Benguet · Mountains · Travel Adventures

Climbing Mt. Pulag, the Playground of the gods

This is the first part of the author’s two-day climb with the T20 Mountaineering family to Mt. Pulag in Kabayan, Benguet on March 7-8, 2014 (her first climb to said mountain). The second part of the climb is found in Majestic Sunrise at Mt. Pulag.

Mt. Pulag, known as the Playground of the Gods, is one of the best destinations in the Philippines for adventure seekers and nature lovers. In addition to the rich biodiversity and challenging trails, the great sea of clouds, majestic sunrise from the summit at 2,922 meters above sea level, copious dwarf bamboos and chilly temperature build a memorable experience for many veteran mountaineers and beginners.

Located at Kabayan, Benguet, Philippines, Mt. Pulag is known as the second highest mountain in the Philippines and the tallest peak in the island of Luzon.

Why Playground of the Gods?

According to the Ibaloi faith, the mountain is sacred; it is where the gods live, rest and play year-round. Also, the indigenous Ibaloi consider it as “the final resting place in the afterlife” (www.pcij.org). Moreover, legends narrate that spirits and unseen beings watch over the mountain and keep its solemnity. Hence, shouting and rowdiness anywhere in the mountain are prohibited as it show them disrespect. As a consequence of these behaviors, campers will experience heavy rains, gusty winds and no clearing. According to DENR-Kabayan, some campers reported this to be true.

Looking at the magnificent landscapes and feeling tranquility thereafter, who would not think it is the playground of the gods? 🙂

Preparations before the Mt. Pulag Climb

The  author joined the T20 Mountaineering Society in climbing Mt. Pulag in March 7-8, 2014. This article is an account of her first climb to the mountain on the said dates.

It is best to be ready and be in good condition before the climb. Hence, we considered the following:

  • Jogging at least two weeks before the climb and scheduling a pre-climb
  • Checklist of things to bring:
    • 60L bag with rain cover
    • 3-5 layers of clothing (this includes thermal wear, sweatshirt, fleece jacket and winter jacket preferably fleece material on the inner part), leggings, trekking pants, muffler, bonnet, knee-high socks, winter gloves, trekking shoes (make sure it can endure the long trek), extra light shirt/clothes (for returning home), personal necessities
    • trekking pole (optional), tent with insulation pad, sleeping bag, headlamp/flashlight, whistle, raincoat/poncho
    • butane stove and cook set, utensils
    • 2-3L water, energy drink (Gatorade), trail food (mixed nuts, chocolate bars, jelly ace, etc.), planned meals for 2-day camping (lunch at Ranger Station, dinner and breakfast at campsite)
    • wet wipes (this is very useful!), medicine (biogesic and diatabs), band aid, small bottle of alcohol, efficacent oil, oxycan (optional, but it is best to have at least one can for the group)
    • DSLR/digital camera/cellphone (you must not miss the sceneries!), charger/extra batteries, banner (optional)
  • Pre-arranged transportation from Manila to Baguio City and Baguio City to Kabayan, Benguet and vice versa

Visit pinoymountaineer.com for more details on climbing Mt. Pulag.

Mt. Pulag, Here We Come…

Day 1: Ascent to the Campsite

“Roller Coaster” Ride to DENR-Kabayan. From Eton-Centris, Quezon City, we left at around 1am and arrived in Baguio City before 6am. For about half an hour, we stayed at Nica compound in Brgy. Navybase to freshen up and segregate clothes to bring and clothes to leave at the compound. The driver of our chartered jeepney placed all our big baggages on top of the vehicle. Some would call jeepneys of its kind the “monster jeepney” due to its ability to dash through rough, zigzag routes. We said a prayer before setting on our journey.

For about two hours, the jeepney passed by mostly rough or rocky zigzag roads going to Kabayan, Benguet. Along the highway, we stopped over for breakfast at an eatery, where a number of fellow mountaineers spent some time there.

Then, we headed to DENR-Kabayan for registration. All campers are required to attend the orientation and listen to the video presentation, to learn facts, expectations and rules in trekking the national park. The audience comprised of groups of fellow mountaineers coming from various provinces or localities. The orientation places high value on preserving biodiversity and respecting nature since Mt. Pulag is a protected area and is regarded sacred among the locals. The local official advised us to walk on single pile to avoid making new trails, thus, destroying the beauty of the mountain. Picking flowers and plants, taking a bath on water sources, and noisiness especially at night are prohibited.

