Stopover at Ranch Terrace Restaurant in Ambuklao, Benguet

Mt. Pulag: Diary of a Newbie, Part 1

I thought I prepared well for Mt. Pulag. I read blog posts and talked to friends who have been there. I asked my mountain climber cousin for tips. I exercised thrice a week for two months before the expedition. I followed our mountain guide’s checklist. I borrowed a pair of hiking poles and bought new hiking shoes.

I thought I had enough life experience for this: indoor rock climbing in high school, hiking in Nevada, strolling in Korea’s -4° C weather, camping in San Francisco and Connecticut’s 15° C weather, and traveling solo for years. I’ve also been doing Yoga since 2005.

But nothing prepared me enough for Mt. Pulag.


Day 1: Friday

I meet my friend and travel agent, Nikki, in Makati. We leave for Baguio at 7 a.m. and pick up other travelers in Quezon City and Angeles. Most of us are meeting each other for the first time. We are all Mt. Pulag newbies. We arrive in Baguio at 11 a.m. and drop off our stuff at Nikki’s house. We spend the rest of the day exploring Baguio and comparing notes about our hiking gear.

Stopover at Ranch Terrace Restaurant in Ambuklao, Benguet

I repack my bags. I move everything I won’t need in a duffel and leave it at Nikki’s house. I want my Mt. Pulag backpack to be as light as possible. My roommate Julia and I go to bed at 9 p.m. while the rest of the group continue drinking.

Day 2: Saturday

We leave the house at around 5 a.m. At the bus station, two rented jeepneys and two mountain guides await us. Other members of our group have just arrived via bus from Manila. We are 27 in total. We leave for Benguet past 7 a.m.

Hanging bridge at Kabayan, Benguet

Our jeepney zigzags its way through the mountains. We make a breakfast stopover at Ranch Terrace Restaurant in Ambuklao, Benguet. It’s getting cold. “Have you guys taken a dump yet?” someone asks. We all joke about how much we’d like to do #2 already to avoid the call of nature on Mt. Pulag.

After breakfast, our guides take us to side trips in Kabayan—Ambuklao dam, hanging bridge, and sulfur hot springs. We arrive at Mt. Pulag’s ranger station past noon. There is a long line of tourist-filled jeepneys waiting for their turn at the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) office. After securing our permit to climb weeks ago, we are there for the required 1-hour orientation.

There is only one DENR officer at Mt. Pulag, and she’s been orienting climbers for years. We are group #4. “This is going to take a while,” our mountaineer leader, Eugene, tells us. While waiting, we eat our packed snacks, while some hang out at the sari-sari store.

Past 1 p.m., we finally get our turn to watch the 30-minute video about the history, culture, and geography of Mt. Pulag. The video discusses the rules and regulations of the mountain, such as keeping your personal trash—down to the last piece of candy wrapper—in your bag and disposing it off the mountain.

Enter the DENR officer, a lady in her 40s wearing a ranger’s vest. With her wooden stick, she explains climbing etiquette and environmental rules for the next 30 minutes. We thank her after the orientation.

At 3 p.m. we arrive at Country Road restaurant 30 minutes away. We are exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. “And we haven’t even climbed yet,” someone points out.

Benguet terraces

After our meal we go on another treacherous ride up the mountain. There is only one narrow unpaved road for incoming and outgoing vehicles. To avoid thinking about falling into the ditch, I admire the crops of lettuce at the terraces.

We finally arrive at Babans Homestay past 5 p.m. The temperature is about 8 °C. Too tired for dinner, I head to bed at 7:30 p.m. I need all the sleep I can for the midnight ascend.

[Continued on Part 2]