Friday, July 12, 2013

Mt. Bulusan | Long Live the Volcano

In the world of Philippine mountaineering, active volcanoes such as Mayon, Pinatubo, Kanlaon, Taal, Bulusan, and a lot more (remember that the Philippine Islands sit prettily on the Pacific Ring of fire, thus active volcanoes abound) are just too interesting to ignore. Characterized by having a landscape that is varying and constantly being altered by its activities, these Earth vents have truly aroused my lust for adventure. Those wide craters, hot boiling springs, steaming vents and yellowish sulfuric terrains found on its surface really makes me want to visit a volcano, not to mention, volcanoes are also a haven of unusual ecosystems.

When I hiked Mt. Pinatubo last January 2012 and saw the lake that has accumulated on its caldera, I was simply stunned. It's really incredible, a geologic wonder, not doubt. Since then, I included the Philippine Volcanoes in my ever increasing bucketlist of must-climb mountains.

Well, for some reasons, it was only last April 2013 (after a year and three months) that I managed to climb again a volcano, and once again, I was totally blown away by the experience. Mt. Bulusan, an active volcano in the province of Sorsogon (last known eruption happened in 2010), is the second in my volcano quest.


Day 1 - April 6, 2013

At long last, the grueling thirteen hour bus ride from Manila was over as we finally arrived in Sorsogon, the province in the southernmost tip of Luzon Island. Being a first timer in the province famous for the butandings, I couldn't keep my excitement the moment I stepped out of the bus. It's another one point for my Lakbayan Map. But hey, we did not come to see those swimming gentle giants, not this time at least, we came all the way from Manila just to reach another peak, or more appropriately, a crater.
Getting to Sorsogon by land can be really punishing. 12 to 13 hours on the road through 5 provinces (Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, CamSur, and Albay) is tiring and eats up too much time. There are several bus lines that go directly to Sorsogon, but as for our group, we took Elavil Bus from Araneta, Cubao, fare was 800+, all the way to Irosin, Sorsogon. You can, however, cut the travel time to at least 5 hours. If you travel by air to the nearest airport in Legazpi City (will take less than an hour from Manila), then from there, Bulusan is just 3-4 hours away by bus. You may check this link for a complete guide on how to get to Bulusan. 
After having a Bicolano style breakfast (maanghang na laing na medyo makati sa lalamunan) at Irosin Town where our bus dropped us, we traveled again by tricycle to the jump-off point at Bulusan Volcano National Park (BVNP). BVNP is still about 40 minutes away from Irosin so I guess the P200+/trike (I can't remember the exact fare) is just reasonable enough.

My friend Agnes (woohoo, salamat Agnes) had already made an arrangement with Wild Boars Phil (the group managing BVNP) a week prior to our climb so I was not that surprised when they addressed us by our names upon arrival at around 10:30 in the morning. Right away, we were asked to sign a waiver (a very smart move by BVNP), had our vital signs checked, and finally, briefed us regarding the climb.

finally arrived at BVNP. 
check-up check up din. Patay, lagi pa naman akong low blood.
we were also briefed with all the things we should know about Mt. Bulusan: the dos and dont's, locations of the water source, distances of the treks, etc. 
I should commend Wild Boars Phil for doing a very good job at managing BVNP and making the hikes in Bulusan Volcano very well organized (they're probably the most organized of all the mountains I climbed). Truly, they exemplify sustainable tourism.

Bulusan Lake

When all was set and ready for the hike, we started loading our bags on the boat. That's right people, we had to ride a boat and cross Bulusan Lake first before we could start tramping the trails of the volcano. We had two options, either we join our guides and bags in the pump boat, or we go kayaking. Of course, we chose the latter as it sounds more adventurous.

Bulusan Lake
ready to go!
kayak virgin no more!
Actually, there's a third option on reaching the other side of the lake—by foot through the path that runs on the side of the lake.

Trekking Time

Once everyone successfully traversed the lake at 11:30 AM, we wasted no time and started trekking away.

easy start
The forest trail of Mt. Bulusan is no different from the mountains of Southern Tagalog, verdant and lush.  Somehow, I saw Pico de Loro, Makiling and Cristobal while trekking. It wasn't that challenging too, the trail was pretty well established, no confusing parts encountered and the ascends were mostly gradual. It was however, very humid all the way. In fact, at some point, I got so dizzy and had a hard time breathing.

kadalasan ako ang nasa unahan, pero sa hike na ito ako ang sinu-sweep.
was really feeling bad during our trek 
luckily, it did not rain during our trek, contrary to what we've been seeing in the weather forecasts the past few days.
At around 1 PM, we reached Ranger Station (mid way) where a hexagonal hut was found. We probably stayed there for an hour to have lunch and take some rest.

the Ranger station, a hexagonal hut.
Medyo presko rin sa taas kaya hindi namin naiwasan na mag-power nap dito, pag-gising namin, halos isang oras na ang lumipas. 
Before we resumed the trek at 2 PM, each one of us planted a tree at the vicinity. Woohoo to more greens.
That's right, every Bulusan hiker is required to help BVNP in their reforestation program.

