Philippines Travel

Mt. Ulap Changed My Feelings About Mountain Climbing

It was a trip that almost didn’t happen for me because I was late. You see, sometimes, I don’t know how to say no. On the evening of my trip to Benguet, I said yes to a friend when she asked to see me. I should have said no, then I wouldn’t be so late during the assembly for the Mt. Ulap climb. Now that I mentioned it, I am now going to say no to some things especially if they are going to conflict with a plan.

Anyhoo, so there I was late on a motorbike, gripping the driver’s shoulders so he would drive faster. My phone rang a few times, the organizer was trying to find out where the hoot I was. It was a Friday night, the traffic was horrible, getting an Uber was like me getting a boyfriend, nil. Hence, the habal-habal, which by the way, is now illegal, no thanks to LTFRB. I’m not gonna share how I managed to get a motorbike though.

I’m not sure how late I was (probably an hour) so even when I wanted to pee, I decided against it when I reached the meeting place, a McDonalds somewhere in Ortigas. It was embarrassing, to say the least, I didn’t know a soul in this group. We went out right away to the waiting van that would take us to Benguet. It was around 11 in the evening.

I was lucky to sit by the window, I had something to lean on to catch some zzs. It was a 6-hour drive to Baguio, we were climbing a mountain, I had to get some sleep. Notwithstanding the fact that the leg space was too cramped, I had to bend my knees against the backrest, I managed to sleep a few hours. We stopped at a Jollibee somewhere in Pampanga and we were there for quite a while. It didn’t occur to me that we were waiting for two more people until they eventually arrived. I had my hood on, in a half-asleep state, when a woman got in the van, smiled at me, and reached out to kiss me on the cheek; it was my friend, Trisha (P.S. I’m On My Way).

It seems like she was excited to see me as I much as I was to see her again. We haven’t seen each other for more than a year after she left for Israel. She’s now back in the country, this time, not alone. And she took along her boyfriend on this hiking trip.

While everyone else was sleeping, Trisha and I played catch-up. She said that she had forgotten that I was coming on this trip. I made a face because she was the one who convinced me to go and there she was telling me she’d forgotten that I’d be there.

I think we talked for less than an hour, she said that they are now based in Zambales, her hometown. Trisha and I don’t get to talk on a daily basis, but I have no doubt that she treats me as a friend. She said that it’s our anniversary and we were going back to the place where we first met, Baguio.

And I was like, oh yeah, it is our anniversary. A year ago, we were roommates in a bloggers fam trip in the City of Pines. And now we are climbing a mountain, this friendship just upped a level.

At around 7 in the morning, we reached Baguio and stopped at Good Taste for breakfast. I could hardly taste the food, that’s what happens when I hardly had any sleep. We were there for an hour or so before we pushed to Itogon, Benguet. It was another one hour on the road, we took the chance to catch more sleep.

There were lots of climbers on that day, they were waiting inside a covered court that serves as the jump-off point. I started getting chummy with my seatmate, Krish, a tall girl who dyed her hair blonde. We went in line to use the restroom. There is a payment of ₱5 ($0.10). When she reached out to pick a roll of tissue from this little box on atop a table, the old man who was collecting the payment of the guests threw a fit. He said that he would have given her a tissue if only she asked, which, by the way, Krish did, but apparently, he didn’t hear her.

I mention this because it would serve you better to know that the locals there are not friendly; do manage your expectations. Also, they take shit from no one. Doesn’t matter if you are a tourist, you violate their rules, they are going to give you hell. For instance, we learned that it is forbidden to smoke at Mt. Ulap. One of us wanted to smoke (so bad), but the guide would have none of it. So much so that he would tail her just to make sure she wouldn’t light a cig. That’s how hardcore he is. Also, they take the leave-no-trace policy to heart. Tourists are not allowed to leave their trash behind, not even in any of the trash bins in the area. Someone in our group had thrown her garbage in a bin and do you know what happened? A local came over and instructed her to pick the trash from the bin. I wish I am kidding, but nope, that’s how serious they are about managing the waste in this area.

It may seem harsh, but when you think about it, it makes sense. This way, the communities around the area don’t have to deal with a lot of waste. Because of this effort, Mt. Ulap is noticeably cleaner than any of the mountains I have ever hiked. With that said, please be mindful of this policy so as not to offend the people in the area.

