Climbing Mt. Pulag, Benguet Province

I have sentiments about climbing a mountain for the second time. C’mon, this country is sprawled lengthwise on a section of the Pacific Ring of Fire and volcanoes are strung to its length like beads on a rosary. Why should I climb a mountain for the second time when there are numerous mountains sprawled everywhere that I haven’t been to or even know existed?

[See Map: Directions on how to get there]

Well for one, I was an applicant of the Congress Outdoors and had to come – if not to show my colors then perhaps to give them that extra assurance that they are with someone who has recently been there. Except for me and Nap Osorio – one of the founders of this infant association, none had actually been up Mt. Pulag so you can understand their excitement and apprehension.

Veteran climbers can become cocky about how newbies can get all worked up about climbing any mountain. Of course it’s fascinating to observe how they’d clutch at their things-to-bring-checklist as if it was their lifeline, or how they’d adjust the straps of their perfectly balanced packs as if it were straps of a climbing harness. I just think it generous to leave them to their excitement by not revealing too much. Fear forces people into preparedness and that is a very good thing in the wilderness.

The first time I climbed Mt. Pulag was through what was known as the Executive Trail or Ambangeg Trail. It is an easy trail with lots of points of interest. If you romanticize walking endlessly in the midst of nature, on a wide open mist laden trail, contemplating your life, the person that you are, your spirituality, then Ambangeg is right for you.

Unlike other trails where your concentration is divided between keeping your feet on the mountain and keeping your lungs inside your chest, Ambangeg allows your mind to wander aimlessly without a care in the world.

I was a tad disappointed though when I heard we will be taking Ambangeg Trail for both the ascent and descent. There was a welling need in me for an adventure and going through familiar paths does nothing to satisfy that need. I was hoping they will choose Tawangan or Akiki Trail, even at least for their descent route.

Though descending Akiki was said to be like sentencing both knees to death, that trail crosses Eddet River and takes you to vistas with more spectacular views than Ambangeg.

It was hard taking photos at night or at dawn in Pulag. The moment I remove my gloves, a quick countdown begins which last for about three minutes before I lose sensation and tactile control of my bare fingers. There was absolutely no way to fiddle with the camera’s control with my gloved hands which felt like paws. I was thankful for the camera strap because one of the downside of operating a camera in the dark with numbed hands is the tendency to drop it frequently. Apart from these difficulties, I was able to get a few shots which I could be happy with.

The trek to the summit from Camp 2 took about an hour and a half at a very relaxed pace. It was dark and it was difficult to negotiate the well trodden trail which resembled a winding ditch. This forced the foot to point straight ahead ignoring the orientation of the body. It often makes you lose your balance and is very disconcerting in the dark. One of our female companions was having special difficulty negotiating the trail. Being on her first major climb, I decided to lend her my headlamp. That solved her problem but made my situation dire. Next thing you know, she was well ahead, chirpy and happy while I fell, slipped and slopped everywhere.

If I was to make a modern legend of Pulag, I’d tell that the rising sun lays on her fair head a crown of sparkling diamonds every morning – a fitting tribute to her splendor here on earth. Visually, it is somewhat like that especially during December and January when the number of people climbing Pulag peaks.

When the rays of the sun begin to peak out of the horizon, the summit of Pulag becomes engulfed in an almost orchestral explosion of brilliant white flashes – as if gems were being struck by hard light. This occurrence can even be witnessed as far away as Camp 2. Far from being a natural occurrence, the crown of diamonds is actually the result of point and shoot cameras at the peak misreading the scene and firing the flash at the horizon. At the peak of Pulag’s climbing season, anywhere between 50 to 100 point and shoot cameras can be simultaneously making the same error at Auto Mode and firing the flash at the horizon the moment the sun breaks through! The idea is so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes.

I have shots from the peak from my first climb that I love so much that I couldn’t bring myself to even try to surpass it this time around. I remember sitting in a spot hidden from everyone, waiting for the clouds to part to take my shot the first time I was at the peak. This time, I chose to leave that spot to the howling winds. That is the problem with being a romantic – you tend to put too much meaning on something as simple as the western quarter of the summit.

Getting to Pulag is relatively easy. Pick a date, do some aerobic training, organize a group of at least 6 climbers to share the expense of hiring a 4×4 jeep that will take you the various jump-off points and bring you back to town. Once you’ve got all that on paper, give Park Superintendent Emerita Tamiray a call at 0920-3013932 for reservations. She will present you your options and reserve guides for your team as well as assist you in hiring accredited 4×4 operators to take you there.

(This article is written — and the photos snapped — by Ian Martinez, reproduced here with his consent. Ian treats photography as a serious hobby, and his article and photographs have been featured in a magazine. Read the full article and see more photos at his site, or at Half-Life. Thanks, bro.)

12 thoughts on “Climbing Mt. Pulag, Benguet Province”

  1. excellent coverage of a trek. one paradox of life is that many people from near that area have not romanced with pulag but did with others. i’d stayed in benguet where pulag is (not mountain province) but was contented to view it from a distance. your blog gave me an urge to climb it at the next opportunity. thanks, too, for your other posts.

  2. Jon, you’re welcome. You’re correct that we usually take for granted things (or persons) that we believe will be there anyway. Good luck in your climb…perhaps you could also share your travels here.

  3. i was just wondrin’.. ..where the hell have you learned that mt pulag is in mountain province….DUH!!!! check you’re elementary geography…its nowhere near that place.

  4. Jak, thanks for pointing that out. You’re correct that it’s not in Mountain Province, but in Benguet, and the post has been revised to reflect this (was most probably absent when our elementary teacher discussed Benguet in our geography class =). It’s good that readers take time to point out mistakes, although we would appreciate a more constructive way of saying it. Still, salamat.

  5. Im not a climber…Im not even sure if I could do this. But the pictures that I’ve seen about mt pulag and articles like yours makes me want to climb. Just wondering, how hard would it be for a non mountaineer? The only thing we’ve climb amongst my female friends is taal volcano =)

  6. Hi,

    i was wondering if you have contact with NAP OSORIO his my friend and before weve been working at KAMPO UNO team at circle…maybe you can give me his contact no. so that i can go back for being a freelance mountaineer…thank you and godbless…

  7. I am climbing Mt. Pulag next week, after Valentine’s day.

    I am a first time climber and the only aerobic exercise I know is to walk about 7kms daily; I do not know whether “I will survive” my first climb. So far, this article is the most comprehensive, well-written, well-described article about Mt. Pulag that I have read.

    Thank you very much for this.

  8. @diana:i am a mountaineer as well, i doubt you’ll have a good time climbing pulag if you haven’t had any experience climbing other mountains…it’s going to be difficult for your lungs and feet to climb the mountain without proper conditioning..i’ve climbed pulag along with fellow mountaineers from MAPUA…it’s not afun climb.

  9. Mt. Pulag is really a best place to visit found in Kabayan, benguet. Just Remember: do not use white shoes or else.. even slippers… and when you climb mother and baby pulag stay on track some hidden needles may torture your bare feet. man ala kayos mapler a..

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