A First-Timer's D.I.Y. Guide to Mt. Pulag - Ambangeg Trail

18 October 2019 Kabayan, Benguet, Philippines

Being born in the city of Baguio, an unassuming city; and having been raised in it's nearby land of Itogon, a laid-back mining municipality—both of which are in the charming Benguet of the Cordilleran majestic ranges—attributed my deep-rootedness for the mountains. The mountains have always given me a sense of purity and calmness, from mossy forests, to the different hues of mountain lakes, to its boastful waterfalls, to divine rivers, and lush green fields.

Last month, I went north of Baguio on a "not-so-solo" climb to witness the beauty of — no other than the glorious Mt. Pulag. Mt. Pulag is an unexpected last-minute solo trip; it is supposed to be a road-trip back again to Sagada with my long-time partner. But since, he has last-minute urgent projects to finish at the time, he can't go (even if he badly wants to, awww). I opted to participate in a joiner tour to Mt. Pulag. This is my first climb to Mt. Pulag and I'm somewhat excited as I count the days prior to the event.

The glorious Mt. Pulag


Mt. Pulag is the highest mountain in Luzon and the third highest in the Philippines, next to Mt. Apo and Mt. Dulang-Dulang. It looms over Benguet ranges, a craggy mountain at 2,926 masl yet proud of its challenging trails and its own natural beauty — like something out of "Lord of The Rings". It boasts crayola green pinetrees, magical mossy forests and a vast grassy land ala New Zealand to boot. For a lot of travellers, this is the whole reason they visit: get up at an un-godly hour either 12 midnight or at 3 a.m., drink several cups of strong coffee, watch the sunrise and witness the elusive stunning sea of clouds over the peak.

Which trail should I take?


If you are coming from Benguet then there are three trails available if you wish to reach Mt. Pulag. There's also another trail to the summit but starts at Nueva Vizcaya.

  • Ambangeg Trail - Also known as "Artista Trail", the easiest and safest trail up Mount Pulag. One will reach the summit for just 3-4 hrs.
  • Akiki Trail - It is more suited to experienced climbers and can take more than two to three days to finish.
  • Tawangan Trail - Starts at Kabayan, Benguet and could be difficult for inexperienced climbers as the trail is steep as Akiki.
  • Ambaguio Trail - Starts at Nueva Vizcaya and it is the longest among the trail. You can reach the summit after three days.

On this post, I will be discussing about Ambangeg Trail as it is the easiest and it is very well suited for beginner's.

Ambangeg Trail hiking specifics


For beginners, you can't go wrong choosing to hike Mt. Pulag via the Ambangeg Trail. In just a short few bullet points, you'll get an overview on what to expect on your Mt. Pulag Ambangeg Trail hike.

  • Trail Name: Ambangeg Trail
  • Type of trail: Out-and-back (if only hiking Ambangeg)
  • Ambangeg Hike Trailhead: Babadak Ranger Station (at Ambangeg, Daclan, Bokod, Benguet)
  • How long is the hike to the summit from the entry point? The day hike to the summit could take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on your pace.
  • How many days to spend at Mt. Pulag? Plan to have a minimum of 2 days to do this hike.
  • Mt. Pulag crowds: Very crowded especially during peak season. DENR Mt. Pulag only allows 500 visitors per day at most. So if you're looking for solitude, try hiking just days before the rainy season.
  • Ambangeg Trail difficulty: This is hard to quantify. Since this trail is very popular, many people of all different experience levels do this hike. It may be hard for first-time hikers. So I suggest to condition your body-doing lots of cardio for 2 months-atleast 3 times a week before your actual hike.
  • Is a permit reservation required to hike Mt. Pulag? Yes. Absolutely yes. See Mt. Pulag reservations and permit below.
  • Is there drinking water available along the Ambangeg Trail? Yes, there's potable water source about 2-3 along the way, but I still suggest that you bring enough water. I highly recommend to still treat the water personally.
  • Is the trail kid-friendly? As long as your kid is a good hiker/backpacker (or as long as you can carry your kid and his stuff), there should be no problem. Our guide told as that there are actually some parents bringing in their infants.

Mt. Pulag reservations and permit


First things first, if you want to climb Mt. Pulag secure your climb reservation via DENR Mt. Pulag Office in advance; preferably a month or two before your planned trip. Strictly,NO reservation, NO climb.

For peak season travel, I recommend locking in your spot at least 6 months in advance.

To get your climb reservation, you may contact the following numbers 09127628844, 09103010423, 09106412678, and 09261626786 between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Mondays to Fridays.

