Diary of my First Climb: Mt. Pulag, the Third Highest Mountain in the Philippines

The allusion surrounding climbing mountains and how difficult it is has always been ingrained in my consciousness ever since. However, I never really related to this on a personal level - I never had the chance to try climbing one myself. Back in university, I hear my friends tell stories, with much gusto and exhilaration, of their mountain climbing escapades. 

They would invite me and I would always defer the opportunity to climb. And so when another invitation came from my father-in-law (Jacq’s dad) to hike Luzon’s highest mountain 3 days before the climb, I initially hesitated as a learned impulse. I scrambled over every excuse I could muster to pass on this chance. 

Something inside me just commanded me to let go and say yes. Later, Jacq and I found ourselves scouring the mall for mountain gears and then packing them. We went ahead for a physically demanding activity not even have had any endurance exercises done. 

Day 1 – From the Cubao concrete jungle to the verdant foot of Pulag 

We hopped on the Victory Liner Deluxe bus from Cubao at 2015 hours. I went together with my wife, my parents-in-law and my father-in-law’s high school buddy. It was a swift and comfortable ride to Baguio City with minimal stops along the route. We arrived in the City of Pines safely the next day at about 0130 hours in the morning. Later at 3 am, we were to meet with 12 other climbers – together we called ourselves the “Cubao group”, since most of us came from parishes in Cubao, Quezon City. 

It was my first time meeting most of the “Cubao group” people. I was briefed that one of the joys of mountain climbing is the opportunity to make new friends. Later on, I would realize this to be true. There is a special kind of bond you share with people you are experiencing a physically demanding activity together. It is no wonder, therefore, that companies hold mountain climbing as a team-building activity.  

The Cubao group warming up during the ascent

At 0300 hours, we boarded the jeepney that took us along the long and winding road to our first stop – Country Road Restaurant and Souvenir Shop somewhere in Benguet. We ate breakfast and packed our meals – enough for the subsequent lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day. At around 0600 hours, we left the resto and rode the jeep to the DENR station. We made a quick scenic detour to Ambuklao dam, which I knew to be, years back, the biggest hydroelectric dam in Asia. The structure was quite massive. Its water basin was also huge and awe-inspiring as you see it along the road. 

Country Road Resto and Souvenir Shop, Benguet

Inside the resto.

Of beautiful gorges and foggy mornings (View from Country road restaurant)

The Ambuklao facility

At the Ambuklao dam

A far shot of the dam in its entirety (if only this cam could capture it)

Picturesque view from the waterway

We arrived at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) station at 730 hours for a 30 minute seminar which comprised of an audio-visual presentation and mini lecture about the Mount Pulag National Park. They placed particular emphasis on preserving the natural diversity of the park. Hence the following lines were shown omnipresently in the station:

“Leave nothing but footprints
Take nothing but pictures
Kill nothing but time
Keep nothing but memories”

At the DENR Office

Banners from various climbing groups

The DENR personnel providing us a short lecture on Do's and Don'ts while at Mt. Pulag

The DENR facility also has a functional toilet and bath facility although water, especially at that altitude, is already limited. When we came there, there was no water from the faucet but you could fetch water conveniently stored in barrels. For me this is the last area with a decent T&B along our path so it would be wise to take advantage of this. To grab on to whatever comforts you can avail while you still can.

It is also a must to register ones names here in order to secure permit. Likewise it is also an imperative to log out here after descending Mount Pulag. You could also purchase souvenir items here such as shirts, ref magnets, mugs, certificate, etc.

Jacq’s Quick tip: If you want a certificate of your conquering Mt. Pulag (Php 40.00), order one BEFORE the climb so you can  get it the next day, after your descent.

Souvenir items at the DENR station

Next, we rode the jeepney for about 2 hours to the Ranger Station. En route, I was blessed to witness one of the most breath-taking views in my life – of verdant gorges, rice and vegetable garden terraces, occasional small houses, pine trees and flora that could only grow at this altitude. These view you could enjoy better if you ride the jeep’s topload. Not the safest place to be, but if you are a thrill-junkie, it’ll be worth it. 

The Ranger Station is already about 2,500 meters above sea level. Here we met our two local guides. We also made pre-hike preparations i.e. answering the call of nature, donning sun-protective gears and sunscreen, last-minute packing.  We said a group prayer and at 1030 hours, we then began our ascent.

