Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ambuklao Hydroelectric Dam, Benguet

WHERE: Ambuklao Hydroelectric Dam, Bokod, Benguet Province

DATE OF TRAVEL: December 26, 2006

Ambuklao Dam is the biggest rock-filled dam in Asia! Aside from generating electricity, this dam also irrigates the agricultural lands of Pangasinan. The main water source comes from Agno River, the longest waterway in Luzon.


It is said that former President Marcos had this built by forcing the locals out of their ancestral domain.

From Baguio City, take the jeepney or mini bus at Dangwa Terminal (infront of Baguio City Market at the back of Centermall) or at Slaughter Compound in Magsaysay. Take the Kabayan trip. This will take you to Ambuklao Dam using the Ambuklao Road in Baguio near Pacdal Circle. This will usually take you 3-4 hours. Another way is to take the short cut way using a private vehicle: From Baguio, take magsaysay road passing by Trinidad. From the Benguet Capitol Building, take the road going to Halsema Highway. The travel time will be around less than 45-minutes, and there will be a junction point and on the right a rocky road going down. This will take you more than an hour to reach Ambuklao. The ride will be bumpy and a "death-defying-cliff edge" experience.

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Mt. Pulag National Park, Benguet

WHERE: Mt. Pulag National Park, Benguet

DATE OF TRAVEL: December 27-30, 2006

1) Because you must see for yourself how wonderful it is to look at the clouds from above…without having to ride a plane! The seabeds of clouds right below you are AMAZING!
2) It’s beginner-friendly! You can take the easiest trail and still be amazed with just how wonderful this National Park is.
3) You get to experience the set of Lord of the Rings…in the Philippines!
4) Mt. Pulag is the second highest mountain in the Philippines and the highest peak in Luzon.
5) Because it has one of the best sunrise and sunsets in the world!

We paid P5,000 per head for the whole trip (from Manila) but you can get cheaper rates depending on the package.

Bring enough clothes to keep you warm, enough charged batteries for your gadgets (phones, cameras, etc) and enough water to keep you going. ;)

Mount Pulag (aka Mt. Pulog or The Bald Mountains because of the absence of trees at the summit) is the second highest mountain in the Philippines and the highest peak in Luzon rising 2,922 meters above sea level. It borders between the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya. It hosts 528 documented plant species and is the natural habitat of the endemic dwarf bamboo and Benguet pine. It is also home to the Philippine Deer, long-haired Fruit Bat and the giant bushy Cloud Rat. It is one of the most climbed mountains in the Philippines. There are 4 trails to get you to the summit: Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan and Ambaguio. Mt. Pulag is known for its dwarf grass and seabeds of clouds that can be viewed from the summit. Mt. Pulag National Park is also inhabited by different indigenous groups such as the Ibaloi, Kalanguya, Kankanaey, Ifugao and Ilocano. They consider the mountain a sacred place as it is the home of the spirits of their ancestors and the playground of their Gods as well.

If you want to avail of the package we availed (see our story below), you may contact our "Climb Master" Ohmar Picache at +639176285750 or email him at

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The trip to Pulag usually starts from the 8-hour bus trip from Manila to Baguio. This can be best done overnight so that you can rest throughout the entire trip. The bus that leaves Manila by 10-12 PM is the best trip to take. Arrange your transportation by hiring a jeepney parked along the Caltex station near Burnham park and Session road or by taking the Norton buses (Northern Transit Terminal Station at the top of Magsaysay Avenue) bound for Kabayan Benguet. There are three established trail for Mt. Pulag namely the Ambangeg (Babadac), Ellet (Eddet) and Kabayan (Akiki or Killer Trail). Another trail goes directly to Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya which is known as the Lusod trail.

HELPFUL LINK: (click on the link for a detailed version of entrance fees, rules, etc)

--Camp Gear (tent, cooking stove, etc --if you decide to do it on your own)
--Walking Stick (promise, it will help you)
--Mess Kit (Water Bottle and Utensils)
--Clothes to help you keep warm especially at night (ex: jacket, bonnet, socks, extra shirt, etc)
--Noodles/ Soup (these will help you fight the cold!)
--Medicine/ First Aid Kit
--Camera (and make sure you charge it well because batteries live shorter when it's cold. better yet, bring extra batteries and memory cards!)
--Climbing Shoes
--Insect Repellant (esp if you're prone to bites. in fairness though, we didn't have problems with insect bites when we went there. most probably cause the weather was cold. better to be careful, though.)
--Waterproof Cases (either waterproof bags or ziplocks in case it rains!)
--Hand Gel, Wipes, Tissue

We were fresh in our relationship when we were asked to reserve the dates between Post- Christmas Day and New Year's Eve of 2006 for a climbing trip. We had never climbed a mountain together prior to this trip. The only climb I had was on the hills of Laguna en route to Majayjay Falls. Charlie did a few climbs, but nothing major like Mt. Pulag. Personally, I didn't know whether to agree or not to this offer. I didn't even know what Mt. Pulag was so I don't know how they got me to really say yes but I'm just glad I did.