Within the registration area are souvenir items, so we immediately bought for ourselves a Pulag shirt. There are stores nearby DENR that sell snacks, thermal gears (muffler, bonnet, second-hand thermal jackets, etc.), pre-paid cellphone load and other emergency supplies. If you need something, they might have it. But it is still best to complete your checklist before going for the climb.

Preparations at the Ranger Station. The Ranger Station at Babadak, Kabayan, Benguet, serves as the jump-off to Mt. Pulag. Here, campers are requested to present their official receipts from DENR prior to the climb. It is a general rule that local guides are assigned to campers, not only to provide assistance but for them to earn extra income as part of DENR’s livelihood projects for the dwellers. To hire a porter is optional. I was amazed that even ladies (young and middle aged) do porter service, and they were as strong as the men.

The place has restrooms, electricity and food, so final preparations could be made here. We had our early lunch at the Ranger Station. Ms. April, the wife of Sir Arnold, prepared the pre-cooked pininyahang manok for everyone. At around 1pm, we began our journey under the sun.

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Vegetation at the Foot of the Mountain. Walking on stony and dusty trails on a sunny day, we saw broccoli, chinese pechay, carrots and spinach, to name a few, grown on terraces by local residents.

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Walking further on elevated grounds, we were entertained by a serene vista of greeneries and pine trees of the neighboring mountains. The thick clouds, blown by soft winds, crawl over the mountain tops.

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Blossoming tiny white wild flowers celebrated the blooming season of March (locally coined Panagbenga). When these grouped together, you will see yourself walking beside huge white garden. Lush green pine trees ushered us along our paths. There is a water source along the way, but water there was limited during our time of visit.

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Assault to Campsite 1. From the “white garden,” we hiked to the dusty and steep trail, which challenged our lungs since the air was getting thinner and colder. We rested for some time on a few rocks to ease the altitude sickness, a condition characterized by difficulty in breathing when getting to higher altitudes. Liquid was very valuable this time, so I gulped a deal of Gatorade and water.

When we reached Campsite 1, we were around groups of mountaineers temporarily resting and taking snacks under the covered hut and on the grasses. Researchers from the University of the Philippines were at this time conducting their surveys with mountaineers, requesting us to comment on the rich biodiversity of Mt. Pulag and take pictures of plants that seem unique to us.

The Mossy Forests. The mountain was covered with luscious vegetation, humongous trees with mosses, variety of ferns, dwarf bamboos, shrubs, herbs and weeds. Amazing were the star tree and the giant ferns that thrived in the place for centuries. This time, however, we have not seen cloud rats and fauna that thrived on the mountain.

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Photo credits: Irish Bendicion

We met campers, guides and porters along the way and exchanged our afternoon greetings. I really salute the porters, the unsung heroes and heroines, who hurried on the trails while carrying heavy luggages. Some lady porters managed to carry luggages connected to a thick (but rather smooth) cord tied on their foreheads.

As time passed by, the temperature became colder and the fog slowly touched the grounds.

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20-Minute Rest at Camping Ground 2. We saw a group of training military men who pitched their tents there. There is a latrine on this area (since I was new to mountaineering, I was shocked how this “point-and-shoot” facility looked like 🙂 ). We rested for a while, but it was foggy and about to drizzle so we hurried to the steep trail towards the Campsite Extension.

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Another Assault to Campsite Extension. Getting to a rather higher altitude to the campsite demanded deeper breathing and strength. At long last, we arrived at the campsite beside the grasslands at around 5pm and pitched our tents. We did not see anything much around due to zero visibility, except for the welcoming dwarf bamboos that grouped together and the tents of other campers who came before us. It was getting colder so we added layers – fleece and winter jackets, gloves and bonnet – to keep us warm. The latrine, made of thatch and patched woods, is situated a few meters away from the campsite.

We were supposed to stay at Saddle Camp (Campsite 3), which is just 30 minutes beneath the summit. Our team leaders decided to camp at Campsite Extension since it was getting late in the afternoon and another two hours is required to get to Saddle Camp.

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At the dome tent rented by our team leaders, we all enjoyed the dinner with “binagoongan” prepared by Ms. April, Sir Wynn and Ms. Irene. Soft cold winds proliferated outside the tent, but the warmth of sharing food, stories and friendship filled the tent. We slept early at 9PM as requested by DENR for campers.

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It was an awesome experience at Day 1. But, a grander event awaits us on Day 2.
Author’s note: This is the first part of the author’s two-day climb to Mt. Pulag in Kabayan, Benguet on March 7-8, 2014 (her first climb to said mountain). Follow this link for the second part of the climb: Majestic Sunrise at Mt. Pulag.

 

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