Climbing Mt. Pulag gets you closer to heaven, so they say. Nowadays, tourists flock to the National Park to behold views of sunsets and sunrises made spectacular by the sea of clouds; star-studded skies; and the vast bio diverse forests of the Cordilleras.
Mt. Pulag in Benguet is 2,922 meters above sea level and is the highest peak in Luzon. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful mountains in the Philippines and is known to be the home of 143 species of birds and endangered species like the endemic cloud rat.
In February 1964, Mt. Pulag was declared a National Park under Presidential Proclamation No. 56. Prior to this, Mt. Pulag is regarded by the locals as a sacred mountain for the burial of the dead, and more importantly, as the “playground of the gods”. Up until now, the indigenous groups residing in the area – the Ibalois, Kalanguyas, Kankana-eys, Karaos, and Ifugaos, hold on to this belief and strive to preserve the sacredness of the mountain by asking tourists to respect the people and the environment.
There are four known trails to reach Mt. Pulag’s summit – Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan, and Ambaguio, each with different entry points and degrees of difficulty. To first time hikers, the Ambangeg trail is the best option. The entry point is at Bokod, Benguet, which is 3 hours away from Baguio.
The other three trails are arduous according to mountaineers. Though difficult, they claim that these trails pave the way to some of the most magnificent views of lakes, waterfalls, as well as flora and fauna in the region. Still, all trails showcase pine and mossy forests, and the breath-taking grasslands of dwarf bamboos.
Getting to Mt. Pulag via the Ambangeg trail:
Mt. Pulag is an eco-tourism spot in the province of Benguet. With that being said, all tourists are required to register with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) at their office in Bokod, Benguet. Apart from the registration, hikers are also required to take an orientation about the mountain as well as the culture of the locals.
The travel time from Baguio to Bokod is 3 hours. After the registration and orientation at the DENR Visitor Center, hikers’ next stop is at the Ranger Station to sign-up for climbing up the summit. Yes, not everyone can climb the summit because the locals have set a limit to the number of people that the mountain can safely accommodate.
The climb to the camp site using the Ambangeg trail takes 3-4 hours. From the Ranger Station to Camp 1, you’d see the pine covered parts of the mountain. Upon reaching Camp 1, the mossy forests begin. Hikers usually take a break at this part of the trail for lunch. The trek from Camp 1 to Camp 2 becomes a little bit more difficult at this point. But as the mossy forests clear to make way for the grasslands, you’d get this unexpectedly lofty feeling, which may be caused by a sense of accomplishment or the golden beauty of the dwarf bamboos spread out to greet you.
The climb to the summit takes about an hour to an hour and a half. Hikers usually wake up by 3AM not only to prep for another climb but also to witness the galactic spectacle of a clear sky marvelously adorned with stars. Depending on the speed of hikers, it usually is still a bit dark upon reaching the summit. But not for long, the sun would, then, make its dramatic entrance at the horizon of clouds to greet a new day.
Whether one chooses the “easiest” or the “killer” trail, Mt. Pulag is not to be underestimated. The biting cold, which can reach to subzero levels in certain months, can be the toughest ordeal for any hiker if not prepared for. Not surprisingly, you’d see all hikers in layers of clothing and are still shivering, almost uncontrollably. Although it is called the “easiest” trail, the Ambangeg route still has those steep slopes and terrain that can be a bit muddy and slippery. The trail might be “easy” but carrying a 15kg bag that holds tents, thermal mats, 3 liters of water, and food, might be someone’s biggest downfall. That is why, to climb Mt. Pulag, it is very important for hikers to be prepared physically and mentally.