Heartbreaking Truths I Discovered in Mt. Pulag

Once I accepted the invitation for Mt. Pulag, my heart thumped with glee. I was filled with excitement and energy that I never really minded the overtime I did at work hours before my 2AM flight.  After I got last minute loving reprimands from my mountaineer best friends, I readily prepared myself for the gruesome 5-degree Celsius weather.  With all positive energy to climb the highest mountain in Luzon, I travelled by plane and by bus and endured the journey to visit Mt. Pulag. 

Fast forward that day - my mountain spirit cloaked me with gauntlet of strength and heart of tarasque to tolerate the cold and to appreciate the 2,926 MASL height. But after my climb in Mt. Pulag, I discovered five heartbreaking truths.

     Sweet scenery comes fast
I watched the glorious sunrise almost six in the morning at the top of this bald giant. While waiting for the first plot of this dramatic scene, I snuggled at the bushes which serve as the only wind fleece at the top of Pulag. The barren grassland imposes a proud figure of a naked warrior – strong and mighty.
"Glancing Mt. Pulag at a distance excited my senses."
"At the summit with the swarming clouds"

By then, I immediately drank its marvelous wonder as soon as light disperses through the curtain of clouds while painting the sky with tinges of yellow and orange. The Eastern horizon was a sight itself – beholding!

LNT, please!
The Leave No Trace Principle was strictly discussed during the orientation at the DENR office. Other than the video presentation, a staff emphasized to follow the rules of the mountain. However though, as early as 3 in the morning, I already gathered 3 jelly ace wrappers from irresponsible hikers. So, I decided to gather trash as I hiked down Mt Pulag. I was able to pick up two water bottles and 8 food wrappers. I was glad to help clean Pulag. It breaks my heart why people never really take care of nature. We became fascinated with its wonders but we became the culprit of its destruction.
"At the foggy edge just few meters down the summit"
Photo by: Ian Limpangog, freedomwall.net
"Where the sky meets the earth"

Show Intimacy
I always ponder at the beauty of nature. They are intricately woven and designed by someone whose hands are exuding with creativity and perfection. It has its own exterior designer who cultivates the mossy forest, who trims the bushes and tends the luscious berries and wild flowers. The assault maybe challenging but I became intimate with Mt. Pulag. Drinking its fresh mountain water, hugging its trees and, walking down on its grassy and often muddy terrain were everything remarkable. It was a heartbreak for me to leave Mt. Pulag.
"Wild black berries are abundant in Mt. Pulag"
"Flowers of different kinds are blossoming, too."

Kiss the Cold Wind
Later after the climb, I learned from Ian (my companion in this climb) that Mt. Pulag’s temperature dropped to 8 degree Celsius. The fierce cold on top of the mountain was nothing more compared with the coldness I felt inside when I left Mt. Pulag. At the top, I intentionally ungloved my hands for the wind to caress me. It was a sweet lullaby for the wind to kiss my weariness goodbye.
"The strong wind blowing against my face that I needed to bow down."
Photo by: Ian Limpangog, freedomwall.net

Every Little Thing Counts!
Edelweiss! Edelweiss! I thought I could only sing the word in a song and never witnessed what it looks like.  The tiny plant with small elongated leaves is all growing in Mt. Pulag. There are also different types of berries, snails and even mosses growing in this abundant rain forest. The rich biodiversity is heartbreakingly astonishing for a Biology teacher like me.
"The guide told me that these are withered edelweiss."
"The rich biodiversity depicted by the mossy forest and different floras surrounding it."

Catching up the myth: Mt. Pulag (pronounced as Pul-ag) means bald in Benguet dialect. It is keyed as the “Playground of the Gods” and the people living there believed that once a family member died, his/her spirit goes to the mountain and dwells there forever.
"The peak is considered bald with grasses."

Getting there:
1. Manila as the reference point, take a bus bound to Baguio City. It is approximately 5-7 hours of travel. Tickets at 486. If there are a lot of passengers flocking for Baguio, you can cut your trip from Manila to Pampanga then to Baguio. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at SM City Pampanga and walk your way to Robinsons. At the back of the mall, you can wait for a bus bound to Baguio. The fare is around 200 pesos.

2. If you arrive a bit late in Baguio, you can stay there overnight and be up early to catch a bus or a van going to Kabayan, Benguet. Usually, a van accommodates 10 and will be off the road to Kabayan. Van or bus terminal is located at the Old Slaughterhouse. Taxi drivers are familiar to the place. The ride to Kabayan from Baguio takes 2 and a half hour with two stopovers. If you are seasick, prepare for it. It goes through a winding road. Take a diversion – enjoy the scenery outside and if you are lucky, sit in the first row. It doesn’t get so bumpy and shaky. 

3. From Kabayan, take a short walk towards the DENR Office. All hikers are required to have their medical certificate ready. If you don’t have any, drop by the town hospital to make sure you are really fit to climb. Some pre-hypertensive climbers (140/100mmgh to 160/100mmgh) are allowed to climb provided that they won’t do overexertion. A medical certificate costs 100 pesos.

4. Register your group at the DENR Office and attend the orientation. Listen and understand the LNT Principles. You will be made to pay a certain amount for the environment fee. You will also be asked to log in your name and log out after the climb. Take the cellphone numbers from DENR for emergency purposes.

5. From the DENR Office, proceed to the Ranger Station (the jump-off point to Mt. Pulag). Habal drivers will charge for 250 pesos. If you are lucky enough, a jeepney can accommodate you for almost the same fee – 200–250 pesos. Take the opportunity to try “topload”. Staying at the top of the jeepney for a 360-scenery, without exaggeration, is totally breathtaking.

6. A lot of transient houses are available around the Ranger’s Station. In my case, I stayed at Baban’s Homestay. A night stay is reasonably costs at 200 pesos. A meal is only 100 pesos – unlimited rice, fresh veggies and chicken. Please do drink mountain coffee. It has a different blend.

7. One group is required to have a guide. Arrange your guide earlier at the Ranger’s station or you can ask the owner of the homestay to help you find a guide. Trekking time is as early as 1:30 AM. So be prepared with the freezing cold and your well-lumensed headlight. Mt. Pulag has a gradual ascent in the entire stretch except for the shoulder to summit which is more inclined. You can hide at the bushes at the top while waiting for the sunrise. The temperature can really drop down to 5-degree Celsius.

Things to prepare:
Three layers of clothing – inner thick shirt, a wind fleece and thick jacket.
> Bonnet, muffler, buff, gloves, and scarf
> E-blanket (aluminum foil mat)
> Trekking shoes or one that can withstand the muddy terrain
> Thermal patch (I brought one and placed it on my knees and legs since I had some extreme training the past weeks. Better be ready than be rescued!)
> Trail pack – nuts, chocolates, jelly ace, energy bar, banana and hydration salts. The cold and the trek itself, can cause cramping of muscles so electrolyte rich food and drink can prevent it.
> WATER. (I experienced dry-mouth so I needed to gulp once in a while.)
> Lip balm or petroleum jelly (to prevent lip crack)
> Camera, smart phone,drone (The scenery is awesome!)
> Trash bag – pick whatever trash on the path even if it isn’t yours. Let us be concern.
> Positive mindset and love of nature. 
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About Marie Angelique Villamor

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