Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mt. Pulag | The Challenge and Beauty of Akiki and Tawangan

"When we were trekking Akiki Trail last weekend, I was mumbling, 'bakit ba ako nagpapakahirap ng ganito kung meron namang Ambangeg Trail? (why do I have to suffer this when there's an easier Ambangeg trail)' Oh, Akiki Trail, you're so worthy to be called 'the killer trail of Pulag'. Tawangan Trail, on the other hand, is totally different, simply mesmerizing."
This was my FB status upon returning home from our 2-day Pulag Traverse via Akiki-Tawangan. It felt so great, to experience both the challenge and beauty of Mt. Pulag's trails in just one go. As my mentor has pointed out, Mt. Pulag Traverse via Akiki-Tawangan is one of the best hiking experiences in the Philippines, but certainly not for the weak (should you do it in just two days).

I've accomplished and seen the greatness of the summit of Mt. Pulag via Ambangeg trail, and it was definitely a very rewarding experience. It was like seeing a piece of heaven on earth, truly memorable. But then, that wonderful summit is just one part of my Pulag Dream. I dare say that experiencing the other trails, especially the "killer trail", will make my dream a whole.

More than a year after experiencing Pulag for the first time, Al, a friend from Sabit-Sabit Mountaineers group, invited me to join their Mt. Pulag climb. It was originally an Akiki-Ambangeg Traverse but soon changed to Akiki-Tawangan as we were inspired by Doc Gideon's successful 2-day traverse of Mt. Pulag using that trail. Two great trails in one go?!! Who wouldn't want? There's no reason for me to turn down such a wonderful opportunity to finally climb not one, but two interesting trails of Mt. Pulag.


Saturday - May 4, 2013

"Akiki trail at last!" said my psyche while on a ride bound for the jump-off of Akiki trail. It was 8:00 in the morning, positive vibe was lingering, kept everyone at high despite the long winding ride on the mountainous Benguet. And the sky, it looked so great, an awesome hike was ahead of us for sure.

Akiki Trail
Hiking up Mt. Pulag via Akiki Trail is one of the more challenging (in terms of tiring assault) I've done in my entire hiking career, seriously. So worthy of its nickname "the Killer Trail" of Mt. Pulag. It's no joke (lalo na kung gagawin mong day hike), it'll suck all your strength, gonna test your patience to the fullest, and will push you to your very limit. Not that I'm discouraging you to try this trail, but rather giving you some hints that Akiki is not for the unprepared, impatient and weak. So if Akiki trail crossed your mind, prepare accordingly.
It was 8:30 AM when we arrived at the jump-off of Akiki Trail. I was feeling nothing but pure excitement until I noticed a sign board which I think was quite intimidating. It says "Difficult Route".

Upon arriving at the jump-off, we were welcomed by a 'quite intimidating' sign board.

Ignoring the signboards, we walked up the concrete steps to the visitors' center to assemble, register and pay the necessary fees before finally submitting ourselves to the long walk of pain. When I checked the logbook, it was very obvious (and I'm not really surprised) that not many take this trail compared to Ambangeg Trail (or the Tourist Trail of Mt. Pulag).

Akiki Visitors' Center
Excited and very ecstatic, we commenced with the hike at 9AM. A trail dotted by a multitude of tall pines marks the beginning of Akiki trail. It's rolling and not so steep, one can trek through it without exerting too much effort. But still I cannot put myself off guard, constantly conditioning my mind just so Akiki's overwhelming trail won't kill me by surprise. Without minding the 14 kilo load I was carrying, I went on happily and seemingly not losing an once of energy (optimism does work lalo na kung medyo challenging ang trail).

through the pine trail
strong ladies taking the Akiki Trail
just one more final descent to Edet River
Akiki trail can be partitioned into three stages: first is the jump-off to Edet River which can be classified to easy to moderate; second is from Edet river up to Marlboro country which for me is the most challenging stage; then lastly, the mossy forest part, which runs from Marlboro up until you reach the grassy summit area. Water source exist in every stage of Akiki trail, so hydration is really not a problem.
As we were taking the trail towards Edet river, midday sun caught up. This of course brought extra challenge to the supposed easy to moderate trail which we took for an hour and a half. Right before we met the final descent to Edet River at around 10:30 AM, a magnificent view of the gorging river was seen. Sounds of rage were also heard, as if forewarning us that pursuing would only mean great torment. But ironically, we've become more excited upon seeing Edet river.

