Discover why Mt. Pulag is famous for the cold weather, trail difficulty levels, and the sea of clouds view that even beginners and first-timers can enjoy.
Ever since I started climbing mountains years ago, I’ve looked at Mt. Pulag with mixed feelings. At worst, it’s cold and a little overcrowded. At best, I was afraid that if I see it too soon, the other mountains I climb afterward might pale in comparison.
So I held off climbing Mt. Pulag for years and climbed nearer, smaller, and easier mountains. But since the recent tragedies like typhoon, fire, and deaths, I realized that Pulag will always be cold, crowded, and expensive but at least it is still there. It was only a matter of time that I witness its beauty. Since I’ve waited for years, why can’t the time be now?
Highest Peak in Luzon
At 2,926 MASL height, Mt. Pulag is the highest peak in Luzon and is the third highest mountain in the Philippines, next only to Mt. Apo and Mt. Dulang-Dulang. In terms of location, it sits between Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya — producing various trails with corresponding difficulty levels.
Believing in anitos (the Filipino version of animism) is still practiced in some ethnic groups in Benguet, as such Mt. Pulag National Park is considered the sacred “playground of the gods” — a sanctuary where spirits roam. Don’t be surprised if there are many tales of supernatural events passed between one mountaineer to another every time a beginners climbs.
Mt. Pulag Weather
Being one of the coldest places in the Philippines, hikers must prepare for the perpetual chill and potential sub-freezing conditions from campsite to summit. That means camping, bathing, eating, sleeping, and hiking in the cold, especially during the pre-sunrise ascent. Rain is also a common occurrence here.
As that-friend-who-is-always-cold, Mt. Pulag weather was one of my considerations. Upon getting there, we washed up in the outdoor showers, but the waters are still blindingly cold at just after noontime. The fog started to settle at the foot of the mountain as early as 3PM. At night after a dinner consisting of a heaping bowl of soup, I wasn’t able to sleep straight because of the wet cold that penetrated our tents and clothes. Good thing I exaggerated by layering. Overall, given the right preparations, Mt. Pulag weather is manageable.
Flora, Fauna, and Hike
Aside from the popular “sea of clouds” view, Mt. Pulag National Park is also very rich in biodiversity, with some flora and fauna endemic to the mountain. Examples are the dwarf bamboo, the Benguet pine tree, native birds, bats, deer, and four species of cloud rats. It is also home to many endangered species.
Deeper into Mt. Pulag National Park are four lakes and ethnic groups Ibalois, Kalanguya, Kankana-eys, Karao, Ifugaos, and the Ilocanos. As we climbed higher the trails, we noticed how the terrain shifted from pine forest, to mossy forest, to grassland at the summit. Apparently, the grassy qualities of the peak earned its name “Pulag” or puklag meaning “bald”.
Mt. Pulag Trail Difficulty Level
Because of its long trails, climbing Mt. Pulag requires a certain level of fitness and gear preparations, especially for older individuals and those with cardiovascular diseases. Know your trail difficulty before embarking on the trip:
- Ambangeg Trail (3/9). This trail is most recommended for beginners and first-timers who can manage 8-kilometer long walks with a gradual incline. From the village jump-off point at Ranger Station in Babadak, Benguet, it usually takes 4-5 hours to make it to the summit.
For our trip, we chose the Ambangeg Trail which is easiest for beginners and first-timers, which starts at the Ranger Station in Babadak (the village jump-off point). The incline was manageable and mostly gradual in most areas. But I can only imagine that the trail difficulty will be brought up a notch during heavy rains, as the Typhoon Ompong damaged and wiped out some parts of the trail.
It took us around 4 hours to complete the entire trek until Camp 2’s Tower Station, which is the best view deck for the sea of clouds. The summit came after the sunrise. By descent, our feet felt bruised from the stones that line up the entire trail.
- Akiki Trail (7/9). Also known as the “killer trail”, it takes 10-11 hours to make it to the summit, thus requiring 2-4 days of climbing, starting at Kabayan, Benguet. The trail is characterized by steep slopes. Some of the picturesque landmarks are the Eddet River, Marlboro Country (wide brownish landscapes). The name Akiki is derived from the sound of a bird’s call.
- Tawangan Trail (6/9). Similar to Akiki Trail, Tawangan‘s jump-off point is in Kabayan, Benguet. It also requires 10-11 hours to make it to the summit, thus requiring around 3 days of climbing.
- Ambaguio Trail. The longest trail going to Mt. Pulag starts in Nueva Vizcaya. It features the Dumli-ing Falls, the highest waterfalls in Nueva Vizcaya, as well as steep assaults.
