My 2023 travels opened with me enjoying the view from the top. This year’s opening salvo had me puffing in the early morning cold along the mountain trails of the Cordilleras. Mind you, it was not an easy adventure, but it was one for the books. It was a personal feat that had me tearing up when I reached Luzon’s rooftop. This is my Mount Pulag story.
Mount Pulag is the the third tallest mountain in the Philippines. Tucked comfortably between the boundaries of Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya, and the Ifugao, its peak stands at a height of 2,926 meters above sea level and towers over the rugged terrains of the Cordillera. This mountain is sacred among the locals as it believed to be the home of the spirits of their ancestors in the afterlife. It is often referred to as the playground of the gods as you get to enjoy its rolling grasslands with the sea of clouds as its backdrop.
7.30am: DENR Visitor Center, Bokod
After two hours of travel from Baguio, our journey to Mount Pulag started at the DENR Visitor Center in Bokod. We arrived at around 8am and the first thing that we had to do was to get medical clearance for the hike. There is a doctor in the area who can evaluate you for a fee of Php150 (as of January 2023). The medical clearance is a pre-requisite to climb Mount Pulag.
It was then a long wait for our turn to be given the pre-climb orientation by the DENR. You really need to bring a lot of patience with you as the waiting time can be gruelling depending on the number of guests for that day. The park only accommodates a maximum of 500 guests daily but that still means a long wait as they conduct the orientation in batches. You can choose to explore the town of Bokod or catch up on your sleep while waiting. I chose to pop in some music while enjoying the rugged views and the tranquility of the town.
The DENR orientation gives visitors of the park a brief on the mountain’s unique environmental features. Mount Pulag is classified as a national park that covers 11,550 hectares. It has 3 existing mountain trails with the Ambangeg Trail as the easiest to hike. This trail gets you to the peak in 4-5 hours. The park is home to a large diversity of flora and fauna with some of these species endemic to Mount Pulag so a huge part of the orientation focuses on being responsible visitors of the park to help preserve its natural state.
1.30pm: Baba Lak Ranger Station, Kabayan
The Baba Lak Ranger Station is the jump-off point to Mount Pulag. It is about an hour away from the DENR Office and lies within the boundaries of the Mount Pulag National Park. A small community was already established here that offers homestays and basic food services to its visitors. This would be our home and base for this trip.
The ranger station sits along the slopes of Mount Pulag. Its location offers an amazing vantage point of the surrounding areas, from terraced farmlands to rugged mountains of the Cordilleras. As we had a lot of spare time to kill, I decided to go around and explore the rustic beauty of the place.
The center of the village serves as its business area. This is where you would find homestays, convenience stores, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Going further down the road, you would find a good vantage point where you could have a panoramic view of the terraced farmlands and rugged eastern mountain side of the Cordilleras. The mountain views, with fog drifting along and gentle cold, is very relaxing and peaceful.
My biggest “discovery” at Baba Lak Ranger Station is found on the upper side of the business area. At the end of the village, the road forks into two dirt roads. Take the left one and walk up the hill. Follow the road until you reach a ridge where you get the most beautiful views of the Cordillera mountain ranges. I found my spot where I enjoyed the view, the afternoon sun, and the cold. This is also a great spot to catch the sunset as it gives you a play of colors matched with its own sea of clouds. The clouds here are appreciated at closer views.
1.30am : Sunrise at 2926 MASL
Our journey started out early in the cold morning. January and February are usually the cold and dry months in the Cordillera making it the best time to visit Mount Pulag, meaning a higher chance of having to hike without the rain and mud. However, you really need to bundle up on sweaters and jackets to warm you up. Temperatures can get really cold especially at the peak. I doubled up on everything - knee high socks, sports leggings, jogging pants, a shirt, a sweater, and a thick hiking jacket (designed for cold temperatures). Don’t forget to bring with you a bonnet, warm gloves (bring 2), and an extra “balabal”. Don’t forget to bring a headlamp, a rain poncho, extra shirt, trail food, and water.
