OUR JOURNEY TO REACH LUZON'S HIGHEST PEAK
THE ROAD TO MT. PULAG
It was a long four hour trip from Tuba, Benguet to the jumpoff point which is at the Ranger Station of Mt. Pulag National Park. But since we had several sidetrips, noone really endured the long ride. All spirits remained high and enthusiastic as we were just actually starting our Huling Hirit in Benguet. The visit to Mt. Sto Tomas and Mt. Cabuyao was somehow worth the time, money and effort already... and there's still a lot in store for us!
Toploading The Cordilleras
Toploading can be considered as one of the popular extreme activities when touring the Cordilleras. Here, the adventure seekers sit by the rails on top of the jeepney and hold on for dear life as the vehicle zigzag its way along the curved mountain roads. Although regular toploading does not usually involve safety gears, the activity is perfectly safe provided that you have a responsible driver and that the toploaders themselves are not exorbitantly careless. Toploading is also a good venue to marvel at the beauty of the Cordillera Region. It is also good for those who want solace and peace of mind. As the vehicle moves, it brings you to several majestic angles and your eyes will feast on these breathtaking vistas. You begin to ponder and have a sense of appreciation towards life and towards Mother Earth. Our group was allowed to topload Lost In Love. The first group started from Pinkan Jo - where most Mt. Pulag monster jeepneys stop to cool down its engines, upto Ambuklao Dam. The first toploaders were all girls: Angel, Anna, Clue, Tin and Weng at the central part of the monster jeep, and April and Liz seated at the front portion. These toploaders were very ecstatic and vivacious! We were inside Lost In Love and we could hear them screaming especially during the curved portions of the road. Their screams transcend the excitement of riding on top of the vehicle. When we departed from Ambuklao Dam, the next batch readied themselves for the topload of their lives ~ Des and Marion in front, and Conts, Jovy, Clue, Angel, York, Frank and Ivan behind them. It was another round of elation as the second batch (except for two timers Angel and Clue) enjoyed their turn in toploading Lost In Love.
The Scenic Ambuklao Dam
Ambuklao Dam is the biggest rock dam in Asia. And this was our next stop in Bokod, Benguet after Lost In Love cooled down at Pinkan Jo restaurant. It was no ordinary dam as the cascades of the water flows at a natural rock basin. The dam holding the water as well is long and wide which spans several valleys and mountains. During our visit, the water was low as compared to the first time I saw Ambuklao Dam. Maybe because of the intense heat over the past weeks of the year's summer season. But we still enjoyed our time there as you can not get the same opportunity of dropping by Asia's largest rock dam.
DENR Office and Ma'am Mering's Orientation
We stopped by the DENR office in Bokod, Benguet for a mandatory orientation. And we got it from no less than the park superintendent herself, Ms. Emerita Albas more known as Ma'am Mering. Our group went inside the orientation hall with Team Babaran - another group who was also conquering Mt. Pulag that day. The infamous 15-minute video clip was shown which basically gave us a brief background of The Playground of the Gods aka Mt. Pulag, the endangered species that inhabit its grasslands and forests and the do's and don'ts inside the park. No littering, no contaminating the water sources, no loud voices or music, leave what you find, NO KISSING etc. Bottomline: RESPECT MT. PULAG. I have attended this orientation a year ago but it was not the same this time because aside from the regular mountain ethics, Ma'am Mering added a touch of additional information on feasibility studies conducted at Mt. Pulag and a review on group dynamics. She emphasized the importance of having a reservation before your trip to the park. This is to limit the number of groups that can enter the park and camp on its grounds especially during those days when there is a heavy number of simultaneous climbs. During that day, there were only two groups: The BACKPACKERS and Team Babaran.
