Mt. Pulag: an awkward and surreal affair in the playground of the gods

“The only zen you find on the tops of mountains is the zen you bring up.” - Robert M. Pirsig  
The temperature dropped to 4 degrees Celsius and Kai was shivering, she could not speak. I was still dizzy that I could pass out anytime. In a tent nearby Jay was alone attempting to contact two of our group mates, Bong and Von, who apparently were nowhere near the rain-battered campsite. The dusk has already covered the campsite landscape dark.

Up and away to the summit of Mt. Pulag
We were only halfway to completing the climb to Mt. Pulag in Benguet, the third highest peak in the Philippines and the highest in Luzon. The weather or our condition could imperil the completion of our objectives.

We chose the shortest of the four trails to the summit, the 6-kilometer Ambangeg-Ambangeg trail, but the trek didn’t went like it’s “a walk in the park.” It’s different when the forces of nature and the unseen play with the situation.

Motivation vs. Nausea
We woke up at 4AM in our hotel in Baguio City that day. The cold wind slams the window of our hotel room. The Session Road was silent. It was colder than usual but we managed to move faster for the 5AM meet-up outside the 7-eleven store adjacent to Victory Liner terminal. We were expecting one big jeep that will ferry 15 persons aside from the five of us. But, dang! Around a dozen more chartered jeeps were there revving up to transfer some 200 or 300 hikers to Benguet.

A pause in the swerving road to Benguet
the mandatory group photo 
It’s not going to be a solemn climb, I said to my sorry self. But I don’t own the mountain and the executive trail wasn't established for that after all. To my face was a sample of the dreaded mass tourism. So we just got ourselves that mood-boosting strawberry-flavored hot taho to save the morning!

Three hours and multiple swerves have passed; I had to contend with what seemed like road-sickness. I wanted to throw-up half-way into the journey but I was reminded of my yearning to feel the energy of the rising golden sun from 2,992 meters above sea level while floating above the famed “blanket of clouds”.

The gods must not be happy

Trekkers have to take turns by groups in going through the 20-minute orientation with the officials of the Mt. Pulag National Park and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). This stop ensures everybody has an idea of the rules and regulation at the protected area revered as the “playground of the gods.”

It's not a joke riding on 'top-loads' of the jeeps
Reg time at the Badabak tourist assistance center

But the gods must not be happy when we were there with the rest of 300 plus more mountaineers. The number of campers allowed in the mountain for a day is just 150, said the DENR personnel who acknowledged that doubling the number also doubles the problem of garbage.  

The large group in roaring 4x4 jeepneys then headed for another hour of rough but scenic ride to Badabak Ranger Station, the take-off point. By the word rough, I mean rugged enough and so slippery that it sent the jeep struggling off a ravine which is hundreds of meters high. We jumped out of the top loads (top carrier of the jeep) before anything could happen.

From Badabak Ranger station the climb began with each group assigned a mountain porter/guide. We were somewhere in the middle of the mass of trekkers and (probably) bored office workers who decided to spend the weekend hiking.

The death march
I got nauseous, dizzy and my head ached like hell. The next three hours was like a death march. Woozy, I can barely see the trail. It’s like I was walking drunk. I still plodded forward. Thankfully, Kai was there to keep an eye on me even on my occasional rests and quick naps.

The rain pounded the landscape and the wind rocked everything except for the dwarf bamboos that clung to the ground near the campsite. The rest of the flock of trekkers struggled to pitch their own tents amid the strong cold wind. The holy rain brought me back to consciousness, back to earth.

Inside the tadpole tent Kai was already shaking and could not speak because of the cold. Instead of panicking I pulled out the thermal blanket we bought from ROX in Burnham Park. I fitted her surgical gloves to insulate her hands from the cold and gave her the human blanket she deserved, the last layer next to two layers of jackets, the thermal sheet and two sleeping bags.

The surreal golden sunrise!
The memories of the toxic day 1 faded the moment I stepped out of the tent at 4:00 am. The open sky at dawn revealed a spread of stars.

Before we knew it multiple trails of light from the head lamps of three hundred marchers heading to the summit for the sunrise are all over the vast dark landscape. That’s three hundred marchers that plowed with multiple trails the playground of the gods! Ouch!

oh, mountains at dawn!

There's the sun. Where's the tripod?
The universe was behaving well on day 2. I knew It was up to something really good for us.

An hour and a half later, we shared with the mob of trekkers the tri-boundary location of the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Viscaya at the summit of Mt. Pulag. In slow motion like in the movies the mighty sun gently crept out of the vast sea of clouds and revealed that stunning golden landscape.

The mandatory docu pose!
Superlatives aren’t enough. The ethereal has no measure. We were in state of peace.

The only thing we did besides saying Ohhs and ahhs and wows, was take advantage of the short moment with the peeping sun to take photos.

Gimme the light. Fill me with energy, oh sun.
We're on top of the...the third highest summit, yeah!
love. light. peace.
That's one holy bamboo, the tallest it can get at the summit
And we played by the fields of dwarf bamboos. Before we knew it we were five again. Bong and Von said they hurried to another campsite, Camp 1, when the rain poured thinking everybody’s heading on the same direction.

We bathe in the gentle sun on our way back. The trek was smooth and easy this time as we all have re-charged – both from the good night’s rest and from the mighty morning sun.

reunited after one long night  

The team and our newfound friend, Ms. Angie

Muchos gracias, yo!
What happened in day 1? Maybe it was road sickness. Maybe some force tried to weaken my physical drive. I am not certain to this day.

All I care about is that we were blessed with the best sunrise I have witnessed so far in all of my wanderings.

Peace and light,

P.S.: Our Mt. Pulag climb was the highlight of our Baguio-Benguet adventure last February where we also shot our impromptu Prenuptial Session. Kai and I got married last June.
Here's my photo story of our wedding. 
Will blog about our Prenup AVP and more of the adventure-turned-prenup-shoot soon. :) 


Mt. Pulag Climb itinerary for those coming from outside of Luzon
Day 1
9:15 Travel to MNL (earliest flight possible)
11:10 ETA MNL
1200 Lunch near Victory Liner Cubao terminal
1300 Take bus to Baguio City  
2000 ETA Baguio / Check-in at Hotel

Baguio City Tour

Day 3
0430 Wakeup call/Breakfast then proceed to 7-11 for meet-up with Chartered Jeepney
0700 Take Jeepney to Ambangeg
1000 ETA Visitors' Center/ DENR / Registration / Orientation
1130 Set out for Ranger Station
1230 ETA and lunch at Ranger Station
1300 Start trek
1600 ETA Camp 1: Set up camp;
1800 Dinner at campsite; socials               

Day 4
0400 wake up call. Early morning trek to summit for sunrise
0530 ETA Mt. Pulag summit
0700 Start descent from summit
0800 Back at Camp 2; heavy breakfast
0900 Decamp; start descent to Ranger Station
1130 Back at Ranger; Settle guide fees; Jeepney descent
1230 Back at Visitors' Center; tidy up
1400 Head back to Baguio City
1700 ETA Baguio City. Dinner.
Option 1: Stay at Baguio City
Option 2: Head straight to MNL

Day 5
Proceed to Airport


  1. Von and his pair of jeans. JJ and his ridiculous headgear. Dang. I wish I was there.

    Nice write-up as always bro. And boy I wished I have thought of something like your lead paragraph sooner. :)

    Baktin Corporation

    1. thanks, bro. lez climb Mindanao peaks with that cloud rat and the jeans guy sometime. :)


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