Mount Pulag is the third highest mountain in the Philippines and the highest one in the island region of Luzon. Locals believe that it is the “Playground of the Gods“. It’s also one of the most popular trekking destinations in the country, for beginners and experienced climbers alike.
I trekked this mountain back in 2015. I have friends from previous outreach events who organized the climb via Akiki trail.
I haven’t been to a lot of climbs, but I like having adventures every now and then. I looked forward to reaching the summit of Mount Pulag, where the famed sea of clouds can be seen.
Climb via Akiki trail
Our group consisted of around 20 people, some with no prior experience in mountain climbing. I knew half of them, so we got along quite well.
We prepared for the climb in advance. Everyone was assigned to bring something. I volunteered to bring a tent good for 5 people. We were also advised on the necessities to bring, including the usual mountain gears and clothing protection from the cold. The temperature in Mount Pulag is testy. Some people have died in the mountain.
We traveled to the jump-off point to the Akiki trail. First, we were briefed at a small ranger station. We were given the option to hire local porters to carry our bags or tents.
We started the trek. The first 30 minutes was welcoming, with scenic views of distant hills and pine tree forests. We continued for 3-4 hours before reaching Eddet River, which was our camping station.
It was cold in the camp, but it was still bearable. However, swimming in the river was impossible.
The trek up to the Eddet River was just a warm-up climb.
On the second day, We continued for the 8- to 12-hour ascent to the saddle. 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 weighed 15 kg, not including the large tent.
We would stop a lot to rest. There were three of us ahead of the group and we made up a system called “take 5” or “10 5.” We would take 10 steps, stop, take 5 breaths and repeat. This had been a big help after walking for hours.
Throughout our ascent, we hadn’t come across other groups 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 then reached a mossy mountain forest. Everything — including the trees and the ground — was covered by moss, except for the pathway. This is one of the most photographed area in the Akiki Trail. It was an eerie, alien-like place.
Summit and the Sea of Clouds
It was almost sunset when we were granted a view of the sea of clouds. We set up our cameras and admired it. The rest of our friends caught up and we waited for a perfect sunset.
There was a beautiful pink hue in the sky. My fellow photographer told me this is what he waits on sunsets, when the sun is almost gone and the glow reflecting in the sky forms this magnificent color. Indeed, it was beautiful.
The saddle was only 30 minutes away. I didn’t have any clothing protection on my face, so I used a sock to cover my nose and mouth. We wrapped up our things so we can proceed to the next camping station.
We resumed walking and twilight caught up with us. My hands were cold even with double layers of gloves. Visibility was also getting low. Even with headlamps on, it was difficult to see who was in front.
We were cautious not only with the cold, but with safety in the trail. Early that afternoon, one person in our group almost fell down a cliff while taking pictures — thankfully someone saved him on time.
Those who went ahead of us prepared the tents. We arrived and settled for the night.
It was freezing. Sleeping was almost impossible. The wind banged at our tent. A friend lost a flysheet to the wind. After a while, we gathered under a large flysheet to socialize. We talked about trivial things and life. We tried to keep warm, with coffees which immediately got 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 ourselves 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 because it was January. The air was so thin that I had to catch my breath frequently.
For a few moments the summit had a clearing and then bit by bit the fog crept back. As earlier, we could only see the people in front of us. After a while, we decided to trek down to the saddle camp. Witnessing a clearing in the mountain is purely by luck. Even on a good weather, the 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 at 9587 ft above sea level.
How to get to Mount Pulag
Here are the commute directions:
- From Manila (Pasay or Cubao), ride a bus to Baguio (6-7 hours, P450-700 per person).
- In Baguio, head to the Dangwa Bus Terminal (taxi fare: about P100). Ride a bus to Kabayan and get off at the DENR Visitor Registration (3 hours, P250 per person). Once at DENR, you need to register and attend an orientation.
- From DENR, ride a habal-habal to the ranger station of your chosen trail. There are no standard rates, so fare depends on your haggling skills (around P400-500).
Once at the ranger station, you can secure a guide and/or porter. From there, you can proceed to the trek.
Essential Info about Mount Pulag
- There are only limited number of climbers allowed per day. As such, you are advised to secure reservation in advance at the Mount Pulag National Park Management. Register the name of your representative and the number of people in your group.
- You also need to present a medical certificate to the DENR Visitor Registration that indicates that you are “fit to hike” or “fit to do physical activities.” If you forgot to bring yours, you can find a health center nearby. Cost is P100-150 per certificate.
Best months to climb Mount Pulag:
- Mount Pulag is open all year round. The best time to climb it is during the dry months, from December to May. During the rainy months, transportation to the ranger station may not be possible and the conditions may not be suitable for camping. The coldest months are January to February, when frosts may form at the summit. Temperature can dip as low as 0-5 degrees. April and May offer moderate climate, so if you can’t tolerate the cold this is the best time to go.
- The weather in the mountain itself is unpredictable, so there is no telling if you will experience a clear sunrise or not.
- Mount Pulag is considered a sacred mountain by the Ibaloi Tribe. Drinking alcohol and smoking are not allowed. This is covered in the proper orientation before your trek.
