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“Peak Bagging” & Mt. Pulag

12 04 2012

March 12, 2012 @ Ambangeg, Bokod, Benguet

On my way to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya along the Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Highway, I saw a directional sign that points to the Mt Pulag National Park. It was at the PNP Station in Barangay Gurel, Bokod, Benguet that changed my intention of going to Mt Ugo in order to recon the Marathon Route of Jonel’s race.

I said to myself, “Mt Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon and I am already here, maybe, I’ll drop by first on this mountan and then proceed later to Mt Ugo!” As I turned left at the intersection, there is no point of turning back. I am back again to my habit of being a “risk-taker”!

The road from the Gurel Junction to Barangay Ambangeg, Bokod is almost completely paved as some parts are still on road cementing construction. The road is winding and uphill and I did not notice that I traveled 9 kilometers up to the DENR Office/Police Detachment.

I am not a trained mountaineer and I am ignorant on the protocol of climbing peaks and mountains in the country. What I needed was the guts to ask questions and have the patience to listen…and listen intently! This thing was entirely new to me but I guess, I quickly learned some of the basic protocol in mountaineering. Everything boils down to “common sense” and respect to the culture and beliefs of the people in the community.

Although it was already almost 4:30 PM when I was given the usual briefing presentation by the DENR about the mountain I am going to visit, the sun was still shining brightly and I have to deal with the fact that I am taking my time from taking one step of the process at a time. There is no point to worry if my trek to Mt Pulag’s peak will be realized the following day.

After the usual briefing and payment of permit fee, additional information was provided by the people assigned in the said office. Permit fee per person is P 200.00 but you will be issued two receipts from the Bureau of Treasury. Since I am not with a group of mountaineers on a group tour, the office personnel advised me to contact a certain “Julius” to bring me to the Ranger Station in Ambangeg aboard a motorcycle. The fee for one-way is P 300.00 per person.

I was also advised to get a guide at the Badadak Ranger Station, the place where I am going to start my trek to the peak of Mt Pulag. The guide’s fee at the Ambangeg Trail is P 500.00. I found out later that the guide’s fee is more expensive if the entry point is from the Akiki Trail which is obviously a longer route to the peak. It can cost you P 1,800.00 but one guide may be good for a group of 6-7 hikers. It is a “must” to get a guide in trekking in most of our mountains in order to avoid of being lost.

The problem with Barangay Ambangeg is that there is no place to stay for the night! The nearest place where there is a dormitory-type of accommodation is at the Poblacion of Kabayan—a good 1 1/2 to 2 hours drive of unpaved road! There was no other choice but to go to Kabayan. The adventure continues and it is a part of touring and knowing the place for the first time.

It was already nighttime when I entered the quiet town of Kabayan. Only one establishment was still open with food to be cooked and ordered at 7:00 PM. Our overnight stay in the one and only dormitory in town cost us P 200.00 per person! One has to sleep on two-deck beds with basic mattress and pillow. The dormitory has a communal bathroom and toilet with separate bathroom for the ladies. There was no hot water or shower but the ever-reliable pail and “tabo” were there!

On that night that we stayed in the said dormitory, two European couples were with us and four males working with a company that delivers and sells bulbs and lighting fixtures to every barangay in the towns of Benguet. A simple greetings and smile was enough for the foreiners but for the people I’ve met along the trip, being an Ilocano was already an  asset during my trip as the people in every place in Benguet could easily understand my dialect. I could easily communicate with them!

We left Kabayan after a simple breakfast and we arrived in Ambangeg, Bokod after almost 2 hours of slow driving and taking pictures along the way. I saw the entrance to the Akiki Trail along the road and I found out that this is the harder entry towards the peak of Mt Pulag. I took some pictures of the place and promised myself to be back and make an assault to the peak using this entry.

“One-time deal” parking fee in Ambangeg cost me P 100.00 from 10:00 AM up to the time we left the place. I think, it was already 7:00 PM. I left my car and I was in tandem with Julius on his motorcycle on our way going higher to the foot of Mt Pulag. It was my first time to be riding in tandem on a motorcycle ride and Julius was complaining that I was doing some unnnecessary movements with my butt. He didn’t know that the bumpy road made me fly a few inches from the saddle/seat and the continous butt-jumps made me nervous that I might fall off from the motorcycle! My light weight made me unstable riding on a motorcycle on rocky/bumpy road!

Wow! That was the most horrible ride I’ve experienced! The 9+ kilometers with rocks and slippery mud on the uphill path could be the longest 40 minutes of my life! Finally, we arrived at the Ranger Station in Sitio Badadak, Ambangeg. The Ranger assigned in the station was having his Lunch Break at 11:30 AM and there was no person to whom I would show the receipt that I paid as my permit fee. I just thought that I would see the Ranger once I’ll be back from the peak of the mountain.

After 15 minutes of waiting for a guide, Edgar came forward and signed up to guide me in my trek to the peak of Mt Pulag. I told Julius and company to return to the Ranger Station to pick us and bring us to where my car was parked at exactly 5:30 PM. Julius was surprised and made a statement that with the limited time, I might not be able to reach the peak of the mountain with such time. I just smiled at him and told him that I’ll be waiting for him at the Ranger Station on the said time.

