Major jump-off: Sitio Dampay, Brgy. Dampay-Salaza, Palauig
LLA: 15.4833 N, 120.1166 E, 2037 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: 1-2 days / 6-12 hours
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 5/9, Trail class 1-3
Features: Pine forests, views of West Philippine Sea
The mountain is quite a buzz whenever someone tells their tale and posts a picture of it on the internet. To some just another mountain, but to those who have summited it; they deserve a slow triumphant scoring of jubilant music. And we began to ask why?.
The High Peak
Mt. Tapulao is one of the tallest peaks in the Zambales mountain range and is at 2037 meters above sea level, followed by the Mt. Sutot which is still not recognized and whose elevation is still not known. It is regarded as the high peak and one of the longest mountain trails in Luzon due to its starting elevation of 60 meters and its endless rocky trail which is at 18km.
Starting The Endless
We took the earliest Victory Liner bus bound to Sta. Cruz, Zambales at 12 midnight. After 5hrs and some good sleep we alighted at a pitch dark stretch of a highway at Brgy. Dampay at Palauig, Zambales. Man, the temperature is definitely chilly as we waited for a tricycle under the roof of a billion star covered sky. We then rode a tricycle that goes to Sitio Salaza, travel time is 30 minutes. Upon arrival at the registration hall before 6am, we were welcomed by Ms. Eliza, the tourism officer, we then registered and secured our guide. Some final preparations and off we go.
A little 5min walk from the hall is where the trail starts and without further ado, the rocky trail started.
The ascent is only gradual and there are no tree covering all throughout, and this lasted for almost three hours before we reached the 1st water source at Km.6. We are now almost at 30% of the journey on this long and winding and rocky trail, got a little tired as we had our fourth take 5min rest.
Usually our dayhikes only last for 2 to 3hrs but on this one, we prepared for the 12hr hike to the campsite based on other people’s experience, and focused on the fact that we are still 9hrs away from the campsite. (read: hingal kabayo) And so we continued.
A little sharing of trail food and good music at a minimum volume will keep you from getting bored on this unlimited ascent. As the rocky trail continues on and on, the conversations become lesser and lesser. And less than three hours on the now steeper part of the trail, we heard voices.
As we neared the 2nd water source at Km. 10, a group of bubbly girls welcomed us, and they just finished having lunch and is now preparing for their ascent on their second day. Indeed, seeing people on the trail of Mt. Tapulao gives you a little boost.
The weather is now cooler than before, and views are now becoming splendid. But the rocky trail continued on and on and is somewhat putting our morale on a downlow.
But things suddenly changed as we kept on walking, pine trees are now all over. Who taught that a piece of Baguio exists on this mountain standing at the heart of Zambales?. They were the local Sumatran Pine Trees that thrives on cool weather, aside from it, some mounds of chromite can be seen along the trail. This is an evident reason why the trail of Mt. Tapulao is like this, rocky and wide. This is due to extensive mining operations back in the days, where harvesting of chromite near its peak is their business and is brought down by heavy machineries down to the lowlands.
Our knees, aside from stiff legs and back muscles, are now sore that after two hours from the last water source, we decided to take our lunch and rest for eternity, I mean for a while.
Knee-vermind the sore as long as we reach the top, it was our last straw of encouragement as we are on the final leg of the hike.
Half an hour passed by and the rocks slowly diminished and the trail is now damp soil that feels good on the feet. The wind now sends his chilly welcome and after another 30minutes from our last rest stop. At last campsite 2 after 8 and a half hours at 3:30pm!.
Cold, Cold, Cold
We immediately settled ourselves on the available tables at the campsite and we were just plainly proud of ourselves. The bunker campsite is more popular to other mountaineers, but due to the strong gusts of wind, the trees at the bunker is more vulnerable and possible toppling down on anything is possible.
The wind was more colder and at 4pm we were already wearing our jackets. And late in the afternoon the sky made a spectacular play of lights, from where we were standing, we saw the transition all at once , clouds started billowing at the nearby mountain tops, a sea of cotton in the afternoon.
