Friday, March 14, 2014

Climb: Mount Pulag 2014

One of the most visited mountains in the country, Mount Pulag has garnered a lot of attention not only from the mountaineering world but from regular folks as well who want to see and experience the majestic view at the summit. They say that Pulag is the playground of the gods. I say, the gods at Pulag did well in landscaping their playground.

Trail back to Campsite 2 from the Summit

Mount Pulag (or sometimes Mount Pulog) is the second (official) highest mountain and it is the coldest place in the Philippines. It is Luzon's highest peak at 2,922 meters above sea level. The borders between the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya meet at the mountain's peak.

Because of its high elevation, the climate on Mount Pulag is temperate with rains predominating the whole year. Rainfall on the mountain averages 4,489 mm yearly with August being the wettest month with an average rainfall of 1,135 mm. Snow has not fallen on its top in at least the past 200 years. (from wikipedia)

Rolling hills near the summit of Pulag

Bokod, Benguet
Major jump-off: Ambangeg Ranger Stn, Bokod, Benguet
LLA: 16°34'58"N 120°53'15"E, 2922 MASL (#3)
Days required / Hours to summit: 4-5 hours / 1-2 days
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 3/9, Trail class 1-2
Trail system: Grand Cordillera Trail, Section 3
Features: Sea of clouds, dwarf bamboo slopes, pine forests

ajestic Mt. Pulag is highest peak in Luzon and one of the most beautiful mountains in the Philippines. Its fabled views, of winding slopes of dwarf bamboo, and distant peaks surging like islets in the ocean of lofty clouds, comprise perhaps the most breathtaking sights in Philippine mountaineering. The native tribes say that Mt. Pulag is the "playground of the gods". In Luzon,
it is literally the closest to heaven that mountaineers can get! (read more @pinoymountaineer)

Sunrise at the Summit

Our initial schedule for Pulag was February 14-16, but due to a new rule implemented by DENR (mountaineers need to get a permit ahead of time before the climb), it was moved to March 6-8. We've considered this as a blessing in disguise. The pictures below will show you why.

We left Manila at around 12 midnight via a van and we arrived in baguio at past 6 in the morning. The van dropped us off on a house we've rented where we left some of our things, like the clothes we wore on our trip back to Manila. The chartered jeepney ride took around 2 hours to reach the first stop where we ate our breakfast. The stop is required not for the mountaineers but for the jeepney. The drivers are filling up their jeeps' huge water tank which I think serves as coolant for the engine. The jeepneys plying by this route (Baguio to Ambangeg) are not the typical jeeps you see on the street of Manila. It has bigger wheels and more powerful engine to climb steep hills.

The Huge Jeepney

Top load

Where we came from. The view of hills here looks differ than tropical.

Breakfast Time

It took us another 2 hours to reach the DENR. It is required for all mountaineers to stop by the DENR for registration, short film showing and lecture. I salute the people of DENR on Mt. Pulag for being proactive in protecting and conserving the mountain. Of all the mountain that I've climbed, this is the only one where I saw them very active in preserving and protecting the nature.

Ma'am Daisy of DENR giving lecture about the National Park.


From the DENR, the jeepney traveled another hour on a narrow road (where only one vehicle can pass at a time) to reach the ranger station. There were steep ascends up along cliffs and mountain sides filled with pine trees and vegetation. There were unpaved parts where you need to cover your face to avoid inhaling dust.

Upon reaching the ranger station, the team unloaded all the bags and presented the official receipt from DENR to the people manning the ranger station for us to proceed with the climb. It is required to have a guide not only because you might get lost but also to support the livelihood project of DENR for the locals. This gives them extra income which helps stop the conversion of the mountain Slopes to farm lands. 

The small community around the Ranger Station

The Ranger Station

Houses at the Jump Off

Interesting house design.

The Galvanized sheets cover the wooden wall

We ate our lunch at the Ranger Station and started our climb right after. The cool weather  made me think that this is a comfortable climb but after a minute or two of walking, I realized that the thin air exhausted me a lot faster than I thought.