I really am impressed with the management of BVNP, all the other national parks should do the same.
From the ranger station, we trekked to Aguingay campsite for 2 hours more. This time, the forest trail has become a bit more challenging, with steeper assaults and narrow paths. Buti na lang maraming puno at ugat na makakapitan sa paligid, mas naging madali para sa amin ang trekking.

some portions were really steep and still very humid, you will just find yourself panting (maximum level) and soaked in sweat. 
We arrived at Aguingay campsite at 03:50 PM, after trekking for 3 hours. It's a wide campsite that looks like a lahar field in Pampanga. We even jokingly said, "wow, nasa Pampanga na tayo bigla." Obviously, the wide, flat, and sandy campsite is the volcano's old crater. Anyway, as soon as everyone reached the campsite, we started putting up our makeshift home for the night.

the flat Aguingay Campsite, talagang parang nasa lahar lang kami ng Pampanga 
the summit of Mt. Bulusan as seen from the campsite
 we shared the campsite with another group that day. the campsite is so wide, probably can accommodate hundreds of tents all at the same time. 
While our guides were take time to rest at the kubo (yes, there's a kubo in Aguingay), and some of us get busy setting up the camp, I started preparing my special recipe for our dinner—pizza omelette a la scrambled egg. Actually, I don't have a name for that dish that I prepared that night, basta it's a cheesy, eggy, and salty dish. Sadly, I don't have a photo to show you.

After dinner, it's time to sleep. It was still early but just ok since we have to wake up at 3 AM  the next morning to assault the crater summit.

Day 2 - April 7, 2013

We woke up in a very cold 3AM, hastily ate our breakfast and got ourselves into night trekking.

First, across the grassy flat terrain of Aguingay, then followed by a 2 hour steep ascend up to the summit area. It was still very dark so I had no idea how the forest surrounding us looks like. The starry night sky, of course, looked very promising, telling us that a clear day awaits at the summit crater.

night trekking always reminds me our long. arduous night trek in Mt. Talomo-Apo traverse. Parang na-trauma ata ako dun.
Mid way, light from the rising sun bursted on the dark sky. It was beautiful. 
the wide Aguingay campsite as seen from the trail.
that white dot in the middle-left is our camp.
malapit na!! 
Amazingly, the terrain and flora of the mountain just keeps changing as we get closer to the crater summit area. It was rapidly transforming from a mossy forest, to a grassland, then to a rocky, bouldery landscape.

vegetation diminished the closer we get to the crater area.
almost there.

The Crater Summit

It felt so great that we've finally reached the crater summit of Mt. Bulusan at 06:00 AM, and the weather turned in our favor. I was in great awe when I laid my eyes on the crater, totally, knowing that this is something very new and something that I wouldn't see in all my hiking adventures. It was definitely an exceptional experience for me, extremely very rewarding.

I was really amazed to see, for the first time, a bouldery crater summit.
can you spot the mammals?

One thing I noticed in the crater area was that there were so many 6-legged arthropods flying and crawling around. as in super dami nila, from different orders of the Class Insecta. It really tickled the biologist in me.

an insect from order Coleoptera
The spectacular view from the summit was another reason why I loved our Bulusan experience so much. The whole peninsular province of Sorsogon was clearly seen, as well as the nearby mountain range up north (Mt. Pulog). The beautiful Mt. Mayon would've been the jackpot only if the sky was just clearer that morning.

my climb buddies taking photos at the summit, with Mt. Pulog at the backdrop
the rim of Bulusan Crater
pupunta sana ako kaya lang pinag-bawalan kami nung guide.
Mt. Bulusan crater.
Before the 2010 eruption of the volcano, a lake exists on its crater. Now, there's nothing but piles of rocks and boulders.
standing 1,565 meters above sea level
the wide mouth of the volcano
We probably just stayed at the crater for an hour and 30 minutes. At 07:30 AM, we began to descend the mountain as clouds started to shroud the area. I ran down the trail, it was fun, I even stumbled towards the bushes, hehe. After an hour or so, we're back at our camp.

time to break the camp
By 10:30 AM, after breaking our camp and had a very quick lunch, we marched back to jump-off. It rained during our descend, thus limatiks came into action. But they weren't a problem, actually they make trekking extra exciting. At 12:45 in the afternoon, we arrived again at Bulusan lake.

when we saw these kids enjoying the lake, we joined them.
Before we kayaked back to BVNP center, we bathed at the lake to complete our experience
The greatest surprise in this hike came at the very end. As soon as we returned to BVNP center, hot towel and foot massage were served to us. Grabe na talaga, panalong panalo sa serbisyo ang BVNP, hindi matatawaran, sulit na sulit ang binayad kong registration fee

my weary feet loved it so much
here's a proof that I completed the hike.
finally, an obligatory group photo.

My experience in Mt. Bulusan is definitely one of my top favorites, unforgettable and to be treasured. Everything was purely awesomeness. Because of this hike, I learned to appreciate volcanoes even more. Woohoo to my very memorable 39th mountain.  

Special thanks to Tramping Philippines, Wild Boars Philippines, and Bulusan Volcano National Park. 


  1. it's all part of the registration fee.

  2. never climbed a volcano before. this one's a must-try.

  3. Is there a resident volcanologist at Bulusan?

  4. magkano registration fee? do you have a separate entry for your expenses? Thanks!

    1. I have not created that page yet. But to answer your question, registration fee was P300.

  5. The Philippines is a rugged land traversed by many mountain ranges which makes it famous as one of the best hiking spots in the world.

  6. hi sir, may contact po ba kau sa park manager ng mt. bulusan? plano nmn akyatin yan dis holy week. thanks

  7. Hello Sir, pa share naman po ng contact details ng park manager sa Mt. Bulusan. Thanks..

  8. Never seen a volcano up-close. This is probably a good opportunity for me to see one in bulusan volcano natural park. Also, its good to know that the park conducts medical check-ups (Low blood din ako!) This will be a good adventure!

  9. kaya ng 3year old kid?



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