Imagine standing atop a mountain, surrounded by nothing but the ethereal beauty of a sea of clouds. The sheer wonder of the seemingly endless expanse of white can only be described as otherworldly. Such is the experience that awaits those who venture to the summit of Mount Pulag, the third-highest mountain in the Philippines and Luzon’s highest peak.
I had read countless travel blogs and heard stories from friends about the breathtaking views of the Grand Cordillera Central Mountain Ranges. Still, nothing could have prepared me for witnessing the most insane sea of clouds I have ever seen.
An unplanned trip
Although Mt. Pulag has been on my mind for quite some time, the opportunity to go to the mountain came up at the last minute and I accepted without hesitation. My aunt, who works for the government, happened to have a seminar in Baguio City. I had been itching to go back to Baguio City, but just didn’t find the right time to visit. So when she told me she’d pay for the trip if I accompany her to climb Mt. Pulag, I agreed immediately.
This girl can never say no to free trips.
A few weeks before the trip, my aunt booked a Mt. Pulag package via Ambangeg Trail. Despite it being considered an ‘easy’ trail, it’s important to prepare yourself before climbing a mountain, especially when the mountain has an elevation of 2,928 meters above sea level. I decided to practice at a nearby mountain in South Cebu just to make sure I was ready. I’m glad I did because the experience made me feel more prepared for the climb.
From Baguio City, we rode a van going to Kabayan, Benguet. The road to this part of the country is not for the fainthearted. The steep and winding road makes the journey seem like it takes forever. We even had to stop several times, because some people in our group got motion sick from the van ride. I am prone to motion sickness too, but for some reason, I was doing fine that day.
We stopped for a short break at an eatery for breakfast. Behind the eatery, we found a hanging bridge, and below it was an almost dried-up river. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow people to go to the hanging bridge that day, so I just took some photos from afar.
After that, we were then dropped off at the DENR office. There, our organizers paid the fees and then we were escorted to a room to watch a video orientation regarding the national park’s rules and regulations. From DENR, we rode the van again and we were dropped off at the Ranger Station.
Our package includes staying at a homestay for a night. Homestays are everywhere near the ranger station so if you plan on going to Mt. Pulag without booking a package, you can always find a place to stay, especially if you are not planning to camp.
At around 5 PM, we were ready for bed since we have to be ready by 2 AM the next day to start the hike. At midnight, the temperature dropped to 8° which made me appreciate the thick linens provided to us at the homestay. Even with my hard shell jacket on, it was still very cold, but it was not unbearable.
Around 1 AM, we all gathered at the dining area to warm our bellies with macaroni soup. On a normal day, I wouldn’t eat macaroni soup to start my day, but in the mountains, you eat whatever warms your body. The last thing you want is climbing on an empty stomach.
The hike to the top
At exactly 2 AM, we started our hike towards the top. It was still pitch dark so we had to rely on our headlamps to watch where we are going. The trail is well-established and doesn’t feel like you are gradually ascending. It was still too dark so I could not really see the view. All I knew is that we passed by a mossy forest before we reached the grassland part of Mt. Pulag.
The climb toward the summit was the only moderately steep part I can remember. It was almost sunrise when we reached this area. Since there were a couple of groups who arrived at the summit first, we decided to just wait for sunrise at the slope before the summit, which was great because, by the time the other groups descended, our group had the summit to ourselves.
Witnessing the most insane sea of clouds
I have heard stories that some people had to return to Mt. Pulag several times, just to witness the infamous sea of clouds. The locals said, “Oh Pulag is shy sometimes. You’re lucky if she lets you see her beauty the first time.”
So when I finally reached the summit and saw the entirety of Mt. Pulag with the insane sea of clouds from the distance, it was a sight that will remain in my mind for as long as I live. I say that without any exaggeration.
I was so overwhelmed that I took some time to just sit and watch the view. I even left my aunt to take pictures, because I was just too awestruck. Everywhere I looked I saw something beautiful. The fog, the grassland, the sun’s rays illuminating the slopes of the Benguet mountains… I thought, “If there’s a heaven, then this must be it!”
When you have climbed so many mountains, and have seen so many beautiful views, sometimes it’s hard to keep up the excitement. But the beauty of the scenery on Pulag really made me feel like I was in a movie. Even my fellow climbers sat and watched the view in awe.
Also read: Climbing Mount Bromo in East Java, Indonesia
It felt so good to have finally reached the highest peak of Luzon and have a 360-degree clear view of the landscape.
The long walk back to the homestay
A friend had told me that the hike from the summit going back to Ranger Station is probably the most boring hike you will ever experience in your life. I did not believe him then, but when it was my turn, I could not even look forward to the walk. Yes, the view was amazing, but it certainly felt like walking on the grassland took forever. Ambangeg Trail is so well-established that all we had to do is just follow the path.
The walk back to our homestay was very different from the hike up. Our energies have gone from a hundred to zero. It was almost lunchtime when we arrived at our homestay. After a satisfying meal, we all decided to wash up before we leave the place. The water up there is so cold – almost frozen cold. Most people would boil water for a warm shower, but I did not have the patience to boil enough water for a bath. So, as fast as I could, I took the coldest shower in my life. I could not feel my fingers and toes, but it was refreshing, I must say!
