The first time I climbed Luzon’s highest peak- Mt Pulag (Pulog), the Philippines 3rd highest after Mt Apo and Mt Kitanglad (Mt Dulang-dulang) was June of 1995. Since then I was struck by its beauty and had climbed it more than 10 times from four of the five major trails to the summit (Ambangeg, Akiki, Ballai-Tawangan and Tinoc-Tawangan, leaving Ambaguio as the last one I have left out). But beside the mountain adventure itself, I was awed by the awesome system of roads that leads to the place, classifying Pacdal Road as one of the two grand mountain routes in the country besides Halsema Hi-way. The same Pacdal road was our gateway to a Mt. Ugu adventure via Kayapa so we have used this road more than 20 times as of to date.
Travelling to Pulag during those early days seems eternity- about 5 hours from Baguio via treacherous roads winding at the edge of mountain slopes with landslides, dusts and river crossings as added challenges with an outcome we coined as being “espasolized” (espasol is a native delicacy, a rice chewy substance covered by white dusty powder so after a trip to this dusty road gives one the same treatment and appearance) . In my last climb last 2010, after a hiatus from going there for more than 5 years, I was surprised to see the improvements which back then- I have never thought will happen in my lifetime. That Pacdal will be widened and paved. Almost 90% during the 2010 trip and now 100% from Baguio to Bokod. Further, we were told that the route from the DENR to the Ranger Station (the Ranger Station, 10 kilometers form DENR is a days hike towards the summit) was also almost complete making the once mountaineers’ playground accessible to the traditional bucket list tourists. This development cut the travel time to just 2 hours. A similar case with travelling to Sagada which during then was like 8 hours from Baguio and now just less than half of it. What remains for further development in Pacdal are the portions linking Bokod to Kabayan and further to link back to Halsema highway and to Tinoc in Ifugao. Who would thought that going to Pulag by sedan cars will be possible in 10 years time?
Having said that, riding Baguio to Mt. Pulag was something we have to do and it doesn’t need major planning compared to our island touring. All we need is a long vacation weekend and the Halloween break this year was that opportunity. Our original plan was to ride from Baguio then go all the way to the Ranger Station and then back to Baguio. We employed a SAG vehicle and created several back-up plans as though we have been there a couple of times, we have no idea how our riding capabilities will fare to this monumental challenge.
In fact the very first part of the ride was already a cardiac assault that had us coping for air, resulting an early break less than just 3 kilometers after starting out from Baguio. But we forgot all about it when after that steep climb, an exhilarating long downhill gave us a shot of adrenaline all the way down the river gorge. From the gorge, we saw how high we need to rise up meaning how steep the climb will be; the second climb. After managing that climb, I was surprised that it was not that difficult as it seems. The fourth portion was another downhill to Ambuklao. By this time, after seeing our progress, we were already bold in talking about pursuing and pushing further our plans to extend the ride up to the Ranger Station and either spend the night there or go down to DENR for the night. Worst scenario then was to stay at DENR and do the Ranger Station the next day or skip the ranger Station and just ride back to Baguio. But we were taken aback when we did the alternate route to Bokod. The climb to the view point of Ambuklao was like doing the Maarat wall 10 times and this is the third major climb. Though Dindo and myself were the veteran riders in the group, both in doing long rides of up to 175 km a day or climbs (we were already comfortable and efficient in doing a Sierra Madre ride- an ordinary day for us), this really hit us hard that we needed to stop on some sections. But it was still passable- we rode it in its entirety. It was way past our lunch when we reached the viewpoint or crest so the agenda was to look for a restaurant to eat. From the Ambukalao view point, it was the third long downhill so again everyone was back to enjoyment mode. We found a restaurant near the second river gorge and had our lunch there.
But lo and behold !!, when we started our ride this time, the earlier climbs already took its toll. We managed the next rolling hills sections but slower than expected in such grade. When we reached Bokod town proper, we were already wasted as we took a quick rest. We noted that the DENR station was only 5 kilometers from there that gave us a sigh of relief. What we didn’t recalled (from previous trips) and expected was it was a continuous steep uphill climb all the way to our destination. 5 km seems too short but we were already wasted that we were in unison in deciding to just walk (anyway a 5 Km marathon is not that bad right?). Maybe another factor was that we didn’t have that much rides prior to this trip. I was wearing a clip-less shoes and walking with those shoes was introducing more strain to my legs so I decided to walk in my socks without shoes. It was not only agonizing in terms of pain but it was equally agonizing in embarrassment and in our ego. After a few meters, I decided to just ride it out as I think I can better tolerate a pain while riding than walking so I rode in crawling phase the rest of the 4 kilometers, the most painful ride I had experienced in my life (except the only time I cramped while riding).
Reaching DENR was a blessing. Though we were all silent about our next plans- it seems it was already decided in the back of our heads that we will not only skip riding the DENR to the Ranger Station, we will even skip riding back to Baguio. But in the back of my mind, I still have given a chance based on experience that after resting and after the boastful stories of success, the second wind may still kick in and it may make us consider doing at least the ride back to Baguio. PASU Emerita who is an acquaintance of our organization helped us to get our accommodation at the Baguio State University campus in Bokod. There we prepared our foods and our socials for the night
It was a fun filled night full of stories, of what food we were able to produce and of course beers. And since it was Halloween season, some attempts of scaring each other was also the topic of the night. The next day, the decision remained which showed the reality of the shock we got the day before plus the picture of the harder climbs riding back to Baguio based on our long downhills were a no brain-er. I guess knowing that only few did this (not counting those residing in Baguio or Nueva Vizcaya who are great climbers by the environment were they ride) was a good consolation. One way from this legendary route (its now a legend ride for us) was enough for us to leave the place with heads held high. We were able to load the 6 bikes into our Mitsubishi Strada SAG and had the four riders take the bus back to Baguio.
Back at Baguio, we spent the rest of the day celebrating in our base camp with an attempt at “bar-hopping” (our age haunts us in really trying to stay awake in the late hours of the night- so a bar hop (note singular) was enough to cap our day’s celebrations). The next day, we decided to have a sort of recovery ride to Mt. Sto Tomas (Mt. Cabuyao)- not sure if that is a good idea of a recovery ride but that story will be on a separate blog.
Here is the trip Stats:
For more map details please visit my Everytrail at: http://www.everytrail.com/my_trips.php?user_id=46765