approaching Edet River
By crossing Edet River, time was 10:40 AM, we ended the first stage of the day's trek. We walked over a wobbling bridge and ended up in an ideal campsite at the banks of Edet. It was here where we decided decided to take early lunch (kelangan na namin mag-ipon ng lakas because we know that the true challenge of Akiki now stands before us).

beside the waters of Edet that was cold and raging, we had our first major break. Lunch time it is!
Past 11:20 AM, we carried on towards the next stage of Akiki Challenge—the endless assault up to Marlboro Country.

It was as steep as the Pyramids of Giza, and each step we take was agonizingly difficult. I can remember how slowly we dragged ourselves over the pine forest trail just to reach the higher ground. Every 5 steps would mean 5 minutes rest. It was around 12 noon so the cooling effect of the high altitude was totally negated. Patience was tested to the fullest and our limits was pushed to the farthest extent. I felt great stress on both my legs while dealing on this trail, I almost gave up, buti na lang kinaya ko.

mukha ng paghihirap
pine forest trail of Akiki, though challenging, was really beautiful
Nevertheless, this steep difficult assault looked awesomely beautiful with the pine trees around and its fallen needles at the ground. Visible also are the nearby mountains for the Cordillera, and the most recognizable is Mt. Timbak (Luzon's 3rd highest).

We only had three major stops in the entire assault since we target to reach the Akiki campsite before the sun bows down. One in the campsite known by many as the Helipad, another in a place under tall pine trees where we probably had a 30 min break (I myself managed to take a power nap here, hehe), last was at Marlboro Country where the second water source is located. All in all, we took the challenging Akiki assault for 4 hours.

pine trees overload
a place to take a rest at Marlboro Country.
Upon reaching Marlboro Country (end of the challenging stage of the Akiki Trail), clouds started to creep through the forests of Mt. Pulag. Temperature began to drop and signs that rain will pour soon started to show up. We rested only for a bit, then continued with our trek as soon as everyone replenished their water at the nearby source.

From Marlboro, a short steep upward trail led us to the third stage of Akiki, which is the mossy forest trail. Just like any other mossy forest, what I saw in Akiki was magical, a forest that's so alive. However, rain poured the moment we entered the forest. I was feeling so cold and damp, thus cannot fully focus on appreciating and taking snapshots of the forest's beauty.

Akiki's mossy forest trail, the third and final stage before you enter the grassy summit area.
The chilly and misty atmosphere in the forest shrouded us all while we're trekking. I moved pretty slow as I started to feel again Pulag's freezing air, quite nostalgic from my first Pulag experience.

just one final rest before hitting the last few meters to the summit area
Our hike inside the mossy forest lasted only for 2 hours. And by 05:30 PM, we reached the grassy summit area. This final stretch of Akiki trail was still too challenging for us, our bodies whose energy was almost totally depleted were battered heavily by rain drops and cold breeze. I struggled.

almost at the saddle camp
Gladly, we still managed to arrive at the Saddle Campsite just right in time. And as soon as we arrived, the rain stopped. But still, the campsite was filled with numbing cold air. If only I got a measuring device to read the sudden drop of temperature that time. Mt. Pulag did not fail to show off its reputation (of having a too cold temperature).

After the quick dinner prepared by friends, I entered our tent and finally rested my weary body. It has been a very busy day for us at Akiki, and I know that more awaits tomorrow. Lights off.

Sunday - May 5, 2013

I woke up early in the morning to prepare everyone's breakfast. Many stars were twinkling as the velvet sky was so clear. A promise that a sea of clouds will show up to steal many hearts.

However, that morning, I realized something that's too unfortunate. I grabbed my cam to prepare it for some morning shots at the campsite, but I found out that it isn't working anymore (it did not survive Pulag's cold). That's right, my camera sadly met its end at the Saddle campsite of Mt. Pulag. sighs

As much as I want to whine on this ill-fated event, I kept myself busy and reserved my emotions for later. That's why beyond the Saddle Camp, all photos are not mine.

The Summit

Before the sun bursts its light upon the dark sky and over the sea of clouds, we started to break the camp, munch quickly our breakfast, prepare to move out for the summit. The time was 5:30 in the morning.

