First-timer’s Hike to Mt. Pulag

I am no mountaineer nor am I a true-blue backpacker/hiker, but I have always wondered why a lot of people want to climb this mount. Then some friends also wanted to go and so I asked another friend of mine, who is a frequent climber of Mt. Pulag, if he could accompany us. I wanted to go via Akiki Trail which is known to be the most scenic and also one of the most difficult trails (so ambitious of me). Six months before the hike, I started jogging to build my stamina plus, I am a smoker. Just a few weeks before the hike, my friends backed out and I was left alone. Good thing, there was another group who’ll be taking the Ambangeg Trail and there was still room for me.

The day before the hike, we went to Baguio where we stayed overnight. It’s an added day to the usual two-day hike but it was good advice from my friend so that we could get a good night’s sleep before the long and tiring journey. The next morning, we got up at 4 a.m.; prepped, packed, and took a cab going to Good Taste Cafe where we had a heavy and delicious breakfast for a cheap price. It was also our meet-up place for the jeep we rented going to Bokod, Benguet. In the jeep, I just relaxed and appreciated the mountain view along the way.

Agno River is the third largest river in Luzon, 206 kms. long, traversing the provinces of Benguet and Pangasinan.

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Stopover at Ambuklao Dam, a hydroelectric facility in Bokod, Benguet.

Next stop was at the DENR Office. For first-timers, there is a one-hour orientation. We had lunch at an eatery where the specialty is Pinikpikan (live chicken is beaten lightly to death with a stick to keep the blood inside. No bone should be broken in the process. It is actually an Igorot version of the Tinola.) We arrived at the ranger station around lunchtime and got our guide and porters.

A few minutes into the uphill trail, I could feel that that air was getting thinner and colder. I was having a hard time breathing and had to stop every so often just to catch my breath. I was the oldest in the group of young peeps who were really fast and didn’t seem to get tired. I told my friend that they should go ahead because I don’t want to slow everyone down besides, the trail didn’t seem to be difficult. I just really have a hard time with uphill climbs. I know I could manage it but only at a slower pace. He left me with the tour guide to accompany me while he led the young ones. I took my time with a slow pace because it was only the way to go. I wouldn’t dare go back and regret that I didn’t finish the climb. I turned over my water, jacket and camera to the tour guide because all the added weight was tiring me more. Tip: Don’t carry anything during the hike, if you can, so that the climb will be easier for you. Wear dry-fit shirts since cotton gets heavy when you start to sweat. Yes, I did sweat despite the fact that it was cold.

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Manong tour guide

After five hours, I finally reached Camp 2. I was surprised to see that my tent was already set-up. Yipee! A heap of thanks to my chivalrous friend. I fixed my stuff, had dinner and socialized with the young ones. Then my migraine started and I had to call it a day. They say lack of oxygen is usually the cause of migraines during climbs like this. In a few minutes, I was asleep. At 1 a.m., I was awaken by voices from the other tents. They couldn’t sleep because of the cold. It was 7 degrees at that time. I didn’t have the same problem as I was comfortably snuggled and all zipped up in my borrowed feather sleeping bag in my leggings, trekking pants, two dry-fit shirts with a men’s sailing jacket as my blanket.

At 3 a.m., everyone was up and getting ready for the hike to see the sunrise and (hopefully) the sea of clouds at the summit. Our group was the first to hike but along the way, I had to take more rest breaks. Before I knew it, I was the last among all the other groups going to the summit. At 5:15, my tour guide and I reached summit 2 or also known as the grassland summit. I felt that I might not reach the highest peak in time for the sunrise since I couldn’t go any faster. I decided to stay at summit 2 and wait for the sunrise there and here’s what I saw…

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Sea of clouds and golden light

Sunrise at the grassland summit

Sunrise at the grassland summit

I stayed at the grassland summit for more than an hour just chilling and taking in all the beauty and wonder that was right before my eyes. I was getting hungry and good thing I brought water and chocolate. Then when started our descent going back to Camp 2.