On the way to the Ranger station.

The Ranger station, the start-off point to the top. The arduous Ambangeg trail hiking starts here.

Slowly but surely: the Ascent via Ambangeg Trail

The Cubao group took the easiest trail towards the top – Ambangeg trail. From the Ranger Station, we just needed about 500 meters to reach the summit. The trail starts paved and relatively flat which provided a good warm up for everyone. One could pass by vegetable gardens that are reminders of the nature park’s gradual artificial utilization, despite efforts of the government to relocate the residents reluctant to leave the land which are ancestral to them. 

Less than an hour down the trail, we arrived near the mossy forest where the path became narrow and the ground rockier that it was imperative for us to hike on single file. The path mostly was ascending from here on.  After 1 hour and 30 minutes of continuous hiking, we arrived at Camp 1 where we rest to catch our breath and to use the comfort room facilities available here. 

Paved paths begin the trail to the top

Garden terraces to your left...

...And more terraces to your right.

Single file walking starts here.

Take nothing but memories.

It is also wise to bring a walking stick or a hiking pole.

Slow and steady.

At Camp 1 where we initially rested. Toilet facilities here. (approximately 1 hour away from starting point)

Shortly, we continued with our trail. We would stop every now and then to savour nature and to take photos, of course. My wife would open a pack of raisins or nuts and would pass them to us as trail foods. Ah, now I realized why they call them trail mix! In mountaineering, it really is important to maintain hydration and adequate blood glucose levels. The scene was equally breath-taking (pun intended) as for example, we passed by a location where Snow White’s mad forest must have been inspired.

The uphill climb. Too easy?

Snow White's dark forest must've been inspired by the mossy forest

A dwarf bamboo plant, only as tall as my hand.

An example of flora you could only see here.

Alas! After about 3 hours of hiking, we arrived at camp 2 – our camping destination. We shortly pitched our tents and settled down here. We were to camp here overnight before we hike up to the summit early the next day. After the gruelling hike, the group ate lunch, while I finished the most delicious pork sinigang I’ve ever had in my life. Thousands of kilometres away from civilized life, the food really tasted more palatable here. Shortly, nearly all of us dozed off in our own tents. Apparently the group has been exhausted as later on a cacophony of snores would be audible from the tents.

Jacqui setting up camp. This tent is good for two people.

Our campsite

Toilet facilities in the campsite grounds.

Here we are at Camping Ground 2!

We woke up to a damp and foggy afternoon that was already chilly and drizzly. Fr. Jojo, a young priest, was one of the Cubao group and was gracious enough to celebrate Holy Mass with us. That was special to me as it was the highest place on earth where I received the Holy Eucharist. Pretty cool huh?

It was still drizzling when we ate dinner that early evening. We needed to don our rain capotes to protect us as water vapour seem to come from everywhere in the air. And so amid the fogs and white flashes of lights, we ate a delicious dinner – the Pinoy favourite chicken and pork adobo as we tried to keep warm in the dark, chilly night. We later on retreated to our tents and called it a night. It poured that evening and it was ever chilly. Good thing I had my wife close by to provide me additional warmth. Before I slept, I breathed a little prayer for strength to endure the challenging climb to the summit early that next morning.

Jacq’s Quick tip: Make-sure that your camping tent is waterproof and does not have holes or other tears. Do not even think about bringing a beach tent!

We celebrated the Holy Eucharist up there.

Elevated several thousand meters above the sea, I felt I was likewise called to a higher level of faith.

Receiving Holy Communion high above the clouds.

The glorious sunrise

0330 hours. Damp and cold to the tune of 12 degrees Celsius, I woke up to the sound of my wife’s iPhone alarm. Our fellow campers were already awake and started assembling outside. I donned three layers of clothing and wore additional socks for warmth. Then in a single file with hiking poles and flashlights in hand, we scaled the rest of the path to the summit.

My body must have acclimated to the thin oxygen by this time that climbing that morning was relatively easier. I think it was also more beneficial to move more to produce needed body heat – standing still would only make you feel colder. Hike hike hike. Occasionally dodging my foot away from a puddle and grabbing on to the mountain grass for leverage. I would look back my way and see a single line of trailing flashlights - that gave me a sense of camaraderie. It was refreshing to know that whatever arduous trail I was taking, I wasn’t treading it alone.

