A Journey Above the Clouds: Only in the Philippines
It was just past seven in the morning. The trek down was easy. The light was perfect for capturing the canopied trees along the mossy trail that felt like a welcome to Shangri-La. With a captivating landscape of blue and green, I know I was smiling while talking to Lorna, one of the numerous local guides I was walking with.
I asked her to tell me stories about the mountain tagged as one of Philippines’ most beautiful destinations. She and her fellow guides looked at each other and smiled. “Etong Pulag may tinago ‘to. Three years ago na ata." (This mountain hid someone. Three years ago, perhaps.) I asked them why they were smiling. They told me the story of how a girl got lost amidst the mountain's vicinity. The guides say it's because she was mean. They were not sure how long the girl was lost but fortunately she was found… eventually.
In northern Philippines, tucked in the midst of the Cordillera Mountain Range, lies utopia with its fluffy clouds and freezing temperature. With a rich flora and fauna, the varied vegetation of the Mt. Pulag National Park is a draw to researchers and environment enthusiasts.
However, it is Pulag’s picturesque sea of clouds and sunrise that attracted local and foreign tourists to conquer it. A large part of this highest peak in Luzon, 11,550 hectares, was proclaimed a National Park under the Presidential Proclamation No. 75 on February 20, 1987.
Islands of the Philippines
The Ambangeg trail is a straight up three-hour trek. What made the hike a little hard is the freezing cold. For a group of hikers who are used to humidity and scorching summers, Pulag’s six-degree Celsius temperature is not something to be taken lightly.
We started the climb at past one in the morning. Everyone was cold, shivering, but murmurs and excited laughter can be heard all around the Babadak Ranger station, the place people who want to take a piece of the beauty of Pulag has to camp.
We were 21 in the group, composed mostly of young professionals from various industries and institutions. We were joined by two local guides to help us navigate the mountain’s terrain. Climbing Pulag via the Ambangeg trail is a piece of cake for old-time hikers. The dark and the cold, however, were the enemies which can be made tolerable through proper layering and the right flashlight.
The terrain was easy and the trail seemed to be made for beginners and experts alike. At 3 a.m., with pauses and short stops, and already past Camp 2, Mount Pulag hasn’t taken shape. All we know is that our breaths are coming in puffs and our layered clothes have become obstructive to the climb.
It was around 5 a.m. when we reached the tower site of the mountain. It was where a communication tower was put in place to coordinate with the people in the plains below. (Aside: Going to Pulag’s peak was banned for six months after a group of hikers accidentally set the summit on fire late January this year. The summit of the mountain is mainly covered with Dwarf bamboo unique to Pulag and Mt. Halcon of Oriental Mindoro, another mountain in the Philippines. According to Cordillera Region’s Bureau of Fire Protection, 5.9 hectares of the 387-ha grassland summit was torched.)
Upper body strength was needed in going to the site with its steep and a little slippery trail. Reaching it, however, was worth the sweat. What’s surprising is that there were already hikers who are already seated on the grass, cameras and phones in hand, quiet laughter, excitement and thick anticipation in the air.
The first ray of light took everyone by surprise. Magic came in the form of slow sunrise amidst the sea of clouds and sky with shades of blue, orange, and pink.
It was just a little before 6 in the morning.