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Friday, 4 August 2017

Celebrating Freedom in the Peaks of Mt. Ulap



If you think you're bad at being happy, you probably are. And if you think hiking a mountain can invoke that happiness you desire, it probably could. 

You see, the great Greek philosopher Thucydides understood it very well. Having the courage to take on challenges (like a mountain traverse) is liberating, and this freedom leads to happiness. 

Well, I'm NOT saying hiking is the ONLY way to happiness. But you bet it leads the way. It helps you realize two important truths — you are capable and you are very lucky to be in this world. 



Mt. Ulap Day Hike

In this year's Independence Day, I decided to traverse Mt. Ulap via Ampucao - Sta. Fe trail with Professional Mountaineer Drew Rivera and the "Kalayaan Team". The hike level of this mountain is said to be 3 - that is ideal for first timers and beginner hikers. While the hike level is pretty low, the benefits of hiking Mt. Ulap could go over 10. 


Most people prefer to hike Mt. Ulap in summer but in case you wonder how it's like in June or in a rainy season just read through.





Relevant information you must know to decide on or prepare for Mt. Ulap Day Hike: 

TRAIL NAME:  Ampucao - Sta. Fe
HIKE DATE: June 12, 2017
MEETING POINT: McDonalds, Quezon Avenue MRT Station, Quezon City
MEETING TIME: June 11, 2017 9:00PM
RETURN to Manila: June 12, 2017 9:00PM (approx)
HIKE LEAD:  Drew Rivera
HIKE GUIDE: Edu Losnong
HIKE LEVEL: Level 3  (First time hikers, beginners, some kids, most teens, dogs)
HIKE DISTANCE: 9 km
HIKE DURATION: 4-8 hours
POINTS OF ATTRACTION: Gungal Rock, pine ridges, mountain range, grassland ridges, Camp site
HIKE FEE: Php 1200

The Meet Up (a.k.a. settling of payments) 


I arrived at the meet up point with my cousin on time. MRT ride was a smarter choice for us than Uber since we came from EDSA Shaw. These days, traffic jam in Metro Manila can make you lose your wit.

At McDonalds, I met Kalayaan team: Drew, our team leader; Ms. Pia of Travelbook; Kamille, a balikbayan traveler from Winnipeg; Agave, a sweet girl from Bulacan (if I remember correctly); Mike, Pia's friend; Lady, my friend; Marlon Kim, my cousin; Aze and her hubby; Carl the emo heartthrob; Eman the engineer; Eman's friends from Cabuyao or (Marawi?). I enumerated everyone because after the hike, I felt close to them and managed to keep in touch on Facebook.

Before we got on the van, the team settled the remaining payment for the hike fee. For arranged events like this, it is normal to make a P500 down payment via BPI bank transfer/ BDO deposit or Cebuana Luilliher (IDK the correct spelling). Rest is settled on the day of meet up.

“How many times have you climbed mountains?” Some fellow hikers asked.

I wanted to say 7 but I knew Mt. Tomamu in Hokkaido doesn't count since I didn’t literally hike my way to its summit. We took a gondola to get to it same with Mt. Gozaisho in Mie and Wakakusayama Summit in Nara.

In the Philippines, I've trekked some mountains mostly from my hometown. I'm grateful to be among those provinciated kids who were immersed in outdoor activities like hiking during childhood. This year, I trekked Mt. Balungao and hiked to Diket Falls in eastern Pangasinan.

While I don’t consider myself a professional mountaineer, I am prepared for long hours of hike. Thanks to my lunges and hill climb workout, I could count on my leg muscles any time.

Getting Ready to Hike


Our hike lasted for 7.5 hours. I checked it through photo logs. I am sure half of this was dedicated to photography.

AT 11:00 PM


So after the meet up at McDonald's Quezon Ave, we headed straight to the north and arrived at our first stop over at around 11 o'clock - Leeza's Restaurant at Sison, Pangasinan. Here we took our midnight snacks/ late dinner. You can buy: Arroz Caldo for P40; Boiled Peanuts for P20 per order; Boiled Egg for P15; Instant Noodles for less than P50; Rice meals for less than P100.

FIRST STOP OVER: Leeza's Restaurant at Sison, Pangasinan

At this restaurant, I was able to charge my phone from the outlet near our table. Travelers can buy pasalubong here as well as some travel necessities such as hat, scarf, sun glasses ALTHOUGH I recommend you do your last minute shopping at Ampucao Barangay Hall. Raincoats/ Ponchos are sold for P200 pesos there, gloves or beanies for P100, walking stick for P100.