Jacq’s Quick tip: Bring a flashlight or head light that has enough battery to last you 2 hours of hiking. Preferably, it should be LED or have white light.

We reached Peak 1 (the summit) at around 0515 hours just as the dawn sky slowly painted soft amber. We came just in time for Haring Araw to emerge in the sea of clouds amidst troughs and mountain peaks. We panted air for dear life when we reached the top. After ample oxygen rushed back to my head, I beheld the majestic view that had made this mountain so famous. Photo ops ensued, but no amount of photograph could warrant the spectacular view justice. You have to visit it and witness it yourself.

Just as the sky hinted of soft amber...

Haring Araw (sun) says hello!

Here comes the sun tadada...

Here comes the sun, I say, it's alright.

Thank you Lord, we reached the top!

The dwarf bamboo grassland of the summit.

TV5's Juan Direction were there too! (We hope you caught their Mt. Pulag episode aired last April 20, 2014)

The Cordillera mountain range from the summit's perspective (see the summit's shadow at the left side of the picture)

Life Lessons     
Sir Edmund Hillary aptly puts it “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. Surely the climb to Pulag has taught me valuable life lessons I wouldn’t otherwise realize anywhere else.

Photo from flickr.com

1.    It’s all about the climb. Teeny bopper Miley wails this phrase over and over in her song. A cliché that I deem quite true. No matter how magnificent the view or that thing awaits you at the top, what matters more is the experience you obtained from getting there. For me, many times it was so difficult to move upwards catching my breath. My feet were sore, my head was too light, my whole body was gasping for air. It was easier to give up and roll down the mountain. But overcoming those limitations were the reason I reached the top and not my desire to reach the summit.
In life, some people chase after “the highs” taking too less importance on the journey.   Appreciate the journey. And in all fairness, no matter how I dislike Miley, she couldn’t be truer this time. I actually found myself humming to “The Climb” during the ascent.

The Cubao group trailing in single file during the descent from the Summit.

The Sea of Clouds.

We now actually master the art of hyperventilating and smiling at the same time.

The rolling troughs and peaks.

The most photographed tree in Pulag.

They made it easier for us to walk with the rocks on the pathway.

2.    Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Perhaps I underestimated the trail. Perhaps I proudly thought I was already physically fit. Perhaps I watch too much “Man vs Wild”. But I set foot on Pulag with too little mental and physical preparation. I had little sleep. I didn’t exercise weeks before the climb. I was happy bringing along so-so camping gears, I didn’t’ even have a functioning flashlight for crying out loud! I was already doomed to fail by the get-go.  

So I realized that in mountaineering, one should really invest – on adequate rest, on physical exercise, on top-shelf gears. Same goes in life. When you are bound to take on something enormous – such as a career move, or a major life-changing decision - you should really invest 110 percent effort for it. Good planning is therefore essential. As they say, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Expect the worst situations to happen and truly expect to be taken out of your zone. Also, pack smart and pack light. Jacqui and I recommend the following to-bring list for your mountain climbing experience.


Take a handy point-and-shoot camera with you and go crazy shooting every scene you fancy for your might only come here once.

Good morning, camp site.

After breakfast, we headed down to our descent.

It is wise to be physically and mentally prepared still. The descent might be less demanding but it is still a good 3-hour hike down altogether.

The mossy forest bids adieu.

Our trail master, an expat kid who wouldn't stop talking.

We were told to hike quietly. This place is revered as sacred by the local tribes.

The path to the descent also has uphill portions so be ready!

3. That impossible is nothing. A middle-aged woman who was apparently blind was with another group who climbed with us that time. It made me realize that whatever that is that limits you to do and reach something, you will be able to overcome that with God’s grace. I also laud on the efforts of her companions who painstakingly guided her through the trail. Whatever it is that she is trying to prove with that feat, she already has proven to herself and to the people around her. 

Funny, I actually chose to scale one of the highest mountains in the country for my first ever mountain climb. In the process, I found out for myself the truth behind the “mountain metaphors”. That the experience not only taught me to appreciate the climb or to adequately prepare. But it more importantly taught me to listen to a God who was talking to me throughout this experience. I have proven that no matter what, indeed with faith, there “ain’t no mountain high enough”.   


Note: This is my husband's first blog post contribution for JWW. 


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