This was the worst climb preparation I had so far. My camera's charger didn't work properly so I went on a trip with an almost half charged battery and a tripod with no release plate. To conserve my battery, I turned off my camera from the ranger station to the campsite.

We arrived at campsite 1 after less than an hour of trekking and then campsite 2 after 3 hours. We've decided to pitch our tents at camp site 2 extension. I said earlier that the new date is a blessing in disguise because there are less than 150 people who climbed Pulag during that day. There were only 3 groups in campsite 2 extension including us and we were the biggest group.

Campsite 2 extension after setting up our tents

The Coliseum. We rented this huge tent for the food preparation area and for our socials.

The huge tent that we rented out paid off a lot during our food preparation and socials. It sheltered us from chilly winds and light rain that night. We were skeptical about the sunrise at first because of the strong wind, fog that enveloped the whole campsite and thick clouds that covered the night sky. We've decided to sleep at around 9 in the evening (One of the rules in Pulag is lights off by 9:00PM) but the weather that time didn't change much. At past 12 midnight, I heard someone calling my name asking me to go out of my tent. When I opened the door, this is what I saw...  

The partial milky way galaxy. I was not able to capture more photos because long exposure time consumes more battery than the usual shot.

Another blessing in disguise, our initial plan was to camp on the saddle camp which is 2 hours away from camp 2. That is the nearest camp to the summit. Advantage of saddle camp over camp 2: you need to wake up at 4:00 AM to go to the summit. Disadvantage: you need to break camp and bring all your things with you. Advantage of camp 2 over saddle: you don't have to break camp and bring all your things up the summit. Disadvantage: you need to wake up earlier at around 3:30 AM to go to summit. If you weigh in these two options, most people will pick the saddle camp because it is closer to the summit, however, if you consider camp 2, you don't have to set up your tent at night then fold it and pack your things at 4during the coldest hour in the mountain and bring them all up to the summit.

We woke up at 3:30AM and leave the campsite at 3:45AM. We've reached the summit at around 5:30AM which is 10 minutes before the sunlight starts to take over the horizon.

Birth of a new day.

Our seats. These dwarf bamboos covered us from chilling wind at the summit while waiting for the sunrise.

At last... Sunrise...

The playground

People at the summit. This is a few crowd compared to that of last February 14-15 which is according to some mountaineers reached up to 500 people.

My T20 family

There goes the sun

The summit

Saddle Camp. Right below the summit

My T20 family at the Summit

Trail going down the summit

Enjoy the following panoramic photos of Pulag...

Camp 2 extension

On our way up the previous day, a lady from DENR asked us to capture photos of the Flora and Fauna along the trail. This will help them gather data and document the species of plants in the mountain. I still had battery after all the photos I took during the sunrise (I found a secret, if you switch to Manual mode, the number of images you can capture will more than tripple than that with auto focus on.)


Kudos to the locals for laying down this stone path that helps lessen the impact of humans on the nature along the trail. 

Traffic sign

What is mossy???

We called this the Skyway...

One of the oldest pine trees in the area. This is the part where the wide road ends and the trail begins.

The farm lands

We prepared and ate our lunch at the store of our guide's aunt. We bought additional food and drinks from them. Our chartered jeepney arrived at 2:00PM and we left the jump off point at around 2:30PM. It is required to go back to DENR to sign out. This is also the best time to buy Pulag shirt.

The narrow road between DENR and Ranger Station.

On our way back to Baguio, we had a short stop over in the Ambuklao Dam for site seeing.

Ambuklao Dam Spill way

After more than 4 hours of driving along the zigzag road, we reached Baguio. The jeepney dropped us off the house we've rented. After taking our bath and packing all our things in the van, we went to one of the best places for dinner in the city.

We had lots of fun scaling Mount Pulag. Although we've chosen the easiest trail going up the summit, the adventure and the experience of climbing with thin and cold air taught us a lot about high altitude climb. 

We'll see you again Pulag... But next time we'll use a more challenging trail... 

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