A Hiking Story: Conquering Mount Pulag of The Philippines

Mount Pulag is the third tallest mountain in the Philippines. It is one of the best hiking destinations in the Philippines because of the sea of clouds that forms around its summit.

Here is the story of how I conquered it twice and how I learned a life lesson that totally changed my life for the better.

Mount Pulag, Philippines

A little bit of History

Years ago, I used to work in a technology company at an industrial park next to our province. I wake up, listen to music, work, find prospects for love, listen to music again, go home, and repeat.

Laguna Technopark, Philippines

Most of the time I spent in commute, going to and from work, I filled them with music and podcasts. That’s basically my life back then.

I would not describe how my job tested my mental and emotional capacity here, but it really challenged me, and I struggled. That led me to the feeling of hopelessness and burned out.

My monotonous life and my job made me believe that my life sucks, and I hated it. I want something better.

So I searched for comfort and an escape. In my efforts to relieve myself, I found a song by Lifehouse. It’s called Yesterday’s Son. Here are the most striking words I heard:

The beginning was so easy

Do whatever to survive

In the middle of my story

All I want is to feel alive

And here’s from the later part of the song:

All these voices and decisions

Swimming circles in my head

All these choices and opinions

Feeling heavy as lead

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It’s funny how a song could match our thoughts and feelings. Incredibly, it happens, and it moves anybody who experiences it.

Yesterday’s Son has lyrics that reminded me that I and every one of us is free and could grow on things we desire.

I’m not broken,

I’m a wide-open highway

with room to run

I believe it’s not only a circumstance that I discovered this song from my Spotify’s recommended tracks. I’m sure that it has something to do with the book I read written by Paulo Coelho.

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (The Alchemist)

Interestingly, weeks after I felt the burnout, I got an invitation from my friends asking me if I would go with them to Sagada. I immediately replied YES!

Sagada, Philippines

Our four-day trip to Sagada ended unbelievably fantastic! I had so many first-time experiences there, like singing a song and playing the guitar in front of people, hanging out with dogs and acquaintances around the bonfire, bathing in a plunge pool, trekking on a mountain, and creating solid connections with nature.

I wished our trip was longer.

Sadly, we missed seeing the sea of clouds in our trip. It was all fog when we visited Marlboro Hills.

Sagada, Philippines (2)

My friends and I were not able to move on from it, so we agreed to make another trip. This time, Mount Pulag.

I was thrilled!

Inspiration For Hiking

I had a few adventurous professors during my college years. They were the first ones who influenced me to make adventure and travel.

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I can’t precisely remember when but one day, engineer Aisa Mijeno, one of our professors, posted on Facebook their hiking experience in Mount Pulag. Since it was already years ago, all I can remember now is her statement about the freezing climate at the peak of this mountain.

Her words sparked a curiosity in me. “I wanted to experience it too someday,” I said to myself. Well, I did, because all my life I lived in a country where everywhere you go is a sauna.

The Philippines is a sweltering humid country. That coldness is something that wonders many Filipinos living in the lowlands like me.

Quezon, Philippines

As much as I can remember, engineer Aisa also narrated their experiences in the trail, camp, and summit. Those stories gave me a hint that there are interesting places in the Philippines other than beaches and plains filled with coconut and mango trees.

Fast forward a little bit (I was still in college at this time), a movie called “A Thing Called Tadhana” was featured in the news. It was the day when the sea of clouds was introduced to me.

I got petrified when I learned that there is such a wonderful place in the Philippines ( Sagada, Mountain Province)

Mother Mountain

From the Metro

It was January 2019. My friends and I were waiting at a mall in Metro Manila for our van to pick us up to Mount Pulag. With new Jackets with windbreakers, trekking pole, bag, gloves, and hiking shoes, I was 100% prepared for our hike.

After I learned that the sea of clouds appears in Mount Pulag, I have never been so excited to climb it. “The wait is going to be over; I’m finally going to experience things I only fantasized about,” I told myself.

Zigzag Road

Four hours after we left the metro, I woke up being swayed left and right. It is an indication that we were getting near to our destination. Yes, we arrived in the mountainous region of Luzon.

I tried to sleep again, but the thrill on mountain roads kept me awake.

I was sitting behind the driver’s seat. From there, I saw all the breathtaking scenes that flashed in front of us. No, thrill did not come from mountains and valleys but from the colossal trucks carrying agricultural products that we encountered at the zigzag road.

