Trips - Mt. Pulog
Solo Trek to Mt. Pulogor "How NOT to Climb Pulog"
By Robert Gardner
On the map [Slide#1], Pulog was less than 50-km east and slightly north of Baguio City across the Agno River valley and seemed reachable. I stopped by the Tourism office and got directions:
1.Take bus from Dangwa Station for 4-hour trip to Ambangeg, Bokod.
As easy as 1-2-3.
Step 1: Bus to Ambangeg. At 6 am the next morning I was at the Dangwa Bus Station. [Slide#2] Buses came, filled with passengers and left without any apparent organization. I asked around and was finally led to a bus leaving for Ambangeg at 9 o'clock.
The bus, if the term can be loosely applied, appeared to have been rolled on several occasions and had gaping holes throughout its rusted body. This mattered little since the whole right side was completely open and long wooden benches spanned its width like a trolley. The Bokod Express filled with produce, livestock, luggage, and passengers and departed promptly at 10 am.
My rucksack was stashed with the chickens in back and I took a seat on the "window" side of the bus. There were five or six passengers between me and the open right side. As we started, the first thing I noticed was that some of the floor boards were missing and I could see the road passing below.
The pavement ends just outside of Baguio. From the town's perch, the road drops into a canyon and the descent was uneventful since the bus apparently had brakes. As we crossed the river and started up the other side it became clear why the seeming short distance would take four hours to traverse. The road was carved into the limestone hills without any attempt to follow contours and the steep climb seemed endless. As the bus crawled, it kicked up the fine talc from the road surface which billowed up through the holes in the body, the open right side, and the missing floorboards. Unable to outrun the dust, I watched as passengers around me turned a ghostly gray.
A little after 2 o'clock we reached Ambangeg. I looked back to see my bag go out the window which was my cue to debark. I picked up my pack from the side of the road and followed some other passengers into town.
Step 2: Hike to barrio Palancha. In Ambangeg, the road branched and I took the one to the left that appeared to go up. Ambangeg was a cluster of mostly wooden buildings with corrugated tin roofs; the better ones with corrugated tin sides. Out of town the road climbed a steep hill. I hiked steadily for nearly an hour until I could see the top of the ridge and another cluster of houses. At a branch in the road I spotted a group of young men sitting in the shade. I approached them, "Palancha?" They conferred and one pointed to a large wooden building just up the road.
Step 3: Contact principal and hire guide. The building stood out from the small houses scattered about and was the Palancha schoolhouse. As I approached, a group of children ran out the front door and stopped in their tracks when they saw the sweat-soaked stranger approaching. Following them out was a man who I assumed was their teacher. He spoke English and I told him of my plans to climb Pulog and asked to speak to the principal. He was the principal. He agreed to help me find a guide so with the children in tow we returned to the men I passed sitting next to the road.
None of the teenage boys who worked as guides were around so we returned to the schoolhouse to wait. A half-hour passed and one boy stopped by but for some reason was unable to work. A while later two other boys stopped in and neither was able to go. It was approaching 4 p.m. and I was wondering if the boys were afraid of guiding one person into the wilderness this late in the day. I decided to go ahead without a guide and the principal assured me that the summit was easy to find although he had never been there himself.
His instructions were to follow the logging road and keep to the right. Just after the road forks to the left is a lake. Spend the night there at the hut where an old man lives. Continue on to the summit in the morning. I sketched a map [Slide#3].
Dusk was approaching as I left the school. After an hour it was dark but the moon was full so I could still see the road. Soon the road forked again and I realized that I had passed the lake without seeing it. Instead of turning back I found a spot next to the road had a bite to eat, pulled out a blanket and used my pack as a pillow. I thought of the bus ride from hell and the long hike to get to this point and tried to sleep. My body ached. Just after midnight I awoke with the bright moon still illuminating the eerie landscape and I couldn't get back to sleep.
At 5 am I was up and started to walk by moonlight to shake off the cold. As the sun came up, [Slide#4] I reached the end of the logging road and the trail descended into a canyon and oak forest. After several kilometers I reached a small spring that trickled out of a tree root near the trail, drank water out of my bottle, then refilled it.
Continuing up the trail, I reached the fork where I was instructed to keep to the left. I passed another small spring but didn't stop. The oak forest soon gave way to low grasses and I could now see how the trail meandered toward the summit [Slide#5]. I reached a flat spot where campers had been then continued a short distance to a shaded side of the peak where I stopped for breakfast and a nap. It was a little after 8 am.
I left my pack and walked to the summit about 50-m above where I rested. I was greeted by a metal flag and sign planted by the U.P. Botanical Society assuring me that my goal had been reached. This was the top of the world in these parts with only blue sky above and whisps of clouds in the distance. The peaks, ridges and valleys of the Cordilleras stretched north and south. To the west, beyond more hills, I could see the South China Sea on the horizon. With nobody to share the awesome vistas and memories of the climb, I set my camera on a tripod and recorded the moment [Slide#6].
It wasn't long until the utter isolation of the place began to sink in and not being one for solitude, my thoughts returned to civilization thousands of feet and miles below. After regaining some strength, I started down the mountain. Two hours later I was back on the logging road where I passed some local folks carrying bundled wood and baskets toward Ambangeg. I reached the lake that I missed on the way up but continued to Palancha without stopping.
The principal seemed surprised that I had gotten back already (or at all) and he suggested that I stay in Ambangeg so I could catch the early bus back to Baguio. I had been hiking since before sunrise and the trail and heat were taking its toll. After thanking the principal for his help I headed down the hill and fortunately numbness set in and I plodded the rest of the way down to Ambangeg.
I stopped at the first store and asked the owner about buses and if there was someplace I could stay. Yes, the bus would leave in the morning and for a small fee I could stay in a building, behind the store, which was part of the BCI Mining Company compound. A guard stepped in and led me to a big empty house where I made myself comfortable on the floor, took a shower, then returned to the store to cook my dinner on the wood stove.
The next morning at sunrise, I gathered my things and went back to the store and met the husband and wife who ran it. The husband was on his way to work and offered me a ride to the junction where I could get transportation to Baguio. There, a jeepney was taking passengers and produce to Baguio. [Slide#7] I was riding comfortably up front when the driver asked me where I had been and I said Pulog. He asked again and I answered a bit louder MT. PULOG. After several miles without speaking he asked again, "You climbed Pulog?"
Robert S. Gardner <email@example.com>
I took this adventure before learning about the many trekking and climbing groups that were beginning to form at that time. Had I known, I would have preferred to have had some companions. It's generally not a good idea to venture off in unknown territory without a map or guide. Check the Clubs Page to find people who share your interests and trekking goals.
Take me back to Bundok's Trips Page