Mt. Pulag, located in Kabayan, Benguet, and standing 2,922 meters above sea level (MASL) is the highest peak in Luzon, the third highest in the Philippines, and it is known for the the view it offers – a sea of clouds and a magnificent view of the sunrise. It is that view alone, the sun slowly rising above the vast sea of clouds flowing over the mountains, that will make you just sit down in awe.
I had been to Mount Pulag before, in 2014 and took the Ambangeg Trail. This is the most common trail leading to the Playground of the Gods and back then, it took me 4 hours to just to reach the peak, (not bad for my first ever climb). The slopes weren’t that steep which makes this trail ideal for beginners.
Now, since Ambangeg is the “easy” trail, there should be a tougher trail, right? Oh yes, there’s another such trail for adventure junkies like us – the Akiki Trail or the Killer Trail. A bit of trivia: did you know that Mt. Pulag is a bird sanctuary and home to over 140 species of birds? One specie has a characteristically high pitched bird call that sounds like “Aki-ki-ki”. Hence the name of the trail.
I had doubts if I could conquer it simply because they wouldn’t call it the “KILLER TRAIL” for nothing, right? Since I like putting myself in challenging situations, literally and figuratively, I decided to give this trail a try even if it means going alone with a group of adventurers like me. And you know what? IT. WAS. AWESOME.
Before the Climb / Preparation
It is really important to prepare yourself physically and mentally before doing anything adventurous. To prepare myself physically, I worked-out at least three times a week for three weeks before the climb. I ran 3-5km to help build stamina and endurance. At home, I strengthened my core by doing set exercises from Nike+ Training Club app.
Mental preparation is key to conquering challenging situations. I read articles about the Akiki Trail experiences of other hikers so I could wrap my head around the challenges I was about to face. What scared me the most was the steep and challenging 4-hour hike from Eddet River to Marlboro Country because I feared I was not strong enough to do assaults on really steep slopes. They say it’s very challenging because you have to take a 5-minute rest every 5 excruciating steps. Not exactly fun, right? But more of that later.
Five days before the hike I participated in Victory’s annual 5-day Prayer and Fasting. This is my spiritual preparation. I know that fasting before a major climb via a physically draining route is not a bright idea but Prayer and Fasting is really sacred for me so I still went for it. Instead of eating only one meal a day for 5 days, my diet consisted of eating a bowl of porridge/soup/oatmeal and fruits three times a day. During the fast I fervently prayed for strength, endurance, and to experience God’s love every step I take.
Day 0 (Thursday) – Manila to Baguio
Team Extreme, the team I joined, led by Ron Rabadon, left Victory Liner – Cubao at 9:00PM and headed to Baguio. We arrived at the City of Pines at 3:00AM and it was freezing! From Baguio, we rented a jeepney and went on another 4-hour trip the Akiki Trail Jump-off point in Kabayan, Benguet.
Day 1 (Friday) – Jump-off to Marlboro Country
When we arrived at the jump-off point, the team signed a logbook and hired porters to help us carry our belongings. I wasn’t keen on the idea of getting someone to carry my huge backpack as I enjoy the hike but I learned that this is a source of income of the natives so I got myself one to help the community and he is Kuya Sale (Sa-Le).
So it began. We started our journey via Akiki Trail at 8:45AM and I wasn’t really looking forward to the steep slopes after Eddet River. The hike from jump-off to Eddet River took 2 hours. The trail was not that difficult so it was a good warmup for the group.
Since the next few hours will be challenging, we had our early lunch and quick rest by the banks of Eddet River. What I liked about the Akiki Trail is the presence of latrines at every camp site and major resting spots like Eddet River. The first thing that comes to mind when we think of latrines is the smell and sight of crap (literally). In all fairness to the management of the Mt Pulag National Park, the latrines they built are pretty decent and not at all pungent. If I were to rate it from 1 to portalet-after-a-fun-run, this would definitely be a 1.
Shortly after, my most dreaded moment was about to begin, we packed our stuff and headed to Marlboro Country. The first few meters were challenging because our bodies were still getting used to the assault. What’s smart about what our leader did was he allowed the team to have quick 3-minute rests every 100 meters (vertically). This helped us to recover.
Surprisingly, and I don’t want to sound arrogant, it’s not as challenging as they said it would! What helped me conquer this steep terrain are two things – proper breathing and foot work. What people normally do is they hold their breath during strenuous activities such as lifting weights or doing lunges. Holding your breath limits oxygen supply when our bodies need it most, especially in activities like this. Holding your breath and panting result to dizziness, fatigue, and fainting. Although it is natural for us to pant but it would be more calming to slowly breathe in and out. Breathing, though involuntary, must be consciously done, too. Remember our bodies need more oxygen during physically draining activities, so breathe well!
As for the foot work, I didn’t take huge leaps and steps as much as possible because doing so would strain my muscles and drain my energy. Make every step a conscious choice then partner it with a breathing technique you’re comfortable with and you’ll conquer this dreaded slope victoriously.
Bam! It pays to be a science nerd!
We finally reached Marlboro Country at around 4:00PM. I had this picture of the actual Marlboro Country in my mind where there are rolling hills and horses so I had high expectations about the scenery. Well, the view didn’t meet my expectations but it’s beautiful nonethless. The small grassland is flat and perfect for camping. Also, the periphery is surrounded by trees and that became helpful in shielding us from the ice cold winds as we slept at night.
Upon arrival, our porters helped us set our tents and we rested the night away.
