Monday, April 16, 2012

Benguet's Mt. Pulag in Two Ways

An Introduction to Mt. Pulag

Vital Stats:
  • 2922 meters above sea level
  • Highest in Luzon, 3rd highest in the Philippines
  • Bordered by the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya
  • Ambangeg - a walk in the park. Easiest of the four. Jump off at Bokod, Benguet
  • Akiki - should be renamed Akiller trail. Jump off at Brgy. Doacan, Kabayan, Benguet
  • Tawangan - leech fest. Jump off at Brgy Tawangan, Kabayan, Benguet
  • Ambaguio - test your endurance on this trail, the longest among the four. Jump off at Ambaguio, Nueva Vizcaya

I have been to Mt. Pulag twice. First in September 2010 via Akiki-Ambangeg, and most recently, March 2012, via Ambangeg.

Why travel so many hours for Pulag?

I am no mountaineer, just a casual hiker. Photos of Mt. Pulag simply made me want to go. An hour on the plane to Manila plus 6.5 hours on the bus to Baguio plus 5 hours (4 hours for Ambangeg) on a jeep to the jump off, top it off with 11 hours (4 for Ambangeg) of walking... all this just to see what I have seen in pictures.

Why'd I choose this trail?

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
The Akiki trail is dubbed the "Killer trail" but some of my friends and mentors who have climbed Mt. Pulag via this trail didn't find it a burden. I chose Akiki, somehow as a way to test how hard (or easy) the trail would be. Unfortunately, rain and wind, plus a near zero temperature, made my first Pulag climb a helluva venture.

March 2012, Ambangeg
Taking the easiest trail this time for I wanted to take in the scenery and not be focused so much on my ordeal. Akiki was indeed Akiller.

Logistics, if you please.

Transportation must be arranged beforehand. From Baguio, it will take 3 hours to get to the visitor's center where all visitors to Mt. Pulag must register and attend an orientation. Transportation can be arranged through Gina Epe [0919 816 9234 / 0999 991 6008].

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
Renting a jeep for Akiki-Ambangeg will cost about Php 9000. That time there were 12 in the group sharing the cost. The jeep will take you from Victory Liner terminal to the visitor's center then to the Akiki jumpoff. Going back it will be from the ranger station in Babadak to the visitor's center and back to Baguio City.

March 2012, Ambangeg
Hiring a jeep will cost Php 8000 for up to 10 persons, Php 8500 for groups up to 16 persons. The jeep will take you from Baguio to the visitor's center to the Ranger Station in Babadak, which is the jump off for Ambangeg, and back. Small groups can opt to take a van from Dangwa terminal to the visitor's center. The van leaves Baguio at 6AM, one way fare is Php 120. From the visitor's center, arrange for a habalhabal (motorcycle) beforehand (still thru Gina Epe) to take you to the Ranger Station. It will cost Php 350, one way.


Ideally, if starting out from Manila, one should leave for Baguio by 11PM...

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg, 3 days/2 nights
Day 0
2300 Leave for Baguio City

Day 1
0530 ETA Baguio City
0600 Take chartered jeep to Akiki
0900 ETA Visitor's Center for registration and orientation
1000 Set out for Akiki jump off
1200 ETA Akiki jump off. Lunch.
1300 Start trek
1530 ETA Eddet river. Set up camp.
1800 Dinner

Day 2
0400 Wake up call
0430 Breakfast
0530 Break camp
0700 Start trek to Marlboro Country
1100 ETA Marlboro Country. Lunch.
1200 Start trek through montane forest.
1430 ETA Grassland
1600 ETA Saddle campsite. Set up camp.
1800 Dinner.

Day 3
0530 Trek to summit
0545 ETA Summit
0630 Back at campsite. Breakfast.
0730 Break camp
0800 Start descent via Ambangeg
0900 ETA Camp 2
1130 ETA Ranger Station. Settle fees.
1230 Jeepney descent to Visitor's Center
1330 ETA Visitor's Center. Log out.
1400 Head back to Baguio City
1700 ETA Baguio City. Dinner.
2000 Head back to Manila

March 2012, Ambangeg, 2 days/1 night
Day 0
2300 Leave for Baguio City

Day 1
0530 ETA Baguio City
0700 Take chartered jeep to Ambangeg
1000 ETA Visitor's Center for registration and orientation
1130 Set out for Ranger Station in Babadak
1230 ETA Babadak Ranger Station. Lunch.
1300 Start trek
1430 Camp 1
1600 Camp 2. Set up camp.
1800 Dinner