The west is now a burning horizon amidst pine trees and thick layer of fog. As the sun sets it is also where he’ll meet his partner, the moon.
On the east, the atmosphere is now painted with oblivion, dashes of pink, violet to pitch black now mar the once vibrant atmosphere, as the moon slowly radiates its faint glow on the now darker sky.
We set our camp near some rocks since a group of mountaineers that we met on the trail said that we should pick a good location where our tents won’t be pierced by the wind, unlike theirs that is unfortunately torned down by the winds last night. And by 6pm we started cooking our dinner, rice, sinigang and pork tocino was the food for the night and sipping a hot soup on a cold cold cold mountain top is one of the best feelings to start with. Some little socials around a bonfire and we called it a night.
We hadn’t had a good sleep that night because at 2 in the morning the cold weather is really unbearable that our jackets and sleeping bags are no match, even our friend rolled out her emergency blanket to keep herself warm. So we immediately made coffee to heat up our fragile systems and packed up for our early morning assault to the summit.
A ten minute walk from the campsite is where the mossy forest starts, and it took almost an hour before we reached the very summit of Mt. Tapulao.
There are no spectacular rock formations nor sea of clouds at the summit, but just grand views of the surrounding mountain tops belittled by this two thousander peak, what a way to start the morning. As we take it all in, we realized that the journey to reach the very summit, the adventure that happened, the camaraderie and companionship over small meals, and meeting new people along is what makes this victory more rewarding. To appreciate how valuable the little things we take for granted on our daily lives, and how good it is to be reminded once in a while that we are far more blessed than we can imagine.
It is not always the mountain that you conquer, but challenging and conquering your ownself. Breaking your own misconceptions that you cannot make it nor even do it. It is also not the peak of the mountain that you value but the jubilation of reaching it.
And an hour we spent before going back to our campsite, where this little victory of ours will be ticked off our bucketlists.
And descending back at 10am was another challenge since we have to go back where it all started. But with macaroni soup to fuel us down, it only took 4 hours to reach the jump off point by 2pm.
We ran quickly on our way down and our knees are sore from all the running. And by 4pm we rode the tricycle going back to Iba Station of Victory Liner and at 6pm, we were en route to Manila.
Budget and Itinerary
Mt. Tapulao Overnight
Brgy. Dampay, Sitio Salaza, Palauig, Zambales
0000 – Departure to Palauig, Zambales. Take Sta. Cruz bound Victory Liner buses at Caloocan Terminal (381php/pax)
0500 – Arrival at National Highway, Brgy. Dampay, Palauig, Zambales take tricycle to registration hall (100php/pax)
0545 – Arrival at Registration hall, log-in, secure guide, final preparations
Registration Fee – 30php
Guide Fee – 700php/5pax (overnight)
0700 – Start trek
0945 – Km. 6, 1st water source
1230 – Km. 10, 2nd water source
1530 – Arrival at campsite 1, set camp, prepare dinner
1800 – Dinner, Socials
2000 – Lights out
0500 – Wake up
0530 – Start final assault to summit
0630 – Arrival at summit
0715 – descend
0840 – Back at campsite, break camp, cook breakfast
1000 – Descend down
1130 – Km.10
1200 – Km. 8
1230 – Km. 6
1400 – back at registration hall, tidy up
1615 – take tricycle going to Victory Liner Iba Terminal (Tricycle 150php/pax)
1730 – Arrival at Victory Liner Iba, take Caloocan bound buses (342php/pax)
2300 – Manila
Bus: 381php/pax (Caloocan-Palauig)
Tricycle: 250php/3pax (Highway – Sitio Salaza – Iba Terminal)
Guide Fee: 700php/5 pax
Registration Fee: 30php/pax
Total Damage for 3pax: 1108.66php/pax (safe budget 1500php/pax)
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot
Go, Carve That Niche,