Those hours felt like we were on a roller coaster. We just overtook more than 20 heavy-loaded trucks while another is coming in front of us—an actual moment for relaxation (sarcasm).

Actually, it is fun, or I’m not sure. But it is worth telling because we survived.

Side Trips

It was six in the morning when we arrived at Ambuklao Dam in Bokod, Benguet. It was our first stop in our long drive to Mount Pulag. Jangjang hanging bridge was the next. People swarmed the bridge that time, so I had no chance to take photos

Ambuklao Dam, benguet, Philippines

We started to feel hungry soon after. So, we decided to eat at the nearest restaurant available. The closest one we found was the Igorot Taste Bakeshop and Eatery near the fork of Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya road and Gurel-Bokod-Kabayan-Buguias-Aba road.

Igorot Taste Eatery, benguet, Philippines

That morning, they only offered us the basic Filipino morning dishes such as longsilog, hotsilog and a hot coffee. The food was great, but it was a bit pricey.

Warm up hike

An hour after we ate, I wondered why we still haven’t left the place. That’s when I learned that there was a vehicle inspection along the way to Mount Pulag. Unregistered vans, like the one we rented, will be fined 200,000 Pesos if caught.

Mountain View, Igorot Taste Eatery, benguet, Philippines

We were stuck in that area for almost a day doing nothing. Instead of being bored, we just maximized the time by taking photos of the surroundings, talking to each other, and sleeping.

Bokod, benguet, Philippines

As every stuck hiker needs to get to the DENR office before it closes, some have decided to walk to ensure that they’ll make it. That’s 8 Kilometer walk on a paved but inclined road! Luckily, our group was able to find tricycles to carry us to the office.

Mount Pulag Sign, benguet, Philippines

The motors of the tricycles cried as we move uphill at speed slightly faster than walking. Some tricycles carried 4 people, so they ended up stuck in the middle of the inclined road.

I enjoyed our ride in the tricycle because we moved very slowly. I was able to stare at the scenic mountain range view for much longer. However, I almost lost my hearing ability because of the motor’s loud noise. LOL.

Thankfully, every one of us arrived at the DENR office just in time. There, we took our orientation and filled up some waivers.

Mount Pulag DENR, benguet, Philippines

Our driver was able to ditch the checkpoint because he has no passenger inside the van. So he as well reached the DENR office and then transported us to the ranger station.

At the homestay

Jump off, Mount Pulag, benguet, Philippines

We went to bed by 8pm to sleep early for the 1am wake-up call. Even though we were eight in the room, the room still felt freezing cold. Our bed is cold, the walls are cold, everything is cold! We just kept on talking and cracking jokes, so we don’t mind the chill.

Before I closed my eyes to finally sleep, I opened my phone to check for notifications, messages, or updates. I was barely receiving any reception, yet my phone has still managed to update the weather app. When I checked, the temperature was freaking 10 degrees Celsius, and we were not even at peak yet!

I told myself, ” Eto na yung hinahanap mo” (This is what you’re looking for).

The alarm was the next thing that I could remember.

Let the Hike Begin

We woke up at 1am, and we ate our breakfast by 2am. Our homestay owner prepared us hot soup to warm us up for a hike at 6 degrees Celsius.

I ate the most soup, but still, I was the one who first finished eating. While my fellow hikers continue to eat, I went outside to observe the sky.

I saw the sky glittering with stars. I smiled. “Perhaps there will be clearing later at the peak,” I said to myself.

I got very excited, but I also felt a bit worried. I knew that I can finish the hike. It was just I could not stop thinking of another foggy moment at the peak.

A few moments later, we began marching into the woods.

Camp 2

As a new Mount Pulag hiker, I was so excited to see what’s at the end of this forest. Walking for hours, seeing nothing but trees, rocks, and mud, pretty much bored me.

As we went further and further, I noticed that the tree cover got thinner and thinner. It was already an indication that we were getting nearer and nearer to the end of the mossy forest.

Camp 2 is the end of the mossy forest, and it did not welcome us warmly. Aside from the fact that it is 4am in the morning, and Mount Pulag is the coldest place in the Philippines, the nasty weather hammered us with a wet and freezing wind. The fog was all around us.

At this point, taking photos was impossible. Our gloves were wet; unlocking, even making screen gestures on the screen, was extremely hard.

It was so cold that my hand numbed despite the gloves covering my hand. Everyone began wearing raincoats to combat the chill. I had 4 layers of clothing, yet I still felt the cold.

