Hike Class: 8 Things I Learned from Climbing Mount Pulag, Philippines’ Third Highest Mountain

It was a journey most epic, emotionally and physically challenging, that we might as well have been in 'Lord of The Rings.' Should you plan to conquer Mt. Pulag, here are eight things I learned from the experience; may they be helpful tips that will prepare you for an adventure of a lifetime!

It was a journey most epic, emotionally and physically challenging, that we might as well have been in Lord of The Rings. After hours of roadtripping from Manila to Baguio, switching to jeepneys and more hours spent heading further north to the base of a mountain, the third highest one in the country, and hiking through unfamiliar terrain and climate, we are back, and we are still on a high.

Chasing the sunrise at the peak

Photo from Nikki Recto

Standing at 2,922 meters above sea level, Mount Pulag is popular with adventurers  for its beautiful sea of clouds

Photo from Riana Gatus

Our weekend spent at Mount Pulag, Benguet, is truly unforgettable. Words fail me, and even the best of our photographs do not give justice as to how majestic the view and the experience is. But we leave the mountain stronger and wiser, as she has taught us many lessons. Should you plan to conquer Mt. Pulag, here are eight things I learned from the experience; may they be helpful tips that will prepare you for an adventure of a lifetime!

Photo from Nikki Recto


Are you ready for the climb? This morning view awaits.

Photo from Jose Villa-Real

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1. Eat well: appreciate a full meal whenever you can.

Spending half a day on your feet climbing to the summit and then back down again requires your food to be handy: easy to grab from your bag and easy to grab and eat with your hands. Our diet most of the weekend consisted of trail mix, energy bars, chocolates, crackers, and cold cuts; and we were thankful to have had a delicious full meal in Baguio before our trek. En route further up top of Benguet heading to our homestay took hours, and junk food was what filled up our bellies throughout the entire trip. Hot rice and freshly cooked meat were an absolute joy to eat when we headed back down to Baguio, the crunch of the fried chicken's skin so familiar and amazing after days of just snacking a lot. Enjoy filling, hot meals before the climb and after — your stomach will be ever so grateful!

Waiting for our orientation at Mount Pulag National Park a day before the climb took over an hour, and we found more snacks and instant coffee at a 'cafe' nearby.

Quick fix: cooking instant noodles at the homestay, just hours before wake-up call to climb Mt. Pulag

Photo from Raissa Gatus

Up with barely two hours of sleep, but with a sky full of stars: a quick break at one of our early pit stops

Photo from Raffy Ruiz

2. Nap like a ninja: sleep anywhere and anytime possible.

Our itinerary for the weekend had us waking up very early for three days straight, as the jeepney ride from Baguio to the park takes hours, and another long ride awaited from there to our homestay near the Ranger's Station (starting point of the climb). Wake-up time was midnight to be ready for a 1am climb to catch the sunrise. We begin our journey tired, sleepy, and extremely cold. By the time we reach the peak, we are greeted by the most stunning sunrise of our lives, with a sea of clouds floating below us. Then one by one, we started falling asleep right there in the mountain, soft grass cushioning our weary selves. Sleep more, so you can drink in more of the view (more time for photos and videos), and so you're well rested for the climb.

Photo from Riana Gatus

Ready for my nap: cocooning in the comfiest hammock at Baban Homestay, Benguet
Dead tired, dead asleep: soft grass becomes our bed right after catching the sunrise

Photo from Monica Navarro

3. Mingle with fellow climbers: they're your future support system, and newfound friends.

Your fellow climbers are all experiencing the same things as you are — the challenges of roughing it out ("where do I pee? and what if I need to do more than that?"), enduring long hikes, and braving the cold, cold weather. Your group adventure may have you mixed in with strangers, but make an effort to know them more — the world is so small when I discover that most of the people in our tour have common friends, know the same people, and share the same interests. Having good company kept the long rides filled with jokes, and once we begin our climb, we all had an automatic buddy system where we check on each other, if we need to rest or have a nibble of a granola bar from the nearest person. At one point I was just too tired and cold to reach inside my backpack to get a drink, that people willingly let me sip from their water bottles. Even after the climb, as we all continue on with our lives and nine to fives in different parts of the country, we all still keep in touch through social media, flooding our feeds with more Mount Pulag memories. It's funny how we are all having separation anxiety, leaving the mountain to go back to our regular programming. It's like that when you travel with like-minded people thirsting for adventure–travel can bring out the best in people.

