Mt. Pulag Multi-day Hike: Akiki-Ambangeg Killer Trail

Location: Kabayan, Benguet
Difficulty: 7/9
Hours to reach the summit: 2-4 days
Visited on: October 2016
Side trips: Baguio City

The Climb

With barely two weeks of preparation, I made my way to tick off one of the ultimate goals of a hiker: to climb the prestigious and challenging heights of Mt. Pulag.

Situated in Bokod, Benguet (as well as Nueva Vizcaya and Ifugao), Mount Pulag is the third highest peak in the Philippines, about 2922 meters above sea level according to the April 2016 land survey of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA). Pinoy Mountaineer rated Mt. Pulag a 7/9 according to their standards.

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Prior to the Trip

To be honest, no one might ever really be prepared to hike the famous mountain, much less if one would only have less than two weeks. I was just invited by my friend since her two other friends won’t be able to come despite their paid slots for the hike. Since I could join the hike without having to pay, I accepted the offer.

However, I have not yet invested on anything necessary for a hike, thus, a day prior to our trip, my friend looked for a pair of hiking shoes for me. My feet are size 4 in US measurements, but the smallest size available was 6. Still, it proved useful throughout the hike, although with great adjustments necessary. I borrowed a sleeping bag from her friend, and I borrowed a wind breaker from our friend. Also, I borrowed two travel backpacks, one from my cousin and one from my friend who brought me with her to this trip, thus, a highly sponsored trip.

 

Travelling to Benguet

By 10 in the evening, we rode a Victory Liner bus bound to Baguio City. We fell asleep immediately; we needed to save some energy for the hike. At past 4 in the morning, we were greeted by the freezing cold temperature of Baguio City, so we warmed ourselves with a cup of strawberry or normal taho. It was 5 in the morning when the van that would take us to Bokod, Benguet arrived.

On our way, everyone had fallen asleep. We were still tired from the trip and lack of sleep got us all craving for some. After another hour, we had a stop over at Jang-Jang’s Eatery to have our breakfast and buy our packed lunch.

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While waiting for the store to open, we went on a side-trip to the extremely long hanging bridge at the backside of the eatery. At first, I was so afraid to walk on the bridge, but eventually, my little sense of adventure called me to walk upon the thread. Thankfully, the river underneath the hanging bridge was dried up, and this had lessened my fear to cross the bridge.

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We watched a short video which featured Pulag, the provinces that surround the park, the local residents (including indigenous communities of the Kankanaeys, Ibaloys, and two others) living around and within the vicinity, and the Dos and Don’ts for hikers. Only after then and after registering were we allowed to continue on our trip to the jump off of the Akiki Trail.

Another 30 minutes worth of drive and we arrived by 9:40 am at the jump off. Warning: may cause extreme fatigue.

 

Day 01: Jump off to Marlboro Country

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The worst part of the hike was at the beginning. We went up to the Akiki Ranger Station through steep concrete stairs with all our baggage with us. It made me feel like my heart was out of air, but I managed to arrive to the station, thankfully.

From there, we made our final preparations and sought the help of the porters who also became our local guides, a requirement in every hike.

We started the real hike from there by 11 in the morning. We went up first past the few residential lots along the trail. We also passed by a road currently being constructed. The sun was already up and about so it was a bit hot.

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Note that the trail will leave your right body exposed directly to the sun, that is if you are hiking in the morning. We had our first real stop at one of the sheds along the trail. The shed is past from the concrete roads and is in the middle of grasslands.

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After about perhaps ten minutes, we continued our trek into the part filled with extremely tall pine trees. This is the first generally distinguishable part of the trail. The pine trees gave us enough shade and provided a cool breeze to make us feel even just a bit comfortable hiking up the trail. We took another stop at a shaded part of the trail where a couple of cows were having their breakfast, or maybe lunch, I suppose.

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As we continued or trek, we arrived at small falls-like water which we had to cross in order to continue to the trail. Before it lies a cave that served as a gravesite. From there, it took us on more hour to arrive at Eddet River where we had our lunch by 1 in the afternoon. It is also where the first water source could be found.

We were already properly rested so by two in the afternoon, we crossed the hanging bridge above the Eddet River. The hanging bridge is already a bit loose, thus more dangerous, whereas the river has extremely strong currents so travelers are advised to cross the bridge one at a time as a precautionary measure.