Camp 2 stands on a small plateau with fewer trees to block the gust of freezing wind. While the guides assessed the weather, some have retreated back to the mossy forest to avoid the chill. Others started wearing emergency blankets. At such times emergency blankets become very useful.

Guides told us that they do not allow hikers to traverse the grasslands with such kind of weather. They said intense cold might trigger hypothermia to some.

So we waited for sunrise in Camp 2.

As we went further and further, I noticed that the tree cover got thinner and thinner. It was already an indication that we were getting nearer and nearer to the end of the mossy forest.

While we waited, we started seeing tiny bits of crystals formed at each other’s eyebrows and eyelashes. It’s crazy, but it is a great experience. By the way, restrooms in Mount Pulag camps are another fantastic experience that you must try. They are absolutely world-class.

Fogs and rainbows

We went back to the track as the sun brightened the sky (but not the day). The winds at the Grasslands were violent. However, it weakened as the sun continued to soar up to the sky.

So here’s what it looked like during that day in the Grasslands:

Few minutes after we left camp 2

Foggy grasslands, Mount Pulag, benguet, Philippines

Good news! There was a clearing, bad news, it only lasted for 10 seconds. LOL. The wind carried more fog after.

Short Clearing, Mount Pulag

The fog was covering the sun.

Misty Morning, Mount Pulag

You can clearly see water particles carried by the wind here.

Water droplets, Mount Pulag

As mist thinned, beautiful rainbows were formed.

Rainbows in Mount Pulag

So here am I at the peak! Pretending to be happy for seeing nothing but fog and rainbows.

Summit Mount Pulag, Philippines

Two things. It was heartbreaking for me to see nothing, just fog up there at the summit. I’m still happy because I survived the hike despite the extreme weather conditions we faced.

Here’s our group:

Group Photo, Mount Pulag, Philippines

Mossy forest

If your day hike in Mount Pulag starts past midnight, you will only see the mossy forest’s enchanting view after you reached the summit. That’s when the sun is already up in the sky.

Actually, I was surprised during our descent from the summit when we passed the mossy forest again. It seemed to be just an ordinary forest in the dark, but it looks like a fairytale forest when the sun is out.

Here’s my photo souvenir.

Mossy Forest, Mount Pulag

Going home

Man, it sucks to go home without seeing something spectacular. Like, I’ve waited years for this moment to come, and I saw nothing? Other sights still mesmerized me, like the terraces at the end of the trail.

Cultivated Hillside Mount Pulag

They were beautiful. BUT STILL! I haven’t witnessed a sea of clouds!

It’s just I really have to see this sea of clouds. Because I really want to see it. I thought this would help me move-on over our Sagada trip, but it did not.

As we went further and further, I noticed that the tree cover got thinner and thinner. It was already an indication that we were getting nearer and nearer to the end of the mossy forest.

I got frustrated. But since I can’t do anything about it, I just accepted what happened.

I realized it was indeed not really bad at all. I experienced the cold weather I was looking for, I discovered the mossy forest, and I met new and incredible people. What’s more important? I was able to breathe from the stress of my work and breathe the mountain’s fresh air.

Still grateful in the end.

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Revenge Hike

Mountain is Calling

It’s funny I struggled to sleep for weeks because I have not witnessed the best view that Mount Pulag could give. It just felt so bad, like a part of life is missing.

This, maybe, is what they call wanderlust?

Those days were weird too. Like, for every scroll I did, photos of the sea of clouds just kept showing on my Instagram feed! Crazy! It’s like the mountain is really calling me.

What’s more interesting? After my first hike, my sister and I flew to Taiwan to have a week-long trip to the island territory. In our flight northwards, we flew over Luzon Island’s west coast.

From the window seat, I saw the mountains should have seen from the peak of Mount Pulag.

Luzon, Philippines

I think my mouth was open the whole time I watched the mountainous region of Luzon from above.

One night after our travel to Taiwan, I had enough, I decided to heed the call.

So I grabbed my phone, opened Facebook, and searched for travel groups going to Mount Pulag. Without hesitation, I contacted the first travel group on the list, and I immediately booked my seat reservation.

Days after, I realized that our hike falls on a weekday (March 15, 2019, is Friday).

I freaked out!

Why? First, March was a critical month for our company because we are bombarded by customer demand. Second, before an employee can secure a leave, one must inform the manager 1 month ahead of the vacation.

I thought it was a weekend hike, but I was not! With all the work piled on my desk, there was no chance that my leave application would be approved.

That time, I caught myself between being a responsible employee and giving myself a fair indulgence.