Read on this post for fees on environmental, entrance, and other fees.

What sort of stuff should I pack?


Hold your horses, before you climb Mt. Pulag you should know what to bring especially if it's your first time. The travel agency was very kind enough to give us tips and what to pack before our trip, so I am also sharing it you. Also, I'll be adding some that I think you will need.

  1. Medical certificate. Issued by any doctor to certify that you are fit to climb. NO medical certificate, NO climb.
  2. Backpack. A good hiking bag is a must.
  3. Flash-light/headlamp.
  4. 5 layers of clothing:2 shirts (non-cotton), thick long-sleeves sweater (fleece preferred), jacket w/ hood, rainproof jacket and pants
  5. Thick bonnet, scarf, gloves, socks ;...and/or thermal wears (if you have) or anything to heat you up. Temperature can be freezing cold down to 0°C-7°C up there especially during the -ber months.
  6. Mess kit. Spoon, fork, and cups.
  7. Food, snacks, water. Bring a water bottle preferably 2-3 liters capacity and bring lots of food. You need usable energy for your body.
  8. Waterproof everything! Wrap all your clothes, things, bag/s with plastic bags to prevent from moist and unexpected rain.
  9. Hiking shoes w/ good sole traction.
  10. Rain gear. Raincoat or you can use a make-shift rain coat using a 'trash-bag'. Definitely no umbrellas. Or you may want to bring one but choose an ultra-lightweight folding umbrella that you can easily fit into your bag.
  11. First aid kit and personal medicines. Also, bring your personal emergency kit just in case you have personal needs.
  12. Toiletries. wipes, tissue paper, and toothbrush. Also soap, shampoo, and towel if you plan to wash-up before and/or after the climb.
  13. Camera. Take lots of photos during the trip. It's best if you bring extra memory cards with you.
  14. Powerbank. There's electricity at the ranger station and you may charge your gadgets here for a fee (PhP50.00/charge). But of course, once you're up at the proper mountain, nada!
  15. Tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. If you are camping you definitely need these. These are also available for rent at Babadak Ranger Station. So if you don't have any, you don't need to worry about buying.
  16. Cook wares, butane, and portable stove. Needed if you want to camp at the camping sites in Mt. Pulag. Also available for rent just ask your local guide.

How much is the rent for the tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad? Well, I'll tell you about it later.


What should I wear?


Benguet's temperature can change from hour to hour as Mount Pulag's climate is pretty temperamental. Rain can sweep in without notice and nights get freezingly icy. Generally you might want to wear multiple light layers - preferrably wear non-cotton. On the first day, wear dri-fit shirts or sleeves and a light rainproof jacket. Of course a good hiking shoes is a must have.

Once you're up on the mountain proper, it can get really cold, especially at the camp during the night so switch immediately from your sweaty clothes to dry ones, thermals if you have, trousers, thick socks, fleece or bubble jackets. They key is to layer about 3 to 5 layers. Switch between what makes you cool and at the same time warm. For the dawn summit, grab head torch, bonnets, and gloves. Don't forget to pack-in a raincoat just in case and waterproof everything.

When is the best time to visit?


Being a local of Benguet myself, rainy season is from June to September so you might want to book during the dry season. But again, due to its high elevation Mt. Pulag is temperate with rains predominating the whole year. December, January, and February are the coldest but the peak season, meaning hordes of hikers. Frost can be common due to the low temperature during those months. Best month is after the rainy season as you've got better chance to see the sea of clouds. March, April, and May are fine too and equally pleasant if you're not comfortable with extremely cold low temperatures. I visited Mt. Pulag after a storm late September and had the chance to see the cotton candy sea of clouds while watching the sun rises at the horizon.

How to get there?


The Mt. Pulag Tour organized by the travel agency includes transportation from Baguio to Mt. Pulag and vice versa. But if you plan to do it DIY-style you may.

