Climbing Mt. Pulag (Akiki-Ambangeg Trail) – Day 1

Baguio City, a.k.a The Summer Capital of the Philippines is known for its strawberries and cold weather. It’s a famous destination for locals who are tired of the 30-degree Celsius everyday temperature. It is also one of the entry points for those who want to climb Mt. Pulag, the 3rd highest mountain in the Philippines.

Together with BRB Mountaineering, we traveled for hours and hours through the winding road leading to the Akiki jumpoff of Mt. Pulag in Benguet Province.

We chartered a jeepney to take us there. The driver was kind enough to let us try “top-loading” which was sitting on top of the vehicle instead of inside. This way, you could feast your eyes on the luscious green trees and pretty blue sky while breathing the cool fresh air. It was such a great experience even if it was just for a few minutes.

I was very thankful for it too because it was a well-deserved break after sitting for hours inside the jeep, cramped and dizzy of the eternally zigzag roads, and after barfing my entire breakfast out the window.

A word of caution though, you need to be careful when going down the jeepney after top-loading. A friend of ours jumped down directly and landed on a down-sloping ground. He found himself out-balanced and he fell backwards. He tried to get up but couldn’t fight almighty gravity. He rolled down — literally rolled down — until somebody else stopped him in his tracks. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt.

Below is a picture of some of our friends making fun of the accident. Hahaha, I mean “Sorry”, but hahahaha..  Yeah, that’s what best friends do. 😀

We stopped by the Ambuklao Dam to rest our legs and the vehicle engine. While everybody else explored the area, I did some exploration of my own through my camera lens.

After the dam, the next stop was at the DENR office where we registered and was given a short talk about Mt Pulag and a few reminders to take care of nature. The office was big enough to have a stall of souvenirs where you can buy bonnets and scarves. There was also a wall full of evidence of the countless others who have been to the mountain. I looked at it and thought that in a few days I would deserve to have my name written on that wall too.

From the DENR office, we boarded the chartered jeep once again towards our jumpoff. There was a small shack where we had lunch, rearranged our bags, and made arrangements with local porters. When all was set, I threw my gigantic bag behind by back and started to walk through the pine trails.

Along the trail, I was able to spot human bones. I have researched about this before so I knew that this was the making of the Ibaloi people who preserve their dead through mummification. There were even mummies in hanging coffins on a far off side of the mountain. Seeing these bones, I was reminded to respect the mountain, not only because of Mother Nature but also because of the many dead people buried in it.

As we moved forward through the trail, we came across a foot bridge over a raging river. The bridge wasn’t all that high from the rocks below it, I know I’d probably survive the fall if it suddenly breaks. And surely it doesn’t look scary in pictures. But when I did cross the bridge, I had to muster a lot of guts. I’m not an adventure freak who likes to lean over the rooftop of 20-story buildings or go on a hundred-foot bungee jump. I’m just a regular person who’s afraid of falling like most people are. I did my best not to look down through the gaps that I was stepping on, and to ignore the swaying of the bridge caused by the blowing wind (and people deliberately swaying it). Luckily, it was just a short walk, and I made it without anyone noticing my extreme concentration (I think hope nobody noticed).

We made numerous stops while on the trail. A 3-minute rest meant a lot. The trek was mostly uphill, some on an angle so steep, I walked on all fours to stop myself from toppling over. To add to that, I was lazy so I didn’t get enough preparation for this extremely extraneous activity. I ran out of breath all the time. And my 13-kilo backpack seemed like 13-hundred kilos, weighing me down and testing the strength of my backbone and the endurance of my knees. It was at that time that I vowed to hire a personal porter, no matter what the cost, the next time I trek up a mountain this high. Of course, this shouldn’t discourage everyone else whose interested in Mt Pulag or trekking in general. In my case, I’m a girl weighing 47 kilos with no history of body building or being in a gym. In the office, I spend most of my day sitting on a comfy chair while staring at a computer. When I come home, I STILL sit on a comfy chair and stare at a computer, sometimes even lying down. So there, L.A.Z.Y.

To motivate my foot into making another step, I focused on looking for amazing things to take a picture of and head towards it. Like a nice tree, a cute flower, the sunset, desktop-wallpaper-worthy landscapes, etc. I grew up in the city where I see only cement roads, buildings, cars… So pretty much everything in a mountain seems new and interesting. I think this strategy really works because you’re focusing on the good (you being able to see amazing things) and not the bad (your leg joints being worn out).

We rested for quite some time at Eddet River, which was also a campsite. But our itinerary states that we should camp at Marlboro Country for the first day. The name might be familiar, it was taken from a cigarette commercial from a long time ago that featured landscapes resembling those of Pulag.

Even with dead tired legs, we commenced the trek to Marlboro Country just before sunset. Because our pace was so slow, we were able to witness the red of the sunset fade into the darkness of the night sky while we were still struggling on the trail. Without the warmth of the sun, it became colder and colder. I had to fumble around my bag to reach for my jacket, gloves and lights.

As we continued to walk, we saw a group of other climbers already laying out tents and cooking dinner. We sat down together with them while waiting for the rest of our team. When the group was complete, we discussed whether to stay in the emergency camp like these other climbers or to proceed to Marlboro Country which could take a few more hours.

Because it was already dark and cold, and everyone was tired and hungry, we decided to take the emergency camp. It was a wise decision, I think, because 5 more minutes in the trail would probably cause me to faint and roll down the slopes like a dead rock with a backpack.

We set up our tents quickly then cooked dinner. As soon as we finished eating, we zipped up our tents and covered ourselves with layers of clothing and sleeping bags in an attempt to keep our bodies warm. I was so cold and tired that I forgot to take a picture of the campsite. And didn’t even mingle with the guides and other people during socials. 😦

I felt proud of myself for making it through the first day of Akiki, which has been dubbed by Pinoy trekkers as a “killer trail”. I slept through the cold night not knowing that the worst is yet to come.

(Stay tuned for my post on Day 2 @ Pulag for the rest of the story…)

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