I worked hard even on weekends and had overtime work without pay, I thought. Therefore, it’s just to rest for a day, even if it is unofficial.

So, I had no choice but to play sick.

Diarrhea and headache are lame excuses, so I had to invent another way of getting sick. Drinking a Liter of coffee became my tactic.

Wednesday before the hike, I made 4 cups of coffee and deliberately gulped them in front of my workmates. I even proudly said that I needed coffee to get pumped and finish my work. Don’t worry, I drank it in a safe interval, like 2 hours in between.

Very noble, right? LOL.

Silly, I came to the office late the next day. All-day, I acted like I was a sleepless dying engineer as I blame the coffee I had the day before. I told them that I only got an hour of sleep that morning.

I faked everything, like sleeping on the desk so I may look desperate for sleep, even though I was not. I also made stories of how I struggled to get some sleep.

Actually, I had enough sleep the night before that day! LOL.

The acting was difficult, and it bugged my conscience. But I had to do that for my well-being, or sanity, at least. Hahaha! I would not postpone my hike, either way. I already made my payment in the first place.

With all the pretending, I was able to go home early.

The moment I got home, I immediately picked up my bag and swift my way to our travel group’s meet-up place in Manila.

The feeling of escaping work for travel was exhilarating. HOWEVER, I do not recommend anyone to do the same. If only I had a choice, I would prefer doing it the clean way.

Ninja Moves

Hours after, I arrived at our meeting place. There, my new acquaintances and I signed up for waivers and agreements with the travel organizers. We did not have a talk that night. I got nervy because they spoke a different dialect.

On our way to the Benguet, thousands of thoughts run in my mind. What if I miss again seeing the sea of clouds? Or what if karma hit back because I left my responsibility at work without prior notice? What will happen if my team finds out that I lied?

Screw that.

We arrived in Benguet past seven in the morning. This was the view from our first stopover somewhere in Benguet.

Morning in Benguet

With this kind of view, I knew I should not expect anymore. “I’ll be happy to whatever might happen,” I said to myself. At the same time, I remembered I need to call my manager to inform him of my “sick leave.”

I called him, and I told him with a low and sick voice about my “current situation.” I said I can’t go to the office because I have a severe migraine due to lack of sleep. He did not ask anything else. He just advised me to take a refreshing break.

Well, I was really going for a refreshing break! Haha!

Anyway, with my shenanigans all checked, I can now do anything that I want! (What a rebellious piece of … lol)

Before we headed to the DENR office, we bought mugs of locally brewed coffee to pour some energy into our bodies.

Mug of Coffee in Benguet

After our Mount Pulag Orientation in the DENR office, we hopped-on at the top load of a monster jeep and made our merry way to our homestay. Ride at the roof of the Monster Jeep was an awesome check on my bucket list.

Jeepney Top Load, Benguet

We arrived in our homestay almost lunchtime. Here is our photo on the top load, with an incredible view in the background.

Baban Homestay, Outside

Homestay Fun

We spend the whole afternoon having a good time.

Our snack time was lit. We had glasses of beer and rum as water. Wild! We played games and told secrets like we’ve known each other for years. Crazy! Hahaha!

It’s fantastic when we experience something so genuine. (I believe drunk people aren’t fake)

I went to my room to rest for a minute. I was so drunk that I unconsciously fell asleep. My roommate woke me up at dinner time. When I went down from our room, I saw some already preparing for the hike, while others were eating hot soup.

Dinner was quick. Most of us went back to each other’s rooms after finishing our meals.

Jen, Algie, and I shared a room on the second floor of the homestay. Before we slept, we conversed infinitely for two hours straight. We talked about our careers, hometown ghost stories, love life, everything!

I felt no barriers in those conversations.

Completely letting go

It was 2:30 when we jumped into our monster jeep to carry us to the ranger station where we will begin the hike. This time, I was just beside the door of the jeepney, staring blankly at the sky.

There were no stars, only clouds. They cover the whole sky. My memories of failed attempts to witness a sea of clouds flashed back.

I also checked my phone. It showed 12 degrees Celsius; it’s going to be cloudy for the entire day.

“If I am not meant to be, so be it,” I told myself.

But at that moment, I silently prayed very hard as well. I pleaded to God to let us experience the sea of clouds.

Camp 1

When I arrived at camp 1, I wondered why I felt more tired than my first hike. Maybe I’m not that excited anymore? I’m not sure.

There, I sat on a fallen tree trunk with other hikers as few members take their restroom break. Worried a bit about the climate, I looked up into the sky, and my eyes were opened wide!