Ma'am Mering also tapped on group dynamics and had an interactive discussion with the two groups inside the orientation hall. I was glad that she included this in the orientation to remind the group that they are entering the premises of Mt. Pulag as a team. These are already formal rules in a mountaineering group that a freelancer might not appreciate but it is always best to understand these dynamics as this does not only apply to a trip to Mt. Pulag but on all mountaineering trips of the group. The duty of the sweeper was emphasized in which case, he or she should always be the person at the back of the team who makes sure that nobody or nothing gets left behind. The first aider should always contain the right number of medicines for the group. And lastly, she stressed out that the ethics of the group reflects the personal ethics of its team leader. The team leader embraces the risk of being held responsible for whatever happens so he or she needs to make the right decisions. It is okay to take risks, but at the right margin. But the overall success of the climb depends on the teamwork and cooperation of each and every member of the group. By hearing these reminders from Ma'am Mering, you can't help but be proud that you belong to a specific group and that all of you share the same goal. But there is an extra touch to The BACKPACKERS because we do not just consider The BACKPACKERS a group but also a family.
Ma'am Emerita Albas' mobile number: 0919-631-5402
Ate Gina and the Monster Jeepneys
|Miss Gina Epe and Sir Jeffrey Santos, an actor who is also an active mountaineer|
photo credit: Miss Gina Epe
We made a quick stop to fetch our cooked rice from Miss Gina Epe. Ate Gina is another notable person when you are booking a Mt. Pulag trip because she is the sister of the late Ka Roger, who is well known to mountaineers as one of the supplier of the reliable monster jeepneys. Ate Gina took over the business after Ka Roger's sad demise a couple of years back. Her place is just a few minutes away from the DENR office and an hour away from the Ranger Station. You can take your lunch here prior to your ascent or use their bathroom if you want to wash up after your climb. Because we were following a strict itinerary due to the several destinations that we targeted that day, we just grabbed the rice she cooked for our group and immediately boarded Lost In Love to head to the Ranger Station. Thank you for the delicious rice Ate Gina!
Ma'am Gina Epe's mobile number: 0919-816-9234
Difficult Road Ahead...
From Bokod to Kabayan, Benguet is where the monster jeepneys will be put to test. The road here is always going up and is not well established; rough, rocky and sometimes muddy. Add the fact that there is only one lane, one of the vehicles who will meet head to head must respect the right of way of the other vehicle. You just got to pray that your jeepney won't be obstructed near a cliff or in an extremely slanted position. Because of the condition of the roads, it is very understandable to encounter a mishap during this part of your journey to Mt. Pulag. We were lucky last year because the ride here was smooth going, but this year we were not. Lost In Love struggled in ascending a muddy and rocky dirt road. Some of The BACKPACKERS went off but the jeepney still was stuck. It was a complete hassle not only to us but to Team Babaran whose monster jeepney was behind us and the monster jeepneys which were on their way down the park. Several men gathered around the jeepney to help push miserable Lost In Love. All The BACKPACKERS, except Angel who was at the front seat, were asked to get out of the jeepney. The rope wrapped around the tarp above the jeepney protecting our backpacks and tents were borrowed and tied at the railing in front of the jeep. The guys lined up, grabbed a portion of the rope and prepared to pull the jeepney up. We had several attempts to push and pull Lost In Love but were in vain. We were getting worried that we might need to hike from this point up to the Ranger Station. That will erase the executive and easy going adjective of the easiest Mt. Pulag trail; the Ambangeg trail. Luckily, after giving it one more shot, the men worked hand in hand and successfully put Lost In Love out of its misery. Talk about 'bayanihan'! Apparently, we found out later that Team Babaran's monster jeepney, Country Road, also got stuck in that portion of the road. Whew.
After several stops, we finally reached the Ranger Station - the official jump off point of the Ambangeg Trail going up Luzon's pride: Mt. Pulag! We ate a late lunch, readied our things and off we went! The main attraction of our Huling Hirit in Benguet is our two day experience at the grounds of the highest mountain in Luzon, every mountaineers' dream: Mt. Pulag.
***Special credits to Tin, Liz, Des and Frank for the pictures