Ampucao – Philex Ridge (Mt. Ulap): Benguet, PH)
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like falling leaves.” – John Muir
Itogon – a mountainous municipality of Benguet known to be the hub of various big mining companies like the Benguet Corporation, Philex Mining Company, Atok Gold, and the Itogon-Suyoc Mining Company.
Other than the mining business, this town near Baguio City is also known for the Binga Dam – a hydroelectric plant that supplies electricity to the northern part of Luzon. These man-made infrastructures have over-shadowed the natural attractions of this chilly town. For the past years though, some of these potential wonders have been slowly getting into the tourism limelight.
There’s Mount Ugo – a hiking destination that has become a favorite from among mountain enthusiasts; the hot springs and swimming pools of Poblacion, Itogon being a favorite of Benguet locals; and just in recent times, Philex – Ampucao Ridge is gaining popularity after having been a part of various trail running events like the TNF Run.
In January of this year (2015), a spur-of –the-moment decision to join an 18-Km trail running event gave me an opportunity to see this place in Itogon. I have been to Philex Mines once, but I have never heard of this mountain ridge… not until I saw several photos of a good friend doing some mountain running in preparation for an upcoming trail run.
To cut the story short, I was able to experience this mountainous area not through a usual climb but by way of a trail run. How cool was that? But to tell you honestly, during the event, I had to do a lot of stop. Not really to catch my breath after some really steep uphill running and knee-trembling descend on narrow terrain, but to catch a glimpse of the super stunning view the place offers. Every now and then I had to stop from running and say, “wow”. Every now and then I had to stop and take a lot of photos. Every now and then I had to stop and feel the unsullied, cool air of the place that smells like pine trees. Every now and then I had to stop running just to admire the beauty of the mountain.
The mountain ridge of Ampucao has several highlights. The most important landmarks include a giant flat rock that sits at the edge of one of the mountains. They simply call this – The Rock (I hope they’ll give a more catchy and localized name sometime soon, please? or can they just name this Gungal rock since it is part of Mount Gungal? hehe), which is situated in one of the 7 peaks.. I am guessing that only the dare devil will have enough courage to sit or stand and strike a pose for an awesome photo atop this natural wonder with clouds and mountains as backdrop.
The ridge is said to have 7 mountain peaks and the highest of them all is called Mount Ulap. “Ulap” in the vernacular means clouds so I am guessing that it is named as such because clouds would usually float around the area. View from here is 360-degrees where one gets to see a bird’s eyeview of Baguio, Binga Dam and the rest of Itogon and even Tuba town.
And then there is a peak that features what some people would call “Hanging Rocks”. No, they are not suspended rocks on air. The claimed name is actually misleading as the rocks are built on top of each other forming a totem like structure. However, if the fog or clouds start to set in, these rocks may look as if they are hanging.
The trail itself is picturesque. You get to pass through pine forests then for a moment you are already passing through a grassy area that’s reminiscent of the rolling hills of Batanes. And then at several points you’ll get to walk through the edge of the mountain adding up more excitement along the way. Because of these extraordinary views and experience along the way, it made me forget I was in for a running event. In short, I did not even mind if I were to arrive last at the finish line. (Well, fortunately I wasn’t the last one based on the official race results, hahaha).
Things to remember if you will come to Ampucao for the sole purpose of climbing: Make sure to register with the barangay. This is for you and your group’s safety as you will be visiting their area of responsibility. As always, be reminded of the mountaineer;s creed — Leave nothing but your foot prints. So, do not throw your garbage along the trail and please do not vandal the area. Do not attempt to lit up anything, even cigarette as the area may be prone to forest/mountain fire.
How To Get to Ampucao’s Jump-Off Point:
If you are coming from Manila, make your way to Baguio City. There are several bus lines bound for Baguio like Victory Liner, Genesis Bus, Partas Bus. There terminal are located along Cubao in Quezon City and some in Pasay. Once in Baguio, go to Jollibee – Magsaysay and locate Lakandula Street. This is where Itogon bound jeepneys are. Note that there are a lot of jeepneys with different sign board (meaning they have different routes) all of which are going to Itogon. Be certain that the jeepney you get into is marked as Ampucao. The earliest Ampucao bound jeepney comes at around 7:00 am and would wait for it to be full before leaving the terminal.
Inform the driver to drop you off at the junction of Philex Mines and Ampucao High School. You’ll see a signage that says “Ampucao High School”, that is where you get off. From there, ask where the barangay hall is and ask if someone can guide you to Ampucao Ridge. (UPDATE!!! It is now mandatory to have a guide besides getting registered at the barangay hall). It would be to your group’s discretion if you will do a traverse climb or the usual climb. If you’re doing the traverse, you either use the Sta. Fe trail as the point of entry or exit.
Here is a sample itinerary: (The trek to Ampucao Ridge can be done on a day hike).
00:00 – ETD from Manila
06:00 – ETA Baguio. Eat breakfast before proceeding to Lakandula St. in Magsaysay.
07:00 – Ride a jeepney to Ampucao.
08:30 – ETA at Ampucao jump-off. Go to the barangay hall and register. Get a guide.
09:00 – Start of hike. Rests may be done along the trail
11:00 – Lunch at the peak of Mount Ulap; photo-ops etc
12:00 – continue trekking until you reach The Rock and other stunning viewpoints; exit via Sta. Fe trail
16:00 – ETA at Sta. Fe, Ampucao. Wait for a public jeepney.
17:30 – ETA in Baguio City
Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…