Mountaineers (with packs) usually reach the peak in 4-5 hours from the Badadak/Ambangeg Ranger Station. Well, Julius and the rest of the people at the Ranger Station didn’t know that I will be running, jogging, trotting and brisk walking to and from the peak of the mountain! And so I did!

At 4:30 PM, I was back at the Ranger Station! I was able to reach the peak of Mt Pulag by “assualting” it through its steepest approach trail (last 50 meters) in 2 hours! Spent 15-20 minutes on the peak for picture taking and moving around the topmost portion and admiring the damp brown dwarf bamboos. The temperature at the peak was freezing as it was raining and the peak was covered with clouds! In a few minutes, my fingers were numb and my body started to feel the cold temperature. I kept on walking on the open space of the peak but the freezing temperature would make my body shiver.

On my way to the peak after passing Camp 1 and before entering to the “Mossy Part”, I was able to meet a couple, a male foreigner and a Filipina, and I greeted them while I was jogging. As soon as I reached the place they call “Grassland”, I met a group of 18 campers/mountaineers with their guide and porter. This is the same group that I would catch up at Camp 1 on my way back to the Badadak Ranger Station. This group is from Lufthansa Airline Company. I would found out later that these campers whom I met along the Ambangeg Trail had been on the trail for 2 days as they have started their climb from the Akiki Trail and they had camped at a placed called “Saddle or Camp 3” before reaching the peak of Mt Pulag.

While waiting for Julius and his motorbiking friends to arrive at the Badadak Ranger Station, I asked Edgar, my guide, where I could buy some snacks—native hot coffee and some local bread. Edgar invited me to his parent’s house and I enjoyed sitting at a place where it is near their stove. Julius and company arrived with a delay of almost one hour. It was okey with me since I had a nice time talking to Edgar’s folks and brothers. The 30-minute downhill ride to the center of Ambangeg took a longer time due to faulty brakes on the motorcycle I was riding. After some stops and quick-repair/disassembly & assembly of rear brakes & tire, I was able to reach my parked vehicle. It was already nighttime.

My trip to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya has to be postponed and I decided to do my “peak bagging” to Mt Ugo on Race Day itself for the 1st King of the Mountain Mt Ugo Trail Marathon. I was already tired. I need the comfort of a nice bed in Baguio City. After a 2 1/2 drive to Baguio City, I was able to take my late dinner and I was in my favorite hotel room in Baguio City—taking an ice-cooled bath and sleeping under soft and clean linens!

This was my first experience of “peak bagging” on the highest mountain peak in Luzon and 3rd highest in the country! For the round-trip distance of 15K from the Badadak Ranger Station to the peak of Mt Pulag and back, I was able to register a time of 5 hours to include my stay at the peak and “pit stops” in every Camp that I reached. I started from an estimated elevation of 2,400 meters and was able to reach the peak of the mountain where my GF 305 registered an elevation of 2,940 meters!

After some research in the Internet and other blogs, I found out that there are events in Europe, particularly in England where mountain trail runs are called “fell running”. And there are also trail running events that would last for 24 hours or more where the number of mountain peaks are considered and counted to be reached as part of the route. Reaching those peaks is called “Peak Bagging”!

This is my own way of applying such event that I’ve learned from “fell running”. The procedure is so simple. Target one mountain peak at a time, run and walk through it, take some pictures at the peak, and run/jog downhill to where one has started. This is the “travel lite” of mountain trekking or climbing without the intention of camping overnight on each mountain. With my first experience of “peak bagging” at the highest mountain peak of Luzon, I guess, a new frontier and form of trail/road running is born!

Now, if you ask me if I enjoyed my experience? You bet! “Peak Bagging” is addictive!!!

Surprisingly, the road distance from the Gurel Junction along the Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Highway up to the peak of Mt Pulag through the Ambangeg Trail is exactly 25 kilometers! And if you double the distance by going back from the peak of Mt Pulag to the Gurel Junction, the total distance would be a good 50 kilometers!

This could be the most challenging 50-Kilometer Ultra Run in the country!

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4 responses

12 04 2012
krisranhere

Those pictures are wonderful especially the first one. They really bring your amazing recap to life. Such a cool experience!

13 04 2012
winefan

I agree with krisranhere, awesome pictures. First one is absolutely breathtaking!

13 04 2012
Mark Mercado (@maj_mark)

BR, you might want to touch base with PhilSky http://www.philskyrunning.com/ they are a non-profit group that specialize on trail mountain running on elevations exceeding 2000m above sea level.

they organized the Pilipinas Akyathlon at Mt Ugo, a 33km race to Mt Ugo summit and back via Itogon Benguet.

The lowest part of the race is at 449masl and the peak at 2162masl in just 16.4km.

I joined their inaugural race last Feb 2012, and overall execution was superb. You can try joining next year.

24 04 2012
Julio Galvez Tan

Hi. I enjoyed reading your blog about your peak bagging at Mt. Pulag. I have climbed Mt. Pulag with fellow runners in the 80’s and 90’s. One thing we enjoyed is running down the trails from the Mt. Pulag camsite to Ambangeg with our backpacks (there were no porters then).
Your article relieved those memories. I will be interested to see an ultramarathon in the area you mentioned. Cheers!
By the way, The DENR did not offer to house you in their facility in Ambangeg? We were able to sleep there but this was in 2008 where there were a lot of cushions and bed stuff.

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