Beginning the weekend as strangers, climbing down as friends: this bunch of happy climbers made the frustrating parts of the journey feel less difficult

Photo from Jia Hsieh

Photo from Michelle Almanzor

Photo from Riana Gatus

4. Prepare for what you can control: gear, clothing, and sustenance.

If you climb Mt. Pulag through a tour package (many options to find online), they will readily hand out a list of equipment, gear, and clothing; your list will run longer if you decide to go camping in the mountain or by the Ranger Station. We experienced the iciest winds at 1:30am, chilling our faces as we start our climb in the dark, only headlamps lighting our path. Then you start to sweat, your body generating heat from your laborious path of uphills and downhills, then it gets chilly again. Have the proper clothing in layers that you can appropriately layer on or peel off depending how sweaty your are and how sunny it becomes as you descend from the mountain. Expect 0-7 degree temperatures, and the cold is no joke — you're not Elsa, and I sure am not as well, as the cold bothered me in every way, leaving me with an icy nose, breathing harder with the thinner air intake with every step. It may also rain, so climbers are advised to be equipped with raincoats and other water repellant material. The 3 to 4 hour hike to the summit (via Ambangeg trail) will deplete you of energy, so bring water and food and have it easily accessible on your pockets and bags. Don't just shrug and think you can just wing it, bring everything with you — the weather conditions can change overnight, so do be a responsible boy scout.

Our ten minute break at around 3am for food, drink, and rest

Ascending Pulag was chilly, while our descent had us peeling off layers of clothing as it was nearing noontime.

Photo from Julia Arenas

5. The journey starts even before your hike, and it will exhaust you.

While you can start prepping for the actual mountain climb by exercising or running weeks or months prior to D-day (which I did), no one usually tells you that you will be depleted of energy even before your trek Mount Pulag. Remember its location: it's a five hour roadtrip from Manila to Baguio. Then from Baguio, more hours spent on the road, this time on a bumpy jeepney ride that takes more hours for you to get to the park for the orientation, plus the ride to get to the ranger station to start your hike. Most itineraries for the climb, if one takes a package tour, leaves little rest periods in between transportation and has you go straight away to climb. For light sleepers, or those coming straight from work to get on an evening bus to Baguio, this will make you weary. I suggest a leisurely day in Baguio a day before your assault to the summit to do #1 and #2 on this list: proper meals and proper sleep!

Your reward after hours of climbing: mother nature paints for you an incredible view from the summit

6. Thirty minutes will suddenly morph into an entire hour.

This is especially true as we descent Mount Pulag: we catch ourselves asking the guides and porters how much longer until we reach the base. Not too long, about thirty minutes, they would tell us. Then we sweat and pant and grumble as our muscles tense and ache, then questioning ourselves why we even decided to climb a mountain in the first place (frustration does that to you). The trail becomes endless, seemingly looping over and over again as familiar paths and trees surround you ("Weren't we just here? When will this end? What am I doing with my life right now…"). Suddenly a small rock in the path morphs into a boulder, a patch of moss the most dangerous slippery terrain you've encountered your entire life. You slow down, slump your shoulders, sigh heavily, and realize you're becoming that traveler you love to hate: the whiner. Time stretches much longer when you're done with the highlight of the trip (a stunning sunrise session at the summit), and it felt much, much longer to head down back to the Ranger Station. Be patient, the end of the journey is just around the corner… probably in 30 minutes. (But really, if you cannot take the last stretch of the walk, nearby the base are motorcycles that weary hikers can ride for a minimal fee, so that they zoom by and get to the Ranger Station in no time.)

7. Book a group tour package: their professional service will save you planning time and headache.

Get a tour package and choose a reliable tour guide/agency. The trek to Mt. Pulag requires thorough planning, as it involves many transportation arrangements from Manila to Baguio to Kabayan (and back again). You will need to secure permits to climb, local guides to hike with you, hire porters (optional, but recommended if you don't like carrying your heavy backpacks and other gear), and schedule a briefing with DENR at Mt. Pulag National Park (which takes an hour and a half, and with long queues should you visit on a weekend).