Trails to summit
There are four trails to Mount Pulag: Ambangeg, Akiki, and Tawangan trails are in Benguet and Ambaguio trail is in Nueva Vizcaya.
- Ambangeg Trail is a beginner-friendly trail. From the jump-off point, you can reach the summit in 4-5 hours. The route includes rolling hills and open spaces.
- Akiki Trail is often called the “killer trail” due to its difficulty. It usually takes 2 days to cover. The route includes scenic views, including Eddet River, Marlboro Country and mossy forest.
- Tawangan Trail is the farthest jump-off to reach the mountain’s summit. The hike takes 10-11 hours. It’s recommended for those who like to do a comprehensive exploration of the mountain. The route includes views of Mt. Tabayoc and four lakes (Tabeo, Ambulalakao, Iculus, and Detanapco), as well as mossy forests and river streams.
- Ambaguio Trail is the longest trail at 24 kilometers. It’s characterized by assault and mossy trail. It is the least used way to the summit.
What to bring
It’s important to pack light but make sure you carry all the essentials, including protective layers for the cold and/or rain.
Here are the things you should bring:
- Standard mountain gears
- Flashlight or headlamp
- For cold or rainy weather: Dry bag, plastic bag or zip lock (for securing items), jacket, gloves, socks
- Trail food and water
- Trash bag
It’s best to bring a reusable travel bottle (1-3 liters). There are water sources in the mountain where you can get a refill. If you have a sensitive stomach, it’s safe to bring your own water (at least 3 liters).
At the ranger station, you can rent tents (limited availability) and trekking poles. You can also buy selected mountain gears such as gloves and bonnets.
Tips for trekking Mount Pulag
Here are some valuable tips for climbing Mount Pulag:
- Make sure that you are physically fit before the climb.
- Do a warm-up climb before your trek to Mount Pulag. There are a number of easy treks near Manila you can choose from.
- Mount Pulag is one of the most popular treks in the country and it can get crowded on weekends. It’s best to schedule your climb on weekdays for fewer people.
- You can hire a local porter to carry your baggage. Not only will this make the climb easier, it will also benefit the income of the local community.
- Be careful in taking selfies especially in high locations.
- Follow the LNT principles. Carry your trash with you.
Sample Mt. Pulag itinerary via Akiki-Ambangeg Trail
Here’s a sample itinerary for Mount Pulag for a 3D/2N Akiki-Ambangeg climb.
9:30PM – ETD departure from Cubao (Victory Liner terminal)
4:15AM – ETA Benguet
6:30AM – Breakfast at an eatery
8:00AM – Arrival at registration area
9:00AM – Start trek via Akiki Trail
10:30AM – Arrival at Eddet River
12:30PM-1:30PM – Arrival at E-Camp; lunch
2:30PM – Arrival at Marlboro Country
3:30PM – Arrival at mossy forest
5:45PM – Arrival at grassland
7:00PM – Arrival at saddle camp; pitch camp, dinner
5:00AM – Start trek to Mount Pulag summit
5:30AM – Summit
7:00AM – Trek back to saddle camp; breakfast, pack up
10:00AM – Start descent via Ambangeg Trail
12:30PM – Arrival at habal-habal terminal (riding is optional)
1:00PM – Arrival at ranger station; ride monster jeep, wash up
6:00PM – Back in Baguio City; dinner
10:40PM – Ride bus back to Manila
3:00AM – ETA Manila
Budget and expenses
Nowadays, it’s easiest to book an organized tour to Mount Pulag. It’s easy and hassle free. Moreover, tour agencies reserve slots months ahead, so sometimes it can be difficult to book slots on your own. We don’t have a specific travel agency we can recommend since we did it DIY, but you can find a lot of packages online.
The Ambangeg Trail is the most common offer, which takes 2 days. The cost is about P3000-3300 per person including 3 hosted meals.
Here are the rates for Mount Pulag (updated as of 2020):
- DENR registration fee: P220 per person
- For foreigners: additional entrance fee of P500-750 per person
- Ambangeg-Ambangeg Trail (2 days): Starts at P1200 (good up to 1-6 pax)
- Akiki-Ambangeg Trail (2-3 days): Starts at P2100 (good up to 1-6 pax)
- Ranger Station to Camp 2: P1000
- Ranger Station to Camp 3/Summit: P1200
Fee is for items 15kg or below / additional P100 per excess kilo.
Ranger Station rental fees:
- Tent: P300 (good for 2 pax)
- Sleeping bag: P150
- Sleeping pad/insulator: P50
For questions and reservations, you can contact the national park’s management: Mt. Pulag National Park – Facebook page.
Here’s our video for trekking Mount Pulag, Philippines.
Have you climbed to the summit of Mount Pulag in the Philippines?
P.S. Looking for other hiking suggestions? Here are the best multi-day hikes around the world.
What to read next:
Here are other climbing guides you can read:
- Mount Kupapey in Mountain Province
- Nagpatong Rock in Tanay, Rizal
- Mount Mabilog in San Pablo, Laguna