  1. From MANILA to Baguio: ride a bus going to Baguio via Victory Liner or Genesis/Joy Bus (both transit companies have terminals located at Pasay and Quezon City).
    • Bus fare:
      • Genesis-Joy Bus - P450 Regular, P755 Deluxe
      • Victory Liner - P455 Regular, P750 First Class
    • Travel time: Manila to Baguio - Approx. 4-7 hrs.
  2. From BAGUIO to Kabayan via bus or van:
    1. From Baguio, hail a taxicab going to Old Slaughterhouse Terminal. Tell the driver to drop you off at the van terminal of Kabayan (first trip leaves at 7 a.m.).
      • Taxi fare: P70-P150
    2. Ask the van driver to drop you off near the DENR Visitor Center Station.
      • Van fare: P150
      • Travel time: Baguio to DENR Station - Approx. 2-3 hrs.
  3. Proceed to DENR Visitor Center Station in Bokod, Benguet. You need to register here first before your climb—log-in your names, pay the fees, and complete the prerequisites (they require a medical certificate to see if you are qualified to climb)—and attend a 30-minute pre-climb orientation.
    • Entrance Fee: P175/person
      • Foreigners: Peso equivalent of USD 15
    • Environmental Fee: P150/person
    • Camping Fee: P100/person
  4. Outside the DENR Station, there are motorcycle or "habal-habal" drivers to bring you to Babadak Ranger Station (if your hike is via the Ambangeg Trail).
    • Habal-habal Fee: P250/person
    • Travel time: DENR Station to Babadak Ranger Station - Approx. 25-30 mins.
  5. At the Babadak Ranger Station you can hire a local guide (strictly mandated, you must) or a porter (if need be) to take you to the summit.
    • Guide Fee: P600 per 1-5 persons
      • Above 5 person: P120/person
      • Foreigners: P800 per 1-5 persons
    • Porter Fee: P750/15 kilos max.

Where should I stay?


There are actually three options for you:

  1. Home stays at the Babadak Ranger Station - There are a number of home stays that you can book if you want a more comfortable option. In case all home stays are full, you can opt to camp.
    • Homestay rates: may vary as low as PhP 200.00/person.
  2. Camp at the Babadak Ranger Station - If you want to try camping amongst the clouds you may do so. Camping here feels more like backyard camping as it provides you a more accessible comfort to amenities that you need.
    • Camping fee: PhP 100.00/person.
  3. Camp at Camp 2 - Want a more challenging camping experience, but closer to the stars? Then try camping mid-trail to summit at Camp 2. From here you will reach the summit for about an hour and a half only. If you don't bother carrying lots of things while hiking up the mountain, this one is for you.
    • Camping fee: PhP 100.00/person.

Some important camping notes


  • NOTE: Camping at Camp 2 is only allowed from Mondays to Thursdays only (NOT allowed for Fridays-Sundays, and National Holidays). Otherwise, home stays and camping options at the ranger station are available everyday.
  • NOTE:No camping gears? No worries you can rent equipments at the Babadak Ranger Station.
    • Tent - P150.00/person
    • Sleeping Bag - P150/person
    • Sleeping/Earth Pad - P50.00/person
  • NOTE: If you want total privacy and don't want to share a space with another person, you can rent the whole tent, but of course, you have to pay for the extra. Or just bring your own to set up and carry. I move around (a lot) when I sleep and I'm too embarrassed to share with another person, so I paid P300 for the whole two-person tent. Yes, I'm worried that I might attack the other person at night, haha.
  • VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Bonfires are not allowed especially at the camping sites up the mountain proper. Cooking w/ portable stove is okay but strictly supervised by the local guide and/or park rangers and should only be done at the designated area.

Where and what should I eat?


There are a few available carinderias at the Babadak Ranger Station for PhP 100.00 a meal, or you can ask the locals to cook for you for a fee. Try the "pinikpikan"- a native chicken dish stew, it's the perfect cold weather combo. This local dish is done by "beating" (pik-pik) a live chicken to death and thrown in an open fire to remove the feathers with it, giving that a delectable heavenly taste. Pair it with labuyo (dragon's breath chili), soy sauce, and a steaming hot rice and you're in for a local food experience.

Three side trips


If you have your own vehicle you may opt to do these worth visiting 3 side trips, preferably on the way to Mt. Pulag. If you rented a monster jeep or van you may asks for arrangements with your driver to visit these spots.

  • Ambuklao Dam - Nestled Northeast from Baguio City, for just an hour and a twenty, one gets a glimpse of Ambuklao Dam. The long uphill climb from the city of pines to Ambuklao rewards you with soaring misty mountains and sweet-scent of Benguet’s pine trees. Along Agno River, this gray concrete ancient monstrosity takes one’s breath away. The dam’s catch-basin with a backdrop of Bokod’s glorious mountains makes one just stop and contemplate at it’s emerald still-waters.
    • Entrance fee: FREE
  • Jang Jang Bridge - Jang Jang Bridge is situated near an eatery so it's not too hard to miss, especially if you're looking to consider having breakfast along the way to Mt. Pulag. It is 290 meters long and it is considered as one of the longest hanging bridges in Benguet. This bridge has became a favorite pictorial spot for tourists. According to our driver, since the influx of tourists, the locals decided to close the Jang Jang Bridge. Why? The people living there can't pass through properly when mobs of tourists occupy this narrow bridge for a souvenir photo.
    • You may opt to have your breakfast at it's nearby eatery and just get a glimpse of this rustic bridge.
  • Daclan "Badekbek" Sulfur Spring - Badekbek Sulfur Spring is basically a small sulfuric bubbly muddy hot spring, whilst the name "Badekbek". The stench that is emmited is like the smell of rotten eggs but it becomes bearable after a while. The hot bubbling mud is believed to have some therapeutic effects. So if you have some bathing clothes and extra clothes with you, you may try to dip your skin with the gray warm mud pool (just a few meters to the actual boiling muddy sulfur) that is totally safe made for human enjoyment.
    • Entrance fee: FREE

