficult circumstances. Grateful to be back in the trails after more than a month of not hiking!