MT. ULAP ECO-TRAIL
Location: Ampucao, Itogon, Benguet, Philippines.
Trail: Tomtombek-Sta. Fe Ridge traverse (or backtrack).
Contact Number: 0928-483-1133; 0921-729-2726; 0946-340-4561.
Registration Area: Ampucao Barangay Hall
Registration Fee: Php100.00 per person.
Guide Fee: Php400.00 (max of 10 persons per guide). This will double to Php800.00 if you decide to camp for a night.
How to get there:
· From Baguio City. Take a PUJ bound to Samuyao or Ampucao. The loading station is located behind Jollibee Magsaysay and beside Orion Drug. There’s a couple of tarpaulins indicating “loading area for Mt. Ulap” posted near it. Fare as of April 2016 is Php31.00. Just inform the driver that you need to drop at the Ampucao Barangay Hall for the Mt. Ulap hike registration. PUJ fare from Sta. Fe to Baguio City is Php50.00.
· From outside CAR. Take a bus bound to Baguio City. Follow above information.
A newly formalized hiking destination, Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail, a less-than-an-hour drive from Baguio City, offers six stations which boast majestic views of Cordillera mountains, pine forests, grassland ranges, man-made stone stacks, picturesque boulders, and a faraway glimpse of the San Roque Dam and Philex mining area.
Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail is in close proximity to Baguio City unlike other popular hiking destinations in the region such as Mt. Ugo and Mt. Pulag. Travel time would be about 45 minutes depending on the traffic at the central business district. En route, you will pass by Camp John Hay, Philippine Military Academy, and Texas Instruments. Don’t get confused with the arch indicating Ampucao Elementary School at the drop-off area. Both the elementary school and barangay hall are located in the same compound. There is a table for registration with logbooks for Baguio City and NCR hikers attended by an officer. You will pay here the registration fee and guide fee. You will be assigned a guide according to the local queuing. An environmental orientation by your guide is a must before leaving the barangay hall. There are foods and bottled drinks peddled in the area, so don’t get nervous when you forgot to buy bottled water for the hike. There’s clean comfort rooms in case you need to attend to nature’s call or change clothes before the hike.
There are six stations along the trail. Tomtombek, the first station, is an easy walk from Ampucao Barangal Hall. A raised metal welcome board showing the stations marks the beginning of the upward assault. The next station, Ambanao Paoay, a 1,788 mASL peak, is adorned with man-made stone stacks. You may add your own design in here. Careful however not to erect it along a footpath. Camping is allowed at the lower portion of this station. Also, along this station, a portion of the San Roque Dam and Philex mining area can be seen. The third station, Gungal, at 1,814 mASL is characterized with rock boulders. Some tourists say that this part is the highlight of the trek. Taking a solo shot at the famous, pentacle-vandalized, Gungal rock seems to appeal to most hikers, thus making this the most populated station during the day. The fourth station and the 1,846 mASL summit, Mt. Ulap, is covered with grass. A concrete marker is seen in its highest point inscribed with the name of the Engineer who surveyed the area. Most of the campers favour this area than in Gungal. For campers, the magical sunset and sunrise is often sought here. There is a store and two open pit comfort room near the camping area. The fifth station, Pong-ol burial cave, is now closed to the public. Desecration of the sacred place as well as dangerous path are the reasons for its closure. Midway along the downhill path to the fifth station is a barricaded burial rock left. However, only a few bones were left by mummy thieves. Sta. Fe, the sixth station, marks the end of the trek.
Officially launched on 31 October 2015, hiking through Mt. Ulap Eco-Trail now means paying standard fees and adhering to its rules and regulations. According to a local guide, tour guide fees costs about Php500.00 before its official opening. Environmental prep talks is not done thus vandalism as well as desecration of the sacred burials areas is uncommon. As of April 2016, the Pong-ol Burial Caves is now closed to the public.
· Practice the Leave-No-Trace (LNT) principle when visiting and camping.
