Thursday, May 16, 2013

10 Practical Travel Tips on Trekking in Mount Pulag

Mount Pulag is a great trekking destination in the Philippines. Given its high elevation, the entire Mount Pulag National Park affords temperate climate trekking in the heart of a tropical country. I have climbed Mount Pulag twice now. Admittedly, the first time was difficult, aggravated by rainy weather, but it did gave me enough gumption to make trekking my b*tch. A few months after, I did a full-on 10-day trek in the Nepal Himalaya!

This year, I trekked to the peak of Mount Pulag again. Though I did not find the joys of trekking in Mount Pulag, unfortunately, I was very lucky to witness the glorious sunrise and the sea of clouds Mount Pulag is famous for.

Trek to Mount Pulag, Philippine Cordilleras
Trekkers enjoy Mount Pulag’s glorious sunrise and sea of clouds.

Having climbed the mountain twice, I have taken note of a few things that could prove useful, life-saver even, for those who want to trek to the Philippines' third highest peak. Let's get right on to it. The following are 10 practical travel tips on trekking in Mount Pulag.

1. Bring some form of rain gear.

From Baguio, de facto capital of the Philippine Cordillera, we drove up to the jump-off point at the Mount Pulag Ranger Station in Kabayan, Benguet. Everybody was glad that the sun was shining all throughout the drive and even as we reached the ranger station. A few minutes into the trek, however, it starts drizzling. It's not long before it's full-on rain. That's just how it is with mountain weather. It is highly changeable. You need to be prepared. Bring a poncho. It helps, especially if you are carrying your own bags, which you can hide under your poncho with the rest of your person. If you want to invest in one, a waterproof jacket or parka would be useful.

2. Waterproof your things.

Dry Bag
Standard 15-liter dry bag. It fits my big camera
and a number of other stuff as well. It's my carry-on really.

It's imperative that you waterproof your things. You need to have a waterproof backpack cover. If you don't have a backpack cover, stuff all your things inside a plastic bag and stuff those plastic bags in your bag. Use those big black trash bags. Bring lots of those, I say. You can use them to isolate your wet clothes from your dry clothes, too. I say this is imperative because the last thing you want is to find that you do not have dry clothes to wear in a rainy, windy, and very cold Mount Pulag camping site. As for your camera, make sure you have a dry bag for it. It's essential and it is convenient, too, as it would be the same bag you take with you from the camp up to the summit. A camera is all you need up there anyway.

3. Leave unnecessary things before you trek.

There are some things which you will not need during the trek, but rather after the trek. I am referring to your toiletries and your change of clothing for your trip back to civilization. Those things will be unnecessary weight on your back when you head up to Camp 2. In trekking, I have learned that the lesser the weight of your bag is, the easier your trek will be. Metaphor for life, isn't it? In my first Mount Pulag trek, our trekking group combined all our necessary things and left them in a hut at the ranger station. In my second trek, I kindly asked a store owner also at the ranger station to store a package for me. That's unnecessary weight off my back right there.

4. Do not layer up during the trek to Camp 2.

It gets pretty cold up at the Mount Pulag Ranger Station and along the trail, especially when the sun is hiding behind clouds. It will be very tempting to put on all the layers and thermals you have before you go trekking: base layer, jackets, parka, beanie, gloves, scarves, etc. As much as possible, don't wear them yet. Power through the initial cold. When you start trekking, your body will heat up from all the energy you burn. It will be very inconvenient, downright a pain, to peel off each layer you put on at the ranger station while you are negotiating the uneven trail during the trek. Additionally, if you sweat a lot like me, you don't really want to perspire through your layers and thermals, the same items you will need to battle the cold up there. Again, you want dry clothes.

To know more about what clothing and gear to wear during a temperate/semi-temperate trek in the mountains, you can read the post Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal: Things to Bring.

5. Wear comfortable yet sturdy shoes with traction underneath.

Trekking Shoes, Trek to Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal
Weathered trekking shoes. They have been with me through thick and thin.

As with any trekking trip, make sure the shoes you wear are broken-in and comfortable. You want to minimize the pain you will be subjecting your feet to. There will be pain involved as there is a lot of walking involved. So take care of your feet. After all, your feet are the most important part of your body during a trek. You injure them and you have no way of going back down, lest you be carried down. Additionally, the trails to Camp 2 and to the summit can be wet and muddy. You need shoes that have some form of traction underneath. To be clear, you will slide and stumble at one point or another. If your shoes have good traction, however, you reduce risk of that happening (an unnecessary number of times).

6. Take your time.

If there is one thing I have learned trekking in the Himalayas is that in trekking, you need to take your time. If you are on the Ambangeg Trail to Mount Pulag and you started your trek early, then hell yes, take your time. The trail is only two to three hours of walking. So it's most definitely recommended to take it slow: regulate your breathing, look around, enjoy the scenery. As Lonely Planet authors in their Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya guide says, "There is little point in rushing the trip only to get to some place that may not be as engrossing as where you are, right now." Damn straight.

7. Bring enough water.

Water is the most important item that will sustain you up there. Though it is cold trekking in the Mount Pulag National Park, you will expend energy. That means you will need to replenish your fluids. For an overnight trip to Mount Pulag, 1.5 to 2 liters of water is recommended per person. If you are bringing bottled water, please keep the empty bottle and bring them back down and out the national park when you leave. You were able to carry it full; you will be able to carry it empty. There is a fresh water source near Camp 2, but for those whose stomachs are very sensitive, it's best to bring your own water.

8. Prepare your thermals.

Mt. Pulag, Cordilleras, Benguet, Philippines
Wearing my winter parka with a fleece jacket at the Mount Pulag Ranger Station
back in 2011 during my first trek. Of course, I had to peel off each layer later
during the trek. Big pain.

When I first went trekking in Mount Pulag, I had no idea on what type of clothing I needed. Living in a tropical country, I had never experienced winter temperatures before. In the cool season (December to February), temperatures in Mount Pulag drop down to near-freezing levels. To cope in these conditions, I have learned that thermal socks help. Your feet (your extremities, basically) are the first part of your body that gets cold. A proper winter parka would be good as well, if you can invest in one. Same goes for a beanie and gloves. Outdoor stores will have these items for you. Here's a comprehensive list of outdoor stores in the Philippines at the Pinoy Mountaineer site. Incidentally, I got my thermal socks (of use to me for two years now) at Debenhams in Trinoma, Quezon City, Philippines.

9. Make sure that your tent is ready to battle the cold and rain with you.

First, it is recommended that your tent be a three or four-season tent. That way, it can withstand the cold wind and rain. In my second trip, water actually seeped in our tent and wet my left foot and arm. Deliriously exhausted from the trip up to Camp 2, I slept through it. Don't risk that though. A friend with whom I was sharing a tent in my second climb to Mount Pulag had the brilliant idea of bringing a set of collapsible foam mat, the colorful square ones you would see in a kid's bedroom. Laugh all you want but the mat did isolate our bodies from the cold, cold ground. Life saver!

10. Bring wet wipes.

Finally, make sure to bring some wet wipes. I get asked a lot about the toilet situation in Mount Pulag Camp 2. To answer that, Mount Pulag Camp 2 does NOT have a toilet. What it has is a covered latrine. Basically, a hole in the ground enclosed in a hut. If you can help it, it's best not to go number 2 in Camp 2. (Ha!) But if you really need to, bring some wipes. Those will help a lot. I think I need not specify how.

Those are my top 10 practical travel tips on trekking in Mount Pulag. You may have climbed Pulag, too, and may have a few tips to share on your own. If you do, please share away. Thank you!

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