Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hiking Adventures #39: Luzon 3 2 1 - Mt. Timbak, Mt. Tabayoc and Mt. Pulag

Before 2016 ends, one of my dream climbs was about to set by my hiking brother, Ed Velasquez which is the Mt. Halcon climb. As Halcon dubbed as country's toughest mountain to climb, we need to do some couple of training climbs first. We chose Luzon 3-2-1 which is composed of 3 highest peaks in Luzon, the Mt. Timbak, Mt. Tabayoc and Mt. Pulag. It's a good climb for me to push my luck again to finally seeing the Sea of Clouds in Pulag, my Mother Mountain.

The climb was scheduled on February. So for sure it's going to be a cold night atop Mt. Pulag.  I prepared my jackets and I even bought a wind breaker for this climb. I was very excited to be back in Mt. Pulag again, however I was a little bit nervous too as we target to do Tawangan-Akiki for Pulag climb. It's gotta be hard.

Day 0

Our meet-up in Victory Liner Cubao Terminal is 8PM. Ed immediately told me that there will be changes on the original trip. Unfortunately, we will do Akiki-Ambangeg instead of Tawangan-Akiki because there were reports about on-going military activity in the area. I think it was a good decision made by Ed to ensure the safety of everyone. The important thing is we still going to push Luzon 3-2-1.

Day 1

We arrived in Baguio around 4:00AM and as usual, it was cold. The jeep that we hired were already waiting for us. We insisted to go to the nearest carinderia or any fast food for breakfast.

Then, we continued traveling to our first destination, Mt. Timbak. Mt. Timbak is the 9th highest mountain in the Philippines and 3rd in Luzon with elevation of 2,717+ MASL. It was located in Atok, Benguet, 2 hours drive from Baguio City.

Mt. Timbak

The highest point of Philippine Highway is also located in Atok. We stopped there while on our way to Mt. Timbak, and as we get closer, the mountain's summit was already looming. Our jeep had a lot of ascents as we head to the jump-off like we're heading to the summit. As we went off the jeep, I was surprised that we're just 8-minute trek away from the summit of Mt. Timbak.

We were just in time before the sunrise. Some of us didn't went out the jeep and rather have some more sleep. I thought of going alone to be the first one to reach the summit, but hiking alone is never a good idea, even though it will just take 8 minutes. The weather was awesome. The view from the summit is simply amazing plus the white flowers around.

Mt. Tabayoc

After Mt. Timbak, our next stop is Mt. Tabayoc. Tabayoc is the 7th highest mountain in the Philippines and 2nd in Luzon with elevation of 2,842 MASL. It was located in Kabayan, Benguet where Mt. Pulag is also located. We traveled at least 2 hours before reaching the jump-off.

Mt. Tabayoc was a bit surprising at first glance. I know there's a lake but I didn't know that it can be seen right in the jump-off. Anyway, the view from the jump-off is awesome.

Before we started to trek, we had a quick briefing about Tabayoc. The least that I remembered in the briefing was "the trail is called monkey trail, because you'll be like monkeys climbing". We started around 9:00AM and our target to reach the summit was around 12:00NN.

I thought Tabayoc would be an easy climb for us, but it was not. Some parts of the trail are steep and we also have to trek through roots, rocks and narrow passages because of some fallen trees. Halfway through, there's a view deck where you can see the summit of Mt. Pulag. It's awesome to see Mt. Pulag summit from afar and from lower elevation, and to know that you will be there the next day. You can see how high it is as compared to the other mountains.

We reached the summit just in time for lunch. But before we take our lunch, we tried to climb the wooden view deck in the summit for us to have a 360 degree view. The wooden deck seems to be dilapidated already so we climbed it by twos or threes.

After lunch, we just rest for a bit then started to descend. I thought climbing down would be easy, but it was also a struggle because like I said the trail is steep, has roots, rocks and fallen trees. You really have to watch carefully on your footing, watch for the trees and to your grip. You would have a lot of stops because you need to think of how your grip would be, where to step, etc. For the record, I slipped 3-4 times.

When I reached the jump-off point, I suffered from headache. I thought I was the only one, but some of my companions felt it too. It was all because of Altitude Sickness. We just rest for a bit and head to JOP of Akiki Trail. I was still suffering from headache while were on pur way to the Akiki jump-off. It was really bad.

Mt. Pulag - Akiki Trail

Commonly, climbing Pulag via Akiki Trail would take 3 days and 2 nights. The trek starts in the afternoon as climbers coming from Manila would have short briefing in the morning. But for us, we will take this for 2 days and 1 night since were already in the Ranger Station for Day 0 of climbing Mt. Pulag. We stayed in the Ranger Station for the rest of the night and prepare for the tomorrow.

