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Monday, March 23, 2015

A Walk Above The Clouds: Mt Pulag

Summer is here!  Instead of hitting the beach, we're climbing mountains.  Inspired by the movie That Thing Called Tadhana, where do broken hearts go? We head north!
literally a walk above the clouds

Read more about our best summer ever!

It has been three long years since I've been prodding my peers about camping in the mountains.  This time I was determined to go as long as I have one company.  (I still have issues travelling alone.)  I confirmed with one companion but ended up with five other peers.  I know these itchy feet won't allow themselves to be left behind.

We booked a trip with to Mt. Pulag. I just bumped into their website randomly on the net, found good reviews on tripadvisor.

Our trip was surrounded with uncertainties. A month before the trip, the DENR closed the park to camping due to heavy rains then two weeks before the scheduled departure the agency cancelled our trip due to the Cordillera Marathon and a week before the trip, here comes a threat of a typhoon.  At the end of the day, if there's a will there's a way.  I called up the agency and negotiated that they could not possibly cancel the trip we have long prepared for. That same day, they recalled the cancellation notice and pushed through.

Day 0

We flew in Manila purposely for this.  At noon, we left on a privately driven van to Baguio and reached four hours later just before sunset.  We checked in Citylights Hotel located in the heart of Baguio.  It's a well managed hotel, clean, with hot showers, buffet breakfast but no aircon. Dinner was at Cafe by the Ruins.  The bagnet was a hit. 

Day 1.

We met the group at half past four in the morning at seven eleven across the Victory Liner Bus Terminal.  The rest of the group just arrived in an overnight bus from Manila.  We then transferred to a monster jeep, our backpacks were loaded on the roof.  We are about 16 cramping inside the Monster jeep ready for a three hour drive to Mt. Pulag.  Half way, we stopped for breakfast and bought our luch for take away.

We then proceeded to the office of DENR for orientation. It was a long orientation by Emeritas Bering, but don't fret. She was hilarious.  I cried a river with her witty antics.  After more than thirty minutes, we were drowned in laughter, it was like Vice Ganda throwing those punch lines.  
contact numbers to inquire and make reservations if you go on your own,
prior reservation is a must since number of climbers a day is regulated.

At the ranger station, our tour leader arrange for the guides and porters.  It is with utmost recommendation, do get a porter. It costs 600 roundtrip to camp 2 or 800 to camp 3.  It's worth every penny.  Your backpack feels heavier for every kilometer you climb.  Even if you're a guy you need it, unless you're a seasoned mountaineer.  Everyone in the group who didn't get a porter regretted it.

We started our ascent at around 1230pm.  It is advisable not to wear your thermals just yet.  Just layer up if you feel cold, your body heats up as you go.  You don't want to over heat.  I was just wearing a uniqlo heatteach tank top under a nike razor back sleeveless sport blouse, a the north face water resistant convertible pants, a pair of socks and salomon speedcross trekking shoes.  These gears are more expensive than the tour price, I had to borrow some of these.

The first three kilometers is what they call the pine forest.  It was mostly rolling hills of sandy terrain.
It's like a walk in the park the first three kilometers on the rolling Pine Forest.
After 3 kilometers, you reach Camp 1 for some rest and toilet break.  The next three kilometers is what they call the Mossy Forest.  It's quite cool and lots of shade here because of the trees around.  The terrain is basically rolling sandy hills with a couple of rocks in between.  When it drizzles or rain, the rocks can be slippery, be careful, I slipped twice!
just like malling, the next three kilometers is the Mossy Forest.
We have trekked six kilometers by the time we reached Camp 2.  We had to rest again and do toilet break.  We had some cookies, nuts and dried fruits as trail food.  Most of the trekkers stop at Camp 2 and stay overnight.  While we were assigned by the DENR's office to camp at Camp 3, we had to trek three more kilometers to reach Camp 3. The view was great the last three kilometers crossing the terrain with these dwarfed bamboo.  There is barely no trees around,  the winds blows harder and it starts to get cold and foggy.  It is called Mt Pulag, "pulag" in their local dialect means bald,  because of the strong winds, no trees will survive.  We had to wear our light rain jackets here.  Obviously, I don't have pictures of the more difficult terrain.