Day 2
0400 Trek to summit
0515 ETA Summit
0700 Start descent to Camp 2.
0800 Back at Camp 2. Breakfast.
0900 Break camp. Start descent to Ranger Station.
1130 ETA Ranger Station. Settle fees. Tidy up.
1230 Jeepney descent to Visitor's Center
1330 ETA Visitor's Center. Log out.
1400 Head back to Baguio City
1700 ETA Baguio City. Dinner.
2000 Head back to Manila

...but the flight I took cut it a little too close. We arrived in Manila at 1005PM and the next available bus when we got to the Victory Liner terminal was one that leaves at 1145PM. If we were to take the van + habalhabal, we would have missed the one and only van going to the Visitor's Center.

On the way to the Visitor's Center...

If you haven't had breakfast, like us, you may ask the jeep driver to stop by an eatery. Don't forget to buy food for lunch too. And of course go on a toilet break. Pinkan Jo Eatery is about an hour and 15 minutes from Baguio City.

At the Visitor's Center...

The visitor's center, located in Ambangeg, Daclan, Bokod, is where all visitors to Mt. Pulag must drop by to register, pay the registration fee of Php 200 (Php 100 entrance fee, Php 50 camping fee, and Php 50 green fee), and attend an orientation which includes a 15-minute video presentation about the National Park. Days before the trip, please inform the park rangers, Emerita Albas [0919 631 5402] or Roy Lopus [0929 166 8864], of your planned climb (date of climb, number of people in the group, and group leader's name). This is to ensure that they can still accommodate you and that there are enough guides on your planned date. Weekends can get rather crowded.

Watching the video presentation: Respect Mt. Pulag! And listening to the briefing.


Here's the link to the video presentation you can expect to see during the orientation: Part 1 and Part 2. These are the rules to remember:
  • Mt. Pulag is considered sacred. Behave yourselves.
  • Leave no trace. All garbage must be brought back to the Ranger Station.
  • Greet locals and give them right of way.
  • No trailblazing. Follow only the designated path. Single file please.
  • Take nothing. Do not remove vegetation.
  • Camp in designated campsites. No campfires.
  • Avoid using soap or detergent. Wash away from the water source. No bathing.
  • Use designated toilet areas.
  • and most importantly...Respect Mt. Pulag! 

At the jump off...

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
Started our trek at Brgy. Doacan, the jump-off in Kabayan. The early hike was steep already. Had to catch my breath every now and then since the rocky road trip had left me exhausted.
Akiki jump-off point.
We arrived an hour later at the Ranger Station where we arranged our things, registered and secured our guide for Php 1800. The trek was going to be exhausting, we were on the fence whether to get a porter or not since we were on a tight budget (porter fee is Php 1500 for the whole trip). In the end, we chose to forgo having a porter and opted to equally share our load. My bag got added with extra canned goods and camp food.

March 2012, Ambangeg
The ranger station at Babadak, Kabayan is the jump off point for Ambangeg. This is where you get your guides (Php 500 for a group of 7, add Php 100 per extra head) and porters (Php 250 per way).
Guides and porters. Orly, 2nd from left, is our guide, and next to him,
in blue jacket, is Mr Porter.
If you have some things you won't need during the climb and at camp, you may ask to leave it at the ranger station. That's if you're coming back the same way.

What's in my bag?

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
Inside my bag from bottom to top (main compartment): Sleeping bag (borrowed from a friend), sarong, pants, underwear, socks, garden gloves, shirts, rash guard, and my jacket. On another compartment was the medicine kit, multi-tool, bathroom essentials, and cap. My water bottle and slippers were placed at the side pockets. 

March 2012, Ambangeg
This time we hired a porter and asked him to bring our bag that contains our cookset, multi-tool, burner, food, water, sleeping bags, insulating mat, and tent. In my own bag, I had trail food, water, headlamp, sarong, camera, and clothes: bonnet, gloves, longsleeved thermal shirt, cotton shirt, fleece jacket, rain jacket, thermal pants, jogging pants, a pair of socks, poncho, and slippers. I am better prepared this time, aren't I?

The Trek 

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
The trail to our first camp, Eddet River, was manageable. The sun was beaming hot at the start of the trek. Halfway thru, the temperature was slowly dropping. We could see fog forming below the smaller hills. At that time my feet was gaining momentum, add to that the cool weather and occasional breeze, it was a walk in a park moment to Camp 1.
Fog everywhere.
Stopping by the woods on a foggy afternoon.
We arrived a quarter before 4PM. We set up our tent and cooked dinner before it got dark and foggy. There's a makeshift toilet in the camp (actually just a big hole) meters away from the river, and all "personal" business should be done here. Urinating, defecating, spitting and/or washing on the river is illegal. Most of all, it's morally wrong to dirt the locals' only source of water.

