THE BREEZE was cold as it grazed bare skin. Looking up, thousands of stars dotted the early morning sky and my steps was guided by the lamp attached on my head as we trudged along the narrow uphill trail.
And up and up we went – huffing and puffing. We would stop for a few seconds to catch our breath then continue on. When the sun started to rise between the far away mountains of the Cordillera, the fog started to rise. You can see their silhouette trying hard not to cling to the pine trees and so they left shiny dew on top of the needles instead.
Looking around, tall pine trees made up most of the trees. Surviving the cold and emitting that pungent smell unique of pine trees, they towered high. I ran and kicked at the dried pine needles that had fallen on the ground, found a delicate flower sneaking between them, I felt so carefree.
Yes, it’s the outdoors finally!
After hiking Mt. Kinabalu last June, I kind of went into a break because I literally broke the bank. But when you miss the outdoors, you would always go back. Such is the power of nature, it is addictive.
I closed my eyes and gulp in air as if it would be my last. The smell of sunshine, the rustle of leaves, the diminutive sound of the forest dwellers, the view of ridges rising one after another. This is life.
It felt like I was back in Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines because of the rolling hills. An additional attraction? The ridges were dotted with pine trees, it stretch over another ridge just to rise again in the distance.
If I have to associate a smell to the outdoors, it would definitely be the smell of pine trees!
So how can you experience what I did? Well, for just a budget of php1,100 you can be transported to what I have fondly called as Mt. Cloud as a literal translation of its name, Mt. Ulap. A hiking destination you shouldn’t really miss!
Usually, fluffy clouds dominate the sky based on friends’ photos but when it was my turn, the sky was cloudless and there were no cows, not even a single goat. It was just rolling ridges with grasses trimmed by the absent herd. Maybe if its you, you’ll be able to witness clouds at play and the cows too!
You can do a DIY or via an Organizer depending on your needs. I’ll be detailing the DIY because that needs some logistics on your part while if you’ll go via an organizer, you can find one on facebook (you’ll have to be a member first) via CLIMBER / DIY Travel Philippines / Backpacker of the Philippines or drop Miguel Mapalad of Yabag Mountaineering a message if they have a schedule at 0905 268 8275 or if they don’t, for sure he’ll be able to refer you to an organizer he knows who can really be of help should there be any incident.
One word, hassle.
BUT by doing a DIY you would be able to help the tourism industry of Benguet because your spending money will directly go to the locals (jeepney drivers) and not an organizer who doesn’t even have basic first aid knowledge. Jeez!
And most especially you’ll learn how to navigate parts of Baguio and Benguet on foot, maybe learn a few Ilocano words and make friends.
How to start? You probably don’t have an idea that is why you are here! Don’t worry, I have asked a local (an owner of one of the lots where the trail passes through) the how to’s.
If you are coming from Manila, take the night trip bus ride bound for Baguio City. Victory Liner is the safest and they have terminals in Sampaloc, Kamias (Quezon City in front of GMA station), Cubao and Pasay and they have an every hour schedule. If you take the 10pm bus, you’ll probably arrive at the terminal in Baguio at around 4am or earlier the next day.
Head to Central Mall area or just ask any local where you can hitch a ride to Philex Mines and that you are going to Mt. Ulap to hike the Ampucao ridges, that would cost you php50. Ask the driver to drop you off at Ampucao Elementary School and proceed with registration which will cost you php100. You can have an early breakfast here but if you want to pack and later eat it on one of the stops along the trail, that is an option too. You can also bring lunch if like me you easily gets hungry.
The hike would last you 5-6 hours maximum because of the view, photo sessions and waiting time to have your photo taken at Gungal rock with that communist-like insignia. The rock have become famous because of the beautiful backdrop, you gotta go and see for yourself! It is instagram worthy.
Best day to go? Weekday.
Tip? schedule that sick leave you’ve been wanting to do but of course you already know the rule, DON’T POST an ATM update on your social media. You can still post and caption it as throwback (just kidding here, don’t take it seriously!).
I suggest you do a traverse to Sta. Fe, Itogon for two important reasons, you wouldn’t want to miss the beautiful view which a traverse can offer and two, hitching for a ride back to Baguio will be easier unlike iat Ampucao where you started off. At the jump-off, you can find shower areas worth php 10-20.
To make it simpler, you start the hike at Ampucao and end it at Sta. Fe.
You can wear and bring your basic hiking gears like fleece jacket, hiking pants, cap, visor, arm protection, 2 liters of water, poncho/rain gear, sports camera or an SLR and a shoes with good grip or traction. If you have a hiking shoes, better.
Don’t forget your FIRST AID KIT that contains a few bandages, pieces band aid, a pair of scissor, med for diarrhea, headache and pain reliever etc.
There, you are all ready to go!
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