Saturday, 11 March 2017

Mount Pulag

Views from the summit of Mount Pulag February 2017

The summit of Mount Pulag marks the boundary of the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya.
This highest point in the sublime Cordillera mountain range in Luzon, offers a 360-degree panorama of rugged mountains, surrounding deep valleys and endless seas of clouds. The climb involves a taxing 15km return walk from the Babadak Ranger Station.  
The mountaintop's breathtaking stunning views, spectacular vistas and magnificent sceneries, are complemented by easy accessibility. Hence, Pulag is now a most popular mountaineering destination, attracting tourists and climbers of varying abilities.
The mountain gets the first rays of sunlight; and to catch that early glow, many hikers begin the 15km five- to nine-hour return hike in darkness. 
Some prefer starting in morning daylight, but the summit is usually covered in cloud in the afternoon.

Step after step, a drop of sour sweat after another, hour after hour on sore feet– climbing a mountain is no easy feat. But when you reach the summit, the gain makes it all worth the pain.
Yes indeed. It is well worth hiking up in the post-midnight to witness the darkness of night, slowly yield to the orange glow and then golden yellow, of daylight.

A ghost who walked.
This apparition made his way up the grassland trail in the dark to reach the mountain top before sunrise.
The yellow-orange glow of sunrise.
From the peak of Mt Pulag, the sunrise event on the sea of clouds horizon is simply awesome.

A phantom with what looks to be joyfully dancing tourists.

In recent years, the summit and its lower peaks have been visited by around 20,000 boot-clad admirers each year. 
These visitors, mainly tourists from the lowlands, come around during the dry months between November and May. Social media has increased visitor numbers markedly with so many people posting photos and blogs of the mountain. Peer testimony and word-of-mouth also convince many people to climb Pulag.

Mount Pulag National Park is a wonderland of natural attractions. The winding road trip to the site, the drive along the steep mountainsides and narrow valleys, the mountain villages, the terraced vegetable farms, the scented pine forests, the mossy montane forests, the sweetest springwater, and the grasslands around the summit - this is another world.
Witnessing the break of dawn and sunrise, the sea of clouds, the mountain ranges near and far, the stars constellations and distant galaxies in the crisp unadulterated night-time Pulag skies – the experience is something else - a different universe.

In the daytime: the pure white of cloud, the verdant bloom of forest, the brown of the earth, the cyan blue of the sky, the yellow of early morning sunlight painting the mountain tops, the scattered crimson splash of rare tree leaves, or the grey streak of a distant peak. This natural yet rare and glorious display of the full spectrum of the colors of the rainbow – this is the garden of the gods.

There is, however, a feature of climbing Mount Pulag that is unknown to many a visitor.  From the summit, one can look down on the main ranges of the Cordillera mountains. Yet, although very prominent and visible from Pulag, few realize the privilege of sighting the peaks of the Cordillera range.  Many look but do not know what they see. The marvellous sight of these many significant peaks, from the one vantage provided by Mount Pulag, is unappreciated and wasted on most climbers.
This unknown bonus of climbing Pulag is of course dependent on clear weather.
Many of the Cordillera mountain peaks are well above 2000m, lower than Mount Pulag but quite rugged inaccessible challenging. Each peak is worthy of a climbing expedition. 

To the east, when the sea of clouds are drained up into the atmosphere, are the lower hills of the towns of Tinoc to Ambaguio to Kayapa.

North to amuyao

Tabayoc. Due north behind Tabayoc on the near range are: Abao and Napulawan and Kapiligan. 
Farther out are Data and Kalawitan.
Again Amuyao, on its own lonesome on the visible edge of the north sea.

 Mountains to the south.The peaks of Akiki, Purgatory, Ugo, Ulap and Santo Tomas.
Mountains to the west are Ules, Timbak, Osdung and the other peaks in Kibungan and Bakun.
Looking west and zooming in.
Northwest to Buguias Mankayan and Tirad pass.

Mountains to the north and the northern sea, and all that some people see is their own selves.
How many times must a man look down/
before she can see the sea?
Yes'n how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see

In the far north are the mountain ranges in Abra, Mountain Province and Kalinga. I can just make out my old haunts - my hometown playgrounds of Mengmeng (Bandilaan), Paras and Serkan - all at about 2300m elevation - the thin grey outline in the far background.

My guide Rita is a Vizcaya-Benguet born-and-bred, Ibaloi-Kalanguya mountain amazon.
This young lady is an awesome trail runner and camera shy - 'shy ma-ngo'. She led me up and down a mountain trail, and told me about many a mountain tale. When she's not tending her fields, Rita's got hikers eating dust from her heels.
Again southwards to Akiki, Purgatory and Ugo.

And Ulap and Santo Tomas.

To the edge of the sea.

Rita finally pauses and gives a smile for the camera (with Pulag at left of picture). She was bounding up and down the mountain trails, graceful as a Mt Pulag sambar doe. I was mostly sprinting just to keep up.

We left the mountain and its sign and marker behind. And as I looked back,
I terminator-ed my stay saying: 'I'll Bibak.'

Somehow I've learned how to listen
For a sound like the sun burnin’ on
In the magic that morning is bringing
There's a song for the life I have found
It keeps my feet on the ground

During the busiest times, normally around March to April, local guides perform a few rescue missions, mostly carried out to aid people in trouble on the trails.
Most rescues involve inexperienced hikers who are heavily laden and kitted out with unnecessary accoutrements and suffering from lack of fitness.
Visitors can avoid needing to be rescued by hiring a local guide.
The knowledgeable guides are very well informed and will point out mountain flora and the mountain views and peaks, and especially can best read the weather.

The DENR requires a medical certificate of those climbing Pulag, but it is not able to verify the hiking fitness of each and every visitor. And anyone who wants to enter Mount Pulag National Park, is required to attend a DENR orientation. Visitors are briefed on the do’s and don’t’s, and the good precepts: i.e. respecting the mountain and its environs, the no-nos: camping, fires, noise, garbage, etc. Safety should likewise be emphasized. And if you are unfit for mountain climbing, do yourself (and your friends and others) a favor and stay home.
The mountain is goin’ nowhere, so please get fit before going there.
And should you decide to climb Mt Pulag, do so with respect and care - for the mountain and the spirits, the environment, your fellow climbers, and the weather, which the gods can change very quickly.
Looking back at Pulag's bald summit - the playground of the gods.