The next day, I was fully energized. In my mind, I had all the guts to shout: "That's it for the killer trail?" *insert evil laugh*
Camp 1
Eddet River.
Hanging Bridge.
A very nice river.
What lies beyond Eddet river!
See the picture above? After crossing Eddet river, the trail became steeper and way harder.

Starting the "real" trek.
View of the Valley.
Its all uphill from here.
Everything's going up.
The rain was on and off that day. I had only one jacket and it didn't stop me from getting soaked. We were also in a hurry to pitch our tent before sundown since the fog was getting thicker. Take out the sun and we'll have a trail with less visibility even with our headlights on.
Camp 2 getting nearer. Fog's getting thicker.
Approaching Camp 2.

March 2012, Ambangeg
View halfway between the Ranger Station and Camp 1
Trudging along
A quick rest at Camp 1
From the ranger station, it took us an hour to reach Camp 1.
Hitchin' a ride on someone's back
Another rest stop
15 minutes away from Camp 2
Nearest water source from Camp 2
And then another hour to Camp 2. We had a pretty strong pace, making it in only 2 hours from the Ranger Station to Camp 2 when it was estimated to take at least 3 hours. Thankfully, the weather was good. It wasn't too hot and it didn't rain the day before, leaving the trail quite dry.
Camp 2 in just 2 hours! Yeah!
Fog coming in
Hello fellow trekkers!
Gray and foggy
A wider view of Camp 2.
To the guides' hut
The guides hut. Roofed and ready for us.
As soon as we got to Camp 2, we headed straight to the guides' hut and asked if we could camp under their roof knowing that the wind will beat us down and freeze us up and the rain (fingers crossed that it won't pay Pulag a visit) will soak the tent that we rented, which didn't have a fly and didn't seem to be waterproof! (Yes, of all the things we forgot, we forgot to bring our tent and realized so only when it was time to board our plane for Manila!)

The night that was

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
The second night was a fusion of rain, wind, freezing temperature, and hunger! All my things were wet because, unfortunately, I hadn't waterproofed the inside of my bag. Relying on the notion that my bag cover was waterproof was the worst decision I made in that climb. I paid the price - wet sleeping bag, wet jacket, and wet warmers means no sleep. Eight hours of sitting, squatting, and shaking the chills had left me a bit deranged. The only thing that kept me moving on was the thought of a good rest and lots of good food once I'm thru with the climb.
Morning at Camp 2.
Decamping and ready to summit.

March 2012, Ambangeg
We cooked and gobbled down our dinner at 5PM. Tidied up and bundled up my case, wore every article of clothing I had in my bag --- a bonnet for my head, a pair of gloves for my hands, 4 layers for the upper body, 2 layers for the bottom half, and 2 pairs of socks for my feet. At 530, we became antisocial and retired to bed sleeping bags, having had no proper sleep on the bus the night before.

They said it went down to 3 degrees Celcius that night (I can't be sure since I had no thermometer with me but I am pretty sure they got the name of the mountain wrong. It should be Mt. Brrrulag). No wonder my 2 pairs of socks were insufficient. The cold poked my feet with its icy fingers a couple times that night, waking me up every hour or two and making the time move like a sloth.

To the summit

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
After experiencing a near-hypothermia state that night, I had only little energy left in my legs to keep me moving. We started our trek slowly, and every step was grueling. Was still trying to shake off the chill and concentrate on the final ascent. I could not wait to go home, but for that moment I just focused on reaching the summit and seeing the sea of clouds.
Going up slowly.
Following behind.
The Sun slowly rising.
Even after the trials, I still appreciate Mt. Pulag's beauty.

March 2012, Ambangeg
I was up a little past 3AM and we started our hike to the summit at 4AM. My nose was running but my legs were crawling. The first few minutes had me panting and thirsty. Was it the thin air? The cold? The lack of sleep? Or the hunger? (Last meal was 11 hours ago.) I finished my half liter of water as we were nearing the summit.
1.5 km to the summit.
So near yet so far.
Photo taken on the way back.
At the summit, I watched the rest of the world sleep
It was still dark when we reached the summit, so we hid behind some bushes to get away from the freezing wind. We had an hour or so til sunrise.
And waiting
Peek a boo...
...I see you.

At 610AM, we stood in awe as the sun rose to show us the beauty around.

