Surviving Mt. Pulag with a Toddler (Ambangeg Trail): Gear, Clothing and Other Tips
Come January to early March, there will always be news about Mt. Pulag's temp plummets to ungodly figures. Just a week ago, temp dropped to 1 °C. This is not quite news actually, because being the Philippines' third loftiest peak, Mt. Pulag tends to be unpredictable and very cold. Frost and below 0°C temperatures are expected during the first quarter of the year and during the rainy season.
In the first week of March last year, we, along with our three-year old, hit the roads and traveled to Kabayan, Benguet to experience Pulag's unpredictability (but above all, its magic) first hand.
Because this was our first high-altitude mountain (and because I can't stand anything too cold, except for beer), we overprepared a tad and brought a heavy pack containing A SHITLOAD of stuff - something we found to be an adversary as we trekked in the dark. After all, it's only a 4 to 5-hour trek up. There's really no need to bring a lot.
(To put that into perspective, it's about the same amount of time you spent dayhiking Pamitinan, Maculot, Maynoba, or Batulao.)
Lesson #1: When hiking Pulag, don't be so noob like us.
So in the spirit of sparing you the same noobness, I am sharing some helpful and not-so-helpful stuff we wore and brought, plus some tips for families who are thinking of hiking Luzon's highest mountain.
Hiking gears/ equipment
1) Portable stove
Cost: P1,100 at BaseKamp
Okay to bring if you want to have hot noodles and coffee on the summit. Otherwise, just bring pre-made stuff for breakfast (sandwich/ rice and ulam).
Can be hard to operate if you're new to camping stoves. Tends to fall on its side too. But very portable and compact compared to ordinary camping stoves, smaller than a Samsung S5 though obviously a bit bulkier.
2) Wind deflector/ shield (for camp stove)
Cost: P200, from a friend; Can be bought at outdoor shops like ROX and BaseKamp.
Good for keeping wind from blowing your fire out while cooking or heating water.
3) Butane gas
Cost: P60+ per can at Handyman/ Ace
Necessary only if you will bring a portable stove. Only one can is needed for Pulag.
4) Trekking pole from Brown Trekker
Great if you're babywearing a kid because it helps carry some of the weight. Also helpful if you're hiking trails that are muddy or slippery.
5) Stainless cup
Cost: None. Old stuff from house
6) Hand warmer
Cost: P300 at ROX (good for two people)
We weren't able to use these. I'd say not necessary if you have a good pair of waterproof/ fleece gloves, and if you're heading during the summer months, when the temperature is milder).
Though, I did use this while transporting newborn foster kittens on a three-hour trip and it works very well in providing warmth for long hours (heats up to 7 to 8 hours)
Note: Never hold with bare hands. Insert in your pocket or under a thick fabric.
7) Bracelet with paracord with whistle
Cost: Got this as an Xmas gift.
For emergency purposes. Doesn't make a difference in weight since it's worn on the wrist.
8) Swiss knife
Cost: None. Old stuff from house/ Xmas gift to husband by friend
Not needed if you will be in a homestay.
9) Eveready headlamp
Cost: P300; used by a fellow mama in Pulag also.
I wouldn't recommend this headlamp. I used it only for Pulag and the thin hinge connecting the lights to the body broke while we were trekking. Better to purchase Petzl or the Energizer kind.
Cost: P249 a can at Mercury drugstore (Trinoma; none in Bulacan)
Used to help ease breathing in places where elevation is high and atmospheric oxygen is low and to prevent altitude sickness. One Oxycan can be used by two people. We brought two, which took plenty of space.
I know some mountaineers who never used an oxygen can here. If it is your first time to hike a high-altitude mountain, you can do one of these to help acclimatize your lungs.
a. Stay overnight in Baguio. The additional night at the Babadak Ranger Station also helps.
b. Use an Oxycan.
Hiking bag with rain cover
Cost: P1,500 from online mountaineering buy and sell group
We used Conquer Equator (28L) during the hike and no kidding, it looked this bulky.
It's okay as a day bag but a hassle for multi-day trips. Not too many compartments to keep your stuff separate and orgqnized. The waist support is also too narrow, it wouldn't even fit my waist. Could close in maybe a 30-inch waist or smaller.
Cost: Around P3,500 and up depending on the brand and capacity
Not necessary for homestay guests (which is often the case if you go with tour groups).
Cost: Around P800 at Sandugo/ Basekamp
Not necessary if you will be staying in a homestay.
Not necessary. Heavy too.
Not necessary IMO, because you will reach the summit around 6 or 7 am and you will start the trek down at 8 to 8:30. Sun is at its peak at 10 am to 2 pm. By around 9 am or earlier, you would've reached the mossy forest, which has lots of tree cover. This is followed by the pine forest, also covered in some parts, where you spend around 45 minutes trekking. You will be back by 12 pm at the Ranger Station.
