How do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? We usually stray away from the usual intimate candlelit dinners or 5-star hotel stays. As avid adventurers, we tend to find more romance and excitement on scenic mountain trails, on treacherous rock walls, under blue waves or in unknown places. Somehow, the beauty of Mother Nature, the feeling of vulnerability and nakedness in the wilderness, the sense of extreme adventure, and the opportunity to stand by each other in the face of the unknown all brew together as a great opportunity for us to love, care, and really understand each other’s souls.
That’s exactly what we did for our Valentine’s celebration this year. And delightfully, we joined a few like-minded couples who, like us, have a love for adventure in their hearts. Extreme adventure couples Jigz and April, Santonin and Carmel, and Jeraf Mosquera and Chessa—together with some climbing buddies—organized a Valentine’s climb up the cold and scenic Mt. Pulag, the highest mountain in Luzon. Without any hesitation, we signed up in the team.
What a surprise! At the airport, we ran into fellow bloggers Issa of Island Trotters and Jewel of Jewel Clicks. They were going to visit beautiful Sagada in the picturesque Mountain Province. We had an hour-long wait before boarding, so we caught up on times.
Soon, it was time to board our flight. With great excitement in our hearts, we silently cheered as our aircraft started to taxi down the Mactan Cebu International Airport tarmac. The fiery sunset was so pretty it seemed to share our excitement.
Soon, we met with Jigz and April together with our fellow climbers who were waiting at the Victory Liner bus station to take the 11PM trip to Baguio. After a 5-hour ride, we reached the Summer Capital of the Philippines, which was doused in the early dawn’s freezing temperature! In fact, we had to pull out our cold-weather gear to ward off the chill.
We boarded our assigned jeepney (actually a large modified Elf truck) to take us to Kabayan in Benguet. During the 3-hour trip, we stopped at several points to admire the view and to stretch out our legs as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Nearing Kabayan, we caught a glimpse of a tiny part of the foggy Cordilleras. The cool temperature and the blissful scenery easily melt worries and stress away. But most importantly, it shows us just how beautiful our country is and how infinitesimal we are in this universe.
Our first stop was this humble restaurant run by Gina Epe who is one of the main contacts of outdoorspeople who wish to climb Mt. Pulag. Aside from serving hot meals, she helps mountaineers and hikers secure guides and transportation.
We took a heavy breakfast, rearranged our packs, and left some things we don’t need for the climb in Gina’s restaurant.
Everything set? Good! We boarded our jeepney and took a 10-minute downhill ride to town where the Visitors’ Center is located. When we arrived, there were already several chartered jeepneys filled with trekkers from all over the Philippines.
Climbers can also buy supplies such as food, drinks, medicines, and—-behold!—cold-weather gear in shops all over the small town. Be sure to buy the traditional knitted scarves and bonnets; they are beautiful and can effectively ward off cold just like their branded counterparts.
Climbers first need to register at the Mt. Pulag National Park Visitors’ Center before proceeding to the trail jump-offs. The Visitors’ Center also sells shirts, souvenirs, and certificates for those who want mementos of their adventure.
The Visitors’ Center’s interior and exterior walls are filled to the brim with banners from previous climbing teams, beautiful photos of Mt. Pulag, information boards, and more. It’s definitely a lively place!
Hikers are also required to attend a half-hour pre-climb briefing that covers safety protocols, rules and regulations, data, history, and more of the Mt. Pulag National Park. Be sure to take note of the emergency contact numbers; there have been documented mishaps in Mt. Pulag, some of which are life-threatening.
During our pre-climb meetings with Sir Jigz and the rest of our companions, we decided to climb Mt. Pulag using the difficult and challenging Akiki Trail, dubbed by many mountaineers as the menacing “Killer Trail.” It was named due to its extremely and continuously steep trail at the base of the rocky Eddet River, which requires an ascent of 10 to 11 hours. Prior to that, we need to hike for two to three hours in rolling terrain to reach the Eddet River campsite.
However, hard as it may be, the Akiki Trail is also among the most scenic trails of Mt. Pulag. Park Superintendent Emerita Albas said that we will encounter pine forests, moss-covered montane trees, miniature bamboo grasslands, rocky riverbeds, and picturesque ridges. Yes, our effort of climbing this merciless trail will surely be worth it.
In addition, we chose the Akiki Trail to escape the massive throngs of climbers who converge at the easier Ambangeg trail in Barangay Bokod.
After the briefing and a last-minute shopping session, we boarded our jeep and headed to the Akiki Trail jump-off point at Barangay Doacan, which entailed a 35-minute ride. The lay of the land blocks out incoming winds, and the weather was uncomfortably hot.