Mt. Pulag Trip Itinerary
Mt. Pulag climb via Ambangeg Trail is best done via a 2D1N trip, great for weekend warriors. It starts by leaving Manila at around before midnight on a Friday and traveling to Benguet. Here are the relevant stopovers before and after the trip:
Jangjang Hanging Bridge. Located near Jangjang Eatery, this is said to be the longest hanging bridge in Benguet at 290 meters. This stopover at Bokod is also a great place to eat breakfast and take a break from the dizzying winding roads.
Medical Certificate. The local government requires hikers to secure a medical certificate, like a “fit to climb” clearance. For those who are unable to get one in the city, know that you can have stopover to get med certs at only PHP 120.
DENR Orientation. To give a greater appreciation for the mountain — its environmental, cultural, and spiritual value to Filipinos living around it — there is a compulsory Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) orientation before the climb. Don’t mind the short detour, you’ll surely enjoy the videos and a short lecture about the trail.
Ranger Station Camping. By the afternoon, you will arrive at Babadak Ranger Station, which serves as the sole campsite during weekends (on weekdays, you can set-up at Camp 1 and Camp 2). Here your group can set up camp, wash up in the freezing cold waters, and prepare food. You can find simple amenities here including food, clothing, souvenir shops, and toilets. The best thing about Ranger Station is that it isn’t “tourist price” — most of the items being sold here are cheap!
Maliit na Burol sunset view. Just before dinner, be sure to catch the sunset at a small hill within Ranger Station. At this altitude, you can already witness a “sea of clouds” view of the sunset! The perfect way to prep for the chilly night of hiking up Mt. Pulag.
Baguio City. After packing out of the tiresome pre-sunrise climb and going back the long, winding roads of Benguet, you can take a short stopover at Lion’s Head in Baguio City to buy more souvenirs before heading back to Manila.
Tips for Mt. Pulag Beginners and First-timers
- Best time to travel. Monitoring Mt. Pulag weather is one of the things you should do before taking the trip. Know that for beginners and first-timers, the most manageable temperature is during summer months in March to May. The wettest months are from August to October. If you’re prepared for the frost, December to February are the best months for the chill.
- Camping at Mt. Pulag. Note that during weekends, you can only camp at Ranger Station. On weekdays, they allow camping at Camp 1 and 2.
- Total ride time. Expect at least 6 hours of travel time from Manila to Benguet if you are renting a van. Time does not include the frequency and duration of stopovers and breaks. It is advisable to travel late into the night to avoid traffic, especially in Manila and in Baguio City.
What to wear in Mt. Pulag
Given the temperature drops and precipitation, it is advisable that you wear multiple layers of clothes that you can add and subtract from along the way. At Ranger Station, you can still wear lighter clothes. But upon waking up for the pre-sunrise trek, be prepared to wear at least four layers of clothing — undershirts, long-sleeved rash guards or knitwear, insulation jackets, and a waterproof poncho for the rain (which happens often, so bring one!).
You will also need bonnets, beanies, gloves, and thick socks — they are not just accessories but keep your limbs warm. For bottoms, wearing leggings and cargo pants are recommended. Wearing hiking shoes is also advisable as the trail is super rocky and may strain your foot.
The great thing is — there are for sale cold weather gears at the jump-off point. Items are cheap, with insulated jackets at PHP 300-450, gloves at PHP 30-50, fancy bonnets at PHP 150-200, etc. It’s much cheaper at the Ranger Station than anywhere else. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to carry too much going to Pulag, I recommend you buy from here instead and support locals livelihood.
Things to bring in Mt. Pulag
Expect a full bag when you camp overnight the mountain. Some of the things you should bring are medicine to manage allergies, asthma, and motion sickness since the roads to the mountain are zigzagged. Given the long ascent and cold weather, bringing trail food is advisable since you will need fuel for the entire duration of the trek. Flashlights or headlamps are a must for the pre-sunrise dark. Though there is electricity at the jump-off point, you might want to bring a power bank and your own garbage bag to practice “leave no trace”.
Lastly, be sure to bring extra money since there are no ATMs near Mt. Pulag, but don’t leave valuables in your tents. You’ll can buy cup noodles, coffee, and champorado in the chilly weather. Plus, you can buy incredibly cheap vegetables at the village — something you can expect from the “salad bowl of the Philippines”!
- Contact. Message me via Facebook page to get updated private contacts of Mt. Pulag tours.
North Luzon Attractions
Mt. Pulag is a well-loved Benguet mountain that features unique cold weather, intense biodiversity, a choice among trail difficulties and a sea of clouds view all in one location. No wonder this is a favorite among Filipino mountaineers — finally, after five years, mine included.
If you have any questions, send me a PM on Facebook. I answer everything!