Since I have witnessed already the beauty of Pulag's summit at the dawn, I was not too keen on pursuing it that morning. I, together with 3others, volunteered to stay at the campsite to wrap things up, while others went on to chase the sunrise. Clearing at the summit, however, lasted only for a few minutes. While clearing our camp, a huge chunk of clouds came and eaten the whole summit area. It was so damn bad for the first timers, sea of clouds turned aloof that morning.  

Then at 6AM, the remaining 4 of us followed the rest of the team on to the summit.

Sunrise at Mt. Pulag
Foggy summit when we arrived. No sea of clouds for the day
Although the morning fog slightly covered the summit area during the sunrise, it soon diffused to the thin air, revealing the nearby mountains such as Mt. Timbak, Mt. Amuyao, Mt. Tabayoc, Mt. Napulauan, as well as Mt. Kalawitan. Of course, seeing these neighboring Cordillera peaks made me drool while trekking.

it was only our team who descended Mt. Pulag via Tawangan Trail that day.
Some people call the rolling grassland of Mt. Pulag the playground of the gods.
one last group shot before entering the enchanting mossy forest of Tawangan trail
From the rolling grassy hills of the summit area, we entered again a mossy forest. And from thereon, we're in Tawangan Trail.  

Tawangan Trail
Tawangan Trail is one of the four main trails of Mt. Pulag located at the north. It features an amazing mossy forest, filling up at least 90% of the entire trail. Evidently, the ecosystem in this side of Mt. Pulag is vibrant and alive. Also, the mountaineers' creeping little friend— the limatiks— shows dominance in this trail.
It's a total different world upon entering the mossy forest of Tawangan trail. Green fuzzy moss covers almost every surface in the forest, it's so amazing. I fell into silence most of the time. (arrgghh. I'm out of adjectives now)

trekking inside the mossy forest of Tawangan trail is one of the best experiences in the cordilleras.
Tawangan trail is mostly descending and unlike Akiki, it's not so steep. I can't say it was challenging for there's not a moment that I felt so challenged. I enjoyed Tawangan trail entirely. Simply beautiful, simply magical.

enchanted forest it is
Tawangan trail is one of the mossiest trail I ever encountered.
Limatiks, the nuisances of many mountains, however, also prevail in this trail, especially in the deep mossy areas near the streams. And although they move pretty slow in this mountain, unlike their bothers in the Southern Tagalog region, one still managed to get through my strong senses and bit me at my foot. 

After 6 hours, we finished already the day's trek. It was a pleasant surprise 'cos I expected a much longer trail. Our descent ran from 7AM until we reached Tawangan Village at around 1PM. awesome!

walking at the final stretch of Tawangan Trail
Tawangan Village marks the finish line of our two-day traverse.

Doc Gideon was right. Upon completing Mt. Pulag Traverse via Akiki-Tawangan, you'll realize that it is the best Pulag experience. It was so worth it. My Pulag Dream was greatly fulfilled.


2-day Mt. Pulag via Akiki-Tawangan - Success!

I owe this wonderful experience to Sabi-Sabit Mountaineers, especially to Al Veloria who spearheaded the event. You guys rock! I also thank everyone who joined the event: Pong, Mam Joy, Mam Tanya, Mam Ron, Sir Genisis, Arj, Dawn, and Sir Kevin. 

Special thanks also to Sir Kevin and Dawn for letting me use their photos.

I must mention too that in this hike, I found my special someone. 

For more info regarding our budget and itinerary, please follow this link: Pulag Akiki-Tawangan itinerary.


  1. Thanks! It was a great and unforgettable adventure indeed! And what a way to found your special someone! Hahahah! Cheers to that!!!

  2. can't wait to see a feature story on that "special someone"....hahahaa

  3. best blog about pulag!

  4. We'll be here over the weekend sir! Nice blog! Hope you could drop by my blog too. =)

  5. Hello! I can't view your itinerary. Hehe we're planning to take akiki-tawangan trail din kasi. Hope you can send it to me :) Thank you! :)

  6. Great blog! Waiting for the "special someone" story, :D

  7. Nice the way..the link for the itinerary is not working..

  8. nice blog.. hope to do this one day



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