“They grope in the darkness with no light, staggering the way drunken men do.” This passage from the book of Job perfectly depicts our journey towards the peak of Mount Pulag in Benguet. Known as the highest peak in Luzon, Mount Pulag stands at an elevation of 2,296 meters above sea level and is part of every hiker’s bucket list.
Apart from the bragging rights awarded to those who complete the trek to its summit, this mountain is also famous for its stunning sea of clouds which displays some of the most colorful sunrises above a vast space covered with cotton-candy like clouds.
Entranced by the idea of being able to witness this astonishing display of beauty, my friends and I decided to take a trip to the highest peak in Luzon. Everyone was excited to do the hike, but we soon realized that it wasn’t a stroll in the park.
GETTING TO MOUNT PULAG
There aren’t any buses traveling directly from Manila to Kabayan, Benguet where Mount Pulag is. So the six of us met up at the Victory Liner terminal in Pasay where we boarded a bus going to Baguio. After a red-eye bus trip that lasted roughly four and a half hours, we arrived in Baguio. This was only half of the journey to the foot of the mountain, so the group decided to grab a heavy breakfast before meeting with the driver who would take us to Kabayan.
An hour and a ton of carbs later, we were fetched by a monster jeep that transported us from Baguio to Kabayan. This took another three hours, making the entire trip a total of seven hours just to reach Ranger’s Station, the foot of Luzon’s highest peak, which serves as the take-off point for a trek to the summit.
The road going to Kabayan was long, but we didn’t feel it as we passed through some of the most scenic routes I’ve ever witnessed in any of my trips. The driver was also generous enough to take us on two small side trips along the way. These included Ambuklao Dam and Jang Jang Hanging Bridge, which are both in Bokod, a town located roughly 36 kilometers from Kabayan.
Ambuklao Dam is one of the very first hydroelectric facilities to have ever been established in the country. It is part of the sources of energy that powers the Luzon grid, supplying electricity to the country’s largest island group. Apart from this, the dam also functions as a flood control system as it holds a huge amount of water during rainy months.
JANG JANG HANGING BRIDGE
Measuring approximately 300 meters long, this hanging bridge is said to be the longest in Bokod and has been a favorite stopover for hikers going to Pulag. It can accommodate a maximum of 10 people at a time and offers the ultimate high of walking on a wobbly bridge several meters above the ground. Jang Jang hanging bridge also served as a good prelude to our hike as it made us feel the adrenaline of seeing things from a highly elevated point of view.
Before reaching Ranger’s Station, we made one last pit stop at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Kabayan for an orientation about Mount Pulag. Here, we learned that there are two trails to choose from in going to the summit; the Ambangeg Trail and the Akiki Trail.
The Ambangeg Trail is the most popular one, especially for beginners as it only takes 4 hours of trek with gradual slopes towards the summit. The Akiki Trail, on the other hand, is the perfect choice for expert hikers as it requires 15 hours of trek spent on steep slopes. Being the beginners that we are, we registered for the Ambangeg Trail.
As we made our way out of the building, we encountered a group of hikers who just finished their hike. They wished us luck as they weren’t fortunate enough to witness the sea of clouds due to bad weather conditions during their trek. This gave us quite the worry, especially since it started drizzling at that moment. But just a short while later, our fears turned into awe as the almost setting sun cast its rays, giving birth to a rainbow as if nature was telling us that we had an entrancing experience waiting ahead of us.
PLAYGROUND OF THE GODS
The sun was already setting when we got to Ranger’s Station. Here, we were introduced to Ate Fe, our assigned tour guide for the hike, who gave us some of the most fascinating details about the mountain. According to her, Mount Pulag is called the “Playground of the gods” as locals believe that their departed ancestors’ spirits inhabit the mountains.
Ate Fe warned us of the erratic weather conditions in Mount Pulag. She mentioned that there have been several instances where campground violators were punished by the spirits by not giving them the chance to see the famous sea of clouds. Along with this, she also told us to be respectful of the environment so the spirits of the mountains would give us favorable weather for our trek, which starts at exactly 12 midnight the following day.
Minutes before the start of our trek, we were woken up by the sound of howling winds and rattling roofs. Ate Fe told us that we can still decide to push through with the trek, but we will have to do it at our own risk. We weren’t ready to give up the chance to come face to face with the astounding view at the summit, so we just waited for the weather to get better before we decided to continue with our journey.
At around 2 AM, we started the trek with our bags full of snacks and our souls filled with nothing but courage and hope for a safe trek. With the absence of light pollution, the trail was pitch black and the only lights we had were the ones coming from our headlamps, which barely lit two meters of the path in front of us.
The Ambangeg Trail has two pit stops, Camps 1 and 2, where you can take a quick break to rest your legs, drink some water, and munch on some protein bars to load on some energy. In between these two camps, you’ll be passing through three different types of vegetation: pine forest, mossy forest, and grasslands.
From the name itself, the pine forest is populated by pine trees. Mossy forest, on the other hand, features different sorts of trees with trunks and branches wrapped in thick moss. Lastly, the grassland, which is found in the higher areas of the mountain, is dominated by dwarf bamboos, which are said to be the only species that could withstand the extreme cold of the summit.
Beautiful as these vegetation sound, you wouldn’t notice their charm when you’re trekking through pitch-black paths towards the top. Your main focus, of course, is on making sure you don’t trip and fall on the unseen cliffsides concealed by the dark. Worry not, however, as you’ll get to revel in the beauty of these forests on your way back when the sun is already out.
THE FAMOUS SEA OF CLOUDS
Making our way to the summit was a test of patience, endurance, and friendship. We might’ve taken the easier trail, but I guess nature wouldn’t let you take a peek into its charm without working hard for it. Our hike was a rather slow one, with every step getting heavier and every breath growing thinner and thinner. But with much persistence and yearning for nature’s beauty, we made it just in time to witness the first burst of daylight.
And there it was–the most raved about sea of clouds in the playground of the gods. What a sight to behold. In front of us was a miracle of life where the sun sneaks into the horizon and gives birth to a multitude of colors that make love to each other. A view so unbelievably attractive that you would crave to have a piece of it, yet the closest thing to a tangible souvenir you can get are photographs–digital and mental ones.
Our spot was still 2 hours away from the summit, but we decided to stop there and just marvel at the beauty in front of us. So this is the famous sea of clouds–an entrancing sight that leaves your soul in awe almost to the point of intoxication. Whatever struggles we faced on our way to this spot were nothing compared to the grand manifestation of nature displayed in front of us.
MY TAKE AWAY
I wouldn’t say that I had the best physical shape when I hiked Pulag. The only thing I had were guts, courageous friends, and layers and layers of clothes. I didn’t reach the summit, but it was enough for me that I conquered myself. It wasn’t an easy climb, but I am sure it wasn’t the last time I’ll be doing it.
There’s just a different sense of high it brings. The kind of cold that doesn’t come from an airconditioning unit, the myriad of stars you rarely see in city skylines, the calming quiet of the forest you don’t get to hear in the urban jungle, and most of all, the invincible feeling that you can take anything the world throws at you because the sky is just within arm’s reach. The moment I saw the entrancing beauty of the heavens at Mount Pulag in Benguet, I understood why it was called the playground of the gods. Because if I were an ancestor’s spirit, this is also where I would choose to play.