Returning to the photo diary format as I'm heading in a new, more visuals-oriented direction on my blog, as opposed to featuring itineraries. It allows me to focus on my strengths - photos and video - as opposed to being a virtual tour guide, which most bloggers are much better than me at.
Though much lesser-known than Mt. Pulag, the more difficult Mt. Ugo trek should count itself as one of the great world-class treks of the Philippines.
The actual distance of the trek is around 30km over two days (12km on day 1, 18 km on day 2), but the actual distance we ended up covering was over 40km.
PART 2: MT. UGO SUMMIT TO KAWAYAN VILLAGE, BENGUET
Some of the most beautiful trademark views of the Mt. Ugo trek come on day 2, which may or may not include the summit assault. As mentioned previously, it was decided that we would make the summit assault at 330 pm instead of waiting the next day so that we could climb using small and light assault packs.
So off we went. There's a bit of ascending on a wide road until you round the bend and come to a waiting shed with another fantastic view of the Cordilleras.
From here the ascent continues gently and again there are unlimited, incredible views of the Cordilleras along the trail, which itself is beautiful, in some parts resembling mountain trails in Japan.
All good things come to an end, however --- soon enough, it was time for the steep assault.
The summit assault is at times very steep - note the difference in angle between the slope and the trees. Worse, it's slippery where it's most exposed, so care is necessary. By this time the clouds had also rolled in, creating an eerie atmosphere as the sun came down.
Finally, we make it to the campsite just below the summit. However, clouds had already completely obscured the view. We had celebrated already thinking it was the summit, but Guido soon arrived to burst our bubble and take us further.
The next section goes through a very eerie and quiet mossy forest for a short while before finally opening up to the wide summit area. Sadly, no views because of the clouds, but it did create a surreal atmosphere combined with the setting sun.
A quick hop over to a nearby clearing brings you to the summit marker.
We made our way down using our headlamps back the way we came as darkness fell. This was very difficult (borderline traumatic!) for me, especially during the aforementioned steep and slippery exposed parts, and I fell on my butt several times. Still, we all made it back down in one piece and enjoyed a hearty, delicious pinakbet dinner courtesy of the locals.
With the exhausting two-part climb of the day behind us, there was no energy left for socials: every single person in our 30-strong group was asleep by the designated lights out time at 10pm.
We were up by 4:30am for breakfast and to pack our things. By 5:30am we set off on the same trail towards the summit, only now instead of making the assault, we would turn right and cut across the side of the mountain. 18 kilometers of walking lay ahead.
Some distance past the waiting shed, we had a long rest stop to catch the sunrise along the same picturesque trail.
More views along the trail leading to the summit/shortcut:
The shortcut is a narrow path cut across the side of the mountain. It's slippery and loose in some parts, but a relief compared to the summit assault. Once out of that, we arrive at the signature section of the Mt. Ugo trek: the pine forest of day 2.
This section features some of the best scenery I've seen on a trek since trekking the Andes in 2014. It's mostly gentle, with a pleasant breeze especially during segments where you're walking on wide ridges. Imagine the most beautiful parts of Baguio, but with no bulidings or inhabitants: it's a dream come true. This part alone makes me consider Mt. Ugo as a trek that should have an international reputation.
As the pine forest section ends, you come across some rice terraces that signal that it's almost time for the lunch stop near Lusod Village. From here on, there is much less tree cover and you begin to labor under the scorching heat. There are still some epic views to be had though:
The final hour of the trek is a steep, sweltering hot downhill slog that we'd been warned about repeatedly beforehand. Not my favorite part of the trek. Finally, at the bottom, we arrive at Kawayan village, where there are sari-sari stores that sell what will probably be the best-tasting sodas of your life.
From here on, it's a flat 30-minute victory lap until you reach the iconic end of the trail: this large, 50-foot-high hanging bridge. If you're familiar at all with the infamous hanging bridges of the Cordilleras, you know what you're in for. It's one final obstacle standing between you and a shower.
And so ends the two-day traverse of Mt. Ugo from Nueva Vizcaya to Benguet. It's my new favorite trek in the Philippines, one that has world-class scenery and --- due to its sheer length and moderately high physical demands --- opportunities for quiet and serenity that Mt. Pulag will never have again. I hope its international reputation grows while being able to maintain a sane volume of trekkers to protect its integrity.
Thanks for reading, until next time! Happy travels.
Interested in doing this trek? Go with the best! Trail Adventours: http://www.trailadventours.com/philippine-mountains/mt-ugo