The morning hike was uneventful. You don’t really get to see much as everything is swallowed by the darkness. We hiked in hush, most of the time, focusing on our steps. We exchanged stories to keep us amused through the dark trails. Keep the noise at minimum as locals believe that when the spirits get annoyed by the noise, they make it rain. And getting wet is not something you would want in the biting cold. The trail is a gradual ascent to the top. The first assault is the trail leading to Camp 1. There were two major stops along the trail - Camp 1 and Camp 2. It was in Camp 2 that you would start feeling the cold biting.
From Camp 2, it was going to be hike along the grasslands of Mount Pulag. The trail traverses along the sides of the mountain. Here you will be treated with a rare sight of hiking lamps snaking along the trail matched by the stars twinkling in clear skies. You get to see a glimpse of the peak of Pulag, in the dark, because of the lights leading up to its height. At certain points in the trail, you would catch a glimpse of the Baguio’s city lights glowing from a far distance. The sight would amaze you. I got off-trailed when I tried catching up with the group on the lead and I ended up climbing the third peak of Mount
I almost did not make it to the peak. I almost quit on the last stretch and I had to push myself a little more. The last few meters were the hardest and I really teared up when I reached the top and saw the sunrise and the rugged terrains around the area. I found my corner behind the shrubs, hoping that it could shield from the cold wind blowing on us. It was already cold and the wind made it colder. I took my spot and enjoyed the view of the mountain sunrise. I loved how the sky slowly shifted from a dark shade to blue to orange with the sea of clouds on the foreground.
As the sun rises in the horizon, the rugged landscape is revealed in full view. You get warmed up by the sun’s rays and you get to enjoy the views of the sloping hills of Mount Pulag and the mountains of the Cordilleras. Don’t forget to have your picture taken at the Mount Pulag sign to complete the experience. It may be a challenge, because of the crowd, but it is a souvenir worth taking for taking on the Mount Pulag challenge.
8.00am : Above The Clouds and Trails
After two hours at the peak, we started our descent to the base camp. This time you get to see the views of along the trail that was covered in darkness during the hike up. We got to enjoy the beauty of Mount Pulag’s grassland as we headed back to Camp 2.
We took a detour to another peak of Mount Pulag which they call “Tower”. Our guide, Jorge, said it is the best place to catch Mount Pulag’s famous sea of clouds. I pushed myself for another assault to get a better view above the clouds. It did not disappoint. The sun was already up when we got to its peak and we were lucky to have caught it in its full beauty. It was a beauty to see fluffy clouds covering the horizon.
As we continued back the trail, I enjoyed the view of the park’s Mossy Forest. Mount Pulag has three distinct flora features - the Pine Forest, the Mossy Forest, and its Grasslands. These features are clearly outlined along the slopes of Mount Pulag. The Mossy Forest was very dramatic and ethereal. It was like walking along the set of the “Lord of the Rings”.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Mount Pulag was a 2023 travel goal unlocked for me. It was a challenging first travel and yet a very fulfilling one. It was a good introduction to my curiosity to unravel the beauty of the Cordilleras. I am a Baguio resident and yet I still have to explore the uplands beyond Sagada and the Banawe Rice Terraces. This was a good start.
I am really not a huge fan of hiking along mountain trails as I am more of a beach person. However, the Cordillera have caught my eye and I am starting to research on exploring this side of Pinas. I guess this area remains off beat for most travelers and yet I also think that it is a tourism treasure box waiting to be opened because of its rich culture and rustic beauty. Tara na sa Cordillera!😁
Watch out for the release of my Pulag adventure on video on my YT channel, #ByahengOffTheGrid, soon.
Getting there: This Mount Pulag trip was organized by the FB Travel Group, Lakbayan Pinas. You can join the trip as a joiner for a rate of Php4500 (as of January 2023) that covers everything from RT transportation, accommodation with three meals and UNLIMITED coffee (Lunch-Dinner-Recovery Meal), and Registration and Guide Fees. You can get your medical clearance at Bokod for Php150. Things that you need to bring for the hike:
> Trail foods
> 1 Liter of water
You can check out the FB page of Lakbayan Pinas for more details.
2022 was a year of travel revenge and recovery for me. As travel restrictions got eased, I had the chance to explore new provinces after almost two years of staying close to home. It also meant enjoying, again, the exhilarating feeling of riding a plane. It was a breath of fresh air and renewed excitement to explore the different corners Philippines once again.
