On February 27, 2012, I conquered the highest mountain in Luzon.
We’d been preparing for this trip for only a few days and Robbie and I even went on a panic-buying Ukay spree just so we could survive the trip. While Robbie worried so much about dying, getting frostbitten at the top or losing a nose, I was pretty much sure I could do it – despite the many people who had warned me of the below zero temperature at the top.
Still, I came prepared. Or I thought I did. After buying from Ukay and borrowing a jacket, scarf and sweater from friends, we boarded a jeep from Microtel Inns and Suites in Baguio and headed off to Benguet from there.
We arrived at the Visitor’s Center at around 8am, I think. We went in for a short seminar on the safety and guide rules at the mountain. By then, I was already slightly nervous and paranoid.
What if this was to be my last night and my parents didn’t even know I was here? My mind raced on.
The seminar/talk took about 30 minutes or so. After that, the guys and I looked around the small, souvenir shop for anything that might come useful for the night. I bought hand warmers for P70.
When we were all ready, we went back to the jeep. The ride going up to the Ranger Station was pretty scary as we were going through very steep cliffs. While the view was undoubtedly amazing, a step off those rocks was deadly. We resorted to going back to sleep during the ride just so we didn’t have to keep looking out.
By then, I had mastered the art of sleeping with my back on hard metal, bouncing up and down and slowly sliding down on the person beside me.
It was only until we reached the Ranger Station, an hour later that I realized my back hurt from all the bouncing and hitting of cold metal.
When we arrived, it was still pretty warm that I was able to take my jacket off and walk around in a thin, sleeveless t-shirt. We took some pictures, basked in the sun and ate our lunch. Climbing with some of my closest blogger friends, Jerome of Balintataw, Darwin of Tracking Treasure, Josh Uy of Intsik Boy and Robbie of Travelling Dork, it made the experience even worth it. We played around a bit, teasing each other and scaring each other of the night we expected to have.
When we were all ready, we began our trek. At first, we aimed to follow the guides and Mr. Fernan.
The first part of the trek was pretty easy. There weren’t many slopes to go on, but I could feel we were already slowly going up the mountain.
If you’ve read about the sights being breathtaking, well, I can definitely confirm this. During the first part of the trek, we passed through huge trees, green pastures, pineapple plantations or rice fields (I think it was) and gorgeous towering pine trees.
The road wasn’t slippery or anything, neither was it too rocky to handle. This part of the hike, I was still wearing only my sleeveless shirt, anticipating the right time to wear my jacket again.
We reached the “halfway house” or the hut near Camp 1 in about 45 minutes or less. According to Jerome, this was faster than the time he had climbed before.
From the halfway house, we can see the peak of Mt. Pulag.
While the others chose to rest a bit more, Robbie and I, the competitive bi@tches that we were, after resting for only a few minutes, we decided to follow the guide, giving us a head start over the others who were still enjoying their rest.
This second part of the hike was different. Instead of cool overlooking views of plantations and scary cliffs and pine trees, this part of the hike took us to a very different realm of the climb – I thought I was in a Secret Garden!
Cluttered with a variety of plants and trees, the second part of the hike had a cooler atmosphere that by the second half, I finally got to wearing my jacket for the climb. This time, I could feel the cold creeping up to my skin. I saw the fog afar from between the trees and within a few minutes, we were cloaked in fog. It’s a good thing that there’s usually only one trail, otherwise, Robbie and I would’ve gotten lost because we kept losing track of our guide.
Unlike the first part of the trail where the road was clear and dry, here, possibly due to the fog, the trail was slightly muddy and wet, allowing us to make use of the stick canes given to us by Mr. Fernan. I really didn’t know the importance of these canes until this climb.
We passed through beautiful green plans and towering green trees. There were flowers and plants I’d never seen before. It was amazing how these beautiful flora grows at the top of this mountain.
On the way, we passed through a water source, whose water, was possibly the tastiest water I’ve had the pleasure of drinking – well, if that made any sense at all.
Due to our competitiveness and drive to get to the top, Robbie and I continued climbing, possibly by ourselves because we couldn’t see our guide anymore, nor could we see our friends behind us.
Despite that, we were able to reach Camp 2 way ahead of the others.
We reached Camp 2 first in our group, probably just an hour or so after the halfway house. Since we were able to secure permission to camp at the extended Camp 2, we enjoyed the freeing view at the top where we could easily see the seemingly small, brazen hill tops and the cloak of fog that would soon embrace us.
Before it could, Robbie and I took turns taking pictures. For awhile, it started to drizzle a little, but it was only because of the fog. When the others caught up with us, we started setting up camp – okay, so the boys did and Robbie and I just stared around, looking pretty. LOL.
Just because we weren’t hiking anymore, we began feeling the pain in our legs and backs and found ourselves sleepy and tired.
Since we really didn’t have anything to do and we had already exhausted our photo opportunities, we slid into one of the tents we had and fell asleep. To keep ourselves warm, our best shot was sleeping in one tent – all five of us fit into one tent perfectly, giving us an advantage over the pending cold we were to experience that night.