We are not mountaineers and we're not seasoned campers in any way so I guess it's just perfect that we climbed with the Camp-O group lead by Ohmar Picache. His rate of P5,000 per head may be expensive but for those without experience like us, it felt just right. After all, that fee already included everything -- from transportation to all the fees to gears and equipment! Ohmar provided all the tents, pole sticks, etc since us newbies obviously didn't have any of those things. The only thing he asked us to bring was food -- but even that, he cooked for us! Of course he also made climbing easier by hiring porters who gladly went up with us and bring our stuff all the way to the top! He was also very patient with us when we took longer than the usual because of endless picture taking and water breaks. He took care of all of us really well and made sure we brought back nothing but good memories.

The drive on the way to Benguet was an adventure in itself. The car of our friend (which he decided to bring all the way to the ranger station) got a flat tire THREE times. Good thing vulcanizing shops were available (funny how they would appear in the middle of nowhere!) and while because of this, we weren't able to climb the other mountain (we were supposed to do a minor climb before Pulag), I felt it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to catch more sleep in spite of the endless bumpy roads. When we finally got to the ranger station, it was already dark (and COLD!!!) so we just stayed there for the night and slept in the small house with no light. Still, it felt like a suite in a hotel room because finally, we were really able to rest well and prepare for the climb.

We got up early to register our names and listen to the short briefing about the National Park. After that, we started our journey via the Ambangeg trail (the easy trail meant for beginners like us!) and was just constantly amazed with what the National Park had to offer. No words can perfectly describe the feeling we had while hiking. It was like we were transported in another place, somewhere in the land of the hobbits and orcs! First, we walked through a forest and then we were faced with endless grasslands and then stopped to gather water and then continued our journey through an amazing view of the sun, the grass and the hills and then finally, six hours later....we were at the summit! The climb usually takes about 4-5 hours but with our picture-taking addiction and beginner skills, we obviously took longer than the usual. The long walk was more than worth it! The view from above was simply amazing. Literally, we could see beds and beds of clouds below us. For a while we thought we could walk on them and not fall down! After enjoying and appreciating the view before us, we all hiked going down to our campsite where Ohmar set up tents and prepared hot drinks for us because it was actually getting colder and colder. Maybe it was one of the things I enjoyed most about this climb -- I didn't sweat much because of the cold weather so I could walk for hours without noticing how tired my body really was already until I sat down! Anyway, not long after our rest period, we found ourselves going up another hill (forgot the name but it's very near the summit of Mt. Pulag) to watch the sunset. It didn't take long but it was a hard, steep climb. Maybe because we were rushing, because obviously, the sun wouldn't wait for us. Again, it was more than worth it!!!! The sunset was VERY beautiful -- the sky was orange and yellow all over. And below it were beds and beds of clouds. Seriously, we could have stayed there the whole time and just stare at the view before us. No words can describe how amazing it looked.

We slept for a night in our campsite and since it was December, the temperature was only getting colder and colder during the night. The soup and coffee were really helpful. Anyway, we got up around 4:00 am the next day to prepare for the sunrise assault. It was a bit harder going up because it was raining. We were hoping it would stop and we would see the sun rise but from what I remember, it only got worse. I actually cried for a second because it felt so hard to breathe! Imagine, I had like 5 layers to fight the cold, not to mention my body was so drained from the 6-hour climb the day before!!! Ohmar helped me out by taking some of my clothes since I was already feeling warmer (thanks to the hike going up!) and patiently guiding me through my small steps. I almost gave up but then again, I reminded myself that the people I was with depended on my ability. Had I chosen to gone down, they all would have gone down as well. They wouldn't see the sunrise because of me! That kind of motivation helped me all throughout the climb. Although I felt it took forever because it was going up and it was raining and I couldn't breathe, the thought that this was team work kept me going! I am proud to say that we did reach the summit in time for the sunrise..only there was no sun! :( So yeah, we did not experience the sunrise Mt. Pulag is famous for...and it should be one reason why we should go back. Actually, writing this alone is giving me the itch to climb Pulag again, because I know it would still amaze me and still be as nice as it was when we went the first time.

It's just amazing how we went there without much expectation and came back full of amazing stories. Mt. Pulag really is one of the best places in the Philippines, and if you can, go see it. It would be more than worth it. ;)


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