Playground of the Gods. | Mt. Pulag Benguet, Philippines

Grasslands

Mt. Pulag Grasslands Photo by TJ Sulquiano

It is true… there is indeed a “playground of the gods” and they call it Mount Pulag!  Located at the borders of Benguet , Ifugao and Nueva Viscaya, along the Cordillera Mountain range and in the main island of Luzon,  it is considered to be the 3rd highest mountain in the Philippines with a height of 2,922 meters above sea level next to Mt. Apo and Mt. Dulang-dulang.

I have been often fascinated with God’s creations without or at least with only the minimum effect of the spoils of man.  I have dreamt of experiencing nature in its natural splendor.  I saw it on TV, movies, pictures and read about it and have planned to do something about it since 2013.  And in February 2015, when I was invited by my colleagues John Griengo and Milicent Ragasa to join them in conquering this wondrous mountain, I didn’t hesitate to join them.  Its a maiden voyage for the three of us.  It is time to see and experience the Roof of Luzon.

Imagine the excitement I felt for this trip ( It’s a major turn-on!). When I go out of town, it usually involves the sea. I’m a surf aficionado, done snorkels, experienced free and cliff diving and hopped from a lot of islands to another.   This time it’s going to be about trekking a famous mountain and camping overnight above all the pollution around the main cities here in the Philippines (Oh the joy!  Easy TJ…hold on to your horses!)

Back when I was still studying in Claret School of Quezon City, I remember that we used to have field trips  involving hiking/trekking. If I can remember it correctly we did 3, one was at Mt. Makiling (I forgot the other 2). Also, when we travel to our ancestral home in Ilocos Norte, there is a mountain that we would hike for about 2-4hours and explore the 3 caves. On top of that mountain we could see from afar the towering Cordillera Mountain Range.  Told myself, someday.  And that day did come!

The preparation for this trip was a bit of a struggle, since I didn’t have much equipment for the adventure of this nature. Bought a new pair of hiking shoes, thermal gloves and thermal undergarments. Thankfully, I have some of the other clothes/equipment needed for the weather that awaits above that mountain.

Here are some of the things you really need for the hike/camp.

– Thermal Wear (Gloves,Undergarments,Fleece)

-Waterproof Jacket

-Scarf

-Tent , Sleeping Bag

-Atleast 2L of Water

-Hike Food (Energy Bars, Chocolates,Crackers,Gummi bears)

-Hike Shoes

-2 Pairs of Socks

-Camera

Before heading up to Baguio (This is where we meet our trek companions from Tripinas), I was having troubles with my cough. Still wanted to push thru with the hike so I brought a lot of medicine with me.  In sickness and in health we should enjoy life just the same.

It was past 12 midnight in Baguio City when we finally met with our group. A total of 44 hikers/campers that looked so excited as we we’re. From Baguio City, we then rode off to Benguet for about 2-3 hours to reach the DENR for registration and orientation.  The orientation  took about 45mins. After all the pleasantries it was now time to head up to the ranger station and prepare for the long hike. We got there around 10am, the sun was high and the cold was piercing so it was really confusing for the skin. After a  few minutes of stretching and waiting for the other people from our group to prepare for the hike, we were all finally heading up the mountain via the Ambangeg Trail.

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Myself , Mili and John Photo by Tripinas

The first hour of the hike was alright as we were still having some laughs and taking pictures. But as time went by, our feet got tired, backs all sore(I was carrying my own load, around 20-40kilos) and the temperature was beginning to drop with every step we took.  Mother Nature is beginning to test us.  We had a bunch of stops so we could rest and get to know some of our companions. We met a married couple (whom I forgot the names..hahaha!), it was also their first time to go up Mt. Pulag but wasn’t their first time to climb a mountain. They always travel and do adventurous things as a couple, and even bring their kids with them whenever possible, but the kids weren’t there that time because they were still checking first for themselves before bringing their young ones next time. (Woot! relationship goals..hahaha).

It was really a “no pain, no gain situation”.  every painful step is a gain worth it.  I was feeling really tired (Didn’t get that much sleep for 2 days before the trip because of my cough). Thankfully there was clean water from a stream along the trek path. There was something in that water that energized me. Its all natural, not Maynilad treated.  I don’t know if it was the taste or the fact the it was cold, but it did a great job on me. After being energized with that fresh cold water we continued our way up the mountain. The hike lasted 3 hours when we reached Camp Site 2 where we were going to spend the night. What’s nice about this campsite was it was 1-3 hours away from the summit. We found a nice spot where no other campers pitched in their tents. It was surrounded with bushes like it was really made only for us. After setting up our tent, we rested for a few hours (Finally got at least 2 hours straight sleep). Late afternoon, John, Mili and I decided to check out the nearest peak at our campsite. It was about a 30 minute trek up and the view was already amazing. Took a few photos, laid down the grass and just mesmerize upon God’s creation. Around 5pm the sun was already starting to set and it was  starting to get really cold as I can feel my fingers numb. So when it got a bit dark, and we got a few sunset photos, we decided to head back to camp and grab dinner.