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Again, the right side of your body will be left exposed to the heat. Although the trail from Eddet River to Marlboro Country was primarily zigzag in nature, there are more times that your right part will shield you against the burning sun, compared to the left part.

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The trek to Marlboro Country is extremely long. I was already exhausted and was usually left behind but still not the last in the team. We stopped over at a clearing which marked the beginning of more pine trees and cool air. By four in the afternoon, we continued our hike. Our exhaustion was quite a bit surpassed by the magnificent sunset that peeked in between the tall pine trees.

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The darkness was already creeping in and we were still on our way to Marlboro Country. Perhaps it was six in the evening when we arrived at the campsite where we immediately set up our tents.

The winds are colder in Marlboro Country and exhaustion took me immediately to seek for sleep, but after a while, my friend woke me up to tell me that I have to have dinner because sleeping with an empty stomach during the cold weather is not good. The team shared with me a bowl of Sinigang na Baboy to fill my stomach.

 

Day 02: Food Trip and Lazy Day

I woke up by 4 in the morning but the sun was still not up, so I slept again then woke up by 6. The other people I was with were already preparing breakfast. Our hiking event organizer from BaseKamp, Sir Agui, cooked a deliciously warm sopas for us. There were rains that morning, so we opted to wait for the sun to rise up. I asked leave to sleep again and woke up by 9 am to break camp. However, the weather was still not good. Upon Kuya Danny’s and Kuya Belino’s (our guides), advice, we took our lunch and hoped that by the afternoon, the rains would stop.

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But the rains kept on pouring, and our guides took note that there might be zero visibility if we continue our hike to the next campsite which was the Saddle Camp. The final decision was that we would continue our hike by midnight, and so I slept again and woke up by four since a lot of other hikers came.

The other groups’ guides told them not to continue the trip to the Saddle Camp, but upon their insistence, they went their way even though it was highly dangerous. Thus, they faced quite some circumstances, the stories of which were relayed via the radio.

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For a while, though, the sun was filling the skies with a bright orange tinge. Still, strong rains came afterwards. We decided to start preparing our dinner while the sun was still up. We feasted on tinola, tocino, and maling for dinner. We also had some hot cream of mushroom soup. We then slept early and woke up by 11 in the evening to break camp.

 

Day 3: The Climb to the Summit

Note: No photos were taken during the early morning hike.

We hiked through the dark by 1 in the morning. It took us about an hour to go past through the mossy forest. The trees were filled with moss, and although my companions felt quite cold, I had to take of my jacket because I don’t feel cold enough. I could barely describe the place since it was mainly dark, our only source of light were our flashlights. But again, I can imagine Lois Lowry’s The Messenger taking place in an environment such as the mossy forest.

We arrived at the last water source by 2:30 in the morning and we took a long rest there. From there, we continued through the Mossy Forest and exited by 3:30. That was where the Grasslands began.

It was colder in the grasslands, and without the trees to protect us, the harsh wind was blowing, threatening to take us with it. We still can barely see anything, then the fogs added to the dilemma, but I’m quite a bit sure that there are cliffs on the left side of the trail. Also, the trails from the grasslands to the Saddle Camp are mostly downhill, thus, have caused us to take further precautionary measures (i.e., walking slowly downhill). Sometimes, though, the sky would clear up to display such a dark blanket filled with shining stars.

By five in the morning, we arrived at the Saddle Camp. It was extremely cold from there that one would wonder how other could’ve survived sleeping through the night, adding the fact that the rains kept on pouring.

We ate our breakfast, mostly of cup noodles, to seek heat since the cold and the morning dew left our socks and gloves damp. Thus, our fingers and toes were a bit numb.

It was already six in the morning when we continued our trek to the summit where we arrived at about 6:30.

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At the summit, there were hordes of people vying to take their photos with the marker. Sadly, the clouds did not disperse an all we saw were fogged areas. We decided to leave the summit by 7:00 am and took the Ambangeg Trail to descend.