The sky was clear, and I saw stars, many of them! I gained hope. I refused to expect, but I did not contain myself from awe. I talked to the nearest person to me about what I saw. I told her this is the night with the most stars I have ever seen in my entire life.

She was speechless.

I felt a little awkward. Hahaha!

But at least she nodded… slowly. I think she tried to process what was happening to me?

We had short conversations after. We spoke about our homes, jobs, and a few other little things. I learned she is one of the nurses from Butuan City, and they arrived in the Philippines from the Middle East just recently.

First glimpse of the overcast clouds from above

Unlike my previous hike, camp 2 wasn’t fierce when we arrived. It was peaceful, the wind was gentle, and the sky was still glittering with stars.

I knew that this hike won’t be the same as my last. I was filled with excitement, but I still kept myself from raising my expectations.

I just don’t want to be disappointed again.

Traversing the grasslands felt different this time. Walking in the dark was a little bit strange. It seemed that I was in an endless plain with nothing but dwarf bamboo trees beside my legs. Hikers following the trail looked like ants with flashlights marching on their anthills.

In the dark, 5 of my fellow hikers and I have gone ahead of others without noticing. While they were looking for others, I saw something else. Light. Light from the horizon.

I run towards the edge of the hill, and I shouted like I’m losing my mind. I was bursting with happiness. I almost cried.

“Sea of Clouds! Yun! Tingnan nyo!” (English: Look, everybody! There is a sea of clouds!)

First glimpse of Sea of Clouds

I dropped everything on the ground, and I started capturing photos rampantly. Just kidding! Actually, I froze. The view is simply stunning. Literally!

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First glimpse of Sea of Clouds (2)

I told my fellow hikers, “I’ve been dreaming of seeing this all my life. Now, it is a reality!”

Happiest day of my life, First glimpse of Sea of Clouds

My eyes were filled with awe and joy; I saw my fellow hikers’ eyes flourished with them too.

Golden Hour

I guess we took more than 20 minutes photographing the sea of clouds from the place we had our first glimpse of it.

Mount Pulag, Flowing Clouds

We resumed hiking afterwards.

I must tell you, Mount Pulag has more than one peak. When you thought that the next peak is already the summit, you might be wrong. There could be another waiting behind it. In our case, we thought a peak was already the summit for, like, five times! Hahaha!

Peaks of mount Pulag, sea of clouds

As the sun continued to rise up to the sky and for peaks that we cross that morning, Mount Pulag looked better and better.

Golden view of the grasslands

The day literally and figuratively got brighter as the sun painted the sky with magnificent burning colors. We were not yet at the peak, but I felt that I can already stop climbing.

Incomparable Sight in Mount Pulag

When the sun began to detach from the horizon, we just stood up there and admired the view. I left my camera on a tripod to shoot on an interval so we may truly enjoy the moment.

Good morning sunrise in Mount Pulag
Stunning beauty of Mount Pulag
Kindreds of Mount Pulag

We headed into the summit moments after the rest of the team has made it through our location.

Shangri-la

My legs burned from fatigue after I rushed to the peak of Mount Pulag. I sat down and had few moments to commune with nature. I closed my eyes so I could feel better.

Shangri-la in Mount Pulag

The cold breeze. The warm sun. The soft grass. “I’m in heaven,” I thought. If only I could live up there all my life.

Heaven in Mount Pulag

This is the moment I can genuinely tell myself that I lived. I have never been so grateful all my life to my family, God, and even to those who made me feel bad, frustrated, and sad. Because of them, I learned to find what makes me truly happy.

We had our picture taking after everybody in the group has made it to the summit. Sadly Jen got injured. But it is incredible that she still made it to the peak!

Group Photo, Mount Pulag

After Climb

Going back to “reality” after an incredible adventure was painful to think. Yet Mount Pulag has left something in me that changed my reality, my story.

Mount Pulag taught me the importance of a strong desire to achieve the things we aspire to have. Though sometimes we fail, it does not mean that we must stop. Failure is part of a beautiful story as long as we end it with a happy ending.

Ultimately, it is our persistence that will bring us to our goals. So if you ever want to feel alive, happy, or achieved, don’t stop pursuing! Follow the signs that lead you to your desire. Eventually, you’ll get there. I promise.

Mount Pulag was my inspiration when I wrote the post about the benefits of hiking. Check it out!

If you like my story and it inspired you, please share it with your friends and family. It would mean a lot to me. Thank you!

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