Mt. Ulap traverse sounds extreme for a day hike. But it’s a good way to kickstart Benguet mountain climbs with pine trees, cold weather, and rolling hills!
We did not plan on climbing Mt. Ulap. But serendipity found a way.
On the night itself at the official start of Holy Week, our Mt. Ugo traverse organizer told us that they had problems with the van. This was after we just bought our first tent, tactical pants, and rubber shoes! So at 10PM, all-set and ready to go in Cubao, we searched online frantically for an alternative trip. We came across a Mt. Ulap day hike, gave the organizer a call, and found out that it was leaving right at the minute.
So with our new toys in tow, we joined a different van still on its way to the much-loved landscapes of Benguet.
Why is it called Mt. Ulap?
The reason it’s called ulap is that the summit is a rolling hill resembling a fluffy cloud. One of the Mt. Ulap’s claim to fame is Gungal Peak, which is a rock formation that stretches above a ravine below, with the Cordillera mountains as the backdrop. You will definitely think of that famous scene from The Lion King.
Mt. Ulap is part and the highest of the Ampucao-Sta. Fe ridge. Surprisingly, it just opened its trails in 2015, yet it has become a popular Benguet mountain for hikers. At 1,846 MASL, the road begins on a zigzag round overlooking the ridges of Ampucao, Itogon, Benguet. If you came in a little later like we did, the golden sunrise can already be seen from the thick sea of clouds below. Unfortunately, we were not able to get down to take pictures. But it might be a good idea for you to travel early in order to see it!
At the jump-off point, there is registration, a short orientation, and assignment of guides — all of which are required (details below). There are three peaks, the last of which is the summit. The total traverse is about 8 kilometers total, achievalbe in 4-6 hours. Because of the usual traffic in Mt. Ulap, the local guides mentioned that only 500 mountaineers are now being allowed to enter the trail. Reservation is a must!
What a Trail to the Clouds is like
Panting at the first 10 minutes.
The beginning of the Mt. Ulap eco-trail trail entails a steep assault. Due to the heavy foot traffic and the temperate climate, some parts of the trail is soft, moist, and grassy, making it slip-prone. Still, it’s very straightforward spare for about 2-3 forks in the road that still lead to the same path.
Alas, our Mt. Ulap climb was mist-covered, rendering the distant mountain ranges and ridges invisible. Still, we liked the mysterious Twilight-esque pine tree-line trails, the simple rock formations, and the pastured cows as we make our way to the first peak. The second peak is Gungal, about another 45 minutes away, with a beautiful balcony of rocks overlooking the Itogon mines below. From here you can see various peaks such as Mt. Sto. Tomas, Mt. Cabuyao, Mt. Ugo, Mt. Pulag, and even a ghost of Baguio City. Its rock formation is a famous stop for pictures. Finally, the third peak is the curved slopes that gave Mt. Ulap its name.
The lunch stop is located just 10 minutes away from the summit. There are makeshift stores selling (gigantic!) rice, pancit canton, water, soft drinks, canned goods, and even siomai. You’ll be amazed at the Cordillera dogs, too! They have thick and shiny hair that may have helped them adapt to the chilly weather.
As you descent, the nearly 90 degrees may become a challenge. Fortunately, the locals have carved steps going down. The main challenge is for your knees not to give away because of the long way down. On the ground, you will also have to cross several bridges and walk alongside local Cordilleran communities that will give you a glimpse of their daily lives.
Of course, that’s an easy way of putting a dayhike traverse in a Benguet mountain. Bottom line is this question:
Is the Mt. Ulap day hike traverse difficult?
Although it’s not a major climb, Mt. Ulap will leave your lungs breathless and your hearts fluttering after every fifteen minutes. Traverses are always difficult because you will encounter new trails from the first, second, and third peak, up until you reach the ground. More surprises!
The trail is more difficult at the beginning because of the steep assault. But as you go along, it becomes more of a hike at a mossy, misty forest rather than a climb. The battle here is more of endurance as you go through the three peaks without making a full stop. That especially holds true at the descent where you need strong knees. At the end of the day, even our first-time hiker buddies made it through!
Mt. Ulap truly is one of the best ways to start your Benguet climbing, because it’s relatively easy at 4-6 hours day hike-able time. No need for tents, sleeping bags, porters, or elaborate cold-proof gears, unlike climbing Mt. Pulag and Mt. Ugo.Its proximity to Baguio City also makes for a good side trip to make the most out of the long drive. Its proximity to Baguio City also makes for a good side trip to make the most out of the long drive.
Ending our Serendipitous Climb
The traverse ended at Sta. Fe where we showered for a fee within the local communities. We headed for the side trip to Baguio City for dinner and short pasalubong-buying. But Josh and I opted to stay behind to further enjoy the Northern weather and its thrills.
We couldn’t be happier that we climbed Mt. Ulap. Looking back, it’s the best way to start my Benguet mountain series. Mt. Ugo may have been too difficult for now. But pretty soon, I’m sure I will conquer it too. ‘Til the next time I see you, Cordilleras!
Preparing for your Mt. Ulap eco-trail traverse
- How to commute to Mt. Ulap. From Cubao or Pasay, take the bus going to Baguio City (PHP 450 for 4-6 hour travel). From the bus terminal from Baguio City, ride a jeep going to Central Mall (minimum fare). From Central Mall, ride another jeep going to Philex Mines and get down at Ampucao Elementary School (around PHP 70 for 45 minutes).
- Recommended tour organizer. If you want to know the cheap budget tour organizer for Mt. Ulap, send me a message.
- Fees. Register at the Ampucao Barangay Hall Complex for PHP 50-100 per person. Guide fees are PHP 400-600 for a day, and are required.
- Food. The lunch stop is located just 10 minutes away from the summit. There are makeshift stores selling rice, pancit canton, water, soft drinks, canned goods, and even siomai. Bring trail food!
- Best time to visit. We climbed Mt. Ulap during Holy Week when most people go to the beach. It was almost empty! Yet because of the monsoon weather, the visibility was low. The most important must-do is a weather check prior to your trip because the rainy weather can make the trail more slippery and the views more mist-covered. But for those looking forward to the cold weather, the months of November to April may be a good time.
- What to bring. Because it is a traverse, be sure you have enough water to last you through the trail. Even though it’s chilly, wear sun protection for the open trails. If you’re clumsy, consider bringing a walking pole or buying sticks at the registration area.
- What to wear. Benguet mountains are known for the cold, so now is the time to wear jackets, scarves, and bonnets. Shoes with good traction is also a must. If you’re opting for sandals, make sure to wear socks because of the moist earth and the presence of cow dung.
- Wash up. At the Sta. Fe local community where the traverse ends (and where most rented vans and jeeps park), you may opt to use their showers for PHP 20.
- Mt. Ulap contact number. Make sure you book a reservation before climbing! The recommended group size is also 15-20 pax. Contact Brgy. Ampucao Tourism at 0998-9589549.