I Almost Did Not Expect the Sea of Clouds in Mt. Pulag

Everybody wants to go up in the mountain to shout their pains and anguish to the world. Very cinematic indeed but we all have that in us. We want to escape, be adventurous and experience the Sea of Clouds promised by Social Media and tour companies. I wanted to see it myself but that was secondary when I heard bad news about the crowding of Mt. Pulag. I wanted to climb for the sake of climbing the mountain - this famous mountain.


I almost did not expect the Sea of Clouds in Mt. Pulag two days before the climb. We receive series of messages from the tour organizer setting our expectations. She narrated what they have experienced in Pulag the weekend before our climb. She was angry with the system DENR was imposing. I do not know what exactly it was but based on her tone, DENR must control the people going up in Mt. Pulag. From her words, there was chaos in Mt. Pulag. It was like Divisoria in the summit.
After our breakfast stopover, the view started to become a picture-perfect scene especially with the presence of Ambuklao Lake.

January and February are the peak season in Mt. Pulag or even in Baguio or Sagada thus tons of tourists heads to Benguet to experience the cold weather and climb the famous mountain. That time (before Feb 14) the tourist reached 900 and fortunately ABS-CBN was there to cover how human presence is slowly destroying the serenity of the mountain. It should not be the case because DENR - who is protecting the national park said that they are strictly limiting the people going up to the mountain. For instance, each travel agency is only allowed to bring up to 20 tourists. This I am grateful with our tour company because from the start they disclosed to us that the max number of tourist they can bring is only 20.

When I saw this bridge, I asked if we can have a stopover. We did and walked in this 300 meters Jangjang Bridge.

During the mandatory orientation in the DENR office where we were told of the do's and don'ts in Mt. Pulag, the history and the ancestral importance of the sacred mountain, and the story behind the name Mt. Pulag or Pul-ag or "bald" in English - officials also defended their policy. They imposed, really that each tour company can only bring up to 20 tourists at a time. DENR will not allow you to climb Mt. Pulag if you do not have a permit from them in which you can only get with prior arrangements or with your tour company which has an arrangement with them.

So how did it came to a point that 900 tourists are struggling to find their spot on the summit of this sacred mountain?


According to a DENR official, most tour companies have a modus such as this: They will bring 10-15 tourists to the DENR office for orientation and registration. That looks like a valid number of tourists. But that's only half of the real number of tourist that tour company is bringing. The other half is waiting outside the premise of the DENR. When the legitimate climbers are done with the orientation everybody will happily but disastrously climb Mt. Pulag. DENR in their words doesn't have control after the orientation.


This is true. I talked to other groups during the climb and asked them how many are they in the group and to my surprise one said that they are 42 in the group. If that's for two tour company that would be okay but hearing the modus of the tour company from DENR, I doubt.


Still, that was a lame excuse for DENR. Of course, they know that Mt. Pulag is overcrowded. They know that the mountain is exceeding its limit. Good thing ABS-CBN was there to cover how people are taking advantage of the mountain. It made DENR work. What DENR is doing now is, after the orientation they put a stamp on your wrist as proof that you are officially registered. That must be shown when you enter the ranger station but I didn't remember showing it to anybody.



Lunch!

We reached the Ranger Station in Kabayan Benguet at 12nn but I did not felt the noon heat. Instead, I was excited to go around meeting people in the little Farmville town of Kabayan. I'm also excited to climb the vegetable terraces and take a lot of selfies up there. But our guide told us that we have to sleep so we will have enough strength for our early morning trek at 1am later on moved at 2:30 to avoid the traffic on the trail.

I hit the sack, slept, and snored for 4 hours in our homestay accommodation. After that, we hit those Farmville-like vegetable terraces and took tons of selfies.  



It was 1AM of Feb 14, 2016, when I woke up ready to trail Mt. Pulag. It was early. I could no longer get back to sleep. So I prepared all the stuff that I need and wore almost all the clothes in my Sandugo 40L. I had to make sure as well I have a good rain jacket to protect me from unexpected rain. 

Everybody was awakened when the smell of the coffee dominated the house. Everybody was excited to climb.


It was my first-night trek. It was the first trek for some in our group. I'm preparing myself for some casualty especially those that I've personally invited. Also, I'm preparing to be the casualty myself.


After we prayed we hit the paved road of Kabayan Benguet at exactly 2:30. It was so cold. Though I wore almost all my clothes and jacket I still felt the night freezing. My lips were drying so was my face. Still, I was enjoying the cold weather that I wanted from the start.


During our orientation in the DENR, we were told that we will pass through three types of trails. First is the Pine Forrest where pine trees are scattered. The second would be the Mossy Forrest. The third is the Grassland where dwarf bamboos and the steep trail to the summit is located.


I could not enjoy the view simply because it was all dark. The only light that we had was the one coming from our individual headlamp and the dotted guiding light from the sky - the stars. 

If I could stare for a little longer and let them passed through me, I might have words turned into songs. It was a marvelous feeling seeing those little stars while on the top of the mountain.