Travel shampoo and soap
If you can manage to get a bath in icy water, bring them (We did, by the way. It's freaking cold, but so refreshing after a long hike).
Wasn't able to use this but recommended as cold air can dry your lips.
Trail food/ drinks
Good trail foods: Nuts, raisins, banana, gelatin, granolas, cereals, chocolates
(If you're bringing a portable stove, cup noodles are a convenient breakie.)
As you can see, we brought a LOT. You will be hiking from 1 am or 2 am (depending on what schedule the DENR gives you) until around 11 or 12 pm. You need food, but prolly not this much. There were three of us and we ended up giving half of our trail food to our Ibaloy guide.
There should be two liters of water per person. A hydration bladder (the blue one) is recommended (frees your hands and easier to bring/ insert in your bag). There's a water source near in the Mossy Forest just a few minutes from Camp 2/ Grassland Summit for refilling.
My must-haves in every trip: pain relievers, paracetamol, Buscopan, anti-diarrheals (though I don't really use 'em unless very necessary because they are counterproductive).
Tula baby carrier
Cost: Borrowed from a friend
I cannot, for the life of mine, imagine carrying Lia on the way up without a carrier. It's a must when hiking with babies and small kids, as well as if you are doing a night trek like in Pulag so your baby can sleep while you hike. More importantly, it frees up your hands and distributes the weight evenly on your shoulders and hips, making trekking easier.
The Tula carrier is, by far, the only carrier available here in the Philippines that is suited to older toddlers (weighing up to 40 pounds). For smaller babies or infants, other carriers and pouches are fine (Note: Don't use a ring sling. The long tail presents an accident risk).
If you're serious about hiking with kids in the long term, Kelty carriers (the big ones with lightweight metal frames) are excellent.
ClothingProper layering is crucial to keeping you warm and preventing hypothermia in high-altitude mountains. First layer is breathable polyester, followed by fleece, then finally a waterproof shell jacket or a down jacket.
First layer of clothing: Polyester
Cost: Heattech turtle neck from Uniqlo (P90); Heattech leggings from Uniqlo (P90)
I like Uniqlo's Heattech line. It's really thin and lightweight, but holds warmth well. In fact, Lia was stripped down to only that from the summit to the Ranger Station, and she didn't feel cold at all. Got both on sale.
Second layer: Fleece
Cost: Uniqlo fleece turtle neck (P100); fleece pajamas from ukay (P80)
Fleece is your bestfriend. It's an amazing insulator that keeps you warm better than other fabrics.
Third layer: Waterproof overalls (or a waterproof jacket and waterproof pants)
Cost: P150 from ukay-ukay
The third layer should preferably be a waterproof shell jacket with goose feather lining to keep you warm. The shell also keeps moisture and wind out, and should cover your neck entirely (snug enough so wind cannot penetrate through the neck's opening.
Because it's hard to find a waterproof jacket and pants for kids in local stores, I resorted to waterproof overalls in ukay. It's cheap, and it covers the entire body well.
Waterproof shoes and socks
Cost: Wool socks from Old Navy (P135 a pair); hiking shoes from ukay at P130; waterproof snow boots from an online sale community at P500
Depending on the temp, you may need two to three wool socks while sleeping and hiking. We used only two for Lia as the temp then was just 9 degrees.
Because rain is possible even though it's sunny in Pulag, waterproof shoes may be a good idea, though not a necessity. I got Lia winter boots that are two sizes too big for her and which turns out, doesn't hold traction on muddy trails like Ambangeg. So when she woke up at 6am, we changed her back to her old hiking boots.
Conclusion: Don't bring winter boots. It doesn't help (and it's heavy!). Regular hiking shoes will do. If it rains, wrap your kid's shoes in plastic. Simple solution for a simpler life.
Cost: Fleece gloves (pink) from H&M (P99) and wool gloves from Terranova (P135)
Cost: P250 (sale) from H&M. Lined with fur and fleece.
Sunglasses aren't a must. We brought an extra wool scar for her but didn't get to use it anyway.
Cost: P130, from ukay.
Was told to bring this, but wasn't able to use it. If you already have waterproof jackets and pants, this is not necessary.
For the lady/ man
*For notes on layering and clothing, please read the notes above in the "For Lia" section.
First layer: Polyester
Cost: P200 for used Millet long sleeves. From mountaineering group on FB (link on "General Tips" section at the bottom of the post); Polyester Heattech leggings from Uniqlo at P199
Second layer: Fleece (top)/ wool (leggings)
Cost: P300 for fleece-lined TNF long sleeves, used. From mountaineering group on FB (link on "General Tips" section at the bottom of the post); wool tights from tiangge at P100.
Third layer: Waterproof down jacket and pants
Cost: P1,000 for used down jacket from an neighborhood ukay for Korean items; P800 for used Humbgo waterproof pants from mountaineering group on FB (link on "General Tips" section at the bottom of the post)
I chose an above-the-knee down jacket over the traditional mountaineering jacket because I thought, "Hey, I could use this for traveling in Russia! Or Iceland!"