AT 3:00 AM 


We arrived at Ampucao Barangay Hall at around 3 AM. If you ask if we were able to have a good night sleep, I'm telling you NO. For pressed schedule like this, sacrificing sleep is expected. At the very least you can take short naps.

Protip: Bring a neck pillow to make your nap as comfortable as possible.

Inside Ampucao Barangay Hall, there are makeshift stalls where travelers can buy hike necessities I mentioned earlier, coffee, snacks, and some souvenirs. There are toilets too.

Before we started hiking, we cleaned up, registered, met our hike guide, had the hike orientation led by our team lead, and PRAYED! Read about hike etiquette here.

At 4:00 AM


The hike to Mt. Ulap officially began at 4 in the morning. We walked outside. It was drizzling, cold, and totally dark. I proved it is important to bring flash light!

From left to right: (1) Team lead Drew and Hike Guide Edu WOW (2) Me and Lady's head lamp (3) Me in a trash bag LOL and my friend Lady 

Hike Through the Changing Hues


There are at least six interesting points in Mt. Ulap.  Each point is uniquely attractive and is sure to make hikers' time on the trail more amusing rather than tiring. 


BARANGAY HALL – PHILEX ROAD

Truth be told, I didn't bring any flashlight or raincoat with me even if they were on the 'to-bring list. If you can imagine an early morning ascent on a rainy day without these things seems like a bad idea. Luckily, my friend let me use her head lamp. And I got some large trash bags......

The walk along the Philex road could be eerie when you're alone. But no need to worry because there are always a number of hikers taking on Mt. Ulap.

The first challenge is the uphill climb on a steep concrete cement. If you survive trudging this path, you'd be fine with the succeeding slopes.

The trail could be very muddy and slippery but you can always find a way to prevent your feet from being soaked in mud.

After 25 minutes of hike, we arrived at the Ampucao - Sta. fe signage. During this time, I felt the need to take off the trash bag... LOL I felt hot and also the sky was beginning to light up LOL Hikers might see my odd OOTD.

GARBAGE BAG FREE LOL

AMBANAO PAOAY 1788 MASL

From the trail head to this first peak took a few hours. I refer to this as a trek to the woods. It reminded me of the movie Twilight because of the tall Pine trees and thick fog. In some parts, the fog was subtle, we were able to take awesome photos!

Posing to the camera for a bit
weird photo but I like my hat here
It's hazy like this
Team Kalayaan at AMBANAW PAWAY Peak
The Girl with the Muji Hat at Ambanaw Paway Peak

GUNGAL 1814 MASL

The trail to Gungal Peak included grassy cliff paths. It is still foggy and slippery, therefore hikers are strongly advised to practice caution especially when tempted to take selfies or live video. A slight misstep to the left could be detrimental.


Some parts made it seem like we were in a jungle adventure... We were surrounded with vines and bushes. Ferns are every where. I saw varieties of wild flowers and Pitcher plants... and I tasted some wild berries!

Into the jungle...

Pitcher plant or not???

Just goofin' around...

So some of us didn't know about this Korean heart thing...

I'm just busy picking something to fill my tummy...

Approximately 3 hours of hike led us to Gungal’s Peak.

Hello Hello from Gungal Peak!

At 7:26 AM we had to reapply sunscreen!!!!!!

when sun screen is life. . .


GUNGAL ROCK

The Gungal Rock is an interesting point of attraction in Mt. Ulap. Though I must say, it is very dangerous posing in this overhang.

Took the photo on the left somewhere online... My picture is on the right.. Well... you can tell... it was really cloudy... x_x
We took our lunch around this area. I loved how the view made my heart skip a beat: in front of me was a stunning view of the mountain and a bit to my right, people posing on the Gungal Rock. For the latter part, I almost screamed and felt out of breath. It was something I wouldn't wanna watch while eating Adobo and rice.  

HIKE TO THE SUMMIT 

I realized, even if you don't force yourself to be friends with fellow hikers on the trail, friendship could build up naturally. It could be due to the shared laughs and stories along the way or acts of kindness such offering snacks or help whenever needed. That being said, I felt I have become close to the members of our team.

Glad was able to make new friends from our hike

The trail from Gungal peak to Mt. Ulap summit made me more interested because of (more) wild berries LOL and lovely flowers.

Another interesting sight were the cows munching on the verdant mountain grass...

I can't exactly remember how long it took before we got to the summit. Maybe 20 or 30 minutes?

Team Kalayaan at Mt. Ulap summit

AT MT. ULAP SUMMIT 1846 MASL

At the summit, everybody seemed to have been rejuvenated. I don't wonder why. The view from the summit is energizing. It wouldn't fail to make anyone feel alive more than ever.

