About Me

My photo
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Photography keeps me sane and brings me outside of my routine. I have no particular genres of choice, I just enjoy shooting anything that is worth capturing in the right light and at the right time. Hope you enjoy my photos, work and travel stories.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

En Route to the Top of the World

" The Beauty of the Mountain is hidden for all those who try to discover it from the top, supposing that, one way or another, one can reach this place directly. The Beauty of the Mountain reveals only to those who climbed it..." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Last April 22,on the day of the earth, I conquered Mt. Pulag!

For a short while, I was on top of the world witnessing the colorful breaking of dawn from 2922 meters above sea level. 

Amidst the cold weather, I savored every second watching in front of me a beautiful scene unfolding while capturing every angle of the summit's golden landscape, colorful skies and sea of clouds that cover the astounding mountain ranges of Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet provinces.  Located in the middle of these three provinces, Mt. Pulag  is the highest peak in Luzon and the 3rd in Philippines after Mt. Apo (2956 meters) and Mt. Dulang Dulang (2938).

“Talagang sulit etong trip na to” (this trip is really worth it) my friend and shutter mate Ian told me when we reached the summit. Taking photographs of a beautiful creation on top of the world at 360 degrees is definitely a priceless experience.

Last Minute Decision

I received the invitation to climb Pulag as early as February.  But,  it was only four days before the climb that I said yes to it -- when an important event in the family was moved a week after the date of the climb.   After clearing my schedule I immediately asked Ian to help me register for the climb. Unfortunately at that time we got a no answer from the organizer because all slots were already taken.  So it came to my surprise when two days before the climb (I was then in Cagayan de Oro) Ian called to inform me that one climber backed out and the organizer decided to take me in. Finally, my wish to climb Pulag expedition was granted!

courtesy of Atty. Ian Flores
Registering beyond deadline however took its toll on my preparation.  First, I missed the pre climb meeting and second, I didn't have adequate time to prepare myself and all the things that I need to bring to ensure a smooth climb. Luckily, the KSP (Kasama sa Paglalakbay), who organized the climb, set the call time at 10:00 in the evening of April 20. This allowed me to finish first my work commitment in Mindanao until lunch time before I left for Manila. Since my flight from Cagayan de Oro was at 2pm, I was expecting to reach Manila around 5pm so I would still have enough time to rest and prepare for the climb. Unfortunately, the more than one hour delay in my flight and the heavy Friday traffic jam in Manila took most of my time to prepare. It was already 30 minutes past seven (which was two hours late from my original target arrival time) when I reached home. I did a quick check of my list and asked my kids to help me pack my things so I could leave immediately and catch our bus going to Baguio. Expecting that I would be walking for two days, I brought only the essential things that I think needed to survive the climb. It was a big relief that my wife (who is a more experienced climber and was then also on a work related mission in Mindanao)  instructed our kids the night before to prepare some of the things I needed for this climb. Likewise, the decision of Ian and his wife Abet to include me in their food supply also made my list of things to bring shorter.

I decided to leave home at 9:20pm. I picked up Ian and Abet along the way and together we proceeded to the Victory bus terminal in Cubao.

A Long and Winding Road

We were the last ones to arrive at the bus terminal.  Ian introduced me to the organizers.  I also met the other climbers who, like me, were also excited  and looking forward to a successful climb.

To ensure that I would not run out of camera battery  during this 2.5-day expedition, I made a plan to recharge my empty spare batteries while waiting for our trip and during stop overs.  Hence while waiting at the bus terminal, I started executing my plan. The bus made a couple of short stops in Tarlac and Pangasinan and in every stop I continued recharging my batteries.  This strategy worked because before our jeepney service that would bring us to the foot of Mt. Pulag arrive I already had with me two fully charged camera batteries.  And since we reached Baguio bus terminal  ahead of schedule (5:30am) I was  also able to buy other stuffs such as tissue paper, batteries for my head lamp and water.

We took the standard jeepney ride going to Kabayan, Benguet.  It was not an easy ride though. Spending for more than four hours in an enclosed jeep traversing on a wildly winding and dusty road was a bane to my weak stomach and aching head. This was aggravated by the fact that we had to take the road along landslide prone areas, with the jeep sometimes only a few meters or so from the road edges. Nonetheless, maybe because of the excitement and adrenalin rush I didn't mind going through a number of road turns in a very rough and rocky terrain. To describe how bad the road was, our jeep even got stuck over a big rock and had a flat tire when we were about to reach the Ranger Station. 

The roller coaster ride from Baguio to the DENR office (where we had the standard briefing on responsible climb) and Ranger Station, though difficult, served as a prelude to a more challenging task ahead of us.  And this is what I discovered when our jeep had reached the end point, still a kilometer to the ranger station. Because of the ongoing road construction project we were forced to get off and walk uphill to the Ranger Station. At that point I said to myself that the serious climb had finally started.  After 30 minutes, we finally reached the Ranger Area and joined other climbers for lunch. We stayed a little longer there to rest, prepare and regroup.