· Do not vandalize the stone and tree trunks.
· Closing of registration at Ampucao Barangay Hall is 2:00PM. If you are a slow hiker, register before lunch or earlier if you don’t intend to camp for the night.
· The fees including the guide fee are standardized. There’s no bargaining for lower price. Take note that the fees are lower compared to other eco-trails.
· During holidays and weekends, registration starts as early as 4AM. However, to make sure of the availability of an officer at the barangay hall, It doesn’t hurt to inform the Tourism Council through the numbers listed above.
· To those who are not regular hikers, take time to prepare yourself physically and mentally.
· The foot paths are slippery during rainy season. However, you still need to be vigilant during summer because the dried soil easily crumbles under when stepped on.
The metal signage that marks the start of the six stations.
These are the sic stations of the Eco-Trail. However, to protect and preserve the sacred burial site, the Pong-ol Burial Cave is now out of the regular trail offering.
The trail is slippery during rainy season but the danger is as much present during summer. You need shoes that can conquer the dry, brittle and pebbled footpaths. Sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries to hikers during summer.
These are gates for cattle. Never open and pass through these gates; use the wooden makeshift stairs.
This is the first boulder along the trail where you can have a glimpse of the picturesque Itogon, Mt. Ugo, and even the mountains of Pangasinan.
A typical yet enthralling view of The Cordillera.
Pine trees and more pine trees but you’ll never get tired of it.
A corral for cattle branding.
Notice that most of the trunks are scorched. During summer, the dried pine needles are very combustible. Please be responsible not to cause fire during your visit [to any mountain].
A patch of pine tree saplings.
You will notice a lot of fallen trees. This was caused by previous tropical storms.
Cattle herd near the Ambanao Paoay peak.
Ambanao Paoay, the second station, is adorned with man-made stone stacks. This peak and its neighbour peak are cluttered with rocks, thus, often named as twin peaks.
The trail ahead as it snakes along the side and on top of the mountain as seen from Ambanao Paoay.
Pinit (Rubus niveus Thumb.), an indigenous wild berry in Cordillera, are commonly seen along the trail. This wild berry is edible.
Grassy sloped and sometimes dotted with pine trees is but one of many of what the Eco-Trail can offer.
Even the dead pines trees have their own charm.
Grass-covered mountain top.
Pine trees and grassland: a perfect duo for the eyes.
You’ll love this more with a clear blue sky background.
We’re not there yet.
You need to be sure-footed.
Survivor pine tree.
Of ferns and stones.
Those seconds when you just want to sit and marvel at the beauty of the mountains.
Another boulder for photo ops.
Another angle of the previous picture.
Let’s continue the trek.
Further along the trail.
Like walking at the top of the world.
Grace even during death.
And we are at Gungal station!
The famous pentacle-vandalized Gungal rock, where the heaviest hiker traffic happens. When taking a selfie, dangling your feet at the edge is now prohibited.
The trail out of Gungal station.
A closer look at the grass that covers the mountains.
The lines seen in the photo are actually cattle paths made for years.
Never pull sapling when heaving your body upwards along difficult trails.
A downhill path before the upward assault to the summit.
These fences either denotes the boundary of land ownership or serves as safety barricade for cattle.
Another indigenous plant along the trail.
A mossy area near the summit.
The marker at the highest point at the summit. Engineer Lagman is the first surveyor of the then known as Pong-ol mountain. However, he forgot the name and just wrote what he saw, obviously, ulap (clouds).
The summit—Mt. Ulap.
Start of descend from the summit.
Cattle close up.
A glimpse of where we’ve walked.
The camping site.
A stall selling refreshments near the campsite.
The camp site has a nice flat surface.
Parts of the downhill trail were steps made with pine branches.
Shower areas, refreshments stalls and souvenir shops are available along Sta. Fe.
Concrete foot paths near the road.
You will pass through a number of hanging bridges.