When we woke up around 6pm, I think, it was raining outside. I wasn’t sure if it was just mist like Mr. Fernan had mentioned or we were really having bad luck at camp. After playing a little, getting to know each other (again) and asking silly questions, we fell asleep until dinner time.
During dinner, it was still raining, so we had a hard time transferring ourselves from our tents to the main tent where the rest were having dinner. We had sinigang for dinner, like a breath of fresh air, in the whistling cold winds of the night.
Once we were done, we headed back to the tent to play 20 questions. We didn’t bring any forms of entertainment at all, leaving us to figure out what can entertain us, besides music.
Trust me, when there’s nothing to do, there’s cold, cold wind outside and the fear of freezing, we definitely found ways to entertain ourselves with silly questions, funny children’s stories with a crazy twist and Robbie’s fear-turned-wit. This experience probably helped us grow closer together as friends and as a group.
When we woke up again, I finally felt the need to go to the bathroom. In Mt. Pulag, they have a somewhat specified place where climbers can relieve themselves, because it is disrespectful to the locals’ gods to relieve everywhere.
We bullied Darwin, who was by the way, the birthday boy that night, into coming with me to the bathroom. By then, the rain had stopped and I could now see the clearest skies ever. It felt as if I was in some sort of museum where the stars can all be seen and I’d feel like I can reach up and touch them. It was amazing. However, because the ground was still wet and it was freezing outside, we chose not to spend too much time star-gazing in order to save our butts from frostbite.
Really, when we had nothing to do, we realized time was so slow that it seems as if every time we woke up, we had overslept, only to find out that it had only been 30 minutes to 2 hours.
After falling asleep at around 11pm, we woke up at 3am, an hour too early from our supposed wake up call.
While the rest had coffee, I got dressed, getting ready for our climb to the summit.
I put on plastic in my feet, covered it with thick socks before wearing my shoes. The hand warmers I’d bought at the visitor’s center proved to be very useful. With a shirt, a sweater and two thick jackets, I was ready to go. I brought along a 3rd jacket though, just in case.
I’ve never done a night trek before and this is the first time. Unprepared, none of us brought actual flashlights as we completely forgot we’d be climbing before the sun comes up. Instead, we survived using cell phones and a mini-light. I couldn’t walk too fast because I didn’t have any form of light at all. Good thing I had a cane with me because the trail was narrow and very slippery due to the night’s rain.
During the trek, we had to stay in a single file. I wasn’t sure why, but I’d find out in the end.
It felt like a very long trek, only this time, we weren’t entertained by any beautiful trees or plants along the way. Instead, we hiked in pitch-black with only our lights and each other to guide us.
By the time we were on our last leg to the summit, I could feel the pain in my legs. The trail was getting pretty steep, so this time, we really had to use our legs to get up. By this time as well, even Josh was feeling pretty competitive, taking the lead from Robbie and I.
Some light was already coming up by this time so we could finally see our surroundings. At the third part of the trek (to the summit), we had reached the grasslands. We stopped for a moment at the last hike going up to the summit. I was ready to climb up because I didn’t want to miss any action. Robbie rested awhile, and I gathered up the strength to climb the rather steep trail to the summit.
When I reached the summit, I was sweating in my 4 layers of clothing and started removing my jackets one by one.
For awhile, I waited for Robbie and my other friends, in my shirt and sweatshirt. I thought I’d stay this way for awhile.
However, within minutes, the wind blew and I had to put on my jackets again.
Once we were reunited at the summit, we took the time to take pictures and enjoy the breeze.
We waited for the so-called sea of clouds, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to get much. Oh well.
All the more reason for me to return.
When we trudged back down the trail, I realized why it was so important for us to walk in a single file. Apparently, the trail was very narrow and can only actually accommodate one person.
There is a part of the trail where we actually go around the hilltop, leaving no mistakes while walking. Any wrong move and we could go rolling down the rolling hills. I wasn’t ready for that yet. I haven’t graduated!
We made the hike back, slower because this time, instead on focusing on the trail in pitch black, we were able to take photos along the trail.
While we didn’t get to see the clouds, we were lucky enough to catch a rainbow near the trail and an even smaller one just below.
I enjoyed the whole trek back to Camp 2, especially because there’s nothing like the view in Mt. Pulag.
In fact, it’s like I was in a different realm all in all. With the clouds settled so low among us, it makes a perfect dramatic background to the barren, rolling hills. It’s a scenery that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
I climbed Mt. Pulag and I survived. Just don’t tell my Mom about it.
Philippine Travelogue extends her heartfelt thanks to Microtel Inns and Suites Baguio, Ms. Lualhati Fausto, Ms. Marissa Sampayan, Mr. Lester Hallig, Mr. Fernan Nebrez, Mr. Dean Cid, resident Manager for Microtel Baguio and Mr. Albert for the free wonderful stay at Microtel Baguio and the chance to experience Mt. Pulag for the first time.
I stayed at Microtel Inns and Suites Baguio on February 26 – 28, during the peak of Panagbenga and our climb to Mt. Pulag with Robbie Bautista of The Travelling Dork, Josh Uy of Intsik Boy, Jerome Baluyut of Balintataw, Darwin Cayetano of Tracking Treasure and Christian Sangoyo of Lakad Pilipinas.