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The Descent

Going down the Ambangeg Trail, I realized that hiking the mountain via that trail would be a whole lot easier. The sad part, though, was that many people take that route instead. The trail was mostly downhill through grasslands, but upon arrival at the mossy forest part, the trail was quite made of stones properly placed. According to Kuya Belino, the guides put those stones there because the trails would be too muddy without it.

We arrived at Camp 2 by 8:10, took a quick stop, then continued our descent. We were drenched in rainwater because the rains kept on pouring down. By 9:10, we arrived at Camp 1, and when Sir Agui mentioned that I could ride a habal-habal from there, I already considered doing so.

However, upon seeing the habal-habal, it seemed to me that if I ride one from there to the Ambangeg Ranger Station, it would mean that I was not able to finish the trail. Thus, I gave all my energy and speed walked to the Ranger Station. Immediately after which, my legs were aching, and I took the Ice Bucket Challenge after three days without bathing.

 

Good to note:

  1. The river under the long hanging bridge goes straight to the Dam that supplies water up the northern provinces.
  2. The Akiki Trail is also called the “Killer Trail”, and there are no contentions to that.
  3. A medical certificate that indicates that the hiker is physically fit is required to be submitted to the DENR office in Benguet.
  4. To minimize travelers, hikers must seek reservations from DENR. Also, camping on the first to the third campsites are not allowed on weekends.
  5. Pulag is considered as the sacred lands of the indigenous communities. One of the common beliefs is that when someone passes away, his/her spirit will live up in the mountains.
  6. Pulag is a derivative of a native word meaning “bald”, and the mountain was named as such since the top is mostly grasslands.
  7. Porters could be hired from the jump off. They would take your things for you though out the hike. The rate is 1500php for the whole trip for a maximum of 15kg baggage.
  8. In every camping area (Eddet River, Marlboro Country, Ambangeg’s Camp 1 and 2) other than Saddle Camp, there are restrooms and a watersource, whereas there are sleeping quarters meant for the local guides and porters in every campsite. However, there I no electricity up the mountains.
  9. There are cellphone signals from Marlboro Country to the Summit, although the signal might not be stable. However, from Jang-Jang’s eatery up to past Eddet River, one might not have any cellphone signals.
  10. Keep your clothes inside a waterproof bag or plastic since the weather at the mountain is generally not predictable.

 

Essentials of a Mt. Pulag Hiker

Feet: A good and dependable hiking shoes. Basketball shoes or high cuts are not really advisable. Wear something that gives comfort and could give a grip to the soil/ground. Also bring sandals because your hiking shoes might get wet prior to your descent. Bring 3-6 pairs of socks, at least one per day, the other three for emergency purposes. Also, bring a couple of plastic labo which one should wear prior to putting the socks on your feet before sleeping. This would minimize the change for the cold air to wrap around your feet.

Legs: Trekking pants are the most suitable, but jogging pants will do. However, jogging pants are more likely to absorb water since they are made of cotton. One could also opt to wear trekking shorts and thermal sleeves instead.

Torso: Layers of long sleeves and a wind breaker or two. Might depend upon how resistant to cold one is. Many people wear dri-fit and thermal sleeves then add on a layer or two of long sleeves, then the wind breaker to keep the cold away. It is more advisable to wear a waterproof wind breaker in case the rain falls down.

Hands: Better put on surgical gloves before wearing your normal gloves which works like the plastic labo.

Face: Put on petroleum jelly around the wind to minimize wind burn during the cold parts, while put on sunblock to prevent sun burn during the hot parts of the trek. Also wear a face mask or simply a bandana to block off the cold air especially on your nose. One might seem to have a runny nose during the hike due to the cold weather, but one will eventually be fine after the hike.

Head: Wear a bonnet to protect your head from too much cold.

 

Other hiking essentials:

Poncho: Too keep dry against the rain

Emergency blanket: Thin foil-like silver blanket which can be used for sleeping

Sleeping bag: To somehow block off the coldness from the ground

Headlamp: Highly essential especially when trekking during the dark hours. Also important since there is no electricity to provide light at the campsites. Bring as many batteries as necessary. Flashlights could make do but might cause a bit of a hassle.

Powerbank: To charge your phone if you need to be in constant communication from people below. Keep within your clothes so that the battery would not immediately be drained.

 

Itinerary:

Pulag 1Pulag 2

You may also view the itinerary here.

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