Climbing Mt. Pulag’s Akiki trail

Tanya Lim

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An adventurer relays her experience climbing the hardest trail up Mt. Pulag

GOLDEN HILLS. The writer takes in the view from the top of Mt, Pulag. All photos courtesy of Tanya Lim

MANILA, Philippines – What am I doing here? That was the question I kept asking myself over and over again during our 3-day hiking trip to the summit of Mt. Pulag. I was a first-time climber with zero camping experience, and our adventurous group decided to take the Akiki Trail. The sign that greeted us said it all – the difficult route.

I decided to open my mind to the trail less traveled.

And boy, was I in for a treat.

Day 1

The first day started at the drop off point at the bottom of the Akiki Trail. We were briefed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) about the dos and don’ts of climbing Mt. Pulag. I forced myself to poop and pee, because I was warned about the more fragile restroom conditions once we started. Even the simple trek to the visitor registration hut already made me catch my breath. Our climb to the riverbed afterwards was fairly easy, we were still laughing and trading stories, and not really thinking of what is to come. 

THE TRAIL. Akiki trail is the most challenging way up to Mt. Pulag's peak

What am I doing here?

I was still asking myself why I was there as we climbed up to the campsite, The Helipad. The heat was scorching. Each step was a struggle. As soon as we made it, I started pouring alcohol and scrubbing myself with wet tissues. My left leg started cramping, and stiffened in seconds. One of the climbers had to pump me with rehydration salts to relax my muscles. I work out daily, but all those squats and lunges did not prepare me for this.

I admit I felt the desire to go home to civilization, to a hot shower and a flushing toilet, but I was also struck by the beauty of Mother Nature. I wanted to turn back so many times, but I was energized at each site we stopped to rest and breathe in the scenery.

At night, as we rest our tired feet, the stars filled the sky like fireworks. I’ve never seen these many stars, so close I felt I could reach out and touch them.

WHERE THE GODS. Mt. Pulag is known among locals and tourists as the 'playground of the gods'

Day 2

We slept well, and started off our second day at a better pace. The Mossy Rain Forest was an entirely different terrain. The air was cooler, the trail was narrower with flora and fauna brushing against my ears. It reminded me of the set of Avatar. The coolness made the uphill trudge more bearable. We were in high spirits when we reached Marlboro Country, and higher still when we stopped for a lunch under the trees with water gushing out from rocks nearby.

We passed the Grasslands on the way to our campsite. The grass was up to our knees, the space so narrow there was room for only for one step after another. There was heat and wind and rain. We unrolled our raincoats to cover our backs and packs. 

It was freezing in our campsite that night, I was wearing 5 layers of clothing. We all tried to sleep, but the wind bit into our tents and straight to the bone. 

PAINT ME A SKY. The sunset is a much-anticipated event on Mt. Pulag

Day 3

We began our ascent to the summit of Mt. Pulag at 4 in the morning. We trekked chilled and half-asleep, with a vague anticipation at making it to the top.

I suspect our reaching the summit at sunrise felt the sama way a mother must feel after 24 hours of labor. There were no words could describe the serenity and joy of reaching the top, of reaching your goal. Seeing that view gave me a feeling of peace and calm. I gawked at the beds of clouds, at the brilliant colors. I sat in thankful prayer, thinking of how perfect the world is, and of how much damage we can do to it.

Life lessons that I take home

While watching our guides and porters, I realize how wonderful it was to live their lives. No GOPs, no monthly variance analysis, no quarterly reports or payrolls. Their biggest challenge was to get from Point A to Point B to survive. That was their work for the day.  When you climb Mt. Pulag, you leave all your work and internal baggage at home, and concentrate on the now. Getting from one mountain to another becomes your only focus.

DAWN. Early morning light on Mt. Pulag is like a benediction

Now I never forget to enjoy each warm bath and toilet bidet, because once you’re out in the wild and haven’t showered for days, it’s all you think about. Most importantly, I learned to take each step at a time, because eventually, you will get there.

Why was I here?

I took each step at a time and finally reached the top. 

And boy, it feels great. –

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