Let’s go to the hike itself. The trail started with a paved road. To me, this is bad news because, in my experience, it is more difficult to climb a concrete road than dirt. It is one of the reasons I hated that climb to PAGASA station in Baler.

The entire climb itself is generally easy, just because it had a lot of flat terrains, thus less assault. I can’t give you a fair estimate on how long does it take to finish the climb because we stopped many times to do some picture taking. Because Krish and I practically climbed together, I had an instant Instagram-buddy. We would stop every so often to take pictures.

The entire group took the time to pause and snap photos to the chagrin of our female guide. She looked rather unhappy whenever we took a break and she would leave us behind whenever we continued the trek.

I didn’t really care, I mean can you blame us? The view in this mountain is spectacular. The green expanse, the pine trees that hugged the side of the mountain, and the established trail that is long but not too difficult to tread. Normally, I don’t stop to smell roses when I climb a mountain. This time, I indulged, because Mt. Ulap’s beauty is not something you can resist.

We encountered several trail runners along the way. Trisha made a habit of announcing, “Runners coming through”, whenever we bumped into them.   

The most photographed spot on this mountain is not the summit, it’s the Gungal rock formation. People literally line up just to pose atop this huge inclined rock on the side of the cliff. It looks scary if you view it from afar. We ate our packed lunch, followed by a nap while waiting for our turn to pose on Gungal. As I drifted off to sleep, I debated with myself whether I’d go at Gungal. I have a fear of heights, how much of my courage do I need to summon to go up there.

When our turn came, I followed the group with a fuck-it attitude. I was already there, I might as well do it. It helped to watch other people do it to build up a courage. Most of them even walked rapidly on the inclined rock like they would on a flat surface. Each person is only given 15 seconds to pose on that rock. There is an old man who would blow the whistle to signal the end of their turn. I think that’s a pretty clever way of managing the tourists and to ensure that everyone would have a chance.

Then my turn came. Our male guide held my hand and walked me to the edge of the rock. Most people would stand up for a better picture, not me, I was too scared to dare. To me, it was enough that I swallowed my fear to do the mandatory picture taking atop Gungal rock. I’m already proud of myself for doing it considering I have fear of heights.

Before I knew it, my turn was finished. The guide return to fetch me and I walked just as slowly as the first time.

The challenge was far from over. We did a traverse and had to trek for 3 hours more to get back to the foot of the mountain. Most people from our group suffered from a sunburn. I thought I didn’t burn my skin until I washed my face and felt my skin sting. It was nothing serious though because I had the mind to wear sunblock.

Our climb was arranged by a travel group and we each paid ₱2,600 ($45.36). The Mt. Ulap climb, however, is not that hard to DIY. You just have to travel to Itogon, Benguet, pay a registration fee of ₱100 ($1.97), and ₱400 ($7.89) for the guide. The trail is long, it took us 6 hours to complete the climb.

Note: PHP to USD conversion is based on Jan 2018 exchange

I can no longer say I hate climbing mountains, not after conquering 11 of them. The thing that sealed the deal is Mt. Ulap. It is so far my most favorite climb.  

I used to roll my eyes at every story that claims mountain climbing helped them grew as a person. Now I know that that it’s true. There is something about conquering a mountain that changes a person. You get to burn some calories, you get to bond or meet new friends, and you get to prove to yourself that if you set your mind to something, you can definitely achieve it.

Mt. Ulap features

Mt. Ulap is classed a 1/3 in difficulty. It’s about 1,846m tall and can be trekked for 3 hours (if you don’t engage in too much picture taking the way we did, that is). The climb begins at Brgy. Ampucao and the traverse ends at Brgy. Sta. Fe.


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Comments (15)

  1. Chasing Potatoes
    Chasing Potatoes

    After reading this post, Mt. Ulap is now one of my hiking destinations in Luzon. Aside from the easy trails and beautiful scenery, I appreciate the strictness of the guides especially about the smoking. I think it’s not really a good idea smoking in the mountains. hehe Anyway, thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

  2. Shreya

    Getting an uber is like getting a boyfriend – nil! Hahahhahaha, roflmao! Well that was damn funny. But anyways, glad that you managed to nail it, in fact, you and Trisha both. I liked the flat terrain part, good it was easy to climb. The view of you at the edge of that huge rock is insane. Loved it!

