This was in 2015. A challenging trek to one of the highest mountains in the Philippines, Mount Pulag. Friends I’ve met from outreach events invited me to join a climb via Akiki trail to this mountain.
I haven’t been to a lot of climbs, though I seek adventure every now and then. We prepared for this climb in advanced. We assigned everybody things to bring. I’ve volunteered to bring a tent good for 5 people.
We were advised on what necessities to add on top of the usual mountain gears: gloves, dry bags, plastic bags, jackets, socks and a headlamp or flashlight. Most of these are protection from the cold. The temperature in Mount Pulag tests every mountaineer. Some people have died in the mountain.
Arduous trek via the Akiki trail
Our group consisted of 20 people, some with no prior experience in mountain climbing. I knew half of the group, so we bonded easily.
Before going through the Akiki trail, we were briefed at a small ranger station and asked whether we would like to hire a local porter to carry our bags or tents. We also prepared cold-weather clothing.
The first 30 minutes was welcoming, with scenic views of distant hills and pine tree forests. We trekked for 3-4 hours to reach Eddet river, where we camped. The cold in the camp was bearable, although swimming in the river was impossible. My brother once told me that I should bathe in cold water so my body temperature could adjust, although that time I had trouble doing that.
The trek up to Eddet River was merely a warm-up climb. A perilous 8-12 hour ascent to the saddle would follow.
On the second day, I felt my leg strength being pushed to the limits. We were carrying heavy backpacks, since most of us did not hire local porters. Mine was 15 kg, not including the large tent.
Our number dwindled by the minute. Most of us would stop a lot to rest. There were three of us ahead of the group. We made up a system called “take five” or “ten five.” We would take 10 steps, stop and do 5 breaths and repeat. This had been a big help after walking for 6-7 hours long.
Throughout our ascent, we haven’t come across another group in the trail. Most climbers prefer the shorter 4-hour trek via the Ambangeg trail. The difference between Akiki and Ambangeg trails is not only the distance but the view. The only word fit to describe the scenery in Akiki trail is “rewarding.” We paused every now and then to marvel at nature, which is usually lacking in cities.
We reached a mossy mountain forest. Everything — the trees and the ground — is covered by moss, except for the pathway. It’s an eerie, alien-like place.
Reaching the summit, sea of clouds
It was almost sunset when we saw a view of the sea of clouds, which is what Mount Pulag in the Philippines is famous for. We admired the view and set up our cameras. The rest of our friends caught up and we waited for a perfect sunset.
There’s a pink hue in the sky that we witnessed here, My fellow photographer friend told me this is what he waits on sunsets when the sun is almost gone and the glow reflecting to the sky forms this color and Indeed, It was beautiful.
The saddle was only 30 minutes away. I didn’t have any protection on my face, so I used a sock to cover my nose and mouth. We wrapped up our things. Twilight caught up with us as we resumed walking. My hands felt cold even after having double layers of gloves. Visibility was getting low. Even with headlamps on, it was difficult to see who was in front.
What’s scary was that, early that afternoon, one in our group almost fell in a cliff while taking pictures. The person was lucky enough to be saved on time by a fellow mountaineer. It’s not just the cold we were aware of, but also the trail.
Those who went ahead of us prepared the tents. We arrived at the saddle and looked for our camp. It was freezing. That night I found out that sleeping is almost impossible with the dipped temperature. The wind also banged at our tent. Later, a friend lost a flysheet to the wind. After a while, we gathered in a large flysheet to socialize. We talked about trivial things and life. We tried to keep warm, although after a minute or two our coffees were already cold.
At daybreak, we woke up to a foggy camp. In contrast to the 2-3 hours in Ambangeg trail, it takes only 30 minutes to reach the summit from the saddle camp in Akiki trail. I covered my camera with my extra gloves. We prepared and headed toward the summit.
On the way, I saw hills from below that reminded me how high I was. We arrived at the summit, along with other groups of mountaineers. It rained and then cleared, just as the crowd dispersed. We were left at the top. The cold in the summit felt thrice colder than our camp; maybe it’s because it was January. The air was so thin that I would catch my breath almost instantly.
For a few moments the summit had a clearing, and then bit by bit the fog crept back. As earlier, we could only view those close to us. After a while, we decided to trek down to the saddle camp. Witnessing a clearing in the mountain is by luck. Even on a good weather, fogs easily shift.
After the climb on Akiki trail, we rode back on top of a jeepney. The view in Benguet has always been a favorite of mine.
This is Mount Pulag. Locals called it Mount Pulog. Foreigners would pronounce it Mount Pulag, and it has since been the name of this mountain.
Practical guide to Mount Pulag, Philippines
Mount Pulag is the third-highest mountain in the Philippines, standing about 9587 ft above sea level. Locals call it the “playground of the gods.”
There are four trails to Mount Pulag: Ambangeg, Akiki and Tawangan trails are in Benguet and the Ambaguio trail is in Nueva Vizcaya. Most climbers choose the Ambangeg trail because it’s the easiest.
Mountain climbers who wish to climb Mount Pulag need to present a medical certificate and register at the DENR office in advance. There are various travel agencies organizing climbs to Mount Pulag via Ambangeg trail, for 2 days. The cost is about P4500 per person.
To get to Mount Pulag, ride a bus from Cubao to Baguio. In Baguio, charter a jeep to Bokod, Benguet (Ambangeg trail) or Kabayan, Benguet (Akiki or Tawangan trail). Round-trip fare is about P1500.
Here’s our video for trekking Mount Pulag, Philippines.
Have you climbed to the summit of Mount Pulag in the Philippines?