Jump shots at Mt. Ulap 

Another reason I see is that sense of fulfillment. The fact that you were able to overcome challenging trails fuels you to take on more.

For me, there are two things things that make me ecstatic about reaching the summit : One is being face to face with clouds, another is the realization of how little I am.

The Girl with the Muji Hat at Mt. Ulap summit

A huge pack of clouds in front of you is a rare beauty to behold. Perhaps the best place to contemplate or reflect on your life is at this humbling place - faced with enormous cluster of clouds, swept by the cold mountain breeze - where time seems to slow down a bit and everything you see moves you in a positive way.

I'm feeling the earth...

A pleasant reminder of how small we are could be grasped at the summit of any mountain. You see the vast view of land masses and the endless sky, and you realize what a tiny place you occupy compared to what you see. And I believe it's enough reason to keep you grounded and grateful.


Descent to Sta. Fe 


At 10:22 AM, we began traversing down to Sta. Fe Ridge. The trail here is paved with wooden steps and railings.


The descent was filled with pressure exerted to our heels. It was equally challenging especially when the sun was finally up and shining. On the positive side, the natural light worked miracles in our photos. LOL

The trek down from the summit provided more photo opportunities with beautiful landscapes in the form of green hills. Though I think the wind could be inexorably strong on the top of these hills. I will never recommend bringing an umbrella.

The hills are alive... with... the... sound.. of.. our laughter!

PONG-OL BURIAL CAVES

Among the points of attractions in Mt. Ulap is the Pongol Burial Cave. I didn't dare take pictures, but the site that we saw had bones apparent of a human. The indigenous people of Benguet still practice this traditional burial rite.

Half-way through our descent, we stopped over some makeshift stalls to buy souvenirs like t-shirts and ref magnets, also coconut juice as refreshment.





STA. FE RIDGE

The trek down was faster (or so it seemed to me). We arrived at Sta. Fe Ridge at 11:38 AM. This was according to the selfie log on my iPhone.

There were hanging bridges we needed to cross. Towards the very last, I stopped by another makeshift stall and bought limes. This local lime was P50 a pack (10 pieces) but I realized the cost was the same as the ones sold in Baguio City market. The local lime is called DUKUS by the way.

The Girl with the Muji Hat on a hanging bridge

The hike ended with a cold shower at local toilets in Sta. Fe. Hikers can freshen up in these makeshift bathrooms for a fee of P20. It is important to note that these toilets are crude but effective. Hikers must bring his or her own toiletries and towel.


Hiking Tips


It feels good to get lost in the right direction they say and I agree, especially if you are well-equipped! So before you get lost in the beauty of Mt. Ulap, here are some tips for you:

1. Prepare yourself before the hike. Make sure that you have enough exercise so your body will not be in shock when you do something strenuous.
2. Secure your gadgets with plastics. In case it rains, they will be protected.
3. You can bring a rain coat or prefer to buy from the shops in the registration hall. For a pair it will cost Php 200.
4. Bring snacks to load you up during your hike. Best would be chocolates, nuts, fruits like pineapple or apples or turnips.
5. Water is a necessity. Bring at least 1 liter. In my case I brought 2 liters plus 3 bottles of Gatorade. I only consumed 2 bottles of Gatorade. I consumed all the water.
6. Bring trash bag for your trash.
7. If you are a first-time hiker, you can use a walking stick as a support for some slippery and steep areas. Walking sticks are sold at Ampucao Barangay Hall for P100.
8. Take lots of pictures but be careful in some accident prone areas like edge of a cliff or an overhang.
9. Always follow your guide's instructions.
10. Practice courtesy and discipline. Enjoy the hike responsibly.


Parting Words


Traversing Mt. Ulap in Itogon, Benguet reveals a spectacular mix of trails. The contrast between one track after another makes it a fairly interesting hiking destination. Its summit gives a majestic view of the Cordilleras mountain range – as lovely as the personality of the Ifugaos and as vast as the hospitality of the Filipino people in general.

Hiking this humbling mountain may be physically demanding for beginners or first-time hikers but the experience along the way and the view at the Peaks and the summit make it all worthwhile. Hiking Mt. Ulap in the rainy month of June is worthwhile!

I can say that this is the most enjoyable climb I've had so far. I recommend you try it! A day hike to Mt. Ulap in any season sounds like a good plan!



Ever hiked during rainy season? What is your best climb so far? Have you tried traversing Mt. Ulap? If you haven’t, would you love to take on Mt. Ulap in Benguet? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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