After an hour or so of passing the Pine Forest, we climb a steep assault before we reached Camp 1. I anticipated that I will palpitate and breathing will be hard because of the high altitude of Mt. Pulag. A month go I climbed Mt. Ulap and I was so exhausted to the point of fainting. So I prepared so much for Mt. Pulag but still, the mountain beat me hard. But in the end, still I won and made it to Camp 1. The assault at the end of the pine forest going to camp one was not the hardest part for me but we had to stop a number of times to breathe.


When we reached Camp 1, I immediately lay down and elevated my feet. My blood rushed down thus I felt a little bit dizzy. Our guide kept asking me if I am okay, I said I was okay because I know that I can make it. We stayed at camp 1 for 10 minutes then we hit the trail again.


As promised the trail from camp 1 to camp 2, though the longest, is the chill and easy part. Yes, it is but it is not a guarantee that it will be just a walk in the park. We now entered the Mossy Forest and it is my favorite part of all. Although it was dark, I could see some unique trees. This area is where you can refill your tumbler at the natural water source if you are not too sensitive to drink spring water.


After maybe 2 hours of trekking in the mossy forest, we reached camp 2. It is the coldest area in our trekking. Naturally, you will feel the cold when you stop but in camp 2, it's trice the cold! We stayed there and ate some of our snacks. Some went to comfort rooms - yes they have comfort rooms there. This is supposed to be our campsite if we went up on weekdays. Camping in Camp 1 and 2 is now prohibited during weekends.


We left camp 2 to escape the cold in static mode. The trail is uphill and very steep. We are now in the Grassland where dwarf bamboos are scattered on the mountain top. It was this that the local people called this mountain “Pul-ag” or bald. There are no trees, it's all grass. It is the hardest part of all the trails that we encountered in Mt. Pulag. Aside from the assault which makes breathing harder, the trail is not even compared to the first 2 parts. We need to find solid soil to step on.


My breathing was like snoring already when I asked the guide to stop and have some rest for 3 seconds. I did not want to be a liability so quick rest had to be quick. 

Another tremendous uphill climb then we reached a flat space where we can rest and lay.

My friend Charity felt dizzy. I told her to lie down then I elevated her feet to counter the blood rush. Thank God it helped. We proceed with the climb for around 10 minutes when we saw some of our friends resting in another flat area. I lay in the thick grass like I was in my own bed to rest. Charity said that she was palpitating then she touched me and noticed that I was also palpitating. Arlou to the rescue tapped us so hard until the palpitation ceded. I didn’t know that what she did can really help to stop palpitation, but it helped.


A little more climb up and we saw this. I did not expect a Sea of Clouds but it's in front of me. Everybody was shouting in astonishment when they first saw it. My heart began to pump blood again and the adrenaline that lost all came back when I saw the sun rising in the vast sea of clouds. I forgot that it's cold. I dropped my bag and put on my DSLR and started to click the shutter forever.


Every moment has an antagonist. And in my moment with my Mt. Pulag, it's the people unrespectfully shouting and laughing while waiting for the sun to shine. I wonder if there was somebody who proposed to his girlfriend or so. But still, Mt. Pulag is not your urban park wherein you can just do whatever you want. But then again, I choose to enjoy the moment and I diverted my attention to the mountain and my friends. 





Every moment has to end. We have to be back in the Ranger Station by 11AM to reach Manila before 12AM. We wanted to stay longer. If only I can stay there forever but forever is just a word. 

But going back excites me. Now I will see the trail that I was not able to capture because it was all dark.

As I have said we passed on 3 trails and my favorite is the Mossy Forrest. It was the coldest part of the trail because the trail is covered by large unique trees. It was like walking in the scene in Avatar - big unique trees are all over. The place is covered by moss and wildflowers which makes it a perfect spot for picture taking.

Two of my long time friends, Arlou and Charity

Look how the Grassland and Mossy Forest transitioned. 






The Mossy Forest














That's the peak of Mt.Pulag

Overall, this climb exceeded my expectation. I had so much fun though I was palpitating during the trek. Though my feet were aching I could not complain because I was just laughing and joking around with friends. I cannot quit though I almost fainted because my church mate, Tita Liberty who is 52 years old was not showing any signs of weakness. I was actually inspired by her determination. I have to be enthusiastic though I was tired because of the friends that I invited. Lastly, I could not say no to Mt. Pulag because I want to see God's wonderful creation. 



Me standing before a century-old Pine Tree

Meet Ate Sylvia our generous host in the Ranger Station. She accommodated us before our climb to Mt. Pulag. Her house is open to climbers for Php200.00 per night. She would prepare Carrot juice and carrot pancake (both for Php20.00) for your dinner. The carrots are fresh from her farm. She also sells potato marbles, broccoli, and carrots. 

Because going back to Kabayan seems very promising, I asked her if she can adopt me for a week and teach me how to plant carrots. She said yes and I don't have to pay for the accommodation. Hmmm, sound like a real retreat ;) 

You may reach ate Sylvia Guinsiman at 0909-787-5848.

The concrete house in the far end is her house.


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