Itinerary


There are two itineraries—one for the weekend (everyday) itinerary and one for the weekday itinerary. Both itineraries include three side trips: Ambuklao Dam, Jang Jang Bridge, and Daclan Sulfur Spring. Which one should you choose? Don't worry I have listed some perks and catch for each to weigh down your options.

The Weekend Itinerary

... or as I call it the Everyday Itinerary as this schedule is available everyday.

PERKS of this schedule:
  • More free time and ample rest for the whole afternoon on your first day
  • More time to tour and take beautiful pictures around the gardens
  • More time to immerse with the locals
  • More accessible comfort to necessities that you need during the night

CATCH of this schedule:
  • You need to get up as early as 12 midnight.
  • The trek to the summit usually starts at 1:00 a.m.
  • 4-5 hrs. hike to the summit
  • Another 3-4 hrs. back down to the Ranger Station

DAY 01
05:00 a.m. - ETD for Mt. Pulag
07:30 a.m. - Stopover at Ambuclao Dam for sightseeing
07:45 a.m. - Proceed to Jang Jang
08:00 a.m. - ETA Jang Jang for breakfast.
09:00 a.m. - Side trip to Daclan Sulfur Spring
09:30 a.m. - Proceed to DENR Station
10:30 a.m. - Arrival at DENR Station for registration and orientation proper.
11:30 a.m. - Depart for Ranger Station.
12:00 n.n. - Arrival at Ranger Station, LUNCH
01:00 p.m. - Set-up Camp
03:00 p.m. - Free Time: go around the gardens, take pictures, shop, and immerse with the locals.
05:00 p.m. - Prepare for sunset
05:30 p.m. - Return to camping site and prepare for dinner
06:00 p.m. - DINNER
07:00 p.m. - Lights out

DAY 02
12:00 a.m. - Wake-up call
01:00 a.m. - Depart for Mt. Pulag summit for sunrise
05:30 a.m. - Arrival at summit, wait for sunrise
07:30 a.m. - Back to Camp 2 for breakfast
08:15 a.m. - ETA at Camp 2
09:00 a.m. - Descend to Ranger Station
12:00 p.m. - Arrival at Ranger Station, LUNCH
01:00 p.m. - Depart for DENR station
02:00 p.m. - Arrival at DENR station for log-out
02:30 p.m. - ETD to Baguio City
06:00 p.m. - ETA Baguio City

The Weekday Itinerary

Available from Mondays-Thursdays only. Choose this itinerary if you want to camp in the wild at Camp 1 or at Camp 2. Again, this schedule is NOT available for Fridays to Saturday, and National Holidays.

PERKS of this schedule:
  • Get up at 3 a.m. instead of 12 midnight.
  • Just an hour or two hike to the summit.
  • Ample rest because you won't hike for more than 7-8 hrs. (7-8 hrs. ascend and descend duration to the summit and back to the ranger station).
  • More closer to the stars.

CATCH of this schedule:
  • You'll need to bring lots of things like your camping gears, clothing, and other necessities you need — which could really be HEAVY — up in the mountain.
  • Freezing ice cold at the camp during the night.
  • Prepare for five star latrine pits (cat hole and squat).

DAY 01
05:00 a.m. - ETD for Mt. Pulag
07:30 a.m. - Stopover at Ambuclao Dam for sightseeing
07:45 a.m. - Proceed to Jang Jang
08:00 a.m. - ETA Jang Jang for breakfast.
09:00 a.m. - Side trip to Daclan Sulfur Spring
09:30 a.m. - Proceed to DENR Station
10:30 a.m. - Arrival at DENR Station for registration and orientation proper.
11:30 a.m. - Depart for Ranger Station.
12:00 n.n. - Arrival at Ranger Station, LUNCH
01:00 p.m. - Start trek to camping site
04:00 p.m. - Arrival at camping site, set-up tent
05:30 p.m. - Depart for tower 1 for sunset (depending on fog conditions).
06:30 p.m. - Return to camping site
07:00 p.m. - Cook and eat
09:00 p.m. - Lights out

