Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Conquering the Roof of Luzon: Mt. Pulag

After a difficult traverse of Mt. Timbak via Atok-Kabayan trails here, we took a brief respite at Kabayan Central, where we've had breakfast meal at a local restaurant being run by Chinese owners. They allowed me to charge my mobile phone there for about 30 minutes, at Php 5 fee.

For lunch meal, we bought sauteed pancit (noodles), plus loafbreads and bananas. Gatorade and bottled water there are understandably expensive, making me shell out Php 120. We need to replenish our supplies and our tummies, for the very challenging trek ahead of us to Mt. Pulag, ascending via the Akiki trail. Pinoy Mountaineer has the following technical description of this trail:

Kabayan, Benguet
Major jump-off: Brgy. Doacan, Kabayan (Akiki)
LLA: 16°34'58"N 120°53'15"E, 2922 MASL
Hours to summit / Days required: 10-11 hours / 2-4 days
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 7/9, Trail class 3

To save time and energy, we hired a van to take us to the DENR Ranger station at Doacan for Php 500. We registered for Php 200 each, secured a guide for Php 1800, and hired 3 porters charging Php 1500 each. We took this opportunity to take a bath, get a decent toilet break, and brush our teeth over running faucet water, all for free at the DENR station manned by Mr. Geron.

Slightly refreshed and ready to embark on another punishing trek, we left the ranger station at around 10:45 am, quite late and approaching the midday heat. It started with an ascent to a grassy hill with a shed and a cow joined by her calf. 

The place afforded us a view of Mt. Pulag, as I point to it on the photo below. Being the highest mountain in Luzon, and the 3rd highest in the country, it really looks intimidating to climb from our location. 

From that hill, its mostly a downward trail leading to Eddet River. The good thing on this trek is the presence of many pine trees, to cover us from the noontime heat of the sun.

On our way to a small stream, we saw a rock canopy with human skulls underneath it.

Nice views of the neighboring mountains below as we get near the river. 

The trail became steeper afterwards, making it harder for my right knee, since my quadriceps muscle had not yet recovered from the arduous Timbak-Kabayan descent the previous day. Slowly we reached Eddet River, crossing its hanging bridge, took our lunch break on a rock canopy at the eastern side.

This is the first water source of the trail, where we refilled our water bottles. The freshwater from upstream is clear, very cold, and has a nice taste. Nobody in our group got sick for drinking water from this source up to the third water source at the mossy forest. After lunch, we moved on a very punishing and slow uphill trek, mostly on a 60 degree inclination for about 10 hours!

We reached the "Marlboro Country" by dusk. I was expecting a wide grassy flat area, but I was wrong. The place got its nickname from that cigarette commercial which displayed cowboy scenes similar to the photos below. 

See how the late afternoon sun transformed the gray-brown forest color, into a yellow-orange hue as it horizontally casts its sunlight to the pine trees. Intermittent bird calls that sound like "akiki" can be heard around this area, where the trail got its name.

A small camp area follows, about 15 minutes hike from the spot above. It has a shed and nearby is the second water source. We rested in the area for about 20 minutes. The fog and darkness envelops the forest at that time. I did not bothered to take a photo, as I was saving the battery of my mobile phone, and there is not much to see anyway with poor lighting.

We trekked for another 30 minutes before stopping to rest and prepare for dinner. It felt really cold once we stopped moving our bodies, so we started to wear our jackets. Our guide Benedict introduced us to munching on ginger slice, which is really effective on warming our bodies from the inside for a few minutes.  

After a light dinner over funny conversations, we resumed our trek which really tested our stamina and knee injuries. By the time we reached the eerie mossy forest, I started to think of setting an emergency camp, due to fatigue and the ache on my right knee. 

But there is no wide space for our group to setup tents, plus our 2 other tents are with the porters which we instructed to climb ahead of us. I also started to worry about my AKAC trekmates who are further behind me, as I wonder if they could make it to the campsite. I refilled my water bottle here, the last water source.

By the time we reached the windy and open grassland, it was much much colder. Despite the freezing temperature, fatigue, and knee ache, I was consoled by the nice view of the stars above and the town lights below. Each step upward by this time is a test of my resolve to reach the saddle campsite. 

At midnight, we finally reached the downward trail to the saddle campsite. Thanks to my trekking pole as it served as a 3rd leg, while my right knee can't do a downward step without sending pain signals to my body. 

Inspite of the fatigue and chilly wind, I managed to setup a tent for the girls, as I was the first in our group to arrive at the campsite. My companions are really tired and sleepy, barely able to washup and brush their teeth, so I secured the groups' belongings before I called it a night. It was our first camping experience where we skipped the usual night socials.

It was too cold in the early morning, around 5 degrees Celsius on my estimate. Despite wearing two layer of socks, a blanket on top of a jacket, I was not able to get a restful sleep due to the chilling temperature. 

Nobody got out to witness the sunrise at the summit, to get more rest and avoid the almost-freezing wind. Anyway at about 6:00 am, four of us braved the cold to catch the morning sun at the summit.

The views below are the fulfilling rewards of our unforgettable uphill trek via Akiki trail, the highest point in Luzon.

With 360 degree views from the top, knowing that we are at the third highest point in the country, made me forget all the hardships and body aches. We even did many jump shots, momentarily forgetting our knee problems.

Mt. Pulag's summit, referred by locals as "playground of the Gods" is a very apt name to this place.

After savoring the views from the top for about an hour, we returned to our campsite for breakfast. Those who got up late made a detour to the summit on our way down via Ambangeg trail.

From the summit to Ambangeg trail is an exposed long grassland. The heat of the sun is mitigated by the cold winds, making me unmindful of getting sunburns. Again, I was on the lead, and I can see my companions way back, as pointed by the arrow on the photo below.

We took a break on the lone tree along the grass trail, before taking our second break at campsite #1, which has water source and dirty washroom facility.

We resumed our trek through brief mossy forest, followed by dipterocarp forest, then wide trail leading to Babadac ranger station of DENR. Since most of us have aching knees which slowed our descent, we only made it there after more than 5 hours. Then we bought light lunch food, rested a bit, before braving the very cold bath at the DENR staff house. Bbrrrrrrrrr!

Above is our group photo with DENR officer Ed and our guide Benedict, before we rode a Delica van to bring us to Baguio City. We paid Php 4,500 for the van rental, which traversed the roughest road I've ever seen, if you can still call it a road. We stopped at the DENR Ambangeg office to logout, but it was closed. We've had a quick adobo dinner at Bokod town, before we arrived at the Victory Liner bus station by 10 pm.

That ends our very challenging twin traverses of the no. 3 and no. 9 highest mountains in the country, passing through difficult trails. A significant feat, not commonly done by most Filipino mountain climbers. Our 13-year old companion Steven, is perhaps the youngest non-Igorot climber who successfully completed the twin traverses of Mounts Timbak and Pulag.

My total expense for this 2-mountain and 3 days expedition is about Php 3,800, from and to Cubao bus terminal. Below is a map of Mt. Pulag (marked "A") from Baguio City. The Akiki trail is via Kabayan town, while the Ambangeg trail is via Bokod town on the map.

Now I'm setting my sights to Mt. Kanlaon (Visayas' highest peak) and Mt. Apo (Mindanao's and the country's highest peak), to complete the "3 summits" of the major island groups in the Philippines.
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  1. Thank you for a very detailed post sir.


  2. You're welcome Reuel. Next is a detailed post about our Mt. Tarak climb.