Day 2 (Saturday) – Marlboro Country to Saddle Camp
We started preparing for the Day 2 at 6:30AM. The Team Extreme core team prepared hot coffee and bread to fuel us for the hike. At 8:30AM, the team started its 3-hour hike through the Mossy Forest.
The Mossy Forest is 2200+ MASL and it’s definitely an enchanting place. What made the surroundings look majestic is how the soft rays of the morning sun peeked through the branches of the mossy trees.
We reached the rolling hills of Mt. Pulag at 12:00 noon. While having a quick rest, Ron showed us the side of the mountain where we started our Akiki Trail journey. It was fulfilling to see where we started and what we had courageously conquered to be where we were at that moment.
After an hour of walking through the breathtaking rolling hills of Mt Pulag, we had finally reached our final camping site – Saddle Camp. Saddle Camp is 15 – 20 minutes away from the peak which is good because we don’t have to be up very early the next day to see the majestic sunrise Mount Pulag is known for.
Since we had hours to kill, me and my new found friends, went to the peak to see the sunset. It was a foggy afternoon at the summit and we didn’t clearly see the sunset but the huge clouds rolling in the sky as the sun set was a sight to behold.
The core team of Team Extreme prepared dinner for the entire group. Our menu consisted of ensalada, daing na bangus, adobong probinsya, longanisa, and rice. Good job to the core team who prepared dinner! The food was delectable and everyone was full.
Night time at the Saddle Camp offered a marvelous view of the starry sky. At first I saw the brightest constellations such as the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. Moments later, as soon as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the smaller stars came twinkling and shining. The sci-fi geek in me was having butterflies because I was imagining scenes from Interstellar, Doctor Who, and, of course, Star Wars up above that sky.
The sky was cloudless and the view was stellar! But I had to rest because I had even more marvelous things to see tomorrow.
Day 3 (Sunday) – Mt. Pulag’s Infamous Sunrise
I woke up at 3:30AM because
- I was really excited to head-up to the summit;
- partly because I have to pee; and
- it was freezing!
That didn’t bother me much though since I knew that in a few hours, I would see what I came all the way to Pulag for – The Sunrise.
At 5:00AM, the core team visited our tents to bring a warm cup of soup and a sandwich for breakfast. Honestly, that was the best soup I’ve ever had because the weather was freezing!
Our hike to the summit started at 5:30 AM and we came just in time to witness the break of dawn. The sky was divided into two: the silhouette of the clouds setting in the horizon and the sky in hues of black, teal, and orange giving way to the rising sun. I’m already sitting at the front-row seat of the place where glorious sunrises are made.
Then it came. The silver lining slowly appeared as the clouds came into view. Moments later, the sun rose in its glorious splendor as the sea of clouds danced beneath it. We were all blown away by the cold wind and embraced by the warmth of the sun. The moment was perfect.
The view is still breathtaking even though this is the second time I’ve seen the Mount Pulag sunrise. Maybe, what made this sunrise even more special was the fact that I came here on a solo journey and I ended up making friends along the way. Or that I was able to conquer my fears and apprehensions. Or that I learned so many lessons about faith and life along the way. Or maybe all of these reasons.
After photo sessions with Team Extreme, we headed down to the ranger station via Ambangeg Trail. I already shared the trip via Ambangeg Trail in a previous blog so I won’t elaborate further. But if I were to compare the sceneries between Ambangeg and Akiki, Akiki without a doubt offers more picturesque views than Ambangeg.
Here are more photos.
On Akiki Trail. The Akiki Trail is indeed challenging yet a more scenic route to Mount Pulag. However, this trail is not for the faint hearted and unprepared. It takes a lot of preparation, endurance, and willpower to survive and actually enjoy it. I recommend it to experienced hikers and those who want to try difficult terrains. I tell you, it’s worth it.
On traveling alone. This is my first time to travel alone with strangers, and by far, it’s been great! I enjoyed making new friends and having fun with them as we went through various terrains along Akiki Trail. Also, traveling alone helps you re-calibrate your thoughts because your focus is on yourself and the road you’re trudging. It’s worth the try and it’s something that I will definitely do again soon.
On choosing the right group. I’ve seen a lot of adventure groups offering trips to various places but I opted to join Team Extreme even though the price is steeper than the other groups (which they do admit). Why did I choose to join Team Extreme? Because the leaders of the team have years of experience not just in hiking but leading and serving teams of adventurers. They know where to go, they know who to talk to, they know what to do and when to do it. We didn’t feel lost at all because they knew what they were doing and that made the rest of us feel safe. They also make sure that everyone in the team went from strangers to friends because that makes the journey extra fun and easier to bear. If you want to go on an adventure, I highly recommend Team Extreme headed by Ron Rabadon.
On faith. I had a tough 2015 and to start-off my 2016 I decided to climb a killer trail. I asked God to hold me every step of the way as I climbed the mountain. I just asked to be held by His hands but God gave me more than that. I will write my insights about this on a separate post but I will share the most memorable one. Remember how scared I was before the climb? I am somehow like that in real life. What God taught me was there’s nothing to be scared of because through Him I can actually conquer my fears. And indeed, I conquered it victoriously.
Thank you, Mt. Pulag! You caught me by surprise and you never fail to amaze me. I will surely see you next year.
So there! I hope I was able to walk you through the scenic terrains of Akiki Trail. Cheers to more literal and figurative mountains to conquer this 2016!