I did a dayhike to Mt. Ulap the day before Chinese New Year last year with a group that I met at the Registration Desk of Mt. Ulap at the Barangay Hall of Mt. Ampucao in Itogon, Benguet. My original plan was to go to Sagada with two friends but days before the scheduled trip, they changed their mind and decided not to go. I was planning to go on with the trip alone but since it was a long weekend (Monday was a holiday in observance of Chinese New Year), all the accommodations in Sagada were fully-booked. While searching for an alternative, I came across a post about Mt. Ulap which is located in Itogon. I have worked for almost two years in Itogon in the past but it was my first time to hear about Mt. Ulap. Apparently, Mt. Ulap was made open to the public only in October 2015. I asked a friend from Itogon if it is safe to hike there alone and she said yes but a guide is required. I asked another friend if she knows a guide and luckily she does; the guide used to be her batch mate in Sangguniang Kabataan (SK). After contacting the guide, I was set for my first solo hike which is not work-related (I am a geologist and geologists study rocks and minerals and some of our field works often involve hiking).
The guide and I agreed to meet at the Barangay Hall of Ampucao where hikers are required to register. I was alone and there were not enough guides that time so the people at the registration desk combined me with a group. The hike was relatively easy with a difficulty rating of 3/9 from Pinoy Mountaineer. What I love about hiking in Benguet is that it isn’t exhausting because of the cool weather. The trail is surrounded by pine trees and as you go further up the number of pine trees diminishes but you enjoy a breathtaking 360̊ view of the surrounding mountain ranges. The terrain at the top is grassy and rocky.
We had Barangay Ampucao as the entry point of our hike and Barangay Sta. Fe as the exit point. A friend told me you can do the other way around but it is more difficult because the trail going down to Sta. Fe is very steep so if you start from Barangay Sta. Fe, the trail will be all ascent. The Ampucao-Sta. Fe Ridge has three peaks: the Ambanao-Paoay Peak with a height of 1,788 MASL, the Gungal Peak with a height of 1,814 MASL and the Mount Ulap Peak which stands at 1,846 MASL. Mount Ulap is the bare peak that looks like Chocolate Hills.
Though it had only been less than 4 months since the trail has been opened to the public when I hiked there, it was crowded already. At the Gungal Peak you’ll find stone stacks made by previous climbers but the place is too crowded it is difficult to take nice pictures.
The highlight of the hike is having your picture taken at the Gungal Rock, a protruding rock formation (my friend calls it the Lion King Rock). Because there are many hikers during the time of our hike, it took us more than one hour waiting for our turn. As Mt. Ulap has become so popular, I highly recommend that you avoid hiking during weekends and holidays to avoid the crowd and so as not to wait too long at the Gungal Rock.
The descent to Barangay Santa Fe has a pine-forested terrain and is very steep. One must be very careful because pine needles are everywhere and it can get very slippery. It took us less than seven hours to complete the trail and it would have taken less if we didn’t wait too long to have our pictures taken at the Gungal Rock.
How to get there:
From Manila, take a bus from Pasay, Cubao or Avenida to Baguio. Buses with trips to Baguio are Victory Liner, Joy Bus, Genesis Bus, Dagupan Bus and Saulog Transit. Fare is Php 700.00 for deluxe bus and Php 460.00 for regular aircon bus. Travel time is approximately 5 to 6 hours.
From the bus terminal, take a taxi to Ampucao Jeepney terminal. Fare is approximately Php 60.00. You can also ride a jeepney that passes by Baguio Center Mall (Baguio-Trancoville or Baguio-Aurora Hill route). Fare is Php 8.50. The jeepney terminal to Ampucao is located in front of Orion Drug, near Baguio Centermall (refer to the map below).
Ride an Ampucao bound jeepney and alight at the Ampucao Barangay Hall. Fare is around Php 40.00 and travel time is approximately 45 minutes.
Fees (as of February 2016):
Guide fee: Php 400 per group (I am not sure about the maximum number of hikers per group, we were 5 in the group when we hiked)
Registration fee: Php 40.00/head