Everyone’s talking about Mt. Pulag, the gateway to the infamous sea of clouds. It’s like a must for everyone’s bucket list, which it should really be. Witnessing one of God’s creations is like transcending to a different state of being. But when I climbed it, it was not included in my bucket list and didn’t even plan on climbing it. Before the climb, I didn’t even hear of it before, I have no idea where it is or how high it is. I didn’t even bother researching it. I was CLUELESS.
I’ve just transferred to a new work; a new office, a new environment, and new friends. After a month or so of being comfortable with each other, my batchmates and teammates planned of going on an outing, Ge suggests doing a hike in nearby provinces, like Batangas or Rizal. This was put in mind that everyone is open to hiking. I’m also game with the idea since I have climbed one mountain in my college years. Why stop in one, if I tried one before?
Out of the blue, Ge, suddenly invited everyone on a hike in Benguet, organized by a friend of his. It is Mt. Pulag, through Akiki-Ambangeg Trail. We started to ask questions, Where is it? How high? Is it hard? Is it beautiful? Ge, answered our questions, “The trail is 7/9 difficulty, it is hard but it is beautiful, we can witness the sea of clouds”, as he had been there before. Clueless I was but excited about the possibility of seeing the sea of clouds, I’ve decided to come and join the climb.
Ge constantly reminded me of the difficulty of the climb. He told me to prepare wisely for the things to bring since it is hard and it will be cold. 7/9. I have no idea how to scale that, I have only climbed one mountain before. I don’t have an idea of what is its difficulty and didn’t even bother to search for it on the internet. Weeks before the climbed, I constantly brought to the office stuff and bags so that I can choose wisely what to include in my pack (Jackets, Shirts, Canned Goods, etc.).
The climb was on Friday of the last week of February. I was still not entitled of vacation leaves. Fortunately, my manager was kind enough to allow me to go, since there is still not much task given to us yet. We left the office after work, Thursday. We’ve met the organizers and rode a bus going to Baguio. We arrived at Baguio early in the morning, then we rode a jeep going to Kabayan, Benguet for the registration and orientation. According to the tourism office/ranger station, at this time, Mt. Pulag is still the second Highest Mountain in the Philippines but when we would start our descent on the third day it will be third, after a recent study that Mt. Dulang-Dulang is a few meters higher than Mt. Pulag. Somewhat part of a historic event :P. We went for Another ride, now, straight to the jump-off of the Akiki trail. The point where everything will start.
Orientation before climb
The time has come. Out of the ones invited, I was the only one who continued to go, somewhat I was alone. My companions are experienced climbers and I’m just a beginner. But there’s no point of turning back, I have my pack and my decision of going is final. I will CLIMB Mt. Pulag. I am READY.
That’s what I thought.
Before the actual climb, our group stopped at a place where guides and porters gathered for final preparations. As we are preparing, I observed that most of our companions have a pack that weighs more than 40 kilos or more, while mine was just way less than that. These guys are strong! Halimaw, as we like call it here in the Philippines :P.
Preparations are done and we did the first steps going up. Just a few meters of walking, it shows that it was a challenge for me. I felt my heart pounding faster and sweats coming out of my body continuously. I’m not physically active, I don’t run or exercise, and my last climb was 8 years ago! I’ve started to ask myself, “Did I make a mistake going here?”. It is very tiring but there is one thing that helped me to ignore the exhaustion somehow… the view. I love nature. Seeing those trees, mountains, the sky, and clouds calmed me and pushed me to continue. The Akiki trail is said to have three parts, the Pine Forest, the Mossy Forests, and the Grasslands. When you’ve reached the grasslands, it means that you are near to the summit. It will soon be over. But… we are still at the Pine Forests.
After a few hours of trekking, we arrived at the first campsite near Eddet River. At last, it’s time to rest! We were the last ones to arrive so they were eating lunch minutes before us. It is now our turn to eat, but suddenly, they’ve decided to continue the trek since we are ahead of the itinerary. This time it will be a series of assaults. Honestly, I don’t know the meaning of the term in the mountaineering world. But a sentence incorporated with it means it is an adrenaline-pumped event, so somehow it made me worry. I’m resting now and eating my lunch then suddenly this?! Well, there’s no choice, either stay and be left behind or face the challenges ahead. Somehow I want to prove myself so I just accepted the fact that there is no rest for now.
We continued the trek by crossing the hanging bridge over the river. The ASSAULT began. In front of me is a wall of land, towering so high that I haven’t climb a height like that before the trail is steep and narrow, one wrong step could lead you back to the river with broken bones. We were walking for hours I can feel again my heart beating faster than before, it felt like I’ve run a hundred-meter dash. I’m exhausted. Looking up, you will say that the top is near, that the next campsite will be just a few meters ahead. But Nooo, when you reach that, another steep area will surprise you. It’s a continuous assault for hours. It’s getting dark and we’re still trekking. We were the last ones to reach the campsite.