Anticipating the many obstacles that we would meet along the way to camp 2, I was convinced to get the help of a porter for 500 pesos (+ tip).  Getting a porter is definitely a good idea for a person like me who wants to shoot while trekking. Anyway  I went to Pulag primarily not to burn fats and challenge my stamina but to bring home beautiful photographs.   Hiring a local porter is also a good way of contributing something to the community who serves as the guardian of the mountain.

After meeting our respective porters and joining the other climbers for a souvenir photo, we started our final climb for the day.

From the Ranger Station to the summit is around 8 km-climb uphill. However the plan for the day was just to reach camp 2, spend the night there and take an early morning climb to the summit. Because of a number of stops to rest and take photographs, it took us four hours to reach camp 2. 

The first hour of the trek to Campsite 2 was relatively easy as we were romanced by wide trails with pine trees on the side and the picturesque landscape. But there were also spots where we had difficulty breathing due to a strong ammonia smell coming from piles of untreated chicken manure that the farmers use in producing potatoes and carrots.

Then we entered the mossy forest with a very diverse species of flora and fauna. Though we were already going up, the trek was generally enjoyable and relaxing due to the cool atmosphere inside the forest. We were even joking that trail to Camp 2 seemed to be easier than the trail to Mt. Pinatubo crater. 

After around two hours of walking we reached camp 1. We rested for a while and continued our trek to camp 2.  Walking towards camp 2 was an enjoyable experience especially in the part where we could already see of the summit of Mt. Pulag in a beautiful hue of golden brown.  Though the expedition was still far from over, the excitement that I got from looking at where we were heading too motivated me to go an at an accelerated pace and reach camp 2 before sunset.

Like a cold winter night

When the dusk came the temperature at the camp site started to drop significantly.  So a few minutes after taking dinner I decided to get inside my tent and called the day off.  Nobody in our group was able to measure the temperature outside but I guess it was around 5 degrees celsius or even below. A thick jacket, two pairs of socks, bonnet,  gloves and sleeping bag (which I wrapped to my body) insulated my body from the cold weather and helped me get through the night .  The noise outside and snoring of other campers, and the bad contour of the soil where I pitched my tent also brought me terrible problems.

Experiencing difficulty in sleeping I decided to get out around 9pm to take some night photos of the camp with  the lightning and star trails, but to no avail.  Just upon getting out of my tent I could not anymore mount my camera on the tripod. I already lost my control over my shaking body and freezing fingers and this pushed me to abandon my shoot plan, get back to the tent and pray that the temperature gets warmer the next day so I could see the summit. 

The Final Assault 

Despite my struggle over the cold weather, I think I was still able to fall asleep around 12 midnight. It was I think a good sleep but only lasted until 2:30am. Realizing that I could not extend anymore my sleep anymore I started preparing the things that I would bring to our final climb. Still with quivering hands and freezing body I got out of my tent and did some stretching exercises to make my body a little warmer. The temperature at the base camp had improved. It was still cold but bearable.

A few minutes after, my friend Ian and Abet woke up and started to prepare as well.  It's such a big blessing that Ian managed to get some hot water from another climber so we were able to eat a cup of hot noodles before we left for our final assault of the summit.

As experienced by many climbers, the toughest part of scaling a mountain is usually the final haul to the summit. But trekking uphill again for 2.6kms was not anymore my primary concern when we left the base camp at around 3:50am. The weather was perfectly fine so I knew that we would all reach the summit. The only worry I had then is if we could reach the summit before sunrise. The trail towards the summit was narrow so we had to walk in single file. We were also trekking at a very slow pace because there were too many climbers who joined the climb (around 200) that weekend and the trail towards the summit was also very steep. Besides, walking fast was also not anymore possible after going through a challenging trekking experience for the last 30 hours that include two sleepless nights, the roller coaster ride and the long walk from Ranger Station to the base camp.

Armed only with a headlamp, a small bottle of water and climbing stick that I borrowed from Ian and Abet, I continued and tried not to be overtaken by others. Though there were some points that I have to pause, catch my breath and wait for my heartbeat to get back to normal before continuing. 

The trail was not easy but seeing the summit ahead of us and the sky which was starting to become colorful brought me an irresistible urge to move on and imagine how my photos would look like after I completed the ascent. My excitement level was raising as I get closer and closer to the the summit.  Finally at exactly 0516 hours, after 1 1/2  hours of uphill trek, I reached the summit of Mt. Pulag.

My time at the Pulag summit was short but its breathtaking views and scenic beauty will remain everlasting not only in my memory but also in all the photos that I have taken. Immortalizing this wonderful journey to the top of Pulag gave me such a great feeling of success and victory as a photographer.  Yes I have captured Mt. Pulag!  And before we started our descent and experience another battle I declared silently to myself that my Pulag expedition is finally a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

We left the summit at 6:45am.

souvenir photo @ the summit w/ Ian and Abet

for high res photos, you can check my flickr account at

Did you find this article interesting or useful?  Please provide your valuable feedback by posting a comment below.

No comments:

Post a Comment