After a downhill ride, we took our first step up the challenging Akiki Trail.
Just 5 minutes away from the jump-off is the Akiki Ranger station where we need to register and take our lunch. The facility is equipped with a shower and bathroom so we can do our personal stuff before the climb. Trekkers may also acquire guides and porters here.
After taking our lunch, it was finally time to take the challenge of Akiki Trail. Right away, we faced a scenic but steep and rocky incline that left us huffing and puffing. We questioned ourselves why we are doing this when we can just have a date in a cozy restaurant or relax in a white-sand resort.
Well, just check out that scenery (and this is just the start of the adventure). That is a tiny part of the answer.
At times, large slabs of rocks such as these seemingly block our path. We had to tread carefully, or a misstep to the right will send us rolling down a steep incline.
Whew! This was still the start, but this was already one hell of a tiring ascent. Hehehe! However, this beautiful view always replenishes the energy of an exhausted hiker.
After an hour, we reached a bare ridge that provided us an encompassing view of the valleys and mountains in the area. Time for a well-deserved rest!
(Photo Credits: Jigz Santiago)
Sweetie took a break while our team took photos. See that cloud covered peak? That’s part of Mt. Pulag, and we are going to assault that the following day. But first, we needed to reach the camp at Eddet River, which is our staging point for the upcoming 10 to 11-hour non-stop assault to the saddle camp and, subsequently, the sacred summit of Mt. Pulag.
The first 10 to 30 minutes of a climb usually leaves hikers breathless and exhausted. But after a good rest, the body normalizes and adjusts to the heightened activity. Thus, after the short rest, we were back on the trail with revitalized vigor.
From the ridge, we followed a short descent, then a fairly leveled trail that hugs the side of a hill. Pine-like Agoho trees started to get denser as we penetrated deeper into the valley.
Along the way, we came across the Manenchen Burial Cave where the Kabayans of the past respectfully bury their dead.
Even in a place as remote as these valleys, we can see signs of contemporary human activity. Those cables are pipes that bring water from hidden mountain springs to distant farmlands.
We also came across another sign of human activity, a long fence made of iron pipes. Most probably, this was erected by the LGU to prevent accidents; just check out the steepness of the slope on the right side of the mountain.
Check out that extreme, knife-edge ridge. Thankfully, we were not going to take that path. Hehehe! With the presence of thousands of pine trees and the absence of coconut and banana groves, it almost feels like we were not in the Philippines!
After trekking for 15 minutes to the other side of the slope, we finally saw the boulder-filled Eddet River. Our campsite for the day is somewhere on the banks of that river.
Although the river looked near from above, it was still a considerable distance away below us. We still have to trek for an hour or two across rolling terrain.
You might think this is exhausting. It definitely is, considering the long trek and the enormous weight of our packs. But the stunning scenery, fresh air, and the company of friendly mountaineers made the trek very relaxing and enjoyable.
The air was refreshing and cool in the area, but the afternoon sun was relentless, just like anywhere else in the Philippines. But at last, we finally entered the beginnings of a real, dense pine forest. Suddenly, we were mercifully in the cool shade, and the unmistakable waft of fragrant pine permeated our senses.
Sweetie paused for a little while to contemplate on the beautiful scene. We live for moments like these when our spirits re-adjust from the artificial and claustrophobic embrace of the city to where we truly belong—in the loving arms of Mother Nature.
After 30 minutes more, we found a welcome sight just below us. We finally made it to the Eddet River camp! There were climbers ahead of us, but fortunately, only a handful of mountaineers usually tackle the Akiki Trail. Thus, the camp was still relatively not crowded.
We found a large, flat patch of grassy area that was surrounded by trees and slopes. Perfect! We marked it as our group’s campsite.
After pitching our tents, we refilled our water bottles from the nearby water source; it is actually a detachable pipe with spring water flowing through it.
The Eddet River campsite also features these nice shelters. DENR built these for the guides and porters so they don’t have to carry tents. That’s pretty cool!
We arrived at the Eddet River camp quite early at around 3PM. It was still too early to cook dinner, so Sweetie and I decided to head down and explore the Eddet River, which was just a 5-minute hike from our campsite.
This rusty, suspended bridge serves as the sole conduit for crossing the river (unless of course if one plans to hop on the rocks below). It is bolted and fastened on two gigantic boulders on both sides of the river.
For many people, crossing the bridge is pretty scary as it swings and bounces with every move. With nothing else than frames and cables, people realize that this bridge is held by its skeleton!
Resting, Sweetie? Hehehe! That’s how narrow the bridge is. Check out those rusty cables.