More awesome photos from the summit:


Down from a 2922-meter high

September 2010, Akiki-Ambangeg
We didn't stay long at the peak. Just after 7AM, we trekked down towards Camp 2 of the Ambangeg route. Upon reaching camp, we dried our things, refilled our bottles, and cooked breakfast. It's going to be an easy trek back to the ranger station. The Ambangeg route, after all, is considered the executive trail.
The Lonely Tree.
On our way down to the Ambangeg Ranger station.

March 2012, Ambangeg
Just after 7AM, we started our descent back to camp. At a leisurely pace, we took in the beauty that we missed during our ascent in the dark.
Leaving the summit
Spot the hikers coming down Pulag
The lonely tree is still lonely

Leaving the Playground of the Gods

Visitors are required to come back to the visitor's center to sign out. You may leave photos and whatnot on their wall of fame. Look around, you might find Mustachio :-)
If you want to wash the dust and grime off, you can wash up at the Ranger Station or the Visitor's Center or at Pinkan Jo Eatery. Doesn't matter where, the water will still be freezing.
Ambuklao Dam
The reservoir
Hanging bridge
If you are not pressed for time, you can ask the driver for some quick photo stops at Ambuklao Dam and some hanging bridge. You will pass these places from the Visitor's Center to Baguio City.

P.S. Tents (Php 200 for a 3-person tent), sleeping bags (Php 100 for a single person bag), and head lamps (Php 100) may be rented at the Visitor's Center and Ranger Station. A can of butane (Php 85) may also be bought at the Visitor's Center. Watch out though, their tents, at least the one we borrowed, has no fly, just pray it doesn't rain. Sleeping bags will most likely smell like the last person who borrowed it. Supply of cans of butane might be limited. Better call ahead and check for availability.

P.P.S. Credits for the Akiki photos goes to Faye Arong of EWIT Mountaineers.

How climbing Mt.Pulag created a mountain of expenses on Mustachio's pocket:
I spent about Php 4000 for the September 2010 Akiki-Ambangeg trip as part of a group of 12 but the details have been forgotten. Here's the breakdown of this year's Ambangeg-Ambangeg trip:
Airport shuttle to Taft MRT Php 20
Dinner Php 89
Victory Liner bus Pasay to Baguio Php 460
1L water at Victory Liner Pasay Terminal Php 45
1L water at 7Eleven Baguio Php 35
Breakfast and Lunch at Pinkan Jo Eatery Php 130
Entrance Fee Php 100
Camping Fee Php 50
Green Fee Php 50
Tent (Php 200/3 pax) Php 67
Jeep Baguio-Bokod-Baguio (Php 8000/7 pax) Php 1143
Guide (Php 500/7 pax) Php 71
Porter (Php 500/3 pax) Php 167
Lunch Php 85
Taxi SM City Baguio to Victory Liner Terminal (Php 40/3 pax) Php 13
Victory Liner bus Baguio to Pasay Php 460


  1. Ganda ng sunrise, and the view from the peak... magnificent! Nakakainggit! :) Some of my friends went to climb Mt. Pulag last year, but they never got the chance to see the great view from the peak.

  2. Makakapunta din ako dito! :) Ganda ng pictures!

  3. Yes, the place is beautiful! Do visit Pulag soon. But go on a weekday to avoid the crowds/organized tours.

  4. Mr Mustach nice place , miss the group ..

    1. Really nice place Mr. JD. What month did you climb Mt. Pulag?

  5. Same month and date with guys. august 2010

  6. Gusto ko lang ishare na kung may balak kaung pumunta ng pulag, Actually you can already charter a mini bus for only 8500 which can carry up to 25 passengers mas tipid po siya compared with jeepney which is up to 16 passengers only. Sumakay kami dito last month. Here is the number of the owner 09203568852 for more details.

  7. hi!!!
    would you recommend September or March? how was is likt during those 2 different months. which ones colder, etc.. we are planning to climb by sept. but weather seems inevitable , and it may rain, or too foggy. I know 2 months offer different perspectives but which ones much more better?


    1. Hi Emelie. If you don't like hiking in mud and rain, then I would suggest to pick the dry months :D

  8. Gian and I are excited to climb Mt. Pulag next month. Seeing your awesome photos makes it even more exciting! BTW, do you know Faye Arong? Small world, isn't it? We were actually officemates, and she was the one who introduced me to Gian. :-)


  9. Nice one, Mustachio! We'll be doing the Akiki-Ambangeg trail this February 2015. :)

    1. Team Sweetie! Thanks for visiting the blog. will be a walk in the park for you guys ;-) Have fun!