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Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hiking : Mt. Pulag in a Day (Akiki-Ambangeg Trail)

We were pleasantly surprised with a full view of a rainbow as we ascended the pine tree forest of the Akiki Trail! :) 
My third visit to Mt. Pulag, Luzon's highest peak and one of the most popular mountain trails in the country had an exciting twist, a day hike traverse!  :)  Our route to its summit was through  Akiki-Ambangeg, a 16 Kilometer trail that is estimated to take around 8 hours on a steady pace, short breaks and with smaller packs. Akiki is known to be notoriously steep while Ambangeg trail with its rolling terrain, is commonly taken by hikers who want to take an easier approach to its summit.

Those who are keen on witnessing the  sea clouds during sunrise may opt to spend two nights in the mountains, however, that will entail more planning and a bigger pack on your back. Personally, I prefer extended day hikes (hikes that take more than 5 hours). I find it more enjoyable because you can focus on the scenery without lugging a heavy pack on your back and have more time for side trips once you get down.  
In one of our short breaks, we sat down to admire some of the mountains of the Cordilleras   
Here's what I brought for the trip. For lunch, I brought two Energy gels. 
For this adventure, I was happily reunited with hiker friends, Gid of Pinoy Mountaineer, Jenny, Vinci and Koi. :) We convened at Victory Liner terminal in Baguio at 3:00 AM where we boarded a hired jeepney.  With almost all sections of the road fixed, we got to the Akiki jump-off in Kabayan in 3 hours. What used to be a bumpy and dusty road has transformed completely and the jeep cruised on a smooth wider road. I barely recognized it from my trip 2 years ago. 

After enjoying a quick roadside breakfast of tilapia, kangkong, rice and brewed coffee courtesy of Ma’am Gina, we set off to climb the steep cement stairs to the registration area. It was a pain to the lungs; I was breathing obscenely and we're not even on the main trail yet!
Road side breakfast at the Akiki jump-off
Group shot at Eddet River. Photo taken by Koi Grey. (L-R) Me, Jenny, Vinci & Gideon
We started our hike at 7:07 AM. The section before Eddet River, a beautiful raging river where some groups camp, was a nice warm-up for the long hike. The terrain was even and how I wished it was the same the entire way. :P  We passed a section with sunflowers growing on both sides and for a while, I forgot how grueling the next few hours would be. 

After the river came the challenging sections which went on until we arrived at the summit. It’s not technical, just a very long steep trail with some pine needles scattered on the ground which made it slippery. 
After a sharp ascent at the pine forest, we took a short break for snacks
After less than two hours of trekking, we arrived at the area dubbed as Marlboro country. A hilly area with plants and pine trees, it is  reminiscent of the views from an old  Marlboro commercial. It is the second campsite and has  a water source and a stable hut for guides. 

Next came my favorite part, the mossy forest. Although it is less steep than the Pine trees section, I was still breathless on most parts. I could tell my lungs have not fully recovered from my 4 week battle with chicken pox last month. 
Mossy forest. If only it wasn't so cold, I would have taken a few minutes to just marvel at the moss that grew on trees
At this point, my companions were around 20-30 minutes ahead of me but the trail was easy to spot so I didn't mind the solitude. It also enabled me to take photos of trees, although I couldn't take as much as I wanted because it started drizzling and stopping for a break made the cold unbearable. 

Lunch was a convenient pack of Stinger energy gel which I was able to consume while trekking. I first learned about energy gels from a trail runner friend and it can fuel you for 10 KM of trail at least. It's also very lightweight and takes very little space in your pack. It costs 75 Pesos a gel which is almost the same price as buying a meal from a fastfood. 

Emerging from the mossy forest, I was welcomed by chilly winds and light drizzle, making my trek to the saddle camp, very cold. I ran into another cheery group and it felt nice to see their warm smiles as I began to feel miserably cold. After a few more steps, I stopped and marveled at some beautiful wildflowers along the trail. 

After another half-hour, I rejoined my friends under a hut for guides at the saddle campsite. We snacked and rested before making our way to the summit. At this point, I felt really tired so I just took one slow step at a time. In 20 minutes, I finally reached the summit. 
At the summit. Photo from Gideon Lasco.
Although there were no views - just stronger winds and cooler temperature - it felt great to finally reach the summit. It meant that trail would be much easier from this point on and I'm closer to getting some warm food inside my revolting tummy. Trail down is 7KM long, not exactly a  breeze but at least, it's a rolling trail - no more heart racing assaults! :) 

By 3:37 PM, we were back to the Babadak Ranger station, the jump-off for those starting at the Ambangeg trail and although we were drenched and feeling very cold, we were all in high spirits. After 8.5 hours in the trail, we were officially done and we feasted on hot Milo and bread from a sari-sari store. 
The entire group. Photo taken after we completed the hike. (L-R) Gideon, Me, Jenny, Vinci & Koi 
We were picked up by our hired jeep across the station. Afterwards, we traveled 30 minutes to Ma'am Gina's place where we washed up and ate our first dinner. 
And then we had desserts at Hill Station in Baguio. 
Then a second dinner at Zola along Session road. :P (They serve good omelettes here) 
A happy feat deserves several happy feasts. :P 

Travel Information : 
Primary jump-off from Manila to Mt. Pulag is Baguio City.
Bus from Manila to Baguio - check Victory Liner for schedules (bus fare : 450 Pesos, one way). Other bus companies with trips to Baguio are Genesis and Dagupan Bus lines.