Peaking at Pulag: enjoying the warm sunlight with Nikki Recto of Jeron Travel

Photo from Nikki Recto

8. Toughen up, rough it up, and leave lots of space for laughs.

Once you've packed and double checked everything, remember to always keep that burning passion for adventure with you — it will warm you up the entire journey, support your fellow climbers, and keep you happy and grateful. Conquering Mount Pulag requires you to rough it out, so toughen up with icy-cold showers (optional, of course, but most welcome at the homestay), spartan sleeping spaces, and simple food and drink. Pulag is not for the pickiest and posh traveler, for sure. If you're feeling down when the elements and nature can be extremely challenging, remember that laughter is the best medicine, and soon enough, when you get back home safe, you'll laugh at the little things that made the trip quite exciting (i.e., toilets or the lack thereof).

Enjoying the bumpy jeepney ride with old and new friends, our fun climbing team we have labeled "Eat Pulaga" 

Photo from Anna Cruz-Tayag

Before starting the journey, thoughts of mountains and nature overwhelmed me. The daunting task of climbing a mountain — not just any but one of the tallest and located at one of the coldest places in the country — loomed for weeks. I quickly said "yes" to this kind of travel adventure not knowing how meaningful it would be to myself, and as a shared experience with great people from all walks of life. I just thought, well, it sounds cool and I bet the pictures will look awesome. My, was I wrong. Mount Pulag has schooled me, and I hope you folks with eternal wanderlust like mine will get to experience its many lessons. Adventure is out there, grab it while you can.

A journey that we will never, ever forget: When you're above a sea of clouds, you feel invincible; then you also realize how little your problems are up top, seeing how vast the world is and that it will never stop spinning just for you. It's not just about conquering Mount Pulag, it is about conquering your own self.

Photo from Nikki Recto

Getting There:  From Baguio, take a jeep to DENR Mount Pulag National Park Office, at Ambangeg, Benguet where you are required to register, secure a permit to climb, and attend an orientation (travel time: approximately 2.5-3 hours). This is where you also pay entrance fees, camping fees, and porter fees. Camping gear may be available for rent. It is highly recommended to plan a climb months ahead, and on a weekday, as weekends experience the most hikers in the mountain. From the office, head to Badabak Ranger Station, located nearby the base of Mount Pulag. This is the starting point of the popular Ambangeg Trail, the easiest route amoung four. Plan ahead if you want to assault the mountain in time for sunrise at the summit and sunset at the campsite. Try connecting with a local mountaineer (someone from DENR Mount Pulag National Park) in advance so that he/she may assist you with all these requirements. Call DENR Park at +63919-631-5402.

Where To Stay: Two options for climbers — camp out in the mountain (or the ranger station, located at the base of Mt. Pulag), or book at a homestay (simple lodging nearby, several minutes away). We stayed at Babans Homestay located in Babalak, Bashoy, Kabayan. Ms. Susan Baban Poliden warmly accomodated our tour group, offering simple provisions (sleeping area, toilet and shower, hot coffee; she also sells purified water you may bring to your hike). Contact her through sampoliden@gmail.com and 0907-901-8454.

Recommended: If it's your first time to climb, book a tour package. All fees, permits, and transportation will be taken care of by their team, so you need not worry about missing out on the different procedures required to climb. Our weekend trip was arranged by Jeron Travel & Tours Corp (JTC), and they made everything more convenient, as we first connected with all the climbers through Facebook a month prior to the climb, and group messaging was set up earlier so we could interact with the other people should we have concerns and questions. An information kit was also e-mailed, listing in detail what to expect and what to bring. A special meeting was also set in Manila with our mountaineer guide weeks before the climb so we could personally address our questions to him (it was also an informal meet-and-greet for all the climbers). Visit Jeron Travel's website (www.jerontravel.com) to see upcoming tours, and connect with them on Facebook (/JeronTravel) and Instagram (@JeronTravel). Email info@jerontravel.com.


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