After dinner and a few socials (around 8pm) we already decided to sleep.  The temperature further dipped so I decided to wear my full battle gear (2 socks,Thermal Undergarments, Shirt, Fleece, Jacket, Gloves and Headgear). Eureka!  Good thing we came prepared  because the Pulag night temperature wakes me up every hour. Around 12mn, I was hesitant to go out, heed the call of nature and pee because it was really bone-chilling outside. However, who can deny Nature’s calling?  I just had to do it, and it was the best decision I have done during that trip! The sky was perfect! Stargazing at it’s finest. It was like we were checked in on a gazillion star hotel (literally). So I decided to just stay up and roam around the campsite like a creep (hahahaha!). John followed me right after and took great photos of the camp and the sky.  The stars were giving us a great show AND ITS FOR FREE! (Was it?)   Anyway, its priceless!   I remember James Taylor’s song “Up On the Roof“.  The lyric goes ….

 “When this old world starts a getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I’ll climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below don’t bother me”.

Its peaceful…relaxing and we were breathing clean air!!!!  Yup.. up on the roof of Luzon.

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Our Camp at 12 Midnight Photo by John Griengo

It was already 3am and a few people we’re already awake and preparing for hike and reach the summit just in time for sunrise. We had a couple of hot chocos and crackers, then off we go to the summit. The hard part of that hike was it was really dark and REALLY COLD! it dropped around 2 – 0 degrees Celsius. We kept on walking and a little bit of climbing with minimal sight of our path. We even got lost for a few minutes as we we’re already following a different group which was heading for a different peak. So we went back down and thankfully we found our guide waiting for us. The sun is already starting to show, I was already dead tired but the summit was only 30 minutes away so I was telling myself and my group “One last push! Let’s go!”, but deep inside I was almost starting to give up.

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Sunrise at the Summit Photo by Tj Sulquiano

Once we reached the summit, it was still a bit dark. Some people were even sleeping under the bushes. I looked for a nice spot to set up our cameras and just appreciate the sunrise and the nice view. Then came the sun, slowly showing the famous “Sea of Clouds”. I was literally out of words when I saw it. All I can do was appreciate, take pictures and do a timelapse. Some of the people I talked to before heading up there said they didn’t saw the sea of clouds, only fog. We we’re really blessed.  God was smiling at us.  He allowed me to surf in his Waves of Clouds while we could feel the warm rays of the morning sun mixed with the cool breeze of mountain air  blowing.  God is good… life is beautiful!  Everything is worth it!!

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Sea of Clouds Photo by Tj Sulquiano

2 hours of staying at the summit and the sun already starting to really conquer the cold. We were told to already head back to camp for breakfast. The trek down was a bit different, as you can already see the cliffside and the small path you’re about to walk on. Our guide even told us that someone from the other group fell down during the hike up because it was really slippery and steep (Thank God the cliff that she fell down from was not that high and she was rescued by another guide). You can also see how cold it was from the grass, some parts were already frozen. It took us 2 hours to reach the summit and an hour to get back to camp.

As soon as we got back to camp, our breakfast was already waiting for us. Our team leader told us that after eating we should already start packing our stuff and clean our camp as we were already about to head back down ranger station (What?! No rest?). So we did as we we’re told, we didn’t want to be left behind. It took us 2-3 hours down to ranger station. It was even more tiring because it was now very hot. Imagine coming from a very cold place and in just a few hours you’re already walking under the heat of the sun.

Once we’ve reached the ranger station we got the chance to clean up and cool down from the hike back. Change clothes before heading back to Baguio City and eat lunch.

Of all my adventures, this will probably be the most tiring thing i have done but also one of the best (Next to Surfing in Baler while there’s a typhoon). Reaching the summit and appreciating the view, that night sky and most especially the experience. I will definitely go back to Mt. Pulag and try the Akiki trail next time. They say it takes 2-3 days to hike.

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Our Group for this Climb Photo by Tripinas

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4 thoughts on “Playground of the Gods. | Mt. Pulag Benguet, Philippines

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