Hanging Bridge over Eddet River
The next day, we continued our assault to the next campsite. After a night’s sleep, I regained my strength and I’m ready to continue going up. This time, I’ve controlled my pacing. Baby steps. Slowly but surely. I felt that I have adapted to exhaustion. We continued our trek without stopping, maybe just a 3-minute rest for drinking and catching our breath.
We are now at the Mossy Forest. Huge trees are above us, making our path somehow dark and fortunately, covering our skin from the heat of the sun. I didn’t give much attention to my surrounding. I just focused on my pacing and continued trekking. It felt like forever. After hours of assault, I can now see an exit to that covered path. I’ve hurried my steps to see what lies beyond.
Blurred Mossy Forest 😛
Finally, we are now at the grasslands. The view up there is breathtaking! We are higher than the Mountains beside Mt. Pulag. I can’t describe the feeling but all I can say back then was, “WOOOW!” I breathe deep and felt the wind as it touches my skin.
Since we didn’t stop much, we were one of the firsts to reach the grassland. To compensate for our tiredness, we sat down beside a tree and eat. The truth is, the view removed my tiredness and hunger. I feel refreshed.
We rested for an hour before continuing our trek. The others past us and we’re now again last. The trail going to the campsite is now easy, with no more assaults.
As we trek the remaining trails going to the campsite, we can now see the summit of Mt. Pulag. There are no trees present around the summit, just grass. Mostly referred to as Marlboro Country since it was like the landscape in a Cigarette Commercial.
We arrived at the campsite last. The campsite is on a flat grassland, surrounded by tall grasses. It is just a few meters from the summit. We pitched our tent beside the grasses to cover us from strong winds. I felt tired but thought I can sustain it until tomorrow.
But… I was wrong.
After a few minutes of rest, I suddenly felt cold. I was shivering and feeling hot. Feeling some chills. I told Ge I will rest for now inside the tent and sleep it over, maybe after a while, I will be better.
Darkness came and I’m still shivering. Everyone from the group is trying to help me regain from that situation. One lend me his gloves, and the other gave me his crucible with a candle inside. Later that night, Ge opened his stove outside the tent but inside the flysheet to heat our area. Before going to sleep again, Ge asked me if I can still do the climb to the summit, if not, we will stay there and start going down in the morning. Well, I don’t want that to happen. After all that, I will not see the sea of clouds and reach the summit? I told him, “Yes, I still can”, even if I’m still chilling.
The time has come for the summit. The call time is 3 AM. Not wanting to be left behind, I stood up and got outside. It felt cold but I didn’t shiver. I didn’t know what happen, but I’m now okay.
We continued our trek through the dark. Lights from headlamps and flashlights now starting to gather at the summit. Well, luck was not on our side, there’s no sea of clouds. But, as soon as the first light from the sun came to the horizon, everything changed. From pitch black, outlines of the mountains started to appear, grasslands started to spread, and the rays of the sun shining upon us. All was beautiful. After all the efforts and hardships, I have climbed and endured Mt. Pulag. I am on top of the world. If the view after the Mossy forest is beautiful, this is better. I felt fulfilled. Words cannot describe the feeling up there.
Mt. Pulag Summit. Photo owned and taken by Gerald Celaje.
After a lot of pictures, we returned back to the campsite and got ready for the descent. I am energized as if nothing happened to me the day before.
We started our descent through the Ambangeg trail. The trail is easier and takes 3 hours or more to reach the base. The amazing view didn’t stop at the summit but going down also offers a lot. The vast grassland, mountain tops, and yes, the most awaited sea of clouds captured our eyes.
As we are reaching the base, I can now feel my legs weakening and toes aching. I’ve just borrowed the shoes I’m wearing and there’s no allowance for my feet to extend. I have to endure and finish this climb, no matter what it takes.
The road is now in front of us. Ge said we can take a ride going to the finish point but chose not to do it since it’s just a few meters away. We continued by foot, just pushing myself a little bit more.
Finally, after a thousand steps, we arrived at the ranger station. The climb is done. I can finally take a rest! Alleluia! 😛
With these experiences, I could say to myself that I have really survived and conquered Mt. Pulag. I didn’t see the sea of clouds during sunrise but the climb meant a lot to me, it shaped me. It taught me a lot of things. I’ve learned that mountaineering is not just a walk in the park. It requires preparation and having the right equipment. The reason I chilled is because I wore cotton pants underneath my trekking pants. My sweat got absorb to it and when the wind blew at the campsite, the moisture started the chills. Another lesson is, Willpower is greater than physical strength. I’m not physically active, but what keeps me going is the will to continue and reach the top. I lack the endurance and sleep and I have a back problem, but somehow I’ve managed to push through. Third, we always hear that the path to success is not easy. This climb showed it to me and told me so. It’s true that the path to success is a constant struggle. All those efforts and hardships rewarded me with a view and accomplishment I’ve never thought of achieving. Lastly, I’ve realized that life really is outside of our comfort zones. Out there is the real reason we exist, to see the world, and take all that it offers. To see a different part of life, a life of exploration, learning, and making a difference.
I’m glad I’ve made the decision to go there. It let me realize things that are just there if we take the plunge. So, I tell you to make one and find that adventure of yours. 😉