There’s this large boulder at the other side of the bridge. Too bad we didn’t bring our rock climbing shoes and chalk bags.
These huge water-borne boulders break down the main flow of the Eddet River. To give you an idea of just how large these boulders are, check out the man at the right side of the photo. And take note, he is a big guy!
The water looked so refreshing, but climbers are not allowed to go for a dip. The river is a source of potable water at the lowlands.
Those are some of the small but powerful waterfalls of the Eddet River. Sitting under them would let you enjoy a great massage from Mother Nature.
Life cannot be contained. The river flows deeper into the mountains and down into the communities and farmlands.
What a stunning view of the mountains around Eddet River! Just imagine relaxing in one of the natural pools with this all around you!
Just a clarification on the photo below; the bald patches are not the results of deforestation. Those are grasslands that are bleached by the sun’s heat.
After an hour, we returned to our tent where we started to prepare our dinner. See how the foliage acts as a windbreaker for our camp?
(Photo Credits: Onyx Changco)
We chatted with some of our team-mates while cooking our meal. The guy in the black rash guard is Choy. You might recognize him as one of our guides when we went canyoneering in the Kanlaob River in Alegria and Badian, Cebu.
(Photo credits: Jigz Santiago)
Our evening meal was ready as the sky became dark and the stars began to show up. Ordinary meals become extraordinarily delicious when in the mountains.
We don’t really drink alcoholic beverages, so while some of our team washed away the meal and warded off the cold with some whiskey, Sweetie and I cuddled with each other inside our tent until we fell asleep.
(Photo credits: Jigz Santiago)
We would love to go adventuring with these climbers any time!Thanks to Jigz Santiago, April Marcial, Santonin Yu, Carmel Angel Yu, Jeraf Mosquera, Chessa Rose Mosquera, Liwanag San Miguel Aristoza, Choy Daruca, Kenny Landero, Victor Degamo, Rolly Atienza, Felix Gomez Jr., Onyx Changco, Steve Betonio, Alvin Gomez, Mik Rodriguez, Mark Mendes, Ejay McPaz and Ted Marvin Dayonot for this memorable climb!
It was still the first day of our climb, but we saw a fraction of the spectacular beauty of this side of Mt. Pulag. We couldn’t wait to wake up the next day and other wonders awaiting us. Stay tuned for Part 2.
The itinerary, budget, and other important information about the climb proper are in subsequent posts. What we will put here in our Tips section is information to complete the most crucial elements of the adventure, which is registering your climb and knowing the pertinent fees in the area.
Note that all rates and contact information here may change without prior notice.
1. Due to the massive number of climbers visiting the mountain, the DENR Mt. Pulag Visitor’s Protected Area Office, commonly called the Visitors’ Center, requires advanced booking and notification.
Call, send a text message, or email your intention to climb, the date of your climb, and the number of climbers in your team using the following contact details:
- Roy or Mereng: 0929-1668864
- Emerita Albas (DENR Superintendent): 0919-6315402
- Landline and Fax: (074) 444-2720
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.pawb.gov.ph
- Facebook Page: Mt. Pulag National Park Bulletin
Don’t forget the trail which you will be using (Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan, Ambaguio, or Ugo-Pulag); in our case, we used the Akiki Trail.
2. Take note of the following fees:
- P225 per person – registration fee at the Visitor’s Center
- P 50 per person – additional registration fee at the Akiki Ranger Station
- P 1,800 – guide fee for 1 to 7 climbers (Akiki-Ambangeg climb), P100 per extra person
- P l,500 – porter fee for 15 kilos (P100 per excess kilo)
Guides and porters can be secured at the Akiki Ranger Station. You don’t need prior reservation.
3. All visitors are required to register and secure permits at the Visitor’s Center before proceeding. Climbers are also required to join a brief 30-minute orientation before the climb. Bypassing these requirements is punishable by law.
4. For your transportation and meals, please contact Ms. Gina Epe. She is quite popular as her humble restaurant is the meeting point of Mt. Pulag climbers. She is also willing to help you in other concerns regarding your climb
- Facebook: Gina Epe
- Cellphone Number: 0919-8169234
Note that Ms. Epe is not an employee of the DENR. She is a local who has become the standard point person of Pulag climbers.
5. As mentioned above, Gina Epe can arrange for your transportation since she has a fleet of jeeps. Sure, you can do this DIY (we will put DIY details in the later posts), but it’s so much easier if you can organize a group and divide the costs among yourselves.
- P 70 per person – meal
- P 9,000 – jeep rental (Baguio-Akiki jump-off point-Ranger Station-Baguio)