Visayas was my core travel this 2022 with its eastern side sweeping me off my feet. I was also more into the offbeat destinations this year which gave me a more raw and relaxed vibe of Pinas. It was a nice way to re-start my passion for local travel and working towards visiting the remaining provinces to complete my #GOT81 project. Just like previous years, I will be closing 2022 with my #Top3PinasDestinationsFor2022. These destinations are all off-beat and are waiting for their turn to shine.
Guiuan, Eastern Samar
Guiuan was love at first sight for me. I loved how the laidback vibe of this town on the eastern side of Samar fused with the natural beauty of its coastline. It is a a little piece of heaven for beach lovers. It gives you that adrenaline pumping waves on one side and a more relaxing one on the other side. It has a perfect match for every kind of beach person.
Apart from its beach spots, you can also enjoy the different natural and historical attractions that Guiuan has to offer. This quaint town played a crucial role in our country’s history, both in Magellan’s voyage and in the country’s liberation in World War 2. The town is seasoned with a perfect mix of history, religion, natural beauty, and people that makes it hard for anyone not to fall in love with the place.
Guiuan is my one and only. It was one of those destinations where I actually foresee a good future for development and a great place to settle down. It is a destination that I plan to visit again soon. It captured my heart and I sorely miss it.
Sambawan Island, Biliran
Sambawan Island was a welcome break from the stress of a divisive national elections. It refreshed me of “back-to-basics” travel where you live a day with the barest of necessities, and that meant sleeping on wooden floors without electricity and limited water supply. It also meant having to “survive” with what food that you brought with you. This came as a surprise as I really thought that the island was “touristy”.
The island was a perfect spot to disconnect. It was rustic and laidback that you have got nothing else to do but enjoy the island in its raw form. The different angles of the island, from its viewing deck, were all amazing. Walang patapon. In fact, you will get a full load of a tropical island life as you enjoy the full day of enjoying your time for self while communing with nature. Here you enjoy everything as time slows you down.
Sambawan Island was a perfect spot to re-start and recharge. It was living the island life at its finest. I just hope that further development of the island will preserve its natural beauty and calm vibe. It was nice that an island like this gave me a much-needed respite from the strains of urban living.
Naging mailap but I finally got it covered and I do not regret having explored it. Quirino is a landlocked province that is offbeat and underrated. The rugged terrains of the province is a treasure trove of natural attractions above and below it, not to mention the waters that snake through its land. It gives you a wide range of travel experience that drives your adrenaline to relaxing your mind and body.
The province can be quite a challenge to explore because the destinations are spread out along the expanse of its mountain ranges. Although road systems were already built for easier access, public transport to these destinations can be quite a challenge. Take the time to enjoy the spots. Enjoy the rush and breathe in the rugged natural beauty of Quirino.
Quirino remains rugged and offbeat keeping most of its attractions in its pristine beauty. Since all of its attractions are inland, it will take time for the usual travelers to appreciate its beauty. It is one destination that I would like to see come out of its shell and be given the attention that it deserves.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
As we enter a new year, I am excited to explore more Pinas destinations. I am excited to work on most of my last 14 Pinas provinces to complete my project. My target is to complete my #GOT81 project in the next two years. Here are the destinations that I am working on this year:
BaSulTa (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) - These three destinations are my ultimate goal for this year. I think it is about time that we give the natural and cultural beauty of these destinations the attention it deserves without the prejudice.
Marawi City - Ravaged by war, the city was rehabilitated by the Duterte administration. The once “hostile” territory is now an attraction that also deserves attention without the prejudice.
Dinagat Island - The islands of Dinagat is calling again. This was one destination that I had to miss out because of the lockdowns. I guess it is calling me out again.
Sorsogon - I have always wanted to backpack around Sorsogon. It has been on my plans for years now. I guess it is time to start putting the plans into action.
Mount Pulag - The sea of clouds beckons. I need to see the sun rise from this vantage point. I know that it is going to be a perfect view.
Traveling around Pinas is in my genes. Nothing beats enjoying the rhythm and the beat of our local destinations. While it is true that we have one of the most beautiful spots here in the country, its beauty is further brightened up by the Filipino spirit. My hope is that more Filipinos will discover and share our country’s beauty this 2023.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.