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Descent to camp 2

Descent to Camp 2

I may have not reached the highest peak but I have now realized why a lot of people have this on their bucket list and why some still come back for more. Despite that challenges I had — yes, I will go back if opportunity presents. Really, words are not enough to describe the experience I had and I guess nature lovers out there would agree. You have to experience it to believe it.

Estimated expenses:

  • Bus from Manila to Baguio – 500
  • Taxi to Good Taste (meet-up place) 50-100
  • Rented jeepney  (shared expense) – 8,500 
    Contact: Gina Epe – 0919 816 9234
  • Registration, camping and green fees – 385
  • Guide good for 6 pax – 600
  • Porter fee from drop-off to campsite and back (optional) – 500 per bag, 15 kg max

Things to Bring:

  1. Flashlight preferably headlamp (ONE FLASHLIGHT PER PERSON)
  2. Tent
  3. Sleeping bag
  4. Roof insulation foam – Optional, but I highly recommend that you bring one. Same size of your upper body will do. This is cheap matting, waterproofing and more importantly, it will protect your upper body from the cold weather. It will help you sleep better. Available at Ace hardware.
  5. Clothing for cold weather. estimated temp 3-6 deg C at dawn
  6. Gloves
  7. Whistle (for emergencies)
  8. Meds for maintenance, Bonamine, anti-allergy meds, pain killers (ibuprofen, mef. acid, ben-gay, etc…)
  9. Water / water purification tabs if you’re not sure you can drink the spring water at the campsite.
  10. Camp food for dinner, breakfast and lunch.
  11. Trail food (power bars, chocolate)
  12. Extra batteries
  13. CAMERA! 
  14. Raincoat (Cheap, disposable raincoat available at Ace Hardware)
  15. Wipes
  16. Shades
  17. Camp stove, cookware if you want to cook for dinner and breakfast, 
  18. Plates, cups, spoon, knives, etc….
  19. Packed lunch for first day.
  20. Trash bags – aside from trash use, this a cheap alternative to waterproof your things and tent floor when it rains. It can also serve as raincoat if you like. 
  21. Small plastic bags that will fit your foot. Believe me this is so useful when it rains because it will keep your feet warm and dry despite your wet shoes in very cold weather.
  22. Lip balm/moisturizer.
  23. Trekking/rubber shoes and sandals/slippers

Info:

  • Best time to climb: November to May with the coldest months from December to February.
  • No-health-clearance-no-hiking policy — This was implemented as of November 2015. It’s best that you physically prepare yourself a few months before the climb.
  • Permits are only issued to groups of 20 pax and below.
  • Camping😦 Via Ambangeg Trail) Camping is allowed from Monday – Thursday, but not on weekends (Friday – Sunday).
  • Starting this year 2017, Mt. Pulag willl be closed to tourists during Saturdays.

Special thanks to Art Soriano for taking care of me all the way and also to Marc Urmatan for all the tips and lending me his camping stuff. Couldn’t have done it without these two.

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Aside

Daraitan Adventure: Tinipak River Trekking and Maytuntong Cave Spelunking

I first saw the beauty of Tinipak River in Daraitan, Tanay, Rizal from a friend’s Facebook post. Since then, I told myself “I will go visit this place one day.” Months had passed and that picture was still in my mind so I decided to ask a mountaineer friend if he could accompany me together with my daughter. I was so glad he said yes. We went two times; the first one was with a group of four and then after posting our photos on Facebook, a fellow member/admin of our group, “We are Funtastic Philippines,” suggested that we make it into a FUNLakwatsa so we thought, “Why not? The beauty of Tinipak River and Maytuntong Cave is definitely a sight worth sharing to others.” We made preparations and invited group members who would want to join.

The day finally came and all 21 of us were raring to go. The first two hours was an easy drive, but upon nearing Brgy. Daraitan, we had to slow down. It was approximately a nine-kilometer stretch of major rough road with sharp rocks so it’s best to drive slowly. At the Barangay Hall of Daraitan, one has to pay P20/person for the registration fee and P500 tour guide fee (good for eight people). A short briefing, with special emphasis on leaving no trash behind, was given just before the hike.

A few minutes into the trail you would see beautiful river scenery with rocks and boulders, trees and clear running water.