DAY 02
03:00 a.m. - Wake-up call, warm-up w/ hot coffee/tea
04:00 a.m. - Depart for Mt. Pulag summit for sunrise
05:00 a.m. - Arrival at summit, wait for sunrise
07:00 a.m. - Depart back for camp site
08:00 a.m. - Arrival at camp site, breakfast and break camp
09:00 a.m. - Descend to Ranger Station
12:00 n.n. - Arrival at Ranger Station, LUNCH
01:00 p.m. - Depart for DENR station
02:00 p.m. - Arrival at DENR station for log-out
02:30 p.m. - Depart back to Baguio City
06:00 p.m. - ETA Baguio City

Sample expenses and some disclaimer


Sample D.I.Y. 2-Day Expenses
Rate
RT Bus fare MNL-Baguio-MNL (per person) P 910.00
Taxi Fare to Slaughterhouse Terminal P 150.00
Van Fare from Slaughterhouse to DENR Station (per person) P 150.00
Entrance Fee (per person) P 175.00
Environmental Fee (per person) P 150.00
Camping Fee (per person) P 100.00
Habal-habal Fare to Ranger Station (per person) P 250.00
Guide Fee (per 1-5 persons) P 600.00
TOTAL P 2,485.00

The above rates are projected expenses for a 2 days solo itinerary to Mt. Pulag. Of course, if you're not going on solo you can split the guide fee and/or porter fee with each of your group mates and you can save more.

I booked a budgeted joiner tour via a travel agency for just P1,980 with three sidetrips, which also includes shared van transportation (Baguio-Mt. Pulag-Baguio), 2 lunch meals (1st and 2nd day), all applicable fees (environmental, entrance, camping and tour guide), cookwares and eating set, first aid kid, personalized certificate of conquest, and all taxes and surcharges.

If you want a hassle-free tour to Mt. Pulag, I suggest booking your tour with Agetyeng Travel and Tours. So far this is the cheapest joiner tour that I have seen around. What I like about it, even though we are only 4 in the group, the trip was NOT cancelled — not unlike other travel agencies that requires a minimum number of participants to push trough. By the way the maximum participants per tour is 10 persons, so you have ample space in the van or monster jeepney.

My Mt. Pulag Tour with Agetyeng is paid for by me and NOT sponsored. I just couldn't recommend them highly enough.

Other notable attractions


Aside from the ever popular Mt. Pulag and unbeknownst to many, Kabayan also has its under-rated yet beguiling secrets waiting for one's eye to be discovered. These jewels are still a part of the Mt. Pulag National Park forest reservation and it is still considered sacred to the locals as Mt. Pulag. If you have another 1-2 extra days to spare, you might also want to count these worthwile places to your itinerary.

  • Tabeo, Incolos, Latep-Ngapos and Ambulalakaw. Not fit to climb? No medical certificate? Don't worry, you can still see one of the secret beauty of Kabayan by taking the "Tabeyo Trail" which consists of the four lakes, known as: Tabeo, Incolos, Latep Ngapos, and Bulalacao/Ambulalakaw. No medical certificate required for Tabeyo Trail.
  • Junior Pulag. The Place was called such because it resembles like Mt. Pulag itself, consists of mossy forests and grasslands trails but not as ginormous as it's father Mt. Pulag. Junior Pulag is a part of the Tabeyo Trail and one has to pass from Tabeyo Lake first to Junior Pulag, Incolos Lake to Latep Ngapos, then to the Bulalakao/Ambulalakaw lake.
  • Mt. Tabayoc towers at 2,842 MASL making it the second highest mountain in Luzon and the fifth in the Philippines. It is a dense trail with a huge portion of the trail dubbed as "Monkey Trail" as one has to duck, swing, hang on to vines, and tree branches. If you like a challenging yet one-of-a-kind mountain experience then you should definitely try Mt. Tabayoc. Medical certificate is required for Mt. Tabayoc

Watch out for my next posts about the four mystical lakes and Mt. Tabayoc soon on the blog.

The verdict


There's nothing more intoxicating when the smell of the earth swallows you as you take one step foot forward further into a beguiling place. I can’t recommend Mt. Pulag enough and if you can somehow get up there for sunrise, I wish you all the best and hope you get great conditions and enjoy the view.


What do you think of Mt. Pulag? Have you been to Mt. Pulag before? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below.

Want to read more my "First-Timer's Guide" series?

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