The whole ordeal was excruciatingly cold, but I was smiling the entire time thinking, “I am so glad I said yes to this adventure!”
Mt. Pulag Guide for First-Time Climbers
For first-time climbers hoping to take on this majestic peak, here’s your complete guide for tackling Mt. Pulag.
Mt. Pulag offers four trails: Ambangeg Trail, Akiki Trail, Tawangan Trail, and Ambaguio Trail – each with different difficulty levels depending on your skill set as a climber. The Ambangeg trail is considered to be the easiest route. Depending on which route you choose, there may be additional hurdles along the way such as river crossings or steep slopes that can add a bit of extra adventure to your climb!
The most important thing when prepping for a hike up Mt. Pulag is getting the right gear. You should prepare for varying temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns. You’ll want to bring several layers that include sweaters, jackets or windbreakers, and long pants with breathable fabrics such as cotton and wool.
Do not underestimate the mountain. Ambangeg may be considered an easy trail compared to the other three, but you still need to prepare your body for the strenuous climb. Go on shorter hikes first and gradually climb higher elevations.
It’s also essential to plan ahead – make sure you know what route you’re taking and which campsite you intend to stay at along the way so that you’re better prepared for any potential dangers or surprises that might come along during your trip.
Finally, it’s critical to have adequate hydration throughout the entire ascent.
Make sure to bring enough water with you as well as snacks like granola bars or trail mix for quick energy boosts.
Always check local sources for updates about weather conditions – temperatures can drop significantly higher up on the mountain so it pays off to be extra safe and prepared!
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to climb Mt. Pulag?
Mount Pulag is open all year round, but I would say the best time to climb it is during the dry season, from December to May. During these months there tends to be less rain, making for an easier ascent up the peak. There’s also a higher chance of witnessing the sea of clouds during the dry months.
It’s important to note that regardless of when you decide to go, you should always check with local authorities beforehand in order to get updates on trail closures or other safety regulations.
Is there a risk of altitude sickness at Mt. Pulag?
Yes, there is a risk of altitude sickness at Mt. Pulag. I have a friend who succumbed to altitude sickness at Mt. Pulag.
It’s important to be aware that the summit reaches an elevation of 2,928 meters (nearly 10,000 feet), so most first-time climbers will feel its effects in some way. Symptoms can range from mild fatigue and dizziness to more serious cases including difficulty breathing and nausea.
To reduce your chances of getting sick, make sure you acclimate properly by taking breaks as you ascend and drinking plenty of fluids.
What are the costs involved when climbing Mt. Pulag?
You can either book a Mt. Pulag tour package or do it yourself. If you plan on getting an arranged tour, it will usually cost Php 3000 – Php 4000 (50-70 USD). This price will usually include:
- round trip van transfer
- licensed tour guide from Mt. Pulag National Park
- all the fees
- driver and tour coordinator
- reservation permit
- side trips (Ambuklao Dam, hanging bridge, and Daclan hot springs)
Depending on the tour company you choose, full board meals and homestay (instead of camping) will be included. I highly recommend doing your own research when choosing a Mt. Pulag tour package. You will mostly find these tour packages on Facebook posts.
On the other hand, if you are planning to do it yourself, here are the updated fees and expenses to expect when in Mt. Pulag.
- Entrance Fee for Non-local Residents – Php 175/pax on weekdays, x2 on Holidays and weekends
- Admin Fee for Local Residents – Php 25/pax on weekdays, x2 on Holidays and weekends
- Guide Fee – Php 1,200 (1-5 pax) and an additional Php 240 for every exceeding number of pax
- LGU Fee – Php150/pax Environmental and Cultural Heritage Fee
- Porter Fee (optional) – Php 1,000 – 15 kilos and below, Additional Php 100 for every exceeding kilo
- Camping Fee (Camp 2) – Php 50/pax/night on weekdays, x2 on Holidays and weekends
- Homestays – Php 500/night
- Note: Medical certificate is mandatory in Mt. Pulag. Your medical certificate should indicate that you are fit for an arduous climb. You can secure your medical certificate prior to the trip or you can also get one near the Ranger Station. It costs around Php 130.
Please note that prices are subject to change without prior notice. Please visit the Mt. Pulag Protected Landscape – Bulletin Facebook page for any updates regarding Mt. Pulag.
Are there any wildlife encounters that climbers should be aware of?
Wildlife encounters are a possibility when climbing Mt. Pulag, as the mountain is home to many species of animals and birds. You can also find several orchid species some of which are possibly endemic to Mt. Pulag and other rare flora such as the pitcher plant.
The most common wildlife encountered on the trail are Philippine brown deer, Northern Luzon Giant Cloud Rat, and the Luzon Pygmy Fruit Bat. It’s important for climbers to be aware that according to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, these animals are threatened mammals, so it’s best to stay away and keep noise levels low while hiking in order to avoid startling any creatures along the way.
Whether you go solo or with friends, it’s important to research ahead of time in order to have the best possible experience in Mt. Pulag. With careful planning, you can make sure that your climb is safe and enjoyable.
Get out there and explore Mt. Pulag!