View along the way

View along the way

It took us twice the time of the usual 20-minute walk because we would stop, most of the time, to take photos plus a rest break before we descend down the major point of Tinipak River by way of narrow wooden (seemingly rickety) bridge and ladders, and climbing down the huge, white boulders by the riverbank.

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The descent to the river – Photo by Romina Dumlao

It was around 11 a.m. by the time we reached the major point of the river. We were all amazed at how awesome this place was. Even though it was my second time, I still marveled at its beauty. There were overnight campers, mountaineers and plain lakawatseros like us, curious about this hidden gem and who were game for a day’s adventure.

View of Tinipak River - Photo by Art Soriano, Jr.

Tinipak River – Photo by Art Soriano, Jr.

We found a spot near the entrance of Maytuntong Cave (commonly called Tinipak Cave) where we settled and ate our packed lunches…

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Enjoying lunch by the boulders

Kuya Bitoy with the reliable Daraitan tour guides.

Kuya Bitoy and Jumbo with the reliable Daraitan tour guides.

…dipped in the brook nearby while chit-chatting the time away as we enjoyed our lunch break.

Usapang sirena (mermaid talk) - Photo by Bitoy Labaniego

Usapang sirena (mermaid talk) – Photo by Bitoy Labaniego

Mineral water ready for drinking straight from the brook. Tinipak River was awarded as the cleanest inland body of water by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG),

Mineral water ready for drinking straight from the brook. Tinipak River was awarded as the cleanest inland body of water by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the whole Region IV.

At 1 p.m., it was time to go spelunking. The first time I went here, I wasn’t able to go in the cave and I promised myself I will not fail the second time around.

Going spelunking at Maytuntong Cave

Going spelunking at Maytuntong Cave

The entrance of Maytuntong Cave is different from the ones I've seen; you need to climb down into a hole on the ground which is approximately 20 feet deep.

Entrance of Maytuntong Cave

The cave entrance is different from the ones I’ve seen; you need to climb down into a hole on the ground which is approximately 20 feet deep with the rugged rocks as stepping stones/ladder.

As we went deeper into the cave, we saw glittering rock formations on the walls and ceiling scattered all over.

Glittering rock formations...they actually look a lot better when you're up close

Glittering rock formations…they actually look a lot better when you’re up close

Those white specks actually glitter like gold and diamonds in the dark.

Those white specks actually glitter like gold and diamonds in the dark, again, better when you’re up close

Woohoo! We made it this far. Photo by Art Soriano

“Woohoo! We made it this far!” Photo by Art Soriano

Farther on, we heard the sound of gushing water.

Clear water flows on the cave floor. Photo by Art Soriano

Clear water flows on the cave floor – Photo by Art Soriano

Soon enough, we have reached the cave’s natural pool. The water was so clear and cold, but it sure was refreshing. At first glance, there seems to be a deep black hole in the center but it’s actually black sand and it was only waist deep so no worries there.

The highlight of our spelunking was reaching the natural, waist-deep pool in Maytuntong Cave. Photo by Art Soriano

The highlight of our spelunking was reaching the natural, waist-deep pool in Maytuntong Cave. Photo by Art Soriano

The water in the pool is simply crystal clear!

The water in the pool is simply crystal clear!

At 3 p.m., we started our hike back. We were made to pass a different route on the opposite side of the river, with no paved trail, due to a territorial dispute between the barangays of Daraitan and General Nakar. We, the inexperienced trekkers, were literally bouldering! It was really difficult and it took us almost two hours to get back. Thank God, nobody was hurt (except for a few scratches and one of us suffered a dead toenail thereafter – not mine).  Nevertheless, the experience was really awesome and memorable. We were all charmed by the enchanting Tinipak River and the awesome Maytuntong Cave. Together, we enjoyed the beauty of nature as well as the camaraderie through the funny and difficult times of going and leaving this place. New friendships were born among us and our Daraitan Adventure never failed to bring a smile on our faces each time we reminisce… and so off we look forward to our next adventure!

WAFP Daraitan Trekkers

We are FUNtastic Philippines (WAFP) Daraitan Trekkers