Benguet · Philippines · Travel Tales

Climbing Mt. Pulag (with a prelude on Mt. Daraitan)

Let me reminisce a bit about my first climb, way back in August 2013. With some friends, I climbed a mountain in Daraitan, Tanay, Rizal. It has been called Mt. Daraitan, though upon registering, we were told that it was called Mt. Samit (samit, summit, you know). I can find no reference online saying that it’s called the latter.

At 734 MASL, Mt. Daraitan sounded like an easy one to scale, judging from the excitement of my co-teachers who were my companions. Oh, how utterly wrong we were. Compound that with the fact that we hadn’t read our weather bulletins properly, and you have us getting caught in the middle of Tropical Storm Maring, which, if you recall, flooded Manila in Ondoy-like manner.

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This is Tinipak River. Normally, climbers would cross this river on foot (with ropes). It was positively roaring when we got there, though.

Pinoy Mountaineer rates Mt. Daraitan with a difficulty of 4/9, which might have been too much for a first timer with no sense of balance like me — especially as I had to traverse muddy and slippery slopes, and do actual rock climbing (thanks to our guide, I managed). We were also caught in wind and rain that seemed to swirl around our tent; most of that sleepless night was spent with us trying to hold our ten-person tent down to the ground. The descent was even worse. I cannot count the number of times I landed on my butt and hauled my feet and sandals from all that mud. I said these words out loud one too many times: “Why are we doing this? Bakit ba tayo nagpapakahirap?

The view from the top was unbeatable, though: mountains as far as the eyes could see, with the Daraitan River weaving in between. Limestone formations served as our ground as we took pictures and whooped with delight after that arduous trek.

Not a trace of despair in this picture, thankfully.
No trace of despair in this picture, thankfully.

Luckily we had a week of class suspensions afterward; I couldn’t move properly for the next three days, and my limbs were full of scratches.

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It was therefore with much trepidation that I said yes to Edison, who’d seen me suffer through Mt. Daraitan, to his invitation to climb Mt. Pulag. It’s Luzon’s highest peak at 2,922 MASL. We were to go through the Ambangeg trail, which takes three hours for a beginner. This time, I did proper research; thus, I did some mad dash for warm clothing in half-price stores.

We left Pasay via Victory Liner at 11 PM sharp and arrived in Baguio early in the morning. We then took a hired jeepney (a “monster jeep”) to the ranger station in the town of Bokod, with stops at the tourist information center and an eatery in between. It was a weaving and nausea-inducing three-hour ride. Along the way, though, I enjoyed looking at the cutest kids with the ruddiest cheeks ever.

The start of the trek is at the ranger station. The Ambangeg trail from there is well-worn. I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy the trail was.

Views from the Ambangeg trail of Mt. Pulag
Views from the Ambangeg trail of Mt. Pulag

I took my sweet time gazing at the terraced slopes where farmers grow vegetables, at the pine trees, and, in the middle of the climb, the mossy forests.

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The mossy forest looking like a scene from Maleficent
The mossy forest looking like a scene from Maleficent

I said it was “relatively easy” because not once did I fall on my behind. However, of course I had to stop along with the others because some parts are pretty steep and the air is thin at such a high altitude.

We camped at the extension of Camp 2, which was an hour’s climb away from the summit. We got there right at sundown.

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Camp 2
A picture with the sea of clouds!
A picture with the sea of clouds!

After I posed for the happy picture above, the temperature quickly fell. (That didn’t stop us making dinner, though.) Somewhere in the middle of the night, temperatures reached below 5 degrees centigrade. My three to four layers of clothing were of little help. Sleep was difficult — I kept waking up, cold and sometimes out of breath, and feeling desperate whenever I looked at my watch and saw that daybreak was still hours away.

Earlier, at the tourist information center, we’d been told that we had to keep quiet so as not to anger the gods, who would bring rains if people were noisy. And I believed this, actually, as much as I believe that mountains and our natural surroundings have spiritual guardians of some sort. That night, though, there were people drunkenly yelling at each other (my companions reported they were guides or tour operators). And I quite expected the rains after midnight, but I didn’t expect how strong it was. I also didn’t expect how our tent interior slowly accumulated water.

In short, we weren’t able to trek to the summit that morning. Those who’d been able to reported a visibility of one meter, so there was going to be none of those sunrise-in-a-sea-of-clouds pictures.

We descended in the middle of the rain, at around 7:00 AM. We were a little disappointed, but I was just glad to have survived that  night.

“Sorry for ruining your summit experience — here’s a pretty rainbow.” — the gods of Mt. Pulag

On the other hand, I hate this unfinished business. I’ll probably go back for the summit — I’ll just make sure to keep myself even warmer and drier.

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So, what has happened that the girl with no sense of balance suddenly wants to climb mountains again? I can think of a few things: my love of nature, my constant search for novelty, my wanderlust. Then there’s my desire to see things through a new perspective. It’s somewhat like that time I went scuba diving for the first time, when I saw things as they are from the vibrant bottom of the sea. Here in Mt. Pulag, I looked at things from near the summit of the mighty mountain and was reminded of how diminutive we humans are in such an immense world, and how we, in our pride and ego, take that truth for granted.

Some tips on climbing Mt. Pulag

  1. Bring layers and layers of clothing. Bring fleece and down jackets, bonnets, scarves, thick socks, gloves, a thick blanket, a raincoat. I’m not even exaggerating — it’s f!#$* cold up there, especially in December.
  2. You might get mountain sickness of varying degrees. In my case, I felt some headache while climbing, and I kept on waking up in the middle of the night with difficulty in breathing. I found the cure by accident: I sat up and took deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, as I do when running. Easy peasy. I went back to my uneasy sleep right afterward.
  3. Bring lots of plastic bags, especially large garbage bags. You could use these as a raincoat, a cover for your backpack, and lining for the groundsheet of your tent. You might run the risk of hypothermia in the cold and rain (it happened to one in my group), so best waterproof everything and make sure you’re warm!
  4. Wear only a light jacket during the ascent and descent as you’d sweat and warm up on your way.
  5. Wear sturdy shoes. At first, I used a pair of running shoes I barely used in the past year or so; they gave up as soon as we got to Baguio. Thankfully, I’d brought another pair.
  6. Take time to appreciate the lovely surroundings during the ascent. As I’ve learned, you might not even get to the summit, but the way up is likewise gorgeous.
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2 thoughts on “Climbing Mt. Pulag (with a prelude on Mt. Daraitan)

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