We reached Camp 3 five hours later, in time for sunset.  The last kilometer was the most difficult and painful on the knees.  Countless times we had to ask "are we there yet?"  The guide replied, "I will not answer anymore. (with a grin of smile)". There were four guides, three from trail adventours and one local guide.  We went at our own pace, guides keep up with the varied pace of the participants.  One in front, one as sweeper, and two in between.  (The porters also lead us the way if we are far from the guides.) When we arrived, our tour leaders have already set up the tents for us and started to cook our dinner.    This is the advantage of going on a group tour.  They take care of the logistics, the tent, the food, the guides, the transportation, the permits.  After a tiring nine kilometer climb, I would not want to do these chores anymore. Some trekkers still had energy left and climb further to see the sunset on the other side of the mountain.
sunset at Camp 3
What is the toilet like up in Mt Pulag?
This is the latrine, our toilet above the clouds.  It looked more descent than I have expected with the roof and walls.  Wait until you open the doors and inhale all sorts of smell.  They dig a very deep hole in the mountain, all human waste goes down that hole (just like a portable toilet).  Obviously there is no running water and no lights.  No worries, human waste is biodegradable. ;)

Lights off is at 9pm.  I barely slept.  The boys next door were chit chatting all night long, I overheard all their for the boys conversation.  While the tents are provided, we had to rent/bring our own sleeping bags and earth pad (insulation pad).  The earth pad, will provide insulation as oppose to sleeping directly on the ground that gets very cold (and wet).  I just bought from a hardware store an foil-faced insulation with bubble wrap in between, one use for the ceiling.  Even if it does not rain, the fog is too thick it can make you wet.  It's best to prepare for it.
credits to myfriendsunjun  for this awesome picture of our camp under the stars.
that's what I call beyond 5 star accommodation.
Wake up call was 4am.  It's about 15 minutes trek up from Camp 3 to the peak (or about an hour or two trek up from Camp 2).  The advantage of staying in Camp 3 was, it is nearer to the peak.  It can be difficult trekking up in pitch black before sunrise.  Our headlamps served its purpose.

We reached the peak before sunrise.  As the sun starts to peak, we were all too excited to see the thick clouds.  The guide said, for as long as the rain stops by 2am, it's almost a sure shot, one will see the sea of clouds.
lovely isn't it?
We trekked up Mt Pulag with a threat of an upcoming typhoon.  Then I realized, my prayers were answered.  The eggs and prayers I offered at Carmelites Monastery were heard.
Glory to God.  He did not only show us the sea of clouds, He showed us a cloudfall.  Clouds forming like waterfalls, this does not happen often they say.  A cousin of mine who is an elite trail runner, who happened to join the Cordillera Marathon that day, has been here eight times and said, that day was the best.  We were not only lucky, we were truly blessed.
Psalm 34:4
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
it was a sea of clouds on a 360 view, this was the view as we head back to camp from the peak
After spending an hour on the peak, we head back to camp for breakfast and broke camp at around 9am and started our descent.  With high spirits, the familiar terrain back felt easy until the last three kilometers.  The last three kilometers, felt so long since my legs felt tired and the knees started to feel the pain downhill.

The nine kilometer trek up and another nine kilometer trek down Mt Pulag wasn't an easy feat but it is something anyone can possibly do.  It is a test of endurance (and fighting spirit).  Believe in yourself.  Truly, the best summer vacation ever!!!

with our tour group mates at
Coming up:  How to Pack for Mt. Pulag

Trail Adventours
contact number: (+632)6979711 or mobile (+63917)5827517

Package Rate: Php 4100
Package Inclusions:
Roundtrip bus transportation:  Manila-Baguio
Roundtrip Chartered Monster Jeepney: Baguio-Mt.Pulag
Registration fees, environmental and cultural fees
Tent (group sharing: 3-4 people/tent)
Camp Meals (Day 1: Dinner, Day 2: Breakfast and Lunch)
Adventure Guide/ Coordinator
Local Guide Fees
Certificate of Conquest
Trail Adventours Mt. Pulag Shirt
Trail Adventours ID and Lace

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