Another mountain to cross off my bucket list…
Finally, after planning for months, we got a chance to climb Mt. Pulag in Benguet, the highest peak in Luzon, the 2nd highest in the Philippines. Being a small group, we couldn’t afford to charter a jeepney on our own, so we risked it and boarded the 11:00pm Victory Liner to Baguio, hoping to find a group we could share a jeepney with when we got there. We were lucky enough encounter a group of “over 40” mountaineers who called themselves The Bandidos. They were already sharing a jeep with a couple, Eric and Rina, but there was enough room for us.
After a few hours on the road (including a brief ride on the roof among our packs), we finally reached the DENR station where we had to register and get briefed on the park’s rules and regulations. The camping grounds are part of a protected National Park and is the territory of several Benguet tribes. Respect for the environment as well as the native tribes were clearly emphasized. The Leave No Trace principles definitely had to be followed. Our group’s names were registered with a team leader, first aider and sweeper assigned per group. We ended up being the Chopsuey group along with Eric and Rina. Then off to the jeeps, where we rode for a couple more hours before finally reaching the ranger station — and that’s where the real adventure began.
From the ranger station, its a 3 hour hike to camp 2 where we spent the night. The hike starts in a pine forest, but as we climbed higher, it gradually changed into a mossy oak forest. Just hiking through the forest presented so many photo ops already. The plant life in that high altitude is already very different. The mossy trees were intriguing, as were the endemic dwarf bamboo and the wild berries along the trail. It was a steady climb, but my preparation for this climb consisted of just a couple of short runs and my weekend walking all over Singapore. My walking stick proved to be a worthwhile investment which helped me a lot during the climb. I got a little extra help as well with carrying my pack part of the way with the porter Alice and I hired to help us alternately.
When the mossy oaks finally gave way to rolling hills, we knew we were close to camp. We were among the early ones to arrive and the campsite still had plenty of choice spots left. We set up camp on a relatively flat patch of grass with a view of the peak and the great big blue skies. When the tents were up, and the packs stowed, we went into the tent and promptly fell asleep. It was early afternoon.
We woke up to find that our isolated campsite wasn’t so serene anymore. Other groups had come and tents had sprouted everywhere. The tent directly across from ours belonged to a family from Benguet who had brought their one year old baby up the mountain to celebrate her first birthday. The baby actually had an envious climb. She didn’t have to carry any pack, her mother carried her all of the way and diapers meant she didn’t need to worry about using the common latrines (read: a hut with a hole in the ground… a lot of people miss).
It was only 4pm, but we had nothing to left to do for the rest of the day, so we decided to work on dinner. It turned out to be a great idea, because after we tucked in our tuna aglio olio with olives and capers, it began to rain. That wasn’t completely unexpected, so we retired to the tent. After browsing through our photos and a couple of card games, we geared up for the cold night ahead. I was asleep by 7:30pm. In anticipation of the nighttime low temperatures, I wore almost all the clothes I brought. I wore two pairs of socks, a pair of tights under thick jogging pants, a thermal top, a t-shirt and a fleece jacket. All these under 2 blankets in my silk sleeping bag and I still woke up several times because of the cold. I was so tempted to wear a 2nd pair of tights, but it was too complicated to get out from under the covers and change in the cramped tent. Anyway, we were up for real by 3am to prepare for our ascent to the peak. We needed to be up in time for the sunrise.
Eric and Rina were life savers offering us warm Nescafe Brown ‘n Creamy (warm because nothing would stay hot for long in the cold). I added my extra pair of tights, waterproof jacket, gloves, scarf and bonnet to my already bulky outfit, put on my shoes, grabbed my camera, headlamp and walking stick and was ready. . . or so I thought.
The two hour climb to the peak was extra difficult for me, even if we weren’t carrying any packs. It could be the lack of sleep, the thin mountain air, or the fact that it we were going at a fast pace, racing against the sunrise. The sun started peeking out of the clouds when we were only halfway there. We went even faster (or at least I tried). The effort of the climb warmed me up and made me break a sweat, so I gradually shed my layers of clothing as we climbed. Slowly, but steadily, I pushed myself up the final assault to welcome the glorious view at the highest point in Luzon. The weather was perfect. The view, made the climb worth it. We were higher than the clouds. It was so cold I had all my clothes on again, down to the gloves. The tops of mountains all around peeked through the clouds. The morning sun cast warm yellow rays on the surrounding rolling, grassy hills. It painted a scene I will always remember.
Hundreds of photos later, happy and hungry, we headed back to the tent for breakfast, then to break camp and to head back to Baguio, back to Manila and on to new adventures.
The Seven Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize use and impact of fire.
- Respect Wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.