During the Christmas break, JG and I (well mostly JG) decided to go up another hiking expedition. This time to climb Mt. Pulag in Benguet way up north. The northern part of The Philippines is probably JG’s favorite among all the places we could visit here in our country. I think it’s mostly because of the cool weather, and since his healthy turn-around, climbing its peaks became somewhat close to an obsession.
Like most of our outdoor adventures, we opted to go with another company that guides a group of amateur hikers like us up the mountain. This time we availed the expert services of Trail Adventours. First, mostly because they have a scheduled trip that fit ours; second, reviews said that their guides are really hard-core/experienced mountaineers so we thought to give them a try.
First some things you need to know about Mr. Pulag and climbing it:
The main attraction of this particular mountain is the sunrise at the summit, as well as the infamous sea of clouds. And to be able to experience this, unlike most hikes, you would have to start during the night and race to the top to be able to see the sun rising. Mt. Pulag is about 2900 meters high above sea level, and because it is in the northern temperatures can really drop especially during the cold seasons. And this combined with its height, thin breathable air is expected.
This also makes climning Pulag one of the mid-range kinds of hike, in terms of level of difficulty, especially to those who climb mountains only for recreational purposes. There are three trails to the summit, the most difficult one takes three days to accomplish, I think there is a mid-range trail, but we opted to take the easiest route which takes only about four to six hours depending on the weather and the group’s pace.
What they’d used to do, is that you walk about three hours to one point of the trail, set-up camp for the night, get up around 3 or 4 AM and start climbing the peak for an hour or so to see the sun rise. But because there have a rise on visitors trekking the mountain, the grounds at the camp site have started to soften, so the people in charge had decided to stop over-nighters in the meantime, to give the ground some time to recuperate.
With this change, hikers must now first stay at pensions located at the foot of the mountain, wake up at around 1 in the morning and walk the six hours straight to the summit. Although this may sound a bit tiring I thought this to be wise, considering you can now just bring a day pack of food and water, instead of lugging an entire camping gear.
And finally, a few months before we climbed there were two separate incidents of hikers unfortunately died after suffering heart ailments while climbing Pulag. Because of the tragic events, the DENR mandated that those who wanted to climb must submit a medical certificate preferably from a cardiologist deeming you heart-attack free.
One last thing, for my fellow Pinoys who are thinking about climbing cold mountains, winter gear can be really expensive. Especially if you are not going to be doing it often, it is also impractical to buy a jacket worth thousands for a three day hike. Even when Jo and I would visit places during winter (like when we went to Europe) I couldn’t get myself to buy the expensive big jackets simply because I knew it wasn’t something I’d be using a lot, since I live in a tropical country. Anwyay, there are stores here that sell slightly damaged winter jackets and sell them really cheap. So just be smart and consider your options firsts. That is unless you can actually afford to buy the high-end kinds.
Considering all the prologue, the funny part about all this was that we almost weren’t able to come along. The doctor that JG first visited to get his medical clearance refused to issue it for him, simply because JG had a history of obesity and still looked relatively on the heavy side. It really got to him a little considering how much he was looking forward to the trip. To be honest I was a bit glad that we couldn’t go. Mountain climbing is great, but it’s not something that I like doing very much or find relaxing like my husband does.
Nevertheless, the organizers told us that we could get medical certificates at a small hospital on the way to the mountain, which I found a bit worrisome since that it could become even more a problem if we went all the way there only to be denied by another doctor. We were thankfully issued JG’s certification, but I would also like to add that he passed the test by a hairline, with a blood pressure rate a little lower than that what is considered to be high.
Before we got to the pension that we were staying at, we stopped by a few places along the way. Including a few minutes of orientation at the DENR office.
The place that we stayed in is a modest home at the foot of the mountain which I think is owned and managed by a family. The house had with several small rooms as well as provided cushions, pillows, and blankets where you can crash in. The food served are simple Filipino dishes but the best part for me is the Chapsuey. The Cordilleras is where Manila gets most of its vegetables, which why I was sure that the produce there was really fresh. I must have had Chapsuey for three days straight but I did not complain and could’ve eaten more.
We arrived at the pension around two in the afternoon, and after an early dinner we were advised to get some rest around five PM and be ready to be up around one. Although it was in the dark at night I thought it was good evening to climb because the moon shone really brightly which made things a bit easier and lovelier as well.
I’m not going to go into details as for the climb, but suffice to say that it wasn’t as physically demanding as climbing say Pico de Lorro; but it was as tough because you will soon realize that aside from getting used to the cold, the air gets thinner the higher you go. This part was the most difficult for me because I haven’t really been working on my cardio all that much. I could feel my chest fighting to catch my breath. At one point, one side of my temple started to throb and for a few days after the climb I could still feel my ears ringing from the change in the air pressure.
It’s also important to note that aside from the air pressure, it can also be a bit of a dangerous climb because there are points in the trek where you would really be walking on a ledge around the mountains. You wouldn’t be able to see the steep side of the path of the darkness, one of the girl we were with made one wrong step and almost fell in, but thankfully her boyfriend was quick to grab her.
As for JG, this is why I was intent to tell you about the heart-attack incidents and how the doctors almost didn’t let him go up Pulag. Because compared to me with the normal ECG and BP, and found it quite the challenge (almost to the point of giving up), my amazing husband was just behind the lead guide at the front, conquering that mountain like it was nothing. It got to a point where we decided that because I was having such a hard time trying to catch up, he would just go ahead and I go at my own pace. JG got at the top of the mountain I think almost an hour ahead of me.
I was really impressed at how much of a long way he has gone from the guy two years ago who refused to climb a flight of stair. All those days jogging really paid off for him and it really showed seeing as the altitude and air pressure did not get to him at all. He later explained that he hated how the doctors judge him by his past and how he looked, and that he really found it a bit of a challenge to be told what he could and couldn’t do. I guess sometimes the mind can be a really powerful thing.
We got to the summit just in time before the sun rose, and after finding a comfortable spot we waited. I remember writing about not buying what most people would say about forgetting all the pain when you see the view up a mountain. So I was up there in the dark and cold, just really thankful to finally get half the job done. But as the minutes passed the colors of the black sky started to change.
I have only once seen a scene like that once, years ago on a plane ride high up in the air. I never thought I would get to see it again on purpose. And I would have to say as the minutes passed and as the sun slowly made its appearance the unbeliever in me really had a change of heart and for a moment my thoughts were truly swept away.
Because it was really beautiful…
As you come down, you would also be able to realize how a bit dangerous the climb was as the bright light of day would shine on everything you couldn’t see during the night. But as the same time you would also be able to appreciate, all the great things you weren’t able to see.
Despite finding myself a bit moved with the view at the top, I still have yet to say that I too have fallen in love with mountain climbing. I’m not saying I’m completely giving up on it, knowing how JG had so much fun, this wouldn’t be our last for sure. I still think it’s not for me, but one thing for sure is that I go just to see my over-worked, stressed out, grouchy husband seem so relaxed and happy, proving people wrong, and wanting to share it with me.