Hi everyone! Last January 7-8, my friends and I were trekking Luzon’s highest mountain and the Philippines’ third highest mountain – Mt. Pulag. It was also January of 2016 when I first ascended this mountain via the “killer trail” Akiki and descended via Ambangeg. At first, I was still hesitant to join because I already scaled the mountain via the same trails and second, I could not forget how I was extremely bothered by the cold temperature at the top (Sorry Queen Elsa. Lol.). When I was really conflicted, this conversation with my friend helped me decide:
Elevation: 2922 MASL (old), 2,926.047 MASL (new)
Location: Akiki Trail – Kabayan, Benguet
Difficulty: Akiki Trail – 7/9
Trek to Summit: Akiki Trail – 10-11 hours
(Edit: Mt. Pulag’s elevation is now at 2,926.047 MASL as declared by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority or NAMRIA last April 4-14, 2016. As proof of this, a new summit marker can be found beside the old one.)
While there were moments along the trail that made me question my decision of joining, I regret nothing because seeing my mother major mountain again brought back so many happy memories. And like what they say, it will always be a new experience in the mountains no matter how many times you have been there.
The group met up in Victory Liner in Cubao and the bus headed to Baguio left at 9:00PM and 10:00PM. The group was divided into two batches because of a slight misunderstanding. A couple of minutes after the bus left, I tried to get some sleep to prepare for the long trek ahead.
We reached Baguio around 3:30AM and as expected, the cold temperature was enough to make me wear my jacket. According to Instagram, the temperature was around 14 degrees Celsius or so. Brrr. We went inside Victory Liner to secure our return tickets the next day. We wanted to get back to Manila early so we got the 8:00PM trip. After securing our tickets and buying other necessary things, we rode our chartered monster jeepney to take us to Benguet.
While on transit, everyone tried their best to get some more sleep in. Despite the really bumpy road and a lot of bumps to the head in between, I somehow managed to take a power nap.
A little before 6AM, we reached ate Gina’s eatery where we had our breakfast and where we bought our packed lunch. After stuffing our tummies, we went back to the jeep and headed to the jump-off point. For a little while along the road, everyone experienced top loading which is always one of the things I look forward to when hiking in Benguet. Lol.
We reached the jump-off point at around 7:50AM and trekked for about 10min until the Akiki Ranger Station where we registered, surrendered our medical certificates, repacked our bags and did our bathroom business (heh).
(PS: I encountered a giant spider in the bathroom so I had to change cubicles. Plot twist, it also followed me there. Grabe.)
After saying our prayers and taking a few group photos, we started our trek with our guides, kuya Newton and kuya Monico.
The first part of the trail was rolling (meaning, there are assaults and descents). This part was also where I recreated some of my photos from the last time I scaled this mountain.
We stopped to rest at a relatively wide space and used this opportunity to introduce everyone. The details given were Name, Occupation and Instagram ID (lol). After this, it was a quick one hour trek to the beautiful Eddet River.
We stayed relatively long here because of the photo ops. This time around, I was able to take photos near the river which I failed to do the last time. The gushing river was so clean and beautiful and so inviting for a bath. Unfortunately, it was still far from the campsite so we had no choice but to push forward. Ahh this was it, the real start of the trek comes after Eddet River because this is where the unlimited assaults start.
We found ourselves catching our breaths every now and then and some of us were even questioning why we were there again and what we were proving by climbing the mountain the second/third/fourth time around. But of course, despite the protests, we moved our feet one step at a time. At around 12:50PM, we stopped along the trail to eat our packed lunch which replenished our energy.
We resumed our trek after an hour and stopped by some famous spots along the trail, such as the elephant trunk-like tree and the Bull Tree, to take photos before finally reaching Marlboro Country campsite where we took an ample time to rest, re-hydrate and do bathroom business again (heh).
(This was also when my mood turned sour because I turned on my mobile data and went online. I will not go into detail but I learned my lesson, I will never go online again during a hike.)
We reached the mossy forest part of the trail at around 4:30PM. Here, the assaults are only gradual and less tiring (or maybe because I was so annoyed at that time that my energy doubled? Lol.) We reached the last water source in the mossy forest at around 5:30PM. This was also when the sun started to set and luckily, the area where we were at gave us a pretty marvelous view.