Accommodation in Baguio City - We checked in at Hotel 45 Extension  the night before our hike. We got a private fan room for 3 with t&b  for 1,400 Pesos (off season rate, booked December 14, 2014).
Hotel 45 Extension  
Extension Hotel Contact
Tel. Phone:+63 (74) 442-3460
Mobile No: +63 0917-588-2759
Email: hotel45new@gmail.com
*Note that this is different from Hotel 45 Main which is the first branch  and is located along Session Road. Stayed in both, I prefer the extension because it has newer facilities and still near Session road. 

Hiking Information :
When planning a hike to Mt. Pulag, advance coordination must be done through Ma'am Mereng, the DENR-Park Superintendent - +63 09196315402
Guide Fee (mandatory) - 1,800 Pesos/group of 8 (traverse, our guide's name is Oswald)
Registration Fee - 200 Pesos/head (paid at Akiki Registration Area)
Jeepney - 8,500 Pesos (good for 18 persons, coordinated thru Ma'am Gina Epe, +63 09198169234 / 09999916008).

*For a hassle-free hike, book with Trail Adventours. Visit their site for schedules.

For  a 3D 2N itinerary,check out Pinoy Mountaineer. Gideon's account of our hike is also up on his blog under Hiking Matters #441.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hiking : Mt. Makiling (UPLB Trail)

Photo taken near the trailhead
After almost 4 weeks of staying indoors due to chicken pox, I returned to one of my favorite mountains, Mt. Makiling in Los Banos, Laguna. Although the trail is known to have lots of leeches (or limatiks as we locals call it), its rainforest is so beautiful - countless enormous trees with branches shrouding the sky, big ferns along the trail, endemic flowers at Peak 2, truly a plant lover's happy place. :) 

I knew I wouldn't be as strong as I was before getting sick since I hardly moved in weeks but it was a familiar trail (and one that I sorely missed!) with a 16 KM long course, out and back that takes 4-5 hours to complete. I figured I'd be okay if I took it easy. 
A customary shot with my favorite tree found along the trail - before we got into the denser section of the forest
We started hiking at 12:45 noon. It rained on the 1st hour  and the limatiks relentlessly sprung towards almost every part of my body, which I fought off by spraying alcohol. 

We weren't even halfway when I started feeling breathless and dizzy. I certainly did not expect my endurance to be that bad  because I actually felt able enough as we started but it was an assumption that almost made me lose consciousness. I survived by taking slow careful steps  and stopped when I was breathless.  

We reached peak 2 in two hours and it took another two hours to return to the jump-off where we bathe and removed the rest of the limatiks that hid inside our clothes. 
Tanny at Peak 2. Medinilla pendula (fuschia flowers) at the background
Still, I consider this a happy hike because well - I was able to hike and inhale generous amounts of fresh mountain air!  :) It was actually a good assessment of how much I need to train to get back into shape so I can do several more long hikes before the year ends. And honestly, with my fitness level down, I found this much more challenging than our Kitanglad-Dulang-Dulang traverse (blog here).  I felt so excited when we finally got down, like it was my first time in a mountain trail. 

Travel Notes & Expenses : 
How to Get to UP Los Banos 
Coming from EDSA (South bound side), just board any bus with a signage, "Alabang" . 
All Alabang buses stop at South Station. Fare is 45 Pesos (aircon bus). From South Station, take a  bus going to Sta. Cruz and ask for the bus conductor to let you off near UPLB campus. Fare from South Station Alabang to Los Banos is 64 PHP with a travel time of 2 hours. It's so much longer going back due to heavy traffic at Calamba. 

Jeep from Los Banos to UPLB College of Forestry - 8.50 PHP (Note that not all jeeps pass by College of Forestry so better ask the driver before boarding if they're driving by that route. 

Registration/hiker - 10 PHP (You will need to leave an ID). 
Jeep from UPLB to Centro Mall - 8.50 PHP (this is where we ate dinner)
Centro Mall to Calamba - 22 PHP
Calamba to Alabang - 50 PHP something

A well constructed itinerary & list of expenses can be found at Pinoy Mountaineer.

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