Come January to early March, there will always be news about Mt. Pulag’s temp plummets to ungodly figures. Just a week ago, temp dropped to 1 °C. This is not quite news actually, because being the Philippines’ third loftiest peak, Mt. Pulag tends to be unpredictable and very cold. Frost and below 0°C temperatures are expected during the first quarter of the year and during the rainy season.
In the first week of March last year, we, along with our three-year old, hit the roads and traveled to Kabayan, Benguet to experience Pulag’s unpredictability (but above all, its magic) first hand.
Because this was our first high-altitude mountain (and because I can’t stand anything too cold, except for beer), we overprepared a tad and brought a heavy pack containing A SHITLOAD of stuff – something we found to be an adversary as we trekked in the dark. After all, it’s only a 4 to 5-hour trek up (with kids; if you’re in shape, you can do it in 2.5 to 3 hours). There’s really no need to bring a lot.
(To put that into perspective, it’s about the same amount of time you spend dayhiking Pamitinan, Maculot, Maynoba, or Batulao.)
Lesson #1: When hiking Pulag, don’t be so noob like us.
So in the spirit of sparing you the same noobness, I am sharing some helpful and not-so-helpful stuff we wore and brought, plus some tips for families who are thinking of hiking Luzon’s highest mountain.
Hiking gears/ equipment
For hot coffee in the mountains, necessity depends on your coffee needs.
Hiking bag with rain cover
Trail food/ drinks
Proper layering is crucial to keeping you warm and preventing hypothermia in high-altitude mountains. First layer is breathable polyester, followed by fleece, then finally a waterproof shell jacket or a down jacket.
First layer of clothing: Polyester
Second layer: Fleece
Third layer: Waterproof overalls (or a waterproof jacket and waterproof pants)
Waterproof shoes and socks
For the lady/ man
First layer: Polyester
Second layer: Fleece (top)/ wool (leggings)
Third layer: Waterproof down jacket and pants
The Ambangeg Trail is muddy almost year-round. This is especially true in many parts of the mossy forest and from Campsite 2 to any of the mountain’s five peaks. You need shoes with good traction.
It’s bad news for water to seep in your feet in a low-temp mountain, so waterproof ones (Merrell, Columbia, and other outdoor brands have trekking shoes made with Goretex) are recommended. If you don’t have waterproof shoes, regular hiking shoes will suffice. If it rains, what others do is to cover their shoes with plastic.
If you are intent on buying, I recommend Fusion. They always have waterproof trek shoes on sale up to 70% off. I got a pair of brand new Merrell’s Pulsate worth P6,895 for only P2,300. In terms of traction, Pulsate holds very well on mud and slippery rocks as compare to Sandugo Mudtraxx that I now use it on all treks now, including those with river crossing.
Wool socks and fleece gloves
I used two pairs of wool socks (when the temp really plummets, some use three) and two pairs of gloves – one wool, one fleece. I found that fleece gloves already suffice – and warms better -so I peeled off the wool ones after a while. I borrowed my gloves from relatives, but you can get the wool ones from ukay-ukay shops and Daiso. The fleece ones are from TNF.
Beanie and scarf
- Though it’s considered a major climb, I found Mt. Pulag easier than other minor mountains on the same 3/9 difficulty level What makes it hard is not the trail – since the trail is mostly straightforward and flat, except for the few hundred meters going up to the summit – but rather the weight of carrying a 16-kilogram toddler amid thin air from Camp 1 to the peak.
- Med certificate is required for adults but not for infants/ toddlers/ kids. You will never find a sane doctor who will give you permission to let your kid hike in Pulag. Trust me, we tried twice and got the same vehement “NO!”.
- If you are carrying a heavy toddler, take brief rest stops as needed. Take someone with you to swap babywearing with. If you don’t have anyone, guides will always volunteer to carry your things or your child. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Be sure to give extra tip! Porter rate in Pulag is P300 per 15 kilograms of weight.
- Mt. Pulag may be easy, but it still requires patience and endurance. You can prepare by doing daily exercises (walking, biking, running).
- Best months to climb is from March onward May as temperature tends to be more manageable. Coldest month is February. It’s discouraged to hike during rainy season.
- At the end of the pine forest, there are habal-habal drivers that can take you back to the Ranger Station or DENR. From DENR to the Ranger Station, it’s P250 per person (We didn’t take this because our homestay is only around 45 minutes away from the end of the pine forest).
- If you don’t plan on hiking another high-altitude mountain (or any other mountain for that matter), I suggest you borrow stuff instead from people who have winter clothes. Because they are freaking expensive.
- If you are buying, ukay-ukay shops are a great way to save up. Be sure to check if the jackets/ pants you’re getting are waterproof though. Dampen a small part of the fabric on the outside and see if the water seeps through the inside (Don’t forget to ask attendants first!). I find winter clothes for smaller kids and babies to be quite rare in ukay shops though.
- I bought most of Lia’s clothes and gears in the mall during winter sale (usually from December up February; some stores extend it till early March). Shops such as Terranova, Uniqlo, Old Navy, and H&M have amazing collections, as low as P65 for gloves and socks, and around P200 to P300 for waterproof hoodies and hats.
- For mountaineering gear and waterproof jackets and pants for adults, I got most of it in this mountaineering items buy and sell group on FB. Lots of super cheap, used quality items there from mountaineers.
- Homestays abound near the Ranger Station. This is one option if you don’t have camping gears. A homestay might also be friendlier if you have kids as it gets too nippy in the evenings and at dawn. Homestays have comforters, pillows, a mat for sleeping, kitchens, and restrooms.
We got a package from Sole Adventours for P3,000 a person (free for toddlers), which includes homestay, two meals, a guide, transpo to and from Ranger Station from Manila, and a sidetrip to Ambuklao Dam.