We waited for everyone to reach the last water source before deciding to just have dinner there instead of having it in saddle camp because by then, everyone would be tired and would just probably skip dinner. Plus, we would not have to carry extra water for cooking because we were already beside the water source.
What we did not see coming was the sudden drop of temperature. Everyone had to put on extra layers of clothes and sit together for added body warmth. We feasted on sinigang and adobo for dinner before resuming our trek at around 8:40PM.
It was already late in the evening and we still had about two more hours to go before reaching the saddle camp. Our guides feared for strong and cold winds along the grass land but with some sheer luck, it was not windy at all. I already knew how deceiving this part of the trail is. It was just assault after assault after assault. I lost track of how many hills we had to ascend because during that time, I was already tired and my head was already throbbing (they say this was because of lack of oxygen). We stopped by to rest and eat some trail food and drink pain relievers. Apparently, it was not just me who had a headache.
And finally, after about two hours, we reached the saddle camp! That was a total of 13 hours and 30 minutes from the jump-off. However, if we did not have dinner at the last water source. We would have cut the time to about 10 hours or so. While some of my hike mates started pitching their tents, I put down my bag, got my sleeping bag and lay under the starry sky (well, I did this because my tent mate has not arrived at the campsite yet). I, surprisingly, fell asleep while waiting and woke up when the rest of the group arrived. After everyone has finished pitching their tents, we all went inside to finally get some much needed rest.
Compared to my last hike in Pulag, I think it is safe to assume that I was able to sleep better this time around despite struggling to find the most comfortable position and shivering every now and then . We woke up at around 5:00AM to a dropping temperature of about two degrees Celsius that I could not help but get my fleece blanket to wrap around my body. Fortunately it was not very windy, otherwise it would have been extra difficult for everyone to get out of their tents.
We started the summit assault at around 5:50AM and got to the top at around 6:15AM, just in time for the sunrise. Unfortunately, there was no dramatic sea of clouds but because of this, we were able to see all the mountains surrounding Mt. Pulag which I was not able to see before.
Everyone took an ample time taking photos around the summit and its marker. This was also where we surprised two of our hikemates who were celebrating their birthdays. So this is how we did it: first, we asked the birthday celebrant to take a photo of us facing the mountains. While this was happening, another hike mate handed everyone little balloons and a sign that reads, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”. And finally when everyone was set, we faced the birthday celebrant holding the signage and balloons up and shouting happy birthday!
After all the photo ops, we started our descent, made more enjoyable by the beautiful view around us, back to saddle camp to eat breakfast. To give us the energy we needed for the day, we feasted on corned beef, adobo and the delicious hot chocolate from Figaro (fancy)!
The birthday surprises did not stop at the summit as we also prepared two slices of ube cake for the two celebrants. Unfortunately, one of the celebrants saw us preparing the cake when he came over to ask one of us a question. Lol. Nonetheless, it is the thought that counts, right?
When everyone was stuffed, we began to break our camps to prepare for the descent. During this time, the cold was already bearable because of the sun that was directly above us. At around 9:50AM, we began our descent via Ambangeg Trail.
What caught us off guard during the descent was the heat of the sun. I did not anticipate it to be that uncomfortable to the skin and we had to endure it for a relatively long time because the first part of the trail was very open. While descending, I noticed a very familiar mountain silhouette from afar which got me all giddy – it was Mt. Amuyao rising beautifully at the far end of the horizon!
After an hour, we finally reached the shade! I mean the first campsite. We refilled our empty bottles with refreshing water from a nearby water source while waiting for our other groupmates to arrive. Apparently there is also a bathroom in this campsite as well but among all the bathrooms in the trail, I must say that Marlboro has the cleanest one. After a few minutes of resting, we resumed our descent to the second campsite.
Surprisingly, it was relatively cold along the mossy forest which made me rub my hands every now and then. There was a point where we stopped to eat trail food and rehydrate with cold iced tea! (Pro tip: Iced tea tastes so much better in the mountains). It was not long after when we reached the second campsite where we regrouped.
And finally, with the Ambangeg Ranger station being an hour away from where we were, we continued our descent without stopping to rest anymore. Some of us were really looking forward to the ice cream vendor along the habal-habal station but much to our dismay, the vendor was nowhere to be found. And so we continued with our descent back to Ambangeg Ranger Station where we bought ourselves a very unsual halo-halo.
