Mt. Pulag, the 3rd highest peak in the Philippines (2,922 MASL), is without doubt one of the most popular hiking/camping destinations in the country, thanks to Ambangeg trail which makes it more like a walk in the park than a climb.
sunny day in Ambangeg
The actual hike starts at Badabak Ranger station [accessible by jeepney from Baguio] which is already at a high altitude - that means less elevation gain. The trail is mostly flat up until you reach the edge of the tropical forest.
The eight (8) or so kilometers from the ranger station to the summit can be hiked for about 4 hours on the average, depending on trail conditions [it gets muddy when it rains].
The first segment of the hike passes through vegetable farms. One of our guides casually mentioned: "I got some carrots and cabbages down there", pointing to some farmland below the trail we were on.
It got me thinking where the farmland ends and where the national park begins. One of the main reasons for designating the area as national park was to preserve the environment [Pulag is home to various species of birds, fruit bats, cloud rats, to list a few] and guard against increasing conversion of agricultural land.
The Ambangeg trail could well be Pulag's bane. Its accessibility could also be detrimental: on a typical weekend several dozen hikers pass through this trail, hundreds during the peak of the hiking season [dry season between Nov - May]. A weekend Pulag adventure is now one of the "cash cows" of many travel agencies who bring tourists there by the bus loads.
It won't be long before the trail shows visible signs of wear and tear. Shouldn't there be a defined climbing season? Climbing/hiking will only be allowed during that particular window. That way there will be time for the trails to recover.
Campsites can get crowded too. Ad hoc campsites always has the possibility of turning into permanent ones. In other national parks, sadly not in the Philippines, there is a controlled number of hikers in a trail or campsite at any given time.
You can't just show up and pitch your tent anywhere you want, you have to book in advance and you will be restricted in pitching your tent in the particular area you are assigned to.
uncrowded camp 2 - very rare
But of course you cannot just categorically deny folks access to one of nature's grandest sceneries, nor attempt to curtail the locals' rights to eke out a living. Balance, always a tricky thing. Some folks would certainly cry: "Unfair! We have the right to be there". But think about it for a moment unfair for us or unfair for the mountain?
sunset at Camp 2
See more of Pulag here