Reach for the Sky – Mt. Pulag (2926+)

MT. PULAG (AKIKI TRAIL)
Kabayan, Benguet
Major jump-off: Brgy. Doacan, Kabayan (Akiki)
LLA: 16°34’58″N 120°53’15″E, 2922 MASL
Hours to summit / Days required: 10-11 hours / 2-4 days
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 7/9, Trail class 3
(www.pinoymountaineer.com)
“Different roads all lead to the same destination” as the saying goes, but as a friend once coined, it can also be said as “Different trails all lead to the same summit”. It will be constantly one of the bucketlist entry of any individual who loves the outdoors: to climb Mt. Pulag. Now it will be our turn to cross it off on our lists.



Day 01, The Road to Kabayan

Travelling to Baguio which is 250+ kilometers from Manila was never easy as one must endure a 6-7 hour travel time, but I guess the new normal is that after work shift, this will be the only time to catch some sleep. Around 6:30am we arrived in Baguio City to transfer to the rented monster jeeps by our organizers, and by 7am we are now on our way to Kabayan, Benguet. Travel time is three hours at the most.

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By 9am we had a stop over at Jang-Jang’s canteen to have some breakfast and secure our packed lunch. Another interesting fact is that behind the canteen is the longest hanging bridge in the Benguet province so we did a little sidetrip.

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We resumed our jeepney ride by 10am, but little did we know that some of the participants failed to have their medical certificates, so we dropped by the municipal hospital and spent almost an hour before we arrived at the Mt. Pulag visitor center by 11am.

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Briefing and courtesy call at the DENR is required for any visitor who wishes to climb the summit of Mt. Pulag. We had our turn by 12noon and finished by 1pm, that was long I must admit.

The Akiki

From the visitor center the jump-off point of the Akiki Trail is at Duacan, Kabayan, Benguet and took us an hour of jeepney ride before we arrived at the Akiki Ranger Station.

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There are several trails leading to the summit of Mt. Pulag: Ambangeg (Celebrity Trail) due to only slight elevation gains and pleasant trails, Akiki (Killer Trail) due to the steepness and length of trail, Ambaguio and Tawangan (Death Trails) due to the steepness and far jump off points that starts at Lusod, Bokod, Benguet (Farthest municipality in Bokod) and Nueva Vizcaya respectively, another fact is that their forests are all limatik infested that makes it a little more deadly (and exciting). But today we chose the more popular trail, which is the Akiki to Ambangeg Trail.

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We then registered at the ranger station and had our final preparations, we then started the hike by 3pm. First part of the trail is a gradual one passing by mountain slopes and lush vegetation, and it took us 15 minutes before reaching the Ambagiyawan Shelter.

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Akiki, as the word suggests, is onomatopeic by origin, meaning it came from the bird calls often heard at the area, and it also a fact that Mt. Pulag is home to hundreds of species including endemic ones. Then as we continued the trek, we reached the Manenchen Burial cave after a good 45 minutes of walk, where skeletal remains of tribal ancestors are buried and as of today, displayed at wooden crates.

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After passing the burial cave the trail led to the Eddet Campsite by 4:20pm and we took a little rest before crossing the Eddet River via a steel hanging bridge. The cascades at the background as you are crossing is breathtaking, nevermind the steel bridge that shakes wildly at each step.

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From the river, this is where the trail became notorious.

The Marlboro Country

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The inclination of the trail got steeper by the minute. Pine trees are now all over the place and it is in a perpetual zigzagging mountain climb amidst the cold weather. We had to take brief rests every ten to twenty minutes, before continuing, it took us two hours before we reached the flat part of the trail, the Kadagwayan Campsite at 6:24pm.

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The sun started to sink below the horizon and the Marlboro Campsite is still far from imagining, so we continued with our flashlights on, inspite the light occasional rains and cold temperature. What recharged us is seeing multitudes of fireflies emerge from the bushes and trees around the trail, that scene was a magical one, and our cameras were no match against the pitch black darkness. Some things are best experienced with what the eyes can only see and not with what our cameras could capture, these moments are happening, live it.

The rain continued on for an hour until we reached the Marlboro Country, it was named as such due to the appearance of the mountain area that is consisted of golden brown colored hills and slopes. Drenched and chilling, that is how the experience got a little more challenging, so we set up our camps and had a quick dinner before calling it a night.

We woke up by 2am, temperature dropped real sharp and good thing our jackets kept us warm. The rain has subsided and as soon as we opened our tent fly open, lo and behold, the Milky Way. What a treat to start our day, there are thousands, and if not, millions of stars flocking the sky, the galactic core and nebulas have gathered in a play of lights amidst the cosmos, shooting stars passed by in a spectacular movement only nature could choreograph.

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Day 02, The Grasslands

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By 4am we started our trek again, unlimited assaults on encore. In high hopes to catch the grand sea of clouds contrasted by the sunrise that is experienced at the summit of Mt. Pulag, we made haste. After 45 minutes we are now at the Mossy Forest and taking brief breaks in betweens. But it took us an hour more before we reached the grasslands but the sun finally rose from the sky, no sunrise at the summit for us then. From here, scaling every inch all the way up to where we are is priceless, knowing that you worked hard for whatever lies at the end of the adventure, so we continued on.