Don't be like me.
This is a winter jacket specifically designed for city walks in snow. It's too long and made leg movement a bit difficult for ascent. Waterproof mountaineering jackets allow for better ease and movement while locking out moisture.
Cost: P2,300 for Merrell Pulsate trekking shoes. Bought on sale at Fusion in Farmer's Plaza Cubao
The Ambangeg Trail is muddy almost year-round. This is especially true in many parts of the mossy forest and from Campsite 2 to any of the mountain's five peaks. You need shoes with good traction.
It's bad news for water to seep in your feet in a low-temp mountain, so waterproof ones (Merrell, Columbia, and other outdoor brands have trekking shoes made with Goretex) are recommended. If you don't have waterproof shoes, regular hiking shoes will suffice. If it rains, what others do is to cover their shoes with plastic.
If you are intent on buying, I recommend Fusion. They always have waterproof trek shoes on sale up to 70% off. I got a pair of brand new Merrell's Pulsate worth P6,895 for only P2,300. In terms of traction, Pulsate holds very well on mud and slippery rocks as compare to Sandugo Mudtraxx that I now use it on all treks now, including those with river crossing.
Wool socks and fleece gloves
Cost: P88/ pair of socks at Daiso; gloves borrowed
I used two pairs of wool socks (when the temp really plummets, some use three) and two pairs of gloves - one wool, one fleece. I found that fleece gloves already suffice - and warms better -so I peeled off the wool ones after a while. I borrowed my gloves from relatives, but you can get the wool ones from ukay-ukay shops and Daiso. The fleece ones are from TNF.
Beanie and scarf
Cost: P100 for beanie from Old Navy sale; scarf borrowed
Apart from your feet and hands, it's crucial to keep your head and ears protected from cold and moisture. Any thick bonnet is okay to use (I only bought this because it's cute and on sale). The scarf is also not necessary if your jacket fits snugly around your entire neck. All openings through which cold air can pass (i.e. neck, hands/ wrist, feet) should always be kept closed and impermeable. When air find its way in, that's when you start getting cold on the inside.
- Though it's considered a major climb, I found Mt. Pulag easier than other minor mountains on the same 3/9 difficulty level What makes it hard is not the trail - since the trail is mostly straightforward and flat, except for the few hundred meters going up to the summit - but rather the weight of carrying a 16-kilogram toddler amid thin air from Camp 1 to the peak.
- Med certificate is required for adults but not for infants/ toddlers/ kids. You will never find a sane doctor who will give you permission to let your kid hike in Pulag. Trust me, we tried twice and got the same vehement "NO!".
- If you are carrying a heavy toddler, take brief rest stops as needed. Take someone with you to swap babywearing with. If you don't have anyone, guides will always volunteer to carry your things or your child. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Be sure to give extra tip! Porter rate in Pulag is P300 per 15 kilograms of weight. You get the gist.
- Mt. Pulag may be easy, but it still requires patience and endurance. You can prepare by doing daily exercises (walking, biking, running).
- Best months to climb is from March onward May as temperature tends to be more manageable. Coldest month is February. It's discouraged to hike during rainy season.
- At the end of the pine forest, there are habal-habal drivers that can take you back to the Ranger Station or DENR. From DENR to the Ranger Station, it's P250 per person (We didn't take this because our homestay is only around 45 minutes away from the end of the pine forest).
- If you don't plan on hiking another high-altitude mountain (or any other mountain for that matter), I suggest you borrow stuff instead from people who have winter clothes. Because they are freaking expensive.
- If you are buying, ukay-ukay shops are a great way to save up. Be sure to check if the jackets/ pants you're getting are waterproof though. Dampen a small part of the fabric on the outside and see if the water seeps through the inside (Don't forget to ask attendants first!). I find winter clothes for smaller kids and babies to be quite rare in ukay shops though.
- I bought most of Lia's clothes and gears in the mall during winter sale (usually from January up to summer months). Shops such as Terranova, Uniqlo, Old Navy, and H&M have amazing collections, as low as P65 for gloves and socks, and around P200 to P300 for waterproof hoodies and hats.
- For mountaineering gears and waterproof jackets and pants for adults, I got most of it in this mountaineering items buy and sell group on FB. Lots of super cheap, used quality items there from mountaineers.
- Homestays abound near the Ranger Station. This is one option if you don't have camping gears. A homestay might also be friendlier if you have kids as it gets too nippy in the evenings and at dawn. Homestays have comforters, pillows, a mat for sleeping, kitchens, and restrooms.
We got a package from Sole Adventours for P3,000 a person (free for toddlers), which includes homestay, two meals, a guide, transpo to and from Ranger Station from Manila, and a sidetrip to Ambuklao Dam.