Akiki Trail Jump-off

Ranger Station

Day 2

We started around 6:00AM from Ranger Station. I know it would be a super long trek and lots of assaults. The first time I conquered Mt. Pulag, I looked forward scaling it again but via Akiki Trail a.k.a. The Killer Trail. However, I was scared back then thinking that I might failed pulling that one off. But now, I already conquered some mountains that are difficult to climb and so I gained confidence. I just really hate that Akiki was called The Killer Trail thinking that I might get myself killed. Hahaha!

Few meters before the Eddet River, I felt something bad in my stomach and I have to take a dump. I got weak after so I continued walking at slow pace until I reached the campsite near Eddet River. We rest there for 10 minutes. When we started to trek again, our guides decided to stay longer, however, before reaching the hanging bridge crossing Edder River, I felt something bad in my stomach again. So I went to the campsite and took a dump again. Damn, it was really hard, and it happened again (Napulauan Climb). I thought of going back because I'm getting weak that time, but I decided to push through.

Crossing Eddet River

The guides told me that they wanted to stay for more couple of minutes and they asked me to go ahead. I hesitated to go alone because my teammates were already far away from me, but I still push my luck.

The hardest part of the Akiki Trail for me was the part from Eddet River to Marlboro Country. In the first part, I was climbing alone. Honestly, I was a little bit scared because I don't really want to climb alone, but I was there already so I keep pushing. The trail was very steep and I got exhausted scaling that killer part. I remembered the technique that was shared by Sir Mau Romarate which is to climb in smaller steps. It would be less painful and you would be able to lessen your rest stops.

I reached a camping ground (I forgot the name) where Edmund was taking a nap while waiting for me. I was already with one of the guides and we took a rest while looking on another long steep that where about to scale. Edmund and I had a lot of stops while dealing with the long assault going to Marlboro Country. I couldn't resist the pain in my legs and I think it was fine because we can have time to appreciate the Pine Forest of this Killer Trail.

Reaching the Marlboro Country marks the halfway of the Akiki trail. We had our lunch there and took a quick nap. We resume trekking around 1:00PM. An hour after, there's a water source and a near bench where you can rest and rehydrate.

Mossy Forest in Akiki Trail

Mt. Pulag Summit as seen from the trail

Approaching Saddle Camp

Around 4:00PM, we've finally reached the Grassland which marks that Saddle Camp is near. We can already see the summit of Pulag, it's so close to Saddle Camp. Probably, the trek from summit in the next morning would take around 30 minutes only. When we reached the Saddle Camp, the rain pours. Good thing, some us already pitched their tents where we used for shelter.

The rain stopped after 15 minutes and we hurriedly pitched our tents. Then we prepared for dinner and I was the master chef. =)

Our group's light's out was very early because a guide advised us to sleep because the other group were complaining about our noise. However, it was only 8:00 in the evening. Papa Ding Prudencio, our senior member got pissed so he called it a night for all of us after the dinner.

We all know it's very cold in the summit of Mt. Pulag, so this time I was really prepared. My batchmate in MMS told me a technique on how to fight the cold. I brought 2 additional socks in case the one that I wore during the hike got wet, plus 2 plastics for both foot. 1st layer would be the socks, 2nd layer is the plastics then 3rd is the other socks. This is really effective, I had a good sleep.

Day 3

Since I had a good sleep, I don't wanna get up. But this is my chance of finally seeing the Sea of Clouds in the summit of Mt. Pulag. So I get up around 4:30AM, went off my sleeping bag and it was damn cold.

However, I still managed to prepare myself up and trekked going to the summit. It was a good weather, I can see stars on sight. Before reaching the summit, I can see the clouds are forming. There are plenty people in the summit and some were walking from afar. I was really surprised, I finally looking to what I have waited for so long, Sea of Clouds in Mt. Pulag Summit.

The clouds were getting better as the sun goes up. It was surreal. I was also blessed to witness the clouds covering the mountain peaks. Before, it was only a story that my Ninang in MMS, Leigh Tuazon told me. Now, I am finally looking at it.

We went back to Saddle Camp around 6:30AM. We had our breakfast and packed-up after. The weather was really good but immediately getting hotter. Then, we started to descent via Ambangeg Trail. Those who weren't able to climb the summit before dawn decided to pass to the summit. When I noticed there was still Sea of Clouds, I decided to join them for the 2nd time and indulge to its beauty.

Passing through Ambangeg trail reminds me of my first climb and where these all hiking stints started. I can still remember the excitement, the nice weather and the people who spent quality time with me.

Luzon 3-2-1 (Timbak, Tabayoc, Pulag)
February 23-25, 2017

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