This is getting serious, this mountain-climbing stuff. I thought my Mt. Pulag dream was reserved for the last quarter of the year, but I found myself one Friday night on a Victory Liner bus bound for Baguio City. I’m known for being a light packer, but after doing my research, I decided to include a fleece blanket in my backpack aside from the layers of clothes that would hopefully keep me warm.
Fast forward to six hours later, all forty-one of us were greeted by the early-morning pine-scented Baguio City air. We boarded two jeepneys, with the big backpacks securely placed on the rooftops. After buying our lunch from Andok’s, our jeep traversed the Ambuklao Road at a little past five.
We stopped by this eatery for our breakfast and for a glimpse of the long and winding roads ahead. I was pleasantly surprised that this same Ambuklao Road, which used to be a very rough and dusty road back then, is now smooth and well-cemented.
This view of the Ambuklao river was taken from the veranda of the eatery where brewed coffee costs only P10.
Travel time from Baguio City to the Ambuklao View Deck is around 1.5 hours. From this point, some members of the group climbed the rooftop of the jeeps.
Toploading, as it is called, is the business class of backpackers for it is from this vantage point where one gets to better enjoy the breathtaking views of the mountainside.
It would be another 2.5 hours from here to the next stop – the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) office in Ambangeg, Benguet. Here, one is required to register and attend the 30-minute orientation on proper climbing and camping behavior and what to expect while on the mountain.
That’s TL Alan and TL Alex from Lakbay Kalikasan, friends from way back when I was still new to this “outbound adventure” stuff.
The second leg of our journey was a 2-hour rough, bumpy and dusty ride from the Visitor’s Center at the DENR to the Ranger Station in Babadak, Bokod, Benguet. It was an uphill drive all throughout and I was so thankful to the driver of the the monster jeep that safely took us to our destination. The veteran climbers told us that before jeeps plied this route, one has to spend a half-day hiking from the DENR in Ambangeg to the Ranger Station in Kabayan, now the jump-off of the Ambangeg Trail.
We had a quick lunch here, and after signing in the logbook, we were divided into sub-groups and were assigned our guides. I was grouped with Alex, the mastermind of this trip and the one who convinced me I can make it. He was designated as the Sweeper, the individual at the rear of a climbing party, so our group was the last to go up.
The Ambangeg Trail, also called the Executive Trail, is the easiest trail among the four namely: Ambaguio (Nueva Ecija), Tawangan and Akiki (both in Kabayan, Benguet), the latter also known as the Killer Trail because of its higher level of difficulty.
This is a relatively easy trail depending on one’s level of fitness. But the views along the way are simply amazing…pine trees, flowers and shrubs, the mossy forest, and a very picturesque landscape.
At the end of this steep part is Camp 1 which is within the mossy forest area. There is a hut where one can stretch aching leg muscles and grab a quick bite to re-energize. There is a clean water source 100 meters before reaching Camp 2, the beginning of the grassland, where we chose to stay for the night.
It took us three hours to reach the campsite. I was one lucky camper, who hiked with just my camera and my water bottle with me, because I chose to be Harry Porter for the day and paid for the services of a porter, a person who carries one’s bags for a minimal fee. He helped us pitch our tent and even offered to fetch drinking water for us.
As we were preparing to cook our dinner, I admired the the sight of the summit of Luzon’s highest peak from a distance. Here it is within my reach. In a few hours I will be able to attain my goal and fulfill my dream of reaching it and standing above the clouds.
It is often said that the reason people climb mountains is because they are there. I asked myself why I pushed through with this weekend climb instead of staying home safe and comfortably warm in my bed. I had the answer right away…The mountain’s wondrous presence has a certain hold on me. I can’t help but be awed by its beauty and I feel a certain peace and calmness by just staring at it.
Nighttime has just begun. We could feel the cold wind kiss our cheeks. Tomorrow is another day.
(Part 2 post to follow)