Disclaimer: I am neither a mountaineer nor an athlete.
To be honest, I dared climb Mt. Pulag as a test run for my planned two-day trek to Machu Picchu.
Why? Here are the facts:
Mt. Pulag = 2,922 meters above sea level
Machu Picchu = 2,430 meters above sea level
Cusco = 3,399 meters above sea level
It was a very spontaneous trip. We formed a group of seven people and went on a trip to Benguet. We left Manila at 1 AM, passed through Baguio, had breakfast somewhere in Ambuklao, and reached the DENR station sometime around 8AM. We had a 30-minute briefing there, and soon enough, we were top-loading on a jeepney for an hour-ride to the base camp (a.k.a. Ranger Station).
Upon reaching the Ranger Station, we looked for an open space to start pitching our tents. We chose an area near the other houses where we can easily pay to use their restrooms, charge our phones, have meals, and so on. It was more convenient to stay here than somewhere farther.
The tent experience (for a first-timer) was very interesting. It was good for two people and we fit it comfortably. We unpacked all our stuff inside our tent and spent the rest of the day wandering around the little town. It was too stuffy and hot to just stay inside the tent. After all, it was the easiest part of our weekend adventure.
Since our trek was scheduled to start at 1 AM, we planned to sleep at 7PM. So right after dinner, we started preparing to doze off. Sleeping on a tent was quite… different. It was drizzling at that time and the winds were making sure their presence were felt. Good thing our tents were water-proof. I realized how helpful it was that I brought a sleeping bag and an earth pad. (I was hesitant to bring them at first, since they were too bulky for a backpacking trip.) They definitely helped bring warmth for my back and body when it was nearly freezing outside. I recommend you do the same.
It wasn’t long before my alarm went off. It was time to prepare for the trek. Honestly, I was already bundled up and ready to trek with all the layers of clothes I packed on before I slept. Besides, we didn’t really have an easy access to a bathroom or a changing room where we can have the luxury of time and comfort. All I really needed to do was take out my head light and make sure it was working.
When we were all set, our group of seven people started our adventure. Since we decided to climb Pulag on a weekend in May, it was relatively warmer than the rest of the months, but it was still cold enough to be out and about on top of mountains at midnight. Our trek started from the Ranger Station. (Note: On weekdays, DENR allows campers to spend the night in Camp 2 – which, I think, would’ve been a better idea to at least pace yourself and have a little more sleeping time.)
Okay, so on the average, here’s the breakdown of hiking time from Point A to B:
Ranger Station to Camp 1: 1 hour
Camp 1 to Camp 2: 2 hours
Camp 2 to Summit: 1 hour
Total Trek to Summit: 4 hours
It was really cold when we started our trek at 1 AM, but I must’ve bundled up too much as I started sweating only a few minutes later. I decided on taking out my thickest layer, as the cold appeared to be bearable when you are constantly moving. At least I know I am literally burning some calories here. I’m sure it would have been a totally different scenario had I went in December or January.
The first hour was the warm-up. It started with a mix of uphill and plateau, but it was bearable, for the most part. The adjustment to the dark proved to be more challenging than the actual climb itself. There were areas that seemed to be safe in the dark, but it turned out they were on the edge of cliffs when we passed by them again upon our return in the morning.
The next two hours to Camp 2 proved to be more challenging. It was drizzling and the trail was muddy and slippery. We were trying to hurry up to make sure we get to the summit before sunrise. It would’ve been so much helpful if we did this trek in daylight. But since we had to start from base camp and target to catch the sunrise at the top, this was a necessary hurdle. Good things take time, eh?
Two hours later and upon reaching Camp 2, we didn’t spend much time resting as we needed to continue right away. Somehow, it was beneficial that we were a small group as we didn’t have to wait for everyone to catch up and be ready. The rest of the bigger tour groups with around 20 people had to wait for everyone to prepare.
A few minutes and a lot of chocolates later, we were starting our last hour of the trek to the summit! (You should really bring some Trail Mix.)
Maybe it was the cumulative three hours of trek, or maybe it was the terrain, but I was really beyond exhausted at this point. So near, yet so far! There was one area where it was purely uphill for a few meters and I was just catching every single breath. At this point, I was considering being left behind, but I was almost there already. I had to stop in the middle of the uphill climb, find a rock I could sit on, and finished a bottle of Gatorade (and some more chocolates).
But after this mini-climb, we finally got to the beautiful picturesque part that Mt. Pulag is famous for. Even if it was still too dark to admire the beauty of the paths circling the mountainsides, it was a beautiful sight overlooking the tiny town lights below me, and the beautiful sparkling stars above. A few more minutes and I would reach the top. (I hoped!)
At this point, I only focused on putting one foot in front of the other just until I can see the summit. There was no other way I can condition myself to keep climbing. Eventually, the terrain was relatively flat until the last ten minutes of the climb. The last portion was a pure uphill until you get to the summit. Even if I wanted to give up at this point, I WAS ALREADY THERE!
And when I reached the top, I had no words. It was the culmination of the physical exhaustion, the sense of achievement, the beauty of the panoramic landscape right before me – It was absolutely beautiful. We had a few minutes to spare until sunrise and we spent it just laying down on the grass trying to catch our breaths and admire the view at the same time.
It was time for the sun to rise and it was just so peaceful trying to watch another day come right in front of your eyes. I know it happens every day, but how often do you wake up in time for sunrise, right? It’s amazing how something so normal can feel so special.
After sunrise, we spent a few more minutes just marveling at the view. The descent back to the camp site was much easier and faster than it felt. I can’t believe I was able to do it, but I was so glad I made a foolish decision to try anyway.
After all, the best view comes after the hardest climb. Just do it. 🙂