Climbing the roof of Luzon for the second time was a dynamite. The first time I scale this mountain via Executive trail was very memorable. Though we were not lucky enough to witness the famous sea of clouds at the summit, the whole journey was worth it.
Mt Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon and the third highest mountain in the Philippines which stands 9,600 ft above sea level. It is known for its Milky Way Galaxy treat at dawn and one of a kind sea of clouds you would ever see if you’re lucky.
There are four established trails going to the top. 1) The Ambangeg or Executive trail (4-5 hours)– recommended for beginners and the easiest among all trails. 2) Akiki or Killer/Cardiac trail (10-12 hours)– known as the most difficult route. Anyone who take this route must prepare for non-stop steep assault all the way to the top. 3) Tawangan or Bloody trail from Benguet (10-11 hours) – blood leeches infested trail. 4) Ambaguio trail from Nueva Viscaya (2-3 days) – the longest trail.
We took the Akiki route traversing to Tawangan. A combination of a Killer and Bloody terrain. Sounds fun, wasn’t it? In fact, we’re hopeful that it’s going to be as fun as we thought it would be. The team only have two days’ itinerary which would mean that speed was vital.
After we attended the mandatory briefing at DENR’s office, we drove immediately to jump-off (Ranger Station). We secure our guides, registered again, then commenced our journey to the top of Mt Pulag.
We reached Eddet River in an hour time and had our early lunch. The sun was blazing and thank goodness to the pine trees which saved us from the broad daylight. We could only afford a little time to rest so we took the opportunity to grab snap shots of the charming landscape.
We resumed our venture towards the peak and the real torment began. There’s nothing technical on this trail however the never-ending steep assault was unbelievable. We keep looking up and hoping that would be the end of it but no, there’s more and more. It never stopped.
We’re ascending for three hours, yet we didn’t see any sign that it will end anytime soon. I figured out why they named it as killer/cardiac trail. The Akiki route will literally overkill your stamina, grit, and patience. You’d be grateful if you hire a porter to take your stuff otherwise, you’ll beg the nature for mercy. Climbing this mountain via killer trail without a backpack was tough and physically demanding but climbing it with a heavy rucksack was a real torture and backbreaking.
It was past 4 in the afternoon when we reached Marlboro Country. Most of the trekkers spent a night here but sadly we need to carry on and try to reach Saddle campsite if our energy permits. The sun bid farewell to us, yet we are nowhere near from Saddle camp. With headlights on, we traversed the mossy forest for more than an hour. Everyone was dead-tired so we decided to set up an emergency camp along the trail and spent our night next to the mossy trees.
We break camp at dawn and we swiftly trekked heading to Saddle camp. We arrived earlier than expected and I was quite thankful that we didn’t pushed for Saddle campsite the day before. It was a bit crowded and muddy at the same time. The sun was about to say hello so we rapidly climbed towards the summit to witness the grand sunrise.
We were lucky on our quest towards the summit. The weather was perfect and the epic sea of clouds was surreal. Mt Pulag was known as the coldest peak in the country, yet the freezing temperature didn’t bother us at all. We activated our hopeless photography skills and took thousands of clicks to capture the magical moment at the top. We enjoyed every second while we sat nicely next to dwarf bamboos.
After getting high with the phenomenal sea of clouds and marvelous 360-degree view from the summit, we headed back down to Saddle camp. We had breakfast, then hit the trail traversing to Tawangan. It’s going to be a very long, soggy, muddy, and bloody descent.
As we bust into the mossy rainforest, it felt like we were transported to another world. A world of fairies and witches. Only few trekkers take Tawangan route not only for the fact that it’s a long way up/down but mainly because of blood leeches and the wilderness itself. Trees in different kinds and forms which are covered with moss are overwhelming and kind of creepy at the same time.
We’re undeniably traversing a magical rainforest. The sun was shining at its finest, yet down there, mild rain shower was pouring non-stop. The terrain was not difficult, yet quite challenging. Aside from the aggressive blood leeches, the trail was slippery due to rain showers and mosses.
While the Akiki trail boast its colossal towering pine trees, the Tawangan route brag its massive flora and fauna and bizarre display of mosses. The gorgeous giant ferns, the delicate prickly plants, wild strawberries, and wild orchids are just among of the reasons why traversing to Tawangan was top-notch.
We descended non-stop for hours. Trust me, you don’t want to stop somewhere close to shrubs, mosses or trees. Blood leeches would not hesitate to jump unto you if you give them a chance and suck your blood in no time.
Around 3 pm, we finally found a resting spot where there’s enough space to give ourselves a little distance from trees, shrubs and suchlike. We deserved a long breather after hours of grueling descent. As the sun starts to fall below the horizon, the temperature dropped and synchronized with it. We resumed our descent and we were amazed by the lovely water fall alongside the trail path.
It was truly refreshing when nature surprised us with its hidden jewel on our way down. The team paused for few minutes and breathe heavily as we intake a dose of nature’s greatness. We resumed afterwards and arrived at Barangay Tawangan past 4 in the afternoon. We’ve managed to complete our traverse from Saddle camp to Tawangan in less than 8 hours. Kudos to the whole team and to our very energetic guide.
While waiting for our chartered jeepney to fetch us, we washed up like a flash and get changed for like 2 minutes or less. The bath water was ice-cold, worse than ice bucket challenge. Don’t bother to think of a heater, you won’t find any.
We shared dinner with the locals at the barangay hall who were very accommodating and amiable. Then, they helped us load our rucksacks to our chartered jeep as we bid goodbye. We’re back to Baguio City in few hours’ time. The team was extremely drained, so with our sleeping bags we took a power-nap while waiting for the bus to depart from the city.
Scaling Mt Pulag via Akiki trail traversing to Tawangan was one hell of a climb but one of the most rewarding feat once you reach the finish line.
TIPS and TRICKS
- Registration at DENR’s office and rangers station is a MUST. Don’t bypass them at any cost.
- Pack light if possible. Light rucksack means preserving your energy and more speed on the trail.
- Wear proper clothing and don’t forget your warms jackets/thermals. Never underestimate the freezing temperature of Mt Pulag.
- Headgear (bonnet, scarf, beanie) and gloves are essentials for summit bid.
- Rain gear (poncho, rain jacket, etc.) is a necessity. Take note that you’ll be traversing to Tawangan and mild rain showers occur in a daily basis.
- Brace yourself for blood leeches (Limatik) during your traverse to Tawangan. The forest is infested with these teeny-weeny blood suckers.
- Mobile signal is available in most part of Akiki trail, however it’s sporadic in Tawangan area.
- There’s plenty of water sources if you wish to take this route; 1) Eddet River campsite, 2) nearby Marlboro country, 3) alongside the Tawangan trail.
HOW TO GET THERE?
- Take a bus from Manila to Baguio city (5-6-hour ride).
- From Baguio, you can either take a public bus to Kabayan that leaves at Dangwa Terminal. However, the best option is to charter a jeepney if your group is more than 5.
- From Barangay Tawangan, take a chartered jeepney going back to Baguio.
- Then from Baguio City, take a bus bound for Manila.