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Parts of the cordillera mountains are now seen from the grasslands, and thinking that we are walking among grass is a misconception, they were dwarf bamboos all along!. Another 40 minutes before we reached the saddle camp and only one last assault before we reach the very summit.

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Rooftop 2926

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Knees are shaking, legs are trembling, as one friend cried out, but we kept on climbing that one final assault leading to the rooftop of Luzon. By 7am we were finally at the summit, 2926MASL (new height certified by NAMRIA) and the third highest in the country.

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Pulag came from the word “Pulog” or in the local tongue, “Kalbo” or “Bald” when translated due to the appearance of the summit with no other vegetation rather than dwarf bamboos that appears to be like golden rolling hills from afar. And indeed, the Playground of the Gods.

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The highest point divides three provinces at its peak, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet. And from here the Three Great Cordillera Mountains are seen, namely Mt. Ugo, Mt. Napulauan and Mt. Amuyao. The peaks of the 2nd (Mt. Tabayoc) and 3rd (Mt. Timbak) highest mountains in Luzon is also seen.

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There were no sea of clouds that day, but nature never did betray the heart that loved her, and the clouds around did a little dance and gave us little clouds as consolation. Then it soon vanished and became fog as it covered the summit area in a blanket of white.

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The Ambangeg

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By 9:22am, we descended down via the Ambangeg trail, the trek in here is pleasant, no steep inclines that hurts the knees and the spectacular views of golden hued slopes and what we saw kind of confirmed the issues that the National Park is facing.

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The trail is wide and really muddy and slippery at the least. Dwarf bamboos are being trampled by visitors in order for them to be comfortable in their climb, no mud on their branded shoes, that’s better. And as a result, the once single lane trail is now three, four, five and even six folds the original. The bamboos were there even before us and it  years to thrive and it only took seconds for us to destroy. The pathways are now laid with stones after passing by the trail markers, after an hour we reached Camp 2.

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After the quick rest the Montane Forest welcomed us, trees were also mossy and we got the chance to see the century tree that stands at the left side of the trail.

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Then another hour passed before we reached the Babadak Ranger Station. We were back at Baguio City by 6pm and reached Manila by 2am the following day. What an experience!

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Mt. Pulag will give you hundreds of reasons to climb its summit all over again, and we will definitely visit again and gain new experiences and make more memories.

Special mention to Sir Alex Pedron, Team 1, and the Kapsig Outdoors Team, for making this trip awesome.

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Budget and Itinerary

Mt. Pulag Akiki-Ambangeg Trail

Day 00
2200  – Meet up at Cubao
2230  – Departure to Baguio

Day 01
0630  – Arrival at Baguio, transfer to Monster Jeep
0700  – ETD to Bokod, Benguet
0900  – Jang-Jang’s Canteen, breakfast, buy packed lunch, sidetrip to longest hanging bridge
1000  – Depart for Bokod Hospital
1020  – Get Medical Certificate for hiking
1100  – Arrival at Mt. Pulag Visitor Center
1200  – Briefing before climb proper
1300  – End of briefing, travel to Doacan, Benguet
1440  – Arrival at Akiki jump-off point
1500  – Start trek
1515  – Ambagiyawan Shelter
1620  – Eddet campsite
1824  – Kadagwayan Campsite
1915  – Marlboro Country campsite, set up camp, dinner
2000  – Lights off

Day 02
0230  – Wake up call, milky way chasing
0400  – Resume trek
0445  – Mossy Forest
0600  – Grassland
0640  – Saddle Camp
0700  – Mt. Pulag summit
0922  – Start descent via Ambangeg Trail
1022  – Camp 2
1125  – Arrival at Ambangeg, Babadak Ranger Station
1500  – Departure to Baguio via Monster jeep
1600  – Arrival at Visitor center for certificates
1800  – Arrival at Baguio, depart for Manila

Day 03
0200 – Arrival at Manila

Budget:
Event: 2500php/pax – 3000php/pax
(Camping Provisions are excluded)

DIY:
Transportation:
Bus: 450php/pax (MLA-BAGUIO)
Monster Jeep: 5000php/20pax (BAGUIO-KABAYAN-BAGUIO)
Fees:
Guide Fee: 1800php/7pax
Reg. Fee (Visitor Center): 225php/pax
Reg. Fee (Akiki Ranger Station): 50php/pax
Porter Fee (Optional): 150php/kilo

Notes:

● No Reservation, No Entry Policy to all who wants to visit the National Park, prior arrangements must be done before the hike
● Medical Certificates are required, one must secure a copy prior to the climb and not during the climb if he/she wants to hike Mt. Pulag so as not to delay the itinerary. Moreover, this should be done out of respect to those in the group who has secured one prior to the event
● Weekends: Only day treks are allowed, camping is only allowed at the Babadak ranger station area ( for Ambangeg Trail)
● Weekdays: Camping is allowed at designated campsites
● Monster Jeeps are mandatory from Baguio and entry of private vehicles to the National Park is discouraged
● Toploading is not allowed from Baguio to Visitor Center, but can be done from the latter to the point of destination
● Restrooms and watersources are available along the trail:
Akiki – Eddet and Marlboro Country campsites
Ambangeg – Camp 2 and Saddle Camp
● Prepare necessary provisions for camping and subzero temperatures to avoid any untoward incidents such as Hypothermia and the likes
● Practice LNT Principles

 

 

 

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”

– Susan Sontag

Go, carve that niche,
Rex

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