Oh yes, the marvelous Cordilleras! Where the weather is cool and pine trees are abundant. Serene. Panoramic. Worth to wander.
The opening of the year made me excited because a good friend organized an over-night camping in Benguet after skipping any hiking activities in 2016. A major hike in Tarak Ridge was my last and it was quite tough compare to Mt. Ulap which offers an easier trail of grassland and ridges with striking views 360 degrees.
The group left from Manila at 1AM and fetched me and a friend in Dau. Our energetic hi’s and hello’s barely awaken our dozing buddies who are in silent chorus, hence, we decided to just nap as well. After a few hours of traveling, we reached the City of Pines. Of course, it welcomed us with a chilly breeze of this mountain city. As we prepare for a lengthy hike, our hungry tummies need to be filled with loads of food so we decided to eat our breakfast first at Good Taste, the best budget-friendly restaurant in the city. We also bought foods for our lunch and headed directly in Itogon.
Due to its popularity, an onslaught of hikers and social-media frenzy tourists were already present upon our arrival in Ampucao. Without exaggerating the scene, it’s like a blockbuster movie premiere. We waited on queue to register and due to high demands of porters/guides, none is available to accommodate us so we had to wait.
The influx of hikers is definitely bad for the mountains but good for the locals of Itogon due to environmental concerns. Records indicate that more or little less, a thousand hikers visit the eco-trail everyday. I couldn’t agree more as I witnessed a part of this reality. However, a sense of social responsibility was pioneered by the officials of Brgy. Ampucao as new rules are set effective this month. To be able to restore the beauty of the mountains, only 500 will be permitted to hike every weekends and only 150 during weekdays. Advance reservation is also required as of this writing. Simply contact the Office of the Barangay Council in Ampucao, Itogon, Benguet. This is more than a good news, of course!
At past 11AM, we started our hike and it’s too close for lunch-time, I thought. I am worried for my tummy it might protest anytime. We were all dauntless at this point including two of our member who were first-timers. Assaults will welcome you at the first course of the trail and it will lead you breathless.
We kept it slow since the trail is fairly covered with pine trees and weather is just perfect but mind you, this is not a chill-climb as some parts are both deadly and exhausting. Along the trail, you’ll meet and see a lot including cows! We had fun time eating lunch with a herd of cows under the presence of Benguet pines. After a while, we found a nice spot to rest and take photos.
Three hours later, I know my body is already getting tired. But reaching the 1st campsite and witnessing the grand view of Ambanaw Paoay eased that feeling. It’s how nature casts magic to mortals like me. Its grassland and rolling mountains is an instant darling to my camera. From afar, ridges that is part of the trail is being enveloped by clouds. In an instant, I can see minute hikers disappearing from the scene.
With unending chit-chats, we finally reached Gungal Rock, the rock formation that Mt. Ulap became famous with. Clouds already merged with us and there is little visibility of its stunning view. “We have to wait,” one of our members firmly said. Hence, waiting for 10 minutes gave us a clearing. Luck is served to those who patiently wait, I thought.
We continued our hike and experienced some rough and steep trail. Ridges after ridges, I thought we are finally reaching the camp but I was wrong. Nevertheless, I still have some energy in store to survive the hike. In my mind, the stunning views everywhere beckons a promising campsite. From the last ridge, I can already hear the chortling campers like busy bees at midday. The excitement continues and the moment I saw some tents in bright colors of yellow, blue and orange, I saw beauty!
And moments after we reached the campsite and pinched our tents, we witnessed the last sun rays as the sun bids goodbye while the wintry winds from the northeast say hello to us. The night grew darker and colder but we can still see hikers arriving late from afar. A cup of hot coffee is just perfect while we prepared our dinner. We enjoyed the night when stars are bright that we forgot lot of things. The morning after, everything is calm yet the weather is still extremely cold.
I believe that is the essence of our Mt. Ulap hiking experience. Cold yet refreshing. Lenghty yet untiring.