When all of us were already at the ranger station, we returned to the chartered jeepney to take us to the baranggay hall to log out and finally back to ate Gina’s to eat lunch and wash up.
After washing up, it was a two-hour bumpy and wobbly ride back to Baguio.
We got to Baguio at around 6:30PM and with an hour and a half to spare, we ate dinner at a nearby cafeteria. After dinner, we bid goodbye to two of our groupmates who were taking a different mode of transportation because they do not live in Manila. We then boarded the bus back to Cubao and rested our tired bodies up.
Thank you very much to all the strong people I was with during this hike. It is really true what they say, that it is not just the destination that is important but also who you travel with.
Thank you to our guides, kuya Newton and kuya Monico for taking care of us for the entire duration of the hike.
Thank you, ESL Rayford for organizing this and inviting me, for cooking the yummy sinigang and for holding my camera during the ascent.
Thank you harkor boys, Enzo and Mark for pacing with me during the most critical parts of the trail and for making sure that I was okay and for taking my photos along the trail as well. #goals
Thank you, Kim for preparing our dinner and for still pushing through with the climb despite having a fever. Lakas!
Thank you, Alden for being very friendly and for letting me put my things in your assault pack. Happy birthday!
Thank you, Gab and Bless for calming me down when I was really annoyed and Bless for the yummy adobo.
Thank you, Donjie and Leo for the photos! Glad to see you guys again after Purgatory!
Thank you, Bella and Bern for the company and for the stories! Reminiscing our KXC experience sure brought back a lot of good memories. Happy birthday, Bern!
Thank you, Migs for still pushing through with the climb. Congratulations on your second hike, we hope it did not bore you. Lakas!
Thank you, Jeff for all the wonderful photos you took during the entire duration of the hike (well, during the entire duration of your camera’s battery. Lol)
Tips and Observations
The start of the unlimited assaults will be after Eddet River. Prepare physically and mentally
January and February are said to be the coldest months in Mt. Pulag. Make sure to bring enough warmers
Refill empty bottles accordingly. Last water source during the ascent will be at the mossy forest
Sunrise is usually between 6:00-6:30AM and the trek from saddle camp to summit is about 20-30min. Adjust itinerary accordingly.
NO MEDICAL CERTIFICATE, NO CLIMB!
Here is a short video that I made that summarizes our overnight hike to Mt. Pulag. I was not able to take a lot of clips because I was too focused on the assaults but I made use of what I had anyway.
Lunch, dinner and breakfast food (talk to your group about the arrangement)
Bag Rain Cover
Mess Kit (Plate, Spoon, Fork, Cup)
9:00PM – ETD Manila to Baguio
11:30PM – ETA Tarlac bus stop
12:00AM – ETD Tarlac
1:35AM – ETA Pangasinan bus stop
2:00AM – ETD Pangasinan
3:30AM – ETA Baguio
5:45AM – ETA Ate Gina’s. Eat Breakfast
7:50AM – ETA Akiki jump-off. Repack and final preparations
8:50AM – Start trek
11:00AM – ETA Eddet River. Rest and take photos
12:50PM – Lunch along the trail
3:15PM – ETA Marlboro camp site
4:30PM – ETA Mossy forest
5:30PM – ETA last water source in mossy forest. Sunset watching and dinner
8:40PM – Resume trek
10:40PM – ETA saddle camp
5:00AM – Wake up call
5:50AM – Summit assault
6:15AM – ETA summit. Watch sunrise. Take photos
7:30AM – Back in saddle camp. Eat breakfast. Break camp
9:50AM – Start descent via Ambangeg
10:50AM – ETA campsite 2
12:15PM – ETA campsite 1
1:00PM – ETA Ambangeg Ranger Station
4:30PM – ETD ate Gina’s going to Baguio
6:30PM – ETA Baguio. Eat dinner
8:00PM – ETD Baguio to Manila
1:00AM – ETA Manila
Mt. Pulag remains to be one of the most beautiful Cordillera mountains I have ever scaled and I am grateful for the different experience that I had while in its presence. It also felt really nostalgic to be able to see my first major mountain again. Though the trail still proved to be a challenge, it also (still) proved to be fulfilling as well.
Though to be honest, I do not think I will return to Mt. Pulag again using the same trails but I might go again if I get invited to a Tawangan-Ambaguio or vise-versa. Lol.