  3. Jonathan Morales
    Jonathan Morales

    I have to say Mt. Ulap is my favorite mountain as well, aside from it is near the Metro it is also clean and the landscape is just stunning. You should spend a night in Ulap and experience chilling nights.

    By the way, since UBER is gone I hope getting a boyfriend for you wouldn’t suffer the same.. 🙂

  4. Drew

    First, let me say how much I love that you write so candidly. It’s as if I was having a conversation with you over coffee. Lol

    The photo on Gungal rock looks awesome and scary at the same time. I can’t wait to experience the same thing. Having climbed Mt. Pulag before it was closed, I wanted to make sure I would hike Mt. Ulap next. And this blog post is an affirmation that I really should do it. Cheers!

  5. Danica

    You guys were lucky the weather was good when you did the climb! When we went there, it was all so foggy and we didn’t get the chance to reach Gungal Rock anymore. And omg! You’re friends with Trisha! You guys are my blogging inspirations. See you around! 🙂

  6. Varsha

    Nice one. The previous journey up to the start of hike seems to be quite long. Is there any train connection?
    I like hiking and Mt. Ulap seems to be in my reach. My son also does some sort of hiking with me. What do you think about the suitability of this trail for children? I will keep in mind about garbage and the sunblock.
    You are lucky to have friends like Trisha 🙂

  7. Harini

    I had a good laugh on the first part of your post.Especially the one where you mentioned about getting an uber being like getting a boyfriend-I can totally empathize with you when that happens.I am extremely large and cramped spaces are equivalent to hell for me.Yes the trek seems tough and I am glad the experience was worth it.When you spoke about that picture taking from a height,I have a fear of water.For me getting into water itself is a huge accomplishment while my friends strike all crazy poses in water.And you friend forgetting that you were coming lol,wonder how that happened ?

  8. Indrani

    I like their leave no garbage back policy. I wish all tourist destinations followed it. I am a firm believer of local customs of the places I visit. appreciate the guide for being so strict.
    Long since I did some hiking, feeling quite inspired after reading yours.

  9. Hetal Kamdar
    Hetal Kamdar

    Congratulations!! Mountain climbing is an exuberating experience. Reaching the top gives you a feeling of having conquered it. Loved your photos, especially the one with you sitting on a cliff. Keep climbing and waiting to see your next post.

  10. Katchutravels

    Marge- I like your narration. Its just like you would tell a person, if they were stuck with you on a long journey, even the little things. I emphathise with you on how stressful it can be while trying to sleep in a cramped space, and knowing that each of those hours matter since you need energy on the trek. It’s funny that your friend forgot that you are coming :-), maybe because she already had company in the form of a boyfriend

    While I appreciate the no trash policy on Mt Ulap, Its slightly disturbing to know that they dont accept trash in a trash can too. Is it because they dont have systems for management of waste/trash as much as it is in the cities?

  11. Henry

    Mountain climbing is one of the most rewarding activities you can do outdoors. Congratulations on conquering your fears…what’s your next challenge?

  12. Varsha

    Wow, that is a stunning point for beautiful views. Saving for future reference.

  13. Neil Nicerio
    Neil Nicerio

    You’re friends with Injin Bermejo? WTF such a small world. Hahahaha.

    Anyway, going back to Mt. Ulap, grabe naman, one of your friends threw trash in a trash bin and it was returned to her? Hahahaha. Is there a “locals only” rule about trash? Hahahahaha

    That’ s crazy. Anyway, I’m happy that you’ve get to know your friends deeper during this hike. You might ot be able to leave a trace behind but at least you’ve brought back home more solid friendships.

  14. Sam

    Mt. Ulap was also my first Benguet mountain. The climb isn’t a super challenge, and the views are great. Not to mention, you’ll get surprisingly great views. Mountains are truly the cheapest way to happiness for me. 🙂

  15. neha

    Wow..mountain climbing does give one a sense of achievement. And you have now conquered 11 of them! I can see the cleanliness evident in the trek as well as on top of mt ulap and I guess this is how all the mountains should be maintained in case we want to preserve their beauty.


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